Recently in Collaborative Law Category

April 16, 2014

The "Good Enough" Agreement

The Good Enough Agreement By Andrea VaccaWhen a couple divorces, it is usually the case that neither party gets everything he or she wants. Understanding and accepting this fact before you start the divorce process can help make the process less costly - both financially and emotionally.

One of the many things I have learned from my family law clients over the past 20+ years is that when they strive for an outcome (whether via agreement or court order) that provides them with everything they want, they are inevitably disappointed. Perfection is not achievable in life and it's certainly not achievable in divorce. Instead, I encourage my clients to think about what a "good enough" outcome would look like.

For example, if we're talking about spousal support - How much money per month do you really need or can you afford to pay? What are the most realistic options that are available to you now that there will be two households instead of one? Many times sketching the financial picture makes people cringe - especially if they're being told things that they don't want to hear, such as "You have too much debt," or "You're going to have to return to work." But sometimes there is no way around these facts. It's better to accept reality and work within those parameters, rather than to strive for an outcome that may look perfect to you but will leave your soon-to-be ex (and perhaps the children) suffering terribly.

The dangers of striving for perfection are also seen when negotiations have led to an outcome that both parties feel comfortable with, only to have one party move the goal post and suddenly insist they need to get more of something or give less of something else. Perhaps it's human nature to think: "This would be even better, if only..." but this mindset poisons negotiations and agreements - and can destroy whatever good faith a couple has built up during their settlement discussions.

To keep the good faith alive, I encourage my clients not to strive for perfection in their agreement, but simply to strive for enough. Author Bob Perks wrote about the idea of "enough" after talking to a man at an airport whom he had just witnessed wishing his parting daughter "enough." The man explained:

"When we said 'I wish you enough,' we were wanting the other person to have a life filled with just enough good things to sustain them."

This is the advice I give my clients - I encourage them to think about what is enough to sustain them in a place where they are safe and happy and can move forward with their post-divorce lives. To get to this place, they need to focus on the things they need instead of the things they want or have been told they deserve. And I encourage them to choose an out-of-court divorce process, such as collaborative law or mediation, that will allow them to be as creative as they need to be. This will help them be sure that their agreement will give each of them enough under the circumstances and will be fair and durable enough to stand the test of time.

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Andrea Vacca
570 Lexington Avenue
Suite 1600
New York, NY 10022
avacca@vaccalaw.com

March 14, 2014

Questions to Ask Before Hiring Your Collaborative Divorce Attorney

Questions to Ask Before Hiring Your Collaborative Divorce Attorney By Andrea VaccaIn my last post, I explored the idea of "doing no harm" as a collaborative divorce attorney. Some of the comments I received focused on what it means to be a collaborative professional, while others lamented the prevalence of lawyers who call themselves "collaborative" when their actions are anything but.

If you are a client who wants to use the collaborative process and stay out of court, you want to know that your attorney is actually committed to that process and understands the different mindset that it requires on his or her part. To get the information that you need, these are the questions I would suggest you ask a collaborative attorney and the types of answers that you want to hear:

How concerned are you about whether my spouse gets what he or she wants out of this divorce?

This question gets to the heart of whether an attorney understands the difference between collaboration and cooperation. Collaboration is about making sure that the other person's goals are met, even if they aren't the same goals as yours. This is a lot harder than simply cooperating, which is about working together for mutual benefit toward common goals.

I've been doing this work for more than 20 years and I don't know many couples who share an abundance of common goals at the end of their marriage. Sure, couples will often be equally committed to keeping their kids out of their conflict and maintaining an amicable relationship with each other, but they rarely have common financial goals for their lives after their divorce. One may want to own a home, while the other is comfortable renting. One may feel confident in her career, while the other sees layoffs all around him. One may want to have access to cash, while the other feels comfortable investing in real estate.

Agreeing to work collaboratively at the beginning of the process requires each party to respect the other's concerns and goals, and understand that an agreement cannot be signed until each of their goals are met.

Do you believe that people who are truly in conflict can engage in negotiations without drawing lines in the sand and using threats and coercion to get what they want?

An attorney trained in collaborative law will answer "Yes" and will go on to explain the difference between a position and an interest.

Maintaining a position is insisting on a specific outcome. That's the "line in the sand."
Negotiating with interests in mind is being open to different outcomes that can meet that underlying interest.

Collaborative lawyers encourage their clients to articulate their interests rather than take positions. This opens up options and often clears a path to an outcome that can meet both parties' individual goals.

How comfortable are you using other professionals as part of our divorce team?

The answer that you want to hear is that these attorneys have had positive experiences working with different divorce professionals including:

  • Financial professionals who help to clarify each party's financial concerns and help structure an agreement that meets each party's financial goals;
  • Divorce coaches who help with communication and emotional issues that can hijack the negotiation process; and
  • Child Specialists who bring the voice of the child into the negotiations.
Attorneys with a collaborative mindset will be able to give you examples of how their other clients have reaped the benefits of having these specialized professionals on their team, and how their divorces generally ran more smoothly as a result.

Are you a member of any collaborative practice groups? What types of trainings have you had?

