The effect of divorce on children and the benefits of the Collaborative Divorce approach were recently featured in the community news publication Stu News Laguna. Collaborative Divorce Solutions of Orange County member Patrice Courteau was interviewed and provided her insight and expertise on lessening the negative effects of divorce on children, particularly teenagers who are not always considered as vulnerable as younger children.
Lessen the stress of divorce (Costa Mesa, California) – Divorce is difficult and stressful even under the best of circumstances. It can be especially hard if you have children. Divorce affects people from all walks of life, and no two situations are alike.
It is possible despite challenges to preserve the emotional and financial resources of the family while respecting everyone’s needs during a divorce. Learn about your alternatives at “Divorce Options.” The first “Divorce Options” workshop in Orange County takes place on Wednesday, July 20, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Orange Coast College, 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa, California. To register for Divorce Options at Orange Coast College:
Call (714) 432-5880 Extension 1 (Monday – Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.)
– OR –
Visit the Orange Coast College website here, click on Search, then enter “Divorce Options.”
For additional information, call Divorce Options at (949) 266-0660 or email at collaborativedivorceOC@gmail.com
Divorce Options provides unbiased information about self-representation, mediation, collaborative divorce, and litigated divorce. The workshop deals with the legal, financial, family and personal issues of divorce in an informational and compassionate small group setting.
Led by a family law attorney, financial specialist, and mental health professional who are members of Collaborative Divorce Solutions of Orange County, the workshop will cover the full range of choices couples have as they contemplate divorce, focusing on the non-adversarial, out-of-court options.
“People have so many questions about divorce and it’s difficult to get answers about the options for your personal situation,” said Tracy McKenney, CFP, CDFA and Collaborative Divorce Solutions of Orange County president. “The Divorce Options program presents an opportunity for the public to learn about their choices and the resources available for a divorce process respecting the needs and interests of all family members. Becoming more knowledgeable can go a long way to ease the anxiety about your divorce, and allows you to take control of your future,” said McKenney.
McKenney said the Divorce Options program is useful to anyone thinking about divorce or other relationship transitions including LGBT couples or domestic partners with children looking for a process aware and respectful of their unique needs.
- The risks and benefits of three models: litigation, mediation and Collaborative Divorce
- The legal, financial, psychological and social issues of divorce
- How to talk about divorce with your children – no matter their age
- Guidance from legal, financial, and mental health experts
Gaining an understanding of the different process options available will help couples make good decisions during this difficult and challenging time. Divorce Options is a workshop designed to help couples take their next step, no matter where they are in the process. It identifies strategies to help couples stay out of court when feasible, and helps you identify the personal issues most pressing for you. There is no solicitation of business.
If you are interested in scheduling a Divorce Options workshop for your group or organization, contact us at 949-266-0660 to learn more. About Collaborative Divorce Solutions of Orange County
Collaborative Divorce Solutions of Orange County (CDSOC) was founded in 2003 to advise couples in Orange County and in Southern California about out of court options to traditional divorce litigation. Our group consists of experienced family law attorneys, licensed mental health professionals, and credentialed financial professionals, all of whom are specially trained in Collaborative practice, mediation, and conflict resolution. Working under the Collaborative Practice model, the result is a divorce guided with respect and compassion in a non-adversarial way so families can make the best possible decisions about their future.
CDSOC is online at https://cdsoc.com/, and Facebook.
by Diana L. Martinez Collaborative Lawyer and Mediator, Law and Mediation Office of Diana L. Martinez
California is one of nine “community property” states as it relates to divorce. This means that assets and debts acquired and incurred during your marriage will be divided equally upon divorce. Exceptions exist for specific items received during marriage that are deemed “separate property” under the law. This includes gifts and inheritance.
This is one of the most misunderstood concepts in divorce law. Spouses often believe their divorce will be easy if they just split all of their property in half, or “50/50.” While strong emotions present a barrier to resolving issues during a divorce, not far behind is the misunderstandings by couples about the concept of what is “fair” when it comes to dividing up assets and liabilities.
From extensive experience as a mediator, consultant, and Collaborative Divorce lawyer, I am a strong advocate for giving spouses a greater voice in the outcome of their divorce. I am also a strong proponent of ensuring divorcing spouses have as much information as possible to make the best decisions moving forward.
Although the courts are required to enforce the laws, spouses in a divorce, with few exceptions (typically related to minor children) are not limited by the law; they can create their own, unique, agreements, based on their goals and values. Laws controlling the division of assets and debts, the amount you receive or pay in support, and the amount of time granted with your children exist to guide you IF you and your spouse are not able to resolve these items together. If you can’t resolve your differences, a judge will make the decisions for you. He or she is required to enforce the law, regardless of your personal goals and values.
