In Part 1, vortex was defined as: 1) a whirling mass of water or air that sucks everything near it towards its center; 2) a place or situation regarded as drawing into its center all that it surrounds, and hence, being inescapable or destructible.tropical-cyclone-catarina-1167137_1920 The second definition provides a visual for what many think a divorce “looks like.”  While the end of a marriage is emotionally tumultuous and devastating, the actual legal process of uncoupling does not have to be.  But, it is critical that you choose a process that promotes healing.  The Collaborative Process does just that. Collaboration is a holistic approach to divorce.  It can be utilized by couples who are ending either a marriage or significant relationship, or who have a child or children together.  Although some people question whether it is an appropriate process when domestic abuse or mental health/chemical dependency issues are present, many others think it can (and should) at least be attempted.  If you don’t want to be another “divorce horror story,” the Collaborative Process will likely be a great fit. Collaboration focuses on the future (i.e., the relationship of co-parenting in two homes) rather than the past (i.e. the vilification of one spouse); is a win-win for both partners (rather than a court-imposed win-lose); and emphasizes the well-being of the entire family.  You don’t air your dirty laundry in court, and you aren’t (literally) judged.  In fact, you never set foot in a courtroom.  The negotiation model is interest-based/win-win, rather than positional/win-lose.  You pay attorneys to help you solve problems, not argue and keep you stuck in the past.  Every family is unique, so every family deserves a unique solution.  And if you have young children, please keep in mind they need you present and available.  You can’t be present when you are fighting the other parent in court.  In Part 3, we will discuss the various professionals in the Collaborative Process and how their expertise can help you avoid the divortex.
RoadmapOften when we decide to do something of significance, like go on vacation, obtain a college degree, search for a new job, or save for a future purchase we develop a plan.  If you are serious about the task set before you, you will develop a written plan to keep you on track and measure your progress. Getting unmarried, as I now refer to divorce, should be no different. In fact, if you choose to use a collaborative divorce process, we utilize a written document called “Roadmap to Resolution.” I have found the use of this Roadmap extends beyond divorce planning.  I use it as a general problem-solving model. The Roadmap has 6 essential steps.
  1. Set Goals  The four basic sets of big picture goals include: Relationship goals between you and your soon to be ex-spouse Goals related to your children regardless of their ages Financial goals as to how you and your spouse would like your future financial lives to look so you both can have the greatest sense of financial well being with the resources you have Process goals as to how you and your spouse would like the process to work for you
  2. Gather Information and Identify Issues This includes gathering all financial documents and other relevant information that will be necessary to itemize all assets, liabilities, income, estimated reasonable and necessary living expenses, and property received as a gift, inherited, or acquired before the marriage.  All of this information is documented in your final divorce decree.  If you have children, this also includes information about your children their needs and special activities and costs associated with each one.
  3. Generate Options This step is when the collaborative team including attorneys, coach, child specialist,  financial neutral, and clients brainstorm to identify any options that come to mind regardless of how silly or unpleasant those options might sound initially.  The key is to write down as many options as possible without anyone commenting or trying to evaluate any stated options.
  4. Evaluate Options Here the clients indentify the options they would like to evaluate and consider.  It is at this stage clients can fully explore the pros and cons of each of the options listed and prioritize them.
  5. Negotiate/Make Decisions After fully evaluating any options clients are able to negotiate and make decisions they both can live with.
  6. Generate Documents Once all necessary decisions are made, the attorneys go to work to document agreements by preparing a draft decree for each spouse to review and ultimately sign.
The model flows both ways; meaning if you are in step 5 negotiate/make decisions, another option may present itself, creating a need for further evaluation and new negotiation and decision making. The “Roadmap to Resolution” model provides the framework for helping spouses work through a collaborative divorce and ultimately reach agreements on all relevant issues. By using the “Roadmap to Resolution, the collaborative team process, has literally helped thousands of couples across the country and around the world end their marriage but save their family. Choose your process wisely.
