Let’s face it, it’s not easy to announce your divorce, it may in fact be what you are dreading the most, but confiding in others will help you gain the support you need to pick up the pieces. There are so many different emotions – sadness, anger, fear, guilt, etc. One of the fears is about telling your friends and family. How will they react? What will they think? Will they ask a lot of questions that you don’t know how to answer? Will they be supportive? Some divorces come as no surprise that people saw coming and some divorces seem to come out of left field, depending on how much you and your spouse were “keeping up with appearances.” It is natural to want to keep up with appearances, after all, you may have went through months (even years) where you didn’t know if it would work out or not, and if it did you didn’t want your friends and family to dislike your spouse or think poorly of your marriage. This is not uncommon at all, it just makes initiating the conversation a bit more difficult. Remember that ultimately your friends and family want you to be happy. Tell your immediate family and closest friends first. From there, it gets trickier to know what is the best approach to take. You probably don’t want to, nor is it healthy, to tell the story over and over, so maybe an email to extended family and friends works for you, or maybe having a specific friend and family member responsible for letting certain people know is the best method for you. Having to worry about whether you are breaking the news in the right delivery method should be the least of your concerns right now, and people ultimately need to understand that. However, because everyone seems to want to know why, it is imperative to have a brief “elevator speech” ready. This can be as simple as, “We are two good people, that are simply not good together.” Your boss may need to know since divorce proceedings might conflict with your work schedule, but the need to tell co-workers will vary. If you aren’t close to them and normally don’t discuss your personal life then an announcement probably isn’t necessary. In today’s digital world there is also social media to consider. Don’t feel like you have to make an announcement, you can do nothing or simply change your name, eventually people will figure it out. News travels, and beyond close friends and family, you don’t own anyone an explanation. Don’t be alarmed if some people start to distance themselves. They may also be grieving this divorce. Sometimes friends whose own marriages are struggling will separate themselves from you for fear that it may happen to them as well. It’s important to remember that divorce does not define you. Your true friends will stand by you and most likely will want to help, but they may not necessarily know how. Perhaps before you break the news to friends and family make a list of what people can help with. Whether that’s enlisting in moving help, help with the kids, emotional support, attorney recommendations, or even needing a group of friends to commit to a night out once a month. Write down anything and everything that you might think could help, and then when people ask you can let them know immediately. Helping assists people in coping and understanding, so enlisting in friends and family’s help can be beneficial to all. Friends will want to help and lend advice. Allow them to help, but please seek advice from professionals (clergy, attorneys, therapists, advisers, etc), and remember to take care of yourself emotionally and physical.
At first glance, you might think that beginning social security benefits at age 62 versus waiting until your full retirement age (FRA – currently age 66) sounds like a pretty good deal. You receive four more years of benefits and won’t have to withdraw as much from your savings as you would if you waited until your FRA. By not taking money out of your savings, the money can grow more than it would if it were relied upon to cover all living expenses. Those arguments have some merit, but probably not as much as most might think. It may indeed make sense in some situations to begin benefits at 62, particularly for someone with serious health issues. However, for anyone expecting to live past their mid-70’s, the numbers tell a different story. As an example, consider two 62-year olds (Ms. Early & Ms. Normal) who will both receive a primary insurance amount (PIA) of $2,200 per month at their FRA. Ms. Early opts to receive benefits at age 62 and accepts that she will only receive 75% of her PIA, or $1,650 per month. Ms. Normal decides to wait until her FRA (age 66) to receive her PIA of $2,200. Ms. Early is happy with her decision to start at 62 because she will have received $79,200 in cumulative benefits even before Ms. Normal receives her first benefit payment. When Ms. Normal begins receiving benefits, she receives $550 per month more than Ms. Early, thus Ms. Normal’s cumulative benefit grow faster than Ms. Early’s. At age 77, Ms. Normal’s cumulative benefits will overtake Ms. Early’s. If Ms. Early and Ms. Normal both pass away at age 87, Ms. Normal’s cumulative benefits will have exceeded Ms. Early’s benefit by $66,000. Over 20 years, $66,000 ($3,300/year) may or may not seem like a lot, but one important detail was left out of the above example for simplicity. Social Security benefits are subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA – a percentage increase to a benefit) to keep pace with inflation. The reality is that Ms. Early and Ms. Normal will both receive the same COLA percentage, but they will receive different dollar amounts due to their different benefit amounts. Since Ms. Normal’s benefit is greater than Ms. Early’s benefit, her COLA increase will be greater, causing the difference in their benefits to increase over time as well. If one assumes a 2% annual