Recently in Mediation Category

October 8, 2014

The Unofficial, Long-Term Marital Separation

Thumbnail image for The Unofficial, Long-Term Separation By Andrea VaccaSomething I have been seeing more and more in my practice as a mediator and collaborative attorney are couples living apart for long periods of time, without being legally separated.

For various reasons, many married couples decide to separate for years without having any legal agreements in place. They don't realize until years later when one of them is seeking a divorce that the legal, financial and emotional issues caused by the years of separation can become very difficult to resolve.

Below are just some of the pitfalls that people encounter when they separate unofficially:

  • When two spouses start living separately, the clock starts ticking on a new status-quo. Eventually, the lifestyle maintained by the lower-earning spouse during the separation can become the standard for the amount of spousal support that is required in the future.
  • Non-legal separations do not necessarily end the legal financial union between spouses. That means all the money earned - or debts being incurred - by either spouse may still be considered part of the shared marital estate.
  • The higher earning spouse is not necessarily going to get credit under the law for the amount of support they've been providing.
  • Once a couple moves into separate residences, communication between them can break down even more than it was while they were living together, which makes negotiating a separation agreement even harder than it has to be.
  • If either spouse starts a new relationship and spends money on the new partner, it can be considered a "waste of marital assets," which can result in complicated requests for repayment (financially as well as emotionally).

Often times, clients will be dealing with many of these consequences all at once. For example, a client of mine was supporting her husband for 10 years after she moved out. He was still hurt by the fact that she left him and, because she felt guilty, she still gave him access to her credit cards and she was still depositing her paychecks into a joint account. They hardly spoke and had each moved on to new relationships but the hurt and guilt was still there.

I had to tell her that her husband had every right to expect that the comfortable lifestyle she had provided for those years would continue. It was difficult for her to accept this fact, but she eventually agreed to give her husband some significant real estate holdings she had acquired during their separation in order to reach an agreement with which he was comfortable. This was despite the fact that she had already paid a small fortune to support him and they had lived the majority of their married life apart.

As we were getting ready to sign the settlement agreement, she explained the reason for her generosity:

"I know I gave him more than I needed to, but I was ready to finally move on with my life and I decided it was better to give my money to him instead of our lawyers."

Why unnecessarily give money to anyone? If you are ready and willing to deal with the legal, emotional and financial issues of your separation, before you actually decide to move out, you will be better-protected in the long term. Let a mediator or collaborative attorney help you negotiate a written agreement where the needs of both you and your spouse will be considered. It will not only help to bring emotional closure to your relationship, but will protect both of you from potential legal and financial entanglements in the future.


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

September 22, 2014

Plan to Have a Great Marriage

Plan To Have A Great Marriage By Andrea VaccaI recently read an article on The New York Times wellness blog by Tara Parker-Pope called 'The Decisive Marriage.' In it, Parker-Pope explores the research gathered through The National Marriage Project and asks how does being decisive - or not - affect a marriage? Though it is not mentioned in the article, I thought some of the points would be especially helpful for people considering a prenuptial agreement. Parker-Pope writes:

Couples should make active decisions about their relationships and major life events. Showing intent in some form -- from planning the first date, to living together, to the wedding and beyond -- can help improve the quality of a marriage over all.


Prenuptial agreements are, by definition, a written agreement reflecting the intentions of the parties regarding their marital rights and obligations. By looking together toward the future, prenuptial agreements can help the couple to purposefully plan for this important, next stage of their relationship. Questions can be discussed and answered such as:

  • How will property be divided upon death or divorce?
  • Will spousal support be paid? If so, under what conditions?
  • How will household expenses be paid during the marriage?
  • Will having children result in different financial terms?
Negotiating a prenuptial agreement does not have to be an inherently unpleasant process.

When I'm representing the person who is initiating the agreement, I start by asking him or her: Why do you want this type of agreement? What is important to you? What do you hope to achieve? I then suggest options that can help the client to achieve his or her goals and I coach each client about how to discuss these goals with his or her fiancé. Ideally, I will not start drafting the agreement until I know what terms the couple may agree on and what issues will need further discussion.

When I'm representing the person who is being asked to sign an agreement, I am very often asked to review a document that has already been drafted. I advise my client about what would happen if they signed this particular document and ask questions to determine if this agreement meets their expectations and goals. If changes are needed, I will speak to the other attorney and will often suggest a 4-way meeting with the clients so that we can help them discuss the open issues in a safe and productive environment. If the couple is open, honest and decisive, the process can be a positive experience for both parties.

And when I'm working with a couple in mediation who are negotiating their prenuptial agreement, I'm not only helping them to answer all of these questions, but I'm helping them to find terms that will allow both of them to feel safe and secure enough to enter into their marriage.

Everybody wants their marriage to "start out on the right foot," give it the "college try," and live "happily ever after." Instead of a marriage based on cliches and crossed fingers, I suggest going off the script with your fiancé and talk about the expectations of your life and marriage. If you enter into your marriage with this kind of decisiveness and intention, there is a much better chance of happiness and success.


