Can We Afford to Separate?

Can We Afford to Separate?

In my experience as a divorce mediator, I have come to the conclusion that many couples who go through a physical separation prior to divorce do not give enough thought to whether it is financially feasible, and they do not go through the financial picture and numbers.

I believe separating in this way is an emotional reaction to trying to relieve some of the stress in the short term, but what is not being considered is that it may have long term financial repercussions for not only the couple, but for their children as well.

Splitting one household into two on the same combined overall income is always going to be a costly proposition. You will now have two housing payments, utilities, cable, internet, and other expenses for both residences, etc. And unless there is an increase in income, you are going to have to find ways to tighten your belt in order to make ends meet.

There is nothing worse than when I sit down with clients and work through their living budgets to find that there is not enough income to support the separated living arrangements. This creates an extra added stress that could have been avoided if some financial planning had been done.

Preparing Financially for Your Separation

As you begin preparing for your separation, take a look at your income, expenses, assets, and debts to help determine what you will need to live on. This will give you a good general idea of what your budget might look like when you are living separately, so you can keep these things in mind as you go into mediation.

A standard part of the mediation process here at AMS is to build out budgets during session, so you can make financial plans for your future. We will go through your income and expenses with you and look at ways that you can make your post-separation budget work. 

For example, there might be some items that could be pared back or cut out, such as eliminating cable TV or reducing the amount of money you spend on eating out. You could also look for more affordable alternatives for essential items such as car insurance, your cell phone plan, or your gym membership.

When it comes to household debts, there are a number of ways to attack this. For example, you might be able to refinance the mortgage on the marital home to a lower interest rate, which would produce a lower monthly payment. You will probably want to do this anyway to transfer the title if one of the spouses is keeping the home.

It is strongly advisable to try to pay off as much of your credit card debt as possible before separating. And for whatever you cannot get rid of, look into contacting your credit card providers and try to negotiate a lower rate 0 percent interest for a limited time.

In some cases, making your budget work might require some creativity, and this is where mediation can be especially helpful. We may be able to provide you with some options that you might not be aware of that have worked for other couples, or for some spouses, the mediation sessions might get their own creative juices flowing and allow them to come up with some innovative solutions of their own.

I encourage all separating couples to go through the process of reviewing your finances with us during mediation sessions before committing to any monthly expenses (such as housing). It is very helpful to do some initial prep work ahead of time, but it is best for couples to wait to mediate before they commit themselves to anything.

You may want to reach out to accountants and other experts to help you with some of your financial issues, but unless they specialize in divorce, they may not be aware of all of the options that are available to you. We also work with experts during the mediation process when it is needed and appropriate.

Contact AMS for Experienced Divorce Mediation Services

If you are considering divorce or you are ready to file, mediation is one of the best ways for couples to work out budgeting and financial issues and other terms and conditions of their separation. At Advanced Mediation Solutions (AMS), we have been doing mediation exclusively for several years, and we have helped numerous couples develop peaceable and workable divorce agreements. We provide in person sessions or virtual mediation, and we are ready to get started whenever you are.

To learn more about how we can help you, message us online or call us today at (856) 669-7172 for a free consultation.

What You May Not Know About Getting Divorced

What You May Not Know About Getting Divorced

Recently I had a couple come to me with a separation agreement that they drafted themselves and signed, making it a binding agreement. I believe it was done in an effort to reduce the amount of time they would spend in mediation. Through my normal process I bring up the topics and comment on how they can proceed to agreement after they have understood all of the particulars and how one decision can affect another. But each time I brought up a topic they had in their agreement, I was told they already agreed to it.

As we got further into the mediation, it was becoming apparent that what they had “agreed to” didn’t consider or address many other detailed factors which are very important. That then caused disagreement between them because they were each stuck in their own way of thinking with what they had agreed to. 

In some cases, what spouses think they have agreed to does not correspond with what the agreement says. Other times, the language in the agreement might be vague, unclear, and open to various interpretations. This lack of clarity can cause both spouses to think that they are getting what they want without looking deeper at related factors to find out for sure.

