Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What Are The Financing Options for Divorce Fees?

As the holidays near, it is quite common to see a spike in separations.  For those that about to embark in the divorce process, it is important to understand the four main types of services generally available to clients with family law matters:
(1) initial consults;
(2) flat-fee services for preparing specific documents;
(3) alternate dispute resolution; or
(4) representation through retainers.
Initial consults are key because they provide clients with an overview of the law, including their rights and obligations, as well as a detailed explanation of the legal process. It is important to obtain this information, together with an expert’s advice on strategy, early on and usually a one-hour consult in the DC Area ranges from $300-$600, depending on the attorney’s reputation and level of experience.
Flat-fee services are typically offered for drafting or reviewing Prenuptial Agreements, Separation/Marital Settlement Agreements and/or uncontested divorce documents simply because the time involved with these services can easily be predicted. Flat-fee arrangements are not available in contested situations.
Alternate dispute resolution is conducted outside of court and includes using an attorney as a mediator or working in a Collaborative Divorce Process, where each party has his/her own attorney and as a team they work to resolve the outstanding issues outside of court. In these arrangements, individuals may be able do a pay-as-you-go plan, without the need for hefty retainers because they are agreeing to avoid litigation and instead focus on an amicable settlement.
Representation through retainers requires clients to pay a deposit towards the legal services requested. Essentially, it gives clients the ability to have a lawyer “on call.” When this full level of service is requested, the process can become quite expensive.  To make the process more affordable, many service providers are starting to use limited engagement retainers that dramatically narrow the scope of an attorney’s representation.
Limited engagement retainers are a bit controversial because there is a concern that people may not fully understand what this means, but as long as the limited scope is clear, this a-la-carte style of purchasing can greatly benefit consumers seeking greater control over their legal expenses. These limited engagement retainers typically exclude representation in court, which is the most costly aspect of the legal services. The attorneys essentially serve as ghost-writers and coaches throughout the legal process, without any commitment to appear in court.
Under any scenario, divorce clients have to be realistic with their own budgets and find ways to work within their limits. Family law cases are civil matters, and the government does not have any responsibility to provide attorneys in these cases, except in very specific actions such as those involving child support or abuse and neglect claims. It is also not the lawyer’s problem to figure out how the client will finance a private action– that is where friends, family, bank loans or credit cards come into play if a person lacks sufficient means to pay for legal representation. Law firms are not intended to be financial institutions, and attorneys need to avoid conflicts of interest that can easily be created once they are put in the position of acting as lenders with their clients.  As a result, there is a rise in divorce financing through private institutions in some areas, depending on the overall assets of the marital estate.
Divorce is rarely a cheap or easy process; therefore, it is each consumer’s responsibility to do his/her own research and to then request the appropriate services taking into account the financial resources s/he has available for the process.  Ultimately, the key to a successful divorce is understanding the options available, having realistic expectations and choosing the process best-suited to the parties’ situation.
Reprinted from Wealth Strategies Journal. (c) 2014 by Regina A. DeMeo

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What's Your Attachment Style?

We all recognize early on that people have different tendencies or preferences than our own, and by the time we get to college, most of us can easily identify which of the 16 personality types out there best describes us based on the Myers Briggs test.  However, rarely do we take the time to explore the why we are wired the way we are, or make the effort to understand or appreciate why others are the way they are, and those that lack this insight will continue to experience major setbacks in their personal relationships, especially in the dating world.

Rarely do we fall in love with our carbon copy, and so we need to appreciate that others may have a different way of deriving energy, processing information, or making decisions, and as a result they may want to pursue a different lifestyle.  This is precisely what makes life (and love) so interesting, and we have to learn to live and let live without passing judgment.  And in the meantime, there is one other little thing we need to keep in mind.... attachment styles: secure, anxious or detached?  Figure out which one you are, and then learn to identify the others.

Someone with a secure attachment style is confident in the bond created, and will not exhibit insecure behaviors.  Those with an anxious attachment style will need constant reinforcement that everything is okay, and they will need to connect on a more regular and frequent basis.  Meanwhile, someone with a detached attachment style may come off as aloof.  They actually need their space and will be repelled by those that come across as needy.

What I learned over time is that I have a very secure attachment style with my friends-- I don't talk to any of them every day or even every week, but I know that we love each other, and in a time of need will be there for one another.  This works for all of us, but it does not work with someone that has an anxious attachment style-- and those with a detached attachment style definitely won't mix well with the anxious type.  When these styles clash, it is my experience (both professionally and personally) that unless one or both parties are able to adjust their behavior and expectations of the other, it simply won't last.

There really is no point in trying to fit a square peg through a round hole.  If you want to find a lasting love, you need to pay attention to attachment styles.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Why Are Prenups a Growing Trend?

As holiday season nears,  many couples will get engaged, and then embark in the typical 6-9 month planning process that will result in a wedding, which on average costs $25,000 in the United States (not including the cost of the engagement ring).  During this process, money talks are an inevitable– not just with respect to the short-term decisions such as the cost of a venue, caterer, invitations, florist, photographer, entertainment, or honeymoon, but also long-term decisions that will impact the household, such as plans for housing and managing combined expenses/savings.  In recent years, trends show that these money talks often include one addition topic: the possibility of formalizing the couple’s financial agreements with a prenuptial contract.
Young professionals, who are already painfully aware of the rate of divorce,  seem to be increasingly aware of the option to redefine joint property, protect separate assets and/or set limits on future alimony claims by entering into a prenuptial agreement with their betrothed.  While previously, these agreements were mainly used by individuals with significant personal or family wealth, and/or those entering into second marriages,  there are now a growing number of  young professional couples without significant resources requesting a prenuptial or post-nupital agreement in order to minimize the financial damage that can be caused in the event of a litigated divorce.
These days, pre-nuptials are considered standard legal contracts that are generally upheld as long as they are (1) not signed under duress, (2) there has been full financial disclosure, and (3) each party had the opportunity to consult independent legal counsel. Unfortunately, some couples wait until the last minute to arrange for a prenuptial agreement, and in the event it cannot be finalized before the wedding, many will opt to convert the contract into a post-nuptial agreement.
While these agreements may not be very romantic, they certainly are a useful tool to promote money talks upfront, alleviate important financial fears, and promote a clear understanding of what will be part of the couple’s “marital pie,” including what should happen with each person’s assets in the unfortunate event of either party’s death or a divorce.
Various corporations are now requesting that their partners/shareholders enter into prenuptial or postnuptial agreements to protect the company from being involved in any litigation between spouses. In addition, many individuals are now using these agreements to protect intellectual property rights or business interests that are not yet developed.

Many pre-nuptials also now address the issue of who will move out if things do not work out and include mechanisms for valuing and selling joint assets quickly if either party requests a separation in order to avoid a “War of the Roses” scenario.  Confidentiality clauses and provisions for mediation or ADR are also common.
In the end, by covering the most common difficult issues and establishing protocols for handling a dissolution in a prenuptial well before any invites go out in the mail,  the goal is to remove as much as uncertainty as possible and reduce the risk of costly litigation in the future.   Those willing to have the tough money talks upfront should be applauded, and in the meantime those die-hard romantics out there may well have to accept the fact that prenups are no longer for just the rich and famous.  It is a viable option that minimizes great risks, and more and more young professionals (as well as those a bit older and wiser) are embracing it.
Here is the link to a recent podcast on prenups:
@2014 by Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.
reprinted from Wealth Strategies Journal

Thursday, November 20, 2014

How Do You Deal With Misdirected Anger?

As a divorce lawyer, I'm used to seeing people at their worst.  Often as the bearer of bad news, I am the one who gets blamed or yelled at, even though I know this situation has nothing to do with me.  Luckily, once I'm off the clock, I don't have to keep dealing with psychological warfare, but many others do, so here are 3 tips for dealing with misdirected anger:

1. Ask Why- If you can understand the source of someone's anger, maybe you can help them problem-solve or at least sympathize with their situation.

2. Identify Patterns- Is there a specific behavior that triggers a visceral reaction?  If so, maybe you can avoid the behavior, that is if you really care to change.

3. Learn to Disengage- Rather than argue, what if you don't react?  If you don't fuel someone's fire, it will burn out that much faster.

