Collaborative Practice Case Study #1
From Separation to Reconciliation: Paul and Nicole
Paul and Nicole had been married for thirty years when Paul had an affair. Although he claimed to be in love with his new girlfriend, and moved in with her after separating from Nicole, he was not interested in waging a battle with his ex-wife. On the contrary, he was willing to be extraordinarily generous, and chose to work with a collaborative practice attorney in order to maintain a peaceful relationship with Nicole.
Nicole, on the other hand, was distraught. Upset at the betrayal, she was terribly anxious about finances. Still, she wasn’t interested in using litigation in order to punish Paul for choosing to leave her. She agreed to join him in discussions with their collaborative practice attorneys to work out their differences in a cordial manner.
The collaborative discussions went well. So well, according to one of the professionals involved in the case, that Paul and Nicole were ultimately able to talk through the problems that had brought their marriage to a crisis point.
“You could tell the couple still had a strong connection just by the way they were working together,” said Bill, the collaborative practice professional. “They decided to put off the divorce and continue to work on their marriage. It doesn’t happen often, but there is an opportunity to work things out and reconcile if a couple chooses not to litigate.”
Four years later, the collaborative practice professional continues to work with Paul and Nicole as their financial planner.
“When you can sit down and talk things out,” he says, “it allows for all the options to come up.” Even the option to not divorce after all.
Collaborative Practice Case Study #2
From Conflict to Compromise: Jerry and Kelly
One of the biggest impediments to a successful divorce negotiation can be based on living arrangements. The family home is often the repository of a couple’s wealth, with much of their finances tied up in equity, but one or the other member of a couple may be unwilling to give up the house. Often it’s the wife who chooses to keep the house, for continuity for the children. For Jerry and Kelly, a couple with a thirty year marriage behind them and retirement in front of them, it was Jerry who wanted to stay put.
Although Jerry had Asberger’s syndrome, he had enjoyed a successful career, and the couple had a vacation home as well as their primary residence. Kelly didn’t necessarily want their house for herself—she was willing to move to their vacation home. But she did want the equity from the house so she had funds that she could invest.
Jerry, on the other hand, was concerned about the couple’s cats. Although the house itself wasn’t that important to him, (including an in-ground pool which he had always hated), the cats were getting older and he felt that it would be traumatic for them to make a move. The couple seemed to be at an impasse, but talking about their options opened up a way for both of them to get some of what they wanted.
The collaborative practice professional structured a property agreement for them where Jerry could keep the house for five years, a period of time that was agreeable to him. In return, Kelly was given some money up front that eased her immediate financial concerns. The settlement also offered Jerry the option of buying Kelly’s portion of the house over time, so that he could decide whether or not he was ready to leave the house after five years.
“When couples are close to retirement,” said Lisa, the collaborative practice professional, “it’s important to spend time educating both parties. For instance, if the goal is to have the same amount of money when you retire, a 50/50 split isn’t always equitable in cases where the husband has an employer-based 401K plan, and the wife doesn’t.”
“The way to handle it, “she continued, “is to be very clear about what your goals are. If the divorcing couple is in their forties, you can look at a fifteen to twenty year span to even things out. If both parties are closer to 60, a five year projection is much more reasonable.”
Ultimately, the decision to stay for one or the other to stay in the house isn’t always a good, or fair, decision. Selling the family home may be the best way to jumpstart a new life for both members of the couple.