In many instances, DIY separation agreements do not address some of the most important issues at all. These documents are often cookie-cutter templates that might provide a good general framework, but by necessity, they cannot go into great detail about a couple’s specific circumstances. Signing an agreement like this without fully understanding it can lead to critical errors, leaving a mess that will be much more costly to clean up later.

When Should You get Help with a Separation Agreement?

Those general separation agreement templates might work just fine if you don’t have any complicated issues to resolve with your divorce. For example, maybe you have not been married for very long, you have no children, do not own any real estate, and you have no other assets to speak of. In a case like this, it may be fairly easy to just sign the piece of paper, file everything with the court, and go your separate ways.

But the reality is that most divorces are not that simple and straightforward. If you have been married for even a few years, there is a good chance you have at least one child, and you probably own a home together and possess other assets, such as an IRA or 401(k) plan from work. 

Did you know that the assets within an individual retirement account that accumulated during the marriage are generally considered marital property? Did you know that you might be eligible to receive alimony/spousal support at least temporarily?

What about your parenting plan? Did you remember to account for your child’s extracurricular activities or the fact that you have to work weekends twice a month? Did you work out your holiday visitation schedule in a fair and equitable manner?

This is just a sampling of some of the complications that can come up during a divorce. And when we delve deeper, it can lead us to uncover other issues that might not have been discussed.

Divorce Mediation helps Couples Cover all the Angles

It is great if couples can come to general agreements in advance of divorce mediation, but it can be detrimental when they DIY their divorce agreement without first being educated on some of the critical issues that should be addressed. Trying to save time or money with a DIY agreement that you don’t fully understand is likely going to cost you a lot more later on. 

One of the biggest roles that we play when mediating is educating couples on all aspects of divorce and how one decision can affect another. By taking some time on the front-end to delve into these issues and ensure that everyone is on the same page, it will save couples the inevitable headaches and expenses that they may encounter down the road. 

Divorce mediation done thoroughly and correctly still costs a fraction of what it will normally cost to litigate, so it makes good sense all around for couples to get their divorce agreement right the first time.

AMS is Here When You Need Us 

If you are considering divorce, mediation can be a great alternative to going to court. With the guidance of a neutral, third-party mediator, divorcing spouses can come up with a peaceable and workable agreement usually in just a few sessions. At Advanced Mediation Solutions (AMS), we have helped numerous couples over the years to work out the terms and conditions of their divorce. We are available for in person or remote mediation sessions, and we are keeping extended hours as our country continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

To get started, call our office today at (856) 669-7172 or message us online for a free consultation. We look forward to serving you!

Holiday Parenting/Custodial Time during COVID-19

Holiday Parenting/Custodial Time during COVID-19

Separated parents are dealing with unique and significant challenges this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Courts across the country have generally affirmed that COVID-19 is not a valid reason to deny parenting time to a parent who is otherwise fit to care for their child(ren), and many states have advised parents to follow normal custody schedules during the pandemic.

While all of this might be good general guidance, we know that following “normal” custody schedules is simply not practical in a world full of “new normals”. COVID-19 is an extraordinary public health event for which there are no prior precedents, and for many families, scheduling disruptions and lingering concerns about the virus will most certainly impact holiday parenting/custodial time, perhaps in some very significant ways.

COVID-19 and Holiday Gatherings

The CDC has issued various guidelines for how to safely conduct holiday gatherings this year. Among them include:

  • Consider the current number and rate of COVID-19 cases in the community before planning a holiday gathering.
  • Limit the number of people at the gathering (the CDC does not recommend a specific number).
  • Limit the duration of gatherings as longer gatherings pose more risk of spreading the virus.
  • If the weather permits, use an outdoor venue rather than indoor one for your gathering. If indoors, make sure the venue has good ventilation such as open windows and/or doors.
  • As much as possible, limit the attendees to those who live in the same area.
  • Ensure that attendees follow recommended mitigation efforts, such as distancing, wearing of face coverings, handwashing, and the frequent use of sanitation.

