535246039-conflict-arguement-between-african-descent-gettyimagesDid you wake up today and think to yourself, out of the blue, “I want a divorce.”? Not likely. Often divorce lingers in one’s mind and consumes one’s thoughts more months, even years. Contemplating divorce involves a lengthy process of weighing pros and cons, thinking about life without your spouse, what things will be like for the kids, managing finances, maybe having to go back to work or change jobs to make ends meet on a single income, and many other scenarios. Even once all things have been taken into consideration people sometimes get stuck on bringing it up with their spouse, that alone could take months. Then once they do bring it up, the spouse might convince them to stay and work things out. Months, maybe years later sometimes this cycle begins again. There are no right or wrong answers when considering how long you should “think” about it before filing for a divorce. Some circumstances beget immediate consideration, while many wish to attempt marriage counseling and other resolutions first. Whatever then length of time that you’ve been considering a divorce, here are some important steps to take before going forward:
  1. Make copies of federal and state income tax returns from the past five years.
  2. If you don’t have a credit card in your name, open one up in case of an emergency.
  3. Establish online access to your joint bank accounts and check the account regularly for any unusual activity, which could include excessive spending or withdrawals.
  4. If you have a safety deposit box, photograph and inventory the contents.
  5. Obtain a copy of your credit report to see if you have any liabilities you might be unaware of.
  6. Obtain a copy of your will and powers of attorney.
  7. Go for a consultation with a divorce attorney even if you are still unsure if you want a divorce. Knowledge is power.
  8. Consider seeing a therapist for your own sanity and an unbiased opinion.
  9. Remember that, “Divorce isn’t such a tragedy… a tragedy is staying in an unhappy marriage, teaching your children the wrong things about love. Nobody ever died of divorce.” – quote by Jennifer Weiner, Author.
77380996-man-and-woman-building-a-stack-of-bills-gettyimagesYour divorce, regardless of process will not be free. While a free divorce is impossible you can self manage many of the costs of your divorce. In my work as a financial neutral working with couples and individuals going through divorce there are five key tips I have observed that can help clients reduce the financial and emotional costs of divorce. Do everything possible to minimize conflict with your spouse Divorce is not without conflict. Conflict is expensive. The greater the conflict between you and your spouse the more your divorce will cost in terms of money and in terms of emotional wear and tear. If you and your spouse can openly and respectfully discuss what you can agree to and seek help to work through the issues where you have differing opinions the financial and emotional costs can be reduced. You will save money and time when you put your heads together to resolve your differences instead of butting them against each other. Get organized and be prepared If possible, work together with your spouse to gather all financial records necessary for any divorce process. This includes but is not limited to statement copies for everything you own and everything you owe to someone, tax returns including W-2’s, paycheck stubs, bank accounts, credit card accounts, retirement accounts, other investment accounts, insurance information, mortgage and other loans, and information concerning employer provided benefits. Consider putting together a 3-ring binder or electronic file folders containing each of these items. Your divorce decree requires the itemization of every asset and liability. It is foolish, costly, and to your detriment to not be fully open and transparent with your spouse. Being organized, open and completely transparent will help reduce costs. Establish and communicate expectations Communicate clearly with the professionals you are working with while at the same time listening carefully to the professionals you do engage. Consider this a two-way dialogue and recognize that you probably do not know what you do not know. Your divorce professionals have the expertise and wisdom to guide you through this difficult time. The wise professionals want to do this in a timely and cost effective manner. Beware of the so-called professionals who promise to get you the best deal. Best deals come at a price both financially and emotionally. Identify your needs and interests, and those of your spouse Whenever possible discuss these with your spouse in an open and respectful manner recognizing each of you will have unique needs and interests. You and your spouse will also have shared needs and interests. Needs and interests are not positions. Needs and interests are the underlying reasons and factors why something may be so important to you or your spouse. A position is more like a demand or a must have without stating any particular reasons. If your spouse seems locked into a position, ask them why this particular issue is so important to them and listen carefully for the underlying reasons. If you can find a way to satisfy those reasons, you are on the road to resolution. Collaborate, compromise, and cooperate Ask yourself, if you make every decision a battlefield how do you think your spouse will respond. Drawing lines in the sand will only isolate you and make it harder to reach agreements not to mention cost a lot more money and take more time. Remember you got married together and you and your spouse will get divorced together one way or the other. You and your spouse get to choose how. Every divorce and family is unique and comes with its own set of circumstances. The complexity of the relational, financial, and legal issues of your divorce along with the ability of you and your spouse to follow these five tips will ultimately determine how long your divorce will take and how much it will cost. Choose your process and your professionals wisely. Check out this link to learn more and find out if a collaborative divorce is right for you. For more information and resources check out my website under the about us section at www.integrashieldfinancial.com.   There you will find a video featuring actual collaborative divorce process clients, a divorce knowledge kit, resources for those with children, and a link labeled Collaborative Divorce with Dignity and Respect.
