Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mediation Vs. Collaborative Divorce

David D. Stein, Esq.
© Liaise® Mediated Solutions, LLC 2009


Mediation is the process where you and your spouse and a mediator enter into an agreement to mediate. You sit down and together work out the terms and conditions of your dissolution. There are no lawyers present; it is just the mediator – who is a trained professional – and the spouses coolly and calmly working things out. If particular issues arise that require an outside expert, such as valuation of a pension, or a bona fide dispute as to the value of real estate, then the mediator engages a neutral specialist to render an opinion as to the matter in dispute.

At the end of the process, a marital settlement agreement is drafted and the parties are urged to have that agreement reviewed separately by an attorney. The purpose of that review is not to present an opportunity to attack the agreement or run up unnecessary attorneys’ fees, but rather it is to make certain that the words of the agreement are an accurate reflection of the understanding in the parties’ head. Once it is independently confirmed that the agreement is accurate, it is signed and notarized. When fully executed it is attached to a judgment and presented to a judge for signature. Parties never have to appear in court and all of the “pleading” stage of the dissolution is handled through the mail.

Usually, the only professional fee that is paid is the single mediator’s hourly rate.

Collaborative Divorce
A “collaborative divorce” is a much more complicated process. Each party is represented by an attorney who is trained in a “collaborative” Process. The attorneys and their respective clients enter into a fee agreement wherein it is specified that the lawyer iIs to be restrained in their usual zeal for litigation. If the “collaborative process” is unsuccessful the attorneys will not continue in the representation of the parties should the matter proceed to litigation. Each party, in the usual course of “collaboration”, also engages the services of a “coach” and an accountant. These coaches are a specie of mental health professional that assist the parties in managing their well-being during the process.

The lawyers and their clients push and prod one another to arrive at a mutually agreeable resolution. The process is much less adversarial than traditional litigation, but it is nonetheless a form of advocacy.

“Collaborative divorce” has its benefits, , but it is much more expensive than mediation. The marital estate is paying two attorneys, two coaches and at least one financial assistant. This can easily work out to be in excess of $1000 per hour. Our experience at Liaise is that during a marital dissolution or, as we prefer to call it when there are children involved, “reorganization”, there is not enough money to go around and it is in the family’s best interest to save as much money as possible.

For divorcing couples who have nearly unlimited funds, the collaborative process can provide more of a “security blanket” when going through a difficult time. But for those couples who have to preserve as much as possible of their marital estate in order to provide for their children’s education or their own retirement, it is in their best interests to first pursue mediation.

Friday, June 25, 2010

“Grey Divorce”

Make Sure Its Not “Grave” Mistake

David D. Stein, Esq.
© Liaise® Mediated Solutions, LLC 2009

Apparently there is a nationwide upswing in divorce amongst an older demographic. This phenomenon is being called “Grey Divorce”.

We at Liaise are seeing it too. Many of our customers are past 50 and ending marriages of long duration.

Liaise never intrudes on the personal life of our clients and so I can offer no cogent insight into why this is happening, but as Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.”

What we have been seeing is that the older divorce, unlike the younger divorce is often characterized by less anger. It is not as if there has been a simmering caldron of discontent brewing for years that finally explodes once the kids are out of the house; it is more like one party has just decided that enough is enough, often to the great surprise of the other party. This is not to say that there is a complete absence of anger, it merely seems as if the rancor doesn’t rise to the same level of rage as we sometimes observe in younger couples.

Dispassionately, perhaps this trend was predictable given that the “baby boomers” or “Pepsi Generation” are all nearing 60. The “me generation” is now, as always, searching for gratification. For some the children are now grown and independent so that barrier to divorce is lessened. Add to this the ever increasing infidelity amongst older people [is this the Viagra effect] and the economic mobility that many older people enjoy and it is not hard to see why so many long term marriages are ending.

For the older couple seeking to end their marriage it is very important to do so in a manner that preserves both the best parts of a long term relationship and accomplishes the dissolution with the least cost possible. For everybody it is difficult to earn and save money, but for older people it is even more of an issue since there are fewer prime earning years left before retirement. What is worse, the idea of invading capital to pay for the expense of divorce is blasphemy to savvy financial planners.

Instead of engaging attorneys to litigate their dissolution, smart older [and younger] couples are hiring a mediator to help them come to fair terms on the conditions of their separation. There is no reason to go to war, make the lawyers rich and deplete your resources and put the comfort and security of your retirement at risk. Do yourself a favor, hire Liaise Mediated Solutions to help guide you to the most cost effective management of your disputes.

David D. Stein has been an attorney for over 20 years and is the founder of Liaise Mediated Solutions. He is a trained mediator, dispute resolution specialist and lecturer on non-violent conflict management techniques and tools.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Best Advice on Self-Renewal!

David D. Stein, Esq.
© Liaise® Mediated Solutions, LLC 2009
[No Claim to Work of John Gardner]

Speaking as someone who has re-invented himself several times over his career, I value highly the ability to, as my dad says, "Keep your head up and your feet moving forward."

Since this is a very important topic to those going through divorce, I was going to expound on the subject for this blog.

I soon realized I could never improve upon the words of John W. Garner. Below please read an essay that I have referred to often over the years and always find inspirational.

Remarks by John W. Gardner
Stanford Graduate School of Business reunion event
(This speech was delivered in 1989 when John was 77 years old. He remained highly active in public service until his death at the age of 89.)

I once wrote a book called Self-Renewal that deals with the decay and renewal of societies, organizations and individuals. I explored the question of why civilizations die and how they sometimes renew themselves, and the puzzle of why some men and women go to seed while others remain vital all of their lives. It's the latter question that I shall deal with this morning. I know that you as an individual are not going to seed. But the person seated on your right may be in fairly serious danger.

Several years ago, I read a splendid article on barnacles. I don't want to give the wrong impression of the focus of my reading interests. Sometimes weeks go by without my reading about barnacles, much less remembering what I read. But this article had an unforgettable opening paragraph. "The barnacle" the author explained "is confronted with an existential decision about where it's going to live. Once it decides, it spends the rest of its life with its head cemented to a rock." For a good many of us, it comes to that.

We've all seen men and women, even ones in fortunate circumstances with responsible positions, who seem to run out of steam before they reach life's halfway mark.

One must be compassionate in assessing the reasons. Perhaps life just presented them with tougher problems than they could solve. It happens. Perhaps something inflicted a major wound on their confidence or their pride. Perhaps they were pulled down by the hidden resentments and grievances that grow in adult life, sometimes so luxuriantly that, like tangled vines, they immobilized the victim.

I'm not talking about people who fail to get to the top in achievement. We can't all get to the top, and that isn't the point of life anyway. I'm talking about people who have stopped learning or growing or trying. Perhaps they feel defeated, maybe somewhat sour and cynical, maybe sore that they haven't gotten further. Many of them are just plodding along, going through the motions. I don't deride that. Life is hard. Just to keep on keeping on is sometimes an act of courage. But I do worry about men and women functioning far bellow the level of their potential.

We have to face the fact that most men and women out there in the world of work are more bored than they could care to admit, and more stale than they know. When someone asked Pope John XXIII how many people worked in the Vatican he said "Oh, about half." John XIII was a Pope who liked to shake things up, so perhaps that was more of a prod than a statistic. But speaking seriously, boredom is the secret ailment of large-scale organizations. Logan Pearsall Smith said that boredom can rise to the level of a mystical experience, and if that's true I know some middle level executives who are among the great mystics of all time.

We can't write off the danger of staleness, complacency, growing rigidity, imprisonment by our own comfortable habits and opinions.

Look around you. How many people whom you know well are already trapped in fixed attitudes and habit? A famous French writer said "There are people whose clocks stop at a certain point in their lives." I could without any trouble name a half dozen national figures resident in Washington, D.C., whom you would recognize, and could tell you roughly the year their clock stopped.

My observations over a lifetime convince me that most people enjoy learning and growing. And many are clearly troubled by the self-assessments of midcareer. Yogi Berra says you can observe a lot just by watching, and I've watched a lot of midcareer people.

Such self-assessments are no great problem when you're young and moving up. The drama of your own rise is enough. But when you reach middle age, when your energies aren't what they used to be, when it no longer occurs to you to check the remaining acreage on Mount Rushmore, then you begin to wonder what it all added up to -- you begin to look for the figure in the carpet of your life. I have some simple advice for you when you begin that process. Don't be too hard on yourself. Look ahead. Someone said that "life is the art of drawing without an eraser." And above all don't imagine that the story is over. Life has a lot of chapters. The story is still being written.

If we are conscious of the danger of going to seed, we can resort to countervailing measures - at almost any age. You don't need to run down like an unwound clock. And if your clock is unwound, you can wind it up again. You can stay alive in every sense of the word until you fail physically.

The individual intent on self-renewal will have to deal with ghosts of the past - the memory of earlier failures, the remnants of childhood dramas and rebellions, accumulated grievances and resentments that have long outlived their cause. Sometimes people cling to the ghosts with something almost approaching pleasure - but the hampering effect on growth is inescapable. As Jim Whitaker, who climbed Mount Everest, said "You never conquer the mountain. You only conquer yourself."

The more I see of human lives, the more I believe the business of growing up is much longer drawn out than we pretend. If we achieve it in our 30s, even our 40s, we're doing well. To those of you who are parents of teenagers, I can only say "Sorry about that."

There's a myth that learning is for young people. But as the proverb says, "It's what you learn after you know it all that counts." The middle years are great, great learning years. Most of you in this room are just coming into what can be your best learning years.

Count everything as a learning experience. Learn from your failures. Learn from your successes. When you hit a spell of trouble, ask "What is it trying to teach me?"

The lessons aren't always happy ones, but they keep coming. We learn from our jobs. We learn from our friends and families. We learn by accepting the commitments of life, by playing the roles that life hands us (not necessarily the roles we would have chosen), by growing older, by suffering, by loving, by bearing with the things we can't change, by taking risks.

The things you learn in maturity are not simple things such as acquiring information and skills. That's for kids. You learn not to engage in self-destructive behavior. You learn not to burn up energy in anxiety. You lean to manage your tensions, if you have any, which you do. You learn that self-pity and resentment are among the most toxic of drugs. You learn that the world loves talent but pays off on character.

You learn that most people are neither for you nor against you, they are thinking about themselves. You learn that no matter how much you strive to please, there are some people in this world who are not going to love you, a lesson that is at first troubling and then really quite relaxing.

You can even be unaffected - a quality that often takes years to acquire. You can achieve the simplicity that lies beyond sophistication.

Those are things that are hard to learn early in life. As a rule you have to have picked up some mileage and some dents in your fenders before you understand. As Norman Douglas said "There are some things you can't learn from others. You have to pass through the fire."

Of course failures are a part of the story too. Everyone fails. Joe Louis said "Everyone has to figure to get beat some time." The question isn't did you fail but did you pick yourself up and move ahead?

There is one other little question: Did you collaborate in your own defeat? A lot of people do. Learn not to.

One of the enemies of sound, lifelong motivation is a rather childish conception we have of the kind of tangible, concrete goal toward which all of our efforts should drive us. We want to believe that there is a point at which we can feel that we have arrived. We want a scoring system that tells us when we can count ourselves successful.

So you scramble and sweat and climb to reach what you thought was the goal. When you get to the top you stand up and look around and chances are you feel a little empty. Maybe more than a little empty. You wonder whether you climbed the wrong mountain.

But life isn't a mountain. It doesn't have a summit. Nor is it - as some suppose - a riddle that has an answer. Nor a game that has a final score.

Life is an endless unfolding, and if we wish it to be, an endless process of self-discovery, an endless and unpredictable dialogue between our own potentialities and the life situations in which we find ourselves. By potentialities I mean not just performance gifts but the full range of one's capacities for learning, sensing, wondering, understanding, loving and aspiring.

Perhaps you imagine that by age 45 or 55 you have explored those potentialities pretty fully. Don't kid yourself!

The thing we have to understand is that the potentialities you actually develop to the full come out as the result of a lifelong interplay between you and your environment. Emergencies sometimes lead people to perform remarkable and heroic tasks they wouldn't have guessed they were capable of. Life pulls things out of you. So if you want to find out what's in you, expose yourself to unaccustomed challenges.

I estimate that over your lifetime, even highly selected and privileged individuals such as yourselves will make use of no more than half of the talent and energy that is in you.

You know about some of those gifts that you have left undeveloped. Would you believe that you have gifts and possibilities you don't even know about? It's true.

There are barriers that we are just beginning to understand. We are just beginning to see that the individual's potentialities may be blighted by early discouragement, by an early environment that diminishes the sense of self-worth, by excessive pressures for conformity, by a lack of opportunities to grow. And we are just beginning to recognize how even those who have had every advantage and opportunity unconsciously put a ceiling on their own growth, underestimate their potentialities or hide from the risk that growth involves.

There's something I know about you that you may or may not know about yourself. You have within you more resources of energy than have ever been tapped, more talent than has ever been exploited, more strength that has ever been tested, more to give than you have ever given.

Now I've discussed renewal at some length, but it isn't possible to talk about renewal without touching on the subject of motivation. Someone defined horse sense as the good judgment horses have that prevents them from betting on people. But we have to bet on people - and I have my bets more often on high motivation than on any other quality except judgment. There is no perfection of techniques that will substitute for the lift of spirit and heightened performance that comes from strong motivation. The world is moved by highly motivated people, by enthusiasts, by men and women who want something very much or believe very much.

I'm not talking about anything as narrow as ambition. After all, ambition eventually wears out and probably should. But you can keep your zest until the day you die. If I may offer you a simple maxim, "Be interested." Everyone wants to be interesting - but the vitalizing thing is to be interested.

Keep a sense of curiosity. Discover new things. Care. Risk failure. Reach out.

The nature of one's personal commitments is a powerful element in renewal, so let me say a word on that subject.

I once lived in a house where I could look out a window as I worked at my desk and observe a small herd of cattle browsing in a neighboring field. And I was struck with a thought that must have occurred to the earliest herdsmen tens of thousands of years ago. You never get the impression that a cow is about to have a nervous breakdown -- or puzzling about the meaning of life.

Humans have never mastered that kind of complacency. We are worriers and puzzlers, and we want meaning in our lives. I'm not speaking idealistically; I'm stating a plainly observable fact about men and women. As Robert Louis Stevenson said, "Old or young, we're on our last cruise." We want it to mean something.

For many this life is a vale of tears; for no one is it free of pain. Every heart hath its own ache, as the saying goes. But we are so designed that we can cope with it if we can live in some context of meaning. Given that powerful help, we can draw on the deep springs of the human spirit to see our suffering in the framework of all human suffering, to accept the gifts of life with thanks and to endure life's indignities with dignity.

In the stable periods of history, meaning was supplied in the context of a coherent community and traditionally-prescribed patterns of culture. On being born into the society you were heir to a whole warehouse full of meanings. Today you can't count on any such heritage. You have to build meaning into your life, and you build it through your commitments – whether to your religion, to an ethical order as you conceived it, to your life's work, to loved ones, to your fellow humans. Young people run around searching for identity, but it isn't handed out free any more - not in this transient, rootless, pluralistic society. Your identity is what you've committed yourself to.

It may just mean doing a better job at whatever you're doing. There are men and women who make the world better just by being the kind of people they are. They have the gift of kindness or courage or loyalty or integrity. It matters very little whether they're behind the wheel of a truck or running a country store or binging up a family.

I must pause to say a word about my statement "There are men and women who make the world better just by being the kind of people they are." I first wrote the sentence some years ago and it has been widely quoted. One day I was looking through a mail-order gift catalogue and it included some small ornamental bronze plaques with brief sayings on them, and one of the sayings was the one I just read to you, with my name as author. Well I was so overcome by the idea of a sentence of mine being cast in bronze that I ordered it, but then couldn't figure out what in the world to do with it. About four years ago, I finally sent it to my dear friends Ernie and Kitty Arbuckle, whom most of you knew.

We tend to think of youth and the active middle years as the years of commitment. As you get a little older, you're told you've earned the right to think about yourself. But that's a deadly prescription. People of every age need commitments beyond the self, need the meaning that commitments provide. Self-preoccupation is a prison, as every self-absorbed person finally knows. Commitments to larger purposes can get you out of prison.

Another significant ingredient in motivation is one's attitude toward the future. Optimism is unfashionable today, particularly among intellectuals. Everyone makes fun of it. Someone said "Pessimists got that way by financing optimists." But I am not pessimistic and I advise you not to be. As the fellow said, "I 'd be a pessimists but it would never work."