You and your spouse may have some understanding of the law. But in negotiating your agreement, you may be better served by accepting less than the law allows in return for a greater benefit elsewhere. The benefit could be a better co-parenting relationship, or the opportunity to reduce or eliminate spousal support. It may even be the creation of balance where the laws aren’t able to provide it.
Annette and John Peterson provide a case study worth discussing as an example. The Petersons were able to resolve all disputes in their divorce except one: Annette’s pension benefits of approximately $100,000. This roadblock stalled the Petersons’ divorce for six years, from February 2010 until the California Supreme Court rendered its decision in January 2016.
In retrospect, after nearly six years of legal fees, lost time from work, and stress, Annette and John might have preferred finding a compromise outside of the contested court process. State laws governing pensions and federal laws governing Social Security created the sense of imbalance that Mr. and Mrs. Peterson fought so hard to correct, as each, individually, deemed most “fair”.
In California, pension benefits are community property when earned during marriage. Pension benefits are a form of deferred compensation for services rendered. Non-financial contributions to pension benefits, or “service credits,” are also considered “a form of deferred compensation for services rendered” and, therefore, community property.
But Social Security benefits are separate property under federal law. Federal law preempts state law. Social Security is not transferable, nor can it be assigned by the wage earner. There are, however, derivative rights upon divorce if:
- you and your spouse are entitled to receive Social Security;
- your marriage lasted 10 years or longer;
- the ex-spouse did not remarry;
- the ex-spouse is age 62 or older; and
- the benefit the ex-spouse is entitled to received based on his/her own work is less than the benefit he or she would receive based on his/her former spouse’s work.
If each requirement is met, an ex-spouse could elect to receive either all of his/her own Social Security, or one-half of his/her former spouse’s Social Security, but not both.
As an employee of the County of Los Angeles, Annette did not contribute to Social Security. Instead, the County contributed to a defined pension plan for Annette through the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association (LACERA). As an attorney in private practice, John contributed to Social Security through mandatory payroll deductions.
Annette’s LACERA benefits totaled between $200,000 and $216,000. Based on Social Security calculations, John’s Social Security benefits totaled $228,000. Annette attempted to argue that the laws governing LACERA pensions and the laws governing Social Security created unequal benefits. Annette and John would split her LACERA benefits in their divorce (approximately $100,000 to each). But John would keep all of his Social Security benefits.
The trial court ruled in John’s favor, creating an actual 150% windfall for John ($328,000 from 50% of Annette’s LACERA and 100% of his Social Security). Annette asked the California Supreme Court to correct this unfair situation, suggesting the court give John less than half of her LACERA pension benefits.
The Supreme Court let the trial court’s ruling stand, citing the requirement under California law that community assets be divided equally in a divorce. Since Social Security is not a “community asset,” the court correctly divided the community assets and could not deviate from that equal division, even when it creates an unequal division overall.
But the Supreme Court pointed out that it was completely within Annette and John’s power to create their own, more equal solution, even though the court under the law could not.
So let’s go back to Annette and John’s original circumstances. What was the value to John if he had agreed to give Annette all of her LACERA benefits, instead of insist on following the state law giving him a far greater share? What would have been the value to Annette to propose an alternate payout to John to resolve this issue?
As of 2010 in California, the average cost of a divorce where the parties were represented by lawyers was approximately $50,000 each. This amount is on the low end for a contested divorce in Orange County, and it does not include the legal fees for an appeal. Over the period of six years, based on 2010 estimates, Annette and John would have spent more than $100,000 each. Resolving your divorce early and collaboratively can save on legal fees, lost work time, and other intangible and emotional costs.
Managing emotional trauma and stress for yourself and your family offers priceless benefits, far beyond feeling a sense of entitlement or unfairness. Attorneys frequently fail to focus on these practical impacts because they are hired as legal advisors and guides, not as therapists. Attorneys are not equipped to help people through their fears; they are not trained mental health professionals.
Alternative (also known as “consensual”) dispute resolution models often incorporate legal and non-legal professionals to help educate and guide couples through unexpected emotional landmines, often resulting in less, or better managed, conflict, and better informed and well reasoned results.
For example, the Collaborative Divorce model incorporates guidance from a “divorce coach” to help manage the emotions of divorcing spouses, often saving the spouses tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, as well as years of stress embroiled in a contested divorce, and the subsequent modifications to orders after trial. The outcomes tend to be far more satisfying to both spouses, and result in fewer or no additional hearings after judgment to modify those orders.
