TAG | family law

I recently attended a lovely wedding of a couple in their mid twenties. At the reception one of the groomsmen’s toasts to the couple caught me completely by surprise. He toasted the bride and groom that they might enjoy many happy years together, just had their parents have enjoyed. “You two are the only couple I know that both sets of parents are still married to each other. I hope you both know how lucky you are to have examples for successful marriage”.

Really? Could that possibly be true? Well, assuming the divorce rate in the United States is around 50%, plus the fact that the birthrate to unmarried mothers is around 40%, and then yes, it could be true. I had never thought of that possibility before. Young couples, and older couples too, often marry without anyone ever modeling how to be successfully married.

Marriage is an intricate series of exchanges and conversations, under good and bad circumstances. Often stressed and fragile, marriage is easily chipped away at exposing a structural weakness that eventually may topple the union.

Maybe the best wedding gift to a couple would be a Marriage Mentor…but that would be hard to gift wrap.

Sheila-Marie Untiedt
www.cleanslatemediation.net
612-308-9994

· · · · · ·

Jul/17

26

Secrets fester

He was a bull of a man. Tall, muscled, clearly tightly wound. He preferred to stand during the mediation. He reminded me of a peacock as he preened and strutted. She was quiet, folded into herself, clearly once a very beautiful woman. She had aged and appeared tired and worn out.

They were married 30 years. The children were launched, the house was paid for and their lives should have been grand. They both were working. She was a pre-school teacher; he was a police officer for a large metropolitan department.

Their divorce was straight-forward and almost formulaic. We were working though dividing their assets. One of the last items to work through was his police pension. He had accumulated a sizable pension in his tenure and it would continue to grow.

The rule of thumb is assets, such as a pension, that grew during the marriage are joint property. The value before the marriage is not joint property, nor is the growth after the divorce. During their 30 year marriage his pension had increased by $ 600,000 simply meaning $ 300,000 was her share.

I explained how this typically worked. He looked directly at me while leaning in uncomfortably close to me. “She is not getting one cent of that money. I put my life on the line every day and that money is mine! It is my blood money!”

Silence hung over the room while I processed what to say next. The pension was clearly personal and very raw. I glanced at his wife and she seemed stunned and mute. “Tell me more about your pension, why is it blood money?”

“You know the police shooting last week? And the riots and the accusations? Every day I get in my squad car and think is today the day? Is today the day I shoot a black kid? Is today the day I am in the news? Is today the day my career is over? Is today the day I die?”

He dropped into a chair and began to weep. I asked if he needed anything and he asked to be alone. His wife and I excused ourselves for a few minutes. She poured herself a coffee. She turned to me slowly and said “I always wondered what has happened to the man I married. I never guessed he was afraid and scared. You saw him; he is a big strong man. How did I not know?”

We returned to the conference room. He was composed. “I need to leave. Finish the property division; I know you both will be fair. She can have $ 300,000 more of the house OK? The pension is all mine, I need that OK?”

After he left I asked if she was comfortable with accepting $300,000 more of the equity in their home. She agreed. “If he needs to have his pension that is fine with me. I wished he had shared his fears. I would have tried to understand.”

I sent the mediation agreement to both of them but I wonder if they ever divorced. Now that he had shared his secret would she convince him to see a therapist? Would they see a therapist together? I hope so.

I always give a wave to police cruisers when I pass one now. No matter the ethnicity of the officers, their sex, their tenure and experience they always have silent stress and angst. I cannot begin to imagine.

Sheila-Marie Untiedt
www.cleanslatemediation.net
sheila-marie@cleanslatemediation.net
612-308-9994 Tags:Divorce, Separation, mediation, mediator, family law, divorce attorney

 

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I was sorting old notes for shredding and I came across notes from a case I chose 
not to mediate. A few years ago I met with a gentleman who was interested in 
mediation for a divorce. He was organized, well groomed and dressed, spoke 
eloquently and was charming.
I asked him if the divorce was a mutual decision between him and his wife.
He hesitated for a moment and said no. He explained his wife has been a 
high-functioning alcoholic for 30 years but in the last years she had 
become very medically fragile due to the alcoholism. She developed neurological 
and balance issues in addition to memory loss and liver function issues. 
She refuses to see her doctor anymore. She does not qualify for disability 
insurance and is no longer working. They have accumulated substantial debt 
because she is no longer able to work.
I asked why now? He recently came home one evening after a work trip and found 
their teenage daughter sitting silently in the kitchen and his wife passed out 
on the dining room floor. His daughter looked at him, tilted her head towards 
her mother and rolled her eyes. “It was an epiphany moment. I knew my daughter 
should no longer have to live in a chaotic co-dependent family system. I knew I 
had to save us both.”
Suddenly, after 30 years, he was pushing hard on the accelerator. He wanted to be 
divorced ASAP. He would walk away from the house, their possessions, anything to 
just to be done and to protect their daughter. He was not being rational.
They are both in difficult situations. Clearly his wife is chemically dependent 
and very sick. Alcoholism is a disease. Treatment did not work for her and she 
refuses to go again. He is likely co-dependent as so many spouses of alcoholics 
become plus he has to responsible for daily details plus their daughter.
I referred him to an attorney I know well and trust. I felt his wife could not 
participate in mediation. She cannot self-advocate or make life-changing decisions 
and I am concerned she needs someone to advise her. I did not get the sense her 
husband would try to cheat her or be unfair in the settlement but she is frankly 
a vulnerable adult. As he currently is too.
I wonder what happened to them. Hopefully she sought treatment and it worked this 
time. Honestly, not very likely though.
Life can be hard.
Sheila-Marie Untiedt
www.cleanslatemediation.net
sheila-marie@cleanslatemediation.net
612-308-9994
 

