Using Divorce Clients Emotions for Positive Settlements in Mediation

January 25, 2012

Divorces are emotional.  Therefore, taking the emotions out of a family mediation and treating it just like a business transaction rarely works.  The key to a successful divorce settlement mediation is to tap into the emotions that best serve the clients’ realistic goals and their children’s’ best interests. Emotional upset does not usually contribute to positive outcomes (e.g., inability to focus, too quick to settle, too angry to negotiate), but redirection of emotions is often very helpful (e.g. passionate negative response to the break-up of a family –> passionate desire to raise happy, well-adjusted children)

Positive Emotions: Anticipation, Empathy, Joy, Acceptance, Trust

  • Helping clients stay positive, focused on the future and assisting them in seeing opportunities in their situations is very important when people are going through a divorce.
  • Family mediators should encourage empathy, especially where clients are coming to mediation after having had the empathy “knocked out of them” by the court system.
  • Keeping the mood light in mediation, smiling and even freeing up the mood for a little laughter, always helps, but cannot be pushed.
  • In a divorce mediation, there is often one party who is fully ready for the divorce, while the other is still in a bit of shock.  Acceptance may not come for a long time and often requires therapy, but good mediators can help get the “shocked person” started down the path.
  • Intense lack of trust due to adulterous affairs can threaten to blow a mediation.  There is often the question: How can I trust him/her to be forthright with the financial information when I cannot even trust him/her to be faithful?  This is a question that often needs to be sent back to the parties.The “non-trusting” spouse needs to make the ultimate decision him/herself.  There are a lot of people who, though untruthful in body, are truthful in money!

Negative Emotions: Fear, Anger, Despair, Disgust, Frustration, Surprise

  • Negative emotions need to be balanced with positive emotions (“flipped on their head”, e.g. fear of the unknown –> excitement about the opportunity to form new life dreams).
  • Negative emotions often lead to black & white thinking (not generally very creative).
  • The emotion of “surprise” is usually uncomfortable in a divorce mediatin situation.  I have seen clients make offers in mediation that they never came close to making outside of mediation (e.g., willingness to help with transportation of children, spousal support, etc.)  No matter how seemingly good the “surprise” is, the other party is often angry just because she/he has been surprised.   This is always a good time to focus on the goal (e.g., You wanted spousal support, now it looks like you are going to get it.  It doesn’t matter that it was “no, no, no” up until now!”)
  • Obviously it is best if negative emotions can be kept to a minimum.  They are often counterproductive and solicit negative feedback from other party. Balance is key.           

 Neutral Emotions: Sadness

  • Although most people would consider sadness a “negative emotion”, I put it into the “neutral” category because it is almost always present in a divorce mediation in one way or another.  It’s nice if your mediator is empathetic to your sadness, but doesn’t get too drawn in. Mediators with positive outlooks and a cheerful disposition can often be a comfort to clients and joyful people sometimes can help sad people feel a little better, though this is not always the case.

Is My Spouse Really Hiding Money . . . or Does It Just Feel That Way?

January 22, 2012

Unfortunately, it happens.  Spouses do conceal assets.  Some even spend the entire marital estate on untoward activities and ridiculous whims and weird mid-life crisis expenditures. Some spouses even run up huge debts without telling their husband or wife – especially if these debts are from gambling, drugs, girlfriend-related expenses, etc. It happens, but you should not assume, in every case, that this is what is going on.

Divorce attorneys and forensic accountants are the masters at figuring this out.  Husbands and wives who feel that they are being hoodwinked, when it comes to the family finances, need an attorney who has subpoena powers and the ability to take the equivocator (pretty much means “the liar”!) to court if he/she fails to produce the financial documents as requested.  A litigator’s toolbox and skills are also needed if a spouse repeatedly and inadequately explains why money is “missing”, why debts have mysteriously piled up, why the suggested values of the parties’ businesses and property are so much lower than expected and/or why there are suddenly expensive assets that both appear and disappear. Be careful, however, as this is an area of litigation where the fees can add up fast and, if the money is truly gone, it is just that: “Gone!” There may be other assets to offset the missing money, etc., but if there is not, you may be spending and awful lot of time and money just to prove it. Talk with your attorney, have a goal and consider capping your attorney fees at a certain dollar amount.

