How much can a divorce cost?

Here is an interesting article in Huffington Post about the cost of divorce using different processes.  The authors do not quote any sources, so it is difficult to tell how reliable their numbers are.  However, from my experience their ranges seem about right in relative terms.  Committing to be non-adversarial is by far less expensive than the adversarial approach.  And, in many cases, you should be able to get a fair result, without spending a fortune, by using a non adversarial process.

Amazingly, people will spend a lot of money arguing about things to punish their spouse or “for principle”  – spending more money that the issue is really worth.  Sometimes using the litigation approach is necessary – because one (or both) of the parties is being unreasonable, they cannot communicate, trust has completely disappeared, mental health issues, hiding assets or income, abuse, etc.  But,  for many people, however, the adversarial/litigation approach is an unnecessary and expensive complication to an already difficult life transitional event, and often makes it much more difficult for the children because of the additional conflict it can generate for the parents.  I often recommend to people to try mediation first, consulting with attorneys as needed, to see how it goes.  If mediation is not successful, then you can escalate to collaborative, cooperative or litigation.  I think that most people would like to make their own decisions, rather than rely on a third party (Magistrate or Judge) to make life decisions for them.

I have had a number of clients who tried litigation and then came to me,  after spending $100,000  (really!) on legal fees, to resolve the remaining issues through mediation and help them complete their divorce. Sure, by then they were weary of the fight, fed up of the litigation process, and tired of the attorneys not getting things finished.  But they then had $100,000 less for themselves and their children.

Sadly, when people considering divorce talk to friends and family about their impending divorce, they rarely will hear about the success stories, but rather hear the horror stories about bad experiences others have had.  The divorce process does not have to be horrible.  The professionals you hire should be there to help you through the process,  and to make the process easier, not make an already challenging life event even worse.

If you both want to have a dignified divorce, you can.  First, you have to have a positive attitude about coming up with a fair agreement for each of you and most importantly, what is best for your children.  Second, you need to choose, and manage, any professional assistance you hire to make sure they follow your wishes to have a dignified and non adversarial divorce.  Third, you should agreed  some mutual goals about the process and what you want for each other and your children.  Fourth,  see it as a business transaction – not a way to remedy what went wrong in the marriage.  Fifth, getting educated on the law, your financial situation, the options, and the consequences of potential solutions is important.  This allows you to negotiate and make decisions from a basis of knowledge and strength.  Finally, don’t make agreements unless you fully understand them and believe that you making the optimal decisions for yourself, your spouse and your children.  If you need to consult with an attorney, or need help in negotiating your agreement, then, by all means, get the help you need.

Stay-at-Home Mom Facing Divorce? Don’t Expect Alimony? Forbes article is way overstated.

Forbes recently published an article entitled “Stay-at-Home Mom Facing Divorce? Don’t Expect Alimony” in which the author talks about how the trend is towards women not receiving any spousal support, even when they have been a stay-at-home mom for years and have not been in the workforce.Mother and Daughter Baking Together

In my opinion, at least for Colorado, while there has been a trend away from lifetime maintenance, the article is overstating what is actually going on both in the Courts and when people negotiate their own settlements through mediation.

The article implies that someone who has been a stay at home mom and has not worked for years and has no qualifications, and was married to someone who is making $200,000 annually, should be expected to go out and get a job and support herself is, in my experience, an unrealistic expectation.  Certainly, the courts are expecting parents who have teenage children to go to work, but with an income difference as large as indicated by this case, spousal support for some period of time would make sense.

In Colorado we have a new statute that built upon the previous one in that it now provides a formula for a guidance amount of maintenance (including a maximum) and a length of time.  These are for guidance only and are only one factor the Court is to look at when determining a maintenance award.  Other factors include the need of the potential recipient, the ability of the potential payor to pay maintenance, the health of the parties, their earning ability and work history, ages of the parties, lifestyle during the marriage, economic resources available to the parties, and any other factors the court may deem relevant.

If you choose to make your own decisions, rather than rely on the Court to decide for you, then you can take all the factors into account and work out a plan that makes sense and feels fair for both of you and your children.  In my practice, I use financial software to help people understand their financial situation and what the options are for running two households. We can determine after tax cash positions of each person, taking into account their income, expenses and debt payments, which is very powerful for working out whether spousal support is needed and how much.   This often can involve reducing expenses as the combined incomes often cannot afford the previously enjoyed lifestyle.  We can also look at what the future may hold in terms of income and expenses as the situation changes (children getting older, improved incomes, etc) to see if spousal support should change over time, and for how long spousal support will be needed.

To me, it is important that parents think very carefully about what is best for the children in making decisions about spousal support.  Is it best for the children, and make financial sense, for the primary care parent to work full time and put the children into before and after school care?  Does part time work make more sense, at least until the children are a bit older?

To me, the key issue about spousal support is what makes sense for the family moving forward?  What feels fair, and makes sense, given all the circumstances?  I believe that many people have the ability to work this out for themselves, with a little help from a divorce professional, as long as they are willing to “problem-solve” and be fair with each other, rather than go for an “I win- You lose” result.

The Power of the Apology in Divorce

from Huffington Post

“For divorcing and divorced spouses, a heartfelt apology can work wonders in beginning to heal relationships and in settling disputes. Insincere apologies, however, when used strategically to control or manipulate — to try to win or get something, can wreak havoc on divorce negotiations and damage already fragile relationships.”

“Between divorcing adults, an apology, the genuine article, can promote dialogue, decrease emotional distance and even help to re-establish trust. At its very best, it is a healing gesture and a symbol of willingness to take responsibility for misbehavior and to own up to being human. It can also communicate a desire to truly hear and understand (and empathize with) the emotional consequences of the wrong doing that have been brought upon the injured spouse.”

In my experience as a mediator, it is much harder to have “grown-up” conversations and win-win decisions when there has been damage done to one of the parties and no apology by the other.  The damaged party often wants revenge, or to punish, the other party.  Real apologies can be very powerful in mitigating at least some of the hurt and allowing the parties to have positive dialogue about the future and the decisions that need to be made.

If you want to stay out of litigation, with the cost and hurt that it brings, then following the advice in this article might save your a lot of heartache, as well as dollars.

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