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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.
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 children, custody, divorce, family, finances, inclusivity, lesbian, LGBT, marriage, parents
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 common ground, compassion, conflict, honesty, hope, inclusivity, nonviolence, understanding
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 divorce, family, finances, planning, pre-nup, win-win
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 Adoption, law, lesbian, LGBT, marriage, planning, wills
Lately, I have had a few clients who have come to me asking for a prenuptial agreement because their parents insisted that they have one. Prenups used to be thought of only for the rich and famous. But they are becoming much more common, and are losing some of their stigma. When should you consider having a pre-nup? Here are some common examples when a pre-nup can be helpful. If:
- You are part of a family business, and you want to make sure the business stays in the family
- You have inherited money from your family and your relatives wants to make sure that it stays in the family
- You already have children, and you want to protect the financial resources available to them
- There is a big discrepancy in how much you and your fiance earn, and you want to put a cap on what alimony you may have to pay in the future.
- Your income is high now but you are in an industry where people generally retire when they are very young.
- You have a same-sex marriage that may or may not be recognized in another state.
But prenups don’t just protect the partner with more resources. They can also be useful to the “non-moneyed” spouse, when:
- You want to quit your career to have children, and want to make sure you will be financially secure so you can raise the kids.
- You want to make sure your spouse will leave you enough to continue living comfortably if s/he dies.
- You want to make sure that you will be financially protected in case of divorce.
- You want to protect your fiance from your student (or other) debt.
There is no doubt that the prenup process can be very stressful. We all grow up with significant messages and expectations around money, which we bring to the marriage. Planning a wedding is difficult enough, and doing a prenup at the same time can create conflict and add tension. But it can also be a time of clarification, of understanding, of listening. These will help you create an agreement that serves the particular needs of you and your fiance, and can give you both security as you embark on your new life together.
Mediation and collaborative law are both great processes to use when contemplating a prenuptial agreement, because they both give you a chance to clarify financial expectations, to communicate attitudes about spending, and to create a model for working together on solving problems together.
As the New York State Court of Appeals said, marriage is an economic partnership. Prenuptial agreements, if approached with sensitivity and compassion, can help clarify expectations, enhance communication, and get you off to a healthy start.
Posted in LGBT, collaborative process, divorce, marriage, mediation, negotiation, prenuptial
Tagged children, collaborative process, common ground, compassion, conflict, family, gay, lesbian, LGBT, marriage
Many people prepare financial statements in the process of getting divorced. This is a good time to look at all of your accounts, and to update your beneficiaries. After all, you might not want your ex to receive an unexpected gain in several years because you never got around to it. Common accounts that have beneficiary designations include:
- Life Insurance
- Retirement and IRA accounts
- Some brokerage or savings accounts
It is also a good time to update your estate planning documents. Take a look at your health care proxy (the person who will make health realted decisions for you if you are alive but cannot speak for yourself). And — very importantly — you power of attorney (designating someone who will manage your finances if you are alive but not able to manage them). If you don’t have them, now’s the time!
Who do you appoint in these positions? Someone who is smart and level headed, and whom you can trust to carry out your wishes — putting your needs in front of their own.
It is also a good time to reread your will — does it need to be changed? However, divorce agreements often provide provisions that may affect the will, so you might need to wait until the divorce agreement is signed before revising your will.
This is just one area of many cogs in the wheel that lead to your transition to being single again.
Well, this doesn’t happen every day! We’re quoted in Smart Money – a national magazine published by the Wall Street Journal.
I had quite a long talk with the reporter, Glenn Ruffenbach. He just used one idea from our discussion, but it is an important one – that disputes between siblings is a bit different because they don’t often have the opportunity (or the experience) to work on problem-solving together.
While other articles have focused on what elder mediation is, this one focuses on when to call an elder mediator.
Posted in elder mediation, elder mediation, families, mediation, probate mediation
Tagged aging, caregiving, conflict, elder mediation, estate mediation, family, mediation, money
I have spent the last week alone with my parents in their summer home in Cape Cod. It is hard to get around without driving here, and my brother and I decided that it would be better if one of us was here to do most of the driving.
And so I packed up my office (thank you, Dropbox!), brought my laptop, ordered some books, and prepared to be here for 2 weeks straight – something I haven’t done since childhood.
In a few days, my parents will celebrate their 60th anniversary. Their marriage has gone through many changes, but it’s been strong. Now they are, as my father said, “incredibly interdependent.” Mom depends on Dad’s ears, Dad depends on Mom’s ability to remember appointments. They have matching purple canes.
Being with them here is very different from the usual once a week back home in New York. I see their rhythms, their habits, their patterns … which has helped me figure out how to be there for them and how to be there for me as well. I leave for an hour to take a Zumba class. Or to write a will for a client. Or to make some phone calls. I am there to take Mom to the beach for our morning swim in Vineyard Sound. We buy fresh fish and cook it on the grill. I help them look for things they have lost. We go together to a community meeting to save our local beach.
There is a dance of meeting their needs and meeting my own. It’s not easy to do both.
But I am grateful for this time. And most grateful that I am able, in some small way, to thank my parents for meeting my needs when I was small, while meeting their own.
While parents may agree to share parenting time 50/50, there are a myriad ways to structure the schedule to meet your and your children’s needs. Younger children need shorter but more frequent time with each parent (switching, for instance, every 2-3 days), while it may be easier for older children to change less often, perhaps spending a week with each parent.
Having a predictable and structured schedule helps everyone manage their expectations, but it is also a good idea to try it and see how it works. Remember that children have different reactions to transitions!
Parents who share time equally must live close enough to each other that both can get the child back and forth to school.
Here are a few examples of parenting schedules that you might consider:
- One week with each parent, changing on Saturdays, but Tuesday evening (dinner or overnight) with the other parent.
- Monday and Tuesday with one parent, Wednesday and Thursday with the other, alternating weekends.
- Sunday to Tuesday night with one parent, Wednesday to Friday night with the other, alternating Saturdays.
- Alternating every 2 nights. (For this one, you have to block it out in advance because you won’t have the children on the same night each week.
Of course, there are many other considerations that must go into creating a good parenting plan, but these are a few creative examples.