455422869Recently I received a referral from Kristin, a client I represented in 2011 in her collaborative divorce. In thanking her for the referral, I took the opportunity to ask her how she was doing. With her permission, her response is reproduced below. At the time of her divorce, Kristin and her husband had two (2) children ages 10 and 12. Hi Tonda, Nice to hear from you. I will fill you in with some detail for examples of what can lay on the other side of divorce to help you give hope to your clients going through this painful process. Everyone is doing well here; the kids are doing really well splitting their time between our 2 households (4 miles apart). Tom and I have a much better relationship now than when we were getting divorced. We talk several times per week and text, usually daily, mostly regarding kids’ stuff like coordinating activities/homework and just general parenting issues. We also try to meet for coffee sometimes to discuss things more in depth like holidays and vacation planning and kids’ milestones. We see each other at their basketball games, tennis matches, orchestra concerts, etc, even holidays sometimes, and usually sit together with our new spouses. Tom and I both got re-married a couple of months ago and Tom and his wife are expecting a baby in March. I married a pharmacist that I met after the divorce and we got married in Yosemite in August of this year. The four of us get along well and the kids get along well with both our spouses so I have nothing but great things to say about the collaborative process. It really helped us to avoid a lot of un-pleasantries and keep our family together without staying married, which is really great. I hope all is well with you and your practice. I will continue to recommend people look into collaborative divorce as an option. It has been very helpful to us to use the divorce agreement as a structure, but we stay very flexible with rearranging schedules, holidays and vacations etc. We have actually never even had an argument since the divorce. It has helped us build a sense of cooperation and the collaborative process really reinforced putting the kids as the center point for all decisions going forward. One of the things that always stuck in my mind through the whole process was that Tom and I decided that even though we did not have a successful and healthy marriage, we would have a successful and healthy divorce and be successful and healthy parents. Best, Kristin
465782093Dogs have long been known for their ability to have healing effects on the sick, but did you know that adopting a dog while going through the divorce process can provide another wonderful form of therapy? Whether getting a new puppy or adopting a dog, there is value in adding a furry companion to your life. Man’s (or woman’s) best friend alleviates that empty feeling you may now be experiencing when you walk in the door at night. Divorce often time leaves you feeling unwanted, just like many of those dogs at the shelter, which makes that canine even more relatable. Perhaps that dog came to the shelter from a divorced family herself. It has been proven that people benefit from interacting with canines. Simply petting a dog can decrease levels of stress hormones, regulate breathing, and lower blood pressure. Research also has shown that petting releases oxytocin, a hormone associated with bonding and affection, in both the dog and the human. Dogs respond to human emotions, and seem to know just when their companion needs a little extra loving. A dog, or other animal, can also be helpful for children coping with a divorce. Research shows that a dog can be therapeutic for a child experiencing a divorce crisis. A pet teaches a lot about coping skills, at a time when their parents may not coping very well. Cuddling up to a dog or other critter can be calming, and teaching a dog a new trick can be rewarding. If you are looking for a constant companion, who will help reduce your stress levels (and won’t talk back!), adding a new furry friend to your home may be a good divorce healing solution for you.
Former litigators who now practice exclusively collaborative law have varied reasons for that decision. Many revolve around better outcomes for clients or more peaceful processes. A reason that is less commonly talked about is the well being of the practitioner. A litigated divorce is often ripe with conflict and animosity. There is built in adversity and the very structure often leads to more anger and frustration. And, this is between the clients who are only going through this once. A divorce lawyer or other divorce professional deals with hundreds of these cases. They are often in the middle of many divorces and the animosity and anger can take a toll. A collaborative divorce, on the other hand, can be a more positive and less stressful experience. It is an out-of-court, non-adversarial process. The pacing of a collaborative divorce is controlled by the parties so no one is at the whim of a court’s schedule. Clients in collaborative divorce maintain control of the outcomes. Discovery (exchange of information) is done in an informal manner with full disclosure of whatever either party requests.  Because of these reasons and more, some collaborative professionals find a higher level of satisfaction and well-being in their work. Now, some may wonder why a potential client should care about their lawyer’s well-being? The professionals on a collaborative team are the guides and support for clients. A client going through divorce wants an attorney who is in the best position to guide them through that process. Collaborative divorce is a more respectful and peaceful option for clients. It is the same for the professionals. Doctor martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The happier we are, the better we work.” I stopped litigating cases for many reasons. My personal well-being may be the most important one.
