Divorce Mediation & Collaborative Divorce Articles

We hope you find our articles relevant and informative. If you have questions about divorce or any other family law matter, please contact Susan Lillis for a consultation or call (978) 356-2934 ext. 12.

Must reads for divorcing couples

article-0-05707195000005DC-856_468x309It’s been said that nothing can prepare you for divorce. Emotionally that can be true. From a practical standpoint, you can prepare yourself for the type of divorce you want and what you might expect after making that choice. That’s why in addition to filling out questionnaires, I send my prospective clients to my blog before meeting with them.

While I try to make all articles on the blog relevant for divorcing couples, some offer that “what to expect” element better than others. Those articles are as follows:

Is there a type of person who shouldn’t use collaborative divorce or divorce mediation? – The title is self-explanatory. There are certain personality types for whom collaborative divorce or mediation are not the right options. This article reinforces the expectations for when you take part in either collaborative divorce or divorce mediation.

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Setting the boundaries for a smooth divorce – Again, this article is of the “what you can expect” variety. It also highlights some of the ways you can avoid negotiations from becoming contentious.

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A guaranteed way to reduce your lawyer bill – In a divorce, time is money. Specifically, your attorney’s time is money. Divorces where parties do not have all their financial statements and other paperwork prepared will typically result in more hours for the attorney, resulting in a larger legal bill.

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5 common missteps in mediation – Perhaps the first paragraph of this article says it best, “In mediation, there’s an overall assumption that both parties are reasonable and are willing to work together to reach an agreement. In addition, it is not uncommon for at least one of the spouses to be anxious to get through the mediation in order to put the divorce behind him or her. This can sometimes lead spouses to assume that some that details of the mediation agreement do not require a high level of attention, or that if something important comes up later they will be able to discuss it with their ex spouse and come to a reasonable arrangement. Unfortunately, these assumptions can lead to the more common missteps in a divorce mediation.”

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Life and death divorce matters – Life insurance for your spouse is an important matter in a marriage. It becomes just as important in a divorce. Particularly when there is child support and spousal support or alimony involved. This article takes an in-depth look at an often overlooked part of any divorce.

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Can your divorce be like your wedding?

cakeThe short answer to that question is “yes”. Before you think I’ve lost my mind, think about the process of getting married. The decision-making process is very much like collaborative divorce.

First, you and your spouse made a mutual decision to spend the rest of your lives together (in most cases). Then, to varying degrees, you planned a wedding based on several variables: budget, logistics, your individual tastes, family considerations, etc. Then, with help of several professionals—wedding planner, caterer, photographer, videographer, travel agent, limo service, etc.—you planned and executed a wedding and honeymoon.

How a wedding is like a collaborative divorce is that even though you relied heavily on the counsel of all those professionals, each decision was yours and your spouse’s. More couples are turning to collaborative divorce because they want the outcome of their divorce to, similarly, be in their hands.

If you’re having trouble with this analogy, let’s back up a bit.

For starters, couples make a mutual decision to end a marriage. Sure, it may have been one party’s decision at first, but ultimately you both agree to end the marriage.

Much like beginning plans for a wedding, you both have an idea of the things you want out of the divorce. For example, one of you may want to stay in the family home. Your spouse may want certain holidays with the kids. These wants and desires become the agenda for the negotiation.

In negotiating the settlement, you will work with a number of special advisors—financial planners, divorce coaches, psychologists, and your collaborative divorce attorney. These professionals are there to guide you through the process (much like a wedding planner). But each and every decision made as part of the settlement is made by you and your spouse.

In a divorce settled by litigation, it can be quite a different story. The lawyers are bound by rules and math formulas to create financial settlements, allocation of assets, parenting schedules and a number of other agenda items. For many couples who go the litigation route, very little of the final divorce agreement resembles their wish list of things they want.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of the litigation process is that it can feel like your voice is never heard, figuratively and literally. Just your attorney’s and the judge’s. While a judge you don’t expect to know, it’s difficult for an attorney you have never worked with before to really know you. And though your attorney will do his/her best, it really is an interpretation of your thoughts and feelings.

In a collaborative divorce, you truly dictate the terms of the divorce. And it can be your actual voice in the negotiation stating what you want and your choice as to the terms you are willing to accept.

To state it simply, using our wedding analogy, the divorce is ultimately what you want it to be and all the professionals involved are there to help make that happen.

Does that mean you get everything you want? Think about your wedding? Was everything exactly what you wanted? Was every person you wanted to invite there? Probably not. The same will be true of your collaborative divorce. But at the end of the day, just like before, the decisions will be made by you and your spouse. And, just like your marriage, you will have to live with the consequences—for better and worse.

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Not your typical meeting

78163618-1024x685As part of every collaborative divorce proceeding, spouses, their attorneys and a facilitator have a series of  “team meetings” to discuss  and negotiate the terms of their divorce. Even if you regularly attend meetings as part of your job, the collaborative team meeting is like no other meeting you will ever attend. Hence, you need to prepare for it differently. (more…)

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Why Ben and Jen chose mediation

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner mediation

Ben and Jen: Breaking up is hard to do.

That headline should probably say, “why Ben and Jen probably chose mediation”. Without knowing the two parties or being involved personally, that’s all I can do. Yet as a practicing mediator for the past 25 years, it’s fairly obvious why a high-profile couple would choose mediation: control.

