Presumptive Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) – Interim Report and Recommendations (Part 2)

Last week, I began writing about New York State’s “Interim Report and Recommendations (Report)” regarding “Presumptive Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).”  Here, I will continue to discuss the Report further.  New York plans on greatly expanding existing mediation and other programs and initiating new ones.  The programs will deal with many types of ‘civil’ cases, from small claims to personal injury to matrimonial and more.

In part, the move toward the far greater use of mediation, arbitration, and early-neutral evaluation – some of the ‘alternative’ methods of resolving conflicts, as opposed to litigation – is the recognition of serious problems with the status quo.  For instance, many courts have long backlogs of cases.  (In one county, and maybe more, a year can pass between the time a separation agreement for a divorce is filed with the court, and when a judge signs it.)

Cases often take months – and not uncommonly years of litigation; such long delays mean at the very least a delay of justice.  Arguably, and in more than a few instances, such lengthy delays can result in the denial of any real justice at all, as the parties involved would define it.

A significant problem that has some correlation to the years of motions and trial practice that so many litigants face is the cost of bringing or defending an action.  The Report states that:

  • The cost of litigating to a final judgment often represents such a high percentage of the amount in controversy that the parties find litigating to a final judicial decision is unaffordable.

What does this mean to parties?

For some, the high costs of litigation mean that a party will essentially give in to the other side at some point, after realizing that they don’t have the resources to continue battling.  For many others, the prospect of incurring bills amounting to five or six figures results in choosing not to bring or defend a case at all.  In these instances, justice may have nothing to do with the calculation.  Sadly, far too many New Yorkers simply can’t afford justice, and so do not receive it.

The Report notes that:

  • New York and other courts have long administered or sponsored efforts to promote more streamlined achievement of final decisions or negotiated settlements, including: (1) a wide variety of court conferencing processes led by judges or court personnel; (2) referrals of disputes to dedicated court staff neutrals; (3) organization of “settlement days” in which courts try to resolve large numbers of disputes involving the same defendant in a focused negotiation effort; (4) mediations; (5) arbitrations; (6) neutral evaluations; (7) summary mini-trials; and (8) accelerated fast-track litigations.

But, these efforts over the years, which might be characterized as piecemeal, haven’t been nearly enough.  A tremendous amount of work will need to be done before courts will notice a significant reduction in backlogs.  The increased scale of ADR within the state will have to be enormous – and, it promises to be.

In regard to mediation, one goal is to have parties begin the process “shortly after the litigation has commenced.”  This aim recognizes that parties have a better chance of constructively resolving their disputes if their conflicts are addressed through mediation early.  As the parties get more deeply mired in litigation, hostilities usually rise, and the possibility of working together toward a mutually satisfactory agreement becomes more difficult to achieve.

The plans for presumptive mediation in New York are ambitious.  But the judiciary appears to be dead serious about making it happen.  No doubt, implementation will encounter some difficulties, both foreseen and unexpected.  However, the Interim Report and Recommendations is thoughtful and encouraging for those of us who believe that often, there are better ways to handle disputes than fighting them out in front of a judge.

 

‘Gray divorce’: How much of the growth in older people divorcing is due to the reluctance to try counseling, or skepticism that it can help?

Therapists have told me that when there is conflict, younger couples often begin therapy earlier than older ones. How much does this reluctance to begin contribute to Gray Divorce?

In 2013, a study came out entitled, The Gray Divorce Revolution: Rising Divorce among Middle-aged and Older Adults, 1990 – 2010.  Authored by Susan L. Brown and I-Fen Lin, both in the sociology department of Bowling Green State University, their research is revealing.

Here are some of the results:

  • The divorce rate among adults ages 50 and older doubled between 1990 and 2010.
  • Roughly 1 in 4 divorces in 2010 occurred to persons ages 50 and older. . . .
  • The rate of divorce was 2.5 times higher for those in remarriages versus first marriages while the divorce rate declined as marital duration rose.

