Relationship Agreements

Barbara and Phil, an older couple, each with prior divorces, had a serious relationship for approximately three years.  Although they get along very well and thoroughly enjoy their time together, they were on the verge of dissolving  their relationship because of a core issue that we were able to uncover and identify with communication support.

Phil was unwilling to commit to a long-term relationship and definitely didn’t want to remarry.  Barbara was willing to accept the lack of long-term commitment, but was concerned about her financial future.  Her current source of income was scheduled to terminate in a couple of years.

Phil had financial security.  Although he wasn’t particularly liquid, he was willing to contribute to Barbara’s financial future and living expenses.

Phil agreed to put Barbara in his Will for amounts commensurate with the term of their relationship.  He was also willing to make an annual payment for her real estate investment.  They were in agreement  that all payments would stop if the relationship terminated.

Amounts paid and promised were in an agreement addressing each of their concerns and was supportive to their relationship continuing.  Barbara was able to feel more financially secure and Phil was able to continue the relationship on his terms.

I have found relationship agreements to be extremely helpful with all types of relationships, including in marital, business and employment situations.  Not only do they provide a legal / financial framework but they also can address emotional issues that get in the way of happiness and harmony.

Trusts and Estate Agreement

George was a self-made successful business man.  He acquired a number of investment properties.  He had five adult children, two of whom helped him in the business, another handled the real estate and two have jobs unrelated to their father’s interests.

There was friction among George’s offspring about how his estate would be divided after his death.  To resolve the conflict and after receiving input from his children,  he decided to develop a plan that would be fair to all.

The plan took pressure off the business and the properties by setting aside funds for each son and daughter regardless of their participation in these endeavors.  We arranged to take funds from the real estate by mortgaging them at amounts that still allowed for positive cash flow.  A percentage of profit from his company was added to the real estate funds and put into an investment account which would appreciate until it was divided.

There was full disclosure to each son and daughter about the funding and the percentage each would receive from the estate.  They were able to relax about it all knowing that they would each be honored and receive their fair share.  The competitiveness among the siblings was reduced and there was more of a sense of cooperation among them.

George was pleased that he was able to have full knowledge of what each son and daughter wanted from his estate and that he was able to meet that.  He also appreciated the harmony that was a byproduct of this plan.

I feel that it is a blessing for all concerned to have the decisions about the estate determined with participation of all involved.  In this case, the father was able to have the joy of giving and to feel appreciated for his gifts and life’s work avoiding future litigation after his death, The stress, animosity and costs of that was a real and practical blessing for them all.

Post Divorce Agreements

John and Jacqueline had been married for five years and divorced for seven years when I met John.  Jacqueline had moved out of state four years prior with their young children and with John’s permission.  Their verbal agreement was that the children would visit John at his home at least once during each year at Jacqueline’s expense.  They chose not to go to court over this agreement and they did not put it in writing.  The divorce decree had given them joint custody and parenting time but not anything more specific.

John felt he wasn’t spending adequate time with his children and was being forced to see them at their home.  He wanted extended quality time with the children at his home.  Jacqueline was adamant that John spend time at the children’s home so their father could take part in their lives.

They agreed to mediate their differences rather than go back to court.  This was wise for a number of reasons:

Post Divorce Agreements

  1. Mediation mitigated the risk that that people would have in court.  Judges can rule in a way that no one is happy.
  2. The wishes of the children are considered in mediation.  Since a judge has limited knowledge of the children and what they want, they are often not considered.
  3. Mediation was completed at a much lower cost.  Going to court would not only be expensive financially, but would also have an emotional toll as well.  Litigation would increase the stress and anxiety that already existed between Jacqueline and John and would do nothing to resolve other minor grievances that had been brewing.
  4. The mediation gave both adults a chance to vent their feelings and to feel heard and understood. It also gave the mediator the opportunity to understand the whole family dynamic. The final agreement addressed not only the major parenting time issue that existed, but also the financial disagreements and auxiliary communication breakdowns that have been happening,  including with the children.
  5. John was able to find better ways of communicating with his children, ultimately with his ex-wife’s support.
  6. John was able to reach an agreement with Jacqueline that the children spend the summers with him at his home. He agreed to pay travel costs and did not need to pay child support during those months.  He agreed to travel to Jacqueline’s home at spring break at her expense.
  7. Six months later, the levels of stress in the household have been reduced, the relationship between Jacqueline and John have been more harmonious. Consequently there has been a positive impact on the children.

