Overnights for Young Children of Divorce

It is generally thought best that overnights for young children be carefully considered by divorcing parents before they are initiated. Key to the success of such overnights are good communication skills and each parent’s ability to put aside their own desires for the benefit of their young children. Above all, the child should not be witness to parental conflict and blame toward the other parent. While children are resilient and can bounce back from difficult divorces with the proper help and guidance, this is not true where the parents openly exhibit hostility toward each other. Seeking to alienate the children from the other parent can lead to lasting emotional and psychological damage that may lead to depression, drug use and other mal-adaptive behaviors on the part of children.

Divorcing parents of young children who are contemplating a parent plan that includes overnights for each parent will serve their children best if there is consistency between the two households. This consistency may include similar routines like bedtime and meals, similar limits and expectations for the children and the use of the same caregiver.

There is no one plan or one way or one guideline that fits all overnight situations for young children. Parents will do well to listen to their own higher instincts and put themselves aside as best they can, so their focus can be on what their particular child needs – and then plan around that focus.

Benefits Of The Collaborative Divorce Process Compared With The Traditional Adversarial Process

Team Approach.

There is a team approach in the collaborative divorce. Attorneys and  professionals in allied divorce related fields are used to lead the collaborative team in their fields of expertise. They are: 1) a financial professional for asset, obligation and spousal support payment issues; 2) a licensed mental health professional as a divorce coach attending to the clients’ emotional divorce while the legal divorce is proceeding; and 3) a licensed mental health professional who serves as a child specialist in aiding the clients with the parenting aspects of the case, including the parent plan. These allied professionals do a superior and more cost effective job than do attorneys, who often attempt to take on these skill sets at a higher fee structure.

Preserving Family Relationships.

The entire collaborative team, attorneys included, has a guiding principle of helping preserve the transitioning family’s connections, especially where children are involved. Too often we see families torn apart and children needlessly suffering because of the sometimes hostile and often competitive, win-lose nature of the adversarial divorce.

Control and Client Empowerment.

The collaborative attorneys perform many of the same kinds of legal functions as they might ordinarily – providing legal advice, exploring legal options and explaining the law. However, there is a strong emphasis on empowering the clients by allowing the case to be theirs’ rather than one taken over by the attorneys, as can easily happen in the adversarial divorce.

Confidentiality of Family Affairs.

Other than meetings occurring in the offices of any of the collaborative team members, there is no public display of the family in any kind of third party or public forum.

 Family Specific Solutions.

Because the collaborative team is working together to support solutions that can work for both clients, there is not only the goal but the flexibility to create solutions that are particularly unique for the family being helped in the collaborative process.

Disclosure.

Voluntary disclosure is the norm in the collaborative process rather than the use of subpoenas, interrogatories, depositions and other forms of discovery routinely used in the adversarial process. There are safeguards in the collaborative process even with voluntary disclosure, including carefully screening the perspective clients before undertaking each collaborative case, having a financial professional review all financial documents and the ability in the collaborative process to request and voluntarily receive any documents deemed important to the understanding of the financial aspect of the case.

 Impasse

At the outset of a Collaborative Divorce case, clients, attorneys and allied professionals agree they will not litigate the case nor be involved in any court intervention. Thus, before any Collaborative Divorce case is initiated perspective clients are screened by the attorneys and/or the mental health professional serving as the divorce coach. There needs to be a strong level of assurance among the team that clients are appropriate candidates for the process and have a commitment to working collaboratively when differences arise in the settlement discussions.

In addition to the team members strongly supporting the clients in reaching a successful resolution of the case, sensitivity to the clients’ underlying interests, intervening when there are signs of a communication breakdown and being creative around decisions on the issues are all built into the Collaborative Divorce process. And, when a true and reasonable impasse does occur on any issue between the clients, alternatives to terminating the process are used to resolve matters. These can include binding arbitration of financial issues and the use of a child custody evaluation to help settle issues around the children. If a case is terminated, which happens rarely, the agreement previously made are codified into a stipulation and order and the clients receive help transitioning into representation by an adversary attorney.

Rupturing Family Relationships Instead of Supporting Them.

Some adversarial attorneys may advise against using the Collaborative Divorce process because the risk is deemed too high if the case is not completed and the collaborative attorneys withdraw. What the adversarial attorney has to offer in such a situation is a final litigation “resolution” of the case. In addition to the obvious risks of litigation in ceding control of the case to third parties (attorneys and judges), there are other difficulties that answer the question of why clients look for alternatives.

In the adversarial process, while a final result can always be counted through litigation, many adversarial cases can be deemed failures for the family, despite the assurance of a final result, even absent litigation. In the adversarial divorce, families are prone to become divided given the competitive, win-lose nature of the process that often characterizes adversarial cases. This only serves to exacerbate or solidify divisions between the divorcing spouses. In addition, the children’s suffering may be heightened because of parental hostility that can be enabled in the adversarial divorce. And, the resulting financial cost to families is nearly always becomes exponentially greater. The family in an adversarial divorce receives little or no support on any level in the adversarial process, and in this life-changing event more needs to be asked of the legal profession than what it has historically offered.

 

 

The Clients Rights

The rights of an attorney’s client are no different than the rights of a customer of any other business or organization. As well, the attorney is a service provider no different than any other business or organization that provides services to the public.

Such relationships have implications for both the attorney and the client that can sometimes be forgotten if the client cedes too much power to the lawyer who is organizing and directing the legal case. Such implications include the rights that a client can and should expect in working with the attorney; rights that are recognized by all bar associations.

In every legal case, the client has the right to expect the following from the attorney:

– Respect and thoughtful treatment.

– Being kept informed in a timely way of the progress of the case.

– A prompt response to questions and concerns that are made known by the client.

– The attorney using all reasonable means to settle a case out of court without sacrificing the client’s interests.

– A periodic accounting of all funds paid by the client.

 

 

Rules of the Road in Helping Establish a Collaborative Environment

Whether the environment is at home, at the workplace or in a legal divorce discussion or negotiation, there are basic “rules of the road” that will lead to successful, non-adversarial collaborative participation.

Foremost among these is to take full and complete responsibility for what occurs in the environment. This does not mean one is responsible for everything that occurs in the environment; however, one is responsible to the environment whatever occurs. There is a big difference. For example, we cannot be responsible for the behavior of others, and we can be responsible for responding in a clear, non-judgmental and appropriate way to help improve what occurs. We cannot control the outcomes, and we can control what we bring to the outcomes.

This brings us to the next rule – before going into a situation it is helpful to have in mind what is the outcome we want. I am talking about the relationship outcome or the situational outcome rather than the specific content outcome. How do we want to feel about the outcome? How do we want it to look? And what can we do to bring that about? If we have as a priority preserving the relationship with integrity, for example, then we will act with integrity in respecting and giving full consideration to the other party.

This will require us to be aware of and monitor our more primitive emotions that may impulsively prompt us to lash out, blame or see the other as “the other”, rather than as a partner in the environment, however different may be our preferences and priorities. This could require us to take a brief time out to cool down or reset our emotional tenor. It is ok to do this.

We will also need to be open to some semblance of putting ourselves in the other party’s shoes; learning what is of importance or interest to them; learning as best we can how they feel about certain issues and what these issues mean for them. It is certainly ok to say: “I am interested in knowing why that is important to you. Please tell me.”

What helps in doing this is our ability to discern the values we may share with the other party and building on those. We both want what is best for the children, for example, or we both want the outcome to include preserving the relationship.

If even one of the participants in a situation keeps in mind these rule for the collaborative road, it will go far to ensure a satisfactory outcome.

The Reviewing Attorney in Divorce Mediation

Divorcing parties who enter Divorce Mediation are generally advised by their mediator to have the final agreement reviewed by their separate attorneys before signing. For the client who wants additional assurance that the agreement coming out of the Divorce Mediation process is equitable, having separate counsel review it prior to signing can address that concern, if the reviewing attorney is involved at the beginning of the case.

Since it is only the client and not the attorneys who actually take part in the actual mediation sessions, the challenge in reviewing the parties’ final agreement is that the attorney was not privy to all the considerations and detailed information that led to the final decisions. And, to do the research and duplicate all of document reviews and analysis that occurred in mediation is not cost effective and it defeats the purpose of efficiency built into mediation, as well as the focus on client centered decisions that characterize divorce mediation.

However, what the reviewing attorney can do at the outset of the mediation and continuing through the mediation process is to pay special attention to the viability and integrity of the process being conducted by the mediator. This will do as much as anything to assure that the outcome of the process will result in an equitable outcome.

Several examples of this are these:

If there is a residence to be purchased by one of the parties, what is the process used to ascertain a current residential market value and how will the amount of the buy-out of the other party’s equity interest be determined.  Are the parties’ going to decide themselves the residential value, will a market analysis be conducted or will an appraiser be hired to place a value on the residence? And, once the residential value is determined, what formula will be used to arrive at each party’s marital interest? Each way of proceeding has its own considerations for an equitable outcome.

Another example concerns the valuation of a professional practice or a business. This asset could be the most significant one owned by the parties, and how its’ value is arrived at is of import for each party. Do they decide themselves, is there a standard formula that can be used to determine value or will a business valuation expert be hired to analyze and value the professional practice or business? Each of these ways to arrive at a value has its own challenges and the mediation client must be fully informed about the consequences of using each of the methods.

If the case involves spousal maintenance, and because the payment of spousal maintenance has tax consequences for each party, how will the mediator go about helping the parties know what might be the actual net dollar discretionary amount of varying amounts of monthly spousal maintenance payments?  Do the parties decide themselves, does the mediator make suggestions or is a financial expert brought in to help the parties know the tax consequences of their decision?

These are just a few examples of what a reviewing attorney needs to consider at the outset of the Divorce Mediation to be sure the integrity of the process is solid. If so, the reviewing attorney will be in a position to know whether the way the mediation is being conducted is viable and will allow for a fair result.

Collaborative Divorce – Clients Going Off On Their Own

In the Collaborative Divorce Process, there is a collaborative team put into place to support the divorcing couple while they move through the settlement negotiations leading to a legal divorce.  Depending on the needs of the clients, the team could include a financial professional, a divorce coach or a child specialist, in addition to the attorneys. The collaborative team meets with the parties in a series of sessions designed to give them maximum support, input and information during the often difficult divorce discussions. Decisions are made within the context of the team meetings, so there is maximum input and structure from the team members when important negotiating decisions are made;  decisions that may significantly impact the parties for some time to come.

However, there are instances when the parties, either with or without informing the collaborative team, decide to speak directly with each other outside the collaborative process. This may be done with a desire to speed up the process, save fees or with one party having more nefarious intentions in mind, like taking advantage of what may be inherently unequal bargaining postures or dynamics between the parties.

When such a situation occurs in the Collaborative Divorce process it is ideal if the clients “going off on their own” to negotiate final decisions is first discussed with the attorneys or another collaborative team member.  Certainly it is a good idea to allow the parties maximum flexibility in their own process, especially when they are both communicating with each other in a civil and respectful way and when they already have the necessary information to make final decisions.  If this is the case, even if the parties are not successful in resolving issues by speaking directly with each other outside the collaborative process, they can re-enter the process knowing they did what they could to finalize matters themselves, despite the fact it was not successful.

The more problematic situation is one where the clients go off on their own outside the collaborative process, but they have never actually had the communication skills to have similar discussions while in the marriage. Here, if  the couple’s  only motivation is to save money or for one or the other to get a leg up, the prospects for disappointment, frustration and a cessation of acting collaboratively can be high. Thus, the collaborative team faces a dilemma when such a situation occurs.

At least if there can be a discussion beforehand with one or more of the team members about setting ground rules and boundaries for such out of process direct discussions, the parties have a better chance, however things turn out, to remain in a collaborative mode with each other.  However, where they start negotiating with each other unilaterally outside the support of the collaborative team, it is often difficult to resurrect the collaborative approach within the team structure, if such direct negotiations result in a further lack of trust and a decreased willingness to be open to compromise.

The Task of the Financial Professional in a Collaborative Divorce Case

The Financial Professional in a Collaborative Divorce case plays a significant role in the process. The Financial Professional must ascertain through diligent document review and examination of records, as well as by dint of experience and knowledge, the clients’ financial landscape.  This means whatever assets, obligations and financial goings on that are part of the clients financial portfolio must be thoroughly understood by the Financial Professional, and then clearly explained to the clients and the attorneys.

This task would be relatively straight-forward if the parties’ assets included only a residence, vehicles, several bank accounts, IRA accounts and credit card debt. However, few cases are this straight-forward. There may be retirement plans that were contributed to both before and after marriage; there may be a business owned prior to marriage that experienced financial growth during the marriage; there may be a residence owned prior to marriage that remained in the owner spouse’s name but  whose mortgage was paid with monies generated by the martial community; there may be an inheritance received  by one spouse, normally sole and separate property, that was used in various ways to benefit the marital community.

These are just a few examples of some of the more complex issues that must be sorted out and understood by the Financial Professional and then presented in a way they can be clearly understood by the parties. Such understanding is required before a discussion of the financial issues can commence and a final disposition of the financial issues undertaken.

As important as the foregoing tasks may be, equally important is the Financial Professional’s complete neutrality in the process. If there is any perception or hint that the Financial Professional has not in all ways maintained neutrality in the process, the entire collaborative effort may be irreparably harmed.

The work of the Financial Professional has a significant impact on the parties and the integrity of the process itself. This is why the Financial Professional selected to be part of the Collaborative Team has been extensively trained and has had years of experience working with clients in the financial arena.

Divorce Mediation Guidelines

Divorce Mediation is a voluntary process and is most likely to be successful if the parties are willing to make a good faith effort reach agreement. However, there is no legal obligation to either mediate or to agree any particular settlement.

Agreement in Mediation can be reached only when the parties have determined beforehand that their marriage relationship is ended. All questions of marital fault and blame will be disregarded in Mediation.

The Divorce Mediator is not a marriage counselor and will not attempt to reconcile the parties’ marriage.

Divorce Mediation is conducted in a spirit of cooperation and a willingness to listen to the other party.

The Mediator serves in the capacity of impartial third party and does not make decisions for either party or specifically advise either party how they should decide any issue. The Mediator will help provide options and alternatives in decision-making.

The Mediator provides the factual and legal information the parties need to make decisions and reach agreement.

The attorney / mediator does not represent either party but serves as a facilitator to the Divorce Mediation process.

Each party is encouraged to assert their own needs and to respect the needs of the other party.

Issues regarding division of marital property and spousal maintenance are resolved on the basis of the parties’ respective family circumstances and the laws of the State of Arizona.

During Mediation and where appropriate the parties will be encouraged to seek advice from outside professionals who can provide specialized information about the issues at hand. Parties are discouraged from seeking advice from friends and relatives.

The parties are encouraged to continue to share the responsibilities of the children in their post-divorce relationship.

Mediation of Post Decree Issues

There are at least 4 areas in an already existing order of divorce or legal separation that are well suited for post decree modification mediation or collaborative settlement. The current orders in each of these areas may be modified if the situation calls for it and the statutory conditions exist for modification.

  1. Child Support. By law, child support may be modified, post decree, if either the financial circumstances of a party have significantly changed since the original child support order, or if the initial residential arrangements have changed. If, for example, one of the parties has a reduced income or increased income, such a situation signals at least a discussion and quite likely revisiting the calculation on which the original child support was based. Also, if the expenses for the children have increased or decreased, this may also be grounds for revising the child support order. Finally, if the residential arrangements for the children have changed, for example, where a child has changed residences and is now living primarily with the other parent, this will require a modification in the child support.
  2. Spousal Maintenance. If the original spousal maintenance order was not stated to be “non-modifiable”, this support payment may be modified post decree. The basis for the modification is whether one or the other party has both continuing and substantially changed circumstances from the time of the order, and whether these changes would warrant a spousal maintenance modification. Be sure to note that such changed circumstances must be on-going, not simply a reduction in salary for a several months only, for example. Such changed the circumstances might be such that either party has a significantly reduced or increased income or either party has greatly increased (or reduced) expenses from the time of the original spousal maintenance order.
  3. Child Parenting Arrangements. The law also allows the original parenting arrangements to be modified when the family situation calls for it.  This can be one of the most difficult kinds of situations to assess, since it requires a consideration of whether the current living arrangements for the child are best or whether something else would be better. For example, as a young boy gets older, would it be best for him to be living primarily with his father rather than maintaining his current primary residence with his mother. There could be any one of a variety of possible living arrangements that might now be better suited for a child than was the original living arrangement.
  4. Property Settlement. In general property settlements are not modifiable; when they are done and ordered by the court, it is final. However, there may be situations where such finality has been left open in the property settlement or where each party will benefit by a modification of the original court-ordered settlement. In this event, also, the mediation of such modifications is a client friendly way to proceed.