The study looked at many factors and circumstances that may contribute to gray divorces. Some of them are directly related to “the unique events and experiences characterizing” the “life course stages” of middle age (50 – 65) and older adulthood (65+). During these stages, “many couples confront empty nests, retirement, or declining health, which can pose considerable challenges for marital adjustment. These turning points can prompt spouses to reassess their marriages, ultimately leading them to divorce.” (Citations omitted)

Other findings include:

  • Middle-aged adults are experiencing a higher rate of divorce than older adults.
  • Men and women 50 and over are divorcing at very similar rates (9.8 divorced men per thousand married persons; 10.3 women divorced per thousand persons).
  • “There is some racial and ethnic variation in the risk of divorce among those ages 50 and older.”
  1. Blacks (20.5 divorced persons per 1,000 married persons)
  2. Hispanics (11.3 divorced persons per 1,000 married persons)
  3. Whites (9.0 divorced persons per 1,000 married persons)
  • “The divorce rate also differs by economic resources” – including education. Those with a college degree experience a considerably smaller risk of divorce compared to those with lower levels of education.
  • The rate of divorce is highest among the unemployed.
  • Older adults who are not in the labor force (presumably because they are retired) have the lowest divorce rate.

One factor that isn’t considered by the study is the hesitation by those who are older to engage in therapy.  While a younger generation has grown up with the idea of meeting with a psychologist or social worker, for people who are older the thought may have more of a stigma.  For older adults willing to try therapy and couples counseling, how many are skeptical or so uncomfortable that they are unable to fully engage in the experience, and therefore end the process prematurely, or otherwise hold themselves back and greatly lower the chances that it will be helpful in saving their marriages?

In addition to factors that apparently contribute to gray divorce, the authors discuss the “implications for individuals, their families, and society at large.”

  • It is likely that divorce has “negative consequences, particularly for those who did not want the divorce or who are economically disadvantaged or in poor health.”
  • “Divorced older adults no longer have a spouse on whom to rely and are likely to place greater demands on their children.” These children may be asked to serve as care givers in lieu of the absent spouse. “The strain of such intense obligations may weaken intergenerational ties. . . .
  • Adult children are particularly unlikely to provide care to their divorced fathers.”
  • “Some older adults may not have children available nearby to provide care,” and so “the rise in later life divorce may place additional burdens on society at large, as divorced individuals will be forced to turn to institutional” assistance rather than look to the family for support.

The study, which the authors acknowledge has limitations, is somewhat alarming. But having this information will surely help society deal with the consequences of gray divorce, which are likely to become more apparent over the coming years.

Please Like me on facebook and follow me on Twitter

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

A Divorce Mediation Case – Part 4 of 4: Agreements Reached & Reviewing the Costs

Bill and Angela have come a long way in handling their own divorce.  We have been with them through: The Decision to Try Divorce Mediation and the Consultation (Part 1); the Sessions on Parenting, Income & Expenses (Part 2); and then the sessions dealing with Assets (Especially the House) and Debts (Part 3) in which perhaps their biggest disagreement emerged, along with the strong emotions that came with it.  Here we will a) be with them briefly as the mediator helps the parties deal with remaining issues; and, b)    conclude by taking a look at the money the couple spent on mediation.

February 25th, 2016 – Session #5

  • After getting a value for the house, the spouses talked about other matters regarding the home. Now that the question of how much the house was worth had been answered, a serious disagreement remained about how much of that value belonged to Bill and to Angela; Angela was arguing for a 50/50 split, while Bill believed that he was entitled to a higher percentage due to work he had done on the house, and the increased value that resulted from that work.
  • Angela said that Bill was just making things difficult; that he knew she could buy him out at a 50% split, but couldn’t at any more than that. Bill denied this.

 

  • The mediator asked if they wanted to take a short break; neither one did. Then the mediator asked for more information that might enlighten the discussion. More information was shared, but no agreement on the house was reached.

 

 

  • The mediator brought up other matters, including:  filing taxes, whether/how to share in the case of a tax refund, or an audit; how to handle costs for writing the agreement, review attorneys and the court filing fee.  Angela and Bill reached agreements on these issues relatively easily.  though both were still upset, and Angela especially was concerned about dealing with the house.

 

  • The session ended, both still upset, and with Angela especially concerned about dealing with the house.

