What looks like just another celebrity breakup might actually be instructive for any divorcing couple. Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner are going the way of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin in choosing a non-adversarial way to divorce while living in the public eye. During her divorce, Paltrow made headlines for describing the process as “conscious uncoupling.” Many attorneys, including myself, appreciated the spotlight she had shone on non-adversarial divorce. Various magazines, including Us Weekly, have reported that Ben and Jen’s settlement features a creative custody agreement for their 3 children which will include each parent living in separate residences on the family’s estate. The goal being to provide as little disruption to the children’s lives as possible and help them feel secure and loved.
A high-net-worth couple going through a divorce can benefit greatly by staying out of court. Couples with considerable assets (which I will define here as more than $5 million) are often lead to believe that their divorce will be a “no holds barred,” brutal, lengthy process with astronomical legal bills and complicated offers and counter-offers. Because of this belief, many high-net-worth couples assume that mediation or the collaborative law process will not work for them. They couldn’t be more mistaken. In my experience, the opposite is true; high-net-worth families have more to gain by keeping things civil and private. Unfortunately, many attorneys who practice litigation harbor a killer instinct that grows along with their clients’ assets, and they see a litigated divorce as the only way to satisfy that instinct.
Even when spouses are trying to have a non-adversarial divorce, the emotions that arise can hijack innocent intentions and get in the way of achieving the bigger goals such as the children's well being, future financial security for one another and children, and an outcome that feels fair. Resentment, regret, anger and sadness about the past are just a few of the difficult emotions that divorcing clients need to deal with while simultaneously trying to make very difficult financial and parenting decisions that will have long term consequences in the future.
As I picked up The New York State Bar Association Journal earlier in the month, the cover story intrigued me. It was called "More War Stories from the New York Courts." It was about civil litigation cases that go on for years. The article didn't discuss divorce, but that's certainly what was on my mind as I read it. I can't imagine any parents would want to subject their children or themselves to the perils and terror of an actual war such as those raging in the Middle East,
I recently decided it was time to give my website a makeover. My website designer and I decided that blue would be a primary color in the design and she asked me to send her shades of blue that appealed to me. I typed "blue" into my browser and went to work looking through Google images. Every shade of blue imaginable popped up. As I scrolled through, I found a few shades that appealed to me and there was one shade that I particularly liked, but I could only find it as the background to a word cloud. I spent quite a while looking for that same exact shade of blue that was clean and free of words.
Sometimes people in the middle of divorce litigation realize that the court system just isn't working for them. Time is going by, the costs are piling up, and they seem further from resolution than ever. At this point, it may be time for them to look at an alternative process, such as mediation, but where do they start? For divorcing couples in New York City for whom finances are tight, I highly recommend looking into FamilyKind, which has been a great resource for many who have found themselves caught in expensive litigation with few results to show for all the money and efforts they've expended.
Divorce is one of the most difficult life experiences that anyone can go through. And while the clients who I work with are all committed to having the least adversarial divorce possible, it's not always easy for them to find it in themselves to forgive their spouse for mistakes, treat them with compassion and respect and trust that promises will be kept. And that's what was on my mind when I read a blog post from Jeri Quinn in which she described an African tribe that believes that each human being comes into the world as a good person who desires safety, love, peace and happiness.
"Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending."
- Maria Robinson
As true as this quote may be, it's not easy to think about re-writing your future when you're in the process of divorcing. You want to put your marriage behind you, but removing yourself from it is not the sort of thing that happens by snapping your fingers. You need support.
Something I have been seeing more and more in my practice as a mediator and collaborative attorney are couples living apart for long periods of time, without being legally separated.
For various reasons, many married couples decide to separate for years without having any legal agreements in place. They don't realize until years later when one of them is seeking a divorce that the legal, financial and emotional issues caused by the years of separation can become very difficult to resolve.