548557637-dramatic-stormy-sky-over-sea-gettyimagesDivorce means loss. It cannot be denied that a marriage is ending. However, the actual process of divorce can be one of preserving many things that do not have to be lost; including the well-being of your children, your emotional and financial well-being and even the quality of your relationship with your soon-to-be ex spouse. If you are facing divorce, getting a successful outcome may depend on your ability to focus on preserving the things that matter the most to you. If you are a parent, it is likely that the impact of the divorce on your children is your primary concern. It is true that a divorce can have a significant impact on your children. However, children can be very resilient and it is possible to preserve the hopes and dreams that you have for your children if you are able to select a divorce process that keeps your children out of the middle and focuses on their needs going forward. Similarly, if you are concerned about your emotional well-being, it is possible to choose a divorce process that allows you to get the help you need in adjusting to your new life. Finally, if your financial stability is your main concern, you need a process that allows you to create a stable financial future. One of the key features of the Collaborative Divorce Process is that it is designed to give you the tools you need to preserve the things that matter the most to you.   In the Collaborative Divorce Process, most couples work with a team of professionals so that you can preserve the things that matter the most to you.  In a Collaborative Divorce, you can have a neutral Child Specialist to help you make sure that the needs of the children are central to all of the other decisions in the divorce. You can also have a financial expert on the team to help you find a better financial solution and to help you manage your finances better in the future. In addition, you can select a divorce coach to help you, and your spouse, address the communication and emotional issues that will help you build a better future. Finally, you and your spouse can each have Collaborative Attorneys; legal professionals who will work on your behalf for settlement purposes only. Because Collaborative Attorneys focus only on settlement, you will be able to have someone to work on your behalf, without creating unnecessary acrimony. To learn more the Collaborative Process, go to www.Collaborativelaw.org or to www.divorcechoice.com to locate a Collaborative professional who will provide a free consultation.
152258425-family-gettyimagesAttachment is the term used to describe the emotional relationship between two people.  The earliest and most significant attachment develops between an infant and his or her primary caregivers.  This attachment is based on how consistently, accurately and soothingly the adult reads and responds to the cues of the baby Most infants form a secure attachment with their parents based on consistent and  responsive care.  The quality of the infant attachment relationship has lifelong implications for how a child develops into an adult.  The human abilities to manage anxiety, show empathy, regulate anger, trust others and feel hope for the future all have their roots in this first attachment relationship. If a parent is unable to provide emotionally consistent care or is emotionally rejecting, the infant’s attachment relationship becomes insecure.   If the care-giving is emotionally chaotic, the attachment becomes disorganized.  Disorganized attachment has profound negative impacts on future development.  Disorganized attachment history often has its roots in parental trauma.  One life event that researchers link to parental trauma is their own childhood experience of a divorce with the elements of high conflict and/or abandonment by a parent. I often tell parents with whom I work that divorce is a life crisis that does not need to become a trauma for a child.  A respectful, healthy divorce process that is child-centered or child-inclusive can help a securely attached child continue to feel safe.  With effective co-parenting, these children can maintain secure attachments with both parents and continue to thrive after a divorce.  This becomes the root source of children’s resilience. My next blog will focus on what we know about Adult Attachment and its implications for future generations.  In the meantime, please learn more about the Collaborative child-centered and child-inclusive divorce process on the website for the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota.
