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.

A guaranteed way to reduce your lawyer bill

In a divorce, there are some costs that cannot be avoided—e.g. waiting at the courthouse for your case to be heard. There are other costs that can be. Ask any divorce attorney—litigator, mediator or collaborative divorce—about what other part of the divorce process drives up the costs unnecessarily and most will say when the client is unable to provide a complete and thorough reporting of assets and household expenditures without assistance from the attorney or his/her staff.

That’s why many attorneys, yours truly included, provide clients with worksheets to complete early in the process. With a complete asset and liability chart and monthly budget, the discussions can turn to such matters as alimony and child support, whether it is possible to keep the family home, custody and parenting schedules, etc. If the attorney has to help in filling out the worksheet and acquiring that information, it can delay those discussions. And that’s where legal fees can add up.

When thinking about financials, there’s a tendency to focus on assets: the family home, investments, retirement savings, pensions, investment properties, etc. Of course, those are important parts of coming up with a settlement, but just as important is understanding your household budget.

Let’s be honest. Most couples will know how much the mortgage payment is, how much a car payment is and a few other things. But is it likely that both people know the monthly budget for such things as groceries? What about how much the heat and electricity costs over the course of a year are, or how much fuel the family automobiles use and the cost of insurance for each family car?  What about the cost of uninsured medical expenses, prescriptions, and clothing for growing children?

A comprehensive and thorough understanding of what it costs to run your household is critical to your ability to advocate for yourself in a divorce proceeding and to assess settlement proposals from your spouse. The expenses that often get neglected are bills that only get paid once a year, like car insurance, homeowners insurance, life insurance, vacations, incidental costs and smaller fee items. The same goes for things like gym memberships, dance lessons, summer camp and daycare. Having everything you spend money on as a household must be in the budget and as accurate as possible to move the negotiation along.

Having a complete understanding of your budget, assets and liabilities enables you to work with the attorney and your spouse on the kind of life you want after the divorce. For example, many divorcing couples want to keep the children in the family house so they don’t have to change schools. To accomplish that objective will require a certain amount of money. Will the person remaining in the house have enough to do so?

The answer to that question then starts other parts of the negotiation. Perhaps keeping the house is not an option. Perhaps it is but with an adjusted budget that removes some of the non-necessities—e.g. vacations, dance lessons, dining out more than twice a month, etc. By providing a complete and accurate budget, you give yourself and your attorney the tools to begin negotiation much sooner in the process and that will ultimately reduce lawyer fees if everything else proceeds smoothly.

Besides being an emotionally consuming activity, a divorce is time-consuming. You have to track down a significant amount of information at a time when you would rather be doing anything else. Being able to attain that information will help greatly in reducing costs. But there’s an additional benefit.

While a lot of work, many people find completing a budget and knowing exactly what they have for assets and liabilities to be empowering. You now know what you are working with and can start to envision the life you will have after finalization of your divorce. This helps you prepare mentally, emotionally and financially. In a way, it begins the healing process. And it starts by filling out a few worksheets.

Again, to review what a sample asset and liability chart and budge might look like, please visit my website.

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Mediation: an opportunity for sharing

There are many reasons why divorcing couples choose mediation over collaborative divorce and litigation. Time and money rank tops among those reasons. These are the same reasons  why many couples divorcing via mediation are not inclined to hire experts as part of their divorce process.  While this can be okay in some cases, in others, this approach can be “penny wise and pound foolish.”  The good news is that if mediating spouses need outside expertise they can share the expense of hiring neutral experts to help come to an equitable settlement. (more…)

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Retirement savings are a collaborative effort, even in divorce

Whether you are divorcing via litigation, mediation or collaborative divorce, you need to divorce yourself from this thought: Your retirement savings are not a marital asset. Truth be told, your retirement savings are a marital asset—just like your home, bank accounts, etc.–and will be part of any divorce settlement you and your spouse strike. In fact, for many people their retirement savings are their largest marital assets after their home.  So whether you are the one who has been paying into the 401(k) or pension fund at your job or you are the nonworking spouse who has little or no retirement savings, it’s all on the table in your divorce. (more…)

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Alimony in mediation and collaborative divorce

When you hear the term “alimony”, there’s a tendency to think there’s no way a divorcing couple could ever agree. Hence, there’s often an assumption that divorces where alimony is involved might not be good candidates for mediation or collaborative divorce. With the new alimony statutes in Massachusetts, where alimony terms are now more clearly defined, mediation or collaborative divorce are still the best options for divorces that might include alimony.art of what makes mediation or collaborative divorce a better option stems from the interrelationship between alimony and child support. Any weekly support payment can be designated as either all child support, all alimony or a combination of both.  There are pluses and minuses for each designation.