COLA, the monthly benefit difference grows from $550/month ($1,650 at 62 vs. $2,200 at 66) to $907/month at age 87 ($2,707 for Ms. Early vs. $3,909 for Ms. Normal). Using the 2% annual growth scenario, Ms. Normal’s cumulative benefits overtake Ms. Early’s a year earlier (age 76) and her cumulative benefit will exceed Ms. Early’s by $113,417 at age 87! As with all annuity cash flow streams, the optimal time to start receiving benefits depends on the length of the time the benefit will be received. In other words, if you knew when you were going to die, it would really help determine when you should start taking benefits! As the examples above illustrates, Ms. Early would have been better off starting at age 62 if she knew she was going to die in her mid-70’s. But, the mathematics of longevity side with Ms. Normal because if Ms. Normal is alive at 65, Social Security’s own studies show that she has a 71% chance of living to age 80, a 53% chance of living to 85 and a 30% chance that she will live to 90. It is unfortunate that the likelihood of living longer than one expects, and the cost of starting social security early, is not fully appreciated by most people who start their benefit at age 62. If they realized that they had a good chance of living to 90, and that by receiving benefits at 62 they were short-changing themselves of $147,219 in benefits, they might have continued to work a bit longer.
Collaborative law is a world-wide phenomenon. Although the process originally started in Minnesota, it has now spread throughout the world. Over the past few years, I have had the privilege of getting to know collaborative professionals from Europe, South America, Australia, and Africa. Collaborative law happens all over the world. I often find myself meeting with new potential clients and discussing the benefits of collaborative divorce. I differentiate this process from an adversarial, court process. Most importantly, I try and help potential clients understand the simplest, most elegant aspect of collaborative divorce – it just works. In many aspects of life, we try and find the “special sauce.” How do we articulate, put to words, the essence of collaborative law? What is it about collaborative law that has made it a world-wide phenomenon? Allowing clients to maintain control of the process and work in a respectful manner to find mutually-agreeable resolutions are the key tenants. But why does it work? I think the essence of collaborative law supersedes culture and language. It works all over the world because people genuinely want it to work. People want to maintain control of their family and lives after divorce. People want confidentiality and full disclosure of information, but don’t want to incur extraordinary expense. People also want a respectful process and want to maintain their own integrity throughout. Some people ask why collaborative law works? I think it makes more sense to state that collaborative law does work. In fact, it works all over the world.
Every once in awhile a movie comes along that gives us an important glimpse into the world of divorce. Richard Linklater’s movie Boyhood is one of those rare films. It tells the story of a divorced family over a period of twelve years in a way that has moved audiences and impressed critics all over the world. It won the Golden Globes and Critics Award for Best Picture and is one of the favorites to win the Oscar for best picture as well. One of the unique features of the movie is that it was filmed over a period of 12 years, so you actually watch the boy grow from age 6 to 18. Seeing the real actors grow over time does seem to make it feel more real and by the end of the film the viewer gets a powerful sense of how this world feels, particularly for the children. Parents who have been through a divorce, or who see the possibility of divorce, are likely to be particularly moved by the film. While the movie clearly shows the pain and difficulty that the children face from living in two homes, and in having to adapt to new step-parents, it is not a grim account designed to make us feel that children of divorce are doomed. Indeed, Linklater, who acknowledges that the movie is based loosely on his life, says he was more interested in just showing that, for many families this world is very real. Over the twelve years, the boy, and his older sister, face many of the same issues faced by most children; the fact that they experienced those issues in separate homes adds a different dimension to their lives but, at least in this movie, does not devastate the family. Without spoiling the movie, it can be said that the divorced parents in the movie, while clearly imperfect, work through their life experiences without intense bitterness toward each other and, in the end that seems to have made all of the difference. I have, over the years, observed divorcing parents who never truly overcame their grief or anger. When I imagine the “Boyhood” story with these parents, I realize the story would have a completely different feeling. For me one of the messages that the movie underscores is that divorcing parents can be imperfect, and they can make the mistakes that we all make; but if their love of their children prevails, and they come to resolve their issues of grief and anger, their children can thrive. In my 32 years as a divorce attorney, I have witnessed every variation of the “Boyhood” story. My observations have convinced me that, for most divorcing parents, the method they choose for their divorce can make all of the difference. When it comes to divorce, some sadness, fear, and anger are inevitable. However, choosing a process that will help you resolve those issues, rather than inflame these emotions is crucial. To learn more about your choices, go to www.collaborativelaw.org or www.divorcechoice.com.
