Thursday, May 31, 2012

Dinosaurs Divorce, Too

Prominent Michigan family law attorney Carole L. Chiamp, who is of counsel to our firm, is a family law court-approved mediator. She is among the first attorneys in Michigan to obtain this designation. She currently authors a monthly article in the Michigan Family Law Journal entitled "Mediation Matters."

For the past school year, I have been involved in the Detroit Public School Volunteer Reading Program two hours a week which I highly recommend to anyone in need of fun. Four year olds can be hilarious, especially in short doses. Reading books to the kids made me think of how they can sometimes be overlooked in divorce mediation.

Divorce mediation focuses on resolving all issues, including parenting issues. Of course, mediators keep the best interests of the children in mind, too. Most parents discuss the divorce with their children but there cannot be too many ways to try to have children understand divorce. A book can be a wonderful tool.

There are plenty of books on the market to help children. Providing a book list to parents is helpful and a short explanation of the contents of one or two of the books can serve as an icebreaker and even interject humor into the subject of divorce. Having a few of the books in the office for parents to peruse while waiting also can’t hurt.

Here’s a short list to get started:

1. Dinosaurs Divorce, a Guide for Changing Families, Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown (1988).

My personal favorite, this book describes divorce
words, visiting a parent, having two homes, meeting parents’ new friends, living with stepparents and step siblings1.

2. Sending Love, My “Different-Functional” Family (A Children’s Book About Divorce), Lori Hilliand (2009).

Joshua, a five year old, tells us all about himself and his family. He likes to play in the dirt, has a dog and cat, two sisters and a brother. He also has two houses, mom’s and dad’s. His parents are divorced. He is loved and his family isn’t dysfunctional, its “different-functional.” The book is illustrated with real life photos of Joshua and has a series of pages where children can insert photos of their own families2.

3. Standing on My Own Two Feet: A Child’s Affirmation of Love in the Midst of Divorce, Tamara Schmitz (2008).

This book stresses the fact that divorce is not the fault of children and they are still loved by both parents3.

4. The Divorce Helpbook For Kids, Cynthia MacGregor (2002).

Includes things that are different at home now; why can’t my parents stay married; dealing with feelings. There are a lot of questions about divorce with answers. It covers visiting your parents, parents are human too and what all the big words mean4.

5. My Parents are Getting Divorced: How to Keep It Together when Your Mom and Dad are Splitting Up, Florence Cadier Sunscreen (2004).

This book discusses how divorce is a weird atmosphere for kids, growing up is hard to do, the divorce, no fault, don’t I get a say, what happens now, what if my parents aren’t married, child support, who can I count on, I am not a mailman, a new nest, pain and hurt, the new partner, getting to know you, new experiences, future family ties5.

6. Surviving Divorce: Teens Talk About What Hurts and What Helps, Trudy Strain Trueit, (2007).

This book discusses individual struggles, coming undone, the divorce, the sea of emotion, a survival guide, how to release stress in healthy ways, accept that the divorce is out of your hands, tips6.

7. Divorce is Not the End of the World, Zoe and Evan Stern (2008).

Discusses why did this have to happen, maybe they’ll get back together, stop trying to make me feel better, where’s my stuff, nobody asked my opinion, quit putting me in the middle, who’s in charge, where I’d rather live, you’re not my father/mother, I don’t want another sister, is there any such thing as a happy marriage, rewards7.

8. Separations, Janice Amos (2002). This book uses summaries, stories and information text to provide advice for children on how to cope with their parents’ divorce8.

Many of the listed books are available for as little as a few cents on Amazon, the internet bookseller and other cites. So if you find one or more that you like, you can buy them and give them away. Some publishers also provide group rates which enure to the benefit of attorneys who can provide them to prospective clients with children or to just leave in the waiting room in the hope one or two will “disappear."

Monday, May 28, 2012

Dealing with your Ex's parents post-divorce

Source: Navigating Relationships With Grandparents in a Divorce, The New York Times online, May 17, 2012

How to keep grandparents in children’s lives following a divorce? Certainly, the goal is to keep the children and grandparents in the family, regardless of the divorcing parents' differences. Sometimes, its easier said than done. This article offers some good tips.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

So You're Going to Live Together and Not Get Married

By: Carole L. Chiamp

When a couple marries, the best gift they get is a bundle of rights and benefits they receive just by marrying. Those rights come to them only by marriage. If a couple chooses to live together without benefit of marriage the only way to get some of those benefits is to try to replicate them by private agreements.

The bonanza of benefits to married couples include rights of inheritance, the right not to be excluded from a spouse’s will, the right to sue for the other’s wrongful death, being able to hold property as tenants by the entirety, the right to social security benefits through a spouse, the right to file a joint tax return.

