A collaborative law colleague recently wrote a lovely piece in the Boston Globe describing his reasons for leaving his litigation practice behind and representing clients only in alternative dispute resolution processes. His article resonated greatly with me. I too left behind a litigation practice to enter the world of peacemaking. While not an easy choice at the time, I look back six years later and realize that these years have been the most fulfilling of my career. I have not stepped foot in a courtroom in almost six years.
I am thankful for many things in my current “out of court” career, but here are just a few:
- I spend my days working with clients on resolutions that meet their big picture goals.
- My conversations and negotiations are fruitful, honest and genuine. The teams I work with and clients who choose me are seeking this type of interest-based negotiation without gamesmanship or posturing.
- My colleagues are professionals with passion and dedication to help people through transitions in their marriage – many are my friends, including attorneys who are on the “other side” representing my client’s spouse.
- I can be creative in tailoring outcomes to meet my clients goals.
- We can tailor my work to each client and what they need and want out of the process.
- I am a peacemaker who is at peace.
Peacemaking professionals provide the best experience for clients. I share my own story as a practitioner in the hopes that potential clients will read this and get a sense of who I am.
Knowing that, clients too may choose a path of peacefulness.
As many know, 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.
A potential client recently came in for a consult and, as often is the case, her husband was struggling to move forward in the process. They were at very different points on the divorce readiness scale – she was ready, he was not. This is quite typical. The other spouse is sometimes called “reluctant” or “in denial.”
When one spouse is looking for a non-adversarial, out-of-court alternative (like mediation or 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. This potential client said something very interesting to me. She said, “I know I am committed to collaborative divorce, but I am learning that this does not have to be a collaborative decision.”
This realization was profound. She realized that she could control the process (with her husband’s agreement), even if her husband 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. To learn more, contact Kimberly Miller.
My kids are spirited. Not possessed, although somedays it seems like they are. I thought the term “spirited child” referred to a child with ADD or ADHD. Not true. It’s not a diagnosis – it’s simply temperament. Thank goodness for Minnesota’s own Mary Sheedy Kurcinka and her book, “Raising Your Spirited Child.” As soon as I finished it, I started reading it again.
Spirited kids are just “more,” and my two kiddos are high energy, intense, persistent, and slow to adapt. This slow-to-adapt trait makes transitions a CONSTANT battle. It’s hard enough getting my two out the door to school every day. Then I think about kids whose parents are going through a divorce. Not only are kids of divorce doing the everyday school, activities, home, etc., but they have two
homes to toggle between. I’m sure it’s hard for any kid to go back and forth between two homes. Most adapt, though. But if you have a child who doesn’t like transitions, and mix in some frustration and sadness of the divorce, you have the ingredients for a frustrating, heart-breaking battle between parent and child. What to do?
Regardless of whether they are spirited, but especially if they are, listen to your children. Understand what your children are going through. It’s never too late to get a child specialist involved in the process, even post-decree. Talk with
your children them, instead of at
them. They didn’t ask to be in this position and they have NO control over the divorce. Help them feel like they have some control over their world. Don’t just assume they are doing well because they are getting straight A’s, or they’ll be OK when the divorce is final. Maybe they will be OK. After all, kids are resilient. But they’re your kids. And I think it’s our duty as parents to do as much for our kids emotionally as we can. They deserve it.
In the early days of separation and divorce you may find the idea of growing from your divorce difficult to believe. You may be in a state of depression or denial wondering how your life will carry on, much less that you will grow from this life change. It may be difficult to find the silver lining, yet the simple truth is that you can (and will) grow from this. You may or may not have had much of a choice in whether or not you are getting a divorce, but you DO have a choice whether to grow up or grow down through this process.
In a bad or difficult marriage it is easy to see how a person might grow from getting a divorce, but all divorces bring the opportunity for growth. Your divorce will likely change the way you view the world. Your life may be functioning completely different than before. Maybe you are having to look for a new career or add a part time job to make ends meet, or maybe you’ve been out of the workforce for years and your divorce is forcing you back in. Maybe you’ve had to move to an apartment or back in with your parents or a friend. Maybe your kids are at a new school as a result of your divorce. Maybe your entire social circle has now changed. It’s how you view these changes and react to your new normal, that promotes growth.
Growth from your divorce can appear in a number of ways. Emotionally, spiritually, physically, etc. Even something as simple as learning a new skill that your spouse had always managed like trimming the shrubs, or online bill pay. Spiritually your faith might deepen or may struggle as you get through some trying times. Emotional growth may take a bit longer. There may be some dark and difficult days before you start to grow emotionally, but slowly it will happen. Your priorities will change and grow. If you have shared custody with your children you will likely start to value your time together all that much more. Some things that were priorities during your marriage may no longer hold a significance to you.
