Tag Archives: Sam Margulies

Do You Need Divorce Consultation?

For most people divorce is a scary and confusing process. Law, lawyers and courts seem intimidating. You worry if you and your children will be alright.  You hear the horror stories as well-meaning but ill-advised friends and relatives vie to give you advice.  But most of this advice is destructive as it eggs you on to fight. You’re encouraged to find an “aggressive lawyer” who will protect your “rights.” So if you are like most people you eventually hire a lawyer about whom you know very little. You pay a large retainer and become a client. Then you wait.  The process crawls along with one adjournment and delay after another and you wait some more.  Calls to your lawyer are often unanswered or returned days later. You begin to feel helpless and out of control.

This rather extreme picture doesn’t happen to everybody but it happens to many.

If you are caught up in this you wonder how it happened. What would you have had to do to obtain a better outcome? What would you have to do to grab control of your divorce now? If only you had a better understanding of how it all works. If only you had someone who understood the system who could advise you and help you feel more in control. So where to turn?

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Why You Should Download My Free Book

Download my free book, “Negotiating the Good Divorce” for more about negotiating a healthy divorce with your spouse.  Get your life back sooner, preserve more of your assets, and protect your children from a harsh, long-lasting bitter divorce with a collegial approach to divorce. Continue reading

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The Six Signs of Impending Divorce

The next time you are in a restaurant look for the sad couple eating dinner in silence. They make little or no eye contact and have little or no conversation. They are completely disengaged and are simply enduring the meal until they can finish and leave. That is a couple on the verge of divorce.  It may not happen soon and may not happen at all because there are couples who are held together by nothing but inertia and fear. But at least one or both of these unfortunates are thinking about divorce.

There are six signals of impending divorce.

1. No Conflict Resolution

The noted relationship and divorce researcher John Gottman has argued that it is not lack of communication that sinks a marriage but, rather, lack of effective conflict resolution. Couples who have not evolved a way to resolve differences without injury to the relationship end up avoiding disagreement and conflict. One or both has arrived at a point of despair that it is pointless to try to resolve a difference with his/her mate. It may be that one or both are simply conflict avoidant, or one or both may regard every conflict as a fight to be won by bullying the other into submission. What matters is that someone has given up. Differences are submerged resulting in a loss of respect, increasing distance and gradual withdrawal.

2. Emotional Disengagement

Emotional engagement is a minimum requirement for the development and maintenance of intimacy. Willing discussion of feelings, one’s own feelings and the other’s feelings are a part. Interest in the emotional life of the other and empathic engagement of each other’s emotional life all constitute the required elements for an intimate relationship.

3. Disaffection

Emotional disengagement is generally accompanied by the withdrawal of affection. If your wife has disengaged emotionally from you she probably doesn’t feel much love for you. Divorcing people commonly say they have fallen out of love.  And depending on how sour the relationship has become one or both probably don’t like each other very much.

4. Lack of Sex

Sex both expresses and reinforces emotional connectedness. When a couple has not had sex in a long time it is usually a reliable indicator that emotional disengagement is advancing steadily. It is yet another indicator that the partners take no pleasure in each other and that the bonds are rapidly eroding if not already in a terminal state.

5. Increased Focus outside the Marriage

Empty marriages are boring. Some couples compensate by pouring themselves into their children so that child centered activity becomes the sole content of family life. Others pour themselves further into careers, working late every night so the time with the other is minimized. And as emotional satisfaction is sought exclusively outside the marriage the probability of an affair soars. The majority of affairs I see in my practice have started with a coworker who takes an interest and is fun to be with.

6. Preparation for a Single Life

I recall a couple I worked with many years ago in which the husband, as part of his planning for the coming divorce, took a second mortgage on the house to pay for a hair transplant to improve his dating prospects. Although a bit extreme, it is typical for the initiating spouse to begin preparing herself or himself by getting in shape, losing weight, attending to hair and wardrobe and other things to enhance appearance. And particularly with women who have stayed home, we often see a new interest in refreshing or acquiring a career to be less dependent on the earnings of the husband. We also often see the initiator taking up an activity such as tennis or golf without involving the other spouse and generally beginning to build a social network as a single rather than as a couple.

What to Do?

If you see yourself in this scenario your marriage is in trouble. I would not try to prognosticate about the precise tipping point beyond which a marriage is absolutely doomed, but I can say that these signals, or at least most of them, are present in almost every divorce I mediate.  At a minimum it is time for a long and honest talk with your spouse. If you can’t have that talk without it deteriorating into blaming and recrimination, suggest an urgent session with a marriage counselor or family therapist.  If you are heading for divorce, the sooner the two of you face the issue and plan for an amicable separation, the better your chances of achieving a good and non destructive divorce.