Many rights that married couples enjoy can be replicated by contract and estate planning. Others, however, remain out of reach. For those who choose not to marry or who cannot marry, private agreements can minimize the gap between their protections and those of their married counterparts.

Issues Needed to be Addressed:

1. How to live together?
2. What happens upon death?
3. What happens on separation?

Real Estate:

Married couples who purchase a home usually take title as tenants by the entireties. Should one die the home automatically goes to the other by operation of law. Not so for an unmarried couple. Unmarried couples need to find a way, without rights of survivorship, or by an agreement which may be enforceable should one die or both decide to separate.

Personal Property:
As with real property, this too can be handled by an agreement in advance.

The time to plan for the separation is in advance by written agreement as the law gives no assistance for spousal support and division of property to unmarried couples.

Life and Death:
Unmarried partners would be wise to have a will. They may also need a trust, patient advocate designations and durable powers of attorneys.

Each time the census is conducted more and more categories involving children must be dealt with. There are now categories related to householders, adopted children, stepchildren, foster children and grandchildren. There’s now also a listing called unmarried partner.

When it comes to children the state is more likely to protect the child. Unmarried parents have the duty to support the children regardless of marital status.

The Michigan statute covering adoption has mostly been interpreted to not allow adoption by an unmarried couple. In the event of a child being adopted by one member of a gay couple, there can be serious issues regarding support by the non-adopting person. The adopted children’s right of inheritance is the same as a birth child.

For those who choose to commit to one another without marriage nothing substitutes for reviewing all options and having a plan. Once the plan is clear, obtain the necessary documents to execute the plan.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

There Are Not Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover

By: Carole L. Chiamp

Prominent Michigan family law attorney Carole L. Chiamp, who is of counsel to our firm, is a family law court-approved mediator. She is among the first attorneys in Michigan to obtain this designation. She currently authors a monthly article in the Michigan Family Law Journal entitled "Mediation Matters."

You know how the old Simon and Garfunkel song goes, “Just slip out the back, Jack. Make a new plan Stan. Hop on the bus Gus. You don’t need to discuss much....” Unfortunately it’s not that easy if you happen to be married. You need a divorce and there are really only five ways to leave your lover. They’re listed below.

1. Do-It-Yourself

This method is almost never recommended as divorce is complicated. In a very few short-term marriages with no assets/debts to be divided, comparable incomes and no spousal support, it may be possible. Both parties, even in such a situation, should have separate attorneys review the final documents.

2. Mediation

In mediation, couples work with a neutral mediator who helps them come to an agreement on all aspects of their parting ways. Both parties should have an attorney to consult prior to signing final documents.

Consideration on the “yes” side of mediation is that there is no court fight; the children usually have an easier time; the agreement is private and can be expedited instead of public on the court’s schedule. Control is with the parties instead of a judge. It usually costs less.

On the “no” side is that you waste time and money if agreement is not reached; if the mediator is not excellent at his/her job, issues can be missed. The agreement can lead to legal complications if not drafted properly. Assets may be missed if people rely on the other’s word instead of formal discovery. Sometimes the mediator unwittingly assists a controller or bully buy forcing a bad agreement in order to get any agreement.

3. Collaborative Divorce

In a collaborative divorce, each side is represented by an attorney and both parties agree to come to a settlement. Attorneys and clients agree that their attorneys will withdraw if the parties cannot come to an agreement. Both parties must then start over with new attorneys.

All discovery of financial matters is voluntary. In fact, the parties agree on experts to do evaluations. You need to be careful, though. Often the husband in high income-high asset cases is in control of the money and assets can more easily be hidden without formal discovery. Further valuing of businesses can be contentious.

If you suspect your spouse is hiding assets, the methods discussed above will not render the best result. The same is true if there is a history of domestic abuse or addiction.

4. Attorney Negotiated

In an attorney negotiated divorce, the parties hire attorneys who are problem solvers and those attorneys negotiate with each other while counseling with the parties to come to a fair and reasonable result. The parties are involved through a series of meetings with a goal of coming to an agreement. If directly negotiating is too difficult, the attorneys may separate the parties and caucus. If the negotiations fail you proceed to trial.

5. Litigation

The majority of divorces start out as the litigated model. The most difficult part of divorce is coming to agreements on child custody, property and spousal support. You want a skilled attorney who can negotiate but not be too combative. Most family law attorneys fit the bill.

If you’ve tried negotiating, mediating and more compromise and still have no agreement, you’ll have no choice but to let the judge decide. At that point, your attorney should try to “win” as much as possible for you. Remember that the judge knows very little about your family situation. Trial is a very big risk for both parties. The judge may decide several issues in your favor but the one you care most about you may lose.

You should carefully weigh your options. Try to make honest and fair decisions with your spouse. But be prepared, if necessary, to litigate.