Saturday, August 1, 2020

COVID-19 Options

 If you are facing a possible divorce while the pandemic is raging, you should plan ahead and take time to investigate, if you can.  Here are some suggestions for getting started.

1.Check on your options. The best starting point is consulting with an experienced Collaborative attorney who has handled a number of cases. Not every case is a good candidate for Collaborative, but many more could be since going to court is not such a quick possibility in divorces. You should decide what's important to you and then discuss that with your prospective attorney.

As the Rolling Stones said, "You can't always get what you want". Some things are legally impossible or not realistic, but many other things can be accomplished if you work on it. You need an attorney who is willing and able to think and practice outside the box.

2. Review your finances.  Your asset values may have changed with the fluctuations in the economy. You may have more debt,  particularly if your income has stopped or changed.  Are there problems making payments?

You should gather all the financial records you can. Let your attorney decide what's needed. You and your attorney, and maybe a financial advisor, should start working on a financial plan for you. It may all have to be revised several times, but it will help you focus if you have actual facts to consider.

3. Regardless of your feelings, you should start cooperating with your spouse on issues dealing with the kids. Either the two of you or your attorneys or  a child specialist can start working on a plan for sharing time and responsibilities. One new responsibility may be home schooling or supervision of the children during the days as schools slowly open up. 

If you decide to try Collaborative Divorce, you will probably have a team to help you with your financial issues and children's issues. Plus, you will have two attorneys committed to helping you instead of just fighting. Good luck!

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

COVID-19 Complications

 By now, everyone has been well acquainted with various changes that have affected our lives. In the context of divorce, the pandemic has created many problems for people.

It's a good idea to revise expectations. Many people going through divorces have heard horror stories from family and friends about their divorces. While we have always cautioned people from assuming what they have heard from others would apply in their divorces, it is even more likely now that that the experience of others doesn't fit into the COVID world we are living through.

On the other hand, here are some issues we are now dealing with.

1. Generally, we can't have in-person court hearings. If a divorce is proceeding through the typical litigation approach, the parties should expect a slow process. Contested hearings are conducted on Zoom, but it may take a month or more to have a temporary hearing. Final hearings have an even longer lead time.  Zoom hearings are relatively short since the courts are trying to deal with a large backlog.  It's also rare for attorneys to meet in person with clients for the time being.

2. Quarantines and self-isolating have meant that couples are almost locked in together. That leads to more close time together which is a problem when they aren't used to spending so much time together. Where the partners are already having problems with each other, the situation can become unbearable. Close quarters over an extended time has led to some separations and divorces. 

3. People are experiencing a great deal of uncertainty. 

  • Health issues are a constant concern. 
  • Job insecurity is a serious problem for many, with huge unemployment numbers. 
  • Relationships are under pressure from many sides. 
  • The overall economy is the worst it has been in decades. 
  • Politics, with the Presidential election, has gotten even more toxic. 
  • Plus, we don't know if and when schools will open and whether the kids will be safe.

There are stressors all around.

In this environment, if you are facing a divorce, you should consider using Collaborative Divorce to have a less stressful divorce process with a focus on the needs and best interests of both parties and the children.  An experienced Collaborative lawyer can explain the process and help you get started.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Is Your Long-Term Marriage Ending?


If you have been married for a long time or you are over 50 years of age and you are facing a divorce, you need to get active to protect yourself.  You have some big changes ahead of you.

Even if this is a surprise or your spouse is doing the wrong thing, you need to take steps to take care of yourself.  You will need help and support from others, but you can't sit back and wait to be rescued.

As you are getting acclimated to your situation, here are some steps you can take.

1. Work on a budget. As hard as it may be, you need to figure out your essential needs and how much they will cost. Obviously, you need to think about how to pay them. Don't worry about being perfect. Just start on figuring out the finances so you can see what your needs are.

2. Think about jobs. You may already have a job. If so, will your income stretch to cover your bills? If you don't have a job, what can you do to make a living?  You might have to take a part-time job if nothing is immediately available for you. Consider your income and needs, job qualifications and time schedule. If you have children at home, you will need to figure in your time commitment to them.

3. Be open to changing homes.  Should you keep or sell the house? What can you afford? Do you need to be near the kids, grandkids, work or friends? Some people don't want to move, but really can't afford to pay for the house they are currently in. Even if the other party is at fault, there's no guarantee you get to keep the house (or that you should!).

4. See a counselor. We can refer you to some excellent counselors who can help you try to make sense of  divorce. It's better in the long run for you to get quality help.

