Articles Posted in Collaborative Divorce

A person seeking to increase or decrease spousal support payments in California generally has to show that the circumstances have significantly changed since the support award was initially ordered. In a recent case, the state’s Third District Court of Appeals explained that a court can’t modify a support award if it doesn’t know how the first court originally determined the award amount.

indian-money-4-1400712-mHusband and Wife separated some time before 2008, the year in which they went to trial on various issues related to their divorce, one of them being spousal support. Husband filed documentation indicating that his monthly income was roughly $34,000 in salary, wages, and bonuses, that his monthly expenses were just under $9,500, and that he owned real property worth about $450,000. Wife, on the other hand, said she was making about $8,300 per month and had more than $8,400 per month in expenses. She also stated that she owned about $700,000 in real estate.

A trial judge dissolved the marriage and ordered Husband to pay Wife spousal support on a sliding scale through 2023. Husband was ordered to pay Wife $3,000 per month and 30 percent of his annual bonus in the first five years, $2,000 per month and 20 percent of his annual bonus over the next five years, and $1,000 per month and 10 percent over the last five years.

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San Ramon family law attorney, Mary Nolan, was recently sentenced to two years in federal prison for unlawful interception of telephone communications and tax evasion. Ms. Nolan illegally intercepted telephone conversations by accessing a listening device that now-imprisoned private investigator Christopher Butler had installed in a victim’s vehicle. Butler hired women to approach men at bars, drink with them and set them up for drunken-driving arrests that their wives could use against them in divorce cases. Two of the men whose wives were represented by Nolan have sued her, Butler and others for damages. Nolan also hid $1.8 million in income from the Internal Revenue Service to avoid paying $400,000 in taxes between 2005 and 2009, and admitted to obstructing justice by submitting false contracts to the IRS during an audit.

Mary Nolan was my opposing counsel, my client’s wife’s attorney, in my first divorce litigation. At the time I had no idea about her ethical challenges but I did know that she was not very nice. (That is very polite understatement.) So not surprisingly, given her apparent challenges with ethical behavior, the matter was a nightmare for my client and me. Rather than trying to help the clients work out reasonable solutions for a negotiated settlement, she engaged in abusive discovery and trumped up domestic violence allegations in order to reduce my client’s time with his children and more child support for her client. Essentially, she did everything she could to destroy, rather than helping to restructure the family. After several months of this nightmare I told my client that if he was going to survive with this ogre on the other side he needed to fire me and retain a seasoned and aggressive litigator. And I told myself that if I was going to survive in this business that I needed to find another way to practice law.

And that is exactly what I did. I found Collaborative law and mediation and learned that there is another way, a far superior way, and never looked back. Now I offer divorcing couples alternatives to the court system, Collaborative Law and Mediation, to help them create positive, mutual agreements and divorce without the emotional and financial costs of litigation.

Even for happily married and intact families, the holidays can be fraught with conflict and compromise. But for divorced or separated parents and for blended families – the potential for conflict is much greater. Negotiating co-parenting agreements and sharing time with kids is rarely easy, but this is a time of year when it can be most difficult to let go because of the tradition and ritual around the holidays.

But for the sake of the kids you have to share it. And here are tips to
 help your holiday season be filled with merriment – not resentment.

Make a plan

 If you don’t already have a holiday schedule, and do it now, the earlier the better. You don’t want to create anxiety for the kids about what they’re going to be doing at Christmas. Sit down with your ex and a calendar to determine how you will share time. The plan can be fluid and can change, but a basic structure reduces miscommunication and sets expectations. Ideally, a vacation and holiday schedule will be part of a marital settlement agreement in a divorce. Think about the even year – odd year compromise. One parent gets first choice in even years and the other in odd years or simply switch the holiday time on an alternating year basis. For example, in even years one parent may have the children for Christmas Eve and morning, then take them to the other parent at noon. In odd years, the schedule would be reversed. It might also be worthwhile to review the kids Christmas presents together to avoid duplicate gifts and to ensure that similar amounts will be spent. For co-parents who live far away from each other it’s not so easy. If you have to be without your kids for the entire holiday make sure you can call and talk to them.

A judge from the state of Minnesota, Michael Haas, said the following in 2001.

“Your children have come into this world because of the two of you. Perhaps you two made lousy choices as to whom you decided to be the other parent. If so, that is your problem and your fault.

No matter what you think of the other party – or whatever your family thinks of the other party- these children are one-half of each of you. Remember that, because every time you tell your child what an “idiot” his father is, or what a “fool” his mother is, or how bad the absent parent is, or what terrible things that person has done, you are telling the child half of him is bad.

Conflict in the context of divorce can be emotionally and financially debilitating. Family court judges commonly make decisions and orders based on how the law applies to what has already transpired between the parties, to the past. And this approach keeps the spouses in a conflict trap where they are focused on the past and the grievances, hurts and betrayals; rather than on the future, and how they can best solve the problems in order to move forward.