I recently read an article on The New York Times wellness blog by Tara Parker-Pope called 'The Decisive Marriage.' In it, Parker-Pope explores the research gathered through The National Marriage Project and asks how does being decisive - or not - affect a marriage? Though it is not mentioned in the article, I thought some of the points would be especially helpful for people considering a prenuptial agreement. Parker-Pope writes:
Couples should make active decisions about their relationships and major life events. Showing intent in some form -- from planning the first date, to living together, to the wedding and beyond -- can help improve the quality of a marriage over all.
The feeling of or ability to be in control can be an elusive concept to many, and the lack of control can be a source of anxiety to those who crave it. When it comes to personal matters, like divorce, the need for control may be even greater. The feeling like one is not in control of his or her own future or relationship is a common frustration expressed by divorcing couples who are litigating and at the mercy of the court system. Luckily, there are alternative options for couples wishing to seize control of their divorces.
Working outside of the court system allows divorcing parents of the boomerang generation to consider, discuss and plan for when their adult children return home.
In the New York Times Magazine, there was recently an article about the boomerang generation. Kids are coming out of college and moving back home with their parents, perhaps after unsuccessfully trying to live on their own.
The legal, emotional and financial needs of couples divorcing due to "financial infidelity" are often complex.
When many people hear that "infidelity" was the reason for a divorce, they automatically assume it has to do with sex. More and more often, however, I see that "infidelity" with money is the reason why marriages are ending.
Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin have made the news lately with their "conscious uncoupling" - a new term for a mindful divorce that is an excellent example for separating couples to learn from.
Like most people, I had never heard of this term until it was talked about in the media. As it turns out, whether I knew the term for it or not, the philosophy behind conscious uncoupling is exactly why I encourage my clients to use the collaborative law process or mediation when they are ending their marriages. It is also the reason why I use these non-adversarial processes to help couples enter into prenuptial agreements; it's what I call conscious coupling.
When a couple divorces, it is usually the case that neither party gets everything he or she wants. Understanding and accepting this fact before you start the divorce process can help make the process less costly - both financially and emotionally.
One of the many things I have learned from my family law clients over the past 20+ years is that when they strive for an outcome (whether via agreement or court order) that provides them with everything they want, they are inevitably disappointed. Perfection is not achievable in life and it's certainly not achievable in divorce. Instead, I encourage my clients to think about what a "good enough" outcome would look like.
I was reading an article at psychologytoday.com that highlighted a story that made me think about how important a person's response to difficult life changes, such as the end of a marriage, will drive the experience.
Reading the article I learned that while India was under British rule, a posh golf course was constructed in Kolkata (Calcutta). The course was home to monkeys, who developed a habit of picking up balls in play and throwing them. After years of trying to solve the problem by expelling the monkeys, the golf course resigned itself to the reality of the situation.
In my last post, I explored the idea of "doing no harm" as a collaborative divorce attorney. Some of the comments I received focused on what it means to be a collaborative professional, while others lamented the prevalence of lawyers who call themselves "collaborative" when their actions are anything but.
If you are a client who wants to use the collaborative process and stay out of court, you want to know that your attorney is actually committed to that process and understands the different mindset that it requires on his or her part. To get the information that you need, these are the questions I would suggest you ask a collaborative attorney and the types of answers that you want to hear:
The Hippocratic Oath, which reads in part: I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel, is often summarized by the phrase "Do no harm." This simple yet powerful credo is an excellent approach for solving problems in many situations, including divorce.
Contrary to the approach of traditional divorce litigation, which often serves as a poison pill, the approach of collaborative lawyers is to do no harm. When our divorcing clients come to us, they are scared, angry, and confused.
It is possible to make the divorce process more time- and cost-effective?
When potential clients consult with me in connection with their divorce, one of the first questions they ask is, "How much do you expect this to cost?" and one of the second questions is, "How long do you expect this to take?" Time and money are, understandably, major concerns of anyone entering the divorce process, so I know that these clients want to hear answers that reflect a best case scenario. I can never predict the exact end date or the costs involved, but I can tell these clients that the more of these tips they follow, the more likely their divorce process will run smoother and be more cost-efficient: