Keeping an Amicable Divorce on Track

Whether you live in Jupiter or Boca Raton, we all know someone who has started out with an amicable divorce only to end up litigating in court and spending tens of thousands of dollars and experiencing and witnessing our friends in the divorce case acting in a hostile and adversarial fashion with one another.  Many couples, during a divorce process, start off attempting to reach an amicable solution.  However, good intentions may not always be enough for a couple to maintain an amicable divorce.  Eileen Coen, an attorney and mediator from Bethesda, Maryland, has three suggestions on how to keep an amicable divorce on track:

 

  1. Find strategies to deal with the loss and pain of divorce.  Every divorce has feelings of loss and sadness.  Often the spouse who doesn’t want the divorce feels a sense of abandonment, anger, or denial.  Even the spouse who initiates the divorce often experiences grief, and sometimes guilt, and perhaps shame.  People’s best decisions are not made when they’re angry, desperate, or defensive.  Taking time to process your emotions with a professional therapist is likely to have a substantial and positive impact on your ability to keep your divorce amicable and to be able to react to your children and your divorcing spouse appropriately;
  2. Consult an attorney to advise you rather than retaining an attorney to represent you.  By engaging in problem-solving conversations with your spouse and consulting with a legal advisor as needed, you will have access to the legal information you need while staying in control and managing what happens in your divorce.  Oftentimes when you retain an attorney, you inadvertently may be kicking off the adversarial process; and
  3. Agree to try mediation at the outset.  A mediator is a neutral individual who will attempt to have you and your spouse reach agreement on the major issues in your divorce case.  If mediation isn’t working for you, you will know soon enough and then would have the opportunity to engage in a different process, including an adversarial divorce.

 

Many divorcing spouses may benefit by following the advice of Attorney Coen.  To learn more about how to keep your collaborative divorce on track, visit her web site at www.ecmediation.com.

 

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Limited Scope Representation in Divorce Cases– Obtaining Representation When it Counts

People from Jupiter to Wellington understand that the economy in Palm Beach County is slowly improving.  Nevertheless, individuals who are seeking a divorce in Palm Beach County often still cannot afford to pay a divorce lawyer to represent them in their case.  Limited scope representation, also known as unbundled legal services, allows you to hire a divorce attorney to do certain parts of your case instead of the traditional “soup to nuts” representation.  Some clients choose unbundled legal services because they cannot afford full representation and they believe that some advice or representation at specific hearings is better than no advice.  Other people feel capable of handling certain parts of their case, but need assistance in other components of it.

Unbundled services can be customized to fit anyone's divorce case including but not limited to:

1. Representation at specific hearings, such as temporary relief hearings or motions to compel discovery;

2. Drafting pleadings, or discovery requests;

3. Preparing a client to attend medication and attending mediation with the client;

4. Assisting with the preparation of discovery documents and the processing of discovery received from the opposition; and

5. And periodic consultations throughout the case to provide assistance and advice when needed.

Payment for limited scope representation can be structured to the specific service rendered.  For example, paying a small retainer for ongoing advice or paying for an hour regarding the preparation of the documents.  In Florida, lawyers providing limited scope representation are required to have clients sign a consent form that clearly spells out the limited legal services they are being provided and require clients to sign a special limited services fee agreement.

Some individuals have relatively uncomplicated divorces and may need only very limited assistance from an attorney to conclude their case.  Other people may have complicated issues but because of their financial circumstances cannot afford an attorney to represent them.  The Florida Bar Association has approved unbundled services to provide individuals high quality legal counsel at prices they can afford.

 

 

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High Net Worth Divorce: Not a DIY

Palm Beach, Wellington, Boca Raton, Jupiter and other areas of Palm Beach County are home to many high net worth couples whose children are grown and gone.  In the past 30 years, the divorce rate for people age 50 and over has become the fastest growing rate among married couples. An article from the Gilmer Mirror of Northeast Texas puts it into perspective saying, "Today, one in four divorces is an older couple; that’s double the rate of 1980."

This fact complicates matters as couples who have been married many years often have accumulated more wealth. They may own or operate commercial property or a successful business, have stock options, retirement accounts or other financial assets. All these layers can bring fulfillment to life but can make dividing assets in a divorce a nightmare.

If you are facing a high net worth divorce, first things first, get help from a professional. This is not the time in your life to exercise your right to be a rugged individualist and do-it-yourself. Check into a variety of attorneys and find someone that fits your needs and is a match for you. "No two ultra-high net worth situations are exactly the same and one top-notch divorce attorney is not necessarily the best fit for all of our clients,” says Haitham “Hutch” Ashoo, CEO of Pillar Wealth Management.