 

March 10th, 2016 – Session #6 (the last session)

  • On March 10th, Bill and Angela reached an agreement on the house, and tied up the remaining loose ends. Bill acknowledged the importance of the house not only to Angela, but to the children as well. And since Angela would probably be keeping the house for many years, during which time some expensive repairs were likely (on things that Bill didn’t have the skills to fix, though he was willing), he could come down on the percentage that he was asking for.  Angela expressed appreciation for the work Bill had done on their home, and for his willingness now to accept a lower percentage (than he had demanded earlier).
  • After further discussion, Angela proposed that either: a) Bill walk away with more of the assets than they had already agreed upon; or, b) that Bill take a small percentage of the house upon its eventual sale, which would likely be after their younger child graduated from high school. Angela agreed that she’d have to pay Bill that percentage from some other source of money that she would hopefully have at that time, or sell the house to pay him while incurring the expenses to sell the house.
  • The spouses reviewed their assets and talked further, ultimately deciding that Bill would take a greater share of the assets; an amount that Angela agreed she could live with.

And so, the mediation ended.

As previously mentioned, the “separation agreement” will need to be written. Bill and Angela have been advised by the mediator to each meet with a lawyer to review the separation agreement with them before signing it, which they have agreed to do.  Shortly after that, the separation agreement can be filed with the court.

So what did it all cost?

Mediation Fees:

  • $     50        Consultation
  • $3,300        11 hours @ $300/hr

$3,350        TOTAL

 

Other Expenses:

$1,500        Separation Agreement (needed whether people mediate or not)

  • The fees charged by an attorney to review the separation agreement should be relatively low, as this review is the only job that the lawyer will be doing for the client. There are no court motions, no depositions, no trial (and so no trial preparation), etc.
  • Court filing fee (needed whether people mediate or not)

In mediation (as in litigation), there can be other expenses, such as when spouses decide to hire an expert, such as a financial planner.  But, contrast a mediated divorce with a litigated one, and the difference in cost is often quite dramatic.

Please Like me on facebook and follow me on Twitter

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

A Divorce Mediation Case – Part 3 of 4: Assets (Especially the House) and Debts

In my previous posts, I wrote about The Decision to Try Divorce Mediation and the Consultation (Part 1)  and the Sessions on Parenting, Income & Expenses (Part 2).  I continue here as the mediator assists Angela and Bill in regard to their assets and debts.

January 7th, 2016 – Session #3

  • The next session takes place over a month after the previous one.  Meeting earlier hadn’t been possible, or at least practical.  Bill had a lot of financial information to gather in regard to assets and debts (Angela also had, but less), and then there were the holidays.
  • The mediator asks about what has been happening over the past six weeks. Learning that there haven’t been what either party considers significant changes or problems, the mediator asks Angela about the clothing expenses discussed at the last session. Angela gives a new (and lower figure), which Bill accepts as accurate.
  • With income and expenses taken care of, the mediator works with the couple on their assets, again writing the figures on a flipchart. Angela and Bill both say that the numbers are correct. They quickly come to agreement on how to deal with the bank accounts, retirement money and other investments. There is a small dispute over the cars they own, which the couple quickly resolves. The big issue is the house. Angela would like to keep it, but buying out Bill may not be possible. Bill says that Angela can have the house, but she’d need to pay him a fair price. There is some discussion regarding the house. The mediator asks whether Angela has checked into getting a mortgage. Angela says she hasn’t, and Bill says that since a buy-out may not even be possible, maybe it would be best to go on to the next issue; Angela can do some investigating, and then they can come back to the house question. Angela says that is fine.
  • Having reviewed the asset information, and having reached many tentative agreements regarding their assets, Angela says that she wants to continue with the session, but only for another fifteen minutes, as she has to pick up their daughter from a friend’s house. Bill agrees and over the next quarter of an hour, the mediator begins helping them share the numbers on debts/liabilities.

