Under the New Jersey custody statute (N.J.S.A. 9:2-4), parents begin with equal rights. A court can, however, order any custody arrangement it determines to be in the best interests of the child (N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(c). Joint legal custody is the most common arrangement. Sole legal custody, which grants one parent the right to make all major decisions, is far less common. Legal custody is not necessarily related to physical custody. Sometimes parents also share physical custody equally, but often the child lives with one parent most of the time. Read more
In recent years, the popularity of mediation for divorce has skyrocketed. People have learned that mediation can often save time and money, while also preserving harmony among family members. Many people still do not know, however, that family mediation is not just for divorce. It can be useful in addressing many types of conflict. Read more
Are you a FIRE couple? Are both of you deeply invested in the “Financial Independence Retire Early” lifestyle? If so, you may think your divorce is too complicated for mediation. Perhaps surprisingly, however, the opposite could be true, even if you have a financially complex situation.
FIRE and Divorce
Typical FIRE couples live below their means and focus on building multiple streams of income to facilitate an early exit from a traditional career path. For some, this means planning for full retirement by their 30’s or 40’s. For others, it means building a passion project as a side hustle, until it brings in enough income to be a viable full-time pursuit.
Regardless of exactly where your lifestyle fits into the FIRE paradigm, divorce is likely to be challenging. The separation process can throw even the most carefully crafted financial plans into chaos. Still, with the help of a good consulting attorney, a financial advisor and a skilled mediator, it will be possible to maintain financial independence and stability during and after divorce.
Avoid High Conflict to Preserve FIRE Goals
If divorce appears to be imminent, remember that the more you can agree on outside the courtroom, the more your life plans can remain intact. Court battles are always expensive and time-consuming. Mediation is generally a much faster and more cost-effective route. It may be especially appropriate for FIRE couples, because the FIRE lifestyle is out of the mainstream. Judges are unlikely to have the time or the patience necessary to assess complicated and unusual financial arrangements. Couples in mediation can negotiate issues without worry that a judge may look askance at the unorthodox nature of their FIRE plans.
Be Sure to Consult with an Attorney
While mediation does not require as much legal help as a litigated divorce, you will need a consulting attorney to protect your individual interests. Your mediator can give you some information about the law, but only an attorney can advocate on your behalf. Navigating the ins-and-outs of equitable distribution and the potential impact of spousal and child support laws can be complicated. It is also critical to have legal help crafting a Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA), especially when it comes to plans for early retirement. New Jersey law considers early retirement to be any time before age 66 or 67, depending on when you were born. Those wishing to retire before this must prove that their plan is reasonable and in good faith. Incorporating a plan into an MSA can avoid a court battle over it later.
Even with attorney assistance, mediation results in lower costs because attorneys do not need to prepare for and appear in court. Participants generally agree to exchange information informally instead of resorting to formal discovery. The more open and honest you can be with each other, the faster, less expensive, and less stressful your divorce is likely to be. If you and your spouse end up unable to resolve one or more issues, you can always go to court for a resolution on those discrete matters.
Consider Using Experts
Because you may have complicated financial issues to sort through, you may need to use experts in your divorce. Sometimes people assume that this means mediation will not work, but this is far from the truth. Experts can present reports for mediation and even appear in person if necessary.
What kind of financial experts do FIRE couples typically need? Here are some examples:
This may be an accountant or financial planner with additional training in resolving common divorce issues. Some have special certifications, such as “Certified Divorce Financial Analyst” (CDFA). You can hire a financial expert individually to help you optimize your post-divorce financial situation. You and your spouse can also hire a joint specialist to evaluate the financial implications of any potential support payments or property distribution plans.
FIRE couples often have unusual physical assets, such as multiple rental properties. Appraisers can provide accurate valuation of real estate, as well as other valuable property, like jewelry, artwork, or collectibles.
Business Valuator or Business Appraiser.
FIRE couples are often entrepreneurial, owning one or more businesses. Sometimes these are unusual businesses, such as income-generating websites or YouTube channels. This can result in numerous financial issues. Is the business separate or marital property? What is the value of the business? What is the value of its income stream for purposes of child or spousal support? Business valuators are usually CPA’s who specialize in analyzing the assets, liabilities, and capital of specific types of companies. The more unusual your business is, the more important it is to have an evaluator with appropriate knowledge and experience.
If either or you have a pension or a life insurance policy, you may need an actuary. Actuaries use long-term data to make economic and demographic assumptions and employ statistical analysis to determine the present cash value of assets like pensions and life insurance.
Employability or Vocational Expert.
If you are in the early phases of the FIRE lifestyle, it is likely that both of you are fully employed and working at your maximum income potential. If, however, one of you is planning to cash in and retire soon, and the other is not in agreement with this plan, you may need an employability expert.
