When I heard “The X Files” was coming back for six episodes, I was thrilled! What other show gives you supernatural, psychological, political, legal, medical, and alien content wrapped into one? The show ended when I was a new lawyer; that is, when cell phones weren’t smart; Monica, Phoebe, Rachel, Ross, Chandler, and Joey were screen friends; e-mail was barely a blip on the screen; and tweeting was simply the sound birds make. I remember thinking how cool Mulder was when he whipped out his Nokia flip phone (the “it” phone of the new millennium, right?) to call Scully. After all, he couldn’t send her a text. A text was something we read not something we did back in 2000. But now, in these new episodes Scully can see…on her smart phone…when Mulder is calling her. And Mulder can take pictures of the monsters and aliens on his phone. Technology has definitely changed in the past 16 years. We will see if any of these devices help the agents in their quest to find the truth! Unfortunately, devices that make life easier can make life more complicated. I can’t tell you how many clients have told me they or their spouse “reunited” with a past love-interest on Facebook, or an affair was discovered in an e-mail or text. If this has happened to you, you aren’t alone. Social media and technology have certainly made the world smaller by reuniting people or keeping them connected. But some argue technology is making us less social. Kids text instead of talk to their friends. Relationships end via e-mail. Technology should enhance communication, not hinder it. Hopefully, human beings won’t evolve into a life form where kindness, sensitivity, and compassion aren’t valued. Or perhaps that’s part of Mulder’s whole conspiracy theory. The truth IS out there…somewhere…
Did you know that there is a National Financial Literacy Month?? Well, there is! The powers that be have selected April to be the Financial Literacy Month. Why April rather than July probably goes to the fact that so many people are acutely aware of their financial situation as they write out a check to the IRS. So, what is financial literacy and how does one become more financially literate? Financial literacy is about taking control of your finances by fully understanding the impact of your spending, saving and debt obligations on your financial well-being. It is about making well-informed purchasing decisions and understanding the difference between wants and needs. A financial literate individual understands the importance of saving for the long-term. They are committed to the budget that they created, which includes saving for specific large purchases, as well as longer-term financial goals such as a comfortable retirement. Financial literacy involves understanding the pros and cons of debt and being proactive about managing one’s debt obligations. A financial literate person knows the importance of maintaining a good credit score and gets a copy of their free credit report annually at www.annualcreditreport.com. Financial literacy is about recognizing when you have a problem managing your debt and getting assistance to help you manage the situation. Financial literacy is also about communicating openly with your significant other about financial matters. It is about teaching your children good financial habits such as saving for big purchases, starting a retirement account early and not getting in over one’s head in debt. So, now that you know what financial literacy is, go to www.financialliteracymonth.com to see what tools and information they have to help you be more financially literate.
With the recent warm weather and longer days, it is beginning to feel like Spring. Spring is a time of rejuvenation and growth. As the sun comes out and the temperatures rise, flowers blossom and buds sprout. People are out exercising and enjoying the warm weather. After a long, cold winter, as the days get longer, the community collectively is re-emerging. It is an optimistic, forward-looking time. There are a number of similarities to Springtime and the re-emergence after a divorce. When someone initiates a divorce, it often causes the fear and negative emotions to increase. There is added anxiety in the process, knowing that you have started but not yet really resolved anything. The divorce itself may feel like winter. You may feel isolated to stuck in a lonely process. You may have a hard time appreciating the positive things in your life and instead focus on the cold, scary parts. But once resolutions are found, it is a new beginning. Indeed, a collaborative divorce process (where both clients work together out-of-court on resolutions) can lead to meaningful resolutions that establish a great foundation for the future. Mutually acceptable resolutions and a process that supports and nurtures both spouses, can lead to a new normal. Once in place, those resolutions can feel like a whole new life. Like Spring, it can feel like the future is positive and there is potential for emotional and financial success. Relationships can feel refreshed or reinvigorated. People may have better mental health and feel good about moving forward. Like an extra bounce in your step or deeper peace — re-emerging from divorce has great possibility. There are options when you are divorcing. The collaborative process is a truly future-focused process that supports you during the process and then sets you up for success afterwards. So, if you are contemplating divorce, know that it gets better. There is a springtime waiting for you.
In an election year, we are exposed to an abundance of rhetoric. As candidates debate and advertise to convince people to vote for them, I listen for words reflecting respect, dignity, the ability to listen deeply and the capacity to work effectively with those who may hold different beliefs. High conflict resulting in governmental gridlock puts people at risk, especially those who are most vulnerable. Yet listening to potential leaders, I hear repeated versions of “I will never compromise.” Though this may be intended to project strength and resolution, does it not also sound rigid and contentious? What human values does this type of rhetoric represent? How expensive in time, money and emotional resources does endless gridlock become for the people depending on resolution? Divorcing parents are faced with the necessity to make many decisions affecting the future of their family. Their children are the most vulnerable family members, counting on their parents to work things out. What happens to children when their parents disagree and then refuse to compromise? When parents become rigid and disrespectful of each other, how does the ensuing gridlock impact their children? How expensive in time, money and emotional resources does this process become? Collaborative Practice is a method of alternative dispute resolution incorporating the values of respect, honesty and fairness. From the beginning of the process, clients are supported by their attorneys and by neutral professionals on their team to engage in interest-based negotiation to ensure both parents’ true concerns are heard, rather than positional negotiation that can easily lead to heightened conflict and expensive gridlock. For more information about how Collaborative Practice might work for your family, please check out the website of the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota.
Do you need a divorce team and if so who should be on that team? If you are going through divorce or plan to do so you should think about who you want to have on your divorce team. Who you have on your team depends on the process you have chosen. If you are headed down the traditional litigated divorce path your attorney will be your lead team member and possibly could be the only team member. Oh sure you may bring in experts of your own and when you do experts of your soon to be ex will suddenly appear. This is unlike a collaborative divorce where neutral professionals are commonly utilized. In mediations you may or may not have neutrals or you can also have experts, if you will, that are only on your side. The difference is in a collaborative divorce the neutrals are working together with you and your spouse to help you reach agreements. These agreements satisfy both of your needs and interests versus you both having your own experts refuting each of your positions with opposing viewpoints. When this opposing positions scenario appears it requires some outside third party to make decisions for you since you and your spouse cannot make those decisions yourselves. This ends up being a crapshoot and most likely results in decisions neither one of you are very satisfied with. In a collaborative divorce the entire team works together for the benefit of your family. Who are the potential team members and their roles in a collaborative divorce? Attorney:
- Provides legal guidance, counsel, and advice to you
- Supports you in resolving the areas of dispute that arise
- Cooperates with other Collaborative team members to guide clients through the process
- Works in joint meetings with both clients and the other attorney to create legal documents to necessary to complete the process
- Are professionally licensed as attorneys
- Helps clients effectively communicate during the process which can minimize conflict and lower cost
- Helps to maintain a safe environment to discuss difficult issues with mutual respect
- Helps you with advocating for yourself
- Helps you minimize emotions to better manage reactivity to stress
- Is licensed as a mental health professional or a Rule 114 qualified mediator
- Identifies and evaluates tax consequences
- Assists clients with developing spending plans (budgets)
- Develops current and future cash flow analyses
- Helps clients/attorneys generate and evaluate financial options
- Guides the team discussion on financial matters
- Is professionally licensed as a financial expert
- Provides neutral guidance and education to parents
- Helps parents create “we statements” to talk with their children about the divorce or break up
- Meets with parents and children to obtain developmental information, identify family strengths and identify goals to meet children’s needs
- Meets with children to assess their hopes and needs for the future
- Gives feedback to parents and professional Team members about the needs of children
- Assists parents in the creation of a developmentally responsive Parenting Plan
- Works with the Neutral Coach to strengthen parents’ co-parenting relationship
- Is licensed as a mental health professional
Once you have completed your divorce, the list of things to figure out can be daunting. It can be easy to push off those things that don’t seem to affect your daily routine. Some of those things that you have been putting off are likely financial – a lump sum distribution from the divorce just sitting in cash, a 401(k) in need of rollover or perhaps a credit card balance that never seems to get any smaller. It’s time to make understanding your financial situation part of the process of building a new life. The longer you wait, the greater likelihood that your inaction will impact your long-term financial success. If you don’t know where to start, then it may be a good idea to seek out the assistance of a financial planner. While financial planners may have specialties, the financial planning process is fairly standard for all planners. At the core of the financial planning processes is evaluating your financial needs and goals, and helping you take steps toward meeting those needs and goals. The general steps to the financial planning process are as follows: 1. Determining your financial goals What are you looking to achieve? Do you need to invest that cash in your savings account or rollover a 401(k)? Do you need to figure out how you are going to pay for your child’s college education? Do you need to get a firm handle on your expenses and cash flow? (budgeting) 2. Gathering your information If you have recently completed your divorce, this step should be easy. For your divorce, you needed to collect all of your financial information. You can just pass this information on to a financial planner (bank, retirement, and investment statements, liabilities (credit cards, car loan, mortgage), and your income information, such as a pay stub and a tax return. A copy of your divorce decree also provides pertinent information. 