Thursday, August 28, 2014

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Have You Lost That Loving Feeling?

Disenchantment doesn't usually happen overnight.  It is a slow steady decline in satisfaction until one day you realize things either need to shape up or you need to ship out.  Now, I'm all for trying to work things out, but when you can't, I completely believe in exercising our freewill to move on because staying in a dysfunctional situation-- either at work or home-- is simply not healthy for anyone.

Lately, I must confess that my disenchantment is primarily centered on our over-use of technology.  As I look around me everywhere I go, everyone seems glued to their smartphones.  On the metro, very few of us actually read the paper or have conversations with real human beings anymore.  At work, most of my daily interactions with clients are via email instead of the face-to-face meetings that I so enjoy.  By the time I go home, I rarely watch television and instead prefer to read or listen to music.  Indeed from 8pm until 8 am I turn off my phone, unless I'm expecting a call from a loved one.  And lately I've found true bliss by unplugging on the weekends or on vacation for even longer periods of time, yet sadly I am painfully aware that I am in the real minority among fellow GenXers and the Millenials.

To truly connect with those you love, you have to spend real time with them and fully immerse yourself in the moment.  Many seem to be losing the essential skill of staying present, but how will you ever develop meaningful bonds and nurture the love you already have if you cannot spend uninterrupted quality time with one another free of all other distractions?

For two entire weeks this month I completely unplugged, and let me tell you it was pure joy.  The already strong attachment to my immediate loved ones just grew exponentially, and so did my disdain for modern technology, which in the past provided me with so much entertainment.  Don't you find it interesting that as the real bonds grew stronger the artificial connections evaporated?  I am convinced it is not a coincidence, and I encourage others to set higher limits on themselves-- avoid the mind-numbing entertainment at your fingertips, and go challenge your mind, body and soul in other ways.

Have I lost that loving feeling?  Towards technology, for sure, but not with those that matter most.  If you want to make your real love last, I urge you to unplug and spend more quality time with those that actually matter most to you, otherwise don't be surprised if they lose that loving feeling towards you.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

3 Top Reasons to Get Married

People are motivated to marry for different reasons, and if there is one thing I have learned over the years is that there is no point in passing judgment on others.  While ideally, we may all wish people would only marry because they believe they have found their soulmate, the fact is that as the years go on many get tired of the dating games or being alone, and the ticking of biological clocks or perhaps certain economic pressures often cause people to make compromises.  Half of these unions will last, and half won't-- it's a bit of a crap shoot, but hey you're never going to win unless you play.  Just be honest with yourself about what is at stake and which of these 3 reasons is motivating you to go on:

1.   Financial Security- Since the beginning of time, marriage has been a way for families to establish financial security, and in today's society there are many financial benefits to being married, such as reduced insurance rates and shared living expenses.   The problem of course is that financial situations fluctuate, and as we saw during the Great Recession (i) no one has a guaranteed salary, and (ii) investments, including real estate can become worthless.  This begs the question of whether you will be able to stay with someone in good times and in bad times, and that will greatly depend on a person's character, not their wallet.

2.  Having Children- Even though 40% of children in the U.S. are now being born out of wedlock, the majority still clearly prefers bringing kids into the world with an intact family.  It makes perfect sense that we would want our children to live in one house with both parents, assuming those two can happily co-exist under one roof, but again in order to ensure that it's not just about screening someone's genes to see if s/he would breed good babies, but is that person a loving and decent human being that will join the child-rearing responsibilities, even when times get tough?

3. Love- Hopefully we can agree that there are different types or degrees of love, and that you can love someone without being "in love" with them.   The difference in my opinion is that when you are in love with someone, you don't see any of their faults and then find ways to overlook them.  Instead you simply see endearing quirks that make the person that much more adorable.  But regardless of the type of love you feel for someone at a certain point in time, the fact is feelings are fluid, and your perception may change overtime, just as people evolve over the years through the various experiences they encounter.  People can and do fall out of love all the time, especially when they take their marital  status for granted.  The key question is can you continue to grow together and nurture the love you have for one another?  Only time will tell.

All three of these are legit reasons to get married, and the fact is you should not feel like you have to justify your logic to anyone else.  You just need to be honest with yourself about the main motivation, and understand the pitfalls as outlined above.

After all these years of helping people either structure their marriages on the front-end, or unravel them in the back-end, one thing is very clear: marriage is hard work, and satisfaction is not guaranteed.  That said, the rewards are amazing, and even after all these years of being divorced and helping others through their heartbreak, I have not forgotten or become blind to the benefits of being in a happy union.  Thankfully, I know I am not alone.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Have You Budgeted for Those Extra-ordinary Kid-Related Expenses?

Lots of parents mistakenly assume that once their kids are out of diapers and eligible for public school the child-related expenses will decrease substantially, but here are some of the surprise expenses that I have found many do not properly budget for, and not just in a divorce scenario:

1. Medical Expenses- Kids get exposed to a lot of germs and as a result are often sick, we know that, but unfortunately they also sometimes start to exhibit issues overtime that may not be as apparent at an early age, such as ADHD, dyslexia, anxiety or depression.  Not all of these expenses will be covered by insurance. Also, braces is a big ticket item often costing about $3,000 per round, with many children now needing 2 rounds.

2. School Fees- Private school in the DC Area typically runs about $25,000 per child or more.  Even if you opt for public school there are regular fees for field trips, prom, and extra-curricular activities that can add up to $400 a month or more. Many kids will also need tutoring or take a weekly music class, which can easily cost $50  per session.  And if you want your kids to go to college, they probably will need an SAT prep class and each application to a school is at least $55.

3. Transportation- Eventually, we would all like to stop being personal chauffeurs for our children, and that means ponying up for drivers' education, permit fees, and eventually access to a car with car insurance.  This is a very expensive necessity that is often overlooked and comes with a huge sticker shock for most parents.

It is no wonder that the national average for raising a child in the first 18 years is over $125,000.  Intact families will struggle together to address these issues, but sadly those in separate households often engage in huge feuds over these unanticipated expenses.  Unfortunately, there is a lot the courts cannot order parents to do and either you will rise above your differences to address your children's needs or not.  Here's hoping you do your best to plan for these "extra-ordinary" expenses, which actually are quite ordinary.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Have You Tied Up Those Loose Ends?

Once the final divorce decree gets entered my job is essentially done-- unless later on people need to revisit support issues or modify their time-sharing arrangements with kids, and these two things do happen all the time as families continue to experience changes in life.  Some people are great about working together post-divorce and addressing these issues themselves, others not so much... but I'll save that for another day.  Today I want to highlight a few things that many forget to do after they separate and/or divorce, such as:

1. Wills & Powers of Attorney- You need to find a trusted person to act as the executor to your Last Will and Testament and/or trustee for any money you will leave in a Trust to your children.  Also, if something happens to you, who will make medical decisions for you and/or manage your money?  Health care power of attorney designations need to be updated and you may want to consider having a Springing Power of Attorney, which essentially springs into effect if you are incapacitated and allows someone to pay your bills, etc.

2. Beneficiary Forms-- You need to contact your life insurance provider and retirement plan administrators and update the forms so that money doesn't accidentally/unintentionally go to your ex-spouse.  If you haven't set up either of these things previously, now is the perfect time to contact a financial planner that can help you determine the appropriate amount of insurance you will need to protect your loved ones and a target amount of contributions you need to start making to provide for yourself when you retire.

3.  Health Insurance- If you are dropping someone from your health insurance plan due to a divorce, you need to let the company know, and if that person is entitled to COBRA, they need to get the right forms asap.  If you need to get your own policy or add a child, don't delay in getting all the information necessary.  There are some very unforgiving deadlines that must be met and ignorance of the law is no excuse.

4. Banking- Have you updated all your contact information and closed out all joint liabilities?  If you have any doubt that your spouse may have opened accounts in your name without your knowledge, then get a credit report and make sure all the information is correct.  Unless you have agreed to maintain a joint account for some reason, it really isn't smart to leave these open beyond the agreed upon date.  And finally, if you are expecting a transfer from a retirement account, it really is up to you to follow up.  Once lawyers get the signed court orders and submit it to the plan providers, we thens to close out our files.  Clients have to be on the ball about notifying the right point of contact if a transfer is not made in a timely fashion.

The bottom line is that long after the divorce case ends, there are lingering issues outside the divorce process that need to be addressed, and people need to be proactive about taking care of these loose ends.  No one else is going to nag you or follow up with you about these things, but they are important and should not be ignored.  It may be a pain to go through, but once you are done, I promise you will feel an incredible sense of accomplishment-- and complete freedom.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Have You Taken A Real Vacation Lately?

Europeans have the right attitude taking full advantage of their 20-30 days of paid vacation a year. Meanwhile, here in the U.S. it seems the only paid time off people respect anymore is when you are at a funeral or on your honeymoon.  What is up with that?

I do admit the last time I took a month off of work (other than maternity leave) was 20 years ago after I graduated college.  Ever since then, it's been go, go, go and sadly the American culture over the last 10 years has really taken a turn for the worse when it comes to respecting the need for people to unplug and take a break.  This observation was fully validated yesterday in the Express article that pointed out that every year there are approximately 577 million days of unused vacation days by U.S. workers that just get lost.  Now, how sad is that?

While many of us do know how to enjoy our weekends and do short getaways, it is becoming rarer and rarer for people to truly unplug-- and by that I mean no emails, calls or social media.  Can you do that for a full week?  I urge you to try.

Last week when I took my son on his first trip abroad, I got to fully unplug, and let me just tell you that it was awesome.  To truly decompress, you have to totally disconnect from work.  You may think you are a critical person, but let me clue you in on a harsh reality: everyone is replaceable, and life will go on without you.

It makes no sense to work like a dog all the time if you cannot take a few days off to enjoy life with your loved ones.  Corporate America can only offer you financial rewards, but at what cost to your overall well being?  And what is the price you are paying with your personal relationships?  If you don't make time for others, don't be surprised when they don't make time for you.

Now if money is an issue, you just need to get creative.  There are so many package deals available at all price points, including through services like Priceline, Groupon or Living Social.  Use points on your credit card if you can or airline miles, and you can always reach out to friends to see if they have a place you can use to crash at night while you do day excursions near their homes.

If you have not yet taken a true vacation this year, stop making excuses and go plan something fun for yourself!  Break away from the daily grind, change up the monotony and go explore a new place.  You build memories doing special things, something out of the ordinary.  Doing something extra-ordinary will do wonders-- and not just for you, but those around you, well at least for those that really matter. :)