Should I divorce? Should I stay for the kids? How will I survive?

Browse Articles on the topic of Contemplating Divorce

Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church walking on railroad tracks with train coming

#DivorceonHBO Episode 1: Why Frances Will Need a Divorce Coach

I must admit, as a divorce coach, when I learned that HBO was coming out with a new series called “Divorce” I was pretty geekily excited. I was eager to see how television would capture what I see on a daily basis: The strange, messy, sad and frustrating thing it can be to unravel a marriage and the hard work it takes to put your life back together again.  However, it wasn’t only for selfish reasons I was happy to see this show premiere.  For me it was proof that divorce is coming out of the shadows…that the stigma of failure and doom is lifting and that it’s not only okay to talk about it, it’s okay to laugh about it, too! Divorce used to be the thing no one talked about, the shameful little secret couples were forced to hide behind attorney doors until they emerged from battle and slunk off their separate ways. Finally, it’s out in the open as a fact of life. Divorce happens.

In the pilot episode, we meet Frances, wife, mom, and career woman, like so many of us.  After a shocking display by friends who are awkwardly and painfully clearly unhappy in their marriages, she breaks it to her husband that she wants a divorce, or as she put it, “I want to save my life while I still care about it!” (Love that line by the way.)

I see it all the time ( — and lived with it myself for years) that vague sense of unhappiness, the dissatisfaction, the feeling of “there has to be more than this.” It’s like a tiny toothache that gradually worsens until your entire jaw is swollen and throbbing and you are forced to recognize that it’s there, and now you have to do something about it.

Cut to the scene where Frances is telling her girlfriend Dallas that she broke the news to her husband last night.

“Oh there it is,” I thought. “Classic mistakes of divorce. Don’t do it, Frances, don’t do it!”  Frances says, “Well, I won’t be on my own anyway.  He is the only thing that has kept me sane this last year. I love him, I think.”

(Oy.) Too late…she’s bet the farm on a new relationship.

Frances goes on to admit (grinning like a schoolgirl the whole time) that there is someone else. While her friend Dallas just laughs along, she knows as well as I do this is a mistake.

Any good divorce coach will tell you that (a) we see people make this mistake all the time and (b) it’s bigger than you think.  Why, what’s the big deal?

1.     Hormones, hormones, hormones. When we meet someone new, our bloodstream is flooded with powerful hormones like adrenaline, dopamine, and oxytocin, all of which dictate your love-drunken behavior. In fact, cultural anthropologist Helen Fisher studied couples in “lust” and found that dopamine has a similar effect on the brain as cocaine.  You are literally high when you are in this early stage of love. Do you really want to be making life- changing decisions while you are high as a kite?

2.     Clouded decision-making.  When you are raging with hormones and sneaking off to have hot sex at your every opportunity, trust me, you are not able to think clearly.  Your judgment is clouded and yet this is a time where you have such big decisions to make.  Where you will live, how the kids will manage the transition, how your finances will be handled…these are not small things! Now more than ever you need to have your wits about you.

3.     You don’t live in a bubble. Yes, the feeling of being adored is completely addictive and the sex is beyond excellent with someone new and exciting (hormones remember?) but you must realize, this is not just about you. Are you really ready to introduce this person to your kids? Your parents? Your oldest friends, the ones who were in your first wedding?  In our oxytocin-induced haze we tend to gloss over questions like these.

4.    You can’t possibly have had time to mourn the end of the marriage.  And mourn it you must, because it’s not just about the relationship with your spouse that ends here. In fact, you may not be all that sad about that. But what about your family as you know it? And the hopes and dreams you had for the marriage?  It takes time to find closure and meaning in what caused the marriage to end. If you run to the next relationship too soon, when will you stop to reflect on the last one?

5.     Wrapping your happiness up in someone else is the biggest mistake of all. Isn’t this what got you there in the first place? You thought that your husband wasn’t making you happy, so you went searching for someone who would? Hear this: It isn’t the man’s job to make you happy. It never was. That’s always been your job. If you aren’t happy, you aren’t doing something for yourself and that’s what you have to figure out.  No one else has that power.

As the episode end draws near, Frances realizes it’s not as easy as telling her husband she wants a divorce and now she can cozy up to her lover as the details sort themselves out. As she realizes this, she backpedals, scrambling to shut her Pandora’s box.  Too late of course, and this is why Frances is going to need a divorce coach.

Stay tuned.

As divorce coaches at SAS, Liza and Kim work with women from all over the world who are either exploring the idea or facing the practical realities of divorce. Will #divorceonhbo accurately portray divorce as we see it unfold in real life? We’ll report back and let you know if it’s just entertainment or pointing to something honest. In the meantime, if you want to explore what divorce may or may not mean for you, in your real life, we’d welcome a chance to talk with you. Schedule your free consultation and we’ll figure it out together.

credit: weheartit.com

How Much Does a Divorce Cost?

“How much does a divorce cost?” is one of the first questions we often hear when a woman makes contact with us, while “how long will a divorce take?” is a close second. We wish there were a menu to refer you to, so you could evaluate your choices and pick and choose items à la carte. However, the correct, though immensely unsatisfying answer to both questions is, “It depends.”

That doesn’t mean you should stop investigating your options. It’s important for you to be educated on your choices so you learn what’s possible for your life. The following insights, shared by NYC divorce attorney Orrit Hershkovitz will help you get started on whether your divorce will cost a few thousand dollars or several hundreds of thousands, and whether it will take several months or several years.

