The Mediation Process – How It Works

Mediation is a structured, interactive process where an impartial third-party helps disputing parties in resolving conflict using specialized communication and negotiation techniques. The mediator is there to aid the parties in reaching their own agreement. The mediated settlement agreement is not a decision by the mediator as to how the divorce should be decided; it is an agreement between the parties as to how the parties’ issues are to be resolved. The mediator’s function is to use the mediator’s legal and financial knowledge as well specialized negotiating skills to facilitate a resolution for the parties.

Usually what happens at mediation is both parties meet with the mediator at the mediator’s office or a special mediation center. Almost all mediators now immediately divide the parties into different rooms. Typically, the mediator will start out with the Petitioner and will spend an hour or more learning about the particulars of the Petitioner’s case. Many times, the mediator will not even try to get an offer of settlement out of the Petitioner during the first meeting. Then the mediator will meet with the Respondent for a similar period of time. This way the mediator becomes completely familiar with the issues that exist between the parties.

With Divorce Strategies Group mediation process, we meet with the parties several times before mediation day to learn about your situation, your wants, and your wishes. We walk through your finances – what you own, what you owe and different options for division. In addition, we meet with each party prior to mediation to discuss the decisions you will need to make with your children in a formal parenting plan during mediation. With Divorce Strategies Group mediation process, we provide two mediators – a divorce financial mediator who understands even the most complex estate issues as well an experienced family law attorney mediator to walk through parenting plan options and oversee the entire legal process. You will have two experienced mediators – each with a different area of expertise, helping you with the decisions you need to make to achieve a resolution to your dispute.

During mediation, the mediator(s) will go back and forth between the parties negotiating a settlement. Skilled mediators can provide particularly helpful suggestions to the parties when an impasse on a particular situation begins to arise. Many times, people go into mediation with the attitude of “my way or the highway.” A good mediator can usually deflect this type of attitude by making suggestions for settlement that neither party thought of before mediation. If an agreement is reached at mediation, then the mediator prepares a Mediated Settlement Agreement which is signed by the parties and becomes binding.

Many people serving as mediators are highly experienced attorneys. In order to be a mediator, an attorney must undergo substantial training in the art of negotiation and the ethics of mediation. Another person who is often a mediator is someone with substantial financial knowledge in the specialized realm of divorce finance as well as specific training in family law mediation. At Divorce Strategies Group, we provide both.

There are usually a few rules that go with mediation. First, everything that occurs at mediation is confidential and cannot be used in court. The mediator(s) can never be brought into court to testify one way or another. Furthermore, the parties are barred by the court from stating in court what occurred at mediation. Secondly, when you are discussing your case with the mediator, the mediator is free to assume that whatever you tell the mediator may be discussed with the other side. However, if you have a certain piece of information that you believe critically shapes your case, and the other side does not have that information, and you do not want them to learn about it, you should be sure and tell the mediator that you do not want the mediator to disclose that information to the other side. In that case, the mediator(s) will keep your information private.

As I pointed our earlier, once you sign a mediated settlement agreement it is irrevocable and binding, and a party is entitled to ask the court to enter a final decree of divorce based upon the mediated settlement agreement. That means at the end of mediation day, your agreements are binding. There are no “take backs”. The negotiations – aka the fight — is over. At this point, we usually help the parties decide which accounts are going to be used by whom, timelines for transitioning of accounts and even a timeline for moving out of the marital home if needed and any other pertinent issues.

Usually, a mediated settlement agreement is a shorthand rendition of the parties’ agreement. Afterwards, an attorney will prepare a Final Decree of Divorce based off the mediated settlement agreement and submit it to the court for entry by the court.

Usually, mediation is an all-day affair. At Divorce Strategies Group, we try to walk into mediation knowing where agreements already exist and where the disputes will arise. We then focus on helping the parties walk through the disputes in order to find a win-win solution or a compromise everyone can live with. That way, we are not in mediation late into the evening when judgement is not always clear, and tensions are higher.