How to Use Experts in Mediation
Deciding on which types of experts you need is just half the battle. You also need to decide whether to use individual or joint experts. Agreeing to use the same experts can save you money, but it is not always the best choice. For example, if an asset has a highly variable or subjective value, it may be worthwhile for each of you to get your own opinion, as experts tend to resolve any question marks in favor of the person who hires them. One very good neutral expert, on the other hand, will generally know how to split the difference. It doesn’t have to be all one way or all the other. You might decide you need just one real estate appraiser but want to hire two separate financial advisors.
Sometimes you can also save on fees by agreeing to have your experts prepare abbreviated reports. Full-scale reports are generally necessary for litigation but may not be for mediation. Most importantly, be sure that whoever you choose has a good reputation and the right kind of experience.
Moving Forward Post-Divorce
As a FIRE couple, you are undoubtedly both financially savvy already. This will be an enormous asset in your post-divorce life. While divorce is often a temporary setback, people with high financial literacy generally possess all the tools required to move on successfully. Mediation can also minimize any setbacks.
Is mediation the best choice for every FIRE couple? Not necessarily. Contact one of our experienced family law mediators for more information! For an initial consultation, use our divorce mediation contact form or call us at (888) 888 1383.
Most people who choose divorce mediation are more easy-going than those who decide to fight over every single personal possession in divorce court. This is almost always a good thing. Being easy-going tends to make divorce less stressful, cheaper, and faster. It is important, however, not to let yourself become so laissez faire that you end up giving away the store. Read more
Are you interested in divorce mediation but concerned that your spouse may not be honest? Such fears may or may not mean that mediation is out of the question. Before you jump into an expensive litigation process, take some time to think through your options. Keep in mind that the adversarial nature of litigation can contribute to secrecy. Mediation, on the other hand, generally fosters an atmosphere of openness. Read more
If you have been thinking about divorce, or you are somewhere in the process of divorce already, the beginning of a new year is a great time to move things forward. Maybe you are wondering about mediation and want to know if it is a good option for you, but you are still not clear on how exactly it differs from other divorce processes. Read more
All of us at the Weinberger Mediation Center are wishing you peace throughout the holiday season. Whether you are in the middle of a divorce or are just beginning to think about separating, keeping things peaceful is one of the best things you can do for your own mental health. It is even more important if you have children.
Protecting children from parental conflict is important for all types of families, not just those going through divorce. While a certain degree of family conflict is normal, research shows that children who are exposed to prolonged conflict between their parents are at heightened risk of emotional and behavioral issues, such as poor concentration, depression, and anxiety. Coping with the pandemic over the past couple of years has been especially challenging for many families. The holiday season, while generally a happy time, is also well-known to be stressful. It is no surprise then, that many families are struggling with conflict.
Children and Divorce: Protecting Mental Health
Increased parental conflict is an especially pronounced issue for families going through divorce or separation. In January of 2021, yet another study confirmed this. The Research and Education Advancing Children’s Health (REACH) Institute, at Arizona State University, found that when divorced or separated parents engage in conflict, their children experience fear of abandonment. Even worse, this feeling is not necessarily transitory; it can predict future mental health problems. Strong relationships between children and parents, which generally act as a buffer against childhood stress, did not, in this study, mediate the effects of parental conflict. In fact, the study found that children who had strong relationships with their fathers were especially likely to experience mental health issues.
Choosing Mediation for Peace
Clearly parents would do well to make the pursuit of peace one of their top resolutions for the New Year. Mediation is one of the best ways to accomplish this. In the coming months, we will be reviewing some basics of divorce mediation. Along the way we will focus on keeping things peaceful and protecting the mental health of everyone in the family.
Divorce will always be challenging, but it does not have to be devastating. It can, in fact, pave the way for a brighter future for everyone. This future can start all the sooner when both spouses approach the divorce process with mutual respect and consideration.
If you are one of those lucky couples who are confident that you will be able to separate as friends and present a united front to your children, you are probably already pursuing mediation or at least considering it. If, on the other hand, you are doubting that you and your difficult soon-to-be-ex would make good candidates for mediation, you may want to reconsider that. Ultimately the process is not going to work for everyone. We will have plenty of tips, however, to help high conflict couples navigate their way through. If you are willing to put in the effort, there is a good chance of success.
Here’s to a wonderful new start. Happy New Year!
If you are ready to discuss mediation with one of our trained and experienced divorce mediators, contact us today for an initial consultation.
Many families are feeling hopeful that the holidays this year will look far more normal than last year. For divorced or separated parents struggling with parenting agreements, however, the stress may be higher than ever. If you are already pursuing divorce mediation, you can take comfort in knowing that you are in an ideal venue for working out holiday parenting plans. If you are not already in mediation, this could be a great time to start.
Essential Terms in Parenting Plans
Some newly separated parents may not be certain exactly what they want their long-term parenting plan to look like. If you are in this situation, you can make a temporary custody agreement that takes the current holidays into consideration. Be careful not to let the rest of your plan slide though. Sometimes parents agree to something like “joint custody,” “equal parenting time,” or “a 70/30 time split” and then leave out details in the interest of flexibility. While these agreements are a good start, certain terms are essential to include in every parenting plan. These include the general form of custody; how parents will share decision making; a schedule for time-sharing on weeknights, weekends, vacations, legal and religious holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions; and a description of how the schedule will change if there is a change of residence by either parent.