Collaborative Divorce and Mediation on the other hand, enable the parties to focus on what is important for them now and in the future. By focusing on problem solving and real listening, there tends to unfold an understanding that can help couples let go of the conflict and the past and move forward in a productive way, solve the problems and help heal the pain, grief, and anger.

A forward looking focus, however, doesn’t preclude talking about the past because sometimes it is important, essential even, for spouses to be able to express and have heard by the other, their understandings of what went wrong with the relationship. This mutual expression of the hurt and anger, if entered into with an open heart and deep listening can be profoundly instructive and helpful to the process. This is especially important if there will be a continuing relationship, for example, co-parents.

Marian, 57, and her husband for nearly 30 years, John, had buried their differences over money, child-rearing and more. But when the last of their two children was finishing high school, the differences became too glaring to ignore. Increasingly, they had little to talk about, and when they did, it was an argument.

They stayed together all those years because of the kids, but now there was little left to hold them together. Marian realized that she was alone in the marriage and would be better off either really alone or with someone who shared her values and interests. When the pain of staying was greater than the fear of leaving, she made a decision and told John the marriage was over.

For this generation of empty-nesters, divorce is increasingly common. Among people ages 50 and older, the divorce rate has doubled over the past two decades, according to research by sociologists Susan Brown and I-Fen Lin of Bowling Green State University, in their paper, “The Gray Divorce Revolution“.

The people of North Carolina voted this week to amend their constitution to ban same-sex marriage. And the ban won with a surprisingly strong 61 to 39 percent, undermining North Carolina’s image as a modern, progressive state. Very bad!

But, on a brighter note, the President of the United States, for the first time in history, declared his support for same-sex marriage. Better late than never, as this comes after years of waffling and talking about ‘evolving views’ on the subject. Still, something to celebrate.

The blogosphere is rife with speculation and second guessing – why did he do it, and what does it mean? How much is political, how much personal? Is this the result of pressure from gay marriage advocates and donors, Vice President Biden’s recent statement that he is “comfortable” with gay marriage or something else?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 17%, or about 12.5 million, of the nation’s children and teens are obese. Since 1980, according to CDC statistics, obesity rates have nearly tripled.

Should parents of extremely obese children lose custody for not controlling their kids’ weight? An article by Dr. David Ludwig in the Journal of the American Medical Association answers in the affirmative, and joins ranks with others who believe the government should be allowed to intervene in extreme cases and that putting children in foster care may be better and more ethical than obesity surgery.

Roughly 2 million U.S. children are extremely obese and though most are not in any imminent danger, many have obesity-related conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, breathing difficulties and liver problems that could kill them by age 30. It is these kids for whom state intervention, including education, parent training, and temporary protective custody in the most extreme cases, should be considered, according to Dr. Ludwig.

Given the high divorce rate in this country, just about all of us have been impacted in some way by divorce and custody/support matters. Perhaps it was our own family or parents or our own divorce, or simply a very close friend or family member. And with few exceptions, a majority of folks in these situations feel they lost too much or paid too much, received too little, or had a custody/visitation order that was “unfair” to them, and worse. 
Based on these experiences, we develop opinions and biases about how such matters should be handled. And of course, every judicial officer, as well as recommending Family Court Services mediators and custody evaluators, have their own personal biases. Consequently, the reality is that the same exact case may have very different results in different court rooms.

This is not to disparage family court judges who deal with complex issues (permanent removal of children to another state, custody, visitation, domestic abuse, determining real income, valuing assets (eg, closely held businesses) on a daily basis, with honor and integrity. But the inherent bias based on one’s experiences in many cases cannot help but bias the judge’s factual findings, their discretion, and how they decide to apply the law. This bias probably exists more in family law than in other areas. No amount of bias elimination training can make a judge forget about their life experiences, assumptions, personal beliefs/views and biases. Consequently, family law litigation can be unfair and inequitable.

However, most judges it is hoped, exercise enough self awareness to check in with their personal biases before making a ruling. And it is important to note that mediators and Collaborative professionals are no less immune to being impacted by personal experience as judges and others in the court system. We too are human beings with biases and must guard against forming opinions based on them. However, we are not judging and making orders, rather our role to facilitate a full and constructive dialogue between the parties that will enable them to reach their own agreement, so our biases have less impact. And ethical and conscientious mediators are very aware of the potential for bias and work hard to be neutral and unbiased.

As a Collaborative Family Law Attorney and Mediator, I am privileged to work with those who, because of their divorce, are undergoing a significant life change. Although a mediated or Collaborative divorce is far less painful, emotionally, psychologically, and financially, than a litigated divorce, it is still a divorce, and according to the Surgeon General, divorce is one of life’s greatest stressors.

So it is often helpful to rely on insights from some our spiritual leading lights to help lead the way and remind us to be present when stress and anxiety arise. These sayings can also help us get in touch with our own inner wisdom as we move forward into a new life after divorce. They are also useful reminders for all of as a new year begins.

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” ~ Dalai Lama