Mediating post divorce decree disputes is an area that is valuable to all concerned.  In John and Jacqueline’s case, it provided a level of healing and resolution that allowed much more harmony in their lives and more importantly, their children’s lives.  Further, they agreed that any future disputes would be mediated.

Family & Sibling Mediation

Rachael & Morten are older siblings who had been essentially estranged for over a decade.  Although they had a good relationship when they were younger, things deteriorated over the decades to the point that any communication was cold and curt.

Morten suggested mediation to Rachael because he was advised by another family member that it could enhance the entire family if they could come to better feelings.  Their bitterness towards each other made everyone at family events feel uncomfortable.

We were able to clarify the underlying issues through several separate video conferences.  (They live in different states).  After the issues and intentions were clarified, we held several mediation sessions to reach agreements that were satisfactory to both of them.  They had a chance to remember what they each both liked about the other when they were younger, talk about misconceptions each had and take baby steps toward rebuilding their relationships.  Several of the issues were emotionally challenging for them but they worked thru them in the supportive environment that was established for them.

They both appreciate the healing that took place and are open to and look forward to enhancing their relationship.  Both are relieved that they had a chance to set this in motion before they died.  The reconciliation affected everyone in their very large family.  Their holidays and special events are much more joyful and celebrated now.

“They had a chance to remember what they each liked about the other when they were younger, talk about misconceptions each had and take baby steps forward rebuilding their relationship”.

Same Sex Divorce – Parenting Conflict

Jennie and Marta had been a couple for 13 years, and married the last 4 years.  Two years prior to their marriage and after much thought, they chose to have Marta impregnated by artificial insemination.  Marta carried Ali to birth and they were both blessed with a beautiful child.

Marta felt that the marriage was over, left with Ali, and filed for divorce.  Although Jennie wanted to mediate, Marta refused.  I acted as an advisor to Jenni and recommended a collaborative lawyer to encourage mediation or at least a reasonable shared parenting settlement.  The goal was to stabilize the living environment for their child, Ali, rather than having a custody battle. The parents were able to create a shared parenting arrangement that worked well enough for everyone.

The big winner in this was is Ali.  Children always need stability in their home environment but in divorce, more than any other time.  There are numerous studies that demonstrate the lifetime damage that can be done when children become a pawn in their parents’ game.

The parents were able to save a substantial amount of legal costs and were then free to resolve other issues around their cooperation including finances.  We were able to help them divide their assets in a fair way, using the tools of certified divorce financial analysis.

In a perfect world, the parents would have mediated their differences during their marriage and possibly could have saved themselves and their child the trauma of divorce. The breakdown of the marriage seemed to be their inability to communicate with each other and to work out differences. Mediation supports people by teaching them how to communicate authentically and non-combatively.

Divorce is usually traumatic and reducing the trauma as much as possible is one of my goals.  Children have a much lower tolerance for adversity and conflict and keeping them as a priority generally helps to establish common ground.  As a byproduct, the parents can move quickly to a happier future.

Complex Divorce Case

I met Karen a number of years before she discussed her divorce with me.  She called to see if my partner, Duffy Herman, and I could mediate her divorce because the court proceedings had gone on for almost three years.  Her costs were over $600,000 for her attorneys and experts only.

Because we knew her better than her husband, we couldn’t be mediators in her case.  However, we felt that we could act as her advisors to get the case settled.  We felt we could also reign in the attorney fees, which were obviously excessive and creating a financial burden.

We acted as a liaison between her and her attorneys, three of them, and helped manage their costs on a per task basis.  We also reviewed costs for unnecessary items such as appraisals for insolvent companies at $15,000 each.

Once the costs were brought down, we helped her settle the case quickly.  The attorneys lost much of their incentive to continue to battle.  We also prevailed upon Karen to be more reasonable in her settlement offer in the interest of ending the emotional and financial toll.

Much of the cost of divorce is emotional even though it looks to be financial.  In the end, walking away with a slightly less favorable settlement than hoped for can be a bargain.

The case was settled within 35 days of when we were hired.

“Very few litigation cases actually go to trial, but before they settle, huge amounts of legal fees and corresponding acrimony can build up. In preventing that, Collaborative practice can help to reduce both financial and emotional costs by creating a cooperative environment early on.”