If you live in the New York metropolitan area and you are looking for a collaborative attorney, ask if he or she is a member of the New York Association of Collaborative Professionals. If you live elsewhere, it shouldn't take too much time to research the affiliation of collaborative professionals in your area. Membership in these types of groups can help you determine if someone is committed to working in the collaborative law process and receiving ongoing training.

Knowing that your attorney is committed to the collaborative mindset is essential to the success of the process. The above questions will enable you to weed out the committed collaborative attorneys from the less so and help you to trust that the process will move forward in the manner you envision.


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Andrea Vacca
570 Lexington Avenue
Suite 1600
New York, NY 10022
avacca@vaccalaw.com

February 12, 2014

To Do No Harm

To Do No Harm By Andrea VaccaThe Hippocratic Oath, which reads in part: I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel, is often summarized by the phrase "Do no harm." This simple yet powerful credo is an excellent approach for solving problems in many situations, including divorce.

Contrary to the approach of traditional divorce litigation, which often serves as a poison pill, the approach of collaborative lawyers is to do no harm. When our divorcing clients come to us, they are scared, angry, and confused. Our job is not to instigate and play on those fears and anxieties. Our job is to help calm them down by helping them to find their voice and get their needs met in a way that will help them move forward with their lives. It is for this reason that I choose to collaborate, rather than litigate divorce and family law cases.

Not every attorney sees things this way. An example is a conversation I recently had with a woman just starting the divorce process. She told me that although she wanted her divorce to be as amicable as possible, the last attorney she had called immediately told her he would file motions with the court to "scare" her husband. He bragged of his experience using the courts to intimidate people, and he promised her that he would win her as much money as he could. He basically said, "We'll go after your husband with no holds barred."

On the other hand, sometimes it is the client who insists on going to court. For example, if betrayal is the reason for the breakup there may be a high level of emotion, which might compel a party to want his or her "day in court" to air the grievances. This knee-jerk reaction to betrayal and anger may be understandable on the surface, but people who expect to have emotional needs met in a courtroom are always disappointed.

I encourage my clients to try another way.

The collaborative law process is a less harmful alternative to litigated divorce. It starts with a contract signed by both the attorneys and the clients affirming that:


  • The attorneys and clients will not act in an adversarial way toward each other.

  • There will be no use of threats of any kind.

  • If there are children, their best interests will be the priority.

  • The clients are encouraged to work with other related professionals, such as mental health and financial professionals.

  • If an agreement cannot be reached in the collaborative process, the clients will retain other attorneys to litigate the case for them.


By following these basic tenets, we as collaborative attorneys are promising to do no harm and honoring the trust that our clients are placing in us.

But it is up to the clients to explore all of their options and choose the right lawyer for their needs. Clients need to understand that if they immediately choose to litigate and start their divorce within the court system, they will likely miss the opportunity to come to a peaceful, thoughtful and voluntary settlement. Working with a collaborative team helps spouses reach an agreement that meets as many of their their long- and short-term needs as possible - as opposed to the scorched earth and poisonous, winner-takes-all model of litigation.

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Andrea Vacca
570 Lexington Avenue
Suite 1600
New York, NY 10022
avacca@vaccalaw.com

January 6, 2014

Tips to Help Reduce Time and Costs When Negotiating Divorce Agreements

Tips to Help Reduce Time and Costs When Negotiating Divorce Agreements By Andrea VaccaIt is possible to make the divorce process more time- and cost-effective?

When potential clients consult with me in connection with their divorce, one of the first questions they ask is, "How much do you expect this to cost?" and one of the second questions is, "How long do you expect this to take?" Time and money are, understandably, major concerns of anyone entering the divorce process, so I know that these clients want to hear answers that reflect a best case scenario. I can never predict the exact end date or the costs involved, but I can tell these clients that the more of these tips they follow, the more likely their divorce process will run smoother and be more cost-efficient:

1. Make sure your spouse knows that you want to end the marriage. It's understood that asking a spouse for a divorce can be difficult, emotional and frightening, but try to find a way to broach the subject before you retain an attorney. Perhaps you can engage a therapist, marriage counselor or trusted friend to help you have this conversation. One of the least productive ways to start the conversation is to have an attorney send a letter to your spouse announcing your intention to divorce him or her. Remember, your spouse will have to first get over the emotional shock before any productive discussions can take place.

2. Resolve some of the less emotional topics on your own.
Before you meet with your lawyer, find a way to have a discussion with your spouse to determine what issues may be easier to resolve. Perhaps you can agree about how to divide certain assets. Or maybe you've already agreed on a parenting schedule. Any issues that you can agree on ahead of time, even if just in theory, will help you create a framework for the lawyers to work with and speed up the negotiation process.

3. Aim to be amicable. Finding solutions to unresolved issues will go a lot faster if you both intend to work fairly together to reach a compromise. Hire amicable-minded attorneys who are either collaboratively-trained or very settlement-oriented. These attorneys will encourage you to focus on your interests as opposed to your positions and they will help you stay out of court because they are used to settling their cases without relying on the involvement of judges.

