One of the most pervasive and unfortunate myths about divorce is that it is essentially a legal matter. For most people considering divorce the first step appears to be to find a lawyer to tell you about “your rights.” So the first stop is for a consult with a lawyer typically recommended by some friend who says this is a good and aggressive lawyer. The happenstance of that consult often determines whether you will have a decent or a horrifying divorce.
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In my work as a divorce mediator, I often find myself needing to coach clients on how to negotiate. So when they find themselves in negotiations that are emotionally charged, they often make many negotiation mistakes. But negotiation is not complicated and many can learn quickly. So, as I mediate, I often focus on the negotiation process itself.
The dissolution of a business partnership can easily become rancorous. The dissolution of a marriage can also become rancorous. Put them together and you find problems that are unique for both partnership and marital dissolution. I do not know how common the situation is but I suspect it is more common than we think. Eighty to ninety percent of all businesses in the USA are family owned and more than a few of these involve husband/wife teams running the business. When the spouses decide to divorce the economic issues of the divorce are complicated by the issues of the business. Generally, the problems arise because the business is the livelihood of both partners. This presents some difficult choices. Assuming that this is not a wealthy couple, in which either or both has sufficient wealth to retire, both will continue to need the income generated by the business. There is a limited universe of choice.
Readers of this blog who are interested in using mediation in their own divorces are cautioned that discussions with divorce attorneys may prove completely misleading. That is because the North Carolina courts and bar association have created a version of “mediation” that bears little resemblance to the real thing. I have met many clients who went for a consult with an attorney, asked about mediation and were told, “Don’t worry, we do mediation as part of the litigation process.” So I though it time to explain the difference between what I shall call “real mediation” and “phony mediation.”
Divorce is one of life’s most stressful experiences. In bad divorces acute stress can last for years and follow long the official divorce is over. It has serious implications for both mental health and all stress related illnesses and the stress can extend beyond the divorcing couple to injure their children as well. So it is reasonable to ask whether all this stress is necessary and whether there are steps that divorcing people can take that can reduce the stress associated with their divorces. The answer is an unqualified YES. Divorcing people can dramatically reduce divorce related stress by choosing the way they divorce with care and forethought.
People often feel concerned when close friends or relatives announce that they are getting divorced. What do I say? How do I help? What can I do? We all want to offer support when loved ones are going through a crisis. But divorce seems to be one of those difficult issues in which well-intentioned people are not sure how to help. In this column I want to talk about what you can do and what you shouldn’t do. Continue reading
It is in the field of divorce that the image of lawyers finds its most odious expression and where legal training is most disabling and counterproductive. Divorce lawyers have a terrible reputation among the lay public for being cynical, indifferent to suffering and greedy for ever-larger legal fees. There are, of course, divorce lawyers who do not fit this stereotype. But, in over thirty years in the field I have met more who do fit it than ones who do not. It is not that divorce law attracts amoral people. In fact, some of the most sensitive of students I met in law school were attracted to “family law” where they thought they could help families.
Co-parenting in divorce has become an increasingly attractive and sought after arrangement. In contrast to the conventional sole custody in which the mother typically has all the responsibility for the children and has the children with her most of the time, co-parenting emphasizes an equal or nearly equal role for fathers. Co-parenting fathers have the children with them for more overnights and play a larger role in the many tasks associated with parenting, tasks such as clothes shopping, extra curricular activities and homework. Today, the majority of mothers are employed full time and the simple logistics of two career couples require co-parenting. It is too exhausting to have a full time job as well as all the responsibility for raising the children. So divorcing couples are moving to co-parenting out of simple necessity and the need to survive.
From the perspective of a mediator, extra marital affairs often generate challenges that make it more difficult to help couples achieve fair and amicable settlements. I thought it would be interesting to discuss why that is and to look at some of the problems raised by affairs when negotiating marital settlements. Continue reading