Growth after divorce becomes a way to cope. Growth after divorce becomes a way to survive. Growth after divorce becomes empowerment. Growth after divorce becomes a new, better you.
While researching for this post, I came across a number of divorce-related blogs. The blog medium provides an efficient and concise opportunity to share information and educate the public. This blog focuses on the collaborative process
— where clients commit to an out-of-court, non–adversarial process.
Here are some other blogs that may provide additional information as you navigate the divorce process:
- Jeff Landers writes in Forbes Magazine about complex financial issues that women face in divorce. He is a Certified Divorce Financial Planner who has extensive experience with high asset divorces. His blog is informative and financially savvy.
- Divorced Girl Smiling is a personal blog written by a woman during – and now after her divorce. It is a personal account of her experience, as well as a gathering of resources for others who may be going through the same thing. The archived blogs provide a great path through the litigation process, and provides some insight into why a non-adversarial approach may be better.
However you choose to get advice, being armed with information and prepared for the process can help you feel confident and ready for the transitions that come with divorce.
There is a lot of information available online, if you know where to find it
Nearly every celebrity seems to have a divorce under their belt, but what about our local public figures – our children’s teachers, our mayors, city councilmen – how does the pubic feel about “those” public figures when they are facing divorce? About midway through the year I had noticed my daughter’s teacher’s name on Facebook (we have mutual friends) going from FIRST MARRIED to FIRST MARRIED MAIDEN, and I thought a divorce must be imminent. Admittedly my first thought was how a divorce might affect her teaching abilities for MY child. Selfish? Perhaps. Or are those type of reactions expected with public careers? Her private life is certainly none of my business, but is it easy to check your feelings at the door? Certainly not. The University of Minnesota is currently doing a study on the impact of divorce on a person’s career. Those results will be interesting to see, especially as there are careers can have a big impact on the public sector.
Some may say that their divorce was the best thing that ever happened to their career. Perhaps work was a necessary distraction as their marriage crumbled at home. But on the other hand some people admit that they simply could not focus at work with their marriage on the rocks. Sometimes people can attribute their careers to actually being the CAUSE of their divorce. A husband that travels all week, a wife who tends bar on the weekends, a stay at home parent who never gets a break, and more often than not, simply the demands and stress of a person’s career can tear apart a marriage. Some careers are statistically at a higher risk for divorce, almost as if divorce is beyond their control.
A few months later as school was coming to a close I noticed my daughter’s teachers name on social media is now: FIRST MAIDEN. Admittedly, my feelings changed from worrying about the affect her divorce would have on my own daughter to feeling horribly sympathetic towards her and her own children. As I leaned more I realized her husband holds a local political office and I began to wonder about the effects the divorce may have on his political career. It’s important to remember that everyone is human, divorce does not define a person, and even if you feel like your divorce is in the spotlight, remember that this too shall pass. Please share your thoughts about public divorces in the comment section below.
My two year old daughter received Legos for Christmas. They were the bigger bricks, which are perfect for her chubby, dimpled hands, and pink and purple “princess” Legos that could be made into, what else? Castles! She really wasn’t interested in the figurines that were included, but she WAS interested in creating a “super tall building.” I loved watching her build various creations.
I’m pretty sure Lego didn’t make “girl” kits when I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. My little brother had Legos, and I just shrugged them off as toys for boys. I was into…dare I say…Barbie. And all things that sparkle. I would, most certainly, have played with pink and purple Legos, though. After all, I liked putting things together. When my “boombox” stopped working, I took it apart and put it back together (and yes, I even fixed it!). Would I have become an engineer instead of a lawyer if Lego had made purple bricks? Nope. But if Lego had created a kit of pastel bricks, Legos might have outsold Superstar Barbie!
Did girls miss out on something by not playing with Legos? Maybe not. But what IS it about princesses? Dressed in her sparkly tutu, my daughter plays just as much, if not more, with trucks and transformers as she does her dolls. Is it because she has an older brother? Does she find transformers more interesting than her dolls? My five year old son is all boy (rough and tumble, loves trucks and ninja turtles, slides into “home plate” – which is the northwest corner of the family room – so much he wears holes in his jeans) so I was pleasantly surprised when he picked up his sister’s doll and stroller and zoomed around the house. “Great,” I thought, “maybe he’ll play dolls with his little sister.” Uh…no. He took the doll and stroller to annoy his younger sibling.