At Divorce Strategies Group, our goal is to help parties achieve a settlement for their family and their finances in a softer, gentler fashion. We strive to help you achieve a resolution within a few short months without catastrophic loss to the estate and nearly a year wasted in litigation. For more information on Divorce Strategies Group mediation process, please visit us at Divorce Strategies Group. We look forward to helping you!

Married to a Narcissist

Married to a Narcissist

Many of the people I meet with tell me they are married to a narcissist. As cutting as this may seem, many people are divorcing someone with a personality disorder. One therapist we refer states many people who divorce have issues like narcissist personality disorder because the people who do not have this or other personality disorders are able to work through problems in the marriage and stay married.  So, if you are married to someone you think is a narcissist, know you are not alone.  Also know there is a way out of this with your sanity intact, it will just take a little extra effort.

What Is A Narcissist?

A diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder can only be given by a mental health professional.  There are signs and symptoms you can identify and read about all over the internet.  A general internet search will typically identify this as a disorder in which a person has an inflated sense of self-importance.  Narcissistic personality disorder is found more commonly in men. Symptoms include an excessive need for admiration, disregard for others’ feelings, an inability to handle any criticism, and a sense of entitlement.

Although understanding and recognizing the characteristics involved is helpful, this knowledge will not give you the help you need to divorce and save your sanity. It can be frustrating and emotionally draining.

It did not start out this way. They may have started out showing you how much they loved and cherished you. You believed it would always be that way. When did it change? Do you wonder if maybe they will change their mind and go back to loving and cherishing you like they used to? It is normal to hope for that, but it is likely keeping you frustrated and stuck. And, if you are reading this, it is probably not going to happen.

And Here’s Why . . .

If you are dealing with a narcissist, you have likely already tried everything! Not only does it get tiresome it can wear down your own self-esteem. It takes a massive amount of your time and energy with nothing in return!   Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq., creator of New Ways for Families and founder of The High Conflict Institute has 4 Tips on How to Deal with a Narcissist Without Getting Stuck and Disliking Yourself:

Do not call them a “narcissist!”

As tempting as this is, it absolutely backfires and makes things worse.  Instead, they become obsessed with proving you are the one with the problem.

Do not argue with them.

You do not need to defend yourself because it is not about you.  It is about them and their personality.  They have no insight into their own behavior and see things in all or nothing terms.  They see themselves as the victims and they feel it is your fault.

Set limits on what you will do.

You have probably spent years trying to figure out how to placate a narcissist, right?  Bill Eddy has a saying he uses…”FORGETABOUTIT!” You are not going to change them so work on changing how you react to them.

Do get support and consultation.

Your self-esteem may be worn down from all the insults, criticism, embarrassment, and shame.  Bill Eddy suggests getting help from professionals like a coach or therapist.

How to Move Forward

You will need a step-by-step course of action. You may have to cut ties and build some distance emotionally. The key takeaway is you will need support and guidance on how to successfully navigate this difficult time. You will not want to do this alone.

Please reach out for your complimentary initial consultation.  We will give you the information and confidence to decide how to best move forward and have the life you deserve – a life of joy, love, and peace of mind.  Contact us today!

 

Divorce Noise

Divorce Noise

Over the years I have been doing divorce financial advising, I’ve learned so much from women just like you. It’s so normal for us to ask questions and want information from those who have already been through this overwhelming time in our lives.

I remember talking with my friends (many of whom had been divorced) and wanting them to understand how my experiences left me feeling afraid and alone. I wanted to compare my story to theirs. I wanted to not feel so alone. After so many calls and conversations, I’ve made lists and lists of what I’ve heard being said and I want to share some key takeaways with you. I hope it will help you “cut through the divorce noise.”

 

1. You don’t need to listen to people who don’t know what’s best for you.

Some well-meaning friends and family want you to quit worrying about everything you’ve got on your mind and “just get back out there.” If you’re not ready, then take it easy. You’ll be ready when you’re ready. There’s a huge, new world waiting for you when you’re ready!

 

2. Try to separate the emotional part of your journey from the business of divorce.

There are so many ups and downs and it’s important that you have emotional support so that you have a safe place to deal with all of the feelings you’re experiencing.  That is the value of a coach or therapist.