My husband and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary this year. It feels like a big number but I don’t feel old or tired of the marriage. My husband and I have worked hard to keep our marriage fresh and vibrant, and we look forward to the next 20 or 30 years together. But as a collaborative divorce attorney, I know that even happy marriages can come to an end. In fact most marriages are happy, some for many years, before “stuff happens” and one or both spouses decide to end the marriage. Before I became a “collaborative” divorce attorney and was merely a “traditional” divorce attorney, it was frightening to think of going through my own divorce. My experience as a “traditional” divorce attorney made me all too aware of the stress my clients and their spouses underwent in an adversarial process that sometimes exacerbated the conflict between them and put pressure on them to vilify or blame the other. However, since limiting my practice to the out-of-court collaborative divorce process, I am no longer afraid of going through my own divorce if that became necessary. I know that my husband and I would be respected in the collaborative process and that we would work for the greater good of our family and for our mutual future security. While my marriage would be a great loss to me, I know the collaborative process is there to gently, effectively, and efficiently escort me and my husband through this important life event. Don’t be afraid. If you are faced with or considering an end to your marriage, consider a collaborative divorce. You can find out more about it at www.collaborativelaw.org and www.mndivorce.com.
I am often asked to give presentations on the financial issues in divorce. I always cover what I refer to as the two financial pillars of any divorce dividing property including debts and cash flow and support. Without fail someone in attendance always asks where, do I begin? I do not know where to start. This question is asked not from a financial viewpoint but from an overall perspective of where to begin. My response is virtually the same every time. The most important decision you have to make is the decision to end the marriage. Some take months or even years to make this decision. It is not an easy one. If the decision is made to divorce, then the next most important decision is how to do it. What process options are available and which might be best suited for me, my spouse, and if children are present. Again not an easy decision, especially since these types of decisions are often made during times of high emotions including hurt, pain, and even anger. This is not necessarily the best frame of mind for making such life changing decisions. Having experienced divorce after a 30-year marriage and in my professional experience as a financial neutral, financial mediator, and supporting individual clients and their attorneys, the answer where to begin may be somewhere not so obvious, a divorce coach trained in collaborative divorce. I say this not because you will end up or be steered to a collaborative divorce, but rather that a divorce coach can help you and your spouse navigate the emotions and challenges during any divorce process and beyond. A collaboratively trained divorce coach can help explain process options in a manner to help you no matter what process you may choose. A neutral divorce coach can also help recommend other divorce professionals including a child specialist, financial specialist, and attorneys who can work together with you and your spouse in any divorce process. In addition, a divorce coach can help save you time, money, and heartache by guiding you and helping you manage emotions throughout the process. How do I find a collaboratively trained divorce coach? Click here to find coaches throughout the MSP metro area. By clicking on their name, you can read their profiles. Many, if not all of them, will provide a free initial consultation allowing you to ask questions, evaluate each individual and make informed decisions best suited to you and your family. Divorce coaches are one of the best resources available to anyone considering divorce and wondering “where do I begin.”