Beyond these basics, the level of detail you need will generally depend on how well you co-parent. You can refer to this post for more information about what to include. Even the most collaborative parents often want to provide more detail on religious upbringing and long-term holiday timesharing.
Holiday Parenting after Divorce
There are no rules about dividing holiday parenting time after divorce, and the beauty of mediation is that it allows parents to think out of the box. Some parents are so amicable that they spend part of certain holidays together. Others need to keep everything at arm’s length. Parents who live further apart generally need to divide up entire holidays or alternate years for different holidays. If this is the only practical solution for your family, building scheduled facetime into the plan can help. Part of a fresh start after divorce can also be establishing your own separate traditions.
Whether you live a few blocks or thousands of miles apart, and whether you plan to split holiday time or alternate holidays, there are certain details that are important to put into writing. Agreements should designate responsibility for drop-offs and pick-ups and times and places for exchanges. They should also specify every holiday covered and set a start and end time for each holiday, or for each part of a holiday spent with each parent. If children will be travelling, make sure to designate responsibility for making travel arrangements and paying travel expenses, as well as what travel Information is to be provided to the other parent and when. Most parents agree to share at least basic information such as flight or train times and numbers, hotel information and telephone contacts.
The most important thing is to focus on the spirit of the holidays and avoid turning negotiations into a competition for time with children. Moving from house to house over holidays can be stressful for children. Pay attention to their needs and try to make things as easy and fun for them as possible. Older children should be allowed to provide their own input into where they will spend time.
Considering Religious Practices
Since many religious traditions overlap with holiday planning, these are two areas that families usually address at the same time. This can be particularly sensitive for divorcing interfaith couples. Raising children in two different faiths can be challenging enough when everyone is part of the same household. Once couples separate, it can become even more difficult. One the other hand, there may be a benefit if parents can divide the holiday schedule to maximize the children’s time with each parent on their own important religious holidays.
Remember that the best interests of your children are most important. This means not putting children under excessive pressure to choose between different religious traditions, which could in effect lead them to feel that they are being asked to choose between their parents.
Religion and Child Custody in New Jersey
When creating an agreement on religious upbringing of children, there can be more at stake than just the holiday calendar. If parents have no agreement, or only an unclear agreement, a court resolving a dispute in this area would look at the overall custody arrangement. A parent with sole legal custody is the sole decision-maker on religious upbringing. In the much more common situation where parents have joint legal custody, the primary caretaker – generally the parent with primary physical custody or more parenting time – has the right to make such decisions.[i]
If parents have joint legal custody and equal parenting time, a court may have to look at other factors. Avoiding this kind of ambiguity by designating a primary caretaker in the parenting agreement can prevent an expensive and time-consuming court process. Parents can also explicitly grant authority over religious upbringing to either parent.
Unless parents agree otherwise, only the parent with decision-making authority can enroll the children in religious education. The other parent, however, retains the right to take the children to religious services of that parent’s choice during parenting time. That parent also does not have to uphold the primary parent’s religious customs. For example, absent evidence of harm to the children, a non-custodial parent does not have to enforce a custodial parent’s religious dietary restrictions. [ii] While the custodial parent’s right to control the children’s religious upbringing takes precedence, courts cannot issue orders that unduly limit the secondary caretaker’s religious freedom.
Modifying Holiday Agreements
Even if you and your co-parent agree on how to divide the holiday parenting schedule during your separation and divorce, you may want to make changes later. Sometimes parents move farther away from one another. Even if travel is not an issue, schedules that work for young children may not work for older children. Religious and family traditions often remain a source of friction for many years. Whether you have an agreement you need to revise, or you never had a satisfactory agreement, post-judgment mediation can help.
If you and your co-parent would like to discuss negotiating your parenting plan with one of our trained mediators, contact us today for an initial consultation.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month – a good time to review exactly what domestic violence (DV) is, how to recognize warning signs, and when couples with a history of DV may want to consider divorce mediation. Violence between romantic partners is also sometimes called intimate partner violence (IPV). This term can be more specific than domestic violence, which technically refers to violence between any household members. The term “violence” is also sometimes used as a catch-all to refer not only to physical violence, but also to psychological manipulation and abuse. The latter can be much more difficult to recognize than physical violence. Read more
Today we will revisit the concept of “brainstorming” in divorce mediation and examine the conditions that support productive brainstorming sessions. To “brainstorm” is to throw every possible solution to a problem at the wall (or at least onto a whiteboard) and see what sticks. This requires adopting a “no idea is a stupid idea” mindset. Even ideas with no chance of success sometimes contain the seed of an idea that will be very successful. Read more
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