With rational people, talking through issues, learning to avoid triggers, and not rewarding bad behavior should work, but with irrational people you may find that nothing works.  It helps to understand that many people suffer from mental health illnesses, and not all of them can be treated with medication.  Now, while you can certainly have compassion for someone that is not well, you are not doing anyone any good (especially yourself or the kids) by just being that person's punching bag.

Unfortunately, toxic people will keep creating toxic situations, which are incredibly unhealthy for everyone involved.   Those that lack the ability or desire to change, won't.  If someone cannot see how their words or behaviors negatively impact those around them, you may be left with no choice but to get out-- and be very careful when planning your escape because it is not likely to go over well.

Remember, those that are angry are actually wounded.  Sometimes, we can talk through our disappointment, fears, concerns, and working together with our partners to address these issues, we can actually form a deeper bond.  Sometimes, things are just beyond repair, and that is when you know it's time to move on.

Calling it quits is not anyone's first choice, and it is going to hurt-- but you have to see it as short-term pain for long-term gain.  

Monday, November 17, 2014

What Are The Odds You'll Find Your Match?

We've all heard that dating is a numbers game, but what does that really mean?  It means that to find that perfect someone, you are going to have to cull through a lot of crap.  Why?  Well, just do the math...

The more you care about looks, smarts, and/or someone's character, the harder it will be to find a person that meets your criteria.  For example, if only 15% of the US population has a graduate degree and that is important to you, that is fine, but you have to realize that you are eliminating 85% of the population in your search.  The same logic applies if you are looking for someone that earns over six figures-- they are out there, but you are now working with a much smaller percentage of the overall population and so to overcome the odds, you will need to put yourself out there more.

Even once you click with a candidate that happens to be smart, cute and nice enough, there remain many hurdles to face-- and you can only figure it out over time.  Some key considerations are:

- Is it easy to spend time together?
- Do you trust each other?
- Do you respect this person and the life choices s/he has made?
- Do you enjoy each other's friends and families?
- Are you sexually compatible?
- Do you resolve conflict well?
- Do you share the same dreams and aspirations?

It is not easy to find someone that you want to spend the rest of your life with, but I think it has to be that way so that when you do find that person you will appreciate him/her that much more-- for you know deep within your heart that the odds were highly stacked against you, and yet despite all the odds you found one another.

Don't let the odds get you down, and don't give up on finding love. You just need to get out there and be prepared to sort through a lot of hay until you find that needle in a haystack.  Once you do, you will feel like the luckiest person in the world, as well you should because it is like winning the lotto-- but you have to be willing to play in order to win.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Why Are Transitions So Scary?

Change is scary for a lot of people, especially sudden, unexpected or unwanted changes that impact our core needs. Unfortunately, those going through a divorce will experience great uncertainty in various aspects of their lives all at once, which explains the dramatic rise in situational depression or anxiety among those dealing with a separation. Here are 5 key areas of concern that need to be addressed as soon as possible to reduce the stress caused by this major life transition:
1. Financial Security- For anyone to feel safe, s/he must be sure that his/her basic financial obligations such as shelter, food, clothing, and transportation will be met. Being financially dependent on the other spouse is a terrible position to be in, and becoming financially literate and independent is an important part to a successful future post-divorce.
2. Identity- Everyone needs to feel secure in who they are as a person. Unfortunately, many during a marriage tie their identity to being a good spouse and/or involved parent, and these roles will change upon divorce. Returning to single life and not seeing the kids each day are huge adjustments that people have to make during the separation process, and it will take time to develop a new identity outside the former nuclear family unit.
3. Socialization- Many people have their entire social life revolve around family. Without a spouse or kids to come home to each night, divorced individuals need to develop a whole new social network. For many, it will require some effort to form new connections and rebuild a close circle of friends.
4. Purpose- We all need something to make us feel like life is worth living, and that we have a reason for being here. Often during a divorce, people will question their past choices, the path taken thus far, and what their real purpose should be going forward. The questions are all great, but not having all the answers readily available can be a little unsettling at first.
5. Structure & Time Management- To some extent, we are all creatures of habit, who derive some comfort in knowing how our days or weeks will be structured. However, in the divorce process, schedules often get altered and new demands are made on parents’ time with their children. Until some new norms and a regular schedule can be established, many will feel very unsettled.
It is critical to understand all the upheaval created during a divorce, and to remember that while some may adapt easily to change, many do not, especially those that never saw the end of the marriage coming.
While the legal process itself may be rather straight-forward, the financial, emotional and social devastation caused by a divorce cannot be overstated, particularly for those in an economically vulnerable position. To start over after such an immense setback is indeed going to be scary– but it will be far less daunting for those receiving sound financial advice and strong emotional support or guidance.
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.
Here is the link to the journal this was published in today:

Monday, November 3, 2014

Beauty Is In The Eye of The Beholder

Have you ever found yourself wondering what you could do differently to make someone like you more?  Or have you thought to yourself how great someone would be if you could just help them change a few things?  Hmm, we've all stupidly thought these things at some point or another, but when it comes to finding a life partner, we cannot allow ourselves to think this way.   Instead, we need to focus on finding someone that appreciates us just the way we are.

Now, everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion, just don't let that phase you too much.  Here is why: according to my son, I am (1) too neat; (2) care too much about what other's think; (3) study too much and (4) don't know how to chill.  While all of these may be true from his perspective, there are plenty of others who appreciate these very same qualities that drive him (and his dad) nuts.  So who is right?  They all are-- because beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and this is exactly why one man's trash is another man's treasure.  I'm not saying any of us are trash,  but I am saying we've all been rejected by someone for certain attributes only to later find another that finds those very same qualities absolutely endearing.  The key then is to find those that love you and all your quirks, not despite those quirks.

If you try to change for someone, then you are not being your true self, and you are bound to grow resentful.  Meanwhile if you try to change someone else, you are probably going to wind up grossly disappointed because that never works not in the long run.  Just remember the lyrics from Billy Joel's song "Just the Way You Are."  The very first lines say "don't go changing to try and please me."  Wise advice, just easier said then done.

It is hard to not try and change others, and others will always try to change us to fit their needs.  Now maybe for my son's sake, I'll tone down my neatness standards, or how much I care about what other's think, maybe I'll even be more goofy and try to chill more-- but that is because he is a child who had no choice in getting paired up with me, and it is my job as a parent to try to understand him and make his life a little bit easier.  But with a life partner, I think we should all hold out for that one that finds us beautiful, just the way we are.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Is Your Volcano Ready to Blow?

These days we have been hearing a lot about volcanos-- in far away places like Italy, Iceland and Hawaii scientists are carefully monitoring lava flows, but what about doing the same a little bit closer to home?  All of us have the ability to blow-- whether at work or home, and I believe there really is only one reason, which is quite simple: someone has violated our sense of fairness.

Usually it is those closest to us that really push our buttons, and that is because we expect much more of our loved ones than we do from complete strangers or casual acquaintances.  When it seems that those we care about are not being considerate of us, we often feel betrayed, and that betrayal often leads to outrage.  So how do you stop yourself from blowing up?  Well, try to remember this fact: if a volcano blows, everyone winds up covered in ash.

Whenever we feel our sense of fairness is being violated, we need to speak up and not just suffer in silence.  We need to air our grievances, explain our feelings, and then we have to wait and see-- how does that other person react?  Do they get defensive or aggressive?  Do they shut down or shut you out?  Are they dismissive of your concerns?  If so, just recognize that NONE of that is constructive, but do not continue to engage, instead just gracefully walk away.

Those with healthy relationship skills will listen to their partners' concerns-- they are open to having difficult conversations and coming up with some possible solutions.  Conflict is inevitable in life, but for a relationship to survive (and hopefully thrive), you have to feel like you are working together to resolve these issues.

 If you feel like a volcano that is getting ready to blow, don't dismiss your feelings.  Instead, spend some time asking yourself why you feel this way.  Figuring out the why is the key.  Then you can start to explore options for an appropriate solution-- and here is where you need to be open to all possibilities because the less tied you are to a particular outcome, the more likely you are to find the right solution.

So, let's leave real explosions to real volcanoes, and admire them from a far.  I think we can all agree that the last thing any of us want is to have all our loved ones covered in ash.