Be careful, however, when aligning oneself to the notion that your spouse is being shady with the family estate.  In today’s volatile economy, what may appear to be financial shenanigans may very well just be the manifestation of the sad truth that a spouse’s business is going downhill.  Also, the values of property and business are remarkably difficult to assess these days.  Not only that, but the old adage that “the value of a business or piece of real estate is only what a person would pay for it” has never been truer than in today’s market.

Sometimes, small suspicions of asset concealment and/or debts that seem to have accumulated out of no where, are often simply a manifestation of miscommunications, misunderstandings and a lack of knowledge about the family’s money situation by one of the spouses.  A good mediator can help clients to determine the difference between a case of “hiding the goods” and a case where there is simply a very uneven base of knowledge about the family assets and debts. The former is usually a cause for a referral to the court-based system; the latter is a situation where mediation is often the perfect forum to help both parties get a grip on their financial situation as part of the settlement of their divorce disputes.

The following list includes some common ways in which a spouse may hide, undervalue or disguise marital assets[1].

Disguising Marital Assets as Method of Hiding Assets

  • Antiques, artwork, hobby equipment, gun collections, and tools that are overlooked or undervalued. Look for antique furnishings, original paintings, or collector-level carpets in your spouse’s office.
  • Cash kept in the form of cash/travelers’ checks. You may be able to find these by tracing bank account deposits and withdrawals.
  • A custodial account set up in the name of a child, using the child’s Social Security number.
  • Investment in certificate “bearer” municipal bonds or Series EE Savings Bonds. These do not appear on account statements because they are not registered with the IRS. (The government is phasing out these bonds.)

Not Reporting Receipt of Money on Tax Returns, Delaying Receipt of Marital Money

  • Income that is unreported on tax returns and financial statements.
  • Collusion with an employer to delay bonuses, stock options, or raises until a time when the asset or income would be considered separate property (upon separation in Virginia; upon divorce in Maryland and Virginia)
  • Debt repayment to a friend for a phony debt.

Misappropriation of Marital Money

  • Expenses paid for a girlfriend or boyfriend, such as gifts, travel, rent, or tuition for college or classes.
  • Retirement accounts that your spouse never tells you about.

In addition, business owners may try to hide assets in the following ways:

  • Skimming cash from the business;
  • Salary payments to a nonexistent employee, with checks that will be voided after the divorce;
  • Money paid from the business to someone close — such as a father, mother, girlfriend, or boyfriend — for services that were never actually rendered (the money is given back to your spouse after the divorce is final); or
  • A delay in signing long-term business contracts until after the divorce.

If you are planning on filing for divorce, it would be a good idea to begin getting yourself educated as to the family finances.  If you do not think that there are a lot of games being played with the money, and if you are able to sit down with your spouse, you will want to start informing each other of:

  • the location and values of all assets;
  • your family’s spending patterns;
  • the costs of health insurance for family members;
  • job potentials for each of you (if necessary, post divorce);
  • impending big expenses; and,
  • your family’s debt situation . . .

. . . more power to you. Get to it!

But, if you need the help of a third party to get things moving along, this is a great use of a mediator’s expertise.  Mediators are trained in both helping divorcing couples communicate (without screaming!) and in helping them sort through the family finances and begin planning for their futures as they become financially independent from one another.

Remember, the family CPA, banker, money manager/broker and estate planning attorney has a fiduciary duty (duty of trust) to both of you.  You should feel free to ask that person questions about your taxes, investments, etc.  If you do not want to put up a red flag for strategic reasons (i.e., you do not want your spouse to know that you are preparing for a divorce because he/she might then close down all the accounts and disappear!), get an attorney, first, before you call your financial people.  But always remember this: Sometimes your accountant is just as good a “friend” during your divorce as is your lawyer.

For a free 30 minute consultation in Fairfax, Virginia, call Robin Graine at Graine Mediation: 571-220-1998 or email robin@grainemediation.com.  If you need an attorney or CPA referral, I can help you there, too.



BEWARE: DIVORCE IS HAZARDOUS TO SINGLE MOMS’ CREDIT-WORTHINESS

January 19, 2012

PNC bank has a new policy, I have been told by a trusty loan officer in the higher ranks of that enterprise, that child support no longer counts as income for the purpose of obtaining a home equity line of credit or small business loan.  This is true even for very large amounts of child supports. I was told, straight-up, that married female applicants whose husband’s who have jobs, earning the same amount of money as an ex-wife’s child support allotment, are much more credit-worthy than single moms who are receiving regular, provable, court-ordered child support.  Is this prejudiced against single moms?

