Expert advice from divorce-industry professionals to help you serve your clients and grow your practice. Here’s what family lawyers need to know.
1. When a child resists contact with one of the parents, best practice requires an assessment of the family dynamics and an intervention that treats the entire family.
The old gut response that the favored parent is brainwashing/alienating the child is no longer best practice – and a court order for “reunification” therapy for rejected parent and child is rarely successful without involvement of the favored parent. This is a full-family systemic issue, and best practices requires an assessment of the family dynamics and an intervention that treats the entire family. This intervention is best done with mental-health professionals with expertise and skills in breaking down the resistance in both the children and the parents. “Overcoming Barriers” is a 501.(c) 3 program of family intervention, family law community education, and training of mental health professionals. An annual family camp brings four to seven families together in a camp setting for five days to enjoy the milieu of fresh air, exercise, camp games, and intensive therapy. The goal is to break down the assumptions about who each parent is and how well they are able to parent. Overcoming the Parenting Trap: Essential Parenting Skills Where a Child Resists Contact With a Parent, published by Overcoming Barriers, is a useful tool to help educate parents.
– Hon. Marjorie A. Slabach (ret), Board of Directors president, Overcoming Barriers, www.overcomingbarriers.org
2. When negotiating pension division on divorce, an attorney must know the answers to the following six questions.
- What is the payment amount? Clients always want to know how much they’re going to be receiving – and you need to know the answer in order to figure out how to equalize or equitably divide a marital estate.
- When will the payments begin? Without the answer to this question, you won’t know if the cash is available immediately or at some future date.
- Will the payments be made periodically, or as a one-time lump-sum? Your client will want to know whether he or she can expect a lump sum or a regular monthly check in the future.
- What happens if someone dies? Many attorneys forget to ask this question, which can create a serious problem. If your client isn’t the employee, you want to make sure that that he/she continues to receive the money he/she expects if the employee dies.
- How much does survivor protection cost? You want to make sure that the cost of the protection doesn’t eat up the benefit that the non-employee spouse receives. Both you and the client should think the insurance is money well spent.
- What are the the employee’s dates of participation in the plan? Without this knowledge, you won’t be able to calculate an accurate marital portion – assuming there is a separate and marital portion of the pension.
With the answers to all six questions, you can increase your chances of creating a divorce settlement agreement that will work into retirement – and have happier clients as an added bonus.
– Andrew K. Hoffman (FCA, CFP®, CDFA™), www.noladivorcedollar.com
3. When there is a claim for spousal support, a comprehensive lifestyle analysis is a critical component to settling the case.
A detailed lifestyle analysis – the marital standard of living established during the marriage – accurately represents the customary lifestyle expenses of the parties for an average period of time. These ordinary expenses are the typical categories found on a financial affidavit or statement; they are the expected or routine/commonly practiced/habitual expenses of the marriage. Ordinary expenses vary widely: some clients have planes, boats, or multiple homes commonly used by the couple or family during the marriage, others stay in five-star hotels regularly. Generally, extraordinary expenses have a special purpose: they were not a routine expense during the marriage. They likely would not be included in the average monthly lifestyle figure, but they might be identified in the analysis if they speak to the level of spending a family had in a particular time period. Regardless of whether your client is the monied or the non-monied spouse, a well-documented lifestyle analysis helps both parties and their counsel determine a fair settlement – including spousal support.
– Cathleen Belmonte Newman (CDFA™, MBA), president, F4 Financial Inc, www.f4financial.com
4. Give talks to targeted audiences to demonstrate your knowledge and create a new stream of potential clients.
Divorce attorneys face a consistent challenge in finding new clients. Many rely on word-of-mouth and advertising – both of which are important – but to really see your practice soar, get in front of groups. Giving talks to targeted audiences is a great way to demonstrate your in-depth knowledge of divorce and position yourself as a leader in your field. If you have trouble finding appropriate speaking venues, try creating your own: you could offer a divorce workshop on your own, or in cooperation with a financial expert and a mental-health professional to cover all the bases. Education is key to a successful outcome in divorce, and you’ll attract clients with the depth and breadth of your knowledge. You’ll also become known as someone who is out to make a difference for people in your community, which can help to set you apart from your competition.
– Ginita Wall (CPA, CFP®, CDFA™), co-founder, Second Saturday Divorce Workshops, www.SecondSaturday.com
5. If alcohol is a concern in your client’s child-custody case, monitor sobriety during visitation periods.
When an alcohol addiction is involved with a divorce case, custody battles often become complicated and difficult. Make sure the ex-spouse is conducting safe and sober visitations with your client’s children by monitoring alcohol consumption. Commonly used EtG urine testing for alcohol consumption is outdated, unreliable, and inconvenient – plus there is no way of knowing whether or not the ex-spouse is sober in real-time with EtG testing. Alcohol monitoring technology has moved forward with the advent of handheld mobile-breath systems. Use mobile Breathalyzers and monitoring software to get real-time breath test results during visitation to ensure child safety. Real-time results will allow you to act quickly and remove children, in the event of a positive breath test, from a possibly dangerous situation. Mobile breath systems give your client the ability to ensure safe visitations. Documented proof of alcohol sobriety or consumption can create custody opportunities.
– Shelby Hendrix, Soberlink, www.soberlink.net
6. Address life and disability insurance during – not at the end of – the divorce process.
Life and disability insurance planning should be an integral part of your process, not an after-thought. Start by obtaining third-party verification of existing policies and preliminary underwriting approval as part of your discovery and interrogatories. Use a standardized formula that incorporates taxes and investment return when calculating the amount of coverage needed, and make certain that the policy you select has a guaranteed level premium payment period equal to or greater than the duration of the underlying obligation. Discuss the tax implications of various ownership arrangements with your clients, and secure the coverage prior to the divorce being finalized. Be sure the beneficiary designations on existing policies have been updated. And finally, make certain that both parties are able to verify the status of the policy securing the obligation post-divorce.
– John P. Canavan (ChFC, CLU), Alimony Protection Group, www.alimonyprotection.com
7. Provide clients with modern tools to help them cope with the challenges of divorce.
There are many apps for smartphones that can help clients focus on moving forward – legally, financially, and emotionally – and support their children during the divorce process. The savvy attorney will ascertain where a client’s areas of weakness are, and be armed with a toolbox of relevant resources. Some clients learn best by reading books or articles, but other – perhaps younger – clients might be accustomed to using a smartphone as their go-to device for gaining knowledge and assistance. Some apps designed to help divorcing people use therapeutic techniques such as mood tracking, journaling, and quizzes; relaxation and meditation apps can help your stressed-out clients to manage their divorce-related emotions and focus on the tasks at hand.
– Linda Bortell Psy.D. and Gitu Bhatia Psy.D, www.divorceworksmedia.com