	

· · · · ·

Every mediator has a different style and tone. In divorce or separation mediation sessions I focus on the outcome and I attempt to mold discussions to be helpful and progressive. I never ask why a couple is separating. It simply does not matter legally, unless of course a crime has been committed or there are concerns around domestic abuse or child abuse. Why the divorce is happening does not matter to the court system. It obviously does matter greatly to the parties directly involved.

I recently mediated for a separating couple. They had been married long enough to have children, raise those children and now were empty-nesters. In my experience generally one of two things has brought them to this point. They either have simply grown apart and find a “stranger” in the kitchen getting coffee in the morning or one of them- sometimes both- has had an affair and the quiet house creates an Elephant in the Room.

I use a simple intake packet for mediation clients so I can collect factual information in advance and not use session time- and their money- to collect addresses, emails etc. That packet does not ask why they are seeking a divorce. I never ask why they are separating because rankly it does not matter to the court why they are separating.

In this recent session we were working through separating their assets and a palpable tension was rising in the room. Finally the wife looks at me, slaps the tabletop and thunders “Aren’t you going to ask what he did?” This is a delicate moment for a mediator. If I acknowledge her desire to tell me I have risked losing control of the mediation but she might feel heard and honored. If I do not acknowledge her desire to tell I have potentially left her feeling invalidated and likely not willing to continue the mediation. Her husband looked as though all the air had been sucked out of his lungs.

I took a deep breath and explained it does not matter legally but it does matter in a personal and relational sense. I made eye contact with her husband, he nodded and looked down. I asked her why they were divorcing. She roared out “He F^@#$%^&&&^^ed her and ruined our lives” and she began weeping.

I suggested we take a 10 minute break. After the break we started again on the list of assets and actually made great progress. After the session I emailed her a list of excellent therapists who could help her process her grief for the marriage and help her develop skills to carry her forward in her “new” future.

Sometimes life hurts. It just does.

Sheila-Marie Untiedt
www.CleanSlateMediation.net
sheila-marie@cleanslatemediation.net
612-308-9994

· · · · ·

I have read the advice column “Dear Abby” since I was a teenager. Over the years I have noticed many trends and categories of letters and themes; love, unrequited love, disappointments, loss, etc. In the last years more letters appear addressing the issues of aging parents. How to encourage- or force- them to move out of their house, how to manage daily tasks such as driving, how to encourage – or force- them to stop driving and also sibling challenges about providing care as their parents can no longer manage alone.

Recently a letter appeared in “Dear Abby” from a woman who felt her siblings were forcing her to take in and care for their aging and needy mother. She felt pressured to have her mother move-in and to assume a caregiver role even though she has four siblings. According to the author- through her filter obviously- her siblings were pressuring her as the obvious choice because she did not have a full time job and therefore she has time to care for their mother.

I have mediated situations just like this with siblings. Let’s be clear, the writer is potentially about to have a very full-time job taking care of Mom. Yes, she may be the sibling with the least barricades to care for the mother but it definitely is a job. A job that in my opinion should be paid for by the siblings.

Senior housing starts at $ 1,500 and can range to $ 8,000 or more per month depending on services required. In home care utilizing visiting aides starts at $100 per day and can be much higher. Driving services generally charge for time and distance making a trip to the doctor cost $ 75.00 just for transportation alone.

Mediation clients have had very interesting and creative responses to the issue of paying a sibling to care for a parent. Some are offended, some are very glad to pay. One family decided to pay a sibling
$ 100 per week but another family paid the sister $ 100 a day. It is totally and completely the decision of the family. Regardless of the number decided by the siblings it is an acknowledgement of the value and sacrifice of the caregiver.

Sheila-Marie Untiedt
Rule 114 Qualified Mediator, Parenting Consultant PC
Early Neutral Evaluator ENE
Clean Slate Mediation.net
612-308-9994

· ·

The economic downturn left deep financial wounds in many families. The young investments bankers of Wall Street may be buying their first Bentleys but often the average American has not recovered enough to buy a new Kia.

Clients I work with often select mediation as their vehicle to divorce because is cost-effective. Frankly mediation is much less expensive than traditional divorce with each party retaining separate attorneys. Mediation clients can facilitate a settlement agreement- how to divide their assets and debts, how to arrange custody if they have children, how to share pets, how to co-parent, weekly schedules and any number of other details. My mediation rate is $ 250.00 per hour vs. legal fees generally starting at $ 300.00 per hour. Mediation is usually paid for equally by the parties effectively costing $ 125.00 per hour as opposed to each party paying an attorney $ 300.00+ per hour.

Mediation encourages divorcing couples to collaborate together to create a settlement they -and their kids- can live with and support. I recently worked with a couple who had divorced last year. They were both still making monthly payments to their attorneys to pay off their legal fees. They both had thousands of dollars left to pay for the divorce. They were not making ends meet and falling farther into debt. They came to mediation to discuss selling the house the wife had been awarded in their divorce. She was barely able to make the mortgage payments, her utilities were about to be shut off, his lease was up for renewal and his rent had jumped up $ 200.00 to $ 1,000 a month plus utilities. He needed dental work done, his car needed repairs and her credit cards were maxed.

Both of them were working opposite but shifts which had become an issue with parenting time and transferring their kids. As we started exploring their options they came to a surprising but very workable solution, or at very minimum, a option to try-out.

They decided he would move back into the home as a roommate, not a spouse. He would live in the finished lower level of the house and she would remain in the master bedroom. He would pay $ 500 “rent” – in addition to child support- which would go towards groceries, car repairs, the dentist and monthly expenses. She would pay the mortgage herself as the house was in her name. The kids would no longer need summer full-time daycare or after school after care. The summer daycare saving alone would be over $ 2,000 a month.

Together they both would benefit financially, they could begin to get out of the financial holes they both were in and the children would have both access to both parents every day.  She worked traditional hours and he worked 3:00 pm to midnight. They would rarely be home together during the week. Weekends would be an adjustment for them, especially if either begins seriously dating someone.

They both were very supportive of the concept and the financial benefits and were willing to become “Co-parenting Roommates”. I hope it works for them and their children. Perhaps they only lasts a month, perhaps this will be a long term solution. Time will tell.

Sheila-Marie Untiedt

www.CleanSlateMediation.net

sheila-marie@cleanslatemediation.net

612-308-9994

Rule 114 Qualified Mediator, Parenting Consultant PC and Early Neutral Evaluator ENE

 

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65 is the new 45

I have been noticing a trend with divorce mediation clients I have been working with that directly parallels a national trend. Many clients are seeking to separate and divorce after 30 or even 40 years of marriage. The term for this phenomenon is “Gray Divorce”.

I recently worked with a couple who were 60 and 62 years old. They had been married 36 years. Their children were married or moved out. The husband and wife were both still working, both physically healthy active people with lots of interests and activities.

They simply had drifted apart. Neither claimed the other was unfaithful, no addictive behavior, no staggering debt, no clear cause or root of the separation. Somewhere along their daily lives they stopped interacting with each other and stopped relying on each other. Careers, work travel and frankly social media and instant internet access steal away intimacy and energy from a marriage. Suddenly you are 63 and realize you have been living with a roommate instead of a spouse.

Friends and family will be surprised to hear they are separating, but not really. We all know people in that situation, maybe even ourselves. Al and Tipper Gore separated in their early 60s after 40 years of marriage. The presidential campaign and election apparently toppled an already weakened foundation.

Many 65 year olds live as though they are 35 or 45. They are planning for the future, launching new businesses, running half-marathons, pursuing interests, publishing, creating art, traveling. 65 used to be considered “senior citizens”. The term suggested early bird dinners, coupon clipping, Buicks and The Price is Right. That reality may be true for some people but not for the Gray Divorce clients I have been working with.

Sheila-Marie Untiedt

612-308-9994
Rule 114 Qualified Mediator, Parenting Consultant PC and Early Neutral Elevator ENE

· · · · ·

Feb/15

10

53 Paper Bags

53 Paper Bags

In early January I received a call from a mediation client. She is an elderly woman who had been a participant in an elder care issue with her children. She left me a voicemail asking me to send her a copy of her mediation receipt as she could not locate it or had misplaced the receipt. I printed of a copy of her 2014 receipt and mailed it off to her. I called her to let her know it was on the way. She proudly explained to me that she keeps a paper grocery bag for each year’s receipts, warranties, tax records, bank statements. When all the records are collected for that year she seals the bag, writes the year on the side and puts the bag up in the attic. I thought to myself that is actually a pretty good record keeping system until she said “Yep, I have bags going all the way back to 1961 when I moved into this house.”