4. Utilize other specialized professionals. If agreeing on financial aspects is the largest hurdle, hire a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst to help sort out the details. If emotional or communication issues are causing roadblocks, consider a divorce coach. Relying on your attorney for emotional support or for technical financial assistance can be unproductive and can lengthen the time before settlement is reached. You also get more for your money - these specialized professionals will charge much lower hourly rates than your lawyer.

5. Meet regularly. To prevent the process from stopping, starting, or even regressing, be as prepared and organized as possible and be willing to meet regularly so the settlement process can move forward in a linear fashion.

6. Cooperate, collaborate, compromise. Holding firm to your position and drawing a line in the sand will take more time and therefore cost more money. Be honest, ready to negotiate, and willing to give in on some issues.

The legal, financial and emotional complexities of your divorce will undoubtedly influence how long the issues take to resolve, but by following these tips you can be assured that the process will move forward as cost-effectively as possible.


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Andrea Vacca
570 Lexington Avenue
Suite 1600
New York, NY 10022
avacca@vaccalaw.com

October 14, 2013

Changing Course (in your divorce)

Changing Course (in your divorce) by Andrea VaccaIf you're in the middle of a litigated divorce and are unhappy with the way things are going, you can change course.

You might have started the divorce process with the goal of ending the marriage quickly and feeling as financially secure as possible at the end. You might have hired the first attorney who came highly recommended from a friend or relative who has been through their own divorce. And all seemed fine in the beginning. Your attorney said she understood that you didn't want to make your divorce World War III. She understood that you wanted to remain friends for the sake of your children. But as soon as it became clear that you and your spouse saw things differently, and conflict arose, the battle was on. Your attorney told you the judge is likely to see it your way and may have even encouraged you to write down all the divisive and emotionally painful issues between you and your spouse that would help you score points in court. And of course, your spouse's attorney told him or her the same thing.

Now, 6 months or 1 year later, you see how combative and unproductive the legal proceedings actually are, you're feeling more anger toward your spouse than ever and you're wondering, "How did I get here? This isn't how I wanted my divorce to go."

It's not too late to change course. For parting spouses who find themselves in an unwanted battle, turning away from litigation and toward a less adversarial approach to their divorce is still possible.

Some recent experiences with couples who moved from traditional (and costly) litigation to mediation or collaborative law have provided me with insights that I would like to share with you, or anyone you might know who is going through a divorce:

  • If you don't like the way things are going, explore a different approach: If you feel that the original process you chose for your divorce was a mistake, make a change as soon as possible. The longer a divorce continues in court, the more positional each side becomes. Things are said in court that cannot be "unsaid." Emotional damage can be done in the process that could make it more difficult for you and your spouse to ever come to a resolution or to be cooperative when living your post-divorce lives.
  • Your divorce lawyer is unlikely to be supportive of you trying a different process: He may tell you that he does not believe your spouse is capable of being reasonable and you need the "protection" that a court can provide. What he may not tell you is that he doesn't want to lose you as a client. This may be especially true if you still have a robust sum in your checking account. All attorneys hate to lose a client, but this is especially true when the client can afford to pay legal fees. If your attorney attempts to dissuade you from trying mediation or collaborative divorce, certainly listen to what he is saying, but remember that you are the one going through the divorce - not your attorney. The choice of process needs to be up to you and your spouse.
  • It takes two reasonable people to move away from litigation and toward a non-adversarial process: You may need to be the brave one who initiates a conversation with your spouse to find out if he or she is also unhappy with the litigation process. If you haven't had a civil conversation with your spouse in months, this can feel pretty scary. In that case, you may need some outside advice about how to facilitate the conversation. There are excellent divorce coaches who can help you get clear about what isn't working for you in the current process, what your true goals are for this divorce and how to explain all of this to your spouse in a way that feels safe.
If you have questions about divorce mediation and collaborative law and how they can change the tone of your divorce into one characterized by cooperation, call me at 212-768-1115 or visit my website.


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Andrea Vacca
570 Lexington Avenue
Suite 1600
New York, NY 10022
avacca@vaccalaw.com

August 6, 2013

The Team Approach To Divorce

An article entitled The Team Approach to Divorce was published in the July 2013 issue of New York Family Law Monthly, an ALM publication. In the article, I explain how the professional-team approach works in the collaborative process and how attorneys who primarily litigate can use aspects of this approach to help settle their family law cases.

Read an excerpt below and the whole article by clicking here.


The Team Approach To Divorce

Using Financial and Mental-Health Professionals When Settling Family Cases

By Andrea Vacca

The Team Approach to Divorce

Most family law attorneys, whether they litigate or collaborate, have a go-to list of aligned professionals upon whom they rely to assist them and their clients in more complicated cases. We regularly consult with or directly refer our clients to accountants, appraisers, therapists and other professionals to help them achieve the best possible outcomes, given their particular circumstances.

There is a difference, however, in how litigating attorneys and collaborative attorneys use the advice and guidance of these other professionals. Litigating attorneys commonly use them in later stages of the case and bring these professionals in as experts in support of their clients' economic or child-related claims. Collaborative attorneys begin working with financial and mental-health professionals from the inception of the case, with the goal of working together as a team and helping the clients move toward resolution.


