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.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Have You Dealt With Your Baggage?

Anyone over the age of 35 that has gone through a divorce has baggage-- even if there were no children that resulted from that marriage.  We all have poured time and energy into a relationship that failed, and when all your hopes and dreams for that marriage are shattered, it is normal (and healthy) to take some time to wonder: What went wrong?  What could have been handled differently? And most importantly, what did this experience teach me?

First, let's explore what might have gone wrong.  Did you argue about kids? Did you have conflicts over money?  Did someone do something to breech the trust or lose the respect you once had for each other?  Did you have issues with intimacy or communication?  Were you not on the same page about work-life balance, the division of labor, family or the future?  Were you unable to handle a crisis together?  Were expectations not met, or did someone drastically change?  Any one of these could cause a marriage to collapse instantly if not handled properly.

Now, what could you have done differently?  Did you seek the advice of an individual therapist, couple's counselor or financial planner/CPA?  Did you read any books or talk to others with similar issues? Did you try to talk about your issues, and how did you bring up the subject?   Could you have been a bit too harsh or accusatory in your tone?  Did you come across as someone that was complaining or someone that was looking to solve a problem together?  Were you open to seeing the other person's point of view, or were you stuck on advocating your position/desired outcome?  Did you try to compromise and meet your partner half-way?

Hind-sight of course is 20/20.  In the heat of an argument, none of us are able to see things clearly and in fact it is scientifically proven that we only retain about 25% of the information presented to us when we are upset.  Only when you are calm, and feel secure, can you really look back at a situation and see things more clearly.   And although none of us want to dwell in the past and relive painful experiences, it is important to think about what you have learned from your prior relationships before moving on to the next.   No one wants to repeat the same mistake, nor do any of us want to burden a new partner with unresolved issues from our past.

We all have baggage, just make sure before you embark on your next journey you deal with your dirty laundry.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Are You A Woman On A Mission?

It is great to be goal-oriented, have a vision, and some sense of direction-- but when you are dating, you need to rein in these qualities just a tad so you don't overlook red flags or push past obstacles that maybe exist for a reason...

Fleshing out what you want and what you don't want in a partner are a great first step to dating with a more mindful approach versus just hooking up whenever there is chemistry and riding that out until it ceases to be fun.    But another key skill you need to develop is mapping, which is what you do when you play 20 questions to find out where a person has been, where are they now, and where are they going in life?

Avoid making assumptions in the dating world-- just because you are looking for a committed relationship does not mean everyone else wants the same, and what that means to one person may not hold true to another.  Not everyone wants to play house together, maybe some just want to focus on work during the week and do fun things on the weekends.  Also, a lot of us over age 37 no longer want to have more kids or merge bank accounts and other assets.  Very few, if any, still want or believe in a traditional marriage model where one person will stay home while the other bears 100% of the financial responsibility for the household.

Don't pass judgment simply because what you would like doesn't line up with another person's choices or their attachment style.   We all have different experiences that shape us, and there really is no right or wrong way to be.  Some people simply have a very detached attachment style, others are very clingy, and then there is a whole range in between those two extremes.  The key is just to find someone with an attachment style and life plan that aligns with yours.

Trying to convince someone to change for you and adopt your view on a good partnership is never going to work.  People only truly change when they want to modify something after realizing the error of their ways.  When you try to fit a square peg in a round hole, what you get is a lot of friction, and sadly hurt people hurt people.  Resentment and frustration quickly escalate into anger and hatred, or complete apathy.  This is the exact opposite of love.

I realize it is frustrating when you find a good candidate with potential, but somehow you guys are not quite on the same page.  You can try playing the waiting game and see if he'll turn it around, or you can walk away and move on to the next suitor.  The choice is entirely yours, but let's be clear that the sunken cost theory is ridiculous-- you cannot worry about how much time, money, or energy you have already invested into a relationship.  If it is not working, you need to learn to cut your losses and stop sinking more into a lost cause.

It takes a lot of patience to find someone that you can trust and respect, who shares in your dreams and aspirations, and has a demonstrated capacity to communicate well and listen with empathy.  Looking for a partner that we can not only connect with emotionally, physically and intellectually today, but also see ourselves age with throughout the course of a lifetime is like the quest to find a unicorn.  If you feel this way, at least know that you are far from alone-- this has been my reality for over a decade, and that of many others.

Are you a woman on a mission?  No need to apologize for that, just stay strong and learn to walk away with dignity and grace from relationships that are not right for you.  Don't waste your time trying to convince others in your value or vision, and instead simply live your life to the fullest while holding out for the love you deserve.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Is Your Family Ruining Your Marriage?

Sometimes, you know from the beginning that your in-laws are not part of your fan club.  But other times, it may not be so obvious that your in-laws present any danger to your relationship because rather than reject you, they actually embrace you and accept you with open arms, except you don't fully understand what that means until you're really part of the family....

Some families only talk once a week and give each other the Arizona Sunshine Report, which means everything is always sunny and pleasant.  (This is exactly what I was trained to do in boarding school-- we never told our parents about the sex, drugs, or other alarming events occurring at our high school.)  But throughout the years, I have met others that actually tell their parents everything, and much to my surprise I have even encountered grown men that talk to mommy every single day-- maybe not by phone, by even just by text or via Facebook.  Maybe if you have a similar pattern, then this would be okay for you, but for someone like me, who wants privacy and space, it's a bit much to stomach.

Holidays and vacations can be another hot button topic.  If you are used to planning romantic vacations with just the two of you, or if you envision a fun family vacation as being just your nuclear family, but meanwhile your spouse wants to include everyone on his/her side of the family, then Houston we have a problem....  and if your solution becomes some notion of divide and conquer, so that you go your separate ways and do your separate things, you really need to play that out over time and ask yourself: how long can we keep doing this, and is this really what we want to do?

When you share all your sorrows and joys with someone other than your spouse, you are emotionally cheating.  When you fail to connect with your own partner, and instead spend time bonding with others, you are emotionally withdrawing.  And when you make your own family a priority over your spouse, you are failing to commit to the one person your vowed to honor and cherish, for better or worse, in sickness and in health.

If your family ties are creating issues in your marriage, you need to find a way to address this problem fast.  You cannot divorce your family, nor should you try to.  But remember, your family will always be your family, however, your spouse can choose to change his/her marital status at any time if you don't create sufficient boundaries with others to protect the love you have.