5.Consider Collaborative Divorce.  Divorces often have complicated issues that are better resolved over a period of time with some thoughtful creativity. You shouldn't be eager for an uninterested judge to make random decisions about your life. Wouldn't you rather work with qualified people and consider a wider range of options?  You should at least visit with an experienced Collaborative attorney.

[If you go see a "Collaborative" attorney who just tries to talk you out of using Collaborative, do yourself a favor and get a second opinion. Unfortunately, some attorneys advertise as Collaborative, but only use that to draw you in. Then they convince people to go back to litigation -- usually because that attorney doesn't do Collaborative cases after all.]

Friday, May 1, 2020

How do We Start a Divorce Now?

There are many couples facing the realization that divorce is on the horizon. After staying together in close quarters for a number of weeks, they are having a harder time getting along. In some cases, people have been looking forward to separating, but suddenly that's not so easy.

So, what can you do? Here are some thoughts.

1.  Negotiation.  If you still get along fairly well (yes, some people do in that situation), you can try sitting around the kitchen table and trying to work out agreements.  That works for fairly mature, not overly angry couples. You may be able to reach agreements, but you should still go talk to an attorney.  There are probably a number of things you aren't aware of that need to be included, but agreeing on anything is a good start!

2.  Traditional Litigation.  The most common traditional approach is to hire attorneys, file for the divorce, set a temporary hearing, serve papers on the other side and then go to court for a temporary orders hearing.  You can still do all those fun things, except for going to court the usual way. Now, for the foreseeable future, temporary hearings will be done remotely by Zoom or something similar.

One of the nice elements of the traditional approach is the opportunity to negotiate while you are waiting to see the judge. Normally 10-20 or more cases are set at the same time. That shifts the emphasis to negotiating and it's usually productive, although you will probably spend 2-3 hours or more waiting and negotiating.

In the end, you would probably come out with a mostly acceptable temporary agreement.

Now, there will be delays in getting to Zoom hearings. That means plenty of time for negotiating between attorneys. There may be a number of cases resolved simply because people are tired of waiting.

3.  Mediation.  This is a process to resolve disputes using a neutral third party. It is being done remotely now, although a few mediators will do in-person mediations. You really need to have an attorney to help you through mediation. If you have some difficult issues, this is a pretty good way to work things out.

4.  Collaborative Law.  Finally, my preference.  With this process, each side needs their own specially trained attorney. We also often bring in other neutral experts as needed. With Collaborative, the parties start working immediately on a parenting plan, assuming there are children. They also start right away working out living arrangements and financial responsibilities. This option gives you the most control over the outcome and timing, which should appeal to most people.

For quite a while, we will have to do things differently. You still have the same choices of processes, but some of our systems will operate differently and probably more slowly. 

Except for Collaborative Divorce which still works even in a difficult environment.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

New Advantages of Collaborative Divorce in the Covid-19 Crisis

There are lots of reasons to like Collaborative Law: privacy, confidentiality, safe environment, expert help, equality between the parties, control over the timing, control over the outcome, less stress and more creative solutions, among other things.

While I am already a Collaborative Divorce proponent, the Covid-19 pandemic has created conditions that show some new values from using the Collaborative process.

Here are some ideas to think about:

1. The Collaborative process gets around the backup at the courthouse.  With Collaborative, people can immediately begin meetings and working on their cases, making interim decisions as needed.  It won't matter to them how crowded the courts are.

Contrast that with the litigation situation. Our courts will not open until at least June 1. When they re-open, they will have been closed for 2 1/2 months. The floodgates will open June 1 when the courthouse opens. We will have cases that started during the closure and additional ones that are filed in June. There may be more filings than usual in June and July if people have gotten as tired of each other as it appears they have. The backup could last for months.

2. Collaborative cases tend to involve more creative, less standard, solutions.  Our economy is really in bad shape and that affects a lot of the issues in divorces. We have had unusually sudden and severe problems. Business values change. Income changes. People lose their jobs. Under those circumstances, standard solutions don't always make a lot of sense. It makes more sense to base the decisions on the needs, abilities and interests of the parties, rather than just an arbitrary percentage or standard solution.

3. Collaborative Divorce allows the parties to address their real fears and concerns. We negotiate based on the actual needs of the parties instead of taking extreme positions to begin bargaining, expecting to meet in the middle. And the middle often is nowhere near what each party really wants or needs.  In Collaborative cases, we don't insist on standard guidelines or solutions. We put together a settlement around what would help each party, so both parties come out ahead.