Divorce brings up many feelings, including feeling helpless. Sometimes you feel like your life is spinning out of your own control and you are left helpless. There is a quote by Aung San Suu Kyi that reads, “When you feel helpless, help someone.” So what does that mean? We have all experienced times in our life where we feel like the world is against and nothing is going right, divorce being one of them. The easiest way to get out of feeling this way: if you are feeling helpless, help someone. It helps us realize that we are all in this together, and we all have real life problems. In fact, it often helps us realize our problems are not nearly as big as someone else’s are. This is not to say that your problems are not important, but we are all fighting our own battles and you never know what the next person is battling. Not sure where to start? Strapped for time and/or cash? Whether it’s finding a cause that you are passionate about and seeing where you can best share your time and talents, or simply random acts of kindness, no gesture is too small. See if there is a committee at church where you can lend a helping hand, register for a 5K which supports a cause that you care about, ask an elderly neighbor what they could use a hand with over the weekend, etc. If you have children, of any age, but especially teenagers (good grief!), chances are they too are feeling like their lives are suddenly beyond their control, as they likely are. Help them find something they can control, because when you feel helpless, helping someone else is very empowering. Check into age appropriate volunteer opportunities at a local shelter to serve meals to the homeless, packing meals for children overseas, collecting coats and blankets and dropping them off for the homeless; the opportunities to help people are endless. Teaching your child that giving back to others will not only empower them in an otherwise helpless situation, but also helping others becomes a life lesson they will remember for years to come. As Ghandi stated, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Start with yourself and then with your children.
In a divorce, parents often wonder how to tell the children about the dissolution.  This can be particularly difficult if the parents have a strained relationship or if the parents disagree on divorcing. Research shows that coming up with positive ways to talk to kids about divorce and a shared message can significantly impact how the children process and thrive after divorce. A family specialist or other collaborative professional can help parents work on this messaging.
An often forgotten element of divorce, however, is the “story” for everyone else. The children of divorce often take precedence, but divorcing people also may worry about telling their own parents, extended family, friends, or people in the community.
As a collaborative professional, I often have divorcing clients wonder “how can I tell my child’s teacher?” “I am worried about what my mom/sister/grandmother will think if I tell them about the divorce”. Or, “what will the neighbors think?” People also may worry about telling people at work.  While it is important to have a shared narrative for the children, it can often be beneficial to have a shared narrative for the greater community as well.
If both spouses work together on messaging, it can avoid confusion and prevent additional animosity resulting from third parties. In collaborative divorce, the professionals often work with clients on the shared narrative to the community. While it is important to have a consistent message, people sometimes differ on the level of information to share. It can also sometimes be difficult to consider not being 100% honest in what is shared. While it is rarely best to lie, keeping certain elements private or just stating “this is not something we are comfortable sharing” can be a good way to have a message, but keep it controlled.
A traditional court process does not typically address this messaging.  By making a decision to use a non-adversarial, out-of-court process, such as collaborative law, couples can work together to find more complete and holistic resolutions. This work can lead to better, long lasting resolutions for the individuals and others in their lives.
