Experts who may be able to assist you (in or out of mediation)

In my last post, I began writing on the subject of getting help during divorce when it comes to gathering and understanding financial information.  I mentioned that family members , friends and neighbors may be supportive.  But, they may not be aware that we need their help; it may be awkward, even for those who care about us, to bring up the divorce and related issues, and so we may have to take that first step and let others know what we need.  In my previous post, I also suggested that enrolling in a class dealing with the basics of handling money may be worthwhile for some of us.

Now, I want to introduce the idea of looking to experts:

  • If  you are stuck, a therapist or support group might be helpful.
    • A social worker or psychologist may be able to assist if you have unhealthy attitudes about money.  If sadness, let’s say, is the issue rather than money, help in dealing with your emotions may make it easier to grapple with other matters, such as the financial ones.
    • A support group can be a very positive environment.  During my own divorce, I felt embarrassed, even ashamed.  As if I was the only one in the world going through a marital breakup. Joining a support group made me feel much less alone.
  • Having trouble with some of the numbers? Perhaps your accountant can assist you. (Depending on your needs, there are also “certified divorce financial analysts”, tax attorneys and others that may offer the services you need.   Think about what questions you need answered, and who can do that job for you. Unsure about what a particular professional does? Go on the computer and search for “What is a certified divorce financial analyst?”)
  • If you need someone to listen, help you consider and develop your goals, and then hold you to account on fulfilling those goals, a “divorce coach” might be right for you. A good divorce coach will be on your side, offer support and assist in focusing your thinking.  Even when we know what we ought to be doing, having someone to keep us on track can make all the difference in getting things done.
  • Wondering what something is worth?  Almost anything can be appraised, from jewelry to a home, to artwork or a business.  (Some caution is warranted here; not everything is worth the cost of an appraisal.  There are other methods of assigning values to items; something to be discussed at another time).

This isn’t by any means an all-inclusive list of the resources; but perhaps it will give you an idea of who and what is out there to help you learn more and get through a separation or divorce.

Spouses in mediation often avail themselves of one or more of these types of assistance.   But, of course, you don’t have to be a mediation client to get such help.

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All blog posts are for information purposes, and should not be considered as legal advice.

Next time: Experts in mediation: they play a different role than they do in litigation.

Help in gathering and understanding financial information

In my previous post, I discussed the types of information that many spouses need in getting divorced; and, where to begin to look for the information. But for a good number of people, gathering these facts and figures is easier said than done.

What to do:

There are different ways to help yourself – or to have someone assist you; your temperament, as well as the money you have available, may well affect your choices. But here are some possibilities to consider:

  • People power: Do you have a family member, friend or neighbor that you trust and are comfortable with? Might that person be helpful in reviewing papers with you; or, even ‘just’ keeping you company as you do this work. Can you meet somewhere and have this person act as a sounding board as you speak your thoughts out loud. Note: It is probably best not to involve a child – even an adult child – to play such a role; of course, every case is different. But, if what you want would put your child in the middle between you and your spouse, most likely, you should choose someone else.
  • Take a course: Your local community college may offer a course on budgeting or financial literacy. Such classes are usually of short duration and reasonably priced. By attending such a class, you can learn things that will help you during (and after) the divorce. Learning may well boost your confidence. And, by going out and being around other people, you may feel less isolated and lonely.

Next time:  Experts that you may want to consider.

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All blog posts are for information purposes, and should not be considered as legal advice.

Gathering Information. Part 5: Informed Decision Making in Mediation

In every divorce case, there are financial issues to address.

Some spouses come to mediation already having and understanding much of the information they will need to make decisions to end the relationship. A few have the information, but refuse to share it.

Most often, spouses are willing to provide information; but, one or both of them may be unsure about where to find it.

A mediator can help with this.

What information do spouses need?

Basically, when it comes to monetary issues, spouses have to know about the following:

  • Income: Salary, bonus, royalty, pension income, real estate income . . .
  • Expenses: Housing, food, clothing, different types of insurance, uninsured medical, home maintenance, education, recreation . . .
  • Assets: Cash, bank accounts, stock options, interest in a business, value of life insurance, motor vehicles, real estate, retirement accounts, interest in trusts, household furnishing, jewelry, art, trademarks . . .
  • Debts/liabilities: Mortgage(s), other loans, taxes owed, credit card accounts . . .

Where can I find information about my finances?

Much of the information a person is likely to need can be found in financial “statements” of one kind or another. These may be in a file cabinet or in a pile somewhere; probably, they are available online, and often will go back several years into the past.  Just to begin with:

  • Bank statements can offer a good picture of what you are spending some of your money on; if you have direct deposit, it will also tell about earnings.
  • There are mortgage statements, and ones for home, auto and other types of insurance.
  • Credit card statements will probably be helpful in showing where much of your money is going.
  • There are retirement and investment account statements; going on the computer, you can likely find out the exact value for many of them. (Note: there are certain accounts where it is more difficult to learn about what they are worth today – sometimes called ‘present-day value’. I hope to address such accounts at another time.)