In our unusual environment,  there is extra value when we use the Collaborative process for divorces as we fight through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

The Need for Patience

Many people take quite a long time deciding whether or not to get divorced. That's normal and probably a good thing. It is such an important decision that we shouldn't jump into it lightly.

However, once they make the commitment to divorce, many of these people become anxious to get it over with.

As unwelcome as the news is, sometimes people just have to be patient. The Collaborative Divorce process takes time and it may take time for the other party to become comfortable with the prospect of divorce, which may have been unexpected. 

So, we often have one person who was slow to decide initially who is now in a hurry, while the spouse is unprepared and slow to adjust to a new reality of divorce. The different speeds of people can create conflict.

Here are some suggestions for dealing with that friction between the parties.

1.  Most importantly, the "speedier" person needs to be able to honestly explain why speed is important.  There may be good reasons which everyone can understand.

  • The person may be moving or starting a new job.
  • The person may be in a new relationship. That's often not a popular explanation until the second party is emotionally in the same place. Patiently waiting to discuss that is usually a virtue.
  • The person may want to end the financial drain of a divorce. Divorces aren't cheap. Even a Collaborative Divorce is somewhat expensive. It's probably in everyone's best interest to not drag out the divorce with continuing meetings (which is similar to the desire to stop court hearings in litigation).
  • The person may be ready to start over fresh.
  • Any divorce is emotionally stressful (although Collaborative Divorces are usually less stressful than litigated ones). It makes sense that getting out of the stressful situation may be a priority.
  • At some point, almost everyone is ready to get out of a difficult or uncomfortable situation just to get out of limbo.  The uncertainty of a continuing divorce can be draining.
2.  Both parties need to recognize that a divorce process, even Collaborative Divorce, takes time. It cannot and generally should not be a speedy process because people need to be thoughtful about such important issues for their lives.

3.  Each party should accept that their spouse may need time to adjust or prepare. Be kind and be patient and you will be rewarded.

4.  Be sure there is time for each party to be heard. Sometimes just having an opportunity to speak up and explain things can be very beneficial. In Collaborative Divorces, we work on improving communication between and parties. A big part of that is learning to be a good listener.

5.  Finally, both parties need to recognize that their assumptions about how fast the process should work may be wrong. Each case is different and each person is different, so timing will vary from case to case.

Having experienced Collaborative professionals involved in the case should ease some of the stress, including the speed stress. You should have a good discussion with your attorney about your needs, your assumptions and your spouse's position on the speed of the case.  Together you should figure out how to balance the desires for a quicker or slower process so that neither party is over-stressed.

The overall best advice on the topic:  Be Patient!

Saturday, February 1, 2020

How to Choose a Good Collaborative Attorney for You

Once you have researched or gotten some suggestions for a possible Collaborative attorney for your divorce (or other legal issue), you need to meet with the candidate or candidates and decide which is the right one for you.

When you make an appointment to meet with the attorneys, you should plan ahead  what you want to discuss and what you are looking for. Here are some suggestions.

1.  Ask about their experience.  How long have they been doing Collaborative cases?
  • When did they start doing Collaborative cases?
  • Why do they like Collaborative Law?
  • How many Collaborative cases have they had?
  • How much training have they attended?
  • How they spoken at seminars or Collaborative meetings?
  • Are they active in Collaborative Law organizations?
  • Have they handled cases like yours in the Collaborative process?
If they have not handled many cases or been to much training, they may try to talk you out of using Collaborative Law. That's usually a sign that they are not sincere about using Collaborative Law. Try someone else.

2.  Ask about their view on Collaborative Law.  If they claim to use Collaborative but don't believe your case would be appropriate, get a second opinion. Unfortunately, some attorneys say they do Collaborative Law, but haven't been trained. Those attorneys try to draw in business and then switch clients to litigation. If an attorney says Collaborative Law is his or her first preference, that is probably a good choice.

3.  Talk about the cost for attorneys and the process.  Collaborative cases can actually save you some money, compared to costs for litigation with big fights. Having a child specialist do the preliminary work with the parents on a parenting plan is much cheaper and a better result than having two attorneys working on it simultaneously. Likewise, delegating the preliminary financial work to a single financial professional produces a better product at a smaller cost than a litigation  approach with formal discovery.

4.  Keep in mind that neither process is "cheap".  If you have significant issues, there is no bargain rate possible in any legal process.  Still, you can reduce the costs somewhat by working together as a Collaborative team.

5.  Your most important consideration:  Chemistry.
  • Make sure you feel comfortable with your attorney.
  • You need someone who listens to you well.
  • The attorney should be able to communicate well and explain things to you.
Pay attention to your gut feeling about working with the attorney.