Mediation is a great process for maintaining limited involvement with attorneys, but they shouldn’t be shut out completely.

Recently I’ve spoken to a number of potential clients who are about to enter into the divorce process and want to use mediation. These clients come from different backgrounds and have different preconceived notions about mediation, but they all share the desire for an attorney-free divorce. And that is when I have the unenviable task of breaking the news to them: even in mediation, you need an attorney.

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Over the past few years, my law and mediation practices have seen a significant increase in requests for prenuptial agreements.  

My clients, whether they come from extensive family wealth, are self-made entrepreneurs, or young professionals just starting out in their careers, come to me with the best of intentions. They love their fiance and look forward to a long and happy marriage.  But sometimes their approach to the prenuptial agreement gets in their own way. The first thing to realize is that a prenuptial agreement, and the negotiations leading up to it, are often harbingers of what the future marriage will bring. Acrimonious prenup negotiations have a tendency to lead to acrimonious marriages, with long-term resentment and unhappiness.

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This fall, I attended a meeting of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, where one of the keynote speakers was Donna Hicks, PhD. Throughout Donna’s academic and professional career she has written books about the power of dignity and, specifically, its importance in negotiations of all kinds. Her past clients have included the United States Navy, several large healthcare systems and corporations, and various governments around the world.

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One of the weaknesses of litigated divorce is that it encourages rigid thinking that stands in the way of compromise.

Choosing your battles wisely is an important strategy in all areas of life, including if you are in the process of divorce. Unfortunately, traditional divorce attorneys often neglect to give their clients this advice, encouraging them to fight for everything they say they want, regardless of how impractical, impossible or destructive it may be.  And when the other spouse inevitably takes opposite positions on those same issues, there’s nowhere to go but to the courthouse where both parties will be subjected to the slow-moving and very public litigation process.

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Before marriage was made available to every American, same-sex couples struggled with issues that married couples could take for granted – like hospital visitation rights, after-death services and inheritance rights.

In order to achieve that same peace of mind that married couples enjoy, gays and lesbians came up with some brilliant solutions to bridge the dire straits in which they found themselves. In New York City, the government began a Domestic Partnership registry which granted hospital visitation, health insurance coverage and the inheritance of rent-controlled apartments, among other things. But because those provisions only applied to government-run agencies, lesbians and gays took matters into their own hands to protect themselves and their partners in the private sector through the use of wills, healthcare proxies and burial instructions. Continue reading

Please enjoy this guest blog post by Laura Rolnick, Esq.

On top of the financial and emotional aspects of dissolving a marriage, divorcing couples with children must also consider the very important question of where they will live, and where parenting time will take place. The growing recognition of the family as a sanctified entity even within divorce has inspired new and creative living arrangements, uniquely tailored to the psychological and financial needs of the large number of divorced families with children.

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People going through divorce often feel angry, confused, and alone.

They turn to their friends and family when they are contemplating divorce, in the middle of a divorce and all throughout the process.  In fact, I often get calls from family members or friends inquiring about the legal services that I can provide to their loved one.

Supportive friends or family members instinctively seek to protect a person they  love by saying negative things about his or her spouse.

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What looks like just another celebrity breakup might actually be instructive for any divorcing couple.

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner are going the way of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin in choosing a non-adversarial way to divorce while living in the public eye.

During her divorce, Paltrow made headlines for describing the process as “conscious uncoupling.” Many attorneys, including myself, appreciated the spotlight she had shone on non-adversarial divorce.

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A high-net-worth couple going through a divorce can benefit greatly by staying out of court.

Couples with considerable assets (which I will define here as more than $5 million) are often lead to believe that their divorce will be a “no holds barred,” brutal, lengthy process with astronomical legal bills and complicated offers and counter-offers. Because of this belief, many high-net-worth couples assume that mediation or the collaborative law process will not work for them.

They couldn’t be more mistaken. In my experience, the opposite is true; high-net-worth families have more to gain by keeping things civil and private. Unfortunately, many attorneys who practice litigation harbor a killer instinct that grows along with their clients’ assets, and they see a litigated divorce as the only way to satisfy that instinct.

Even when spouses are trying to have a non-adversarial divorce, the emotions that arise can hijack innocent intentions and get in the way of achieving the bigger goals such as the children’s well being, future financial security for one another and children, and an outcome that feels fair. Resentment, regret, anger and sadness about the past are just a few of the difficult emotions that divorcing clients need to deal with while simultaneously trying to make very difficult financial and parenting decisions that will have long term consequences in the future.

If you’re finding it hard to bring your best self to the negotiating table and keep the focus on the future, try a little compassion: for yourself as well as your soon-to-be-ex. When you’re criticizing yourself or others all you can think about is punishment. Will punishment really help you reach your long term goals? On the other hand, when you’re being compassionate, you’re looking at ways to improve and make things better. I’ve come to realize that compassion is perhaps one of the most important ingredients to an amicable divorce, and, sadly, it is often missing.

Nelson Mandela once said “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

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