General

Alternatives to a Litigated Divorce in Montana

When I sit down with a client for the first time, very few say to me, “Marybeth, I want this to be expensive, take forever, and be a generally horrible experience for all involved.”  Instead, most clients hope their divorce can be like ripping off a bandaid – quick, easy, and with minimal pain.   While we cannot always accomplish that goal, the way we start a case can have a dramatic effect on the cost, time frame and overall experience.

Before diving into divorce litigation, consider your alternatives to “regular” divorce litigation.  If you have an ex that wants to make it a less painful process, you may find that you can get in and out of the divorce process with minimal scar tissue.

Do-It-Yourself Divorce

Divorce can be very complicated, both legally and financially.  If not handled correctly, you can make mistakes that will have major consequences.  Generally speaking, I discourage most people from trying to do their divorce completely on their own.  It is well worth the few hundred dollars it will cost to at least sit down with an attorney to evaluate your case.

However, there can be cases where a Do-It-Yourself divorce makes sense.  For example, if you’re marriage was very short, you did not accumulate property or debts during your marriage and you don’t have any children.  In other words, if the only thing you are trying to handle is ending the marriage, a Do-It-Yourself divorce might be a possibility.

Mediation

In divorce mediation, rather than the parties retaining attorneys to fight, a divorcing couple works with a neutral mediator who helps both parties come to an agreement on all aspects of their divorce. The mediator may or may not be a lawyer (although I suggest you utilize a lawyer).  The mediator MUST be a neutral party and cannot advocate on the behalf of one party or the other.  They may, however, bring up issues you and your spouse hadn’t thought about and suggest that you and your partner work those issues out in mediation.

If mediation works, it can be fast, effective and affordable.  If it does not work, you may have spent time and money that would have been better spent on litigating your case.  Mediation is a good option in a large number of divorce cases.  If you have concerns about disclosure of assets/liabilities or there are abuse concerns, mediation probably isn’t for you.

If you do mediate, make sure that you have an attorney review any agreement BEFORE you sign it.  Once it is signed, it may be too late to make changes.

Collaborative Divorce

Although not particularly popular in Montana, collaborative divorce can be a great idea.  Basically a collaborative divorce is when a couple agrees to work out a divorce settlement without going to court.  During a collaborative divorce both parties retain their own attorney.  Instead of simply advocating for your position, the attorneys will assists their client in negotiating a settlement agreement. The collaborative process may also involve other neutral professionals such as an accountant or financial planner, who will help the parties work out agreements on financial issues.  You may also see a counselor or guardian ad litem involved to assist the parties in reaching agreements on parenting.

A collaborative divorce generally includes an agreement that the attorneys involved will only assist the clients during the collaborative process.  In the event an agreement cannot be reached and limitation ensues, the attorneys may have to withdraw and the parties may have to start from scratch with new counsel.

If a divorce is particularly heated, the collaborative process might not be very successful.  When financial issues are complex or there is a lack of disclosure, collaborative divorce may not be the thing for you.

In general, if there are concerns that your spouse is hiding assets/income, if there are abuse concerns or a history of domestic violence, or if there are drug or alcohol issues, see an attorney before initiating one of the divorce litigation alternatives.   As always, ensure that you speak with an attorney before you sign on any dotted line.

Cohabiting Couples Marrying for Their Kids

The engagement of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie has created significant buzz online.  It seems many are wondering, “why now?”  According to a study from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, couples that have cohabited for a number of years, often feel pressure to marry from their children.

Maureen Baker and Vivienne Elizabeth interviewed 40 New Zealand couples who were living together for three years before either marrying or getting a civil union.  The study sought to determine why couples would make the decision to marry, despite there being “few material or social advantages.”  Though a variety of factors were discovered, the main reason the majority of couples sought to marry was that they desired to make public the commitment they had already made privately.  Maureen Baker stated,”they wanted a party to celebrate an enduring and successful relationship – some had been living together for 20 years.”

For the couples who had children, however, pressure from the kids was a significant factor.  Baker explained that many would feel pressure from their children, who would ask, “Why aren’t you married?” and “Does this mean that you’re still dating?”  Given that children are surrounded by media that emphasizes and discusses marriage, it is no wonder they focus on the relationship between their parents.

To read more about the study, visit the New Zealand Herald.