So how much DOES a Divorce Cost?  That depends upon…

1. The process you select

There are various methods to dissolve a marriage. Mediation, in which a neutral professional (usually a lawyer or mental health professional) facilitates a resolution between the parties, is generally the most economical means of ending a marriage. Participants can be represented by counsel (their own lawyers) throughout the process. Another option is collaborative divorce, a process that requires both parties to agree in advance not to go to court, and to retain new counsel if they do. However, not all couples are suited to mediation or collaborative divorce, particularly if one spouse has not been, or will not be, given access to the financial information and documentation necessary to make an informed decision, or fears for his or her safety or the safety of his or her children. One or both individuals may also prefer not to negotiate directly with the other spouse.

Another option is the more traditional approach: hiring a lawyer to negotiate on your behalf.

Hiring a lawyer does not necessarily mean that you and your spouse are headed to divorce court.

An agreement may be negotiated (as in an uncontested divorce), either directly or through counsel, without ever stepping foot in a courtroom. Litigation (or a contested divorce) though unavoidable in some instances, will often increase a couple’s costs.

In all cases, court fees will be incurred. Such fees will include the cost of filing a divorce action and other paperwork required to obtain a divorce decree, and may include fees for making applications (or “motions”) to the court. In New York, for instance, the current filing fees to obtain a divorce amount to almost $400; the fee to make a motion is $45. Obviously, the longer the litigation continues, the more you can expect to pay for your (and possibly your spouse’s) attorney’s fees. Additional funds may be expended on the service of legal documents (e.g., summonses and subpoenas), transcripts, and the preparation of court orders (e.g., Qualified Domestic Relations Orders necessary to distribute certain retirement assets).

2. The number and complexity of the issues that are contested

Some divorces appear simple from the start. The parties, for instance, may have no children or no substantial assets or debts. Or a divorcing couple may have already discussed and agreed upon a resolution of all issues. Other cases are more complex. Not only may the parties not agree on the issues of parental decision-making and access, but they may also have assets that are not easily divisible (e.g., a work of art, a business), need to be valued (e.g., a house, stock options) or sold. But the nature of the issues themselves is only part of the equation.

Any acrimony between the parties can also delay the resolution of even the simplest issue.

By contrast, the parties’ willingness to compromise and cooperate can facilitate the resolution of even the most complex issue. Thus, as with your choice of process, you and your spouse can control the cost and length of your divorce by choosing whether, when, and how to conciliate in a dispute.

3. The lawyer you hire

The lawyer you select to represent you, and the lawyer your spouse may select to represent him or her, is another significant factor that will affect the length and cost of your divorce. The range of hourly fees charged by lawyers varies widely across the country. Even in large legal markets, hourly rates can range from approximately $250 to $750. Where a lawyer falls on that spectrum usually depends on his or her experience, reputation, and the size of his or her firm. The complexity of the case is more likely to affect a lawyer’s retainer fee, which is an advance payment intended to cover at least the lawyer’s initial work on the case.

Read this for more on how to pay for a divorce attorney.

Equally important as a lawyer’s fees is the fit between you and your lawyer. Your chemistry. You should not only be confident in your lawyer’s abilities, but also comfortable with how he or she is advancing your case. Do you feel protected? Understood? Is your lawyer prompt in responding to your calls and e-mails? If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” not only may your choice of lawyer affect the cost and time it takes for you to get divorced, but you may also be dissatisfied with the end result.

If this chemistry issue is starting to sound like a “relationship,” it is. As in any relationship – indeed, as in marriage itself – the compatibility between lawyer and client is critical. Choose wisely.

4. Where you live

How much a divorce will cost tends to correlate with the cost of living in a particular locale. Not only will legal (and especially attorneys’) fees be higher in areas in which it is more expensive to live, but you may also have to pay more child and spousal support. If you live in Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, or other major city, you can expect to pay more than someone living in Hope, Kentucky, for instance.

5. Whether you need experts

If there are substantial assets, you may need an expert to value a business or a pension, or appraise real property or personal property such as art, jewelry, or other collectibles. You may also want to consult with an accountant, financial advisor, or other experts for advice about the potential tax or financial implications of a proposed settlement. If custody is contested, the court may appoint a child custody evaluator to assist the court in making its determination. An attorney for the child or children may also be appointed.

In summary, the decisions that you and your spouse make, and how you conduct yourselves, in the divorce process can, at least to some extent, affect how long your divorce will take and how much it will cost.

Focus on the factors you can control.

Understanding and choosing a process and lawyer wisely as early as possible will help to control your financial and emotional costs. Consider making a free appointment with SAS for Women to learn your next steps, what process might be especially good for you, and for referrals to vetted legal professionals. Or make a list of your questions, your assets and debts, and make an appointment with a divorce attorney who can give you concrete feedback on your unique story.

Orrit Hershkovitz, a partner at Barton LLP, represents individuals in all aspects of family and matrimonial law, including divorce, parental custody and access, child and spousal support, property distribution, relocation, enforcement, and the negotiation of pre-nuptial, post-nuptial, and separation agreements. In addition to her work representing private clients, Orrit is also an active supporter of Sanctuary for Families, a non-profit organization that provides comprehensive services to victims of domestic violence. For more information, call Orrit at (212) 885-8832.