53 years of documents, receipts, checkbook registers, papers. 53 paper bags of slowly deteriorating- likely mouse eaten- papers cluttering her attic. 53 bags of now useless records that are probably a fire hazard. Granted, the last 7 years or so are valuable but not the rest of those bags.

I have been thinking a lot about those 53 paper bags and how every person brings their own concepts of what is valuable and correct in all our personal interactions. We all have differing ideas and expectations of what is right and appropriate. We all have been shaped by our own life experiences. When our own expectations and belief systems come into conflict with another person’s differing perspective we are at odds with each other. Conflict happens in business issues, personal marital relationships, neighbors, extended families, and governmental bodies. Conflict occurs easily, resolution is more elusive.

The woman firmly believes- or perceives- those 53 bags will be an aid to her children and a gift of excellent records. I suspect after she dies her children- who are already in conflict with each other- will curse those brittle paper bags as they bring them down one by one from the attic. One woman’s thoughtful act becomes another person’s dirty job.

It just depends who you ask.

Sheila-Marie Untiedt
www.cleanslatemediation.net
612-308-9994

· · · · · · ·

My younger daughter and I volunteer at a food shelf as shoppers. We meet the clients and guide them through the shelves of the food shelf helping them make their selections and making certain they do not miss any categories. The broad spectrum of clients always amazes me; from young single mothers, to singles adults, elderly, physically challenged, large families, mentally challenged, your neighbor, my neighbor, the list is endless. We are to be friendly and helpful but we are not to ask personal questions or make the clients uncomfortable, for obvious reasons. Every once in a while we will have a client “type” we have helped before.

She is in her 50’s or 60’s, well dressed; her intake sheet indicates she is shopping for one adult, often plus a pet. Her eyes are downcast and she rarely makes eye contact. She is very quiet and polite but only answers our questions, never asks any of her own. She selects her items quickly and moves through the “store” as quickly as possible. She has an energy radiating from her of sadness and loss. She thanks us and leaves immediately.

I can only guess but I personally am certain she is separated and waiting for her divorce to be finalized. She has absolutely no available cash while the divorce drags on and on. She does not have money for gas, groceries, even the most fundamental needs. Her husband’s divorce team strategy is to “ice” his wife until she settles for less in the divorce settlement. Generally their kids- if they had children- are out of the house and only his wife is left to wait for the settlement. Sometimes this can last for months and months and months.

Thank heavens there are food shelves, friends, and neighbors to help her through. It all seems so cruel and sad. We all know or have known someone in this situation, or at least suspect it. I need to be clear; it can be a wife controlling money and the settlement too.

These women later, after their settlements and finalized divorce, often volunteer at the food shelf.

· · · ·

Mediation is a wonderful tool and an alternative to traditional legal processes. Mediation really shines in divorce settlements if the parties involved are willing to try to separate their financial, property and custody issues from their emotional needs and feelings.
 
How do people find and choose a mediator to work with? Honestly the process is much the same as how you would choose an attorney or a dentist or a roofer. You might search online, perhaps use a service like Angie’s List or even check craigslist. Many people find a mediator by a referral from a friend who has used the mediator before or possibly from a professional they may trust such as a therapist.
 
Mediators are not attorneys and may not give legal advice. Some attorneys are mediators though in theory they can not give legal advice as part of the mediation. If your mediator is also an attorney try to ascertain how they separate their attorney role of guidance and challenges from the mediation role of collaboration and cooperation.

No matter how you locate a potential mediator it is most important both parties feel the mediator can be neutral and fair to each party. Very simply, the mediator must make you feel at ease and also confident they are capable of handling your case. Search to find a mediator who matches your personality and style.

Every mediator has a different style, just as no two piano teachers teach exactly the same way. I recently received a call from a potential client in a post-decree matter. She was an attorney and also a mediator herself. She was looking for a mediator for her own personal post-decree issue. She quizzed me at length about my qualifications and my “close rate”. She placed a very high value on what percentage of my cases settle. I answered her that my close rate was zero. She gasped audibly. I explained that I, as the mediator, do not close or settle cases. The parties involved do the work and they settle the cases through negotiation, honesty and hard emotional processing. It is not my success; instead success belongs to the clients. She saw mediation as her process but I see mediation as the clients’ process. Clearly, we viewed the mediation process very differently.
 
Needless to say, I do not think she will be hiring me. And that is fine with me.

Sheila-Marie Untiedt
www.cleanslatemediation.net
Sheila-marie@cleanslatemediation.net
612-308-9994

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