Nevertheless, watching my daughter with those pink and purple Legos certainly made me think about how items are “sold” or “packaged.” Do we really buy “things” or are we buying an “experience?” It depends. I think in many cases, we are paying for an experience, even when we buy products. (For instance, why do I need to have an aromatherapy experience grocery shopping? I’m there to buy groceries to feed my family. If I want such an “experience” I’ll go to a spa.) Nonetheless, the way products and experiences are packaged can make all the difference in the way we feel. But with legal services, you are buying a product (the divorce agreement/documents) as well as the experience.
When you are interviewing attorneys, be aware of what they are selling you and how they are selling it. Does the attorney you are meeting with base his or her expertise on all the cases “won.” Chances are, that attorney is talking more about him or herself and isn’t doing much listening to you. This is a divorce, people. A change in significant relationships within a family. Nobody wins in a divorce, so please don’t fall for that “package.” This process is all about getting to a new normal, and if you have young children, parenting them well. So, the attorneys and team you are interviewing should be all about helping you get to that new normal. That, in my opinion, is how divorce should be “packaged.”
As a collaborative attorney
, I am often asked “what would a court do?” Although parties in a collaborative divorce are not asking the court to make decisions in their case, what the law is and how a court may view an issue is important. It is part of the information that a client needs to understand to truly make a decision in their own best interest.
I recently attended an education series with local judges to gain an understanding of the current state of the law. In the second part of this 2 part series, I outline some of the factors a court may consider in making litigated decisions.
On property division and cash flow, here are some of the considerations:
- When dividing assets and liabilities, the courts often begin with an accounting and confirmation of all real estate, accounts, retirement assets, investments, stock options, inheritances, gifts, debts, personal property, vehicles, and all other possessions.
- The courts have to differentiate between marital property that was created or acquired during the marriage and non-marital property that should stay with one party. Non- marital property may include assets from before marriage, gifts or inheritances, and student loans.
- Non-marital property stays with the receiving party. Marital property is divided equitably. This is often interpreted as equally, although there are some exceptions if the outcome is deemed unfair.
- Division of property is a separate question from cash flow (child support and spousal maintenance).
- Child support in court is often calculated with the guidelines based on percentage of overnights with each parent and incomes. Then medical expenses and extra curricular activities are shared by percentage of income.
- Spousal maintenance or alimony is a discretionary area of the law. It is based on the needs of the recipient and the ability of the other spouse to provide support.
- Court requires an analysis of budgets and income or potential income of both parties. It can be difficult to address income if a party has not or is not working.
- Some of the factors for determining support include: length of the marriage, education and age of the spouses with regard to work ability, work history, parenting needs of children, and reasonableness of expenses.
- Because spousal maintenance is one of the most discretionary areas of family law, it is difficult to find consistent outcomes in the court as every case is decided based on the individual facts (and judge).
A collaborative process
is a different paradigm but clients have the same legal rights as parties in court. Know what the law is and what a court may do and then make well informed decisions. A good collaborative attorney
can help in this journey.
When a couple divorces, the final decree or order from a Court typically dictates how property shall be divided, how the children shall be parented, and what support will be paid moving forward. The decree will give you the dates and amounts of payments. The decree will also tell you what amount each of you is awarded of accounts or who shall keep the house. But there are some things a divorce does not dictate.
After a divorce is final, here are six things you (or your attorney) should do to finalize the division and move forward:
- Divide cash accounts. Bank accounts and investment accounts can be divided on your own. You both may need to work together to close joint accounts or transfer funds from one individual account to another. At the end of the process, you should have no joint accounts unless you have agreed to own something jointly.
- Pay-off and close joint credit cards. Joint credit card should be paid off and closed. You can take care of this on your own.
- Divide retirement. Retirement accounts need to be divided precisely as outlined in the decree. Non-qualified plans (like IRAs) can be divided with a copy of the decree and direction from the account holders – you can do this on your own. Qualified plans (like pensions, 401(k)’s or 403(b)’s) need a court order and you will have to have your attorney draft this or hire a consultant.
- Property title transfer. Title for any real estate that was awarded in the decree needs to be transferred to the individual owner. This can be done with a quit claim deed or order from the court that needs to be recorded with the county property office.
- Health insurance. Set up your own health insurance if needed or work with your former spouse to continue coverage for them.
- Estate planning. Your original will (if you had one) is no longer valid after divorce so you will need a new one. Hire an estate attorney to draft up a new will.
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.