January 28th, 2016 – Session #4

  • The spouses arrive.  They continue sharing information on debts, and then review it with the mediator.
  • They reach a decision on how to handle the credit cards, the biggest debt aside from the mortgage on the house. They agree on several other debt-related issues as well.
  • Angela begins to talk about the house, saying that she would be able to get a mortgage. Discussion continues on the house, when a disagreement arises concerning the value of the house. Two disagreements, actually. One dealing with the actual value of the house – the fair market value; the other with what percentage of that value should go to Bill; Angela had assumed that they each had an equal share, but now Bill is asking for more.  Angela’s surprise quickly turns to anger.  The mediator intervenes when it becomes clear that a productive conversation about the  matter isn’t possible at this times.  He helps the spouses turn their attention to finding out the house’s actual value, which both agree is necessary.  After a lengthy and somewhat heated discussion, Bill and Angela agree on how to have the house valued, in a manner that they can both accept.
  • The spouses say they would like to talk about child support. They’ve managed to discuss this on their own and have come up with a plan. The mediator says that this is good news, and asks for the details. The mediator also tells them about the Child Support Guidelines; that NYS requires parents to learn what amount of child support the guidelines would require; even if the parents decide not to follow the guidelines. Angela and Bill share their proposal. They learn from the mediator about the guidelines and decide that their own agreement is better for their family.

Next time:  A Divorce Mediation Case – Part 4 of 4:  Agreements Reached & Reviewing the Costs

Please Like me on facebook and follow me on Twitter

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

A Divorce Mediation Case (Part 2 of 4: Sessions on Parenting, Income & Expenses)

In my previous post , I introduced Bill and Angela who had decided to get a divorce.  Angela called and learned more about mediation, and shared the information with Bill.  After further discussion, they decided (Bill, a little reluctantly) to schedule a consultation, at which they got a sense of who the mediator is, and had more of their questions answered.

Here, I continue with both their first and second sessions.

November 10 – Session #1

● With the spouses permission, the mediator turns the discussion to parenting.

● Angela says that she wants ‘full custody’. Bill becomes defensive. They argue for a few minutes.  The mediator listens and considers whether the verbal exchange is constructive, and then raises a question.

● The mediator asks each to answer, “What do you mean when you say ‘custody’?

● The mediator listens and checks that s/he understands what each has said. The mediator then suggests that maybe the question isn’t “Which of you will have custody?”, but rather, “What agreements can you reach so that you can be the kind of parents you want to be to your children?”

● There is further discussion, some of it angry.  The mediator helps the spouses to fully express their concerns, and asks clarifying questions.  The mediator believes that, though Bill is having difficulty really listening to Angela directly at this point, he is able to hear her through the mediator’s restatements of what she is saying.  The focus is forward looking.  Each party acknowledges that the other has an important role to play in the children’s lives; neither wants to ‘take the children’ from the other.  With his fear of ‘losing the children’ alleviated, Bill especially becomes less tense, and the conversation is less strained.

● Bill and Angela agree to talk about parenting arrangements; at least for now, they are willing to leave the legal designations aside.

● Angela and Bill talk about the children: where they attend school, what they enjoy doing, their usual routines, and so forth.

● The mediator helps them to set out different possible parenting plans, which are discussed.

● The parents reach a tentative agreement on a schedule for the children. And, on how decisions involving medical, educational and religious matters will be handled in the future.  (The latter comes easily for them.)

● The mediator gives each spouse a blank form for setting out financial information.  Angela and Bill are both confident that they can fill in the information about their respective incomes and expenses within a week to ten days.  With that in mind they schedule the next session for two weeks later; if either needs more time to complete the income/expense parts of the form, they will let each other and the mediator know, so that the date of the next session can be rescheduled.

● The session ends after two hours, and Bill and Angela each pay $300 of the $600 fee.

 

November 23 – Session #2

● Angela and Bill arrive.  The mediator asks how they and the children are, and whether anything of note has happened since the last session.  They briefly discuss Thanksgiving plans.

● Angela asks a question about property.  The mediator gives the spouses a brief overview of Marital and Separate Property (and Debts), and makes a point of saying that this information is not “legal advice”. For instance, if either/both wants to know what a judge might decide regarding property, they are welcome to contact an attorney to get that advice. Both respond that they don’t see a need; instead, they’ll each meet with a ‘review attorney’ to review the separation agreement before signing it.

● The mediator then begins setting out Bill’s and Angela’s respective income and expenses. This is done using a flip-chart, so that all three of them can see the figures that the spouses supply.