Allocating assets and liabilities between spouses is one of the financial pillars in any divorce. In my work as a financial neutral and also when working on behalf of an individual in a divorce the subject of credit card debt is often a topic that needs to be addressed. This is especially true when credit card balances are not paid in full each month. The usual credit card ownership arrangements are joint or individual. There is another form of credit card ownership when one spouse is the primary account holder and the other spouse is an authorized user. In this situation, both spouses have a card on the same account issued in their individual name. The thorny part of this is the primary account holder controls the decision-making authority relative to the account. The primary account holder can close the account. The authorized user generally is not able to close the account. However if the primary account holder defaults on the account the card issuer will seek payment from the authorized user. Does not seem quite right, does it? As an authorized user, you are unable to close the account yet if the primary account holder does not make payments, the authorized user can be liable for payment. What can you do to protect yourself? Here are 5 suggestions:
  1. First, run a credit report on yourself from all three major credit-reporting agencies. These agencies include Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. The best place to obtain this report is from . Your report is free from this site and they will not solicit you for other purchases with one exception. Please note these reports do not include your credit score. You can obtain your score if you like for a nominal fee.
  2. Once you have the report from each of the three reporting agencies review all three reports carefully. The report will tell you if you own the card jointly, individually, or if you are an authorized user. This is a great time to verify the accuracy of all the data contained in the report.
  3. If you have a card issued in your name that for some reason does not appear on your credit report, call the issuer to determine your ownership status.
  4. If you are listed as an authorized user on any credit cards, call the issuer to determine how you can be removed.
  5. Let your attorney know you want any authorized user status clearly dealt with in your negotiations with your spouse. You do not want this thorny issue sneaking up on you down the road. In collaborative divorces, a well-trained financial neutral and the attorneys representing their clients are well aware of this issue.
Is a collaborative divorce right for you? Check out this link to learn more. Choose your process and your professionals wisely.
172244707-daddys-comfort-series-gettyimagesHaving recently become a grandparent for the first time, I am pondering the future with renewed urgency that my granddaughter’s legacy be one of hope and abundance. As she grows, there is no way to prevent the pain of grief and loss, the challenge of change or the regret of unfulfilled expectations, as major and minor crises are a normal part of our complicated human lives. But I want her to always know she is safe and loved, especially by her parents, as these are the building blocks of her resilience. Almost always, children experience divorce or breakup as a crisis, a challenging change, a loss. However, as I tell the parents with whom I work, it is possible to keep this crisis from ever becoming a trauma. It is possible to separate or get unmarried in such a way that your children will continue to feel safe and loved by both parents. Selecting a process that enables a divorcing couple to make the transition to effective co-parenting is an investment in their children’s future. As with other important investments, there is a need to balance potential gain with possible risk. In terms of impact on children, an adversarial divorce has minimum gain and maximum risk. A shorthand equation may be, the greater the court involvement, the greater the risk. In contrast, a process that focuses on respectful problem solving, and eliminates the need for court involvement, such as mediation or Collaborative Practice, has lower risk and potential maximum gain for children. Choosing the right professionals to guide you through the best process for your family can pay huge dividends in your children’s future.
As a neutral child specialist, I believe Collaborative Practice should be available to all families who want a child-focused, respectful, out-of-court divorce process.  However, a critique often made of Collaborative Practice is how unaffordable it must be for families with limited financial resources. How could it be otherwise for a process that involves two attorneys and likely several neutral financial and/or mental health professionals? 487701729-senior-african-american-woman-paying-bills-gettyimagesMost of these critics are not aware that the Collaborative Law Institute has had ongoing Pro Bono/Low Bono Programs for over a decade.  The goal of the current CLI Low Bono Committee is to provide very low cost but high quality services to clients who qualify, including the option of working with a full multidisciplinary team of divorce professionals. We understand that financial hardship not only profoundly complicates day to day life but compounds the stress of getting unmarried.  We realize that many parents who struggle through the massive amount of paperwork required for a do-it-yourself divorce eventually end up in court trying to sort out issues they hadn’t anticipated or   didn’t fully understand at the time.  We believe families in financial distress deserve a choice that will empower them to make their own decisions, but with the benefit of skillful professional support. If you are in financial hardship and contemplating a divorce, we hope we can help.  Go to the website for the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota and click the About Us tab at the top right of the homepage.  Next, click on No Cost or Low Cost (Pro Bono) Programs to find the online application for low bono Collaborative services.  Applications are screened for eligibility by the Low Bono Committee, but are otherwise completely confidential.   If you are interested, we hope to hear from you!

155134777-sunrise-bursts-through-dense-fog-and-trees-gettyimagesPeace is possible though we are surrounded by conflict.  In the recent words of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, “The world is a mess.”  Messiness occurs when people are unable or unwilling to resolve differences without wars of words or weapons.  This occurs not only globally but also on a personal scale.  And for all the extraordinary human costs of violent conflict, the most deeply distressing is its impact on children.

The end of a marriage has some similarities to the breaking up of a country based on sectarian differences.  Is it possible to disconnect without civil war?  Yes, but one must be mindful of the path one is choosing, and deliberately opt to not do battle.  Though sometimes complicated, peaceful resolutions are possible if the focus remains the safety and well-being of children.

I do not believe conflict is inevitable, because for every cause of conflict there is an inverse possibility.   In our day-to-day lives, we can choose a path of peace.  We can elect to follow The Four Agreements as defined by Don Miguel Ruiz in his book by the same name, and use these principles to help us resolve our differences:

1.     I will be impeccable with my word.

2.     I will not personalize what the other person says, does, thinks or believes.

3.     I will make no assumptions.

4.     I will do my best every day with the energy I have been given.

In Collaborative Team Practice, parents who are getting unmarried can draw from sources of support for the emotional, financial, parenting and legal issues that are involved.  Parents remain in charge of their own outcomes, but are given tools to keep the process as respectful as possible, thereby setting the stage for child-centered co-parenting in the future.  And the world your children will inhabit is in the future.  Let it be a peaceful one.

clockGetting unmarried and taxes can become a consideration in terms of whether to have a divorce final by year-end or final after January 1. I have worked on a number of divorce cases where this very topic deserved a thorough analysis to determine which tax filing year to have the divorce final. Here are a couple of important points to remember. If you are married for the entire year, the choices you have for tax filing are joint or married filing separately. If the courts deem the divorce final no later than December 31, you are considered divorced for the entire year and are not able to file jointly or married filing separately. An entry of divorce on December 31 requires filing as single or if qualified as head of household for the year ended December 31. How do you determine which year is best? Usually this requires completion of the various tax return scenarios by a qualified tax advisor normally a CPA or Enrolled Agent. They will run the numbers for a joint return as if the couple was married the entire year. Next, they will run the numbers as if they were divorced for the year with either a single or Head of Household filing status if qualified. Whatever method results in the lowest combined tax for the couple preserves more of the family assets and resources. Sometimes this can amount to thousands of dollars. I recently concluded a collaborative divorce case as a financial neutral for a couple where this very issue came up. My initial analysis revealed the couple could in-fact save thousands of dollars by having the divorce final by year-end vs. filing a joint return for 2014 and the divorce final in 2015. A thorough and complete analysis by a CPA confirmed the couple would save approximately $20,000 in income taxes by having the divorce final no later than December 31. Needless to say, this couple would much rather have the $20,000 in their pockets vs. having to forfeit that amount to the I.R.S. Although divorce documents are e-filed with the courts, there is no guarantee the divorce will be final by December 31. Once the documents are received by the courts, the file is assigned to a judicial officer for review. Files submitted in late November and December are not automatically reviewed and approved by year-end. Attorneys working on the case will often make requests to have the review and entry of divorce completed by December 31. I hope that in this most recent case it will be. It is always worth a try especially when you have $20,000 on the table. Do not overlook the tax strategies and any potential savings when divorcing near year-end. It could potentially save you and your family a bundle.
161542267I teach a cash flow planning course throughout the metro area. One of the ways I begin, is by asking everyone to tell me the first word that comes to mind when they hear the word budget? Often it is a negative type of word like restricting, confining, or boring. When I ask a similar question about cash flow, common responses are future and choice. The chart below illustrates some of those differences. Pic   Money is one of those issues often cited as a reason for divorce. I would offer that money itself does not cause divorce. How spouses handle money differently and an inability to recognize their different money personalities and learn effective ways to work through those differences can lead to divorce or at least cause significant strain in a marriage. Establishing reasonable and necessary future living expenses post-divorce is one of the two pillars of any divorce process. Both spouses will need to establish their own living expenses independently of one another. If money was a source of conflict in the marriage, imagine the conflict that exists during the divorce process. The reality is the money conflict can and often does escalate in divorce. In my work as a financial neutral, financial mediator, and financial planner, I work with you and your spouse to help you focus on your future. One approach to creating a future oriented cash flow plan for your post-divorce life is to add up all of your expenses necessary for your basic living needs. This would include things like housing, food, clothing, and medical care to name a few. If you are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, this would be the lower level (safety and security) in the hierarchy. Keep in mind that at this basic level food does not include dining out. Clothing does not include upscale designer clothing. Items in this safety and security level are for basic needs. After taking care of basic needs you can then address expenses that you have total control and choice over such as dining out, entertainment, cash spending money, gifts, personal care, etc. Finally, you may want to consider future goals and needs like retirement, creating an emergency savings plan, a different automobile, or an education. Think of separating these expenses into three different categories. I ask my clients to visualize these as three distinct buckets. The buckets are one for basic needs, two control and choices, and three future needs and wants. It is important to recognize that during and after the divorce, you may need to at least temporarily forgo some if not all of the future needs and wants, and substantially minimize the control and choice buckets due to the initial financial strain of divorce. It is equally important to recognize this time-period does not necessarily last forever. Incomes can and do increase over time and some expenses such as child-care reduce and ultimately disappear at some point. A well-developed future oriented cash flow plan can give you the peace of mind to know you will be financially secure. It can give you the opportunity to choose what is important to you about money, prioritize your goals, and create a solid model and roadmap for your life ahead. A financial neutral in collaborative divorce process will help you create this type of plan. A short three-minute video on the history of cash flow and money management is available by clicking here.  
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.
181216069In a recent first meeting with new clients, I was obtaining family history to help ground me in both parents’ perspectives on issues related to their divorce. A comment by the dad struck a chord for me. He said, “I believe the way I can become the best parent to my child is by getting a divorce.” At first glance this comment seems counter-intuitive. Most children would prefer their parents remain married or partnered and under one roof. Divorce is usually a life crisis for children and their parents. Divorce is necessarily about grief and loss. How does it follow that a divorce can result in better parenting? The answer is that many parents whose marriages don’t work are able to enter into a co-parenting relationship that does work. In these families, children remain at the center of their parents’ concern and out of the middle of their parents’ conflicts. Especially if the decision to get unmarried is mutual, and a reservoir of trust and good will about parenting has been preserved, it can relieve a great deal of stress in the home to decide (though often with great sadness) to let go of the marriage while embracing a new lifelong role as co-parents. Children can continue to feel safe and loved in the context of a healthy co-parenting relationship. Effective co-parents are mindful and committed to being present for and attuned to the needs of their children, and this is the foundation of their children’s resilience and hope. Collaborative Team Practice offers specialized mental health resources to support and reinforce healthy and effective co-parenting during and after a divorce. Neutral child specialists and neutral coaches help parents create Parenting Plans and Relationship Plans as detailed and unique guides for positive co-parenting. It is indeed possible to divorce with the goal of becoming the best parent one can be.