Saturday, October 15, 2016

What Are The Odds Of Finding A Soulmate?

Spoiler alert- I really don't like the term "soulmate," but not because I've given up on love or no longer believe in marriage.  It's just that there is a lot of danger with using this term,  because it has the great potential for either setting up unrealistic expectations or it can cause someone to stay in an unhealthy relationship, or feel hopeless and lost if their partner leaves or dies.

First, let's talk about unrealistic expectations.  We know that about 20% of the U.S. population will not marry, and that of the 80% that do about half will divorce.  Of the 40% that remain married, we all know that some are just plain miserable or complacent, so in reality maybe just half feel like they are with their "soulmate."  Essentially then, you have about a 20% chance of finding a great match for a life partner-- so what about the rest of us?  It seems to me that the numbers plainly indicate that  odds are more in your favor if you apply your energy and effort to developing a great network of friends than putting all your eggs in one basket.

Second, when you convince yourself that someone is your "soulmate" I fear that you run the risk of ignoring red flags.  You may make excuses for his/her bad behavior rather than try to address issues or see problems for what they really are, such as severe character flaws or true deal-breakers for you.  If you think the person is "the one" you may stay in an unhealthy relationship simply because you think it is your destiny, when in fact we create our own fate.

Finally, if things don't work out or your partner dies, you will be devastated if you are convinced there is no one else out there for you.  A much healthier outlook is to see relationships as serving a purpose during a certain point in time, but knowing that few actually last a lifetime.  Just as we continue to evolve, so do our needs and wants in our relationships, and as this happens sometimes we may find we no longer align with our partner.  But luckily the world is full of people with different ideas, values and interests, and part of what makes life so interesting is getting to share our experiences and learn from others.

So what if the odds are slim of finding a soulmate?  As long as you are connecting with others and having fun, I think you are doing just fine-- along with about 80% of us, which puts you in really good company, and there the odds are quite in your favor.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

7 Signs Your Spouse Isn't Happy

Thanksgiving is next month, and as the holidays approach, you may find your spouse is a bit off.  This is common, especially when someone is unhappy and therefore isn't feeling the holiday spirit.  Here are 7 common signs that you need to have a talk about what is going on with your partner:

1. Easily Irritated- someone who is unhappy is not at ease, and therefore becomes easily set off by the slightest of things.  If no matter what you do, that person is constantly set off by what you do, this is a clear sign that something is wrong.

2. Sleeps A Lot- depressed people have a tendency to sleep a lot, it is a way of shutting down and not dealing with the outside world.

3. Avoidance- if your partner keeps staying late at the office and tells you to do your own thing, that is a clear indication that s/he is pulling away from you, and perhaps others.  Unhappy people tend to disengage from others, or at least situations that they believe are causing them discomfort.

4. Lost Sense of Humor- if you feel like your spouse has lost his/her sense of humor, don't dismiss that feeling.  Pay close attention.  Is that person at least smiling on a regular basis, and is it genuine?  It is hard to fake being happy 24/7.

5. Lack of intimacy- there is no stronger way to connect with someone than by being intimate, so if your partner has lost interest in being together this is a clear sign that s/he is unhappy about something.

6. Lack of plans/gifts- It is hard to make plans for the future or buy gifts for others when you are upset about the current state of affairs.

7. Deterioration in Self Care- If someone has suddenly lost or gained a lot of weight (as in 12 lbs or more) this may be an indicator that the individual is not taking good care of him or herself.  People that are depressed also have a tendency to self-medicate, including an increase in drug or alcohol intake to numb the pain.

Ultimately, an unhappy partner may be unaware of his/her behaviors and lack enough insight to seek help or admit something is wrong.  They may deny that they are depressed, or become belligerent and shift the blame to the others.  Some become stuck in a negative loop, and what you need to focus on is how this is affecting you and/or your children.  You cannot keep walking on eggshells-- it simply isn't healthy for anyone.

It is not easy to talk to someone you love about their mental health, but either that person will hear what you have to say and will want to make a change, or they will deny that they have any issues, at which point you need to acknowledge that the person you once fell in love with is not the same and figure out a way to preserve your own sanity and happiness.

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

What Happens In A Weekend Divorce Session?