When considering whether or not to bring a child to a holiday gathering (such as Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma’s house for example), these and other factors need to be taken into consideration. In years past, you may have thought nothing of bringing your child to interact with your parents, even if he/she had the sniffles. But since seniors are at the highest risk of severe and fatal illness from COVID-19, you will need to think carefully about whether or not it is a good idea to have your kids visit their grandparents this year.

Along these same lines, holiday shopping is sure to be a far different experience this year. In a typical year, crowded malls and long lines do not bother most shoppers, and visits with Santa are often one of the highlights for children. If this is something your child looks forward to every year, it would be a good idea to manage their expectations.

COVID-19 and Holiday Travel

Traveling is another area where families will need to make a lot of adjustments this year. Traveling to different places and coming into contact with different people increases the chances of spreading the virus, so the CDC advises that staying home is the best way to protect yourself, especially if you are in a high risk category.

All that said, we know that travel is a major aspect of holiday parenting/custodial time for many separated parents. If you and your ex live in a different state or even on the other side of the same state, it is pretty hard to avoid having your children travel to a different area in order to spend time with the other parent. This will require meticulous planning to ensure safe travel, and for children who normally travel alone, it might be a very good idea to have one of the parents accompany them this year.

In some cases, it might make sense to forgo holiday travel for this year, especially if the parents live a significant distance from each other and flying is usually the way the kids travel back and forth. As an alternative, you could schedule several days of virtual visits (through Zoom or whatever other platform) and/or make up for the lost in-person time later. Every individual situation is different, so you will need to speak with the other parent about the best way to handle travel this year.

Parental Disagreements about the Pandemic

We would be remiss if we did not talk about one of the major issues that separated parents have dealt with during the COVID-19 outbreak; disputes over how serious the pandemic really is and how to deal with it. When the outbreak started last spring, the country was largely united in its resolve to “slow the spread” and “flatten the curve”. But as time has gone on, people are becoming more divided about this issue, and at times it has reached the point where things have become very contentious and it is very hard to find any common ground.

Get Professional Help with Your Holiday Parenting Plan 

If you find yourself in a situation where you cannot come to an agreement with your ex about holiday parenting/custodial time during COVID-19, it might be time to consider getting outside help rather than battling things out in court. One method that has worked well for many couples is mediation. 

Mediation is a voluntary process in which a neutral, third-party mediator guides the discussion toward peaceable and workable solutions that all participants can agree to. It costs only a fraction of the cost of going back to court, and sessions can be done in person or remotely, whatever the participants are most comfortable with.

At Advanced Mediation Solutions (AMS), we have several years of experience helping couples with divorce mediation and mediation for all other types of family legal issues. We have worked successfully with countless couples over the years, and we may be able to help resolve your parenting/custodial time issues. To get started, message us online or call our office today at (856) 669-7172 for a free consultation.

Being Emotionally Ready for Divorce Mediation

Being Emotionally Ready for Divorce Mediation

A question I often ask clients when they come to me for a consultation for divorce mediation, “Are you each emotionally ready to mediate your divorce”?  Many times, I get a look of confusion, they must be thinking, “well yes, why else am I here”.

In reality, the question means so much more. Different clients have different reasons for agreeing to mediate their divorces. The overwhelming majority of our clients feel that it is a much better way to divorce because it gives them the power to control the outcome. 

They decide that no matter what led them down this road, that really doesn’t matter, what matters is how they wish to proceed. They are trying their hardest to protect their children and themselves from an adversarial process which would stir up contention and emotional strife. They want to resolve their divorce in a civil manner, so they can preserve delicate family relationships.

Some people decide that they want to save money and that becomes the focus and the main goal of divorce mediation. Totally understandable, most people look for the most cost-effective way to proceed in most things.  

Some individuals may choose mediation for one reason and then use the mediation process as a way of “getting back” at their soon to be ex-spouse for years of what they believe were injustices or even the reason for the divorce. 

When it comes to divorce mediation, those couples who are truly successful are the ones who have decided and are emotionally ready to move forward, even if they still have certain conflicting emotions about their divorce. They choose to temper their emotions and truly focus on the future and the best way of moving forward, understanding that it is a negotiation and that there are issues on which they are willing to compromise.

What if One of the Spouses Needs More Time? 

