Peaceful Divorce

1. Appoint a Special Master (go to person) for disputed issues regarding the kids
Instead of running to court when issues come up in the future, build into your divorce agreement a back door to avoid court. Is there a couple who has already successfully raised their children, whose opinion you trust? They would be the perfect Special Master to use when kid disputes arise in the future. This is an honor most people would gladly accept. When issues come up, the parents go to the Special Master, explain their positions and leave it to the Special Master to give their best advice which would be followed by the parents. This avoids court and attorney expenses. If you don't know a couple like this have one parent give a list of 3 child therapists to the other parent who will interview them and make the final decision. That way each parent has input.

2. Joint Custody Ideas
If you are looking at joint custody arrangements, how about the popular 5/2 2/5. This is a very stable and predictable way of child sharing that insures no more than 5 days will ever go by without seeing the children. One parent takes each Monday and Tuesday while the other parent takes each Wednesday and Thursday then have every other weekend which will either be Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday to one parent and then Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday to the other parent. The children always know where they are that day and there are fewer transitions.

3. Child Custody Ideas - Nesting
This is for parents who are really focused on the best interest of the children and need to save money. This is YOUR divorce, not your kid’s. Why should they suffer just because the two of you are getting divorced? They don’t want to move and they don’t want to go stay at mom or dad’s new place. They want to be in their own room, in their own neighborhood, close to their friends. So the two of YOU move in and out of the house when it is your turn to be with the kids. When you are not in the big house, you are at the shared bachelor pad. This can be an inexpensive studio or one bedroom flat that is shared by the parents. You need to have rules about not leaving tell tale items that belong to lovers and clean after yourself. This saves a LOT of money since no one has to rent or buy a new place that is big enough to accommodate the kids.

4. Support Modification
As circumstances change, it may become necessary to modify child or spousal support. Most states have some sort of calculation they use to determine support. Any paralegal can run the numbers for you so there is nothing to fight about. In your divorce agreement, add a clause that states that the two of you want to reduce legal fees by having informal modifications when there is a change in circumstances. Agree to exchange year to date income information and to use a paralegal to determine support and draft a stipulation in order to avoid court. Also include an attorney fee provision that says if one party does not abide by this agreement and the non breaching party seeks relief from the court, they WILL be entitled to attorney fees. This way everyone has an incentive to follow the agreement.

5. How To Find A Mediator
The phone book is full of divorce attorneys. How do you know who to trust? When looking for a mediator it is best to avoid the wolves in sheep’s clothing. You do not want an attorney who primarily practices adversarial law. While it is best to use a mediator who is an experienced lawyer so they can give accurate legal information to the couple, you want to use someone who focuses primarily or better yet, exclusively on mediation instead of litigation. Ask the mediator how many mediations they have done (the more the better), what their success rate is, how long it takes and the cost. Then compare the answers to see who the two of you like best.

6. Mediation Won’t Work For These Kinds Of People
Mediation is not right for everyone. Experts agree that about 15% of the cases involve high conflict personality types (Borderline, Narcissistic, Histrionic and Antisocial). Those kinds of people want to fight. They need the drama and chaos that IS our adversarial system. Mediation is also not right for people who are hiding income or assets. Dishonest people will not deal fairly with their spouse which forces the honest spouse to hire an attorney to do discovery in order to uncover hidden information.

7. Photos and Albums
Don’t forget about the family photos. Everyone will want at least some. If you have the negatives, use joint funds to make copies. If you don’t have the negatives anymore and both of you want the same photos, use joint funds to make copies. If you have children, they are the ones who will get these precious mementos. DO NOT tear the other parent out of the photos. It is not fair to the children who will want the photos intact when they grow up!

8. When Pets Are the Kids
This issue should be treated exactly like child custody. The parties are in a MUCH better position to make decisions about what is in the best interest of the animals. Courts do not want to be bothered with "property" issues like pets so they will not be much help. A couple will be much better off if they engage in mediation when pets are involved. You can tailor a custody and visitation agreement where the two of you can share the pets as you would children. Both of you should be responsible for vet costs or any other extraordinary costs. If you use doggy daycare, those costs can be shared. Be realistic about whether or not the pet has a primary bond to one person or the other. And like human children, pets that have grown up together and love each other, should not be divided. They are better off together.

9. Coin Flip Provision For Dividing Property
It is insane to spend money on fighting about who gets what. There are some things that should naturally go to one spouse instead of the other and you both know it so don’t fight about it. Go through the house together and identity who wants what. For everything that you can’t agree on, flip a coin one time. If it comes up heads, the person who is older picks first, tails the younger person picks first. They will pick the thing they want the MOST and then it is the other person’s turn, going back and forth until all items have been chosen.

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Comment by Fran Brochstein, J.D. on February 10, 2008 at 11:58pm

I especially agree that the kids should stay up and the parents should do all the moving in and out!

Of course, you are lecturing to the choir!

Keep up the good work.

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