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

August 31, 2014

Maintaining Control in the Midst of Divorce

Maintaining Control in the Midst of Divorce By Andrea VaccaThe feeling of or ability to be in control can be an elusive concept to many, and the lack of control can be a source of anxiety to those who crave it. When it comes to personal matters, like divorce, the need for control may be even greater. The feeling like one is not in control of his or her own future or relationship is a common frustration expressed by divorcing couples who are litigating and at the mercy of the court system. Luckily, there are alternative options for couples wishing to seize control of their divorces.

Mediation and collaborative law are private processes. These processes keep everything between just you, your attorneys and any other professionals who you invite into your case.

Besides offering privacy and dignity, the mediation and collaborative law processes also provide a degree of control that is absent from the court system:

  1. You meet at times that are convenient for you and your spouse and that work with your schedules, not the judge's.
  2. You're not sitting around the courthouse, for hours at a time, waiting for your case to be called while your attorney is billing for the time she is sitting next to you, checking her emails.
  3. While you are expected to provide full financial disclosure, you're trusted to do so and you will be asked questions in a respectful way.
  4. You won't be cross-examined and attacked by your spouse's attorney.

Over the years I have noticed that mediation and collaborative law tend to attract many business owners and consultants. My theory is that these types of clients are used to having more autonomy and control over their personal lives, and they don't want to give that up just because their marriage is ending. Yet, striving for this type of control around your divorce process makes sense even if you are holding down a job with regular hours. Divorce is hard enough without also fearing that you are going to lose your job, or that your childcare provider is going to quit on you because you can't keep your schedule regular.

In mediation and the collaborative process, you and your spouse are in control of the times when you meet and the issues that are discussed at each meeting. You are encouraged to say what is important to each of you as you work toward your agreement. If you expect that this kind of communication will be encouraged in court or that you will have the chance to "explain your story to the judge," you will be very disappointed. Once you are in litigation, not only will your attorney tell you not to talk to your spouse, he or she will also make it clear that you are not to speak to the judge unless you are asked a direct question. While the attorneys are arguing your case to the judge and arguing with each other, you and your spouse will be expected to sit quietly and just wait to be told what's going on.

Don't just sit there! Take control of your divorce by exploring mediation and the collaborative law process at www.vaccalaw.com.


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

July 16, 2014

Who Supports the Boomerang Kids After a Divorce?

Who Supports the Boomerang Kids After a Divorce By Andrea VaccaWorking outside of the court system allows divorcing parents of the boomerang generation to consider, discuss and plan for when their adult children return home.

In the New York Times Magazine, there was recently an article about the boomerang generation. Kids are coming out of college and moving back home with their parents, perhaps after unsuccessfully trying to live on their own.

Regardless of whether this is a savvy way for kids to save money without sacrificing a certain lifestyle, or a sign that they are just not able to take care of themselves in this economy, the fact is that these boomerang kids aren't a temporary phenomenon. They appear to represent a new life stage. The article states:

"One in five people in their 20s and early 30s is currently living with his or her parents."

So, there is a 20% chance that adult kids might boomerang. And even if they aren't living at home, there is a great chance that these kids are still partially dependent on their parents for help with rent and other expenses. When the parents of this generation are still living together, they can have a conversation that asks, "What are we willing to do to support our adult children?" But when the parents are divorced, that conversation is a lot harder to have.

A real benefit of resolving a divorce outside of the court system, through collaborative law or mediation, is that these parents can have a facilitated discussion, during their negotiations, about what would happen if their adult child returned to live with one of the parents.

A judge in a litigated divorce will not want to hear anything about this possibility, because courts only require child support to be paid until the age of 21 in New York (and even younger ages in other states). If divorcing parents are relying on a court to tell them what the child support should be, the parent with whom the child moves home is going to be stuck supporting the child on his or her own. There will be no obligation for the other parent to help out financially, and the courts will not be able to change that fact.

Divorcing parents need to have a conversation about, and plan for, the boomerang generation. One option that clients have considered is to set money aside from their distribution of assets and hold those funds in a joint account in the event the child moves back home. If holding funds aside is not an option at the time of the divorce, the divorcing parents can make sure the agreement clearly states that if an adult child asks to move back home, the parents will use mediation, or work with a financial neutral professional, to figure out how to share the costs. The adult child can even be a part of the discussion. Some questions that need to be answered are:

  • What will be the increased costs when the child is living at home?
  • What will be the child's financial and non-financial responsibilities?
  • How much extra is needed from the other parent and what can they afford to give?

With college loans rising, and companies being slow to make new hires, the boomerang generation is becoming a more permanent subset of the economy. What is now a 20% chance of adult children returning home may increase until the economy is - once again - able to support them. The boomerang generation is the new reality, and it makes sense for divorcing parents to at least consider this issue as part of their divorce negotiations.

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

May 12, 2014

Conscious Coupling: Using Prenuptial Agreements to Build a Healthy Marriage

Conscious Coupling: Using Prenuptial Agreements to Build a Healthy Marriage By Andrea VaccaGwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin have made the news lately with their "conscious uncoupling" - a new term for a mindful divorce that is an excellent example for separating couples to learn from.