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Andrea Vacca
570 Lexington Avenue
Suite 1600
New York, NY 10022
avacca@vaccalaw.com

July 31, 2013

How to Have the Nastiest Divorce Possible

Note to readers: I've been wanting to write about how to avoid "nasty" divorces without all the gloom and doom that usually accompanies such a topic. And then it struck me: Use equal parts facts, sarcasm and humor!

Vacca - pB - image - Nasty Divorce - SKT - July 30 2013.jpgIf you and your spouse have decided to end your marriage and you want to look back on the divorce process with as much anger and resentment as possible, then this recipe for a nasty divorce is for you!

Step One (1) - Hire a bulldog lawyer who will:

  • tell you she'll get you everything that you want...
  • tell you that you have a winning case...
  • tell you she settles most of her cases - but will file an action for divorce before ever trying to reach an agreement outside of court...

This will ensure that you pay thousands of dollars in motion fees asking the judge to make temporary decisions such as how the bills will be paid and when the children will be sleeping in your home. It will also ensure that you and your spouse are adversaries for the next couple of years and will need lawyers to do most of the communicating between the two of you.

Step Two (2) - Don't explore mediation or collaborative divorce: Consider this nightmare scenario: You and your spouse being guided by professionals who are committed to helping you communicate effectively to resolve serious issues. Why would you want that? What will you have to add to the conversation when your friends complain about how badly their divorces are going?

Step Three (3) - Fight for your principles: Principles are the best way to make sure you spend exorbitant amounts of money on expert and lawyers fees. Principles are also a great way to prevent long-term compromise that will make sense a few years down the road.

Step Four (4) - Listen to the Greek Chorus: The Greek Chorus is always there to help set you back, whether it's by trash talking your spouse or making you second guess all your choices - and the advice of the professionals who are trying to help you get through this process. By far the wisest members of the Greek Chorus are other people going through divorce. Generally, the nastier their divorce, the more advice they offer. They are obviously doing something right.

Step Five (5) - Insist on having your day in court: By having your day in court you're going to tell your story to the judge. You want that judge to hear everything that your spouse did wrong, and rightfully so. You will have years to hone your argument and gather more evidence, in addition to the opportunity to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal and expert fess while you wait for that special day.

For those of you who want to ensure that you are fighting with your estranged spouse for years to come, I hope this post has been helpful.

For those of you who prefer to move on with your lives and feel that you and your spouse did the best you could to have a civil divorce, the good news is there are mediators and collaborative professionals out there who can help you achieve your goals, too!

Vacca - image - headshot - skt - apr 18 2013.jpgAndrea Vacca
570 Lexington Avenue
Suite 1600
New York, NY 10022
avacca@vaccalaw.com

June 3, 2013

Mindfulness as a Tool for a Less Adversarial Divorce

Midnfulness image.jpgDivorce can be an overwhelming experience. For most of us the days are full enough, yet divorcing couples are confronted with finding the time to fit in things they would not normally need to do, like meeting with attorneys and working on post-divorce budgets.

I recently discovered an author named Jon Kabat-Zinn whose book Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life can be useful to people going through a divorce - or any stressful event.

Mindfulness is being aware of where you are in the present moment and being present in the moment.

A direct route to the state of mindfulness is through the practice of meditation.

  • Meditation is the practice of quieting the mind.
  • It does not have to be religious in any way.
  • Meditation can be done in any physical position.
  • People can benefit from as little as 3 minutes of guided meditation.

Cool Minds Negotiate Better

Achieving mindfulness in a collaborative divorce or mediation setting can make the difference between an impasse and a constructive compromise. For instance, if you find your heart skipping a beat and your throat tightening while you are talking about a particular issue, these changes can be taken as indicators of anxiety which, for you, may mean you will say or do something out of anger - or perhaps it means you will withdraw to such an extent that nothing can be resolved. Both of these extreme reactions are understandable under stress, but neither of them are helpful when your goal is to come to a fair and equitable agreement.

Becoming More Focused

One of the benefits of quieting the mind is that options become clearer. The analogy of muddy water is often used - if left alone, the mud will eventually settle to the bottom and the water will become clear. In a divorce, you're being asked to make many decisions about many issues you never thought you would be thinking about. The choices and options can seem overwhelming.

  • Should you mediate or collaborate? Or is litigation the best option?
  • What parenting plan is best for your children? Should they reside with one parent primarily or with each parent equally?
  • Should you sell the home you've been living in or should one spouse buy the other out of his or her share?
  • What amount of spousal support is needed? How long will it be paid?

Mindfulness techniques will not help you solve every problem in your divorce. The point is that these techniques will make it easier to handle difficult and uncomfortable situations, help you see the choices more clearly, and facilitate faster recovery.

Not only will you feel less stressed as a result of easier negotiations, it will also save you time and money.