153886436Divorce can be scary for kids. They may feel alone. They may feel responsible. They may feel sad. Parents may find it difficult to initiate conversations about the changes going on in the family. Very young children may be fearful and confused about having two homes instead of just one. Fortunately, there are a number of children’s books available that can help young ones open up about their feelings. Here is a list of books my clients have found helpful: All of these books are available for purchase online. They may be available at your local library.

494330099As a society, we are inclined to attach shorthand labels to everything from parenting (Tiger Mom, Soccer Mom, Helicopter Parents) to politics (Red States and Blue States, the War on Drugs).  It’s a function of our human brains that we are wired to categorize concepts in order to make sense of the world, but sometimes it feels like we’ve put this tendency on steroids.  Too often people assume a label is sufficient to explain complex social phenomena (Obamacare, the Arab Spring) or to fully define an individual or group of people (Boomers, Gen X’ers, Millenials).  We confuse sound bites with explanations. Think about the times you’ve seen two shorthand labels in a headline, maybe with a “vs.” in between, and believed there was no need to read further to understand the situation (Israeli vs. Palestinian conflict).  It is easy to become polarized instead of thoughtful, rigid instead of nuanced.

I recently attended the Fetzer Symposium, a multidisciplinary gathering of Collaborative professionals, mediators, judges and others whose professional lives have been devoted to creativity and healing.  Each of the fifty participants was there because they were attracted to the theme:  “Divorce:  What does Love have to do With It?”  A rich tapestry of conversations, ideas and initiatives was created. Professional labels just weren’t that important—-everyone there was committed to reducing conflict in divorce.  I thought of the tendency we have to label family law processes and sometimes pit them against each other (collaborative vs. cooperative vs. adversarial vs. mediated vs. litigated).  Not only does it waste precious energy and create unnecessary conflict to oppose someone based solely on the label attached to their work, such animosity can also prevent us from looking further, going past the label to find our common values in helping families through crisis.   There is plenty of room at the family law table.  I felt honored and hopeful to be among so many family law professionals of all stripes who have earned the right to add peacemaking to other adjectives describing their work, not as a shorthand label but as an invitation to go beyond the label.
172218935Because of our great medical facilities, people often say that Minnesota might be the best place in the world to get sick. What is less known is that Minnesota is rapidly becoming known as the best place for an ailing marriage too.  Indeed, just as people travel all over the world to come to the Mayo Clinic to heal their bodies, people from around the world occasionally travel to Minnesota to observe the ways that we heal conflict. Last month, two family law attorneys from Cape Town, South Africa, spent most of the month of May at the Collaborative Alliance in Edina,  observing many of our Collaborative divorce professionals so that they can improve the way family conflict is handled in their country.  Two weeks earlier, a family law attorney from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, visited the Collaborative Alliance space and asked if she could also send an observer from her country in the upcoming months. Indeed, we have hosted family law professionals from five different countries and nearly every state during the past six years. I realize that, if you have a healthy marriage, finding that Minnesota is a great place for a divorce may not be reason to jump up for joy.   No one wants to be in the position to need a divorce lawyer anymore than anyone wants to need a good oncologist.  But, if you are facing serious problems, it’s nice to know you can reach out and find some of the very best in the world. So, why is Minnesota an international leader in handling conflict?  Is it because of our superior laws, our better courts, better law schools are lawyers?   Well, in fact, while all of those things are very good in our state, the thing that is causing people to travel to Minnesota from afar is our innovation.  Divorce causes great pain around the world and nearly everyone is desperate to find a better way.  Minnesota is, among other things, the birthplace of Collaborative Law, a method of handling divorce that has spared tens of thousands of families.  To learn more about Collaborative Practice, go to www.collaborativelaw.org. As someone who has handled hundreds of Collaborative divorce (as well as hundreds of traditional divorces), I am not surprised that people from around the United States would want to learn about this better method.  However, I admit that I was a bit surprised to learn that about the great interest all around the world. I have had the opportunity to conduct workshops and trainings on Collaborative law throughout the world and I have observed great differences in their laws and in their cultural norms. What has surprised me is that, when it comes to basic issues, protecting children, reducing conflict, reducing costs we are all facing the same issue.  Collaborative Divorce is more effective, not because of something unique to Minnesotan or Americans, but because if makes divorce more human.  And that is a language that is understood all around the world.