 

3. One of the biggest issues women tell me is that they’re afraid.

Honestly, who isn’t afraid? It means you’re human, but it doesn’t mean you’re not going to be OK. Your fear can actually move you forward and push you to learn new things that you never dreamed you could learn.

 

4. Feeling lonely isn’t the same as being alone.

The reason some women don’t want to divorce is because they’re afraid of being alone. But the truth is that so many of us were lonely in our marriages! When I talk with women who are divorced, they actually like being alone and just being able to do whatever they want whenever they want!

 

5. Wanting to find all the answers online.

Many women tell me they are getting all their information online. While I do suggest you read about different options for divorce, for example, I don’t recommend you keep digging deeper and deeper trying to find the answers to all of your concerns. Again, that is where you can get in trouble with inaccurate information. It can lead you to doubt and waste time questioning what is true and correct in this process.

 

6. If you’re feeling so tired, hurt, and damaged emotionally right now, I’ve learned that so many of you are going to find love again!

Even if you’re not even interested right now, after you’ve worked on the role you may have played in the divorce, it may surprised to find that you’re interested in something new and healthier. It’s human nature to want connection with others. So give yourself time to figure out who you want to show up as now on a deeper level and you will attract what you need.

 

Don’t Give Up

I want you to know you’re not alone and we all have worries and fears. If I had to summarize what I’ve learned through the “divorce noise” is that we all struggle. But there is light at the end of the tunnel – it just can be a long tunnel and the light can seem so far away, but don’t give up.

And if you would more support and want to speak with one of our team members here at Divorce Strategies Group, please schedule your 30 minute complimentary consultation today.

Good Things Can Come From Divorce

Good Things Can Come From Divorce

Let’s face it. Change is tough for many people and divorce changes just about every facet of your life.  Divorce can often test one’s ability to handle change to an extreme.   Some people struggle more than others with change. They fight it, avoid it, fear it, and sometimes feel guilty about it. These notions would make anyone want to keep things as normalized as possible. One would think only adrenaline junkies and dysfunctional people would want to disrupt what could be a perfectly normal situation.   However, change can be very positive and powerful, especially if you have been in an unhappy or abusive marriage.   Here are five truths in my life I’ve experienced with change.  Hopefully this will help readers cope with their own life changes.

1. Change is inevitable

While divorce may not be inevitable, relationships will evolve. Whether you cling to what you have or long for something more, change is unavoidable. Nothing can or will stay the same. You have power when it comes to change. Your actions or reactions to change will determine how positive or negative the change is. Get comfortable with the notion of change as part of the evolution of life and stop resisting.

My divorce meant not only losing a spouse, but losing his entire family, the life I had envisioned and dreams I had of being a stay at home mom.  Oddly, I have a relationship with my ex-spouses family today.  It’s different than it was, but it’s good.  I also had the chance to be a “stay at home” mom for a year, and I found I really didn’t like it.   I love to work and I’m a better mom because of it.  I own two businesses today which I never would have had the chance to own if I had stayed in my marriage – he would not have given me the freedom to explore these opportunities.  What was the absolutely worst thing in 2007 is a gift today.

2. Change helps your brain stay healthy

Science suggest our brains need new and varied problems to work on. When our minds aren’t working out problems, solving mysteries, or figuring things out we can become weak. Change is one of the best ways to keep our brains healthy. This means our lifespan will be healthier, and our mind will not be as susceptible to diseases like dementia. It’s good for your brain to embrace the change in your life as a puzzle you can solve.

I certainly fought the divorce in the beginning, and I went through the stages of grief for at least a year if not longer.  No doubt, there was a grieving process to walk through.  However, my divorce also brought about new changes which were fun and unexpected, like meeting new friends and having a fun, loving social environment.  I was also able to thrive with my career after the divorce which meant learning a lot of new things and experiencing new challenges.  When I was no longer subject to emotional abuse I was able to really thrive and grow.

3. Change creates maturity

Sometimes change comes with a price tag. Sometimes change comes with a penalty. Sometimes change requires risk, and sometimes change is forced on us. No matter how change occurs, it causes us to grow. From learning we are tougher than we realized and having to do some difficult things – change creates maturity.

When my divorce was over I made a list of gifts.  To my suprise, I had three pages of small, single spaced gifts.  Many of them had to do with personal strength and fortitude.  I’m so much stronger today.  While I certainly would not have chosen this path voluntarily, I’m so grateful today for it.

4. Change teaches you to overcome fear and anxiety

Whether stepping out towards change in doubt or being pushed into the unknown without your consent, change can be scary. The devil we know is easier to manage than the one we don’t. Once the fears are faced, they are often scarier in theory than reality. Change teaches you to overcome fear and anxiety as you learn new coping skills or how to talk yourself through fear.

I was a single mom of a 2 year old child when my divorce was final – that is big change.  It was scary.  Looking back I’m convinced there is no stronger force than a parent protecting their child.  Being a single mom of a young child drove me to bigger and better things with my career.  It also lead me to be a better mom and person.   I no longer fear financial insecurity (for the most part).  I no longer fear being alone. I no longer fear many things – all because of what I went through.

5. Change gives you choices

Once the spirit of change is validated and embraced, change can become part of your normal routine.  If you choose something and don’t like it, that isn’t the end of the line. Change things again! From changing your coffee order to the brand of cereal your family eats this week, change can be fun. From picking a new wall color to a new genre of book to read, change can be exciting. From changing where you volunteer your time or which organization you donate to, change can matter to more people.

When my divorce was final I made big changes to my house – I repainted rooms, moved furniture around, rearranged the cabinets and made changes to the yard.  These small changes made a big difference.  Small things like which cabinet your plates are in can help facilitate change in your head and heart which can give you courage for more change.    In my first marriage I really wanted multiple children.  As a child I was much younger than my siblings and as a result raised as an only child.  I did not like it.  I decided very young I would have no children or multiple children – but not an only child!  Even though my first husband and I had decided on two or three children when we married, after our first (and only) child was born he decided he didn’t want any more.   Well, guess what.  When I remarried it was to someone with three young children, and now we have five!! Talk about an evolution of change.  It is a beautiful blended crazy mess which this extrovert absolutely loves.

There are many truths about change – some scary and some not so much. Embrace the concept of change, and it will lead to enjoying the realities of change.   We at Divorce Strategies Group are here to help you navigate changes from married to single.  Schedule a strategy session or call us at 281-210-0057 to schedule your first mediation session today.  No matter what your situation we strive to help our clients walk through divorce with confidence, strength and courage!

Oh No… the Holidays are Here

Oh No… the Holidays are Here

In the month of November thus far, we have had no less than 15 new consultation meetings with clients who know their marriage is over and are wondering when to start the divorce process. Many of them decided to wait until after the holidays for the children or so that their extended families would have one last holiday together. Mix that with the number of couples we are currently working with who are in the divorce process and the multitude of couples we helped walk through divorce and are finalized so far this year. In our little universe that is a lot of people dealing with sadness this holiday season, I can only imagine the numbers outside our little bubble. Add that pain to the stress and strain of trying to maintain the status quo and all the extra pressures of the holidays – that is tough! Although there are no magical solutions to cure the holiday blues, here are 10 things you can do to make it easier to cope. I used many of these tools during my own divorce which extended through a holiday season and the first year after the divorce.

1. PLAN AHEAD

Plan to do something that is fun, relaxing, and as stress-free as possible with people you really care about. When I was in the midst of my divorce I planned a Christmas trip to my brothers’ house in northern Vermont. That was literally the best holiday I had experienced in years. It was magical. I was away from my home and the stress of the divorce. I had my child that year for Christmas and was surrounded by people who loved me. I had to plan that with my family and my attorney prior to December 25. Even if you don’t have your child this year, plan to be with family or friends whom you love.

Coping with the Holidays

2. DO SOMETHING TOTALLY DIFFERENT

If the holidays are just too painful and the reminders are everywhere, consider a vacation that allows you to “escape ” the painful triggers. If you have never been on a cruise for Christmas or been to the Bahamas – this may be the year. I had a friend who starting going to the Grand Canyon each year for Thanksgiving and then Vegas each year for Christmas (the family-friendly part of Vegas and they were out by New Years). If travel is not an option, volunteer someplace for people who have nothing. That will not only help you forget your situation for a while, but you’ll also feel good about the help you are giving to others. We have made dollar store Christmas stockings before and handed them out to the homeless. Anything to help others will help you!

3. CREATE NEW RITUALS AND FAMILY TRADITIONS

While you may want to hold on to some of the past traditions, it’s a good idea to create some new rituals with friends and family. We started going to see different “wonderlands” with holiday lights and we took a second trip back to my brothers’ house in Vermont. We also started going to a new church and celebrating with their traditions. We adopt a child through the church each year and shop for them. We still go look at holiday lights but we added a Starbucks stop for hot cocoa along for the tradition. We created new Thanksgiving traditions by blowing off the traditional food options and eating Chinese every year with friends. You could even do something around each family member’s favorite foods and let the kids help cook.

Coping with the Holidays

4. REASSURE KIDS THAT HOLIDAY CELEBRATIONS WILL CONTINUE, BUT IN A DIFFERENT WAY

Children can help create some of the new holiday rituals and traditions. Take time to brainstorm with your children about new ideas for celebrating. I googled holiday traditions and tried out several with my daughter and we found a few we both enjoyed. Invite them to be a part of the new experience and let them find new traditions. Try different things – just stay positive in front of them.

5. ASK IF YOU ARE ACTING “IN THE BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILD”

Decide ahead of time how holidays will be divided. Talk to your attorney about this if you are in the midst of the divorce. This is one area where you want to speak to your attorney as soon as possible and solidify plans for pick up/drop off and days and times you have with minor children so there are no surprises. The structure of knowing when I had my child the year we were separated provided me a lot of comfort and the ability to plan. Your attorney will know how to make that happen, just talk to him or her as soon as possible. I think it also helps to reassure kids that you will be OK while they are with the other parent.

Coping with the Holidays

6. ASK FOR HELP FROM SUPPORTIVE FAMILY AND FRIENDS

Rely on a healthy support system if you are feeling isolated, lonely or depressed. Tell your support people what you need from them (companionship, understanding, compassion, listening, etc.) My family was so helpful during this time and my friends were even more so. I could not have survived that first year of “firsts” without them. I also love Divorce Care. This group of understanding, compassion people helped me tremendously during my divorce and after.

7. BE REALISTIC

“Picture perfect” holidays are usually just an illusion. Have realistic expectations about the holiday season, especially the first year. Hallmark movies may not be the best viewing options either!

Coping with the Holidays

8. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

Get the proper amount of sleep and exercise and eat healthy in order to maximize your ability to cope. It’s easy to overeat or party too much to medicate your pain, but in the long run, it creates more problems. Walking daily if you are not already working out can also do wonders for you.

9. SCHEDULE TIME FOR REST, RELAXATION AND NURTURING

Give yourself a break. You deserve it! A bubble bath, a long-overdue facial, a hair cut – anything to pamper yourself and nurture yourself. We have a client who recently took a woman’s only weekend spiritual retreat and it was life-changing for her. If that’s not possible, at least a good pedicure where you are not rushed and can enjoy the “me time” and the pampering. For guys, a guilt-free afternoon of golf with your best buds or a long overdue fishing trip.

10. ONE DAY AT A TIME – ONE HOLIDAY AT A TIME

It will get easier. It will get better. It will hurt less. Right now, just concentrate on one thing at a time and the next right action. Just one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, or stuck, GET PROFESSIONAL HELP. Therapy can provide a safe, supportive environment in which you can gain insight, learn problem-solving skills and find solutions to dealing with the anger and pain of separation and divorce. If you need help finding a therapist that works well for you, contact us for a referral at www.divorcestrategiesgroup.com or 281-210-0057.

Advice for Divorcing Men: Common Mistakes in Divorce and How To Avoid Them

Advice for Divorcing Men: Common Mistakes in Divorce and How To Avoid Them

What’s a man to do? You’ve decided to divorce and now you are finding that there are multitudes of services that cater to helping women during a divorce. Granted, we still live in a society where the more-likely scenario is that the husband has handled the finances during the marriage and the wife needs a little more hand-holding. But this is not always the case and men can struggle to find the resources they need.

Even if you have handled your family finances for the entire marriage, you still need to be sure you understand your financial options as well as your legal ones. With the help of the right financial expert, you’ll find there are still some helpful tax laws that can make a creative and amicable settlement very appealing. The following are some common mistakes in divorce to avoid that, in my experience, has saved lots of money for my clients!

common mistakes in divorce

Mistake #1: Thinking that the assets are all yours because she didn’t work.

Oh, this is so hard!! You have fought rush hour traffic, dealt with stressful deadlines, clients and bosses. You’ve hired and fired people. You may have enabled your wife to stay at home and raise your children (and maybe play tennis with her friends). You have contributed a lot!! However, and this is hard, it’s not all your money. Texas is a community property state which means that half of every dollar that enters the house via income during the marriage belongs to you and half belongs to her – no matter if it went into the house, the bank, the 401(k) or any other asset. It’s a marital property issue. Even if you begged your wife to get an outside job for years and years and years and she just refused. Grab a beer with your buddies, bark about it (I understand) but in the end, it is what it is. The more you fight that the more you are going to waste money.

common mistakes in divorce

Mistake #2: Making promises too soon.

One of the most common mistakes in divorce is making promises too soon. I see this so often. DO NOT MAKE PROMISES BEFORE YOU KNOW THE FACTS!! She will hold you to them until her last dying breath even if they are unreasonable, unjust and even unattainable. Do not tell her you will give her anything until you know the law, your rights, her rights and your living arrangements/budget post-divorce. Do not, out of guilt, tell her you will financially take care of her for the rest of her life and make sure she is okay because she will remember that, and it will be brought up again and again. You are also hindering your wife more than helping her by promising things you cannot or will not keep. If you have children, you are going to co-parent for the rest of your lives. Don’t start that post-divorce parenting relationship by promising things you cannot or will not deliver. It hurts her and it hurts you. Don’t do it.

Mistake #3: Refusing to give up retirement accounts.

A lot of times, men get emotionally attached to pensions and retirement plans and will negotiate a settlement that lets them keep those assets. I understand it is a reward you’ve earned for a lifetime of hard work. But remember, both pensions and retirement assets are taxable income when you receive them. If you are earning significantly more money than your spouse for most of your life, chances are you will always be in a higher tax bracket than her. Take advantage of this fact and give her the ENTIRE settlement in retirement assets adjusted for HER tax rate instead of yours. This strategy has saved couples that I work with tens of thousands of dollars in taxes and they get to share in the benefit.

man bullying woman

Mistake #4: Being a bully.

Our society has come a long way on how we regard bullying. Even with that knowledge, fear can show up in the negotiation process as anger and I see lots of men that make the mistake of thinking that being angry will strengthen their case. Gentlemen, it’s just a bad, bad idea. You’re both scared. Make sure that you work with a CDFA® practitioner, or Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® practitioner that will incorporate future financial planning into your settlement negotiations and everyone’s fears can be addressed fairly.

Mistake #5: Not asking for help.

The last tip I have for you is to realize that you don’t know what you don’t know. Men are often motivated by saving money and will attempt to have a do-it-yourself divorce where they draw up their own paperwork. Bad, bad, bad idea. There are so many intricacies, both financial and legal, to the divorce process that you will save thousands of dollars by making sure that you cover all the bases the first time. At the very least, consult a professional to be sure your decree is enforceable.

common mistakes in divorce

At Divorce Strategies Group, we want to help EVERYONE in the divorce process to have a kinder, gentler, much more affordable process. Let us help you avoid those common mistakes in divorce. Book a strategy session to learn your next best steps.