Divorce Mediation

Todd Wants a Fair Division of Assets

Kristina and Todd came into the office after the holidays ready for divorce mediation Lexington Ma. Now in their mid- 50s, they had met at the University of Virginia’s lovely campus, in the Thomas Jefferson library, when they bumped into each other as they rounded the bookshelves. They  became fast friends and decided to get married during their senior year after both had decided they wanted to enter the Peace Corps. Right after graduation, they went into three months of Peace Corps training and then were off to Tanzania in Africa to serve together in “their village” They learned a lot in Africa and developed a tight bond between them.

Upon returning from Africa, both of them became disillusioned with suburban life and their individual interests grew further and further apart. Finally, although they both adored their daughter, Katie, they had reached a point where they were so distant that there was no way to reach back and connect again like they had in their Peace Corps days. They had tried marriage counseling and decision mediation and come to the sad conclusion that they would separate amicably and divorce. They decided that divorce mediation made far more sense than using the adversarial system of lawyers and the court.

Todd and Kristina were referred for divorce mediation by several couples who had happily used our collaborative mediation services in the past. We started by asking each of them what they wanted from the divorce mediation.   Kristina immediately chimed in, “I want to be okay financially. I want to feel secure and safe, like I’m doing the right thing financially without Todd at my side every minute. Frankly, I’m  feeling insecure and quite scared”. Todd said he wanted his fair share of the assets,  and a reasonable, if not a totally even division of their property. Todd had started and later sold a start-up company, that went public on the stock market. The company developed and then further refined the first robotic arm used in surgery. This was quite an accomplishment. He had worked hard and Kristina had supported him every step of the way.

Both Todd and Kristina instinctively felt that the $5.2 million dollars in assets, drawn from the company, should provide them with the kind of income that would allow them to change careers from the heavy pressure they have in their current jobs to new careers in which there would be intrinsic reward and far less income. Kristina had been a part-time wealth manager when their daughter Katie was growing up. She wanted to change from this stressful career into becoming a massage therapist. Todd wanted to go from his entrepreneurial career initially to teaching skiing in the western U.S. and tutoring kids in math and science, before perhaps swinging into a second career of developing a guide service for people visiting Tanzania. Katie didn’t know it, but Todd was thinking that in the future he might ask Katie to join him in this business.

Both Todd and Kristina immediately responded “yes!” when I asked if they wanted to bring in our Certified Divorce Financial Analyst(CDFA) for several sessions to calculate what their current and future net disposable incomes would be with the interest and dividends on their investments, their cash, and their expected new incomes. They were excited about the upcoming revelation of their current and future net disposable incomes through divorce mediation Lexington Ma.,  the collaborative mediation service.

Kristina and Todd both expressed that they saw this time in their lives as one of less stress and pressure and of being in careers or jobs that felt more ordinary, but more fulfilling in the sense of having closer involvement with people and the achievement of more personal happiness. Their earlier lives, while in the Peace Corps, closely involved with the people in “their village” had brought them that kind of fulfillment. They knew, from experience, that large flows of cash did not make for the kinds of happiness for which they were searching. However much Kristina could see on paper that the cash she would have available to her looked like it might be enough, she still honestly had underlying fears “of being a bag lady”.

Using the “Seven Visual Steps to Yes”* model, we had learned that Kristina wanted, Step I, “to be sure I’m going to be okay financially after the divorce”. Todd wanted “a fair division of our assets”. Step II, their bottom-line basic needs were for Kristina “financial security and safety” and “financial security” for Todd. For Step III, what really, really mattered to each of them, Kristina wanted “to feel that she was making the wisest financial choices for herself now that Todd would be off skiing and in  maybe in Tanzania and not around to guide her at all times; to have a familiar home space for their daughter Katie to return to during college vacations and after; not to have to have a stressful job for the rest of her life; to have a sense of safety; and to learn whether it made sense financially for her to stay living in the “marital home” for a short or longer period of time. They had their home appraised by a professional real estate appraiser and obtained three fair market values from realtors and decided on their own a different fair market value price that Kristina would put into her column of assets.

What mattered to Todd was to buy or rent another house below the cost that he could afford; to live within his means without having to start another high-stress company; to keep some mutual funds that his parents began for him as a child; and to have a fair and reasonable division of the assets acquired during the marriage.

Examples of other couples’ basic human needs and what really, really matters to them are: feeling respected, recognized, a sense of freedom, autonomy, confidence in who I am, in my identity.  Others are having a sense of being loved and loving, of belonging, of safety and emotional, physical and financial security, having a sense of fairness and a feeling of being comfortable in a home.

After sharing what really mattered to both Kristina and Todd, they began to generate options (Step V), with my help, for how to obtain what they each wanted. Todd started with he would keep the mutual fund money from his parents. Kristina agreed. Todd offered that they equally split all retirement and investment funds, that is, most of their assets, except that Kristina would keep the equity in the home and the actual home. Kristina offered that they waive alimony or spousal support from each other. I offered that we bring in my consulting Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) who with Family Law Software, would run the numbers on their current disposable cash flow given their agreed upon above division of assets and a prospective cash flow given what they would be receiving from income, cash, interest and dividends on retirement and investment funds into their 90th decade. The above creative options were all agreed to.

The Certified Divorce and Financial Analyst came into several sessions, collaborating with Janet Miller Wiseman,  completing calculations indicating that Kristina would be fine financially staying in the house for twenty-five years (which she had no intention of doing), and they could both survive nicely into their 90th decade. We all breathed a sigh of relief.

Kristina came back from a session with a review and advisory attorney, after the divorce agreement was written, with the proviso that the issue of petitioning for alimony or spousal support be left “open” for eight post-divorce years, meaning supposal support or alimony could be asked for in a court of competent jurisdiction for eight years after the final divorce if either of them was making more than $150,000 a year. In other words, if during the first eight post-divorce years, Todd were to open a guide company to Tanzania that grossed more than $150,000 per year he would share some of that income with Kristina according to the then existing alimony guidelines.

This is one of many examples that illustrate how the “collaborative mediation” at divorce mediation Lexington ma approach works – the divorce mediator bringing in the Certified Divorce and Financial Analyst, or we three going to her office—to determine exact asset and income divisions that are fair and reasonable and will last over the long haul, in this case over the couples’ life expectancy.

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