Making decisions based on accurate legal and financial information, as well as balancing the practical impact on your family and finances often results in far greater and lasting benefit for you and your family. Sometimes, there is too high a price for the short-term gain of getting everything you can under the law.
Clients often wonder how working with a team of professionals will benefit them when moving forward with the Collaborative Process for their divorce. Even experienced practitioners sometimes fail to understand how all professionals on an interdisciplinary team can assist and support clients, even high-conflict clients, to become “Agreement Ready.”
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Dr. Carol Hughes, family law lawyer Diana L. Martinez, and financial specialist Cathleen Collinsworth offer recent findings from neuroscience showing how working in teams can assist clients resolve even their most difficult conflicts at the upcoming Collaborative Practice California (CP Cal) “Celebration XI” Conference in Redwood City, California April 29 – May 1.
Dr. Hughes says the training is designed for all practitioners who want to continue evolving their ability to assist clients with the powerful tools provided through the Collaborative Process. Participants will learn techniques for assisting clients:
- Identify and develop the clients’ ‘Key Elements of Agreement’ that avoid being too specific or too vague and therefore of no value.
- Identify and develop the clients’ ‘Questions To Be Answered’ relative to their ‘Key Elements of Agreement.’
- Develop ‘Options for Resolution’ that are both individually and family-centric interest based.
- Evaluate their ‘Options for Resolution’ and co-create their Agreements.
- Develop the necessary skills to support their interdisciplinary professional team members in the Agreement Readiness process.
From the inception of a case, interdisciplinary teams of lawyers, neutral financial specialists, divorce coaches and neutral child specialists can employ tools and techniques to shift clients toward Agreement Readiness. By doing so, a team can save client costs and facilitate better outcomes through more durable divorce agreements for the entire family involved.
“Our goal in the end is to educate our prospective clients that the goal of the Collaborative Process is reaching a final agreement each party can ‘live with,’ one that provides clarity and substantive closure for each of them,” said Dr. Hughes. “The agreement must also reflect their values and goals, no one else’s including the professional team’s goals.”
Dr. Hughes said it is important for each Collaborative team member to develop the necessary skills to support their clients. But what is often forgotten is the importance of learning how to develop similar skills to provide support among the professional team members as they work together to move the Collaborative Divorce case through the Agreement Readiness process.
“Just as it is critically important for the team members to work together to support their clients, we need to work together to support each other and allow the unique value that each professional from the three disciplines brings to their Collaborative Divorce team to flourish,” said Dr. Hughes. “This helps us educate clients about the pivotal role of each member in facilitating cost effective outcomes and durable agreements.”
by Leslee J. Newman, CFL-S, Family Law Attorney
Members of Collaborative Divorce Solutions of Orange County had a wonderful opportunity to train with Vicki Carpel Miller and Ellie Izzo, Collaborative mental health professionals from Scottsdale, Arizona. Miller and Izzo discussed how people going through divorce are often in a “fog” of confusion and paralysis. Our job as competent and compassionate Collaborative professionals is to help each of the spouses to “recover” through what we hope will be a transformative process through Collaborative Practice.
How does this happen? By the use of a cohesive and skilled team of Collaborative professionals—attorneys, mental health, and financial professionals– who can alert you, educate you, and bring you out of the chaos and into the sunlight. This can be done by identifying the different phases of transition and encourage the following stages of recovery:
Recovery Mode: Burned out, over stimulated. Trying to be productive is hard. Transition by focusing on the basics like adequate sleep, water, exercise, the comfort of friends, etc.
You have a little bit more energy but still hard to focus. Start by creating new experiences in your life by meeting new people, learning something new, and reaching out to others you haven’t seen in a while. Novelty will help to stimulate you
Work Mode: Start to fix, clean, organize and maintain. The energy is starting to recover as you catch up with work and tasks that you’ve let slide.
Self Mode: Start to think about yourself, your values, beliefs, and interests. Start to make decisions that are best for the long term even if those decisions are hard to make.
Flow Mode: By now you should have identified at least one interest that you are ready to pour your soul, time, and energy into developing something bigger than yourself.
People Mode: Repair important relationships and have necessary and difficult conversations with friends, relatives, and colleagues.
Gold Mode: You’ve developed a positive outflow of energy as you have solidified goals, relationships, your work, and your values. You are feeling much more resilient and your energy to concentrate has been restored. You are now open to switching modes when faced with future random events.
Have you faced a previous crisis in your life, or family transition like divorce, which led you from a “fog” to strength. If so, please share.