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March 27, 2014

Play it Where it Lands

Play it Where it Lands By Andrea VaccaI was reading an article at psychologytoday.com that highlighted a story that made me think about how important a person's response to difficult life changes, such as the end of a marriage, will drive the experience.

Reading the article I learned that while India was under British rule, a posh golf course was constructed in Kolkata (Calcutta). The course was home to monkeys, who developed a habit of picking up balls in play and throwing them. After years of trying to solve the problem by expelling the monkeys, the golf course resigned itself to the reality of the situation.

So it changed the course rules: Where the monkey throws or drops the ball is the place from which it must be played. That is a great metaphor for divorce.

Whether it was your choice to end the marriage or not, divorce is an extremely difficult event to deal with. But what would it be like to play the ball where it's been thrown; even if it's in the sand trap? The more likely you are to respond with calmness and acceptance, the more likely you are to open yourself up to other options and possibilities; and the more likely you are to move forward in a way that will allow you to find happiness in the future.

I saw a good example of this type of acceptance in a client recently. She believed that she and her husband had reached an agreement in mediation, but her husband began to have second thoughts about the terms and proposed some major changes to the proposed agreement. My client was angry and repeatedly tried to convince her husband that rather than go back on his word he should agree to the terms they had originally discussed. Meetings were held, discussions were had, emails were exchanged, but her husband was insistent that those original terms no longer worked for him. My client eventually realized that she had to accept where her husband was NOW and not try to convince him otherwise. Once she accepted this fact, we were able to create a new agreement that met both of their needs in a very creative way and allowed them to each feel secure about their futures. When my client decided to stop resisting the inevitable and to play the ball from the difficult spot where it landed, she found peace and happiness in her decision.

My client was eventually able to respond to what seemed to be an insurmountable problem with acceptance and openness and that made all the difference. Whether you are dealing with a divorce that seems to be messing up your life, or dealing with monkeys that are messing up your golf game, see if you can find a place within you that will allow you to accept rather than resist what is happening. You may be surprised at the options that open up for you.


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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

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

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

March 16, 2012

Navigating The Gray Divorce - Part I

Is 60 the new 40?

If we follow the guideposts reflected in pop culture, the answer is a resounding "yes." The new face of MAC Cosmetics is a 90-year-old woman. Christopher Plummer won this year's best supporting actor Academy Award for his role in Beginners, in which he portrayed a a 70-year-old man who reveals that he is gay following the death of his wife. Online dating services such as Gray Date and Our Time are emerging for singles 50 and up. This could be because the phenomenon of couples divorcing after the age of 50 has grown exponentially in the past two decades.

In my own mediation and law practice, I am seeing a definite trend towards what is known as "Gray" Divorce. While the overall divorce rate has gotten lower, according to Gray Divorce and Remarriage, "Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964 already have a divorce rate triple that of their parents."

Late-life divorces can occur for many of the same reasons that they occur in younger couples including economic issues, lack of intimacy and substance abuse. Interestingly, however, a recent Wall Street Journal article entitled The Gray Divorces explains that infidelity is not a major factor in late-life divorce and that seems to be the case among my clients as well.

A key factor in the rise in these divorces is the increased financial independence of women. A recent study by American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) reported that 66 percent of the divorces studied were initiated by the wife. One reason for this is that women over 50 are more likely to have their own careers and be more financially independent from their husbands than were women of previous generations. I hear many clients explain that they were unhappy for many years, but they stayed together until they knew their children were well settled in their own lives. These clients have often lost an emotional connection to their spouse but are not necessarily angry; they are simply seeking a more fulfilling quality of life as they look at the next 20 or 30 years ahead.

Untangling the tapestry of any marriage brings about legal, financial and emotional challenges, but the issues faced in late-life divorces can be even more challenging. In the coming weeks, I will discuss the unique issues that older couples face when divorcing and how well mediation and the collaborative divorce process meet the needs of these parties.

Additionally, on March 29 from 5:30-7:30 p.m., I will be conducting a workshop Navigating Your Divorce With Dignity in conjunction with Certified Financial Planner and Divorce Financial Analyst Ivy Menchel and and Certified Divorce Coach Karen McMahon. There is no charge, but seating is limited. Please contact me for details.

March 27, 2011

Why The Team Approach To A New York Collaborative Divorce Makes Sense

When collaborative divorce was first developed, it was a process that involved two attorneys and their clients. The attorneys not only counseled and advised their clients about the law, but also about the financial and child-related issues that needed to be resolved. And they did their best to help with the emotional and communication issues that inevitably arose during the divorce process.

Collaborative attorneys eventually realized that while they were the best source of legal information and advice for their clients, this wasn't necessarily the case when it came to financial issues, child development issues and communication issues. Instead, collaborative attorneys realized it made more sense to refer their clients to other professionals who had specialized training in these areas. And that's when the team approach to collaborative divorce began.

Today the New York Association of Collaborative Professionals and other practice groups train financial professionals, divorce coaches and child specialists alongside lawyers in collaborative practice. As a result, the team approach to collaborative divorce has become more commonplace.

How do these other professionals help the clients in a collaborative divorce?

The financial professionals help the attorneys and clients divide the marital property in a way that makes the most sense to meet the short and long-term needs of the parties and their children. They provide tax information and they can help the parties explore different property distribution and support options.

The mental health professionals can play one of three roles. They either act as a divorce coach for an individual client, they act as the neutral divorce coach for the entire team, or they act as a child specialist. Divorce coaches help the clients deal with feelings such as hurt, anger, sadness and fear that will often come up during the divorce process and that can interfere with a client's ability to make smart choices in the negotiation process. Divorce coaches can also help the clients learn how to communicate better with their spouse, their children and even their lawyers during the process. Child specialists bring the voice of the children to the collaborative process and they educate the parents about child development issues that may need to be considered and addressed. The child specialists will then help the parties arrive at a parenting arrangement and decision-making process that works best for themselves and their children.

Is the team approach more expensive than a lawyers-only approach to collaborative divorce?

Finances and cash flow are serious concerns in any divorce and the need to retain other professionals at the outset of the collaborative process can feel daunting. But when clients take their attorney's advice to bring other professionals onto the team, they will save money in the long run. Not only do the financial professionals, divorce coaches and child specialists all charge less per hour than the lawyers, but when clients receive specialized information and advice from these professionals, they are often able to come to an agreement in less time than in cases where the lawyers are being called upon to play multiple roles.