I can tell you that for renewal, a tough-minded optimism is best. The future is not shaped by people who don't really believe in the future. Men and women of vitality have always been prepared to bet their futures, even their lives, on ventures of unknown outcome. If they had all looked before they leaped, we would still be crouched in caves sketching animal pictures on the wall.

But I did say tough-minded optimism. High hopes that are dashed by the first failure are precisely what we don't need. We have to believe in ourselves, but we mustn't suppose that the path will be easy. It's tough. Life is painful, and rain falls on the just, and Mr. Churchill was not being a pessimist when he said "I have nothing to offer, but blood, toil, tears and sweat." He had a great deal more to offer, but as a good leader he was saying its isn't going to be easy, and he was also saying something that all great leaders say constantly - that failure is simply a reason to strengthen resolve.

We cannot dream of a Utopia in which all arrangements are ideal and everyone is flawless. Nothing is ever finally safe. Every important battle is fought and re-fought. Life is tumultuous - an endless losing and regaining of balance, a continuous struggle, never an assured victory. You may wonder if such a struggle - endless and of uncertain outcome - isn't more than humans can bear. All of history suggests that the human spirit is well fitted to cope with just that kind of the world.

I said earlier that life has a lot of chapters. Let me offer some examples. In a piece I wrote for Reader's Digest not long ago I gave what seemed to me a particularly interesting true example of renewal. The man in question was 53 years old. Most of his adult life had been a losing struggle against debt and misfortune. In military service he received a battlefield injury that denied him the use of his left arm. And he was seized and held in captivity for five years. Later he held two government jobs, succeeding at neither. At 53, he was in prison - and not for the first time. There in prison, he decided to write a book, driven by Heaven knows what motive - boredom, the hope of gain, emotional release, creative impulse, who can say? And the book turned out to be one of the greatest ever written, a book that has enthralled the world for over 350 years. The prisoner was Cervantes; the book Don Quixote.

I've already mentioned Pope John XXIII, a serious man who found a lot to laugh about. The son of peasant farmers, he once said "In Italy there are three roads to poverty - drinking, gambling and farming. My family chose the slowest of the three." He was 76 years old when he was elected Pope. Through a lifetime in the bureaucracy, the spark of spirit and imagination had remained undimmed, and when he reached the top he launched the most vigorous renewal that the Church has known in this century.

Still another example is Winston Churchill. At age 25, as a correspondent in the Boer War he became a prisoner of war and his dramatic escape made him a national hero. Elected to Parliament at 26, he performed brilliantly, held high cabinet posts with distinction and at 37 became First Lord of the Admiralty. Then he was discredited, unjustly, I believe, by the Dardanelles expedition - the defeat at Gallipoli - and lost his admiralty post. There followed 24 years of ups and downs. All too often the verdict on him was "brilliant but erratic ... not steady, not dependable." He had only himself to blame. A friend described him as a man who jaywalked through life. He was 66 before his moment of flowering came. Someone said "It's all right to be a late bloomer if you don't miss the flower show." Churchill didn't miss it.

Well, I won't give you any more examples. From those I've given I hope it's clear to you that the door of opportunity doesn't really close as long as you're reasonably healthy. You just don't know what's ahead of you. You may - as Churchill did - become the great leader of your country in time of crisis. You may - as Cervantes did - go to jail and write a novel. You may become Pope.

Or if none of those outcomes appeal to you, remember the bronze plaque I sent to Ernie and Kitty Arbuckle. "Some men and women make the world better just by being the kind of people they are." To be that kind of person would be worth all the years of living and learning.

David D. Stein has been an attorney for over 20 years and is the founder of Liaise® Mediated Solutions. He is a trained mediator, dispute resolution specialist and lecturer on non-violent conflict management techniques and tools.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Child of Divorce - A Perspective

Every once in a while I hear or read something that just rings true and clear.

Many of my customers agonize over the impact that the divorce they are contemplating, or involved in, will have a devastating impact upon their children. They have good reason to be concerned. Done incorrectly divorce can be a gut- wrenching experience that scars children for years to come. On the other hand, done correctly a divorce need not be a trauma, but can actually be a positive learning experience and a release from a tense and difficult household situation.

On March 2, 2010 KQED broadcast a prospective written by Sarah Buckley entitled “Child of Divorce”. Ms. Buckley simply and eloquently relates her experience as a member of a family that underwent a divorce in a sensible and humane manner.