Many couples married for 20 or more years, would never have considered talking to their fiancé prior to their marriage about a pre-nuptial agreement. But that doesn't mean it wouldn't be worth discussing a post-nuptial one now. Ashoo says, "This contract is signed by both parties and accompanied by a full disclosure of all assets, income and debt of both parties, free from fraud and duress and entered into freely."

If you are not quite ready to broach the subject with your spouse, you might try opening the lines of communication with some what if's. "What if one of us should suddenly die? What if something should happen to one of the children? What if one of us were to become disabled?. . .What if we were to divorce?"

Having hard conversations now, before the relationship is in crisis, can help a family through challenges. “Talking about the hard things helps couples build trust,” says CPA Jim Kohles, chairman of RINA accountancy corporation. “Then, when they face a serious problem, they’re better equipped to resolve it.”

Finally, take into consideration tax implications of any decisions you make. Contacting a professional tax attorney can help guide your decisions as a family.

Divorce for high net worth couples brings with it many financial hurdles. Getting over them takes persistence and skill. Hiring a professional to help bring you to a settlement will get you better results than going it alone.

 

 

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Financial Basics for Women After a Divorce

“According to a study by The National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, a woman's standard of living usually drops by 27 percent after a divorce, while a man's standard of living actually increases by 10 percent. Part of the problem is that women are more likely to be unaware of the family's financial status.”~ CNN/Money article

Whether they live in Jupiter or Wellington, it is time for women facing divorce to hold their head high and thrive, not just limp along. Jeff Landers, contributor for Forbes.com suggests several beginning steps for gaining financial stability after divorce. Today, we’ll look at a few first steps to take once the settlement is signed.

  • Many simple changes: Changing your IDs and accounts isn’t hard, but it is a very important step towards getting life back to normal. If you changed your name after the divorce, for example, you’ll need to update your driver’s license, credit cards and passport. Also, be sure to notify financial institutions, creditors, credit card companies, and the children’s schools with any changes in name or address. Finally, take time to consider updating beneficiaries on life insurance and other policies.
  • A recipe for financial stability: Chances are, in preparation for the divorce, you had some type of financial analysis. Use that information to create a budget for how to reduce your monthly expenses and how to put your assets to work for you. When making a monthly budget, don’t forget to include items that you may have shared with your spouse. When life begins to normalize, consider what long-term goals you may need: college tuition, retirement planning, saving for a car, etc.
  • Give yourself some credit: “Good credit forms the foundation of your financial portfolio and will help you secure loans in your name in the future,” says Landers. Begin by checking your credit report and correcting any inaccuracies. To build credit, use a few credit cards and pay them off each month. Be careful not to hold too many credit cards as that can be seen as a liability by credit agencies. Pay all your bills on time and your credit score will start to climb.

Stepping out into the world of single financial living can be intimidating but following a few simple steps can put you on the right path and can give you peace of mind. Next week, we’ll continue the conversation with more tips for establishing a strong financial future.

 


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Recognizing Parental Alienation: Child’s Fear Reaction

Parental Alienation is a detrimental behavior pattern that when perpetrated by one parent drives a child away from the other parent. According to J. Michael Bone and Michael R. Walsh there are four major indicators for recognizing parental alienation. They include blocking access, false abuse allegations, relationship deterioration, and child's fear reaction. This article will focus on the final attribute, child's intense fear reaction. Click the links above to read about the other conditions.

In Bone and Walsh's article published in the Florida Bar Journal, intense fear reaction is the dread that a child feels when "displeasing or disagreeing with the potentially alienating parent in regard to the absent or potential target parent." They go on to say that the alienating parent takes on a "My way or the highway" attitude. This would certainly be terrifying for a child. At its core, these behaviors are forcing a child to choose between parents.

It may be difficult to understand how one parent can effect such a fear reaction in a child unless one remembers the essential human need for connection. The child begins to see the non-custodial parent as having abandoned him and surmises that if he disappoints the custodial parent, he or she will also leave.  Under these circumstances one can imagine how a child learns to employ survival strategies to keep the peace and avoid paying the ultimate price, being alone.

In many cases, coping strategies of a child of parental alienation reach extreme levels as it becomes "easier if they begin to internalize the alienating parent's perceptions of the absent parent . . .and [join] the alienating parent" in open attacks. The child feels this is the way to ensure the parent will stay with him. This change makes survival possible and much preferable to the perceived abandonment.