Divorce Books: New and Upcoming Releases

I always make an effort to stay up to date on the resources available to my family law clients.  A large number of my clients purchase books through Amazon that help them navigate the emotional divorce process.  Several books will be released over the next few months that I am particularly excited about.  All of these books can be preordered through Amazon.com, so you do not have to worry about an awkward run in at the book store.

How to Be a Good Divorced Dad: Being the Best Parent You Can Be Before, During and After the Break-Up By Jeffrey Leving.  Mr. Leving is one of the country’s leading father’s rights experts and has authored at least two other books aimed at men involved in the divorce process.  While Mr. Leving’s previous books have been a bit aggressive at times, his newest project looks like it will provide a great deal of practical advice for the divorcing dad.

Bigger than a Bread Box By Laurel Snyder.  Over the last few years, divorce and separation have become somewhat common themes in children’s books.  There are a number of books specifically for the purpose of assisting parents in discussing divorce with their children.  Bigger than a Bread Box, however, is a children’s book that deals with divorce/separation topic, but isn’t ABOUT divorce.  At the center of the story is child figuring herself out in a new town, in a new living situation, and with a changed family.

The Complete Guide to Shared Parenting After Divorce: What You Need to Know to Co-Raise Your Child Successfully.   There is truly nothing more critical for divorcees with children than determining how to co-parent during and after their divorce is complete.  I am a huge fan of any book that encourages and assists parents in creating a healthy and successful co-parenting relationship.  I encourage parents to read the book at the same time – consider it a mini-book club.

 

Facebook Passwords Must Be Shared in Divorce Case

A Connecticut judge ruled earlier this week that a divorcing couple was required to turn over their passwords to several popular social media sites.   The ruling came after the husband in the case revealed his wife, Courtney Gallion, had been writing incriminating posts on Facebook about her feelings towards the children and her ability to care for the then.  Both Mr. and Mrs. Gallion were required to turn over their passwords for Facebook, eHarmony and Match.com accounts.

The Gallion ruling is the latest in a string of cases evidencing just how significantly social media is affecting litigation.  In March 2011, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers issued the result of surveying, which reported that 80% of divorce cases now include evidence from social media sites.

A reminder for all those involved in any kind of limitation – if you wouldn’t want a Judge to read it, DON’T put it online!  


Surviving the Holidays After Divorce

Though many consider the holidays to be a time to celebrate peace and love, divorced couples can find it difficult to put down their swords.  The holidays can be difficult for divorced parents, but even more so for their children.  The following tips from licensed psychotherapist Donna Ferber should help such parents help their children have a better holiday season:

  1. Money, gifts, sweets and indulging don’t “make up” for anything. Your child is going to have TWO Christmases. No need to feel guilty. Most kids say the dual holidays are the best thing about being a divorced kid.
  2. If possible, make your plans with your ex-spouse ahead of time and stick to them. Let the kids know where they will be and when. It helps them feel in control. Let them make only age appropriate decisions. A good rule of thumb: if it is not a decision you would let your children make while you were married, then don’t let them make it now. Let your kids be kids.
  3. Be flexible. No, this is not a contradiction of #2. It means that stuff happens. So if your ex is two hours late because of an ice storm or because his cousin Joey showed up late, try to let it go.
  4. Keep your anger, resentment, annoyance, disgust about your ex, his sports car, his/her new love and his family, to yourself. Remember, your kids are part of both of you and when you slam your child’s other parent, your child feels slammed as well.
  5. Do not make your children responsible for your happiness. “Go have a good time with Dad in Jamaica, while I sit here miserable and all alone,” only breeds resentment and guilt in your child.
  6. Don’t compete. If he can afford more than you – fine. Rather than resenting his/her father( or mother), appreciate that your child can experience things you can’t buy him/her. Don’t overspend to keep up. Make memories by doing fun things together – bake cookies, read a Christmas story, build a snowman. Money does not buy love.
  7. The new girlfriend (or boyfriend) cannot and will not take your place.Children are unbelievably loyal. They can love many people, but the title and honor of parent is yours and will be only yours forever. So, relax. Deal with your jealousy without making your kid responsible for your feeling threatened. This is simply not the job of the child.
  8. Divorce is the severing of the adult relationship and should not be the termination of the parent-child relationship, no matter how much you really can’t stand him/her. If your child is not in harm’s way, the relationship needs to continue. This is the CHILD’s right. If you really feel the child is in danger, then get a lawyer, prove it and have supervised visitation. Never keep a child from being with a parent based on your own feelings!
  9. Lastly, remember that you are the adult. Suck up your anger toward your ex and make the holidays wonderful for your kids.

Source:  “Children, Divorce & the Holidays: Making it Happy not Horrible!” by Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC, a licensed psychotherapist in Connecticut and the author of From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce, which won an Honorable Mention Award by the Independent Publishers Association. To read more about the author and her work, please visit www.donnaferber.com.

Could the “Second Chances Act” Come to Montana?

Though it has not been formally introduced in any state, the Second Chances Act is making its way around cyberland and is creating quite the buzz.  The Institute for American Values, a non-profit family-values organization, is urging states to change divorce/custody legislation to require parties with minor children to attend divorce-education classes and to set a one-year cooling off period before a divorce can be final.  Additionally, the Second Chances Act includes a provision requiring parties to send a letter to their spouse that notifies them divorce may be imminent.

William Doherty, a professor at University of Minnesota and co-author of the Second Chances Act says the reason for the Act is not to end divorce entirely, but to create additional speed bumps in the road to divorce.

Given the legislation presented during the last session of the Montana Legislature, it seems fairly likely that something similar to the Second Chances Act will pop up during the next session.

To learn more about the proposed Second Chances Act, read the full proposal here.

Ten Things Your Teen Should Know About Marriage

One of my favorite research tools is the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project website.  Founded by a professor at my law school Alma Mater, Rutgers University, the NMP seems to find creative and interesting ways to report information on marriage, family and divorce.  I recently came across a fairly old report (circa 2003) entitled “Ten Things Teens Should Know About Marriage: Research and Resources.”

The report is essentially a gathering of other resources and reports, all of which have a great deal of information on teen marriage, education, choosing a spouse, and teen pregnancy.   Though a bit outdated at eight years old, the report is a great starting point for those looking for information that affects their teens.

 

 

 

Report: Divorce Causes Hair Loss in Women

As if the break up of your marriage weren’t bad enough, a recent study suggests that the stress associated with the loss of a partner (either through divorce or death) increases hair loss in women.   If you also smoke and spend a great deal of time in the sun, your chances of hair loss are even greater.

The study traced a group of 84 identical twins who completed lifestyle studies and hormone tests.  Those who were happily married, used sun protection and steered clear of alcohol had fuller heads of hair.

The good news?  Hair loss treatment is often effective.  And those who reduce their stress by ending an unhealthy marriage might actually see improvement.  Read more about the study here.

Divorce Rates Soar…Online???

We are constantly faced with articles and stories about the divorce rate.  So much so that nearly every American can quote the current divorce rate (about 50%) without skipping a beat.  Amazingly, there is one place were the divorce/annulment rate has soared to 75% – the internet.

The hugely successful online role-playing game MapleStory recent reported that the divorce rate in cyberland is currently at about 75%.  Nexon, the makers of MapleStory, recently reported that of the 26,982 in-game marriages (which cost $25.00 a pop, by the way) that took place this year, 20,344 ended in annulment/divorce.

Just like divorce in the real world, MapleStory players don’t divorce for free.  An in-game divorce costs 500,000 Mesos (aka MapleStory money) and players must relinquish their wedding ring.  Players must also wait ten days before marrying someone else.

 

 

Are your chances of divorce REALLY 50/50?

While it is true that the average couple marrying for the first time now has a 40-50% chance of divorce, there are multiple factors that determine what an individuals actual chances of divorce are.  According to the 2010 State of Our Unions study by The University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project, for many individuals, the actual chances of divorces falls far below 50%.

Many factors decrease the risk of divorce significantly.  For example, earning over $50,000 annually decreases the risk of divorce by 30%.  Graduating from college decreases the chance by 25%; marrying over the age of 25 decreases the risk by 24%; and religious affiliation decreases the chance by 14%.   In contrast, some of these factors increase an individuals chance of divorce.  Making under $25,000 annually, having a child before marriage, and not completing high school are all factors that tend to increase the risk of divorce.

For more information, access the 2010 State of Our Unions study at the link above.