This enlightening perspective captures perfectly the concept Liaise develops with our clients. When there are children involved, we don’t do a divorce, we do a family reorganization. Not only is mediation significantly less expensive then litigation, the process of an orderly, freely negotiated determination of the rights and duties of each party sets a tone of cooperation and collaboration. In that sort of atmosphere it is possible to accomplish the calm and reassuring communication children need to help them realize that they are well loved and that their parents are taking every precaution to guaranty that their future will be secure.

Do yourself, your family, and your financial well being a favor and choose Liaise Mediated Solutions, LLC to help you navigate the treacherous waters of ending your marriage.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

“Pain Management” Our Specialty

“You are a pain management specialist!” The first time those words were said to me I thought to myself, “Huh, interesting turn of phrase”. The second time someone said almost those exact same words I thought, “Wow, what a coincidence”. The third time I heard them I figured I better write about the experience.

To be perfectly frank, maybe the third time shouldn’t count.

I was first labeled a pain management specialist during the “end-game” of a very difficult business dispute mediation. In the Liaise method of mediation end-game occurs when the parties in conflict have essentially agreed that they are going to stop, or avoid, litigation and come to settlement terms. At that point the tensions in the room evaporate and everyone’s blood pressure returns to normal. One of the parties was very relieved, thanked me, put a hand on my shoulder and declared, “We were really suffering and you are a pain management specialist!”

I live to hear that stuff. It really made me feel great. I get paid well for my services, but the satisfaction I receive is what gets me out of bed in the morning.

The next time I heard very similar words was at the end of a high-conflict divorce mediation. The parties had been going at it hammer and tong for over a year and had each spent well in excess of $40,000 on attorneys. A family friend of theirs had recommended that they call Liaise before they completely wiped out their home equity and retirement plans.

During the Liaise managed mediation they soon came to realize that their attorneys had been fueling their fire-fight and that many of the “issues” they were contesting were in no way proportional to the amount of money, energy and life-blood they were expending. [There are ethical, high-minded, family law attorneys out there, but if you hire a smiling shark you are in for the ride of your life! And I don’t mean that in a good way.]

As the couple worked steadily through all the terms and conditions of a comprehensive Marital Settlement Agreement they each confessed to one another, and me, that the litigated divorce process had actually made them physically sick. Headaches, sleepless nights, fevers, rashes, nausea, chest pain, stomach problems. A long list of ailments that they each said was attributable to the divorce battle they had been waging. The wife then said that the mediation process was, “really helping to manage the pain”.

Interesting, there it was again, Liaise Mediated Solutions, LLC performing pain management. I liked it. Made me feel good. Should I work that into a trademark?

The third time I earned the pain management specialist title had nothing to do with mediation, it was just one of those things and the spark that got me to put this all down in a blog article.

A couple of weeks ago I was standing on the BART platform waiting for a train to take me to my San Francisco office when a woman with a pained facial expression approached me. “Pardon me”, she says, “I have a blistering headache. Do you have anything to help me?” I replied that she was in luck and I had a foil wrapped packet of Advil Liquid-Gels, in my brief case. She thanked me took her bottle of water and immediately swallowed the medication.

I asked her why she happened to pick me from the crowd to ask and she said, “You look like a pain management guy”. Needless to say, I was floored. But, as Popeye the Sailor Man says, “I am what I am”.

Do yourself, your family, and your financial well being a favor and choose Liaise Mediated Solutions, LLC to help you navigate the treacherous waters of managing the painful situations of life.

David D. Stein has been an attorney for over 20 years and the founder of Liaise® Mediated Solutions. He is a trained mediator, dispute resolution specialist and lecturer on non-violent conflict management techniques and tools.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Along For the Ride – Taking Control Through Mediation

A recent article in California Lawyer Magazine was entitled “Along for the Ride”. It explored the legal and ethical issues of punishing those who were only peripherally involved in the commission of a crime.

For instance, you agree to be the designated driver when you and your new friend go nightclubbing. On the way there she asks you to stop at a liquor store so she can buy some chewing gum. You’re parked outside with the motor running and the radio playing loud, a minute later she runs back into the car and says, “Let’s go”! When the police arrest you 15 minutes later because a video surveillance camera gave them your license plates while your girlfriend went inside to shoot the clerk and empty the cash register, it sounds pretty lame to say “I didn’t know what she had planned!”

