Sunday, October 29, 2006

Online Calendars for Communication

Who is responsible for transporting the children?

What time is the soccer game on Saturday?

What is my child's school schedule?

Does my child have anything scheduled - birthday parties, special events, lessons or sports?

Sometimes, separated and divorced parents have trouble coordinating this type of information. The resulting chaos causes confusion, hurt feelings and sometimes, missed events.

When the relationship between the parents is still bitter, telephone calls regarding information about the children can turn into caustic battles. Additionally, sometimes a parent will deny receiving the information -- and the children suffer because of it.

Intact families sometimes keep a calendar in the kitchen to manage children's schedule. However, when mom and dad have different kitchens, in different houses, the management needs to get creative.

Some parents use online calendars, such as the calendar available from google. One enterprising company has even developed a comprehensive website, where, for a fee, a parents can communicate with each other online without ever having to actually speak to each other. Of course, even these tools are only as good as the parties using them. If a party fails to enter information, changes it at the last minute, refuses to look at the information on line or otherwise does not cooperate, an online system will not change that. However, with two willing parties, this type of online help could help feuding parents come together to manage the busy lives of their children.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Give a little . . . get a little . . .

Divorce, child custody dispute, child support claims . . . . these all require negotiation skills. Unlike a lawsuit over a car accident, or a contract claim, or a business dispute, the other party is a former spouse or former significant other and the negotiation playing field is often fraught with hurt feelings, lost love, rejection, betrayal and all of the other painful issues in dealing with broken down relationships. In family law matters - the negotiation is often on-going — until your child is an adult. So it is important to put yourself in a good position.

What was the relationship like when it was still intact? Often, the broken down relationship follows the same patterns and if those patterns did not work in the relationship, they are not going to work in the break up. Do not let a dysfunctional relationship haunt you – you have the power to turn things around.

One example of a dysfunctional relationship is when one party is controlling and manipulative- and the other party simply acquiesces to try to keep peace. If the balance of power was too lopsided in the relationship, the breakup is a time to break that pattern. Unfortunately, many patterns still continue during the breakup. For example, the financially controlling party might attempt to use money to control the breakup and maintain power. In a child support situation, I have seen many couples attempt to negotiate their own child support, with the wealthier party attempting to bully the dependent party into accepting less than is reasonable, and using threats, guilt and outright mis-truths as manipulating tools. In divorce situations, parties can attempt to withhold or misstate information or purposely mis-value assets so that the party is left in the dark as to the true potential of an appropriate settlement. Bitter custody battles are often replete with threats, many of which have no basis in reality such as: "I will get sole custody and you will never see your child."

Before any type of negotiating, parties should seek the assistance of an attorney, well versed in domestic relations matters. Become well versed in the law that dictates your situation, so you do not settle for an unreasonable compromised resolution.

Child Support

Pennsylvania and New Jersey courts calculate child support using guidelines. We take both parents’ income, plug it into a grid, calculate extraordinary expenses, factor in the custody time, and come up with a child support figure. Of course, using the wrong income figure can seriously affect the child support guideline calculation and the statutes and case law address the various issues surrounding support. Additionally, there may be legal consequences to agreeing to a figure that is too high or too low. So, before any type of negotiation, consult with an attorney so you understand the process and have a general benchmark as to a fair child support amount.

Child Custody

Generally, custody is based on the best interests of the child. Going from one household to two can be a daunting task as it throws quite the curveball into the already monumental job of raising a child. However, a good attorney can talk to you about your situation and suggest custody arrangements that may work best for you as well as pointing out potential pitfalls. You should also be prepared for what you want to ask for in a written agreement - artfully drafted custody agreements can save a lot of heartache later — and even provide a strong backbone for you to maintain at least a civil relationship with the other party.


Divorce is a lawsuit and the results of a divorce can have financial and other consequences for years to come. The first step in a divorce resolution is ascertaining the marital assets and debts as well as the incomes of both parties. You cannot agree to a settlement unless you have all of the facts. If the other party is withholding information, your attorney can obtain it through the process of discovery.

Getting a little - when you give a little . . . .

Be careful when you negotiate . . . . because negotiation is a two way street. That means if you give something up - you should get something in return. And if you give up something concrete and tangible . . . you should get something tangible in return. For example, in a custody situation, if the other party asks for a change in the arrangement, a different schedule to accommodate his or her needs or perhaps a change in the transportation arrangements, some people tend to want to just give in to keep the peace. However, you may be setting yourself up to always be the party that gives in to the whims and wishes of the other. So - next time you are asked to give up something, ask for something in return. She wants you to do more of the driving? Ask for a little more time with the children in return. He wants Christmas this year – ask for an extended weekend some other time in return. She wants to change the weeknight schedule? Ask for a change in the pickup and dropoff times that is more convenient for you.
Obviously, negotiating is an art – and there will be times when you just give to be above it all – and the nice person – without asking for anything in return.

You will feel stronger - and more satisfied if, in any family law negotiation matters you:

(1) are well informed so you know what to ask for, and

(2) you maintain the balance of power so when you are asked to give in on something, you get a little in return.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Preparing for Mediation

Do you want to try mediation with your spouse? Seems like a great idea - right? You are probably thinking that you can avoid (or at least reduce) lawyers' fees by working it out yourselves. That might be the case. Just make sure you know what kind of result you want.

1. Child Support

Pennsylvania and New Jersey have child support guidelines. Basically, we take Mom's income and Dad's income and plug it into a grid to determine the child support amount. However, many different variables (amount of custody time, definition of income, earning capacity, extraordinary expenses, etc.) can affect the final outcome. Before you mediate child support -- have an idea in mind of where you fall in the child support guidelines. You do not want to agree to a number that is too high or too low. Consult with an attorney to determine the range of child support that is acceptable in your case.

2. Child Custody

Custody arrangements have many different components. Before you start negotiating custody, make sure you understand the terms used in court documents: legal custody and physical custody. Think about how this arrangement will work now -- and as things change. For example, a custody arrangement that is fine for a pre-schooler could wreak havoc on the life of a first grader. Although in theory custody is modifiable -- that could take time and money. The best custody arrangements can grow with the child. A good attorney can provide you with an outline for a custody arrangement that would work best for your situation. Attending mediation with that kind of outline could help you get the best result possible.

3. Assets and Debts

A knowledgeable divorce attorney can usually predict how the marital estate will be divided. Usually, we first determine what is marital and what is not. Your spouse might be telling you that his 401k is off limits --- but most likely --- you have rights to that asset for purposes of divorce. Your spouse might insist that she keep the house and buy you out --- but if she does not qualify for refinancing, you just negotiated an agreement that is just not practical.

Mediation can work --- but it requires preparation. Invest some time and energy into consulting with an attorney to help you outline the best scenarios for your situation. You can then have realistic goals for mediation -- and you will have more security in knowing that you u are bargaining for a fair settlement.