Sometimes people just want out of the marriage. Often, their only concern is relieving their feelings of anger, and frustration. I have had some people tell me that they didn’t care what happened, they just wanted things over with. Still others are bent upon revenge, frozen by guilt, or may be in denial (they don’t want the divorce and are sure that he/she will change their mind). Regardless, decisions made in an emotional moment do not tend to be the best for the client. I like to slow people down, try to remove the emotions and have them look at the divorce like they might review a business deal. This helps people to really make the best choices, not just for today, but also for their future.
Finances are often the biggest part of any divorce. You may benefit from engaging the services of a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, even for a few hours. How can they help you? A few of the benefits of using a CDFA are:
1. A CDFA can walk you through the divorce process, how it works, time frames, and point to the documents you will need, especially if you are filing pro se or without legal representation.
2. Concerned about your expenses? A CDFA can help you establish a budget, for both before and after the divorce.
3. What about stock options and other company benefits? A CDFA is trained to review company perks that are provided to many executives as well as longer-term employees. Many of these may be marital property, and you may be entitled to receive some of them, especially upon liquidation.
4. Taxes are often a vexing problem. A CDFA can point out the income tax issues with various assets, such as rental property depreciation recapture, capital gains upon selling the house, or the cost of selling low basis stocks that have gained in value.
5. What about the overall settlement? A CDFA can show you different financial scenarios, based on dividing marital assets in different ways. Your financial future may be different based on how you divide the property.
Invest in your financial future – consider using a CDFA to help you navigate through the tangled thicket of money and divorce!
Frightened of divorce? Probably one of the scariest things about divorce is the fear of the unknown. I have had clients with high debts, low income which results in serious cash flow problems. How will they exist on one income when they have problems living on two incomes? It is a very scary topic. I walk clients through their budgets, point out missing expenses, and show them the bottom line. We then can explore their options. Some clients cut expenses, which is one of the very first and best ways of handling a negative cash flow. Together, the client and I then discuss ways of increasing income. For some, this may mean getting a second job, selling the house, or having a roommate. We also look at the possibility of maintenance, even short term or decreasing over time. Some of the worst situations are those where there is just not enough money to go around, even with all of the expense-reduction or income-increasing measures. We then may discuss bankruptcy, the pros and cons of such an action, as well as the potential timing. For most clients, however, things are not so grim. The first few years may be a bit tough, but many have said that they manged to pull through. They appreciated knowing the bottom line of their cash flow and their options be able to handle their situation better.
Divorcing clients are often frightened about divorce. Any number of things are frightening; the court system, going through the process itself, for their futures, for their cash flow, and for their children. If that isn’t enough stress, I occasionally see clients who have personality disorders, clinical mental illness, or substance abuse issues. In addition to being frightened by the divorce itself, some partners are wary, suspicious, or scared by their spouse even when married for many years. Some clients have told me that they feel like they are “walking on egg shells” around the other person. Depending on the clients, sometimes mediation may be appropriate, but in other cases, engaging attorneys may be the best approach. The person who has the mental or substance abuse issue will benefit from having adequate legal counsel to ensure they are not being taken advantage of. Moreover, the other partner benefits by not having their future ex-spouse legally able to reopen their settlement in the future by claiming that they did not have representation and were not able to understand their decisions. For divorcing couples in which at least one has mental or substance abuse issues, I have strongly recommended that they at least consult an attorney and have the attorney review their settlement agreement just to avoid future problems. At least one scary problem can potentially be avoided!
Mediators are third-party neutrals that facilitate discussions between two disputing individuals. The mediator can help the parties understand each others issues and is fair to both parties. A good mediator can potentially suggest different solutions, and can explain the pros and cons of certain decisions, although the mediator does not necessarily offer an opinion o the decision. Moreover, the mediator helps clients discover if there are any hidden issues that can derail a settlement, and may craft the agreement. Using various techniques, mediators may be able to help their clients discover agreement points, and engage them in working on solutions for those points still in contention. Mediation often seems to me like a craft – carefully moving the parts to become a whole that can be both beautiful and useful.
Often, the answer is absolutely “Yes!” If you and your spouse are willing to communicate and jointly resolve your issues on your own, or with a mediator, you certainly can save on the expenses for costly attorneys and other experts. I think that decisions about a couple’s divorce are best left to that couple if they are willing to work together. One of my clients was marveling at how relatively inexpensive her divorce was. Both parties wanted to resolve things amicably and without a lot of drama, no fighting, etc. By taking a less traditional approach to the property settlement, we were able to achieve both parties’ financial goals for the divorce, and actually made the overall financial pie a bit bigger. We used some creative solutions to tailor the settlement agreement to their situation. I worked up a few different scenarios for their consideration and discussed the pros and cons of each, but they were the ones who decided exactly what worked best for them. I have been told that agreements created by the parties themselves are most often adhered to and both parties are most often satisfied with such agreements.
Some years ago, while taking an administrative law course, the instructor who was also a practicing attorney, mentioned that the current trend was that neither spouse really wanted the kids and the responsibilities that go along with having children. Rather than this rejection being so overt, these days I see that the signals are much more hidden. Children are sometimes used by their parents as pawns. Parents may send “messages” to the other parent, use the children as spies and informants about the other parent, and generally bring the kids into the conflict where they really have no place being. Sometimes the situation degenerates into the requirement for intervention by grandparents or, in worse case scenarios, official child and family investigators. I think kids need to be kids and should have parents whose roles are parenting, not instigators.
It is tough being a child whose parents are divorcing. Children may think that the divorce is their fault, they may desperately want the parents to reconcile, and they don’t want the changes in their lives that divorce brings. So – why make it worse for the child? Don’t badmouth or lie about the ex-spouse, complain about money, or generally get the kids in the middle of the emotional baggage. Children need a decent relationship with both parents if possible. Help keep your children whole.
Emotions turned on high can cause divorce fires. How can you turn the temperature down? I have a few suggestions. The first is certainly mediation. A qualified mediator has learned techniques to help emotional couples through the process to settlement. Sometimes a therapist is helpful for one or both parties. Try stress reduction options such as meditation, exercise, and journaling. These can help you to take your mind off the situation and emotions, or to vent in a safe atmosphere. Some people find that running various financial scenarios and options may help, especially if they are anxious about the finances of the situation (and most people are!). You can also consider what Ury and Fisher, in the book, “Getting to Yes”, call the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement, or BATMA. If you are mediating, what is the alternative? Negotiate without the mediator? Engage an attorney? What if you go to court? What will the expenses be? And sometimes, you have to accept that you just need to have time an patience to get through the process and things WILL be better in the future.
When the word “divorce” is paired with other words, such as “dignity” and “respect”, do you automatically think of the tired old oxymoron “Army Intelligence?” Do you have to be nasty and resort to becoming a pit bull to get a fair settlement? Or, should you give in to all demands, just so you don’t have to deal with the volatile emotions of your hopefully soon to be ex? Actually, I think it is possible divorce with dignity and respect. I have seen many couples that have mediated their cases with me in a caring and constructive manner. It wasn’t that they didn’t have disagreements, disputes or anger. The difference was that they were willing to talk, really talk, during mediation, about the part of the settlement was important to them and why. They were willing to negotiate. They were also open to considering different solutions, such as a different division of assets, variations of time frames, receiving different tax benefits, or other sorts of trade offs. I have seen people divorce with dignity, respect, and, yes, believe it or not, even class.