Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Do You Have Irreconcilable Differences?

What are irreconcilable differences? Well, in court we simply understand that you are no longer willing to remain married, and instead you prefer to live your lives separately-- and we don't care why.  This is the beauty of no-fault divorce, which has become quite popular over the last 25 years, and as a divorce lawyer I appreciate not having to air everyone's dirty laundry or assassinate someone's character in order to allow families to move on with as much dignity and grace as possible.

But outside of court, most of us do care about the why-- and we struggle to understand what problems are so insurmountable that a family would choose to part ways rather than work together to find solutions or a compromise.  From what I've seen during the last 17 years dealing with divorces, here are the most common irreconcilable differences:

1. Money-When someone feels that the other person is jeopardizing the family's financial security, or the life-style preferences that impact spending vs. savings are so vast that a compromise cannot be reached, this often becomes a deal-breaker for couples.

2. Division of Labor- When one person feels like s/he is doing the lion's share of the work for the family, there is a sense of unfairness that needs to be addressed right away, otherwise with each passing day tension will rise while trust and respect for the other erodes to the point that the fundamental bond of friendship becomes non-existent.

3. Work-Life Balance- This is a common struggle individuals face, and it most definitely bleeds into every relationship we have-- because there is only so much time and energy we have in a day, and nobody likes to feel likes they are not a priority, especially in their partner's life.

4. Definition of a Family- Not all married couples want children, and if they do have children in common, there is the issue of how many can they both manage.  There are also different expectations when it comes to how to spend vacations and holidays, and who should be included.  Do you just want to be a party of two?  That only works when you are both on the same page about that, but let's face it how realistic is that idea?

5. Lack of Consideration- When someone turns away from their spouse by either finding comfort in the arms of another or becoming addicted to alcohol, drugs, porn, gambling, and they continually dismiss their partner's cry to seek help. Or, simply by having arguments increase in intensity and frequency, regardless of whether there are any physical altercations, to the point that someone no longer feels safe in his/her own home.

These are all stressful topics to discuss, and not everyone can communicate effectively and calmly under stress-- especially if they feel what is at stake is having to compromise on a core-value.  The more emotional each person becomes while trying to address one of these hot-topics, the greater the chance for saying or doing things that can be permanently detrimental to the relationship.

When you can no longer speak-- because there really is no more room for compromise or hope in understanding each other any better, that's when you know your differences are irreconcilable.  And when you reach this conclusion, just remember this- no one else needs to know the why.  The why is information that should only be revealed on a need-to-know basis.  Everyone else just needs to accept two words: irreconcilable differences.

Obviously we all wish that those in a committed relationship could work out their differences, but at least 45% of married couples will not.  At least when that happens, the option of a no-fault divorce is now pretty wide spread and accepted.  There is a reason for that-- hopefully, you can both appreciate the wisdom in that and embrace it, and in doing so at least you can find one last place where there can still be a meeting of the minds.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Is Your Financial House In Order?

It's almost tax day-- a happy day for those getting a refund, and an irksome day for those that owe more than they had anticipated.  The good news for all of us at least is that it should all be over by next week, and then we can take a moment to plan ahead for the upcoming year.

Gathering all your financial data is usually the most painful process, but now that you have the data from 2015, take a good look and see how much did your household earn? How much went to taxes? From your net, how much was spent on housing and medical costs?  How much did you manage to save into your 401(k) or other retirement funds? How much were you able to put aside for a rainy day fund or the kids' college funds? If you did not save as much as you would have liked, now is the time to figure out where you can reduce expenses and set a realistic goal for saving more in 2016.

Managing money is not easy-- because it's not just about the numbers, it's about the underlying emotions.  For all of us, money is a means to an end-- whether that end is just being able to meet your basic needs or to fulfill your wildest dreams.  And a lack of money, is for most of us a source of great anxiety and stress precisely because it means we are at risk of not meeting our desired end.

Money is not something dirty-- it's neither the root of all evil, nor is it the answer to all our problems.     It is simply a tool we need to learn to master in order to not just survive, but thrive in life.  So, if your financial house is not in order, don't ignore this issue.  Tackle the emotions first-- what would financial security mean to you?  What does that look like?  Then, figure out how can you get there.  And if you need help, ask for it.  There is no shame in that.

Is your financial house in order?  It's okay if it's not, as long as you don't ignore the problem and instead learn to deal with it.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Are You Conflicted About Leaving?

Sometimes, we may not know exactly what we want, but we often know exactly what we don't want.  That in itself is a good thing-- at least it helps us eliminate that which we do not desire in our lives.  This is especially true, when it comes to love.

When we are dating, we all have some checklist of the characteristics we are looking for in a partner.  Typically, these include traits like good looks, intelligence, a good sense of humor.  Most of us seek someone who is kind and enjoys our company.   And at first glance, it would appear there are a lot of people out there that can fit that bill-- especially in the beginning, when we are all on our best behavior, presenting our best-selves.

Real moral dilemmas do not arise until the honeymoon phase is over.  Once the lust-phase is over, and you are under one roof confronting real life problems that have to be addressed as a couple, this is when you really start to see a person's true character.  How we manage money, divide household chores, maintain work-life balance, and define family, are all difficult areas to address when you are not on the same page.

As tension builds, you can see that we all cope with conflict differently-- some are complete conflict avoiders, while others beautifully rise to the challenge of finding solutions, and then there's everything in between.  Unfortunately, communication problems often exacerbate clashing styles for resolving conflict.  And with each and every argument, if you don't find yourself understanding each other better, that means the opposite is occurring-- you are growing farther and farther apart, while also losing trust and respect with each and every seemingly minor spat, until the chasm between you has grown so vast that when you face the other person, it feels like you are staring at a stranger, or worse your mortal enemy.

If you find yourself lying in bed with someone that feels like your adversary, it's inevitable that a new sort of checklist will start to formulate in your head-- you start to weigh the pros and cons of staying vs. leaving.  Only you can decide whether it is worth trying to save your relationship, and I imagine a lot depends on whether you still believe you can win back the friendship and love you once had.

My final key point to those that are conflicted is this: you may not know what you want, but at least be clear on what you don't want.  Love is not cold, harsh, mean, judgmental or unforgiving.  Indeed it is the opposite of all those things.  Love is warm, gentle, kind, sweet, understanding and patient.  Love is the one thing we all seek, and that which we all deserve from those closest to us.  Don't accept anything less.