Other books by Jon Kabat-Zinn include:

  • Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of the Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness___________
  • Mindfulness Meditation for Everyday Life. Piatkus, 2001. ISBN 0-7499-1422-X.
  • Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness. Hyperion, 2006. ISBN 0-7868-8654-4.
  • The mindful way through depression: freeing yourself from chronic unhappiness, by J. Mark G. Williams, John D. Teasdale, Zindel V. Segal, Jon Kabat-Zinn. Guilford Press, 2007. ISBN 1593851286.
  • Arriving at Your Own Door. Piatkus Books, 2008. ISBN 0-7499-2861-1.
  • Letting Everything Become Your Teacher: 100 Lessons in Mindfulness. Dell Publishing Company, 2009. ISBN 0-385-34323-X.

Bibliography from Wikipedia

Vacca - image - headshot - skt - apr 18 2013.jpgAndrea Vacca
570 Lexington Avenue
Suite 1600
New York, NY 10022
avacca@vaccalaw.com

May 15, 2013

The Power of Positive Psychology in Divorce - 5 Concepts

Vacca - pB - concepts to positive divorce - SKT - May 10 2013.pngOne of the reasons I am passionate about collaborative law is because I am able to learn so much from it. Recently my desire to learn led me to discover a new way of looking at the world through the lens of Positive Psychology. Positive Psychology is the scientific study of well-being, happiness and what helps people to thrive as opposed to just survive. I decided to delve deeper into the subject and I emerged from my studies with a Certificate in Positive Psychology. For this post, I thought I'd share some of what I've learned along the way and how it is applicable to my clients who are divorcing.

1) The importance of feeling all emotions

Positive psychology is not about positive thinking, it's about realizing that experiencing difficult emotions is a necessary step to realizing the more positive emotions in life. In other words life can be difficult at times, especially when you are going through a divorce; but don't get down on yourself if you feel down. Give yourself permission to feel hurt, angry or fearful. Only then will you truly be able to feel the joy, gratitude and peacefulness that exist in other parts of your life and in your other relationships.

2) Strive for post-traumatic growth

Most people have heard about post-traumatic stress, but there is also such a thing as post-traumatic growth. Like Nietzsche said:

That which does not kill us makes us stronger.

He was absolutely right. One of the books that has had a great impact on me is called What Doesn't Kill Us: The New Psychology of Post-Traumatic Growth by Stephen Joseph. In it, he uses a great example involving a vase: When a marriage ends, people feel their life has been shattered, almost like a beautiful vase that fell to the floor and shattered into dozens of different pieces.

What do you do? Do you try to put that vase back together to make it look like it did before, knowing that it never will? Do you want that vase so badly that you don't care what it looks like? Or do you say, "I'm going to make a new piece of art from these beautiful pieces."

In other words, you will see that the beautiful pieces of your life that remain, such as your kids, your friends or your work, can be put together to create a fulfilling and happy life. The end of your marriage (although traumatic) does not have to ruin every other aspect of your life.

3) Look at your divorce as a peak experience

When I say "peak experience" I don't mean one of the most wonderful things that has ever happened to you, but an experience that takes you to a new place where you can see a new landscape. Any kind of trauma can be a peak experience.

For example, when a person has a near-death experience, life never looks the same - usually for the better. If you were to look back on your divorce, what strengths did you call upon that you didn't know you had or just hadn't used in years? More importantly, when you look forward, what places do you see yourself going from here?

4) Have a growth mindset

If you have a growth mindset during your divorce, you will regularly be asking yourself, "What will make me more empowered?"

Take it one step at a time. The first step is believing in yourself, and your ability to get through difficult situations and learn from them. You'll be able to better grow through those challenges, but you have to believe in yourself.

For instance, you might not have been a financially aware partner. Your spouse might have taken care of the finances, and it can be really overwhelming and scary to people to step into that role - but once you do it yields incredible freedom and you realize you're actually good at it. Or maybe you even like it.

5) Learn to be resilient

Are you viewing yourself as a survivor or a thriver? Do you want things to be better and be different? Achieving those goals often comes down to how you talk to yourself. If you say, "I want to be better on the other side of this; I want to learn and grow" then you're going to be better able to create that reality for yourself.

I hope this post has given you an idea of how the principles of positive psychology can help you or someone you know grow from their divorce. There are many resources available that can help you learn more about it. For more reading recommendations from me, email me at avacca@vaccalaw.com.

Vacca - image - headshot - skt - apr 18 2013.jpgAndrea Vacca
570 Lexington Avenue
Suite 1600
New York, NY 10022
avacca@vaccalaw.com

April 18, 2013

The Road Map to Collaborative Divorce

Vacca - pB - The Road Map to Collaborative Divorce - SKT - Apr 18 2013.jpgThe setting in which Family Law attorneys work is often not a courtroom, but a complicated landscape of their clients' needs and emotions. Because many of these emotions are difficult to experience, it is natural that a divorcing couple might want the process to conclude quickly. But moving forward too quickly without sufficient understanding of each party's true needs and goals risks the integrity of the final product. To ensure a settlement agreement has the durability to last and keep both sides satisfied in the long term, many collaborative professionals use a roadmap that helps to illustrate for their clients the stages of the collaborative law process. This roadmap helps to slow down the tendency to prematurely rush ahead toward solutions that may have little connection to actual interests and goals by helping the parties to see where they're going in the process and also how far they've come.