I am always available to answer any questions you have about North Carolina divorce law, custody issues, or separation and settlement agreements.  You are under no obligation and remember:  Divorce doesn’t have to be adversarial.  You can achieve a good divorce.  I can help.

Sam Margulies, Ph.D., J.D. 
(336) 669-3141

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The Do-It-Yourself Divorce

I have long been convinced that with a few scalpels and clamps I could remove my own appendix in a pinch. But that conviction does not mean that it would be a good idea to attempt nor does it mean I would survive the operation. And so it goes with many of life’s tasks that don’t seem so difficult that we couldn’t do it ourselves.  I am frequently asked this about divorce.

“We don’t have much money and we don’t have kids and we’re in agreement on everything. Why not just download the forms from the web. Do it ourselves and save the bundle that the lawyers will charge us?”

With that frequently asked question in mind I thought I would outline under what conditions couples should or should not try it themselves.

The simplest divorce is one in which there has been a short marriage with no significant property accumulated during the marriage, no children and two employed and self sufficient spouses. No children means no parenting or child support issues. Two economically self-sufficient spouses means no alimony issue. And little or no property means no need to detail how the property is to be divided. Under these conditions there is really no need for a written settlement agreement. The couple separates and after the statutory required waiting period files for divorce using forms and directions easily available on the Internet. In some states you don’t even need to go to court; you just do it by mail. In other states a court appearance is required but the court personnel will usually talk you through the pro forma hearing.  Feel free to contact me personally for specifics on North Carolina divorce law.

Recognize that there are two parts of a divorce. The first part requires that you agree on the issues of children and custody, financial support and division of property. The settlement agreement is an enforceable contract that permanently resolves all the child related and economic issues. If you need a settlement agreement and you are not very experienced in drafting contracts you probably need a little help from a lawyer, mediator or at least a knowledgeable paralegal. Once you have a drafted settlement agreement it is relatively easy to do your own paper work and get yourselves divorced. But even in a seeming simple divorce there may be issues that if not written down may result in anger and economic loss.

Consider Pam and Tom who have been married two years and have no children. Tom is self-employed as a contractor and Pam is an assistant professor at a local college. At first glance the couple felt they had nothing to negotiate. They had always kept separate bank accounts and just assumed that each would keep everything in his or her name. This is fine, but they have to recognize that they may each have rights and needs that are provided by law.

For example, during the marriage Pam has increased her retirement account by $10,000. Tom is entitled to a share of it. More complicated yet, during the marriage Tom’s business has doubled, he has earned a lot of money and used it to buy a lot of equipment. According to law, Pam is entitled to a share of the increase in value of the business including both hard assets like the bulldozer and the accounts receivable but also the goodwill value that has increased during the marriage. Finally, Tom, who has high blood pressure, needs to stay on Pam’s health insurance plan for the eighteen months their state requires before it will grant a divorce.

If Tom and Pam just assume that each keeps his/her own assets all will be well unless one of them has second thoughts later. After the divorce when Pam finds out that Tom has been dating her best friend she may decide that she acted too hastily in not pursuing Tom’s business assets. In many states she would have no trouble reopening the case because there was never a legal finding with respect to these assets. And when, out of anger, she cancels Tom’s medical insurance without telling him and he has an emergency appendectomy two weeks after the coverage disappears, there is going to be trouble and both may wish they had attended to these issues in a proper document.

What Pam and Tom should have done was to obtain a few hours of professional help to understand their choices. Property distribution law is very complicated. You may have all sorts of claims on each other’s property. But even if you both are clear and adamant that each should keep his /her own assets you need a simple contact in which your waiver of these claims is clearly stated in writing and signed before a notary public. It will also help if the contract states that you are each aware of your claims to the other’s property and that you are knowingly waiving your claims. While you are at it a mutual waiver of alimony will preempt a subsequent claim if one of you gets laid off or a business collapses.

A written separation agreement is necessary if there are any economic issues or any potential economic issues. And if your situation is more complex than Pam and Tom then you certainly need a separation agreement and it is very unlikely that you know enough about divorce to do it yourselves.

This does not mean that you are doomed to the greedy clutches of adversary lawyers eager to make a fight. There are plenty of mediators around who can help you through at minimal cost and there are some decent lawyers who minimize conflict and help you make practical choices. You can obtain the actual divorce yourself but you take a terrible risk when you do it without a professionally assisted separation agreement.

Call me anytime you have any questions about North Carolina divorce law, custody issues, or separation and settlement agreements.  You are under no obligation and it would be my pleasure to answer your questions.


Sam Margulies
(336) 669-3141

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You can achieve a “good” divorce

Because divorce is generally regarded as regrettable and socially undesirable, we tend to think of all divorce as bad and destructive. Certainly, most of us have known people who have had bad divorces. These are the ones in which couples do so much damage during the divorce that they are left unable to cooperate, still angry at each other and unable to adapt to post-divorce life because they are still destructively engaged with each other. For these unfortunate people the divorce has been a failure because neither is free of the other and they continue to interfere with each other’s contentment.

