Sometimes I draft a Separation Agreement, send it to the other side, and receive a response that says “My client rejects your proposal.”

Or the other side will send me a proposal and my client says, “It’s ridiculous.  I don’t like anything about it.”

Both responses leave something to be desired in moving the case forward.  So my reply is always, “What, specifically, don’t you like about it?”

This simple question seems to disengage emotion and engage logic.  Once I get the other side, or my client, going through the document item by item, we can discuss options, concessions and counterproposals.  I put these in a letter to the other side and we can then focus only on the objections, which narrows the issues to be negotiated.

Substance

When clients talk to me about divorce, their focus is usually on the substance, that is, the decisions that have to be made on issues like legal and physical custody of their children, child support, alimony, and how to divide their property.  It is, of course, critically important to make thoughtful and reasonable decisions on these topics.  If both parties can make them together, a judge won’t have to make them instead.  But what is the process for making these reasonable and thoughtful decisions?

Processes

  • Litigation. If you go to a lawyer, the idea may naturally be that you will litigate your divorce.  This means filing a complaint in court, going through all the procedures for discovery to find out what your spouse earns, spends, owns, and owes, and finally providing all that information to a judge, who makes the decisions.  However, there are other processes that people don’t always consider.
  • Mediation. Mediation is a process in which both parties sit down with a neutral mediator who facilitates their discussion.  If they reach an agreement, the mediator may draft an agreement for them, or they may ask one lawyer to draft the agreement and one to review it.  Then their agreement forms the basic guidelines that they will be governed by post-divorce.
  • Collaborative Law. Another process is collaborative law, in which both parties have lawyers and everyone agrees to engage in problem-solving, rather than in litigation.  They may also choose to have a financial neutral, who helps figure out the best financial options for the family, or psychologists who act as coaches to help them manage their emotions during a trying time, or a child specialist to assist them in making decisions for their children.

Values

These three processes, litigation, mediation, and collaboration, are all accepted by the legal system.  How do you choose?  Well, your choice will depend on several factors.  Your spouse’s willingness to engage in mediation or collaboration is fundamental, so if your spouse is determined to litigate, you can’t force another process.  Your finances may impact your decision.  But one element that influences your decision, often without being explicitly stated, is your own value system.  Are you naturally a fighter, and do you believe that divorce is a battle to be won?  Are you naturally a peacemaker, and do you believe in the possibility of cooperation and healing?  And if you are a little bit of both, what process will best help you build a foundation for your future?  Thinking about your values and hopes is important in divorce.  You can’t control how your spouse feels, but you can stay aware of the values that drive your own decisions and try to have a divorce that is consistent with who you are.

CHAPTER FIVE – GIVE AWARDS

“Bought dollar-store motivational stickers (“Great!” “Super Work”) to adorn the best of tonight’s pile of graded homework. Actually got the idea from my graduate school professor, who proved that one is never too old to get excited about a colorful “Awesome Job!” sticker.”  – Dr. Sara Romeyn

Hey, I want a sticker, too!  We all do.  Our inner child never tires of approval and a gold star.  Doesn’t it make you feel good to be acknowledged for something you did?

All to often we get criticism instead.  For some reason, it is easier to criticize than to praise.  Criticism comes naturally when we are upset or angry.  Praise has to be planned and takes some extra energy.

Make a decision to give your significant other an award today.  It can be a flower, a compliment or even an Awesome Job sticker.  Let him or her know how much you appreciate them.

A recent study concludes that a happiness gap between spouses is a harbinger of divorce.  It goes further to state that the odds of divorce increase if the wife is unhappier than the husband, because women file more divorces than men.  Here are my two best tips for managing unhappiness, in marriage or divorce.

1.  Make a Grateful List.  It is easy to look at the glass half full.  It is human nature to always want more than we have.  And your brain will keep pumping out negative thoughts as long as you dwell on what you don’t have instead of what you do have.  An antidote for this is to write down all the things in your life that you are grateful for.  Read this list out loud every morning.

2.  Keep a Good Things Notebook.  Get a small spiral notebook.  At the end of each day, write down all the good things that happened to you that day.  Someone smiled at you or complimented your outfit.  Keep it simple and short.  Try to find at least five things a day.

Leave a comment if you try these ideas and let us know if they work for you.

by Jill H. Breslau

I never imagined that I’d be suggesting that a retreat is like a divorce, but it is, in more than one way.  It is a time when ordinary life, life as you know it, is suspended for a while, as you make decisions about how you would like things to be in the future.

The decisions you eventually make are not necessarily the same decisions you would make on Day 1.  I began my retreat, for example thinking about what was not working in my life and determined to root out whatever character flaws perpetuated my problems.  By the end of the retreat, my focus had shifted from pinning down my failures to owning my strengths—a welcome transformation.

If I had made a decision for my future based on my thoughts at the end of Day 1, I would have felt fearful, self-blaming, and full of disappointment.  In giving myself time to engage in the retreat process—not unlike a divorce process—I emerged in a clearer, more confident mood.

Yes, there are some decisions you have to make right now.  And there are emergency situations in which delay is not appropriate.  But generally, it helps if you can maintain the status quo to the greatest extent possible and give yourself time for the big decisions.  Then, as the process unfolds, you can move forward into your future, making choices with more clarity and confidence.

Highway 20 Ride

by the Zac Brown Band

I ride east every other Friday but if I had it my way
The day would not be wasted on this drive
And I want so bad to hold you
So much things I haven’t told you
Your mom and me couldn’t get along
So I’ll drive
And I think about my life
And wonder why, that I slowly die inside.

A study commissioned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company reveals that 60 percent of business owners do not have a plan in place to divorce-proof their companies.   According to PRNewswire.com, the study involved six focus groups and 518 business owners.

“If a company is owned by a couple, a divorce can paralyze the business and create divided allegiances among employees and customers,” said Beth Wood, VP of a Mass Mutual division. “It could also jeopardize a family’s wealth and the owners’ retirements,” she said. “Often, a divorce can force the owners to sell the business, with proceeds being divided by the parties involved.”

“When owners aren’t in business with their spouses, a divorce can still hurt the firm greatly, if an ex-spouse is awarded the business in a divorce settlement, throwing ownership and decision-making into doubt, and distracting employees,” Wood said.

MassMutual suggests the following ways to create a divorce-proof plan for your business:

* Buy-sell agreements that can be triggered by certain events, such as a divorce.
* Prenuptial agreements.
* Postnuptial agreements.
* Trusts.

Tax breaks available to taxpayers with children are:

1.  dependency exemption
2.  head of household filing status
3.  child tax credit
4.  child and dependent care credit
5.  earned income tax credit

But each of these used to have a different requirement for when a child qualified for favorable tax treatment.  Now the IRS has created a uniform definition of a qualifying child.  This was done to streamline the tax rules related to children and make the regulations more consistent.  There are still a few variations left.