You might be thinking, “being emotionally ready to mediate my divorce makes sense, but how do I get to that place?”

This is a valid question, and there is no “one-size-fits-all” answer. 

We know that in many divorce cases, the spouses are at much different places in their journey. One spouse may have decided quite a while ago to end the marriage, while the other feels as if they have been blindsided. One spouse may already be in a relationship with someone else and ready to start a new life, while the other is still in the shock and denial stage.

When these types of circumstances exist, it may be necessary to slow down a little bit and give the spouse who is going through the initial shock a chance to get a hold of themselves and prepare for the road ahead. In some cases, it may be very helpful for the spouse who is still grieving the loss of the marriage to seek additional help from a therapist and/or from local support groups.

If one of the spouses needs extra time before they will be emotionally ready to begin divorce mediation, that is perfectly okay. Even if you wait an extra month or two, you will still be able to complete your divorce through mediation more quickly and for far less money than if you choose the traditional litigation route.

The point is that if it takes a little longer for both spouses to be emotionally prepared for mediation, it will be worth the wait, because you will have a far better chance of reaching a successful, thoughtful resolution.

Preparing Emotionally for Divorce MediationEmotional preparation is often a matter of adopting the right mindset to succeed in whatever situation you are in. Think of an athlete who just lost one of his parents but decides to put on the uniform anyway and leads his team to victory. It’s not that the grief of his loss wasn’t still there, it’s just that he chose not to focus on it and instead chose to focus on the task at hand.

There have been many instances of athletes who have done this very thing, but there are others who were not emotionally ready to play yet after losing a parent. This goes back to what we previously discussed about the need for time to grieve, work things through, and in some cases, seek counseling.

If you are at the stage where you are working things through and you think you are getting emotionally ready for divorce mediation, here are some tips to help you prepare:

  • Agree to Mediate: Sometimes, just the very commitment to mediate the divorce causes a person to focus on a successful outcome rather than the conflicting emotions they may be dealing with. Mediation is a voluntary process. Once both spouses have committed to it, it becomes everyone’s focus to see it through and reach a fair settlement.
  • Set Goals for the Mediation Process: Take some time figuring out everything you have financially (assets and possessions) and how you view the parental relationship for both you and your spouse to your children. Then set some goals for how you want these issues to be resolved. As we talked about earlier, you must be willing to compromise, so think about those things that are in the category of “must haves” versus the things that are in the category of “it would be nice to have”. If you are unable to have these discussions without causing conflict, wait until mediation to have the discussion. An experience divorce mediator will help you through this process in a productive way.
  • Consider your Children: We cannot emphasize enough the importance of a peaceable and workable settlement for the sake of your children. Divorce is always hard on kids, but you can minimize the negative impact by agreeing to be civil around them and not to badmouth the other parent. Consider also that, although divorce is never an ideal outcome, millions of children have gone through it and gone on to live successful, well-adjusted lives. How the children handle divorce, depends a great deal on the parents, the less conflict and unrest, the  better the children will be equipped to handle this change in the family dynamics. 
  • Decide on In-Person or Virtual Mediation: With COVID-19 still on everybody’s mind, more couples are choosing virtual mediation, which can be done remotely with a phone or internet connection. But even before the pandemic hit, some clients still preferred this method because they either have a busy travel schedule or they are more comfortable not being in the same room with their spouse.
  • Take Your Time: It is important to understand that the issues you are working on during mediation do not all have to be resolved in one session. If you and your spouse are at an impasse about something, that’s okay. Sometimes, it is good to sleep on it, reflect, and come back and discuss it another day. Do not rush things, and do not feel pressured to agree to something you don’t want to agree to just because a session is about to end.

Contact AMS for More Information 

If you feel that you are emotionally ready for divorce mediation, Advanced Mediation Solutions (AMS) is here to help. We have worked closely with countless couples over the years and helped successfully resolve their divorces through mediation, and we can do the same for you if you are committed to it.

Our initial consultations are free, and we are ready to get started whenever you are. To schedule your free consultation, message us online or call our office today at (856) 669-7172. We look forward to serving you!