130873646According to a Bowling Green State University study, the divorce rate for those over 50 more than doubled between 1990 and 2009.  The trend suggests that by 2030 there will be more than 800,000 divorces per year for the 50 plus age group.  This unprecedented rise in gray divorces is occurring while the divorce rate among younger couples is declining. gray divorce statsI will not be a year 2030 statistic.  My divorce was final in 2010 after a 32-year marriage, which most definitely puts me in that age 50 plus boomer group.  While the Bowling Green study and an endless amount of other research discusses some of the reasons and causes for this divorce demographic, I want to focus on how the issues are different for gray divorces and yet the same as those divorcing at much younger ages. In my experience, working with spouses as a financial neutral every divorce is unique to each family.  However, all divorces have some broad common foundational issues.  Every divorce, whether you are in your 50’s and above or younger, has at least some financial issues to be resolved.  Divorce financial issues involve allocating assets and liabilities to each spouse in an effort to be fair and equitable.  In addition if there are children under the age of 18 providing for the needs of the children is a consideration.  In certain situations, spousal maintenance may come into the play. What is different about financial issues in gray divorces is hypothetically; there are greater assets and fewer liabilities given their longer life and time in the workforce up to this point than their younger counterparts.  In my work as a financial neutral with gray divorcees, I can share with you this is not always the case.  Many times assets are limited and debts are significant.  A collaborative-trained financial neutral is well equipped to help spouses with these and other financial issues. There is less time for boomer spouses to recover from the financial loss of divorce.  Essentially assets and debts are allocated equally with some exceptions that have the effect of reducing the marital estate in half.  Sometimes mothers or fathers have stayed at home or otherwise sacrificed to some degree a working career to care for their children.  Now in their 50’s and above they will need to do what they can to work towards becoming self-supporting.  This is no small order, as we all know how difficult the job market can be for anyone let alone trying to re enter the workforce when you are gray and training and skills may need to be updated. When there are children under the age of 18 a parenting plan must be established.  Parents ideally come to agreements on how to co-parent their minor children.   This is not to imply that children older than 18 are not affected by divorce.  My children were all adults over the age of 21 when my divorce occurred and I can share the divorce had an impact on their lives as well as mine and my former spouse.  While child support financial obligations and parenting time schedules may not be a factor in gray divorces, those adult children need the support of both parents.  Gray divorcing clients would do well to consider the support their adult children need.  After all, there will still be birthdays, holidays, weddings, graduations, and yes-even grandchildren in the future.  Your children regardless of their age want to know they have two loving and caring parents who will always be there for them. With gray divorces, there are often decade’s long relationships with extended family members.  What will these relationships look like in the future?  Will the relationships continue to exist or somehow change a result of the divorce?  How will what happens to these relationships affect your adult children?  All of these and many more questions arise in gray divorces. Divorce, regardless of age, is never easy nor does it produce any winners in my opinion.  However, those who have made the decision to end their marriage would be wise to become knowledgeable of the collaborative divorce process. Collaborative Divorce is well suited to handle gray divorces.  This process when successfully completed keeps your divorce out of court and thus keeps it private.   More importantly, it keeps the outcome in your control.  You and your spouse are able to make decisions about your future not a judge with limited information and time.  Collaborative divorce is a process that involves dignity, respect, and acknowledges the contributions of each spouse to their marriage. If you know of anyone who has made the decision to divorce or is seriously considering divorce you would be doing them a favor by letting them know that collaborative divorce is an option and where they can go for more information.  To learn more about collaborative divorce visit www.collaborativelaw.org.
156062412People commonly worry about telling their spouse they want a divorce. It is obviously a difficult conversation to have.  Some people are scared of the outcome or don’t want to hurt someone they care about. Other people just don’t know what words to use. People may also worry that their spouse will pressure them into making a different decision. People choose to address this situation in different ways. The way this message is communicated can greatly impact how the process goes and even what the resolutions may be. Here are some things to keep in mind when telling your partner you want a divorce. 1. Divorce readiness may take time. It is not uncommon for two spouses to be at different points in readiness for divorce. One spouse may want the divorce to happen right away and the other may wish it never happens. Be patient with your partner and know, that you can have a divorce in Minnesota no matter (no fault state), but sometimes patience with where your spouse is at may lead to better outcomes in the end. 2. Know there are process options. People often think they need to be ready to proceed with a litigated divorce as soon as they tell their spouse. That is not always the case. Know there are different ways to move through the process and one in particular, collaborative divorce, allows for flexibility on timing. You can pace the process in a way that works for both of you without a court intervening. 3. Discernment counseling can help. Sometimes, once a couple begins to talk about divorce, they start to question whether or not it is the best option. Discernment counseling is a specialty therapy that helps couples where one or both are considering a divorce, or are ambivalent about the future of their relationship. 4. Empathy is often the hardest part. Undoubtedly, when divorce is on the table, things haven’t been going well. There are often hard feelings between the spouses and that is not likely to change just with initiating divorce. However, the ability for one person to consider things from the other’s shoes can go a long way in healing. Try to demonstrate some sort of empathy when you have this talk – say things like “I know this is hard” or “I could understand if you feel surprised/angry/scared.” This may help lower the conflict and help initiate the divorce process in a respectful way.