Most people cannot easily take time off from work during the week, nor can they afford unlimited legal fees to get unhitched.  So what if these couples could at least agree to try a flat-fee weekend mediation session?  This is the question I want to answer, and there is only one way to find out. Starting next month, I am going to offer flat-fee weekend mediation sessions for couples seeking to reach an agreement on all issues arising from their marriage.

If we can agree to cooperate with the exchange of vital information, such as the current value of all marital assets, each person's income and monthly expenses, as well as the child-related costs that need to be addressed, then it is possible in a structured setting to (1) identify the major legal issues, (2) generate various options, and (3) work towards a global solution that everyone can live with.   Of course no one would be pressured to sign anything, and each party could go consult his/her own attorney afterwards to make sure the deal on the table is a fair one.

Over the past decade, I have seen an increasing number of clients choose mediation or ADR (alternate dispute resolution) over litigation.  It is not that people are necessarily less angry or scared about the divorce process, but rather that consumers have come to understand that time is money, and going to court is very expensive.  So, for those that are cost-conscious and are looking for a more efficient way to resolve their marital differences, a flat-fee weekend divorce session could be the perfect solution.

I am very excited to launch this new service, and if you know of anyone that might benefit from this option, please share!  It will be interesting to see how many will choose to try this weekend divorce, which is only for MD and DC clients committed to being productive and keeping things confidential.

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.    

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

3 Key Costs to Consider in a Divorce

They say freedom is priceless, and yet when you are contemplating a divorce, there are some pretty significant costs to consider before calling it quits, unless you are economically on par with couples like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.  Here are the top 3 expenses you must budget for when contemplating a separation:

1. Family Support- Whether you have to pay any alimony or child support is an important factor to consider when looking to establish a realistic budget in separate households.  These legal obligations can significantly impact your choice in housing, which is usually the biggest line item on a person's budget.

2. Housing- Are you on the mortgage or a joint lease with your spouse?  If so, can you continue to contribute towards that obligation while also paying rent for yourself somewhere else?  You cannot just assume that the other person will pay 100% of the mortgage or rent, and if that person chooses not to do so, you are not just putting your credit at risk, but also exposing yourself to litigation with a lender or landlord.

3. Attorney's Fees-  The national average is about $250/hour for a family law attorney, but those rates can drastically vary depending on the lawyer's level of experience and your geographic location.  There is also a wide range in court filing fees, and if you have to pursue a contested case you could be looking at a process that takes anywhere from 11-18 months with a price tag of about $20,000 per party based on national averages.

There are obviously other costs that have nothing to do with money that we all need to consider, including our health and well-being, as well as the safety of our children.  It is of no surprise to me that 6 out of the last 7 cases I took to trial recently were all about custody.  None of these parents believed they should stay together, and their arguments were not over money, but rather the disputes were centered on the time each should have with the children and how major decisions affecting the children should be made.

Hopefully, Brad and Angelina will work out their custody issues soon.  Here's what I would say to all divorcing parents, not just them:  When you do have kids together, try to focus on what is in their best interests.  Let your love for them guide you in finding some common ground.  If you can put your children's needs before your own, you should be able to work with the input of experienced professionals on a Parenting Plan that provides a consistent schedule and promotes a healthy relationship with each parent.  Remember, these little ones are your greatest legacy, and they deserve your best efforts to minimize the negative impacts of a divorce.

Once you have worked out a Custody Agreement, the rest should fall into place.  No one should have to stay in a toxic environment or a loveless marriage that is soul-crushing.  Like they say, where there is a will, there is a way.  You can always work with a financial planner to reduce expenses, find ways to increase your income, or temporarily tap into your savings or credit to balance a budget for two households.

Freedom does have a price, especially when you no longer wish to wait until death to part with your spouse.  The real question is what's it worth to you?   Only you can answer that.

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

What Is Conscious Dating?

A mindful approach to dating is very different from the hook up culture model where as long as there is some chemistry in the beginning, you give the person a shot until it ceases to be fun, and then you simply move on to the next adventure.  Conscious dating involves the following steps:

1. A self exploration process- This is where you look at past patterns and identify those negative behaviors you want to break.  Kick those bad habits, including any false assumptions you have made about having a specific "type" that is limiting you from expanding your options.  Recognize your attachment style and think about the qualities you want to find in a potential partner.

