Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What is Family Peace Worth?

At any time of the year, it's easy to find families in turmoil.  In some cases, it gets worse around the holiday season. Even in intact families, there's often a lot conflict.  People don't get along with each other.  Sometimes disagreements can be resolved.  Counseling is a good option when the problems get more intense.  Unfortunately, counseling won't always put Humpty Dumpty or upset spouses back together again.

History shows that many people are thinking about divorce during the holidays.  Family conflicts can become unbearable,  or maybe there's just no fire anymore.  In December, between multiple religious holidays and the end of the year, many people start looking for relief by splitting up the family and terminating the marriage.

Traditionally, when people think of divorce, they picture court battles, dirty tactics and spending lots of money.  For most people, that's not appealing.  For the people who look forward to the battles, I don't have any encouragement.  My interest is in helping the people who want to avoid destruction.

People should be aware that they have a choice.  They can choose litigation and fighting, or they can focus on finding peaceful solutions through quiet negotiations around the kitchen table, in mediation or using Collaborative Law.

  • Kitchen table -- With this approach, the parties meet, usually without attorneys, and directly negotiate a comprehensive agreement to settle the divorce issues.  This rarely works, but can work where there are few assets and debts and where they are not really fighting over the children.  When it does, I recommend that they consider hiring an attorney to draw up the papers. Some problems with this approach are that issues and assets may be overlooked, one side may control the information and one side may be in a more powerful role in the relationship.
  • Mediation -- In Texas, most family law mediations involve both parties and their attorneys.   Having a neutral third-party mediator work with the two sides is a very effective way to resolve the case.  Before having the mediation, information must be shared. In mediation, the information is reviewed and discussed.  When the parties can agree on the facts, they can move to a final settlement. The mediator typically  moves back and forth between the two sides, carrying proposals for settlement as the parties move toward an agreement.  The process is usually successful, but often occurs many months after the divorce process began.
  • Collaborative -- The Texas model for Collaborative Law usually includes a neutral therapist (MHP) working as a communication facilitator (and sometimes as a parenting plan advisor), and a neutral financial advisor (FP) who helps both parties gather and organize the relevant financial information to be used in dividing the assets and providing support for the parties and their children. Much of the preliminary work is done without the attorneys present, which saves money for the parties.                                                                                                             There will be a series of joint meetings with the parties, attorneys and the MHP and FP where issues are identified, goals are set up, information is gathered and shared, and then options are developed and agreed upon. The parties agree to not go to court.The process is usually successful, but if it breaks down, the attorneys have to withdraw (since they agreed to not go to court); that's one of the main reason the process is successful, since the parties don't want to start over with new lawyers and the original lawyers don't want to lose the business.  The result is that they don't give up easily -- they keep looking for other creative ways to settle difficult issues.
There are good and bad points about each approach.  Mostly, the best approach may depend on your situation.

  • If you have the superior information or bargaining strength, the Kitchen Table may be best for you, if you can get your spouse to try it. 
  • If you are in litigation, Mediation is usually the best way out. 
  • If you are just starting out and want a safe, reasonable process, try Collaborative Law.

For best results, consult with an attorney to figure out the best way for you to proceed in your situation.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Getting Through the Holidays -- While Planning a Divorce

It usually takes a while to come to the realization that divorce may be the best alternative to a contentious, disconnected or dying marriage.  Few people have a sudden realization that it's over.  Many people gradually decide they want a divorce.  In some cases, physical or financial danger pushes a person to initiate a divorce quickly, and that's appropriate.  More often, there's time to think about the pros and cons and to plan how and when to initiate the process.

When there are children involved, most people want to try to insulate and protect the children from the stress, conflict and disruption of a divorce.  Unfortunately, in some cases, a parent will immediately want to drag the children into the middle of the dispute, often hoping for sympathy and support, but sometimes to hurt the other parent.

Holidays are some of the more stressful times of the year, even without marital discord raising the conflict level.  When a looming divorce is added to the mix, things can be pretty tense during what we like to think is a happy season.

If you are considering/anticipating a divorce now, here are some suggestions to help keep "Merry" and "Happy" part of your life during the holiday seasons.

1.  Go ahead and meet with a lawyer.  You need to know what your process options are.  As I have mentioned in prior posts, you have a range of options from meeting with your spouse at a kitchen table and negotiating, to mediation with or without an attorney, to litigation -- the most common approach, to Collaborative Law.  The attorney should be able to help you decide which approach would work best for your situation.  You don't have to start right away, but you can prepare.

2.  Consider waiting to start until after the holidays.  If you have children, this is probably a good idea, unless there are safety issues or a danger of financial loss.  Filing before or during the holidays will certainly be upsetting for children.

3.  Take steps to keep this away from the children.  Whatever difficulties you are having with your spouse should not be discussed with or near the children.  Adult matters should be kept away from the children.  They need to enjoy their holiday time without being pulled into a divorce.

4.  Take steps to protect your interests.  
  • Gather your financial records.  Figure out how you can obtain some cash or credit to pay for professional expenses and your living expenses if you get cut off financially by your spouse. You can start listing and photographing property that you want to preserve or have counted in a property division.
  • Start quietly gathering up or at least locating important personal items, such as jewelry, photos, guns, collections, etc.  You don't need to hide things, but you should find the items you want.
  • Keep up your involvement with the kids.  Holidays have lots of activities for children at school or at your religious institution.  Be sure you show up, help and be an active parent. Also, spend time playing with your children. It's fun for you and the kids.
5.  Go to counseling.  If you are undecided, counseling can help you sort out your issues and feelings. If both you and your spouse have decided to file after the holidays, counseling can help you deal with on-going stresses.  If you have decided to file, but your spouse doesn't know, a counselor can help you be confident in your decision and help you plan ahead for difficult times during and after the holidays.  

While I can't promise that you will be happy during the holidays, the above steps will help you reduce the stress of the pre-divorce situation and make the holidays more bearable. Best Wishes!