Some judges prefer one option, others prefer a different approach.  It literally varies from judge to judge. Thus, your result might be determined by your judge’s personal preferences rather than your individual needs. For couples going through mediation or collaborative divorce, the options around child support and alimony can offer negotiating opportunities that might not be available in a litigation setting and often result in outside-the-box solutions.

In collaborative divorce, in particular, divorcing couples typically work with experts to address things like finances, child support, college, etc. Many collaborative teams retain financial experts to assist in making financial decisions. These financial experts will analyze options available to the parties and often propose solutions. The use of alimony versus child support is one variable that can provide flexibility for divorcing couples, depending on the particular situation.

For example, child support is paid with after-tax income by the payor and is not considered income and therefore not taxed to the payee. Alimony, on the other hand, is tax-deductible for the payor and must be declared as income by the payee. If the parties are in different tax brackets, it might benefit the payor from a financial and tax strategy standpoint to pay alimony and benefit from the tax deduction as opposed to child support.  The payor might be willing to pay a larger weekly amount in order to get the tax benefit and also to offset the taxes that will be incurred by the payee. The payee may prefer to receive a larger support payment designated as alimony, even though he/she would have to declare and pay taxes on the income, rather than a lower child support payment. A financial expert is critical to this type of analysis as there are a number of related tax regulations that will need to be considered when crafting an alimony/child support designation.

Timing can also play a part in the alimony negotiation. Child support can last up until age 23 if your child is a full-time college student or 18 if your child enters the workforce after high school. The duration of alimony payments under the new alimony law is determined by the length of the marriage and/or relationship.  In litigation, you might receive a child support order that is going to end in just a few years because of the ages of your children, requiring you to go back to court for alimony.  In mediation and collaborative divorce, the parties can anticipate future events and plan around them to save the necessity of future trips to court.

What the alimony and child support options do, as part of mediation and collaborative divorce, is put more control in the hands of the divorcing couple. A judge, though learned and experienced, does not know your situation. He or she will most likely follow the formula laid out in the law to the letter with little or no flexibility. By considering alimony or introducing it as an option in mediation and collaborative divorce, you can create some flexibility to reach an agreement that best meets the needs of all parties.

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Life and death divorce matters

A life and death matter divorcing couples should consider is life insurance.

Most couples get some form of life insurance during the marriage and, in most cases, they name their spouse as the beneficiary. It’s not unusual for divorcing couples to keep the existing life insurance in place after the divorce.  But no matter what the method of divorce—litigation, mediation or collaborative divorce—both parties should re-examine life insurance coverage, particularly if children are involved. (more…)

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Slow down your mediation

One of the many selling points for mediation versus litigation is time. In general, divorcing couples who are committed to resolving matters out of court can get divorced in far less time than it would take a case to go to through the court system.  That said, a mediation should not be seen as  a “quickie” divorce.  If anything, it makes paying attention to the details even more important.

Why? Plain and simple, you have to come up with a divorce agreement that you can live with not only today, but five to 10 years down the road. If financial information surfaces after the divorce is final, or if it is available at the time of the divorce but one or both parties choose to ignore it, it can be extremely difficult to go back and change the divorce agreement.   So being as thorough as possible during your mediation is critical. That’s why I always advise my mediation clients to retain counsel, even if they agree on everything. (more…)

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Setting the boundaries for a smooth divorce

Many times I am asked about the most distinct difference between collaborative divorce and litigation and why collaborative divorce can be better.  Perhaps the most notable difference lies in the communication.  More specifically, the amount of direct contact you have with your spouse during the divorce process and negotiation. (more…)

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Can mediation and collaborative divorce be less taxing?

When it comes to taxes, most people would prefer to pay as little as legally required. So it stands to reason that when a couple divorces, who gets what tax deductions can become a matter of contention. Mediation and collaborative divorce can help prevent disagreements over tax deductions from escalating into time-consuming, retainer-devouring delays. (more…)

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Paying for college for divorcing parents

Paying for college can be quite a challenge for divorced parents. Yet those who have settled their divorce via mediation or collaborative divorce, might actually have an advantage in this area.

How?

Many couples—divorced and otherwise—have different ideas on whether to and how much to contribute to a child’s college education. Some think their child shouldn’t have to pay anything. Other parents want their child to have some skin in the game and pay for a little, half or even all. Often these different ideas are not addressed until a child is ready to start college. (more…)

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Mediation or collaborative divorce can save the house

You and your spouse have decided to divorce and your home is the primary marital asset. You agree you want the children to remain in the house. You even agree on which of the two of you stays in the house. Yet if the spouse who is staying on in the home cannot afford to buy out his or her spouse, you have a dilemma. Mediation or collaborative divorce may offer a solution that litigation might not be able to provide. (more…)

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