So is there such a thing as “good” divorce? As in any human endeavor there is a range of performance and a range of possible outcomes. Just as there is bad divorce characterized by mutual self defeat, there is also successful divorce in which a couple has successfully negotiated a post-divorce arrangement that leaves both partners as well a s their children able to adapt to their new lives. The key to understanding good or successful divorce is an understanding that almost all divorces (99%) are resolved prior to trial by a negotiated settlement agreement. The negotiation of the agreement, also called the settlement agreement or the divorce agreement, can be regarded as the final task of the marriage. A settlement agreement resolves all economic issues between the parties and describes their mutual rights and responsibilities as parents. It describes how their property is to be divided .and resolves issues of child support and spousal support. Done well, the settlement agreement becomes the economic blueprint for the family’s future. Done well, the document represents the genuine agreement of the partners so that both view it with a sense of justice and goodwill.

There are seven characteristics of a good divorce.

  1. Emotional closure for both partners. This means that there is no unfinished emotional business and they have both disengaged from the relationship and the conflict.
  2. A successful post-divorce social life. Each has achieved a place in the community, or has developed a network of friends. If they are interested in a new relationship, each has begun to date or has found a new mate.
  3. A sense of economic justice. Both have a sense that the settlement was fair. This does not mean that one or both does not feel strapped from time to time, but that the disparity between them is not glaring or dramatic and neither feels victimized by the other, or by the divorce process.
  4. Basic trust. This means that neither has demonized the other and gives the other the benefit of the doubt when disputes arise.
  5. Communication skills. They can communicate effectively, and their style is conducive to cooperative parenting.
  6. Mutual goodwill. Each can wish the other well and support the children in accepting, if not liking, the other’s new mate or lifestyle.
  7. Conflict resolution skills and a mediation clause. Both came out of the divorce process with a reasonable capacity to settle differences themselves, or with the occasional assistance of a mediator.

Although some may think that this notion of a good divorce is unrealistic or naïve, I think it is within reach of the majority of divorcing couples. Bitterness is not a necessary part of the process of divorce. Sadness, anger, fear of loss and loneliness are, perhaps, inevitable. But the bitterness that poisons post divorce communication is more often the product not of the decision to divorce, but of the adversarial process still used by most people to get divorced. When divorcing couples feel humiliated and terrorized by each other’s lawyers they invariably hold each other responsible for the things each other’s lawyers have said and done. That anger so poisons the relationship between the parties, that it precludes cordial communication and mutual trust.

Good divorce is more likely for those couples that keep their contact with divorce lawyers and the court system to a minimum. Couples who insist on maintaining control rather that surrendering control to an adversary system are those who have the best prognosis for successful divorce. They are the ones who manage their strong feelings and don’t allow their own acting out to sabotage their futures. They approach the tasks of the divorce with a firm resolve to treat each other respectfully and to solve problems as efficiently as possible. Some couples can do this themselves. Others will need the help of a mediator. But most couples, when informed about the alternatives, can negotiate fair and lasting settlements.

Call me anytime you have any questions about North Carolina divorce law, custody issues, or separation and settlement agreements.  You are under no obligation and it would be my pleasure to answer your questions.


Sam Margulies
(336) 669-3141

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How you manage the beginning shapes the entire divorce

Most divorces are not decided mutually but are initiated by one of the partners who has reached the conclusion that the marriage cannot continue. This “initiator” has thought about the divorce for a long time, has had the opportunity to mourn the failure of the marriage and to begin to visualize a new life separate from the spouse. This partner is ready for the divorce and regards the losses associated with the divorce as outweighed by the advantages. The other partner, the “non-initiator,” may or may not be ready for the divorce. He/she may be resigned to the divorce and may agree that the marriage needs to end, or, may be absolutely thunderstruck be the revelation from the spouse and caught totally by surprise. The non-initiator is in a very different psychological space and needs time to come to grips with the new reality.

Whether you are the initiator or the non-initiator, how you manage the beginning of the divorce can shape the entire process. If you define the divorce as the result of your spouse’s terrible conduct or character you will have a mess. If you tell your spouse that the divorce is all his/her fault you will have a mess. And if you press your spouse to reach a lot of decisions that he/she is not ready to make you will also have a mess. If you use the divorce to try to vindicate all your emotional agendas of the marriage, you will have a mess. On the other hand, if you approach the divorce as the sad but unavoidable decision occasioned by the erosion of the marriage, erosion to which you have both contributed, you have a chance at a good divorce. If you assure your spouse that you will wait until he/she is ready and then negotiate in good faith, you have a chance of a good divorce. And if you minimize your contact with an adversarial court system, you have a chance of a good divorce. Mediation can help you do this.

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