The tragedy of parental alienation can occur anywhere. Living in Delray or West Palm Beaches does not shield a family who endures its destructive forces. Recognizing any one of Bone and Walsh's four behaviors, let alone all four, could lead to a professional evaluation. This could bring with it the help needed to change the long term outcome for hurting family members.


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Divorce and Reuniting Alienated Families, Is It Possible?

Divorce is stressful but when a parent alienates a child from the former spouse, the stress is amplified and causes harm to everyone. One parent, using sophisticated manipulation, can bring a child to a place of hatred towards the alienated parent. Adopting the feelings of the alienating parent makes their world seem more manageable and in control. This alienation can go on for months or even years. As a result of better education and research surrounding alienation these days, we know that windows of opportunity to help the alienated family move towards a co-parenting relationship.

According to Psychology Today author, Edward Kruk, Phd., reuniting a family should be approached with sensitivity. "Alienated children can transform quickly from refusing or staunchly resisting the rejected parent to being able to show and receive love from that parent, followed by an equally swift shift back to the alienated position when back in the orbit of the alienating parent."

Currently there are several models of reuniting families that have gathered acceptance among experts who work with reunification:

  • Warshak’s Family Bridges Program—works to bring children to a healthy relationship with both parents while encouraging autonomy, perspective and critical thinking. Warshak espouses the need for children to see through others' eyes that the opinion of the alienating parent "is not shared by the rest of the world. This type of experience will leave a stronger impression than anything the alienated parent can say on his or her own behalf."
  • Sullivan’s Overcoming Barriers Family Camp—brings families together for intervention and group therapy resulting in written agreements of future parenting.
  • Friedlander and Walters’ Multimodal Family Intervention—use of "differential interventions" for alienation and other forms of family discord.

The most important aspect of these programs is for the child to come to a deeper understanding that both parents are of equal value. If successful, the child releases his protection of the alienating parent and embraces the involvement of the absent parent.

The process of reunification is possible but a fragile undertaking fraught with emotional instability in all parties. The key is for parents to recognize the problem, have a desire to provide a more stable environment for their child and then to find professionals who can help with the process. For the sake of the child, perhaps the most important is never quitting.

 


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4 Reasons Why Mediation Can Help Parties Resolve Their Divorce

 

Divorcing couples from Jupiter to Wellington often hear about
mediation from their attorneys.  Mediation is a process where a neutral third party assists in divorcing couples applying common grounds and helps and attempts to assist them in resolving issues during their divorce cases.  Such assistance can take tens of thousands of dollars in money and much emotional anguish and turmoil.

Attorney Cheryl R. Rents, a divorce lawyer located in Pennsylvania recently discussed in her blog four ways mediation can assist parties in divorce cases:

1.  Focus:  Mediation assists both parties in focusing upon issues rather than on their anger, frustration or other emotions they may experience with one another;

2.  Qualifications:  A good mediator has experience with the law and with negotiation as well as training in mediation.  Don't be afraid to use your attorney to assist you in choosing a mediator who has a reputation of being affective in settling cases;

3.  Analysis:  Mediation assists the parties in organizing and analyzing their financial positions, timesharing/custody arrangements, and other issues as thoroughly as they would be analyzed during a trial or temporary relief hearing; and

4.  Breathe and Talk to Each Other:  Mediation can help you resolve any issue you could resolve in court including financial settlements, custody, timesharing, and support; flexibility.  Through mediation the parties have more flexibility in deciding how to resolve their issues.  They are not necessarily bounded by the confines of what the law dictates.  However, if the parties attempt to resolve their issues in court, the judges are bound to follow the law.  Consequently, judges have far less flexibility in resolving disputes in a divorce case than the parties possess during a mediation.

Attorney Rents points out that mediation may not be a good idea when violence or the threat of violence has occurred.  In this case, the threat to one's physical safety and the broken trust makes agreements tough to reach.  In addition, if one spouse is mentally impaired by illness, injury or substance abuse, mediation also may not be a good choice.  Discussing these issues with your attorney before deciding on mediation is often the best option.

In Florida mediation generally is required in all divorce cases.  Consequently, during a divorce, a person should work carefully with their attorney to be fully prepared to maximize the benefits that mediation can offer.  To learn more about mediation, consult with an experienced divorce or family law attorney.

 

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What Happens at Your First Collaborative Divorce Meeting?

You and your spouse have decided to participate in a collaborative divorce.  You both retained attorneys.  You are about to sit down at your first collaborative divorce meeting.  You are feeling some anticipation and anxiety.  What happens now?