● Bill questions why Angela is paying $400 month for clothes for her and the children. Bill isn’t angry; he just thinks the number is high. In discussing the matter, it turns out that Angela based her calculation on her September credit card statement, which has higher costs than average due to purchasing back to school clothing. Their daughter needed a lot of new thing because of how much she has grown over the past few months. Angela says that before the next session, she will look at her statements over the past year, which she can find on the computer, and take the average of that twelve month period. Bill thinks this is a good idea. The mediator makes a note to come back to this question.

● Angela asks if, since money will be tight, Bill can cut down on his recreational spending. Bill bristles at the suggestion, but looking at where his money goes, decides this is reasonable. In particular, Bill says that he can spend a lot less on sporting events and movies. Bill does a quick calculation, agreeing to reduce this spending by 10% each month, starting this month. He is confident that he will bring it down further, but feels comfortable starting at 10%.  The mediator, noticing Angela’s facial expression, asks if she wants to say something.  She answers that, “Well, I have mixed feelings.  I think Bill could do more here.”  (Bill immediately becomes upset.)   “But,”  she adds, “Bill is willing to commit to this, and says he’ll do more; and I believe he will.  (Turning to Bill)  And maybe it’s a good idea that you start with 10%; that way, you won’t feel deprived.  If you spent less now, you might hate it, and be angry with me, and we’d be worse off.  So, good.  Do the 10% for awhile.  Then, we can talk about it again in month or two.  Can we do that?”  Bill is still annoyed, but he also knows (and feels) that he is being heard by his wife.  He says, ‘Yes’.  They discuss what to do with the money that will be saved. Bill wants to use it to pay down a credit card, and Angela agrees to this.

● In regard to expense and income figures now displayed on the flipchart, the spouses agree that the numbers are pretty accurate.

● Bill raises a concern he has about the parenting agreement. He says that he has what is a minor change in mind that would allow him to spend more time with the children during the summer, if Angela would be ok with it. Bill shares his thought. Angela says that the change would be alright with her, if another small change can be made when it comes to the Thanksgiving holiday break, starting the following year. Bill tells Angela that he is willing; while he likes the Thanksgiving break and doesn’t really want to change the schedule they had agreed to, the change over the summer is a much bigger deal to him, and he thanks Angela for going along with his suggestion.

Next time:  Assets (especially the House) and Debts

Please Like me on facebook and follow me on Twitter

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

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

:

 

Should I go to law school? (Part 3 of 3)

The decision to attend law school is life changing for many who do so.  You should know what you’d be getting yourself into.  Please see Part 1 and Part 2 of this post if you haven’t already read them.

Learn about what practicing attorneys really do:

Think about what areas of law might interest you, as Ms. Cohn has; and then learn what you can about them.  How does a criminal defense lawyer typically spend her day?  You can be sure it is very different than how a contract attorney spends most of his time.

What environment would you like to work in?  A small firm?  Large firm?  Government agency?  Non-profit?  Start your own practice?   Do you think that you would like to be a litigator?  Visit a courthouse and sit in on cases that are open to the public.

Ms. Cohn is fortunate in that she has a close relative who is a long time lawyer.  Though living in another part of the country, she can have the experience of reviewing documents and engaging in research for him.  Plus, that of discussing actual cases.

She is also giving a lot of thought to applying for an internship, which can be a great way to get experience.  (This will take time, and probably won’t pay much, if at all; but weigh that against learning that you are on the right path (or not), gaining knowledge and confidence, and maybe even making good contacts, and an internship makes sense to me.)

Ms. Cohn and I talked about other ways to find people to learn from as well.  With Facebook, Linkedin and other sites, you can pretty easily reach out to those doing what you’d like to know more about, just as Ms. Cohn did in contacting me, though we were strangers to one another.  It is understandable if you are nervous about taking such a step.  All I can say is that, in my experience in reaching out, many people have been happy to speak with me on the phone, or even to meet.  I, too, try to make time for those who reach out to me.  (Some people will refuse; a few may be less than pleasant; it isn’t a terrible thing.  Be courteous and respectful of the person’s time, know what you want to discuss, and don’t ask for a job.  You will probably find a good number of people who feel flattered and are willing to share information.)