A mediator will provide a form asking for the information that’s needed.

Often, I will give clients what is called a Statement of Net Worth, a form with many categories and subcategories of expenses, assets, etc. It is lengthy; but, in filling it out, clients are likely to be reminded of whatever they may have forgotten about until then.

A spouse may find it challenging to gather and go through their financial statements. In my experience, this is fairly common. If you think that the process might be difficult for you, I understand; and I want you to know that help is available.

Next time: Help in gathering and understanding financial information.

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All blog posts are for information purposes, and should not be considered as legal advice.

When a client won’t provide information. Part 4: Informed Decision Making in Mediation

I’m working with divorcing clients, and Wife is sharing information about her budget. Husband refuses to do the same. I ask whether he has concerns about providing such information, and he is not forthcoming. He has the facts and figures, but won’t tell us about them, bring in financial statements, etc. To make a long story short, Husband will not fully participate in the mediation process.

What happens?

Mediation is a voluntary process, and it is the parties who make the decisions: Will they schedule a mediation session? After the first one, will they return for the next? Will they reach agreements? Each party makes these choices for her/himself.

Similarly, each party – each spouse in this example – decides whether to share information about earnings and expenses, assets and liabilities. Once in awhile, a party decides not to.

Then what?

A mediator has no authority to compel parties to provide information; s/he is unlike a judge in this way. If a party won’t share it voluntarily, all the mediator can do is:

  • explain once again why giving the information is necessary (so that all parties will have enough information to make decisions);
  • explain that the mediation will have to be terminated if the party doesn’t change his/her mind; and then,
  • end the mediation.

In my experience, unwillingness to provide information most often becomes apparent during the first phone call or at the consultation; in other words, prior to any session being scheduled. If it happens over the phone, that part of the conversation usually goes something like this:

  • Mediator: In mediation, you would both need to share information with me and the other party. Do you think that you and your spouse would be willing to do this?
  • Potential Client: No, s/he will never go for that.
  • Mediator: Perhaps you can talk this over with your spouse; or, s/he is welcome to call me, so that we could talk, just like you and I are talking now.
  • Potential Client: It would be a complete waste of time.
  • Mediator: From what you’ve just told me, mediation is unlikely to work in your situation. Sometimes, a spouse will be more flexible and open once the process begins. But, just based on what you’ve shared, mediation doesn’t sound promising.
  • Potential Client: No, but thank you for your time and explaining all of this to me.

A crucial aspect of mediation is ‘informed decision making’. When a party withholds information, the other party is unable to fully know what the situation is, and would be deprived of the opportunity to make thoughtful decisions. To work (or continue working) with parties under these circumstances would be unfair to the party denied the information.  Mediation is not appropriate; if the process has started, the mediator must end it.

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What if clients make choices that I wouldn’t? Part 3: Informed decision making in mediation

I’m working with spouses, assisting them through the divorce process. They’ve come to an agreement that on a personal level makes me uncomfortable. That is to say that one of the parties has decided to do something that I wouldn’t.

As their mediator, what do I do? The short answer is ‘Nothing’, but let me explain with the help of an example; I’ll use the scenario that I set out in my previous posts on Informed Decision Making in Mediation.

Husband and Wife own a home.

  • Wife says to me:  We have a house that we bought when we got married. I’ll be buying him out, and paying him a million dollars.
  • Husband says:  Yeah, that’s what we’ve decided on.

As part of the mediation process, we have gone over the couples’ finances. I quickly learn that Wife will not be able to afford the house.

Wife tells me that she expects to get a significant raise at her job shortly. In the meantime, she is prepared to draw on savings. If the raise doesn’t come through, Wife understands that she will probably have to sell the house within two years. That would likely mean losing money, and maybe a lot of it. But Wife is prepared to take the chance. Wife says that, “If I have to sell, it won’t ruin me.”

Now pretend that I – the mediator – wouldn’t voluntarily put myself in this situation; that I am more conservative when it comes to money than this Wife is. Maybe this means that, if I were in her shoes, I would look to rent or buy a place I knew I’d be able to afford; otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night because of the worry.

Do I discourage the spouses from signing their proposed agreement because I think it would be ‘wrong’, at least for me?

No.

In mediation, parties are free to make their own decisions. In fact, they need to; I won’t make the decisions for them. As a mediator, I don’t need to like or agree with the choices that the spouses make; rather, I need to ensure that they have enough information to make their decisions.

In this example, the clients have reviewed their expenses and income, assets and debts. They are both informed, which means that I have done a big part of my job.

[Note: I would probably ask Wife about other potential sources of money, if she were to need it; and, raise the possibility of her meeting with a financial expert. I might ask whether it would be possible for her to speak with her boss about the chances of getting that raise she is expecting, and if such a meeting would make sense for her. But it is the parties – in this case the Wife – who answer these questions and decide what to do.]

Next time:  What if a client refuses to provide information?

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All blog posts are for information purposes, and should not be considered as legal advice.