 

Divorce Coaching: The Female Take

Divorce Coaching: The Female Take 

Read excerpts from SAS Cofounder and Divorce Coach Kimberly Mishkin’s interview on “Women’s Rights in the Workplace” (Progressive Radio Network, January 2015) as she discusses the ideas behind SAS for Women®, the specific needs women have facing divorce, and the unusual role of divorce coaching with PRN.com hosts Jack Tuckner and Deborah O’Rell. 

To listen to the complete show, click here.


What’s Different About Divorce Coaching at SAS? 

Jack Tuckner: Kim, are there any other professional practices in the country that do this type of work you are doing?

Kimberly Mishkin: Not exactly the way we’re doing it. There are a number of divorce coaches, but we consider ourselves {SAS} to be a hybrid model, unique — we’re not only coaching, but we also address all the practical and logistical matters that come along with divorce.

For example, somebody might come to us and she may need to sell her apartment, or she may need to go back to work — having been out of the workforce for a number of years — or she may need help locating an attorney she’s comfortable with, or help going through her finances. We spend time on all those practical things to help her move forward. At the same time, she’s broken emotionally, and that’s where our coaching component comes in.

We help women tap into their inner strength. Things have to be getting done of course, but at the same time they feel drained. And so we help fill them back up with strength to get them on the road to recovery.

Jack:  Do you bring a certain kind of encouragement to help women see the light at the end of the tunnel?  You help address all the issues?  

Kimberly: Yes, absolutely. We look at the whole woman. We look at about ten specific areas of her life … and then we start making a plan and creating a situation where there’s accountability as well. So we’ll say, “Call me when you’ve done that. Let’s talk next week about how you’ve done on your list of five things that you wanted to tackle since we last met.”

We create a bond with them. We are their partner but we’re not emotionally invested in it as, say, your mom might be, or your sister, or somebody who has a stake in it. We can be  more objective and create a path for them that will not only get things done and get them moving in a certain direction, but also we’re helping them look way ahead.

Most of the time they’ll come to us and they’re so overwhelmed with what the lawyer said, or what paperwork they have to fill out, or how their kids are going to handle this; all of those things are just swirling through their heads. So we help sort through it, but we’re also thinking ahead for them because we’ve come across that bridge and we know how great it feels to be back to that independent whole person.

We hold that beacon up and say, “We’re going to get you over here and don’t forget: we want to continue thinking about what your goals for five years from now are, not just getting you through this immediate crisis.”

Divorce Coaching vs. Therapy

Jack: What’s the distinction between that broken emotional person —  what you do as a certified coach and what perhaps a licensed social worker, or psychologist would do? What’s that line?

Kimberly: We often work with people who are in therapy at the same time that they’re working with a coach. I’m not a therapist nor I do I pretend to be, and if there are deeper issues going on; clinical depression perhaps … that’s not something we’re equipped to do.

Therapy is about looking back at your patterns and your life that has come before and understanding it. Coaching is all about what you’re going to do now and next. So we concentrate, we don’t try to diagnose. We try to say, “What’s going on? And what’s the very next thing you can do to move toward your goals?”

Why Doesn’t SAS Work With Men?

Jack: Okay. So the gender issue. Hey, I was divorced a bunch of years ago. I was a mess. I’m a cry baby. I was the one who had to go to the shrink. I was the one who could have probably used your services and if I called you, you’d say, “Sorry. Girls only.” So why is that? 

Kimberly: …. I think the very genuine answer is that I’m a woman. I went through it as a woman and I know how that felt. And my partner Liza Caldwell … felt the same way, that we couldn’t speak to what the male experience was. So we started there. What we found since is that, I think we’re right, women deal with break ups and divorce very differently.

Jack: Why is there a male experience and a female experience in divorce coaching?

Kimberly: Well, I just think we’re built differently …. And I think that’s what we’re experiencing in our company. Women come to  us looking for connection, looking for advice, looking for the village, and so we are providing that to women. And I joke all the time that when I get to the point where our company is big enough and we can open a new division, we’ll hire a really smart divorced man to run our men’s wing, but it shouldn’t be me.

For more on this interview, read “Divorce Advice: How To Get Over the Paralyzing Fear” or listen to the complete interview here.

SAS helps women figure out how to start living again. Schedule your free consultation and walk away with a mini action plan. Even if you never speak with us again, you will know what next to do.

Will She Ask for a Divorce

Do Women Really Ask for a Divorce More Than Men?

On your typical Monday, we ladies huddle around the coffee maker talking about a well-known topic — complaints about our husbands. Some days we complain more than others. But are we serious? Are we really unhappy in our marriages? Would we ever consider the D word and ask for a divorce?

It turns out that women are more interested in divorce than men are. Michael Rosenfeld, an associate professor of sociology at Stanford University, examined data from Stanford’s 2009-2015 How Couples Meet and Stay Together project, a national study of relationships and breakups. Rosenfeld looked at 2,262 adults, ages 19 to 94, who had opposite sex partners in 2009. By 2015, 371 of these people had split up or gotten divorced.

According to the data results, it turns out that men have a lot to worry about if they are a topic of a coffee complaint conversation. Rosenfeld discovered that wives initiated 69 percent of splits, compared to 31 percent of husbands.

Why Do Women Want It More?

I find the results of the project fascinating. Women are less likely to stick around in a relationship that is not satisfying to them. There had to be a bigger story here. Why do women ask for a divorce so frequently and are we inadvertently responsible for the historically high number of broken families?

Every relationship has its owns reasons for breakdown and eventually breaking up. However, a societal shift is putting much more pressure on marriages than ever before. Today’s woman spends more time earning a paycheck outside the home. After a hard day on the job, she comes home to a second shift. On a typical day, 50 percent of women spend time after their full-time job doing chores around the house. Just 20 percent of husbands will do the same.