I wrote earlier that the practice of law is changing.  As it turns out, Ms. Cohn’s relative who is offering to help her gain experience is a general practitioner, and has been one for decades.  From what I’ve read, there aren’t too many of those left; most lawyers by far have a specialty these days.  So, even if Ms. Cohn wanted to become a general practitioner, that option may not be realistic in today’s world.  When you speak with people, ask what they expect to see in their practice areas in five and ten years from now.

What job opportunities will be available?

Are you open to spending over (maybe a lot over) $100,000 for your law school years?  Don’t assume you’ll earn that much coming out of law school.  Every year, there are graduates who do; but, many more don’t.  Are you aware that there may be too many lawyers and not enough legal jobs?  That many law graduates who want to practice aren’t able to, and so have taken non-legal positions?  That the debt for at least some law school graduates is crushing?

Fewer people have been applying to law schools recently, because the legal job market has been tough.  That should help those who do apply; but when and how much are questions worth exploring.

Conclusion:  I would never tell anyone whether to go to law school or not.  It is a personal, and sometimes a family decision.  I hope that this post can get you thinking about important factors that may not have previously occurred to you.

Finally, I would say that students should really be committed to becoming attorneys; they should really want it.  (If you’ve read this far, maybe that’s you.)  It is not something to do on a whim, or because you don’t know what you want to do, or because one of your parents did it.  If you do it, do it for the right reasons.  Discuss it with your family.  Learn what you would be getting yourself into.  Have in mind what it will realistically cost; and, what you’ll realistically be able to earn afterward.

As for Ms. Cohn, I wouldn’t be surprised to get a call from her again – letting me know that she has been admitted to a law school’s graduating class of 2019.

As for you, please let me know whether this post has been helpful, share your comments, and tell me what you decide to do.

Please Like me on facebook and follow me on Twitter

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

Should I go to law school? (Part 1 of 3)

Over the years, many people who are/were considering law school have asked me to share my thoughts about getting a degree and practicing law.  Most recently, Melanie Malka Cohn, a woman who had read a blog post, contacted me with regard to these questions and others concerning mediation.  With her permission, I am sharing some of what we discussed, (as well as that she is 44 years old, with five children, and in line with her personal beliefs, “decided to have a family first and then pursue a career”), since it may be of interest to others as well.

I will preface this post by saying that many lawyers do wonderful things and change the world for the better through their efforts. One example that comes to mind is a professor I had while in law school, Toby Golick, a nationally recognized leader in legal services and education.  Among her other accomplishments, Professor Golick has for decades practiced and taught others to work in the areas of elder law and welfare law, serving those who would likely have no recourse without her expert assistance.

And lawyers don’t have to serve the elderly and indigent to be doing something worthwhile. Attorneys can, and do, represent all sorts or clients, responding to diverse needs in an ethical manner. Additionally, many people who leave law practice (or choose not to go into it after graduating) are still very happy to have had the education, along with the opportunities that may have come with it.

All that said, law school isn’t for everyone, and perhaps this post and the ones to follow will help you as you decide whether it is right for you.

Attending law school is, of course, a major commitment.  Generally, it takes three years to complete, and comes with large tuition fees and other costs.  The job market for attorneys is uncertain.  The nature of the practice of law is changing.  Are you contemplating a legal career?  If so, I would urge you to:

  • carefully assess your current situation (financial and otherwise);
  • examine your own feelings and attitudes realistically;
  • learn about what practicing attorneys really do; and,
  • conduct research, to the extent possible, as to what job opportunities are likely to be available upon graduating.

In other words, learn everything you can so you can make the best decisions for yourself; what is referred to in mediation as ‘informed-decision making’, a subject I’ve been blogging about.

Your current situation:

A good place to start may be to assess where you are now.  If you don’t already have a budget, it would probably be worthwhile to create one, so that you are fully aware of your incomes and expenses.  Your assets and debts may also figure into your ultimate decisions.

Look up the cost of law school tuition.  Most schools charge a pretty hefty fee.  Financial aid may be available; but it doesn’t make sense for everyone. Aid in the form of loans can lead to debt that may be difficult to repay, as the New York Times reminded us once again last week (Student Debt Is Worse Thank You Think, Oct. 7, 2015).

Ms. Cohn has a pretty good handle on these questions, and told me that she wants to find out about the City University of New York (CUNY) law school, which has a price tag that is a bargain, relatively speaking.  She’ll be attending the school’s open house to learn more.

In addition to fees, other obvious costs are for food and housing.  Would you be paying more than you do now to live at or near the school?  Would you go to restaurants more often and do less cooking – which would add to your food budget?   Check on other school-related expenses, such as for books, and less obvious ones like buying a good suit.

Where will the money come from?  How are your expenses likely to change – up or down – over the next few years?  Are you already in debt, due to undergraduate studies or for other reasons?   Could you live with your parents to save money?  Would you be willing to?  Would they?

Are you in a relationship?  Have you discussed with your partner what getting a degree involves?  Do you have children or other family members who depend on you?  The first year of law school especially takes up a lot of time; and it may well be that your partner has to pick up the slack when you’re not available.  Many parents, single and married, turn to day care, a very important service that can be pricey.

Next:  Part 2, Tomorrow:  Examining your own feelings and attitudes realistically

Please Like me on facebook and follow me on Twitter

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

Hiring Experts in Mediation – It’s very Different than in Litigation

In both mediated cases and those litigated in court, experts may become involved; but their roles can be very different, depending on which process they are involved in.

A psychologist in a litigated case:

In a divorce case where there are children, a forensic psychologist will most likely be appointed by the judge, if the parents are involved in a custody dispute.

In large part, the job of the psychologist is to determine who is the better parent. And, who is the worse parent. The reason for this is that the issue in court is essentially, “Who will get custody of the children?” Someone will ‘win’, and someone will ‘lose’.

Parents and children will meet with the psychologist, separately. Many of the questions asked may be intrusive. Often, one or both parents is frightened of “losing the children”. Even loving and nurturing parents can be tempted to coach their children, telling them what to say to this mental health expert whose report may well have a significant impact on the outcome of the litigation. Unfortunately, a few parents will ask or tell the children to lie, and the consequences can be devastating and long lasting, for instance, when a child is instructed to allege abuse where no abuse has taken place.

A psychologist in a mediated case:

In mediation, the question is not “Which of you will get the children?”, but rather, “How will each of you (Mom and Dad) spend time with your children, so that you can be the best parents you can be to them, and so that your children can get the most from both of you?”* [Please note that I am not talking about a situation where there may be abuse; that is another discussion.]  Usually, parents are able to answer this question on their own, without looking to a mental health professional.

But, if a psychologist or other mental health professional is needed during mediation, the purpose might well be to have a child meet with that person to help the child, by engaging in play therapy, let’s say, where the child’s play or drawings might reveal anxieties that can then be addressed. The child can then be helped to feel more secure; the adjustments and transitions made easier and less scary.

A financial expert in litigation:

In a court case, you might hire someone to tell the court how much the marital home is worth. Your spouse might do the same. It is likely that your experts will come back with different determinations as to what the value of the home is: Probably your expert will state a number or range that favors you; and your spouse’s expert will give a figure or range that favors her or him.

Possibly, the court may ask that a third expert be hired to settle the disagreement between the original two.

A financial expert in Mediation:

In mediation, you and your spouse would discuss the need for an expert to put a value on the house; and then, if you were to jointly decide that it would be worthwhile to hire someone, you would determine how to choose a qualified professional acceptable to both of you. You would decide on how to handle the person’s fee, perhaps splitting it in some fashion; perhaps not. Either way, there would be only one expert to hire regarding this question, saving you money as a couple. You could instruct the expert to provide the most neutral and balanced appraisal possible.

Conclusion:

In mediation, you have the choice of calling upon an expert to provide solid information or to assist in solving a problem.  By contrast, in court, a judge may make such a decision for you; and there, the circumstances and the outcome may feel much more threatening.

*Paraphrasing Erickson and McKnight Erickson, Family Mediation Casebook:  Theory and Process.

Please Like me on facebook and follow me on Twitter

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

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.

Please Like me on facebook and follow me on Twitter

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.

Like me on facebook and follow me on Twitter

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