A TYPICAL COLLABORATIVE ROADMAP IS COMPOSED OF THE FOLLOWING STEPS:

  • Setting the Framework: This initial phase of the process involves explaining to both parties how the collaborative process works and describing each person's roles and responsibilities.The clients will discuss why they have chosen to work collaboratively and what their goals are for the process. We also "assemble the team," deciding which other professionals will be necessary to help see us through the various issues in the divorce. How can a child specialist or a divorce coach assist in this process? What issues may be more easily resolved by working with a neutral financial professional?

  • Gathering Information: Here we identify the potential conflicts that need to be resolved and gather the facts and information about those issues that will help settle them. Different members of the team in place may now be called on to assist. For example, if the divorcing couple has children, at this stage the coaches and child specialist will gather information about the emotional and personal relationships between the couple and their children. We'll want to know whether there are any special needs of the children or emotional issues that must be addressed. The financial professional will start gathering information about the parties' assets, debts and income and the attorneys and clients may have an open discussion about the law at this stage as well.

  • Developing a Shared Understanding: This is where we define the interests of the parties. We take a look behind the stated positions of each side to examine not what the parties claim to want, but why they need it. When one spouse insists he or she needs to "keep the house" we look to see what the reasoning behind the request is. Is the real issue that one of the parties needs to stay in this particular home because the carrying charges are low? Or is it because the grandparents live nearby and help out with the child care? The goal here is to get away from blanket positional statements and look at the underlying reasons for those positions.

  • Generating and Evaluating Options: By this stage, we are looking to find an actual solution that works for both parties by looking at the available options. Each party will consider and evaluate the options to see whether they satisfy each of their main interests. We can also test out possible solutions. For example, if we're dealing with an issue that is financially related, the financial professional will "run the numbers" and do a side-by-side comparison of the different options under consideration. We can pose the question, "what amount of cash will each party have left after taxes over the next 20 years if we divide the assets this way as opposed to that?" This approach allows each spouse to see what choices are preferable in the long term and make decisions based upon this information.

  • Reaching Agreement: When each party is satisfied that its concerns have been addressed and feels secure about the compromises made, it is time to actually draft and sign an agreement. As you can see, by the time we get to this last step, each party has had many opportunities to have his or her voice heard and interests addressed.

An agreement reached by following the collaborative roadmap means more than just the paper it is printed on - it is significant because it was the product of both parties making decisions with all necessary information before them, listening to each other and cooperating with one another. This not only makes the divorce process a lot less unpleasant than an adversarial action in court but can also provide the parties with a method to solve problems together in the future.

Vacca - image - headshot - skt - apr 18 2013.jpgAndrea Vacca
570 Lexington Avenue
Suite 1600
New York, NY 10022
avacca@vaccalaw.com

February 20, 2013

Preparing to Negotiate a Postnuptial Agreement

In previous blog posts we discussed the reasons why postnuptial agreements are becoming more popular and how to ensure that your postnuptial agreement is enforceable under New York law. If you've decided that a postnuptial agreement is something that you want to pursue, it is important to be adequately prepared for the negotiation process. These are some suggested steps that you should take before you begin:

• Write Down Your Own Goals And Concerns - It is easy to become overwhelmed by all of the questions you will have and to get distracted by all the issues that you may want to resolve. Likewise, it is easy to lose sight of the big picture and, due to the nature of the agreement, become overwhelmed by emotion. Taking time before negotiations begin to write down your long-term goals and concerns will help you maintain your focus on ensuring the best possible outcome for you and your spouse. It will also aid the negotiation process. By articulating a defined goal rather than becoming attached to a specific formula or percentage, both spouses are more likely to use creativity in finding a solution.

• Become Familiar With Your Assets And Liabilities - You cannot enter an agreement concerning your financial future without understanding your current financial circumstances. Familiarize yourself not just with your current property, debts, salary, and investments, but also what you and your spouse's potential earning capacity may be, any anticipated increase in asset values or liabilities, and any expected inheritance or trust payouts. You may find it helpful to consult with a financial advisor who has experience working with clients who are negotiating postnuptial agreements.

• Get Educated About The Law - Speak with an attorney who can educate you about the relevant laws related to spousal and child support, how assets are defined, valued and distributed, and what laws govern custody and parenting issues. Understanding your legal rights and obligations will give you a better idea of what a postnuptial can or cannot do for you and which issues may be easier to resolve than others.

• Get Educated About the Negotiating Processes Available - An attorney will also be able to help you decide what negotiating process will best serve you and your spouse. Do you and your spouse each feel comfortable advocating for your own needs and concerns? If so, mediation might be a good option. If one or both of you feels more comfortable having your attorney by your side during the negotiations, working in a collaborative manner might make the most sense. Or perhaps it would be too uncomfortable being in the same room as your spouse while you are negotiating such an agreement because emotions are running high. In that case, the best option for you may be to leave the communication to the lawyers. Speaking with an attorney who has negotiated postnuptial agreements via these different processes will help you determine what makes the most sense for you and your spouse.

• Hire Independent Legal Counsel - Even if you are proceeding by mediation, it is imperative that each spouse have his or her own attorney to consult with and review the agreement. An attorney can help clarify (and ensure compliance with) the laws of the state governing the postnuptial agreement, advise on the best way to divide the assets and liabilities at issue, and provide advice about how to negotiate for the outcome you desire. It becomes even more important to have your own lawyer if your spouse has one. This will help ensure equal bargaining power between the two of you. An even playing field is necessary not only to help both spouses feel confident during the negotiation process, but also in the event that the agreement winds up in court with one spouse claiming it was not entered into fairly.

These steps should assist you in coming to a fair and equitable agreement. Approached correctly, postnuptial agreements can be useful tools in preserving and strengthening a marriage and giving each party the peace of mind they need to feel secure about their futures.

November 21, 2012

Use of Technology to Reduce Conflicts in Co-Parenting

A recent article in The Huffington Post summarized a University of Missouri study that analyzed the way divorced parents use technology to facilitate (or hinder) their co-parenting arrangements. According to the study, parents with effective communication used technology to improve parent-parent communication as well as parent-child access, while parents with ineffective communication used technology to frustrate both their relationship with the other parent and the other parent's relationship with the children. Establishing positive communication practices between spouses not only maintains a level of civility between the parents; it also provides a more pleasant environment for the children. Whether a couple engaged in litigation, mediation, or collaborative methods in obtaining their divorce, limiting post-divorce conflict between parents is imperative to helping children adjust.

Below are some tips for using communication technology effectively as a tool to foster positive and successful co-parenting arrangements and limit conflict:

• E-mail: E-mail can be a useful way for divorced parents to communicate with each other. Risks inherent in telephone communication are largely absent in e-mail communication: telephone conversations can be impulsive and rash, and since they are generally not recorded, a parent may feel entitled to make any manner of accusation toward his or her ex. Parents can also use the telephone to avoid communication, by ignoring phone calls and voice messages. By contrast, e-mail affords a parent with the ability to express himself or herself, then edit the message to ensure that only a calm, rational tone is used. E-mail also provides a communication trail, which makes it more likely that a parent will limit his or her hostility.
• Text Messages: The idea behind using text messages to communicate is similar to that of e-mail. Text messaging is more immediate, but still allows each parent to edit their message for the appropriate tone, and creates a communication trail.
• Calendar Sharing: With Google calendars or iCloud, parents can share calendars with each other. This can ensure that each parent has access to the children's academic, extra-curricular, and social activities. Shared calendars can also provide a method by which parents can keep tabs on parenting and vacation schedules, including travel details and changes in the usual parenting plan. Creating a shared calendar thus minimizes the likelihood that a parent will miss an important event in the children's lives, while mitigating the interaction between parents regarding their own schedules and those of the children.
• Online Co-Parenting Software: In the event that parents prefer help with limiting conflict in multiple areas, including parenting schedules and child support payments, co-parenting software is an option. The software, which has gained popularity over the past year or so, provides calendars, expense logs, message boards, and child records (medical, academic, etc.). These features allow parents to keep track of schedules and expenses, and to communicate with one another directly. Examples of available software are Our Family Wizard and ShareKids.

As noted in a recent article in the New York Times, communication technology is becoming popular not only with divorced parents, but in the courtroom and amongst lawyers as well. According to the article, settlement agreements often include provisions for non-custodial parents to Skype with their children, and at least one judge has ordered a couple to use Our Family Wizard to avoid disagreements.

Each of the above-mentioned tools can build a successful co-parenting environment for parents and children. As the University of Missouri study concluded, parents who had good relationships effectively used these tools to maintain contact with their ex-spouses and to facilitate the children's transition between parents. As with all aspects of divorce, the children's best interests should be paramount and, to the extent that communication technologies can advance this goal, they should be widely considered.


October 3, 2012

How to Protect the Family in the Face of Divorce

I help couples end their marriages without destroying their families. That's not just a tagline on my website or part of my elevator speech; it's the actual reason that I no longer use adversarial methods to help my clients who are divorcing or separating. An article in the New York Times that focused on Al and Tipper Gore reminded me that all families - even celebrity families - benefit when the parents are able and willing to divorce with as little acrimony as possible.

By way of background, after more than 40 years of marriage, Al and Tipper Gore separated in 2010 when they grew apart and realized they wanted different things out of life. The article focused on where they and their 4 adult children are now in their lives post-divorce, and how the family support system has remained intact.

A friend of the Gores from Nashville, Christine Leverone Orrall, was quoted as saying that "Tipper and Al may live in different parts of the country, and may be very happy with their own lives these days, but the children always bring them together. I think they're showing how you can be happy and healthy apart while still focusing on their children and their life together as a family."

According to Tony Coehlo, chairman of Al Gore's 2000 campaign, "Al and Tipper were the happily married couple of American politics for 30 years. They packaged themselves that way for political consumption, and have unpackaged that image in the interest of their own happiness. They are still a family, but they have become the kind of family that they want to be."

Whether a couple is contemplating a late-life "gray divorce" and have adult children, like the Gores, or whether they've been married just a few years and have a toddler at home, the goal can be the same: it is possible to end the marriage while protecting the family.