The first collaborative divorce meeting is when the foundation for your collaborative divorce is set in place.  The following should occur at your first collaborative divorce meeting.  However, these elements do not have to occur in the order mentioned.  Those essential elements are:

1.       Restate and share your reasons for choosing the collaborative process for your divorce;

2.       Review and sign the collaborative participation agreement (both spouses and their attorneys).  Agree on the neutrals (mental health facilitator and financial neutral professional).  Ideally, these individuals will have been selected beforehand.  If so, those professionals also would be present at the first meeting and would be signing their participation agreements in the process for the collaborative divorce;

3.       Talk over the cost of the collaborative divorce and how it will be paid (from what financial sources or accounts);

4.       Set up temporary parenting/cash flow arrangements;

5.       Discuss dates to obtain evaluations, such as an appraisal for the house or the business;

6.       Put together a homework list, such as preparing a financial affidavit and gathering needed financial documents; and

7.       Schedule the next meeting.

It is normal to feel anxious, stressed or nervous.  However, those feelings would be greatly heightened or exacerbated if you were in the middle of a litigated divorce and are faced with going to court for the first time.  The collaborative approach may not always be easy, but it is far easier, less expensive, less time consuming and far more emotionally taxing than a litigation divorce.  For that reason, you are likely to come out at the other end of this process far better off than you would in litigation.

 

 

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Helping Children After Divorce

Although the divorce rate for couples under 50 has slowly decreased in the last 10 years, divorces are still occurring in many families. Children are most affected by the turmoil of a disintegrating marriage. They often have not acquired the emotional and developmental tools needed to effectively deal with turmoil and grief. Researchers continue, however, to find new ways to help children through challenges like this.

Understanding the issues that accompany divorce can provide a base for helping your children.  According to the founder of Children of Divorce Intervention Program,  Joann Pedro-Carroll, there are three main areas that impact divorcing families: hostile conflict, the parent-child relationship, and the long-term quality of parenting. Pedro-Carroll says, "a healthy balance among these factors seems to be. . . critical when the parents are no longer spouses." Below, she offers concrete tips to help.

  • Prep: Give children time to understand what is happening before the process actually begins.
  • Communicate Openly: Allow children to ask questions and discuss issues any time.
  • Practice Peace: Do your disagreeing, arguing, and negotiating away from the children and be sure to spend quality time with each, letting them know that you will always love them no matter what happens.
  • Consistency Matters: Perhaps more than anything, be consistent, "with information, with discipline, with routines, with everything. This is a good thing to strive for as a parent anyway, but it is critical for a family dealing with divorce."
  • Equip Yourself: Take care of yourself so you'll have what you need to take care of the children.
  • Outside Support: Find support groups for the children and for yourself. Knowing you're not alone can make a huge difference in family relationships. Look for after school or community programs.

Psychologists have discovered that the beginning of a divorce can be the most stressful time. Try out these techniques as soon as one can. Remember,  it will take practice to naturally employ them, keep working at it and the children will benefit. If either one or both parents can put the children first, helping them through the muddy, emotional waters of divorce, there's every opportunity for them to grow up successfully, contributing positively to society.

 

 

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Music Video, Mother, Brings Attention to Parental Alienation and Divorce

A birthday can feel differently to moms depending on their circumstances. While one might celebrate at brunch with her children bringing hand-made gifts, another might sit sadly at home wondering what her children are doing with their alienating father. This year, one woman who has been separated from her two sons, premiered her music video on USA Today.

Mother, written by former Runaways guitarist, Lita Ford, who enjoyed a few solo hits in the late 80′s and recently toured with Def Leppard and Poison. According to the article by Brian Mansfield for USA Today, Ford wrote the song to reach out to her sons. The chart was released last year as part of her album, Living Like a Runaway.

It wasn't until after the release that she became aware of how profoundly the song affected fans who also suffered alienation. She tells of several weighty encounters with fans. "There was one girl who came up at a meet and greet that we did in California, and she had the lyrics to Mother tattooed on her back…Another girl came up and shook my hand, and I said to her, 'Do you have something you want to say to me?'… She just spilled her guts and started crying. She hadn't seen her son in eight years." Ford's understanding of alienation has given fans an opening to be vulnerable with her and she sees the impact her song is making.

Working with director, friend and previous band-mate, Victory Tischler-Blue, the team put together a stunning visual that helps communicate some of the emotional issues surrounding parental alienation. The video, Mother, debuted on USA Today in May.

In the long run Ford hopes that the video’s message reaches others in similar circumstances and that 'it will give them belief and faith and strength to get through whatever it is that they have to go through in order to have their children safe and sane'."

If you or someone you know is suffering from parental alienation, reach out for some help from professionals in the fields of mental health or law.

 


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