3. Analyzing your information The financial planner will stitch together all of the financial documents in your life to create a picture of your financial situation. 4. Creating your financial plan A financial plan lays out your financial goals and your financial situation. From there, your financial planner will work with you to create a plan of action for meeting your financial goals, based on your financial situation. 5. Implementing your financial plan Your financial plan is going to be a little different from everyone else’s plan. Implementation of a financial plan can take many forms as well. It may involve reallocating your portfolio, setting up a program to save for college, purchasing insurance, or creating a budget. 5. Monitoring the progress of your financial plan In the stock market and life, things happen, situations change. Financial plans are not engraved in stone, never to be changed. They have to be flexible to adapt to the changes that happen in the financial markets and in life. While the financial planning process is fairly standard across the industry, the financial products and solutions recommended by financial planners are not. Much like your physical health, if you are not sure if the recommended products or plan of action are best for your financial health, seek a second opinion. You are more likely to be committed to following a financial plan if you understand the financial products in your portfolio and are certain that your financial planner has put your interests first.
Collaborative divorce is an out-of-court, non-adversarial process for dissolving a marriage. It is common for one spouse being ready to move forward with divorce and the other spouse struggling to move forward in the process. Parties can be at very different points on the divorce readiness scale – one is ready, one is not. This is quite typical. The spouse not wanting to move forward is sometimes called “reluctant” or “in denial.” Because Minnesota is a no fault divorce state, one spouse not being ready does not need to stop the process from moving forward. The ready spouse can file for divorce and the process moves on in court with little control of the reluctant spouse. However, when one spouse is looking for a non-adversarial, out-of-court alternative (like collaborative divorce), there is more of a need to bring that other spouse along. The reluctant spouse really can delay the process and interfere with the non-reluctant spouse’s desire to divorce. It is interesting to think that one spouse can be committed to a collaborative divorce, but divorcing may not have to be a collaborative decision. So one party can control the process (with the other’s agreement), even if the other never agrees with the decision to divorce. It is common during the divorce process to have spouses be at different comfort levels with the decision to divorce. These levels of readiness can change throughout the process and even vary greatly from one meeting to another. The challenge often lies with helping the reluctant spouse commit to a collaborative process, while acknowledging his or her disagreement with the process. A good collaborative attorney can strategize ways to bring the reluctant spouse into the process and help move things forward. Ways to teach him or her about the divorce options and lay out the pros and cons of different processes for divorce.
In my work with families making the shift from one to two households for their children, I often remind parents that transitions between homes are typically bothersome for kids. I use the personal example of going on vacation to explain this: I love my job, and I love going on vacation, once I get there. It’s the transitions in between that I don’t look forward to at all. What do I need to remember to pack? Did I forget something important? Will I know what to expect when I get there? Will I get enough sleep? Transitions by definition take us out of one routine and into another—and kids usually do best with predictable routines. So how can attuned parents help make transitions less stressful? Here are five tips: 1. When relocating after a divorce or break-up, strongly consider whether it would be possible to live within biking distance of each other. I hear all this wish expressed all the time from kids. It helps them feel less worried about forgetting something at the other house, because retrieval would be easier. It also gives them a sense of personal agency to imagine they could bike over to Mom’s or Dad’s on their own power. 2. Ensure that kids have ample supplies of what they feel is important to have at both houses. No, you won’t need to buy two saxophones, but you may need to invest in particular kinds of shampoo and conditioner, multiple special pillows or specific games to have at each home. Having photos of the other parent in the kids’ bedrooms will also help. 3. Be very mindful of the emotional tone of transitions. Focus on what the kids need, which is a respectful and calm exchange. Anything else and kids will feel in the middle. Transitions are not the time to try to resolve disagreements between parents. 4. Be reliable and follow through on commitments. I can’t emphasize this enough. Trust can only build between co-parents, and between parents and children when behaviors match words. 5. The best parenting time arrangements are both structured and reasonably flexible to accommodate unexpected opportunities or life events. However, parents need to confer directly about any changes of plan. Even if a child asks for the change in routine it is not a good idea to say “Sure, I’d love to take you to the game on Saturday, but it’s not my weekend with you. You’ll have to call your mom/dad and see if it’s okay.” This puts your child in the middle, and can be a set up for the other parent. What to say instead? How about, “Thanks for letting me know you’re interested in going to the game. Mom/Dad and I need to talk first to make sure it would work.”
