I read in a Fox News article a few weeks ago that Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband, Chris Martin, attended a party together, even though they have publicly announced their separation, which they have referred to as “conscious uncoupling”.  When the pair announced that they were “consciously uncoupling”, there seemed to be a lot of public questions (and skepticism) about what this is, and, if it exists, whether it can be accomplished successfully.  I, too, raised an eyebrow, wondering why it is headline news and why any of us care what happens between them in the privacy of their own relationship. In part, the story generated so much interest because of the use of the term uncoupling in place of divorce.

The term and idea of the “uncoupling” of married people is one that I have heard used in collaborative divorce cases.  In my experience, many people are drawn to collaborative law because they desire to end their marriage and resolve their economic issues in a process and a timeframe that they control together. Generally, they value what’s left of their relationship with their spouse, namely the joint parenting of children and often, that reason is their primary factor in selecting collaboratively-trained counsel to assist with the divorce. Collaboratively-trained professionals, particularly coaches and therapists, refer to the term “uncoupling”, as a way for both spouses to envision themselves moving forward with their lives, independent of each other.  Because the collaborative process is based on the parties’ development of their individual needs, concerns and interests, it necessarily requires them to think about their future and how their financial settlement and parenting plans will be structured to enable them to achieve that.


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During my years of practice as a family law attorney, I have met with hundreds of clients who asked me the question, What do I do before I separate from my spouse? In the alternative, I have also been asked, What should I have done? For those clients who have asked me after the fact, close to 50% of them would have fared much better had they come to see me prior to separating from their spouse.

See an attorney first.  My first recommendation to someone who is considering separating from their spouse would be to see an attorney right away. There are many misconceptions about what happens in a divorce matter, and everyone seems to have a friend, relative or co-worker who has had some terrible experience, which most likely was innocently exaggerated for effect. That being said, in order to avoid the fear and speculation of inaccurate, anecdotal advice, it is always best to see an attorney first and learn your true rights and responsibilities in a divorce situation. 

In addition to simply talking to a lawyer before you separate from your spouse, you can also do the following things to save significant attorneys’ fees, delay in your divorce proceedings and quite frankly, some emotional distress. 

Make copies of all financial records, including, but not limited to:

  • five years of all personal and business tax returns, supporting schedules and documentation
  • current pay stubs
  • car titles and loan payoffs
  • mortgage statements for all real estate and copies of appraisals if they are less than three years old and settlement sheets for all real estate purchases and refinances
  • three months of bank statements for all checking, savings, money markets, mutual funds, retirement and investment accounts
  • life insurance premium notices and cash value statements
  • certificates of deposit, stocks and bonds, safe deposit entry logs and loan documentation
  • credit card statements for three months and any other financial documentation relating to any asset or debt

Obtaining copies of this information at the outset can save you significant attorneys’ fees by possibly avoiding formal discovery and also identifying the assets and debts contained within your marital estate preliminarily.

Take an inventory of your personal property.  You do not need to inventory every fork, spoon or towel, but try to account for all items of furniture and furnishings, as well as household items of value. A written list is helpful, although pictures and/or videotape is better, particularly if they are date-stamped to identify what items of personalty (personal property) existed at a particular time.

Understand your debt position.  You should know what obligations exist at or around separation, including the type of debt, the account number, the contact information for the lender, and most importantly, how the debt is titled. Just because an account is in your spouse’s name alone does not mean that you are not obligated to pay for it. Many credit cards that are individually titled include a spouse as an authorized user, which for many creditors is the same as being the account holder. It is important to know how an account is titled so that it may be dealt with post-separation with regard to limiting your liability.


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It’s that day again, one of the most difficult holidays for those facing or going through the process of a divorce: Valentine’s Day.

A recent study has revealed a 40% increase in divorce filings around Valentine’s Day in the past two years. For those experiencing the season of upheaval of divorce, the holiday has nothing to do with roses and candy.   Most in this situation have gone beyond asking the question "Is my partner right for me?" and are now asking, "What am I going to do next?" Luckily, for some there is another question to be asked, one that can help alleviate some of the stress of the usual divorce process: is collaborative divorce the right choice for me?

Many divorce clients have described feeling trapped in their situations, as if they have lost control. Court dates and conflict become the new norm, and it seems that their lives and those of their children are at the mercy of the system.

The collaborative process can make some of the toughest parts of divorce a little easier. (See Collaborative Divorce: A Different Way to Divorce). The factors below will help determine if you and your spouse are good candidates for divorce using the collaborative model. If you find yourselves in any one or more of the following categories, you may want to consider moving forward collaboratively:

  • You wish to protect your children and your family from the harmful effects of a high-conflict dispute.
  • You and your spouse will be co-parenting together and want to establish the best co-parenting relationship possible for the future.
  • You value privacy in your personal affairs and do not want the details of your family restructuring to be available on the public court docket.
  • You and your spouse have a circle of friends and family in common that you both want to remain connected to.
  • You value control and autonomous decision-making and do not want to hand over decisions about restructuring your financial or child custody arrangements to a judge. 
  • You understand that conflict resolution involves achieving not only your goals, but finding a way to achieve the reasonable goals of the other person.


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Do-it-yourself projects, like remodeling your bathroom or building a deck, can save money and provide a sense of accomplishment by doing something on your own that you would ordinarily hire another person to do. With any do-it-yourself project there are risks involved, such as increased cost if you have to hire a professional in the end or if your inexperience causes other damage. 

The internet has allowed individuals to perform some legal functions on their own. Many government websites, for example, offer forms with detailed instructions that can be very helpful for people seeking to help themselves with certain issues. There are also websites that offer forms and additional services for a fee. These websites are required to stop short of offering legal advice because they are not law firms, which is made very clear on LegalZoom’s website: "LegalZoom is not a law firm, and the employees of LegalZoom are not acting as your attorney….if you need legal advice for your specific problem, or if your specific problem is too complex to be addressed by our tools, you should consult a licensed attorney in your area." Because these sites are not law firms, they are also not subject to the rules that govern lawyers. This is why they are able to do things lawyers can’t do, such as use celebrity endorsements. 


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Meeting with a lawyer for the first time about a divorce can be overwhelming for a number of reasons. Obviously, clients most likely are experiencing emotional trauma over the loss of their relationship and uncertainty about their future. Navigating the legal intricacies of the divorce process adds yet another element of uncertainty to the situation. For a client who is unfamiliar with the legal process, learning about options and discussing ways in which to proceed during the most stressful  time of their life can be confusing. However, it is a critical meeting — one at which the lawyer can assess the client’s situation and priorities, and one at which the client can become comfortable with the lawyer.

Clients often have no idea what to expect from the initial consultation. At the very least, I believe that the client should leave my office that day knowing that he or she has choices, that there is no "one size fits all" method for divorcing, and that I have some understanding of the issues their case will present. In developing an understanding of the issues, it is necessary to have information about the nature of the parties’ marital estate, including their assets and liabilities. It is particularly helpful if clients bring along the following documents when they meet with me for the first time to discuss their divorce:

  • Copies of their most recent Federal Income Tax Return, including W-2s, 1099s and schedules.
  • Copies of recent paystubs.
  • A copy of all recent mortgage and/or home equity loan statements, for all properties owned; if a home is in foreclosure, a copy of the most recent Act 91 Notice.
  • Recent statements for all investment and retirement accounts, including 401(k)s, IRAs and pensions.
  • Recent bank account statements.
  • Annual income statements from the Social Security Administration.
  • Information regarding the value of any business interests.
  • Documentation of loan balances, credit card debts or outstanding medical bills 


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Back in July I wrote about the first-time homebuyer tax credit that applies to home sales occurring before December 1, 2009. However, there is some great news for prospective homeowners unable to squeeze in a purchase in that timeframe: Reuters is reporting that the credit may be extended for another six months. With bipartisan support in Congress

In Part One of Domestic Issues for Business Owners, I discussed the definition and value of marital property. In this post I will be highlighting how separation, divorce and equitable distribution can affect your business.

Separation

Separation is an important aspect in valuation of marital property, including business interests, because the date of separation identifies the ending date for assets to be included in the marital estate.

Divorce

There are two types of divorce, fault and no-fault. Even if you have established grounds for divorce under the fault or no-fault provisions of the Divorce Code, a divorce will not be granted until all economic issues are resolved.


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Starting and running a small business is tough enough. The domestic issue in the forefront of your mind is how the stress of running a business will affect the relationship of your marriage. However, you might want to consider how your marriage affects the assets of your business and understand how a divorce could affect the future of your business.

In this three part post, I highlight some of the issues that arise in a divorce which includes a business owned by one or both parties. Because of the complex nature of this type of divorce, it is difficult to cover all of the issues involved. However, these posts will help to provide some understanding of the basic considerations.


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Location isn’t just important when you’re looking to buy a home, but also when you may be thinking about a divorce. The practice of one party filing a divorce in a far removed county from the residence of either party, which could be the result of low filing fees or the desire to place the