According to the book, The Changing Rhythms of American Family Life, mothers spend 41 hours caregiving versus 22 hours per week for fathers. Women also cook and clean 10 hours more a week than husband’s do.

If we only focus on working women, the situation is just as depressing. Mothers who work full-time will put in a week and a half’s worth more time on household tasks than their male partners each year. No wonder women feel tired all of the time. I thought it was just because I was getting old!

Real Life Marriage Does Not Equal Gender Equality

The modern marriage does not seem so modern after all. The age old uneven power dynamic still persists, leading to lowers levels of marriage satisfaction for women. Rosenfeld maintains that “Women report lower levels (of marriage satisfaction) because they experience marriage as constraining, oppressive, uncomfortable and controlling.” Marriage has not caught up with the gender equality that women expect.

One of the survey participants explained why she asked for a divorce, “I used to be a very happy, optimistic person, and it was like he was starving my soul. I did not like the way that he was treating me.”

Obviously, we cannot know the reason for all of the divorces, however, it is clear that marriages need to adapt and move to a more equal partnership or we will continue to see much higher numbers of divorces initiated by women.

Early in her life, Stacy Francis witnessed how devastating life could be for women who were not empowered through financial education. Her grandmother stayed in an abusive marriage because she did not have the skills to effectively deal with money. That experience changed Stacy’s life and drove her into the finance field.

Stacy is president and CEO of Francis Financial, a fee-only boutique wealth management, financial planning, and divorce financial planning firm, and the founder of Savvy Ladies, a non-profit that has helped over 12,000 women across the spectrum of ages, life experience, and income levels identify their goals, make proactive choices about their finances, and lead richer, more rewarding lives.

Although SAS periodically features links to and writing by other professionals on the SAS website, SAS for Women® is not responsible for the accuracy or content of that information. As for what is best for you and your future, SAS always recommends you speak to a professional to discuss the particulars of your situation.

 

6 Ways to Pay for a Divorce

6 Ways to Pay for a Divorce

Would you like to speak to a lawyer but feel you can’t because you don’t know how you’d pay for a divorce?

Does your husband tell you the money in your joint account is “his, because he earned it?”

Do you wonder how you can afford to get a divorce if you aren’t working, because you stayed home to raise the kids?

We spoke with divorce lawyer Daniel Stock about something our clients often face — what it means to be a woman in a relationship who doesn’t feel she has access to money to meet with an attorney, let alone pay for a divorce. The perception that we don’t have money to spend on a consultation can paralyze us from doing anything. We stay stuck, because we see no way out. We see no way out because we are not informed. We asked Daniel to tell us what advice he gives to women who feel they have no options.

How to Pay for a Divorce:

One of the most daunting questions facing women about to go through a divorce is, “How am I going to pay for this?” The answer is closer at hand than you might think. Here are six different ways that you find the money:

1. Use joint money. You may use money in a joint bank account to hire your lawyer. So long as your name is on the account, with certain exceptions, it doesn’t matter if your husband deposited most or all of the money.

2. Use a credit card. Many attorneys accept credit cards. If it is a joint credit card, you and your husband will both be responsible for the amount charged, and at the end of your divorce, a judge may “allocate” the amount of lawyer fees each of you has to pay. Since most credit cards allow you to make monthly payments, you may be able to charge enough to pay your lawyer.*

3. Take out a loan. There are many loan options available ranging from loans against a retirement account to personal loans. If you aren’t sure which is best for you, speak with your financial advisor or SAS.

4. Withdraw money from a savings or retirement account. Many people are reluctant to invade their “nest egg,” with good reason. But remember, if you cannot hire a divorce lawyer to represent you, you stand to lose marital assets that could be a multiple of the amount you spend on his or her fee. Divorce is a time for triage, not penny pinching.

5. Borrow money from friends or relatives. Many divorces are financed by parents who don’t want to see their children suffer in a bad marriage, or worse, a bad divorce. Even if you don’t have the best relationship with your parents, ask them for a reasonable amount of money to pay your attorney – or for the upfront consultation fee. You may also have a close friend who is willing to help you out financially.

6. Know the law on “counsel fees.” In New York, if you are a wife in a divorce who earns less than your husband, the law entitles you to have your husband pay some or all of your lawyer’s fees, otherwise known as “counsel fees.” The tricky part is that the law is not automatic, and, unless your husband voluntarily agrees to pay for your lawyer, (not unheard of but infrequent) you will need a lawyer to file a court document called a “motion” in order to enforce this right. Catch-22! The good news is that the amount of money you need to pay your lawyer up front (known as a retainer) to get him or her started on your case, is not unreasonably high in many cases. You will need to come up with this initial amount to pay your attorney, using one or more of the methods above, until he or she has had time to take legal action that may get your legal fees paid by your spouse.

Often, the seemingly insurmountable task of hiring a divorce lawyer and paying for legal fees will keep you in a place of pain, fear, and dysfunction for far too long. Knowing your rights and what options are available to you are crucial in order to start taking steps toward independence and stability.

Daniel H. Stock, PLLC, with offices located in New York City and Westchester, brings more than 25 years of legal experience to all issues associated with uncontested, collaborative, contested or high net worth divorce. He seeks to reach amicable agreements on matters such as child custody and visitation, child support and alimony, and property division. He favors the kind of outcome that benefits you and your children as you transition to a post-divorce future. However, when discussions are not productive, consensus is not possible and litigation is necessary, he is fully prepared to aggressively protect your rights in court.