A divorce can impact your ability to secure credit simply because you may no longer have the income you had when you were married. Here are five tips to maintain a good credit score and protect it for the future. 1. Know your credit score and what affects it. Your credit score report can be obtained for free (just one per year) through one of three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. Your score is determined by your payment history, outstanding balances, history of using credit, the type of credit used and how many inquiries into your credit happen throughout the year. Keep in mind that it’s good to have a credit card or other credit and to use it occasionally to maintain your access to future credit when needed for a car loan or mortgage, for example. If you had joint credit accounts with your spouse, your credit score may or may not need a little boost after the divorce based on the factors mentioned above. #2 Eliminate obligations where possible. A credit card or statement with your name on it does not make you a joint owner of the account. Unless the account was originally opened with an application signed by you, you may only be an authorized signer and you can request to have your name removed from the account immediately. If your former spouse is named on the account as an authorized signer, have his/her name removed to avoid any future charges. #3 Close joint accounts or freeze future charges. If there is no balance on a joint account, call the creditor and close the account, noting that this may temporarily affect your credit score. If you are in the process of applying for a loan, however, ask your lender if you should close joint accounts at that time or wait until you have the loan in place to avoid jeopardizing the loan. If there is a balance that cannot be paid off right away on a joint account, call the creditor and request to freeze the account from any future charges. You can pay off the balance over time without incurring additional debt. #4 Transfer balances to the responsible party’s individual card. For debt that you are not responsible for, request that your former spouse transfer the remaining balance to another credit card in just his/her name.  If they are unable to pay their share of the debt, payments still need to be made so that the account doesn’t default and your credit score isn’t affected. Make sure that you are receiving copies of all statements by requesting duplicate copies. #5 Pay your bills on time, no matter what a judge says. Divorce decrees do not override account agreements with your creditors. Both spouses are liable and responsible for joint debt regardless of who the judge ordered to pay the bill. If accounts default, then both spouses can be sued or have their wages garnished. One 30-day late payment can drop your score 25-75 points and it takes months to get those points back. If you have trouble maintaining current accounts during or after your divorce, consider debt counseling to better manage your finances and preserve your credit score for the future.
182954950 This may sound like a joke . . . but it’s not. What do UPS trucks and collaborative divorce have in common? Both use innovation and creativity to solve standard problems in unique ways.   Almost all turns (90%) made by UPS truck drivers are right turns. According to the Washington Post, UPS drivers intentionally make three right turns, instead of one left. The company has found that left turns are inefficient due to waiting in traffic and there is more likelihood of accidents when crossing lanes of traffic. The company has saved money and lives by making three right turns for every left. UPS has used a unique (but relatively easy) solution to provide better outcomes. Collaborative divorce does the same thing for families. People divorce every day. Couples going through divorce have a choice, just like UPS drivers, to head straight into traffic or take a different path. In divorce, “turning left” and heading into traffic is often less efficient and potentially the more harmful route. Couples, however, can choose to head down a more unique and creative path – collaborative divorce. Collaborative divorce is an “outside of the box” option. Collaborative divorce solves the same problem as any other process – a divorce ultimately is a divorce regardless of how one gets there. But collaborative divorce is a different path. By engaging in interest-based negotiations, keeping goals at the center of the process, locking the courthouse doors, and working with trained professionals, couples can come up with unique and creative options that work for them. UPS has found a way to make the greater community safer and run its company more efficiently. Couples going through divorce can similarly influence our greater community. Innovation and creativity can lead to better outcomes for families.  Some particular areas often addressed in a collaborative divorce, include:
  • Unique child support or expense sharing arrangements based on historical costs/expenses
  • Tax consequences of support options and property division
  • Creative financing options for a second home (or two new homes)
  • Parenting plan that addresses communication about the children, introduction of significant others, in addition to parenting schedules
  • Tracing of non-marital property (pre-marriage ownership, inheritances, gifts, etc.)
  • Maximizing property for both spouses
With a collaborative divorce, you and your family can work innovatively and creatively to reach resolutions tailored to meet your needs.