Happens all the time, I am told. Glad it’s not my job to defend those poor hapless dopes who find themselves facing trial as accessories to murder for being in the wrong place at the wrong time in the company of the wrong people.

The article did get me thinking. Many times a couple will present in my office for a consultation on the “big picture” of marital dissolution and how it can be most effectively achieved. When, after my discourse, I ask if there are any questions, one of them will kind of shrug and say words to the effect, “whatever she [or he] wants”. Clearly, this individual is, at this stage, “along for the ride”.

It is true that California, as a “no-fault” dissolution state, only requires one member of the marriage to declare that irreconcilable differences have arisen causing the irremediable breakdown of the marriage. This means that there is no need to present evidence and prove “grounds” for divorce. So at least in California, no lawyers are busy preparing their case based on “mental cruelty”. We should all be grateful for that.

However, the mere fact that only one party to the marriage wants out, does not mean that both members of the marriage do not need to be mindful of the process and keenly aware of their rights and obligations throughout the dissolution.

It has been our experience, here at Liaise, that a thoughtful mediation process does wonders in making both parties take a considered look at the procedure and begin a purposeful participation that vests both sides in the creation of a comprehensive Marital Settlement Agreement.

What may have started with one side merely going through the motions as a passive participant rapidly develops into a dialog where Husband and Wife engage in a give and take that results in an Agreement that each rightfully feels as if they had a hand in creating. This creates a more enduring Agreement and well earned feeling of self-direction in the dissolution process.

When I compare and contrast the mediation experience with the litigated dissolution experience, I feel very sorry for the people who took the old fashioned contested path to divorce.

Do yourself, your family, and your financial well being a favor and choose Liaise Mediated Solutions, LLC to help you navigate the treacherous waters of ending your marriage.

David D. Stein has been an attorney for over 20 years and the founder of Liaise® Mediated Solutions. He is a trained mediator, dispute resolution specialist and lecturer on non-violent conflict management techniques and tools.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Open Letter to Leslee and David Lageschutte

On September 30, 2009 the Oakland Tribune ran a front page article entitled “The Anatomy of a Breakup” authored by Bruce Newman of their San Jose Mercury News affiliate.

The article does an excellent job of detailing the alienation and deterioration of a relationship between two people who may not have been that well suited for one another from the beginning, but who got married for what must have seemed like good ideas at the time. The couple had two daughters before their marriage ended.

Mr. Newman also spends a bit of time telling his readers that this couple of modest means has already spent over $25,000 in legal fees fighting over their savings.

What I want to say to Leslee and David is that when a marriage breaks up there is often anger and recrimination and an overriding desire to punish your former spouse. However, married couples with sufficient emotional intelligence know that during the very stressful period of marital dissolution they must have one abiding rule guiding their actions. That rule is that all of the decisions they make, or the actions they take, must be done in the best interests of the children.

Once a couple has adopted and embraced this guiding principle, common sense dictates that they must take all necessary steps to stop the fighting and sit down and negotiate a settlement to their dispute. They have a simple choice – keep fighting or send their daughters to college.

Fortunately, there is a well established, highly successful trend in the marital dissolution arena that can well serve David and Leslee and that is marital mediation. They can meet with a very well trained, deeply experienced mediator who can assist them in framing and managing all of the issues that arise in the dissolution process. At the end of the mediation they will emerge with a Marital Settlement Agreement that can be mailed to the Judge and incorporated into a Judgment of Dissolution. There is no need to ever appear in Court.

The cost of mediation is generally a tenth of the cost of litigation and the participants, as the architects of their own agreement, are more vested in the result. Leslee, David, do yourselves and your family a favor and hire a mediator to help you get through this mess.

The last thing I want to say to David and Leslee is that at my company when we help couples with children end their marriage we don’t call it a divorce or marital dissolution, we call it a marital reorganization. David, Leslee, in the very near future you will no longer be Husband and Wife, but you will always be Mommy and Daddy. Work together to construct a plan that will allow you to assure that the transition to your new family organization is, for the sake of your children, as smooth, painless and economical as possible.

David D. Stein
Liaise Mediated Solutions, LLC