How to get what you want out of divorce: Strategies, tips and tricks to ensure success at every stage

I’ve created a FREE series on California divorce.  This Series is for individuals who want to learn not just how to survive the process with their money and sanity, but also want to succeed and get what they want in their divorce. You will receive keys to divorce from every aspect, from beginning the process to post-divorce considerations.  CLICK HERE to receive an email every day for seven days on the various topics on divorce in California plus instant access to our FREE 7-page Report, “Things they don’t tell you about divorce in California (and everywhere else!)”.

Recent readers of our Series have said:

“I liked how you linked the forms to the topic, such as the income and expense form.”
“I liked many aspects of the course. It was good to learn about negotiation, which is very helpful to know about.”
“I thought it was very helpful, informative, much more understanding and powerful knowledge before getting divorce.”
“Your information was so clear and answered many of my questions—-thank you.”
“Concise, fast moving for a seven day course.”

CLICK HERE for more information and details about the topics for each day.

Estate planning for the digital age: what critical item most estate plans fail to include

I read a great article this morning about the failure of most estate plans to include information about computer account passwords and all of the transactions we do online on a daily basis (Estate planning for iTunes, passwords, and other digital assets). This is a great article because it highlights a problem in ‘modern’ estate planning.  A lawyer may be preparing your legal documents: your will and trust, and powers of attorney.  Your financial advisor is working with you to ensure that you have enough wealth to live out your life, and resources should you become disabled.  But who is assembling the information about your Amazon.com account (and perhaps an auto-ship of vitamins or other health care items)?  Who is ensuring that successor trustees or executors have access to online banking accounts to manage automatic payments. When you use a power of attorney (POA) to handle the finances of another, a copy of the POA goes into your file, but when you’re operating online, who is checking?

These are financial concerns, but there are also personal concerns here, too.  If a loved one of yours passed away suddenly, would you know everyone to contact? It’s likely that they have a contacts list on their computer or smartphone, but is the computer, smartphone, or even the contacts application locked? The same goes for email addresses and even Facebook. Your mom may have really taken to Facebook and rediscovered old friends from all aspects of her life.  When she passes, what do you do with that account?

In my estate plans, I always include a fillable book that can be used to record all of these kinds of information, and more.  I consider it to be my job to ensure that your whole estate and all of your affairs are taken care of when you’re finished with me. Sometimes I refer to other experts in other professions, and obviously I can’t force you to record your passwords and security codes anywhere, but I can let you know that this is a critical aspect of your estate plan, and encourage you to complete as much information as you can for your family, since the more you have available and accessible to your family when you pass, the easier it is for them. Who doesn’t want to do everything they can to make it easier for their family?

Did your estate planning attorney talk to you about estate planning for digital media?

If divorce is like a death, where’s my food?

No one is going to disagree with me when I say that divorce is awful.  It’s emotional, it’s taxing, it’s expensive, it’s time-consuming, it’s frustrating,…it’s just awful.  Psychological studies have likened it to a death, and divorce and moving are up there with death of a loved one as the top most stressful life events.  What’s odd, however is that we as a society don’t treat divorce like a death.  When someone dies, we worry about the loved ones left behind, and feel a need to take care of them by bringing them food, sending cards, posting thoughtful and heartfelt messages on Facebook, and visiting to help ease the loneliness.

When it’s divorce, it’s a different story.  It seems many friends will scatter, as if the divorce “bug” is catching.  The terms or the process are talked about in hushed tones.  Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce, though we talk about it as if it’s still a shameful secret to be hidden.  We have websites to track a loved one’s illness and to be able to donate to their cause and keep up with the ins and outs of treatment.  Where’s the divorce tracker?  How can someone donate to your divorce fund?

As one writer notes in a fantastic article, where’s your casserole?