If you would like to explore your options with SAS, we offer free, discreet consultations by telephone. Click here to schedule your free session, or if you aren’t ready, sign up for our free coaching letter in the meantime. We are here for you when you want to learn more.

*SAS note: Be aware of interest charged to your credit card if the monthly credit card bill is not paid in full.

Although SAS periodically features links to and writing by other professionals on the SAS website, SAS for Women® is not responsible for the accuracy or content of that information. As for what is best for you and your future, SAS always recommends you speak to a professional to discuss the particulars of your situation. 

Your Emotional Quandary: A Separation or a Divorce?

Let’s talk about what brings you to this dilemma, ladies. Are you like I was, wanting to take baby steps to resolve your marriage problems? Are you thinking that “separating” will lessen the impact of your needing to try things differently? Does the word “divorce” sound too frightening? Don’t bother answering that last one. I know the answer.

“Separation” Sounds Kinder

I was there. I thought if I pursued “separation” (I was desperate to avoid “divorce”), that the implied space apart would give my husband and me time to reflect, to cool down, to consider how we might live without conflict. The first step in my mind, and what I so critically craved, was to have space and peace, and for sure the “D” word sounded too final. It meant crossing a line of “No Return.” No, no, no, if only we could have peace and time apart, we might see things differently. The toxicity would blow over, and behind it, there might be a space preserved for us — a hope, that we could reconcile.

Finding Out What Your Rights Are Is Not a One-Way Road to Divorce

It’s natural that you don’t want to rush into finalities, but let me share with you a few things from the other side of the bridge. Finding out what your rights are and attaining information in terms of a separation, divorce, or a post-nuptial agreement, does not mean a one-way road to DIVORCE. As a fully living, grown and thinking woman, understand this, you are entitled to the pursuit of happiness. You are allowed to find out what is possible and what different paths might mean for you and your family. Learning does not equal doing.

In the past, in order to divorce, one person in the marriage had to prove the other was guilty of wrongdoing. At the time, legal separation was a means to establish these grounds for divorce. Now, however, all 50 states honor “no fault” divorce, meaning a couple may divorce for any reason and this knee-jerk reaction that you must separate first may be passé.

Separation May Be an Un-Needed Expense

For some women, particularly of a certain age, a legal separation may be the answer for financial reasons. And sometimes, it’s in the interest of everybody, especially the children, for the parents to not be under the same roof — as soon as possible — because it is a war zone. However, no one should move out of the house without a written agreement in place to protect each of your interests and concerns. In fact, if you simply move out without this agreement, you may be putting yourself at risk, and be accused of abandonment.

If you decide to legally separate, you will need an attorney to help you draft this legal document that delineates how the finances will be separated and how the children will be cared for during the separation. It is important to consider that going through all the steps of a legal separation is time consuming and costly. So if you think you will eventually pursue a divorce anyway, the hassle of a legal separation may simply not be worth it. (For insights to the legal processes and differences between a separation and divorce, read our interview with a well-respected NYC attorney. Or for more on what to ask a divorce attorney, visit our list of suggested questions.)

Divorce Itself is Not a Fast Process

If you are like I was, you are really using separation as an emotional crutch, a means to slowing things down before you have to decide whether or not to divorce. But realize this, divorce itself is not a fast process. You will have time to reflect whether or not this is really the right path for you. As women, we like time. We like “outs,” because we want to believe there is still hope for alternatives. Understand that by embarking on the divorce process, if at any time you want to abandon ship and reconcile, it is possible (of course, he has to be willing. But Richard Burton was, even after the divorces were final!). The point is to recognize that you have arrived in a place in your relationship where you have accepted on some level that something must change. The Same Old is not working. You must consider and eventually construct something new, and to know what that new thing is requires an education.

So do not get hung up on the words, separation or divorce. Talk to a lawyer about your circumstances. Like divorce, a legal separation varies from state to state, so obviously it’s important to get the advice of a divorce attorney licensed in your state to determine if a legal separation agreement or a divorce is more viable for you. Or, talk to a divorce coach like us. We can help you with the emotional space you may find yourself in right now, give you an overview of the various paths, and can even connect you with the right attorneys, mediators, and financial advisors you may need to understand the nuances to your specific story. You deserve to know what is possible for you and your family so you can make the right decision when the time comes. Remember, learning does not equal pulling the trigger.

Learn something right now. Schedule a free consultation with Kim or Liza and begin to hear, learn, and understand what is possible for your life. Whether you engage with us further or not, we guarantee you will walk away with a new insight or resource.

 

 

 

Should You Seek a Separation — or a Divorce?

You are probably spinning right now . . . asking yourself, or even beginning to ask others, how do you do it? What is the best way out of your marriage? To better understand the finality or possible nuances between divorce and separation, SAS interviewed NYC Matrimonial Attorney Leigh Baseheart Kahn of Mayerson Abramowitz & Kahn, LLP.

SAS: Leigh, many women facing issues in their relationship, wonder if they should pursue separation or divorce. What do you tell your clients?  Is there a benefit to separating first?

Leigh Baseheart Kahn: I get this question a lot. There tends to be a good deal of confusion as to what is meant by “separation”. There is a distinction between a legal separation and a divorce. However, there is also a distinction between a legal separation and entering into a written separation agreement, which is important for women to understand. Many laypeople speak about a legal separation and a written separation agreement as if they are the same thing. They are not.

A legal separation occurs when a spouse files a legal action in court seeking a judicial declaration that the spouses are legally separated. Such an action does not terminate the marriage, and does not result in a division of the parties’ property. An action for divorce accomplishes both of those things.

If a client asks my advice about seeking a legal separation, what I generally recommend is that if you know that you want to end the marriage, it does not make sense to simply file an action seeking a legal separation.

A legal separation is also different from a situation in which the spouses enter into a duly executed* written separation agreement. There is no legal action that needs to be filed in order for spouses to enter into a written separation agreement. It can be done completely outside of the context of court action. A written separation agreement can (and generally does) address, and resolve, all issues arising out of the marriage—custody and child support (if there are children), spousal support, division of property, payment of professional fees, and so forth. The one thing that a written separation agreement does not do is to terminate the marriage itself. Court action is required to accomplish that goal.

In the past, prior to the passage of no-fault divorce legislation in New York in 2010, entering into a written separation agreement, and then waiting for a period of a year prior to filing a divorce action, was the only basis for obtaining a divorce in New York State without claiming fault grounds (such as cruelty, adultery, or abandonment). Now, it is not necessary to first enter into a written separation agreement in order to obtain a divorce on no-fault grounds.

That being said, various couples may have reasons why they do not yet want to end their marriage, but still want to resolve all of the other issues arising out of their marriage so that there is a clear understanding and agreement as to their respective rights, entitlements, and obligations. Entering into a written separation agreement accomplishes that goal.

SAS: I am glad I asked you to write these answers down after we talk. It’s hard to take in, just hearing these details. I know if I were considering divorce or just trying to get away, I would have to reread and reread the differences between terms . . .What is the difference between the date of separation and the date of the commencement of the divorce action, for example?

LBK: The date of separation is the date of the physical separation, when one side moves out. What really matters more, in a legal sense, is the date of commencement of the divorce action. It’s important to understand that when a divorce occurs, it is about more than simply terminating the spouses’ marital status. It is also about the division of property that has accumulated during the marriage. In general terms, property accumulated by the parties from the date of the marriage until the spouses enter into a written separation agreement or one spouse starts an action for divorce (except for inheritance, gifts to one party, and certain other limited exceptions) is marital property, subject to division in the event of a divorce.

For example if a couple physically separates and there is no written agreement in place, executed with the formalities required by law, which fixes the date of that physical separation as the cut-off date for the accumulation of marital property, any money made (and any assets acquired with money made) between the date of the physical separation and the date on which one party or the other starts an action for divorce (or the date on which the parties enter into a written separation agreement) would be technically considered marital property subject to potential division between the spouses. However, since they were physically separated and not contributing to the happiness or wellbeing of each other—or, more importantly, to the ability of the other to continue to create marital property by, for example, caring for the house to permit the other to spend more time on work, providing advice or insight, or engaging in business-related entertaining—the manner in which these post-physical separation earnings is divided is usually considered differently, not necessarily the same as it was when they were living together.

SAS: Since we’re talking about money . . . let’s say you want a divorce, what’s a good strategy if you are the breadwinner? Or if you are the Stay-at-Home-Mom?

If I am representing the moneyed spouse, as a strategy to protect his or her interests, I would advise filing an action for divorce to stop the marital accumulation of property — so that his or her spouse cannot make a claim to it. If I am representing the non-moneyed spouse, while he or she may want to physically separate, I may not want to recommend filing a divorce action in the hope of permitting my client to potentially gain some portion of the earnings still being accumulated.

The ultimate decision as to whether or not to file is, of course, up to the client. Some people make the decisions on a financial basis and some don’t. If a spouse simply isn’t emotionally ready to take that step, that needs to be respected. My job is simply to ensure that he or she understands the consequences of the decision being made.

SAS: Do you have a lot of women coming into your office and asking about separation as a step toward divorce?

LBK: A lot of people ask about a physical separation, and the distinction between simply physically separating and taking legal steps toward a separation or a divorce. There is nothing from a legal standpoint that prevents people from physically separating at any point, whether simply for a trial period or more permanently.

What I advise my clients, however, is that while a physical separation does not have immediate legal effect on the marriage itself, there are consequences which could flow from a physical separation which need to be considered in advance.

For example, if a spouse wants to leave and there are children involved, I would not advise moving out before addressing how both parents will have access to the children. Moving out without an access schedule in place can make it hard to establish an access schedule later. Once you move out, you might have to fight every time to see your child, particularly if bad feelings are running high.

If you have children, I recommend having a written access schedule in place prior to a move from the marital residence so that this is not a fight which must be had later.

There is also the risk, if custody is likely to be a contested issue in a particular case, that the parent who moves out could be deemed to have conceded that the children are better off living primarily with the spouse who remains in the marital residence with them. However, most courts understand, particularly if there is tension or outright hostility in the marital residence with both spouses remaining, that it is actually to the children’s benefit for two separate households to be established.

SAS: It sounds like if a woman is thinking of moving out — with or without her children — it’s very important she protect herself by seeking legal counsel in advance. This is to review the particulars of her case and circumstances, and the laws in her state.

LBK: This is certainly true. In addition to the above concerns where children are involved, there may also be concerns regarding financial issues. For example, if one spouse is very unhappy that the physical separation is taking place, or there is significant anger or hostility flowing from the decision—will it impact the financial status quo? Is there a concern that there may be a change in the manner in which financial support is provided to a dependent spouse? The logistics of financially managing two separate households may be somewhat complicated even where the split is entirely friendly. There may also be concerns about leaving financial records, or even certain valuable assets, in the marital home if one is the spouse moving out.

I would therefore recommend that a woman considering a physical separation seek advice in order to address these or any other concerns, or simply to educate herself on what rights (or obligations) she may have under these circumstances. This is especially important if there is the possibility that a divorce will actually occur.

SAS: Just out of curiosity, do both spouses have to agree to be separated?

LBK: For a physical separation, no. One spouse can simply decide that he or she wants to move out, and do so. There is no need to reach an agreement or obtain court permission. To be clear, however, this does not mean that the moving spouse, by leaving the marital residence, also sheds all of the responsibilities that flow from the marital relationship. Those responsibilities exist until the marriage is terminated (at which point they are replaced by whatever rights and responsibilities are embodied in any agreement reached by the parties, or, if the matter gets decided in court, by the terms of the judgment of divorce). In terms of a written separation agreement, yes, the parties both have to agree upon the terms set forth in the agreement.

SAS: Why do you think people are still asking about legal separation today?

LBK: My experience is, if people come for consultations to my office they might talk about separation. If they retain us, though, it’s for divorce, particularly when I explain what cannot be accomplished through a legal separation. I think that perhaps coming in and asking about a divorce may seem so final, jarring, and emotionally wrought for people that it is easier to seek advice about a lesser step in the first instance.

SAS: I suspect we at SAS hear more questions about separation than you do, because often our clients come to us for advice and divorce coaching before meeting a lawyer. They are in that contemplative and often very emotional stage. They are looking for ways out, to problem solve, for relief. Divorce sounds so scary . . . .

LBK: Yes, by the time they come to me in my office, while it is still an emotional decision for many, it has also become an intellectual and practical one they’ve come to terms with — or one they have been forced to accept.

SAS: What words of support do you offer women who are facing the fact they must divorce?

LBK: It is often difficult taking that first step, and the process can seem overwhelming at first.

After doing this for over nineteen years now, however, I have seen many clients who have come into their own as their matters progressed, whether it is by starting to stand up for themselves and become more assertive, taking charge of their own financial lives, or simply realizing that they are entitled to find happiness after a difficult marriage.

While divorce is not easy, I have found that as they move through it, many clients realize that they are looking forward to “what comes next” and to moving on with their lives, and that is often invaluable.

SAS: Many thanks, Leigh, for taking the time to further our understanding about the differences between separation and divorce.

Leigh Baseheart Kahn is a partner at the firm of Mayerson Abramowitz & Kahn, LLP, which concentrates its practice on divorce and matrimonial law, as well as related family law issues. In addition to bringing extensive experience to the negotiation and litigation through trial of contested matrimonial cases, the firm provides representation and counseling to clients seeking marital settlement and separation agreements, as well as prenuptial and post-nuptial agreements. The firm assists clients with issues of child custody and visitation, equitable distribution of property, valuation of businesses and professional practices, spousal maintenance and alimony, child support, paternity and a myriad of other matters arising out of marital and cohabitation relationships. They also represent individuals who wish to utilize alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, such as mediation, arbitration and collaborative law.

* Duly executed means that all of the necessary legal requirements (such as signing, witnesses, notarization, notice published in a paper, service on required parties, etc.) have been fulfilled. The document is valid, enforceable, and legal.

SAS Note: Please understand that marital law varies from state to state in the United States. So, as with all aspects of your situation, it’s important to discuss your circumstances with an attorney who specializes in marital law in your specific state.

 

Photos of Divorce Coaches Kimberly Mishkin and Liza Caldwell

SAS & Divorce Coaching in the Financial Times

Gone are the days of muddling through divorce alone, stringing together information, crossing your fingers and hoping it’s going to turn out okay. More and more people are seeking a guided and thoughtful approach to the dissolution of their relationships.

We’ve been shouting it from the rooftops . . . we’ve been whispering it in peoples’ ears:

No one has to go through divorce alone and ashamed when resources exist that provide support and education for rebuilding your life.

Thank you, Financial Times, for talking about us and  “divorce coaching,” and to your two million readers.

As an institution and legal proceeding, divorce has a complicated history, and changes to the process have been notoriously slow.  In the United States alone, it’s taken 41 years for all fifty states to offer a “no-fault” divorce option. California led the movement in 1969 but it wasn’t until 2010 that the last state, New York, followed suit. Prior to this, couples were forced to sue one another for wrongdoing – for very specific and awful reasons in order to exit a marriage.  Today, we are finally in a more liberalized place where we can all agree that it’s often not just one person’s fault, and that no one should be forced to stay in an unhappy union.

Thanks to increasing attention in the media (The New York Times and Porter Magazine) newer divorce resources are coming to the forefront, and the public is learning that the traditional method — meeting with just one lawyer to navigate the entire divorce process — is increasingly dated and not necessarily the best approach. In her piece, “Ready to Shake Up the Break Up Blues,” FT reporter Emma Jacobs discusses divorce coaching in particular as a means to selecting the right kind of legal counsel and for coping with the myriad of issues that come along with this major life change.

Dubbing divorce coaching “a new industry dedicated to helping husbands or wives navigate their way out of marriage,” Jacobs highlights some of the unique challenges that face those divorcing. There is the need for enormous decision making, and yet people are often “paralyzed by the immensity of the task ahead, coming as it does at an emotional time;” while there are those who “feel concerned that they will not cope without a spouse.” There are the financial questions and long-term implications of decisions that many people don’t understand.  There is the family unit at question.  How will they tell their kids things are going to change?