In my line of work, I see lots of mother’s whose husbands leave the marriage — without warning.  Of course, those husbands take their jobs with them!  As a mediator, though, most of my clients are decent people that pay their child support obligations. Nevertheless, even women who have upstanding child-support paying ex’s, and are seeking a loan, can no longer count that cash-flow as part of their income.  This is absurd considering the same woman could have counted that same amount of family income as cash flow, for purposes of obtaining a loan, if she were still married to her children’s father – even if he spent that money foolishly and contributed nothing to the family.

I was also told, by my PNC informer, that no amount of money in the bank is worthy of consideration when it comes to approving a loan – unless that money is in PNC’s own coffers and can be used as direct collateral.  That means that people who are responsible and work hard to save their money and put it in the trusty hands of a good broker, are considered, at least by PNC Bank, to be a greater credit risk than people who spend every penny they have with no thought for the future. Essentially, PNC prefers loan applicants with a low-paying job, with no hope of putting anything away for the future, over a person who has a pile of dough at the ready.

This doesn’t make sense.  People are losing their jobs right and left.  There is no security in an individual’s employment.  However, if a person defaults on a loan, the bank can get a judgment against that person and garnish their bank or brokerage account.  When is the last time, though, you ever heard of a bank forcing an employer to keep a person on the payroll so that that person could pay off a loan?

And, finally, we all know that the equity in your home is worth nothing to the bank.  They don’t want your home if you default.  They have enough homes to keep them busy for a long time.  They have so many homes, that they cannot even afford to heat and cool them properly and residences across the nation are molding and rotting as a result.

So, if you want to start or grow a business with a home equity line of credit or a small business loan from your local bank – as was the norm for many, many years – forget about it, unless you have a regular paycheck, with at least a three year record of earnings– even if you have a hefty court-monitored source of cash flow, a flush bank account and tons of equity in your home.


Keys to Greatness

January 13, 2012

Many people choose, when they get divorced, to reassess their views on life, their personal priorities and their ways of relating to other people. There is no shortgage of self-help books to guide you in that undertaking.  But, I have often found  that the best way to learn new skills and habits is to first see how great people (e.g. leaders, thinkers, artists, writers, philosophers that you admire)  have lived their lives. 

Jacob Abbott, in his classic autobiography of Alexander the Great, made a wonderful list of Alexander’s personality traits that allowed such a young man (Alexander was only 20 when he assumed the throne of Macedononia and a mere 32 years old when he died after having conquered much of the known world at that time) to rise, so quickly, to greatness.

These Keys to Greatness — or personality traits, habits, mannerisms and relationship skills, are:

  • Being full of ardour (feelings of great warmth, intensity) and enthusiasm for all you do
  • Being calm, collected and considerate in emergencies requiring caution
  • Being thoughtful and farseeing regarding consequences of your actions
  • Being able to form strong personal attachments
  • Being finely formed in physical attributes
  • Being prepossessing (to make a positive impression on someone beforehand) in manners
  • Being athletic and active
  • Being grateful for all kindnesses shown you
  • Being considerate of other people’s feelings
  • Being faithful to friends
  • Being generous toward foes

I guess nice guys don’t always finish last. 🙂


Why You Should Not Expect Your Bank to Voluntarily Rewrite Your Loan

January 4, 2012

Many divorce clients are looking for ways to restructure their finances so that they can move on with their lives with a clean financial slate.  In this economy, that is tough going.  From what I have seen, loan modification applications get “lost” more than is statistically appropriate and there is little chance of  being forgiven or renegotiating  just about anything when it comes to banks.  In other words, “Bank Wins” is the norm.  I could not have expressed what is going on in the world of bank loan remodifications better than the following article.  See the link below for a great article to read in case you are thinking about a divorce which is based, in part, on some type of refinance/loan modification on your upside-down residence:

http://www.bankruptcylawnetwork.com/why-you-should-not-expect-your-bank-to-voluntarily-rewrite-your-loan/ via


%d bloggers like this: