Friday, October 28, 2016

5 Terrible Reasons To Get Engaged

With the holidays approaching, this is a very popular time of year for couples to get engaged while surrounded by family and friends-- but just make sure you are doing for the right reasons, and not because you have fallen in love with the idea of getting married.   Remember, the party only lasts a day, but the commitment is supposed to last a lifetime, in both good and bad times.  While none of us can predict with 100% accuracy if a marriage will go the full distance, here are some clear signs you are off to a really bad start:

1. If you think getting engaged will make things better.  Seriously?  The dating phase is normally the best part-- it is when people are actually on their best behavior and making an effort to please you.  If you are not on solid ground now, don't expect the ring to magically make things better.  No object will ever have that kind of power.

2.  If you think nothing better will come along.  Just because no one has come along and wowed you yet, doesn't mean you should settle now.  Don't fall victim to the sunken cost theory.  I know it can get tiring to keep playing the Dating Game, but then just take a break, regroup, and maybe find new ways to invest your time and energy.

3. If you just want to have a baby and the clock is ticking.  There are plenty of alternatives out there rather than just marrying someone to have a child.  If you want to bring up a child in a loving and intact family, then you need to be in a solid place long before you ever start trying to have a kid together.  Research shows that couples with newborns experience approximately a 60% reduction in satisfaction during that first year-- no surprise, when you are sleep deprived, your hormones are out of whack, and the demands of your time, money and energy have now quadrupled while leaving almost no time for the couple to just enjoy each other.

4. If you feel it is simply what is expected of you.  Who cares what others "expect" of you?  This is your life, and you are the only one that will be playing house with that other person every single day.  Those that truly love you will want you to be happy, which means doing what works for you.

5. If you think it makes economic sense to join forces.  The choice to marry should be one of your greatest acts of freewill, and not something you do out of economic necessity.  This is the 21st century after all, and there are many other ways you can save money or cut expenses that don't require you to take a stroll down the aisle and commit yourself to someone for the rest of your life.

If any of these 5 reasons resonate with you, I'm sure you have noticed other things going on-- like you cannot sleep or focus, you have less energy these days or perhaps your eating habits are off.  Is there an increased feeling of dread or imminent doom?  Our unsettled feelings have a funny way of manifesting themselves physically, whether we like it or not-- it is nature's way of not letting you ignore that something is not right.

In the end, only you can decide what is right for you-- but take your time and listen to your heart.  Is it jumping for joy or racing in a state of panic?  Hopefully it is the former, for fear should never be the reason to bind yourself to another-- fear is dark and cold, and it kills any possibility for love and hope to prosper.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Has Your Partner Checked Out?

There is probably nothing more painful in life than mourning the loss of a special relationship.  If at one point you thought you could share anything and everything with your partner, and that together you made a great team that shared the same level of commitment towards one another and vision for the future, it is a pretty shocking blow to later discover that this person actually hid a fair amount from you, was not quite so committed to working things out, and that actually as their plans for the future became clearer, they didn't include you at all.  Unfortunately, this devastating discovery is actually quite common, but the problem is those who feel most blind sided by this twist of fate failed to pay attention to the signs...

Most people's feelings don't change overnight, but rather they slowly start to keep things to themselves and ask for space.  They spend less and less time with you, as they work through their feelings of discontent.  While they are ill at ease, they have a tendency to get snarky and may snap at you for no reason.  Simply put, they are unhappy and most likely blame you for their misery.  And as this general malaise continues to grow, their behavior can become more desperate as their mind goes into flight or fight mode.  At this point, commitment definitely gets tossed out the window-- for they are only concerned with ensuring their own survival, not yours.

So let's talk about survival-- can you survive without your partner?  The answer to this should be yes. You need to be able to take care of yourself, in other words cover your own basic needs such as housing, food, medical care, transportation and any debt that is your responsibility.  It is critical that your survival is not dependent on your partner for this key reason: you should want to stay with your partner, but not need to.  The beauty of being in a healthy relationship is that the choice to stay is not one driven by need.

After someone has done a cost-benefit analysis and decided that they are better off leaving, there is NO POINT to try to convincing them otherwise.  Your pleas will only fall on deaf ears, and more importantly, you should not have to beg someone to stay.  If you see that they've checked out, you need to do the same.  Don't torture yourself thinking about the love story you had in the beginning or dreaming about what could have been, but rather let yourself see the bad in the end for what it really was: a clear sign that it was time to part ways.

If your partner has checked out, just say "sayonara."  Remember, the best revenge is moving forward with your dignity intact.  Your friends and family will most likely help you rebuild the rest.

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Do You Need To Change Your Deal?

Circumstances change, it's part of life-- especially when you have kids.  This is why we always tell separated parents to be flexible, because inevitably at some point prior to the child attaining the age of majority, there is a good chance something will need to be re-negotiated.  Here are the most common reasons parents need to request a change to their Parenting Plan or Custody Order:

1. Remarriage- there is at least a 60% chance that at least one parent will remarry after the divorce, and usually that involves a move and/or a desire to change the custody schedule.

2. Relocation- if a parent needs to leave the area, then the time-sharing arrangement with the child has to be modified to accommodate the new distance between the parents' two households.

3. Income- if one parent begins to earn significantly more, or there is a substantial decrease in income, including possibly a period of unemployment, then the parents may have to revisit the child support figures.

4. Expenses- if the expenses related to the child, including health care, education or after-care change then it may make sense to review the child support calculations.

5. Time-Sharing- if the agreed-to schedule isn't working out, then parents need to revise it in a way that promotes the child's best interest.

6. Decision Making- if the parents can't agree on major decisions, such as education or medical care, it may be necessary to review how they deal with an impasse.  This may include the use of mediation or a parent coordinator to avoid court, or one parent may want to ask for final tie-breaking authority.

With kids, separated parents need to be prepared to discuss changes as needed.  Parenting Plans, which are private agreements between the parents, and Custody Orders, which are approved by judges, are not written in stone.  Modifications are quite common in custody cases, especially in cases like the one involving Angelina and Brad Pitt's six children, which have a vast range in ages.  Can anyone honestly expect that whatever judicial decision or deal is struck this year will remain the same for the next decade?  Of course not, and the same holds true for all of us with minor children doing our best to co-parent with an ex.

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.

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.