It’s true, divorce is complicated.  Too much is happening at once. There is the complex legal process to navigate, practical and logistical problems to be solved, financial information to be sorted out  – not to mention the whole picture is saturated with painfully mixed emotions, heartache, and loss.

Having struggled with our own divorces as isolated women, we at SAS think this process is more than one person should try to handle.  For this reason we created services that center on coaching and a Partnered Divorce.  When you are in crisis and emotionally charged, we know it’s critical to have someone who can act as a mentor, an advisor, a resource, and as a safety net during this tumultuous time. This is a process that requires very important decisions with serious long-term consequences.  Yet, if you ask someone who is going through a divorce right now if he/she feels able to make sound decisions, you will hear a decided “no” in response.  A Partnered Divorce approach ensures that a client has someone by her side to bring perspective, clarity, cost awareness, and objectivity to the situation.  So anchored, she can begin to make informed decisions that will help her take control and rebuild her life.

To read the full article, “Ready to Shake Up the Break Up Blues,” you may visit the Financial Times here.  Please note a subscription may be required.

SAS for Women™ is a boutique firm that specializes in helping women free themselves from dysfunctional and unhappy relationships. Don’t miss the opportunity to receive 6 free months of coaching  via your inbox.

We Created SAS to Provide Divorce Support for Women

Recently, Christopher Cameron of Luxury Listings Magazine asked SAS why divorce might be different for women living on Manhattan’s Upper East- Side. We welcomed the opportunity to respond briefly to his question. But the nature of the question left us wanting to share more.

Divorce is horrible, and divorce for women, no matter the income or geographical locale, has its unique gender, racial and cultural trials and stigmas.  But for SAS Co-Founder Kimberly Mishkin, who was working at a prestigious UES School while trying to leave an abusive marriage, the discovery of the darker side of privilege came as a surprise.

It started the night she walked into the police station, not far from her school, to file a report against her husband. After completing a full day’s work, Kim was dressed appropriately for her job as an administrator in education: she was in a suit and wearing heels. However, “I felt like they didn’t know what to do with me,” says Kim, when she describes that evening. “They acted like I was coming to complain about a silly tiff with my husband. They mimicked faces of sympathy. I had to convince them that this was a real complaint.  That I really needed help. I walked out of the station that night with a brochure on domestic violence and not much more.”

Kim’s experience, as she faced the reality that she must save herself, was that there was no divorce support for women like her.

Coming to terms with the fact that she must divorce, Kim was facing a multitude of decisions, from “Where am I going to live?” to “Where am I going to get the money to pay for my divorce?” Because she was leaving an abusive marriage, Kim needed answers related to her immediate survival as well: “How can I be safe from my ex?” “How do I get a restraining order?” Yet, what she  discovered as she began the painful process of learning, was that for someone perceived as having income, there were very few places for her to turn. She had to rely heavily on friends, who eventually tired of her endless story, until ultimately, she came to rely on herself to navigate all that was before her.

Kim’s Story:

There came that day when I had to leave in a hurry.  Things had taken a turn for the worse, and it became clear I was no longer safe.  I had to do two things immediately: pack some clothes before he came home, and get a restraining order. 

A good friend came with me to the apartment, and she brought contractor bags.  We quickly tossed some clothes and shoes into the black trash bags and carried them to her car.  I remember going back in to grab a sauce pan . . . why I don’t know, I just wasn’t thinking clearly. From there we went straight to the courthouse.  I had no idea what to do then, or next.  When I asked the officer at the desk in the courthouse, he suggested I visit a nearby organization that worked with abused women.

I went there, and the organization offered me food vouchers . . . but I didn’t really need food vouchers. I had a good job.  They offered to put me up in a shelter. . . but I had many wonderful friends who were happy to give me their couch for the night. While I will always be grateful to the women I met that day for their warmth and empathy, it soon became clear they were unable to help me.   

What I needed was information and help understanding the entire, crazy divorce process: I needed to secure an order of protection first, and then to figure out how to press criminal charges. I needed an introduction to a good divorce attorney.  I needed someone to help me figure out my finances . . . I had let him handle our money, and ugh, big mistake! This is to say nothing about the obvious fact that throughout all of this I was breaking down. I was an emotional train wreck. Who could help me? Who would want to?

Alone in that space, I was in tears for months. 

We knew there had to be a better way. This is why SAS exists today.

We’ve put a lot of thought into what divorce support for women should look like. As women who have survived our own divorce stories, and as educators and coaches who have gone on to work with many wise women since, we feel an urgency to share our message with everybody:

There is no sugar coating it. Divorce is unbelievably hard and many people you meet will not understand what you are going through.  But we want you to know that you can get through this, that there is a process, and that by taking the right steps, you can and will feel in greater control of your life.  

Why should you muddle through it alone, we ask, when women, who have come before you, have their hard-won wisdom to share?

We know not everyone can afford our services, which is why we offer free 45-minute consultations to any woman who calls or writes us. So that regardless of whether you engage with us further, or not, after taking that brave step of connecting with us, you will have a new piece of information or an action step that will make you feel less isolated and less alone. Walking out of that police station that night, Kim had never felt so lonely in her whole life.  Now, at SAS, there is a kinder, less painful way to learn about the process and to move on with your life.