Many couples stay together for the sake of the family while sacrificing their own individual happiness in the process. They may consider divorce, but after witnessing the struggles of friends and family members who divorce with a lot of animosity and anger, they want to protect themselves from that sort of pain. But divorce does not have to acrimonious. It is rarely - if ever - easy; and there is no question that it can be incredibly difficult financially, emotionally and spiritually. However, when both spouses are committed to respecting each other and keeping the animosity and anger in control, they can each move through the divorce and toward a new life that isn't weighed down by the difficult emotions that were played out in their divorce and/or exacerbated by attorneys who are trying to "win" their case.

One important lesson I have learned in my 20 years of practicing divorce law is that no one wins at the end of an adversarial litigated divorce. Neither spouse is happy, the children have frequently suffered, and an enormous amount of money has been spent fighting a war which simply cannot be won.

Regardless of their age, children want and need parents who are there for them emotionally as well as physically; but this may not be possible when their parents are suffering in an unhappy marriage. Couples who are committed to divorcing with respect and dignity are not only setting a good example for their children during the divorce process, but are better able to keep their family strong and healthy after it is over.

June 7, 2012

Navigating the Gray Divorce With Dignity

My article on Navigating the Gray Divorce With Dignity was recently published by the Huffington Post.

April 25, 2012

Navigating Your Gray Divorce - Part II

"To be one, to be united is a great thing. But to respect the right to be different is maybe even greater." - Bono

In my last blog, I discussed the phenomenon of "gray divorce" and touched on some of the unique issues that older couples face when divorcing. In this post, I will share some thoughts on how effectively the mediation and collaborative law processes can meet the unique needs of these parties.

In my mediation and law practice, I have observed that unlike younger couples who are divorcing, older couples are frequently more civil toward each other and their interactions are less characterized by anger. As a mediator and collaborative lawyer, my role is to help the parties avoid court intervention and resolve their issues in a way that will keep the focus on their needs and goals, rather than their "positions." This works particularly well in cases of gray divorce. To rework a phrase popularized in the '60s, while older couples might choose to separate because they are no longer making love, it is often not because they are making war.

Mediation and Collaborative law are two cost and time effective ways to end a marriage while adding an element of grace and dignity to what could morph from a civilized discussion into volatile, emotionally and financially draining situation if not handled properly

Older couples appreciate the fact that time is extremely precious and they don't want to squander it on a lengthy and protracted court battle, nor do they wish to deplete their savings with retirement on the horizon. In addition, many find great benefit when they have the opportunity to work with mediators or collaborative lawyers trained to be creative problem solvers who can find solutions that would not necessarily be available to them if they allowed a judge to decide their fate. A particularly important issue for these couples is access to medical insurance. Additionally, as a result of the current economic climate, I have noticed that more frequently, older couples are providing some sort of support for their adult children and/or grandchildren.

I recently worked with a couple in their early 60's who, after spending the better part of a year in court with traditional divorce attorneys, came to the realization that they weren't getting any closer to a resolution. They eventually talked to each other without their lawyers and realized that they agreed on more issues than they disagreed; they then asked me as a mediator to help them to bridge their small gaps rather than continue with the long, protracted and expensive legal battle that they saw eroding the respect and care that they still had for each other after their long marriage. We reached an agreement after just two mediation sessions and in the end this couple decided that it did not actually serve their interests to divorce at this time. For them, the most viable and practical solution was to divide their assets but to stay married for another five years so that the Wife could keep the self-employed Husband on her insurance plan and then retire at a time that would maximize the amount of her pension. This solution would have been impossible in a court of law, as a judge would not be empowered to order a distribution of their assets without also ending their marriage (which would thereby end the husband's right to remain covered as a spouse under his wife's medical insurance policy).

The team approach of a collaborative divorce has also been extremely effective for my gray divorce clients where we can use a neutral divorce coach to help the couple bridge communication gaps in a non-adversarial way and we can use a neutral financial professional to help them figure out how they can utilize their assets and live on their fixed incomes in way that will allow them to both feel financially secure post-divorce.

Many later-in-life divorcing couples express to me how important it is to them to end their marriage in a way that preserves the "good times" of their long-term relationship and accomplishes the dissolution in a way that is cost effective. They might still love each other but simply want to live apart simply because they have grown apart. However, they recognize that they still have a family unit that needs to be maintained and still want to be able to share family moments as their children get married and have children of their own.

In a recent Daily Beast post about divorced couples who celebrate this next stage of their lives by jointly throwing "divorce parties," Andrew Cherlin, a professor at Johns Hopkins and author of The Marriage-Go-Round" explained that because divorce rates have been high for several decades, couples may be learning how to do divorce a little better and in a way that minimizes the pain. His theory is that happy divorces are on the rise because unlike in the past when "divorce was so stigmatized that only the most miserable left their marriages, now the 'moderately unhappy' are getting out too, which might make for some less acrimonious splits."

Divorce parties may not be every couple's goal, but neither is the desire to hate and despise each other once the divorce is over. The collaborative law and mediation processes can help these less adversarial couples preserve what was good and move into their post-divorce lives with respect for each other and dignity for themselves.