Like most people, I had never heard of this term until it was talked about in the media. As it turns out, whether I knew the term for it or not, the philosophy behind conscious uncoupling is exactly why I encourage my clients to use the collaborative law process or mediation when they are ending their marriages. It is also the reason why I use these non-adversarial processes to help couples enter into prenuptial agreements; it's what I call conscious coupling.

Conscious coupling - as opposed to Paltrow's and Martin's uncoupling - is best embodied in a well thought-out and fair prenuptial agreement. Instead of focusing on keeping as much of a party's income and assets out of the hands of the other spouse in the event of divorce, a prenuptial agreement that is entered into consciously will focus more on:

- Each party's needs and interests
- The type of life that the couple is planning together
- The long-term implications of the decisions that they're making

Conscious coupling requires the parties to be communicating with each other during the negotiation process of their prenuptial agreement. When someone takes an "I'll just let the lawyers get involved" kind of attitude, there is the potential for the process to become very adversarial, very quickly - and even worse, it might turn into a fight between two lawyers' egos. That approach really doesn't make a lot of sense if you're planning to have a healthy, honest and long-term marriage.

The way that I like to facilitate prenuptial agreements is to either:

- Mediate the process, which means the couple meets with me together, and we discuss what is important to each of them. For example, if one person wants the prenup to protect their premarital assets and limit the amount of spousal support they may have to pay in the event of divorce, what will the other person need to feel safe and secure entering into the marriage?

- Work collaboratively, which means that the parties sit down with their collaborative attorneys and everyone can talk about their interests and needs, as well as the goals for their marriage. By encouraging honesty and transparency, the parties are encouraged to talk to each other, not at each other - and certainly not through their attorneys.

Whether through mediation or the collaborative process, my clients are entering into the marriage with a lot more clarity about what they each need and what's important to them.

There is a lot to consider before entering into a prenuptial agreement, but the end result is a much better agreement that will allow each party to feel secure during the marriage. This is because the terms were arrived at much more consciously - and not based on fear and anxiety and the other raw emotions that are so common when discussing money issues at the beginning of a marriage, or the end.

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

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 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

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

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

September 26, 2013

The Repercussions for Divorcing Women Who Have Opted Out of the Workforce

The Repercussions for Divorcing Women Who Have Opted Out of the Workforce by Andrea VaccaLately, women are being encouraged to "Lean In", which is the title of Sheryl Sandberg's book that encourages women to take an active role in their career development. So I found it very interesting to read an article in the New York Times Magazine titled "The Opt-out Generation Wants Back In". It not only spoke to me because of how confusing all of these messages can be for women, but also because as an attorney and mediator who works with divorcingcouples, I've seen the fall-out when women who opt-out of viable careers to devote themselves to their families end up divorced.

The story, written by Judith Warner, is part longitudinal study and part confessional, covering the lives of three women over ten years who decided to "opt out" of the working world to take care of their children. With husbands who brought home mid-six figure salaries, it seemed to them like the ideal opportunity to step off the career track and choose instead to be home with their children.

But for the women in the article, betting on "perfect" did not pay off. For example:


  • A weak economy took its toll on everyone;

  • The women who wanted to return to full time jobs found it nearly impossible to find well-paying work;

  • And for one of the women, her marriage eventually ended while her children were still quite young.


The story of the divorced women reminded me of many of my clients. The stress of juggling two careers and the needs of children starts to take its toll on the marriage, so one of the spouses (usually the woman) decides that quitting her job and staying home with the children will reduce the stress that everyone is under. And things may get better for a while, but eventually the problems of the marriage become more evident. Perhaps it's the financial stress of living on one income, perhaps the couple drifts further apart because they now have even less in common than they did before when both had active careers.

But when young children are involved, couples are understandably hesitant to just give up. They may be unhappy and unsatisfied, but they decide to stick it out. Until one of them just can't anymore. And when that decision is made, it is likely that the woman is going to have to go back to work. And so begins the long, slow journey back into the workforce. It can take many months or even years for a woman who has stepped off the track to resume earning even close to the salary she was earning when she opted out.

In a case where one spouse brings in most of the income, it is not uncommon for divorce litigators to advise the non-earner of the family to stay out of the workforce as long as possible. The intent is to win more spousal support or child support by showing an income imbalance. By contrast, in mediation and collaborative law a more realistic approach is used to discuss the short and long term financial needs of the family. This cooperative climate puts neither party on the defensive and results in more honest negotiations and better long term results.

For women who have traded the boardroom for the nursery but now believe their marriage may not last forever, my advice is to get back to work as soon as possible. The longer you're out of the workforce, the farther behind the curve you will fall when it comes to new technology or industry standards. Opting out of the workforce in order to care for children is an incredibly selfless act, but so is going back to work when one income just can't support two households.

If you have questions about divorce mediation, collaborative law and how they can turn the tone of your divorce into a cooperative one, 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

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

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.