Suddenly wealthy?

Once I lived the life of a millionaire,
spending my money, I didn’t care
I carried my friends out for a good time,
buying bootleg liquor, champagne and wine …

by Ida Cox & B Feldman, sung by Bessie Smith

According to the NY Times, thanks to the thriftiness of depression-era parents, baby boomers are more likely to inherit great sums of money than previous generations. Some know to expect it, others do not.  What would you do if you suddenly found yourself to be wealthy?

Some boomers donate the funds to a cause their parents would have liked. (And some donate to a cause their parents would have hated!)  Others save their portfolios to make sure they can provide for their own children. Or provide for relatives who have helped them in the past. Some just squander it.

It is important to realize that gaining sudden wealth is a stressful event.  Although it may be pleasant, it involves a life change.  Suddenly there are new possibilities.  And yet, what may seem like a lot of money when it is given as a lump sum, once you stretch it out over time, it is actually not so much.  There are important choices to make – do you live off of the interest or spend the principal?  Do you invest it the way your parents did?   What are your priorities?

There is an emotional component – this money is not earned, so some people may think they don’t deserve it.  Some may be elated that a windfall finally fell their way.  Some feel entitled.

And then there is a social component, because, while we may not want to admit it, we live in a stratified society, and tend to feel most comfortable with people in the same economic bracket.  Are we now catapulted into some other social circle?  Are old acquaintances now coming out of the woodwork to be your best friend?

While coming into sudden wealth is the stuff dreams are made of, be careful!  Be thoughtful. Be quiet!  Get advice.  Be smart. Remember, this is a life transition, as significant as grieving or divorce.   So this is the time to be good to yourself ~~ whatever that means!

Posted in Uncategorized, estate planning, families, happiness, inheritance | Leave a comment

1 Step forward, 2 Steps back??

The Kings County (Brooklyn) Surrogate’s Court issued a strange decision today – it denied a second parent adoption where the lesbian couple was married and the non-bio mom’s name is on the birth certificate, saying adoption is “neither necessary nor available.” It seems to me that this denies the reality that same sex marriage is still banned in most states and in many countries, and refuses to protect the legal relationship between the child and the non-bio mother. Is this a step in the wrong direction?

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Does Divorce Mediation Work?

here’s a link to a lovely pictograph that shows why it does!

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Review of Dignity published!

I’m excited to announce that my review of the book, Dignity, by Donna Hicks was published this week in ACResolution, the quarterly magazine of the national Association for Conflict Resolution.

God gave each of us inherent worth and value; accept it in yourself, discover and encourage it in others, and peace may just be possible. ~ Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Dr . Hicks, who has worked on international conflicts all over the world, uses this concept as the premise for her “dignity model” of conflict resolution.  It seems simple, but is not so easy to apply.

I recommend the book, and well, um … I recommend the article! (Click to the link..)

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Lesson from Mandela: Ubuntu

I can hardly believe that I woke up today, listening to the President of the United States talk about that most powerful concept, ubuntu. It was in his tribute to Nelson Mandela – Madiba, a speech given today before thousands, in Johannesburg. Here is what he said:

Mandela understood the ties that bind the human spirit.  There is a word in South Africa — Ubuntu — a word that captures Mandela’s greatest gift:  his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that are invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us. ~ President Barack Obama

Ubuntu – I am because we are -  is, I believe, at the heart of what makes us human, and it is at the heart of what makes mediation work.

As we mourn the passing of Nelson Mandela, we have many lessons to learn.  I believe that ubuntu is the most important one – and perhaps the hardest to practice consistently.   That is his legacy.  We are his legacy.  Let us honor this great man by living up to his high standards, not only for justice, but also for compassion.

Posted in cultural competence, mediation, mindfulness, negotiation, nonviolence | 1 Comment

A grieving process

Several years ago, I became a sudden widow.  I came home to find that my husband had died of a heart attack.  I was relatively young – in my early 40s, and we had many dreams of the future.

The next year was a time of realizing, over and over, what I had lost, and I asked myself many questions:  Who was I going to have inside jokes with? Who could I turn to now? How was I going to restructure my life?  How was I going to do alone the work that we had been doing together?  Who was my family now?  How was this going to change my relationship with our friends?  What physical changes should I make to the house?

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross famously identified 5 states of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.   I found that they fit more or less.  In any case, the time of acute grief was an emotional roller coaster.  There were times when I felt that I had lost all control of my reality.

I imagine the process is much the same with divorce.  The future that you thought you had is no longer possible.   I can hear it in my clients – it is particularly hard if one partner did not realize something was wrong.  They may be blindsided.  There is a terrible loss of control over one’s life.  A terrible sense of being wronged.

What can we do to heal ourselves?  I can only tell you what worked for me – I gave myself lots of time to do nothing, to cry, to listen to music, to write, to laugh with friends, to reflect.  I worked as hard as I could and still remain grateful to my coworkers who assisted when I could not hold up my part.  I found joy in small things – flowers in a pot, beautiful clouds, the still reflection in a pond.   I made it my business to count my many blessings. Eventually, I realized that this was my own life, and happiness was, at least for me, a decision.  As sad as I was to lose what was and what could have been, I was – and am – tremendously grateful for the beauty and love that surround me, for the gifts I’ve been given, for the life I have.

Eventually I got remarried, and rebuilt my life.  And my new husband has taught me an important lesson:

Even the darkest hour only lasts 60 minutes.

Posted in divorce, families, mindfulness | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Can a child have 3 parents?

We all know that a child can only have 2 biological parents – a man and a woman.  But we also know that biology is only a small part of the story.   Every child is connected to more adults – as they say, “it takes a village to raise a child.”   Many children are actually being raised by more than 2 parents — step parents, grandparents, friends and partners can play an important role in the financial and emotional health and life of the child.

The law often takes quite a long time to recognize what people actually do.    Certainly, the big family law story in the news this year is the Supreme Court’s mandating the federal government to recognize same sex marriages.  But just last week, the California State Legislature passed a bill that I believe, will also have huge implications in the future.  for the first time in US history, that law allows judges to find that more than 2 people are the legal parents of a child.   This is designed to be used sparingly, and only in circumstances when to limit the child to having only 2 legal parents would be detrimental.  It could apply, for instance, when a divorced parent’s partner has played a large role in the life of a child, but then breaks up with the child’s biological parent.  Or when a lesbian couple uses a known donor, who they want to be involved in the child’s life.

As I said, it will be used sparingly.  But it is a huge breakthrough, and may open the door for the recognition of other kinds of parenting arrangements.

The last time we had a breakthrough like this was when courts began to recognize that a child can have 2 parents of the same sex.  In New York, this occurred in the 1990s, and opened the path for second parent adoptions, which has provided legal rights to thousands of children to be raised by two moms or two dads.  This may also provide stability and a sense of belonging to many, many children.  And that, as they say, would be a good thing.

To see the text of the California law, click here.  To read more about it, click here.

Posted in LGBT, Uncategorized, caregiving, child support, children, families | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Let Freedom Ring

Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his magnificent “I Have a Dream” speech – one of most inspiring and important speeches in history.  In anticipation, I just read the full text of the speech again, and link to it here.

There are some lines that we have heard over and again, and which we need to hear over and again.  But there are a few others which surprised me, which I do not recall knowing about before.  They remind me of the essence of that to which I aspire – to name injustice where you see it, to make overt that which you perceive, but to do so with elegance and dignity and discipline — and yes, with nonviolence.

In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

…We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

… In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

And now, another 50 years later, we see that we certainly have a long way to go to achieve justice and equality.  But I am still hopeful that we shall overcome, that Dr. King’s dream — our dream — shall be realized.

Let us treat ourselves, and each other creatively, peacefully, mindfully, and with  patience, intention and dignity.

Posted in cultural competence, happiness, mindfulness, negotiation, nonviolence | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Is That Prenup Really Fair?

Lee and Carolyn were in love.  Carolyn loved Lee so much that she moved her children from Delaware to Long Island so they could be a family.  After 8 years of dating, Lee finally proposed.   Lee suggested a prenuptial agreement.  Carolyn was so relieved that they were finally getting married, that she said, “I’ll sign any piece of paper you put in front of me and I won’t even read it.”

And so he did.  Lee gave her the agreement his lawyer had drafted a few days before the wedding.  Carolyn’s lawyer, whom she met for the first time the day, she first saw the prenup, was chosen by Lee’s attorney.  The terms, she was told, were non-negotiable.  Carolyn signed it, crying, 45 minutes later.

Did I tell you that Lee was earning over $1 million per year running his own business while Carolyn was earning $5,000 per year as a part-time teacher’s aide?  Oh — and did I tell you that it said that if they divorce, Carolyn would only be entitled to the gifts Lee had explicitly given her?  No equitable distribution of assets, no maintenance (alimony), no appreciation of assets, no house, no car, nothing.  In other words, if they got divorced, Carolyn would be flat broke.

Fast forward over 10 years.  Now the couple is getting divorced.  The Nassau County Trial Court (CS v LS 202692/12)  just told Lee that the prenuptial agreement is invalid — for oh, so many reasons.  Here are his suggestions (paraphrased) for writing a valid Prenuptial agreement:

  • Make sure you each choose your own lawyer (even if one spouse is paying the legal fees for both attorneys).  Take the time to interview a few of them, to see if it is a good match for you.
  • Make sure you have time to really think about and understand what you are agreeing to.
  • Look carefully at the sheet where your spouse discloses his/her assets.  Does that make sense to you, given what you know?  Do you have questions?  Is the disclosure fair and adequate?
  • Think about the agreement – is it fair?  Will it leave both parties have enough to live on given their resources? To rebuild their lives?  Is one person rich and the other destitute?

These may seem obvious, but they are not always.  In other blog posts, I have written about why it may be important to have a prenuptial agreement.  They definitely have their place.  But go into it with an attitude of fairness, respect and dignity.

Funny, those are also the elements of a good marriage, aren’t they?

Posted in Uncategorized, divorce, families, marriage, negotiation, prenuptial | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

DOMA and the States

There is no doubt that the Supreme Court’s recent decision regarding the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was historic, and will forever change the lives for millions of same-sex couples and their families. There are over 1,100 federal benefits now available to married same sex couples that were previously only available to married heterosexual couples.

But DOMA is not entirely deceased. There were 2 parts to DOMA – the part that remains intact is the part that says that states do not have to recognize the same sex marriage that was legally performed in another state. Think about this – if a heterosexual couple gets married in New York, they would still be married when they move to New Jersey. That is so much part of our culture that we don’t think twice. Married couples cross state boundaries all the time, expecting to maintain their marital status.

But that same sex couple, married and paying joint taxes in New York, is not recognized by the State of New Jersey as being married, and will not receive the same State spousal benefits.  And not just, NJ, of course, but most of these United States.

What does that mean? In practical terms, it means that in those states, you are still considered unmarried.  No right to inherit. No right to visit in the hospital, and to make medical decisions for each other.  No right to act as a step-parent.  You are still “legal strangers.”

And so, LGBT families must still protect themselves legally, even if they live in states that recognize their marriage.  In case they move.  In case they travel.  You must still do second parent adoptions to protect the relationship of the non-biological parent to the children. It means that you still need health care proxies and wills.

We are making progress – no doubt. But there is still so very far to go.

Posted in LGBT, children, estate planning, families, marriage, travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment