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Summer Vacation

Summer Vacation is just around the corner — only a few weeks away!  I know, it’s hard to believe, and that means trips, child care, and camp.  To make sure that you and your co-parent are on the same page, make sure to review your parenting orders and start planning now.  Here are some things to consider: Give timely notice of your vacation plans, if it’s required by your orders.  Don’t wait until the last minute to let your co-parent know your vacation dates.  Remember, holidays trump vacation, so pay attention to Memorial Day and Independence Day holidays. Provide a detailed itinerary, including mode of travel, route, flight numbers (if applicable), hotel or lodging information, phone numbers, and departure and arrival times.  No, it’s not too much information and it’s not about control or permission.  This type of information can be critical in the event of an emergency situation. Coordinate the child care or summer camp that your child will be attending so that there is no unnecessary overlap or expense.  One-sided decisions about where Joey and Suzi will be spending their summer days is not endearing to your co-parent! Extended family visits require additional coordination.  If you want the kids to go to Grandma and Grandpa’s farm for a month during the summer, consider how that may impact  your co-parent’s summer plans before you make a promise you can’t keep.  First, talk it over with your co-parent to find out if it’s feasible and then consider whether the two of you want to agree on some “make up” time.  Some co-parents simply agree that time away from both parents is “regular” parenting...

Sell, Hold, Short Sell, Foreclose?

Oh my, we are in a pickle here in Arizona.  Our real estate bubble burst with a bang and left many homeowners under water and holding real estate — and debt — without equity.  We’re not alone in that dilemma, but we are one of the hardest hit areas of the country and are regularly featured in national news stories about the mortgage lending and foreclosure crisis. If you are living in an upside down house, love it beyond reason, and intend to stay there the rest of your life, then it’s probably a good idea to hang onto it.  However, if you’re in the midst of a divorce or break up and one salary won’t cover the carrying costs, you are probably having a very different conversation.  And that conversation can be making you anxious, stressed, depressed, sad, angry, resentful, or all of the above!  While there are many opinions and theories about what you “should” do or “should not” do regarding underwater real estate, in the final analysis, it is a very personal financial decision.  It is not (or should not be) an emotional decision.  Houses are investments, in the form of real property, that you and/or your marital community made.  The investment is neither good nor bad.  The return on investment, however, has made millionaires of some and bankrupted many thousands more. Clients ask me all the time, “Should we sell, hold, short sell, or foreclose?”  While I don’t pretend to have all the answers to every issue that one simple question implies, I do have two answers.  One, please call on a professional to assist you in evaluating the issue.  I recommend...

Flat Fees Are Finally Here!

Billable Hours Lawyers are taught at the outset of our careers that the Billable Hour rules the world.  Coming from the business community, I always found the billing practices of law firms to be rather odd.  In most other service industries, the customer obtains a quote or bid or scope of work that outlines what you will pay for the work you want done.  Law firms (as well as accounting, and some other professions), on the other hand, almost always operate on an open-ended contract that often brings a frightful surprise to clients at the end of the month.  A common analogy is taking your car to the garage for repair and the mechanic informs you that he might be able to fix your car, but he’s not sure how long it will take and can only tell you what it will cost when he’s finished fixing it.  Another good comparison is hiring someone to paint your house by the hour.  Either way, an open-ended hourly system of billing invites inefficiencies and does not serve our clients as well as we should. Variable Costs of Litigation Legal fees can vary greatly from firm to firm and can increase exponentially with even a little bit of conflict between the parties.  It’s been very difficult for the Family Law bar to adopt flat fees because of the moving target of litigation.  For example, given two cases that have almost identical fact patterns, assets, and liabilities, Case A’s litigated divorce will cost around $30,000 each and Case B”s litigated divorce will cost in excess of $150,000 each.   And it’s hard to know, in advance, which case an attorney might...

What’s Your Everest?

I was inspired to blog about this topic from — of all things — a Champion sportswear ad that posed the question and went on to say, “The summit awaits each of us — and the symbolism of Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world, can help us achieve our own goals and dreams.”  I see their “Everest” on the faces of people who are struggling through a divorce, who have been climbing a long ascent with few resources and no summit in sight.  They are physically, emotionally, spiritually, and financially exhausted and overwhelmed.  Just like a person climbing Everest, every step is a monumental effort, and they are constantly battling fatigue, depression, limited resources, isolation, and defeat.  Some people never make it to the “summit” of divorce — they never experience the relief of closure, resolution, and peaceful acceptance.  Recently, a friend told me about a couple who were about to appear for another (their 8th in 10 years) post-decree hearing in Court, this time regarding parenting time.  These two have not been able to attain their summit in the traditional divorce model.  Years (many years) after their divorce, they are still struggling to reach the “top” or at least the end of their climb, but — like many who attempt Everest — they ran out of tools long ago.  The only resource left to them was their “position,” which rarely serves the needs of the children or parents.  Here were two people that — individually — have so many strengths and talents.  But together, they are unable to climb that last mile to the summit of closure and resolution, so they just keep on trudging.  Their children...

Are You Insane?

Albert Einstein (a fairly smart fellow) said that the definition of insanity was “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  In that respect, it’s fairly simple to self-diagnose!  If you’ve been doing the same things over and over and still expect to see different results, you might be insane … or, you might be giving a conditioned response. Insanity needs attention from someone trained in psychiatry.  (Not my gig.) Conditioned responses need attention from you, because the only cure for the conditioned response is awareness and a willingness to change.  So what does this have to do with family law?  As it turns out, quite a lot.  You see, if you are repeatedly responding in an unhealthy way to conflicts or issues with your co-parent, expecting THEM to change, you’re probably going to be disappointed (at the very least). Here’s an example of conditioned responses (CR): You:  I’ll be there at 6 to pick up Andrew and Emily. Them (Pushing Your Button):  I told you that I needed to leave at 6.  Be here at 5:30 or not at all. You (CR):  You didn’t tell me that.  Besides, the orders say 6 and that’s when I’ll be there. Them (CR):  You heard me.  5:30 or don’t bother. You (CR):  I have to work for a living, so I’ll be there at 6. Them (CR):  Don’t bother because we won’t be here. You (CR):  Fine. I just won’t bother following court orders, but I’ll be calling my lawyer in the morning. Them (CR):  Fine.  Go ahead. But you still won’t see the kids tonight. You (CR):  Screw you!...

Are You Above Average?

Are you Above Average?  You might think so, but you’re probably not when it comes to divorce. Becoming Above Average is not nearly as hard as it sounds.  When it comes to family law matters, you don’t have to have a low percent of body fat, high IQ, big bank account or a lot of letters behind your name to be Above Average.  All you need is a little bit of knowledge and the will to use it.  In this blog series, I’ve introduced you to Tim and Kathy, a fictional couple who represent the Average Divorce.  They spent more than half their net worth and two and a half years of their lives litigating their divorce.  They depleted their savings, their available credit, and their health.  Their kids went through a traumatic custody evaluation and the family business is facing bankruptcy.  They are the poster couple for the Average Divorce.  If you don’t believe me, just ask around! So how do you avoid falling into the Average Divorce trap?  How do you become Above Average?  Here are a few ideas: Know Yourself:  Investing in some therapy will help you know yourself better, learn what your weaknesses are, and understand how to  communicate with your spouse around issues of co-parenting and finances. Know Your Money:  Engaging an independent divorce financial planner can save you and your spouse hundreds (even thousands) of dollars in legal fees, lost opportunity, and taxes. Know Your Kids:  Hiring a child specialist to help you understand your children’s developmental needs is less expensive and invasive than a custody evaluation, but can provide valuable insight into what’s best for the...

Create a new tradition!

Create a New Tradition for Your New Family Dynamic This may be your first holiday season wearing your New Family suit, and it might  not feel as comfortable as you would like, so here are some ideas to help you find the joy in the season: New Family. You, your children, your coparent, and extended family on both sides are now part of a New Family. Treat each other with the care and compassion that you would treat your own family members (would you be snippy or sarcastic to your favorite aunt or beloved sibling?). Try to remember to approach all of your interactions while silently saying the words Compassion, Gratitude, and Harmony. It will help you focus on what’s important. Kids first. If you and your co-parent (notice, we don’t use the word “ex”) are focused on what will make the holidays best for the children, you will almost certainly do the right thing. That doesn’t mean competing to see who can out-spend or one-up the other. In fact, the best way to show your love may be to discuss and agree with your co-parent on what gifts the children will receive and then present them from both of you. You can also agree to alternate favorite activities, or attend together. For example, if a “sparkle tour” is a favorite Christmas Eve activity, rent a van and take along another family. It creates a sense of adventure for the children and gives you, as co-parents, a buffer zone of other people to interact with just in case things are tense. New Traditions. Memories of Christmas (or Thanksgiving, Hanukkah,...

Are You Average?

How much is your case expected to contribute to a firm’s cash flow?  In a previous blog, Financial Bedlam, I introduced you to Tim and Kathy, an average couple with ordinary problems, who got an ordinary divorce.  It was just “average.” It wasn’t the best divorce or the worst, not the cheapest nor most expensive, not the longest or shortest — just average.  And that “average” divorce cost them over half of their net worth.  They were “average” consumers of legal services.  They went blindly into a lawyer’s office, wearing their emotional divorce on their sleeve and with no financial strategy in mind. Tim prided himself on being a good business man, but his impatience got the better of him and he hired his attorney based on the advice of a friend of a friend.  Tim didn’t find out until later that the attorney had no actual business experience and he failed to provide her with incentives to resolve the divorce quickly.  Tim’s attorney provided a list of the recent trials she had participated in, but didn’t give Tim any information about alternative dispute resolution.  The attorney proudly walked Tim around the law firm, pointing out original works of art, beautifully decorated offices and conference rooms with “million dollar views” of the city, state of the art technology, staff lounge, and an army of legal assistants.  The question Tim might have well asked is, “How much of this overhead cost do you want from me?” Kathy was an emotional wreck when she first met with her attorney, a man reputed to be a real “junk yard dog”  who could bring Tim into line.   They didn’t discuss fees except in abstract terms, but...

Avoiding Financial Bedlam

In my last blog, I asked you to think about a question: Am I willing to turn over a significant percentage of my net worth in order to be divorced? Since you’re back to read more, I’m guessing you answered NO to that question and you’re ready to Avoid Financial Bedlam.  Here are a few ways to keep more of your cash when you’re getting divorced. Avoid litigation.  In my last blog, I introduced you to Tim and Kathy.  Even though they eventually reached settlement in their divorce, the path they took was pure litigation.  Their attorneys wrote rough letters and held long blustery phone conferences where nothing much was accomplished other than defending their clients’ polarized positions.  They filed motions and went to hearings, they argued over dishes and debts, they over-involved the children in their fights, and they both did so with the conviction that they were “right” and would have their “day in Court.”  They didn’t sit down at the settlement table until they were over a year into the process.  This is a sure path to Financial Bedlam. Reduce conflict.  Remember, Conflict = $$$.  The more conflict your attorney can create, the more money he/she will earn.  The more conflict you or your spouse create, the more money you will each pay to your attorneys to “resolve” your conflict.  If you solve your own problems, like responsible adults should, then you will reduce conflict and save money.  Make no mistake, even if it’s “the other side” causing the conflict, you’ll still be paying to put out the fires. Create a budget.  Tim and Kathy never budgeted their...