Painful estate planning questions you must answer to avoid disastrous estate planning mistakes

Many of my estate planning clients have put off their estate planning for months, and even years sometimes. Part of this is because death or disability is something we don’t want to think about, and part of it is because some of the questions are difficult to answer.  What my clients do not always understand is that (1) it’s my job to help them to make the decisions, and (2) if they don’t decide, then someone else – a stranger – will decide for them. Here are some questions you need to consider when thinking about estate planning:

  1. The guardian for your children. This is probably the most important decision you will make.  In case the unthinkable happens – you and your spouse are out together on date night and get into an accident and are both hospitalized or worse. What do you think will happen to your children, who are at home with the 19-year old neighbor babysitting? The police will likely take your children into protective custody – foster care – until a proper guardian is named.  If you have a formally-named guardian in your estate planning documents (and not some hastily-written page), then you can avoid this awful experience for your children.
  2. Who will get your stuff. If you don’t decide who gets your stuff, the state will. And perhaps more importantly than the couch and the jewelry is the estate itself.  Do you have minor children? Do you want them to inherit hundreds of thousands of dollars when they reach 18? Do you perhaps want to hold back some of the estate to pay for college, or at least to let them mature a little before coming into (and losing) a great deal of money right at 18? The only want to do this is through trusts.
  3. What do you want the doctors to do if you are in an irreversible comaIf you don’t decide how you want the doctors to treat you and what extraordinary measures will be taken to save your life, then the doctors will endeavor to keep you alive as long as they can.  Do you want to survive by machine alone? If not, then you need to tell someone!  Tell your parents and your children, and create a power of attorney that legally records your wishes.  If you don’t do this, you could cause your family to scramble to determine what YOU would have wanted.
  4. Who will help you to manage your assets and estate if you can’t? Most of us are more likely to experience a slow decline than go out with a bang.  Because of the advances in medical and health care, we are living longer and with better-quality lives. But as we slow down, there is a chance that we will start to lose our ability to pay our bills and manage our finances.  To avoid the painful, time-consuming and expensive process of conservatorship, each of us needs to designate someone to make decisions on our behalf if we become unable to.  This is relevant to individuals of all ages, as surviving traumatic brain injuries is getting more and more common.
  5. Where are your documents? Part of creating your estate plan in making sure everything is in one place: your will, trust(s), powers of attorney, bank/investment/life insurance/retirement statements, pre-need funeral planning documents, and passwords/keys/online account information.  There is nothing worse than making your grieving family rummage through your stuff to find what they need.

Estate planning is the last thing that you can do for your family to make your passing easier. Isn’t your family worth it?

4 reasons why waiting to hire a divorce attorney is a mistake you don’t want to make

Even if you haven’t filed paperwork with the court or even if you haven’t decided 100% that you want to get divorced, you should consult with an attorney.  When you consult with an attorney, there should be no obligation to hire them, and you should be able to come in and get the advice you need and your questions answered.  At least, when you visit my office, that’s what happens.  I even have my clients fill out a form that specifically asks them what questions they most want answered in the consultation.

Here are some of the reasons why consulting with an attorney before you file is a good idea:

  1. If you’ve not decided to divorce yet, you can then at least make an informed decision about what the process is like, the time it takes, the cost, and what you’re entitled to.  Relying on what your cousin Susie or your neighbor John got in his/her divorce will NOT help you.
  2. If you have decided to divorce, then you can make sure that you have all the information – documents, financial information, deeds, insurance documents, etc. – gathered together that you will need.  It only takes a flash of anger from your ex to make this information disappear once you’ve filed and served papers.
  3. You may make a mistake and not even know it.  On countless occasions I have had to unravel mistakes made by unrepresented clients or clients who have gone to a document preparer or a paralegal to file their paperwork.  It costs much more and takes a great deal of time to undo a mistake than it does to do it right the first time.
  4. Mistakes can happen in paperwork, and they can happen in court.  A trained and experienced lawyer is going to know how to act in court and in front of the judge, and if you do so improperly, then you can dig yourself into a hole that’s nearly impossible to get out of.  Your whole life is on the line: your children, your home, your income, your assets, and your future.  Isn’t that worth getting proper advice?

A divorce attorney consultation is a few hundred dollars that will serve you in the long run, and help you to avoid these costly mistakes.

Keeping your sanity in divorce

I have represented hundreds of clients in hundreds of family law issues in California, both big and small.  I have been through my own divorce.  In most divorces, there comes a time where my client wants to just get back at his or her ex, and there comes a time when my client just wants it all to be over, at any cost.  These are normal ups and downs, and I consider it part of my job to help clients through the transition and make sure they don’t agree to or do anything against their interests in the heat of a transitory emotion.

But there are ways to manage these emotions, and in fact keep your own sanity and power in the divorce process. Here are some tips I have learned:

  1. Focus on what YOU can do in the process and stop worrying about your ex, your ex’s lawyer, the judge, and other professionals or friends/family members.  Blaming others for the difficult process is not going to make it move faster, or be less expansive, or easier.
  2. Referring to #1 above, the process is always more time-consuming and expensive than you thought it would be.  Accept this, make sure you’re working with an attorney who is on the same page with you (and not working against you in terms of time or cost), and who helps to educate you about the process in reality instead of promising things that are impossible to get, and try to move on the best you can in the context of the process.
  3. Examine your own motivations.  The law does not allow you to use it to get revenge or hurt your ex, and ultimately these tactics hurt everyone, prolong the process and cost you more money.
  4. Don’t make decisions based on emotion.  If the new request from your ex has you seeing red, take a day or two to calm down before responding. Talk it through with your lawyer and make a reasoned decision about how to respond instead of a knee-jerk reaction that may hurt you in the future, or embarrass you when you’ve cooled down.
  5. Keep both your boundaries and your wits about you.  If you get down in the trenches and play dirty with your ex, then you’re just stooping down to their level instead of maintaining your own sanity and dignity. Does s/he try to bait you by pushing your buttons in court, at your child exchanges, or in meetings? Don’t rise to the bait.  Keep your cool and you’ll move on and be happier sooner.
  6. Try not to obsess.  Your divorce is a huge part of your life and a big transition.  But it’s not your whole life.  Spend some time on the things that make you happy and help you to get over the trauma of divorce.  See a therapist.  Spend time with friends.  Find hobbies that make you happy.  The more you move on, the more you move on and can get through the process.

What helped you through your divorce?

Avoiding regrets in divorce

Individuals experiencing divorce often say and do things that seem out of character, and often they are making decisions both under pressure and under extreme emotional burden.  I try to counsel my clients to try to make decisions that they can look back on with satisfaction. I try to counsel them that the anger, bitterness, and resentment do not serve them or help them in the process of getting through a divorce.  Divorce is difficult enough by itself, and when you add angry emotions, it’s worse for you and your children.  One of the ways to try to ensure that you’re making the right decision is to fast forward into the future, and ask if your future self (and children) will look back and think it was a good idea, once the hurt has already passed.  Ask yourself about the reasons for your actions – are you acting out of spite or to do something hurtful to your ex? Or are you doing what YOU need to get through this time?  During the divorce process, you can make decisions that have very long-reaching consequences. Being too emotional – too hurt, too angry, too resentful – you run the risk of making bad decisions that you’ll regret.

One woman discusses this very issue in a recent Huffington Post article.

Is alimony (spousal support) still relevant?

In an interesting an enlightening new article on alimony, the author indicates that spousal support (alimony) should be based more on a case-by-case basis rather than an automatic award as it is in California.  She states that if both parties can support themselves, then there should be no spousal support. In the case of one spouse needing time to get into or back into a career (such as when one has been raising children), then spousal support is appropriate to help the supported spouse get into a career.

This sounds very fair, but I have two problems with it: First, it is hard to create a law around this proposal.  In California, spousal support generally lasts for half the length of the marriage and is intended to even out, as much as possible, the finances of the two parties. Second, in our economic environment, it is hard to make ends meet.  In a divorce, when the couple splits, generally one spouse moves out and in an instant the same amount of money – whether it’s one or two incomes – is supporting two households.  Two rents/mortgages, two sets of utilities, not to mention the initial financial requirement of getting into a home, buying furniture, dishes, etc.  When one spouse makes a great deal more than the other, or even a little bit more, it can be impossible, simply looking at the numbers, for the lower-earning spouse to make it.

I found it interesting that, in the article, the older individuals in the crowd were more in favor of spousal support than the younger.  I would agree that, in younger couples, there is less of a likelihood that one spouse is not working and stays home exclusively.  Many couples now share the parenting responsibilities as well as the financial responsibilities. It does seem unfair for one spouse to have to pay on an ongoing basis for the support of the spouse they are divorcing.  I know this because I have represented dozens and dozens of men and women who have had to pay spousal support.  There is almost always some kind of negative feeling attached to it. But until we have a way to better equalize the earning of couples, I think spousal support will remain.

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