That answer might surprise those of you who thought money. While even couples worth a combined $115 million may not wish to spend more than they have to on attorneys, there will be legal fees whether they settle in court via litigation or privately in mediation.  But by taking the latter approach, Mr. Affleck and Ms. Garner can control the outcome of their divorce settlement. (more…)

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Is there a type of person who shouldn’t use collaborative divorce or divorce mediation?

I’m a collaborative divorce and divorce mediation attorney. As you have read in this blog over the last several years, there are a great number of benefits to using both methods to resolve issues so that divorcing couples can reach a divorce settlement fairly and swiftly. Yet as firm a believer as I am in both methods as effective means to end a marriage with minimal hurt and stress, some divorcing couples are not suited to collaborative divorce or mediation.

(more…)

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3 Reasons Why Divorce Mediation Can Cost More Than It Should

“Time is money”. While this is true in just about any business, it’s even more true in divorce cases. That’s what makes divorce mediation so appealing to many couples. Instead of being at the mercy of the judge and attorneys, divorce mediation puts the onus on the divorcing couple to do the necessary legwork to move the proceeding along. Usually, the better prepared couples can come to an agreement within a matter of months while the standard time period for a litigated divorce is one and a half years. (more…)

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How do you rate a collaborative divorce?

image for collaborative divorceTelevision networks have the Nielson’s. Attorneys have Martingale-Hubbard and Avvo. Couples going through a collaborative divorce, however, act as their own rating service during the course of the proceeding and grades are based on whether or not both parties’ objectives/goals are being met.

Confused? Let’s take a step back. At the first meeting of a collaborative divorce, couples are asked to clarify their goals as to what they want to get out of the proceeding. These goals can vary depending on the person, the couple and their situation. (more…)

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Who gets the debt?

Opening discussions in any mediation or collaborative divorce typically center on topics like the children, the house, the savings account, retirement funds, etc. Very few include things like the amount of debt accrued within the marriage. Perhaps it should.

Whether it’s mediation or a collaborative divorce, the most common types of debt I encounter are:

  • Student loans
  • Taxes
  • Credit Cards

In a divorce, student loans tend to stay with the person who took out the loan. So, if your spouse had a student loan, that debt would be his/hers after the divorce. If, as a couple, you are involved in helping out your child or children pay off their loans, that needs to be negotiated as part of the divorce.

Many couples file joint tax returns. Therefore, if there is a debt, according to the IRS, it is owned by both spouses. And the IRS can decide to collect the whole thing from whichever spouse has the most or easiest-to-reach assets.

Sometimes one spouse handles tax preparation and payment and the other spouse may not be aware of a debt. In either situation, it is crucial to find out whether there is tax owed and how much so that the tax debt can then be part of the negotiation.

Credit card debt can present a real challenge when it comes to mediation or collaborative divorce and there are many layers to this onion.

As a mediator, you hope a couple that agrees on who incurred the credit card debt and whether it was used by the family or to the benefit of only one spouse. Generally, responsibility for the debt goes to both spouses if the family benefited and to the charging spouse if he or she benefited. But this can get tricky.

Defining who pays the credit card debt takes into consideration many variables. For example, is it a jointly owned card? That means did you apply for the card as a couple. Many credit cards give you the option of adding your spouse as a second cardholder after the fact. That’s technically a little different because his or her name is not on the application and therefore they are not legally responsible for the bill.

So, when assessing who gets the debt from credit cards, we first look at whose credit card it is. For joint credit cards, the negotiation can include a purchase-by-purchase assessment. This is where you classify a purchase as for one of the two spouses or one something purchased that benefitted both parties. For example, booking airline tickets for a trip you took as a couple would be owned by both of you. The credit card debt for a flight for a golf weekend taken by one spouse might be owned by that party.

Other items that could be considered marital purchases would be groceries, household items, home repair products, etc.

One of the benefits of collaborative divorce as it pertains to debts of all kind is that a financial planner is typically involved as one of the team members. This helps both parties come up with an accurate assessment of the divorcing couple’s current financial status and that aids in the planning of settling debts.

In mediation, debts can take on a more delicate nature if the parties are not aware of each other’s spending. Full disclosure of any and all debts is key to making the mediation go smoother.

One key objective in any type of divorce—litigation, mediation or collaborative—is that the parties should agree on who keeps which credit card and that only the name of that person be on that particular credit card account. There should be no credit cards held jointly at the end of the process.

No matter how amicable a divorcing couple might be, negotiations always have the potential for contention when resolving difficult issues such as dividing debt. Putting all your cards (pun intended) and your debts on the table is the best way to ensure that you reach a resolution that both parties can live with.

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5 common missteps in mediation

In mediation, there’s an overall assumption that both parties are reasonable and are willing to work together to reach an agreement. In addition, it is not uncommon for at least one of the spouses to be anxious to get through the mediation in order to put the divorce behind him or her. This can sometimes lead spouses to assume that some that details of the mediation agreement do not require a high level of attention, or that if something important comes up later they will be able to discuss it with their ex spouse and come to a reasonable arrangement. Unfortunately, these assumptions can lead to the more common missteps in a divorce mediation. (more…)

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