When one spouse in a divorce has been unemployed for an extended period, it can often be a frightening situation for that particular spouse. It can also be frightening to the other spouse. This fear shared from opposite perspectives can lead to heightened conflict and tense communications. This conflict and challenged communications can impede the entire divorce process. However, it does not have to be this way. What if in the divorce process, there was a way for someone to explore these fears from a deeper perspective? The spouse who has been unemployed for some time, perhaps because of child rearing responsibilities, is extremely anxious or downright scared about how they will ever be able to make it. The employed spouse is anxious and downright scared they will forever face having to support their non-working spouse. Both have legitimate fears and concerns. Let us look at some options that may help both at least minimize some of these fears. In a collaborative divorce , professionals, whether they are coaches, financial specialists, child specialists, or attorneys, have access to tremendous resources to help couples in this type of situation. Vocational assessments can help determine a person’s aptitude for specific job classifications and what the expected salary ranges are for beginning, mid-level, and more experienced levels. Sometimes additional training may be required to either add new skills or perhaps update skills from the past. Career coaches can help with packaging (marketing) a spouse for employment, resume creation, interviewing skills, and a game plan with target dates for employment. This type of effort requires genuine commitment on the part of the spouse seeking employment and the spouse who is employed. The commitment comes in the form of the unemployed spouse diligently working with the vocational counselors and coaches to follow recommendations provided. Commitment from the employed spouse comes by supporting the spouse seeking employment both emotionally and financially. When this commitment is genuinely felt by both spouses, good things can happen. The unemployed spouse will be able to obtain employment at a more rapid pace, which in the end serves to boost their confidence and self-esteem. This can have a mushroom effect to fast track the non-working spouse to employment with higher earnings. If the employed spouse sees progress to help the non-working spouse with employment, their fears of having to fully support their non-working spouse forever can be significantly reduced. Sounds like a win-win to me. The keys to all this happening is commitment, transparency, and genuineness from all involved including spouses and members of the divorce team. Of course, if you do not have a divorce team and are stuck in a more traditional divorce process, the commitment, transparency, and genuineness more than likely does not exist at all. This begs the question of which divorce process do you really want to pursue? A collaborative divorce provides an environment described above where you and your spouse make decisions together that are in your best interest. A more traditional or litigated divorce process is a process often forced upon you and then someone else makes decisions for you that affect your future. Stop and think before you choose. Choose your process wisely.
Several experiences this past weekend got me thinking about the meaning of a true apology. On Sunday, I read Gail Rosenblum’s column in the Star Tribune about whether women, in particular, are socially conditioned to say “I’m sorry” too often. After describing an Amy Schumer skit which ended with a female Nobel laureate apologizing to a coffee cup for getting in the way while dying of accidental coffee burns, Rosenblum shifts the issue to her real message: “…we need to learn how to do sorry well.” She quotes workplace consultant Fran Sepler who said, “The difference between an insincere and a sincere apology is miles apart.” (I was reminded of the commercial in which a burly guy looks down at his bicep and bellows, “No Regerts?” to which his candy-eating tattoo artist whines, “Soorrryy, I was eating a Milky Way.”). A true apology requires empathy and open acknowledgment of how you have hurt the other person, and a sincere wish to begin to mend the damage. On Saturday evening, I went to a play entitled ‘Til Death, A Marriage Musical: A Hit Musical that’s Ridiculous, Squirm-Inducing and Lovely….Just Like Marriage. The creators of the show, a couple named Jeremiah and Vanessa Gamble, wrote in the program, “We wanted to take an inward look at our own struggles of trying to practice forgiveness and live out a committed relationship.” The show is an intelligent, witty and well-performed look at two couples whose marriages are acutely threatened by hurtful acts of omission and commission. Throughout the play, characters say “I’m sorry” in various inauthentic ways. It’s not until the moment that a character drops his or her defensiveness and justification and expresses true regret for hurting the other person that it becomes clear that a true apology has been offered….and accepted. The fact is, a true apology will not always be accepted by the other person. That is beyond your ability to control. But making a true apology, with empathy, respect and clarity, makes YOU a better person. And the world a better place for you and your kids.