Breaking Up Doesn’t Have to Mean Going Broke: Why an Uncontested Divorce Makes Sense for High Net Worth Couples

Breaking Up Doesn’t Have to Mean Going Broke: Why an Uncontested Divorce Makes Sense for High Net Worth Couples

When couples with significant assets decide to get divorced, it can become a costly and protracted proceeding. In New Jersey, for example, the average cost for divorce attorney fees ranges between $12,500 and $14,500. But high net worth couples are not average, they have many unique issues that take more time to resolve, and their legal fees are often much higher. 

With so much property and assets at stake, there is the potential for a long and drawn out court battle. And before everything is said and done, you could find that a substantial portion of your net worth is eaten up in legal fees. It doesn’t have to be this way, however.

There are better alternatives these days for high net worth couples, and divorce mediation is an increasingly preferred method. Through mediation, a couple can resolve all of their issues outside of court, so it officially becomes an uncontested divorce. This is not to say that there are no issues along the way, it is just that the couple chooses to work them out on their own with the help and guidance of a professional, third-party divorce mediator.

How Does Divorce Mediation Work?

Divorce mediation is a cooperative approach that can be done in a live setting or virtually, whatever the spouses are most comfortable with. The spouses meet with the mediator, who is there to facilitate the discussion and guide the conversation toward a civil and workable resolution. 

During the mediation process, outside specialists can be brought in to help deal with various issues in which they have in-depth expertise. For example, high net worth couples often require the assistance of CPAs, business appraisers, real estate experts, and other financial specialists for the various types of property and assets that need to be divided. 

As an aside, at AMS, we have in-house experts that can be brought in when needed to help ensure a seamless process from start to finish. These professionals are not only experienced in their area of expertise but they also have experience in dealing with mediating parties. Very different from professionals who only work with attorneys for litigated divorces.

All in all, the divorce mediation process can be completed in as soon as a couple of months or maybe a little longer, depending on the complexity of your situation and the time it takes to resolve everything. Either way, this is significantly less time than it would take to go through traditional divorce litigation.

How High Net Worth Couples Can Benefit from Divorce Mediation

As we have touched on previously, an uncontested divorce that is done through mediation can save high net worth couples tens of thousands of dollars or more in legal costs, and the couple can complete their divorce in a fraction of the time it would take for the process to go through court. These are not the only benefits of mediation, however. There are several others as well, including:

  • Cooperative Environment: Because divorce mediation is done in a collaborative setting, there is a greater likelihood of reaching an satisfactory agreement. The process also allows you to avoid what could be a highly contentious court battle with the potential to foster lasting bitterness between the spouses. The ability to preserve delicate family relationships is especially important if there are children involved.
  • Confidential Process: Mediation sessions are held confidentially, and nothing that is discussed ever becomes part of the public court record. This allows participants to speak more freely knowing their words will not be held against them later on, and for high net worth couples, it also helps ensure that no part of their divorce proceeding ever ends up in the media.
  • Flexible Settlements: Family courts tend to take more of a cookie-cutter approach to divorce settlements, one of the main reasons being that they simply do not have time to delve too deeply into each individual case. As a result, divorced couples can end up with a final settlement that no one is happy with. Divorce mediation is different. During mediation, you can spend as much time as you need to on the issues that matter most, and you and your spouse have the freedom and flexibility to get creative and come up with win-win resolutions that work for everyone.
  • More Control over the Process: At the end of the day, the participants are the ones who must agree to any settlement that is produced during divorce mediation. The process is entirely voluntary, and nothing can be imposed on either of the spouses against their will. This gives the spouses a large amount of control over the process, and it also makes it more likely that they will take ownership of what is agreed to and follow through on all of their obligations.

AMS Is Here to Help with your High Net Worth Divorce

If you are considering a divorce and mediation sounds like an option you would like to know more about, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation to help decide if it is right for you. We have worked with numerous high net worth couples over the years, and we have handled divorces with all levels of complexity. You can choose in person or virtual mediation sessions, and we will work closely with you throughout the process to help ensure that it produces a positive outcome.

To get started, message us online or call our office today at (856) 669-7172. We look forward to serving you!