2. Set clear goals and intentions- Do you want a casual relationship or are you seeking a committed relationship?  What shared interests are important to you?  What are your deal breakers?  Know that if you want something more meaningful, this is going to take time and patience.

3. Pay attention- When you are getting to know someone, really listen to what they are saying and see if their actions match their words.  Are you at ease with this person, or do somethings make you feel uneasy?  Don't ignore red flags or dismiss your concerns.  For example, if someone is spending money like it is going out of style, don't tell yourself, "no biggie, we can just keep our money separate."  When you are cohabitating or get married, your partners problems do become your problems.

4. Cut your losses- The sunken cost theory is a fallacy.  Don't think about how much time, money or energy you have spent on a relationship that is broken.  While you can never get back what you previously put in, you can put a stop to the hemorrhaging and move on.

Here is a tv interview on the subject with Dr. Shari Pfeffer Burns, who is based in CA.  I recently interviewed her for an upcoming article on Splitopia & will post that soon!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Are You Ready to Get Engaged?

Most couples get engaged between November and February each year, and then the wedding planning takes over for another 6-9 months until the big day.  During that time, a couple will formulate a guest list that will not only drive the choice of a venue, but also the costs of the caterer and floral arrangements.  Selecting the right entertainment and photographers to capture the special day are also important, as are coordinating the proper attire and transportation of all the key members of the wedding party.  Add on the costs of the invitations, rings, gratuities to all the service providers, and a honeymoon, and without much imagination it is easy to see why the average U.S. wedding costs at least $25,000.

Now, for a fraction of that cost, don't you think it is wise to invest in a prenuptial agreement in case you wind up in the 50% bracket that do not wait until death to part?  Even if you currently do not have anything, don't you expect to buy a house together and accumulate some savings?  What if you inherit money later on or develop intellectual property rights that might actually be worth something?  What is the downside to having a discussion about what you think should be marital versus what should be kept separate?  And do you really want to leave the possibility of alimony open-ended when you can easily minimize the risk of that by setting caps on the amount and duration if a complete waiver is not an option?

We all have to sign contracts every day with providers that lay out what happens in the event one party does not fulfill his/her end of the bargain or becomes dissatisfied.  Think about it-- your phone is under contract, your landlord or mortgage lender have made you sign an agreement, and if you have a car payment or own a credit card, then for sure those lenders also have agreements with you.  So, why should it be any different with your soon to be spouse?  I realize you are not in love with any of the others, but it precisely your spouse that has the greatest potential of hurting you-- not just emotionally but financially.

When you co-habitate, share bank accounts, and decide to marry someone, you take on legal obligations and responsibilities.   You need to plan for the worst, and then hope for the best as you walk down that aisle dreaming of your happily-ever-after.

Here's a link to a short podcast on cohabitation agreements and prenups/postnups:

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.

5 Key Issues in a Divorce

What most people going through a divorce dwell on is the why, or how did we get to this point?  Unfortunately, not everyone is capable of having a closure conversation, and many will be deprived of the apology they so long for, and perhaps rightly deserve.  Ultimately, it only takes one person to call it quits, and often one party feels a bit blind-sided.  The leaver undeniably has a clear head start on the process, no matter how quickly the other tries to catch up, which makes the whole experience feel a bit imbalanced and unjust.  But these are all emotional issues that actually play a very small role in the legal process.  

Here are the questions that a divorce court will focus on:
  1. Alimony- Does one party need support from the other?  Is the other able to help the economically dependent spouse, and if so in what amount and for what duration?
  2. Property Division- What did the parties accumulate during the marriage, and how can we divide the assets fairly?  Is anyone claiming premarital assets need to be traced out, or that inheritance or gifts from third parties were received during the marriage that need to be excluded from the marital pie?
  3. Legal Custody- Can the parents continue to make shared decisions on major issues such as education, medical care and religious upbringing?
  4. Time-Sharing Schedule- How will the parents share time with the children such that the kids can have regular contact with both parents, as is deemed in their best interest?
  5. Child Support- Based on the family's income and necessary child-related expenses, such as daycare/aftercare and health insurance, what does the state formula recommend as a basic monthly support for the children?

These legal questions need to be discussed with an experienced family law attorney, whose goal should be to streamline the legal process as much as possible.  A lot will of course depend on the other party and the attorney s/he retains.  For more information on this process, here is the link to a short podcast:

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.