494322995-business-people-shaking-hands-in-meeting-gettyimagesIf you are facing the possibility of a divorce, choosing a divorce lawyer could be one of the most important decisions in your life. Divorce is unfair. It forces you to make some of the most difficult decisions in your life at a time when you might be least able to do so. Having someone you trust to advise you is important. There are hundreds of lawyers in the Twin Cities with significant experience handling divorce cases.  Regardless of what you may think of lawyers (and surveys would suggest that may not be overly positive) lawyers are, for the most part, like the rest of our society. They come in all shapes and sizes, and have varying degrees of skill, honesty and effectiveness. If you work hard and do your homework, you can find one of the really good ones. Perhaps more importantly, you want to the best attorney for you. The key is to know how to investigate and interview so that you find the right fit. Investigating Lawyers to Interview. The first step is to find attorneys to interview. The best way to start is to talk with people you know who have had a positive experience with their divorce attorney and find out what it is about their attorney that they liked. The other option is to research the internet carefully, at least to make sure you understand all of the process options available. While it would be reckless to choose an attorney from online information alone, the internet can be an effective way to find someone to interview. It is also a good way to learn about the main process choices that exist in our community; namely traditional representation; mediation and Collaborative Practice. Once you have found an attorney to interview (or ideally several attorneys), you should contact each attorney (by phone or email) and find out if they charge for the initial consultation. Many family law attorneys will provide consultations for free, or at little charge, in order to give you the opportunity to meet them and learn how they work. When you do interview the attorneys, do not be afraid to ask them difficult questions to help you determine if they are a good fit for you. Many books include guidance on questions to ask your attorney including, The Collaborative Way to Divorce. Make sure that each attorney that you interview provides a description of the main process choices described above and make sure they describe their experience and training in each of these areas. Attorneys, like most people, have preferences and biases and their description of the three basic options can be filtered by their own preferences, rather than being based upon actual experience. If, for example, your attorney has not had significant experience in mediation or Collaborative Law, their recommendation may be based on third hand accounts of information or bias, rather than actual expertise. To find attorneys who have experience or expertise in Collaborative Law and mediation, go to www.collaborativelaw.org or www.divorcechoice.com.
170652636-couple-meeting-with-financial-advisor-gettyimagesI’m not always a very wise shopper.  I tend to fall into the trap of thinking something is a good deal if I save money.  And at least in the short term, my cheaper purchase may do just fine. But inevitably, cheap purchases lack staying power and don’t hold up well.  I was reminded of this recently when looking in dismay at the boots I bought on sale at a discount shoe store.  After one season of wear, the leather has frayed on the toes of both boots, and they won’t be wearable next season. In contrast, the Frye boots I splurged on when I was accepted into graduate school decades ago still look great.  I knew at the time that these boots were an investment meant to last. When some potential clients hear about Collaborative Team Practice, their first response is,  “That sounds too expensive.  I don’t want to spend much money on a divorce.”   Because most people have to budget money with some care, it can easily feel like professional fees are not where limited resources should go.   But be aware of the trap of thinking something is a good deal if it saves money. A quality divorce process is an investment in the future, especially when children are involved.  Collaborative professionals are experts in conflict resolution and creative problem solving, and can respectfully support families through the crisis of divorce to sustainable resolutions.  Collaborative professionals are deeply knowledgeable in their areas of expertise—family law, financial resolutions, children’s needs in divorce, parenting plans and co-parenting skills.  Simply put, the right Collaborative professional will help you understand what you may well not know about how to make the best possible decisions on behalf of yourself and your family. The least expensive divorce options may seem adequate at the time, but the results are often not sustainable.  This may mean heading back into a post-decree legal process that  is guaranteed to be costly.  Collaborative Team Practice is not the best fit for all divorces, but when it is, it is clearly an investment in quality outcomes with staying power for the future.  For more information, check out the Collaborative Law Institute website.
164848735-judges-gavel-and-legal-files-gettyimagesOur last blog post from Daisy Camp discussed ways you can avoid going to trial in a divorce. The last thing anyone wants is to go to trial, but sometimes going to trial is simply unavoidable. The good thing is, less than 5 percent of divorce cases go to trial, but what if you find yourself amongst that 5 percent? What can you expect in a divorce trial? Judges generally try to help you resolve your case before the trial date, but sometimes that is simply impossible. If, after months, and sometimes even years of negotiations, you and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse still have not reached an agreement, your last recourse is to have a trial. Divorce trials typically do not involve juries, but are held by a judge in the judge’s chamber. The judge reviews volumes of documents, hears evidence from each spouse, your respective divorce attorneys, possibly witnesses, and then come to a decision based on evidence. Trials can be as short as half a day or as long as several months (although that would probably be unusual for a divorce trial). The length of a trial depends on the number of witnesses, how long each examination takes, and what motions are made during the course of the trial. The emotional and financial costs rapidly add up. Divorces can be very expensive, but divorces that go to trial are even more costly, both financially as well as emotionally. According to the book “The Collaborative Way to Divorce” by Collaborative Attorneys, Stuart Wells & Ron Ousky, “When divorcing the “traditional way” settlement may only happen only after you or your spouse have been to court on one or more occasion, for temporary hearings, settlement conferences,  and so on. Sometimes these cases settle within days or hours before the trial is scheduled to begin – after you and your spouse have already incurred most of the financial and emotional cost of preparing for trial.” In these cases although the trial was avoided, the damage is already done.
185123062-stone-heart-gettyimagesAs a collaborative law professional, I work with divorcing couples on out-of-court resolutions that meet big picture goals and interests. It is challenging work that I have dedicated my career to and I strive daily to provide the highest level of service. As a general practice, I check in with my clients a year or so after the divorce to see how things are going. I genuinely care about my clients and enjoy learning where they are at after a divorce and what accomplishments and challenges they have faced after the transition. While many traditional, court-based divorce attorneys hear from their clients often with post-decree disputes or modifications, I believe if I have done my job most effectively, clients will be prepared to handle most everything that comes up after a divorce on their own. More often than not, the only way I know how my clients are navigating a post-divorce world, is to reach out and ask them. I recently heard from two former clients. First, I heard from a spouse who had one of the more challenging financial situations I have dealt with. There was significant debt and substantial expenses (as there often are) and they had shared some unique financial goals regarding their investments and retirements moving forward. They also agreed to share future income in a manner that was unique in the eyes of the law, yet suited their big picture goals. The parents agreed on many parenting issues, but both had personal experiences with bad divorces in their own childhoods, so they were apprehensive and untrusting of the other. They also intended to move out-of-state for the main wage-earner’s work once the children finished the school-year, although there was concern on follow through with this agreement. I heard from this client that the move happened without a hitch and they have peacefully transitioned into two homes in a new community. The children are thriving with the help of good communication and some family counseling. I heard from my client that “things are better than I expected” and that my client truly believes they are both doing really well. Most importantly, my client was excited to share the accomplishments of the children, yet sharing truthfully some of the difficulties they have had with the transition. This client expressed gratitude for a collaborative divorce process that allowed them to acknowledge the positives in their relationship and preserve what works, while restructuring things for a better future. My other client had recently navigated his Wife getting remarried. He provided spousal maintenance to his ex-Wife and the decree had contemplated the financial circumstances changing upon remarriage if either spouse requested such a review. My client informed me that despite the decree allowing for a review, he had decided not to do so because he wanted to continue to support his ex-Wife in a financially stable situation for the benefit of his children. Even though he could have likely lessened his obligation, he felt most comfortable with maintaining the status quo and continuing support. Like my other client, he thanked me for providing a process that allowed him the flexibility to decide what feels right but also preserved the respect and caring he shares for his ex-Wife. Indeed, that respect has benefited her greatly as well through the support. In my years of experience and check-ins with clients, I am continuously impressed by the level of gratitude clients express for the collaborative process. It is a process that creates unique outcomes tailored to each family’s needs and, I believe, results in longer lasting agreements and stronger post-divorce relationships.