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Financial Check-Up (Part 1 of 4)

The New Year has fallen into our laps, and with it we find ourselves thrust into a new tax season. While you get ready to go out and celebrate tonight, take a few minutes to listen to our latest podcast. This week on Ron and Robert on Divorce, the attorney duo interview James Cagle, a CPA and expert taxman from the Allegent Group, with offices in Woodland Hills and the Santa Clarita Valley. Mr. Cagle has twenty-five years of experience in taxation, business management and directing audits, reviews and compilations with an eye towards measuring and improving the health of business.

Listen now to find out what portion of your attorney’s fees are tax-deductible and to learn some practical tips that will help you prepare for the upcoming tax season.

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To learn more about Mr. Cagle and the Allegent Group, click HERE.

New Year’s Divorce Resolutions

It is nearly the end of the year, the end of a chapter – we are balancing on the eve of new beginnings. For many people this is the time to reflect on all that has happened in the last year, while resolving to make changes for a better future. Though traditional New Years resolutions such as resolving to quit smoking, eat better, and spend more time with family are fantastic, we at The Law Collaborative wanted to offer some suggestions designed specifically for those of you going through a divorce.

1.  Improve Your Relationship With Your Ex
Once upon a time you loved this person enough to promise “till death do we part” so this year, promise to practice courtesy towards them. Try to understand them. Your marriage may be over, but the relationship is not. Relationships never end. They get worse or they get better, depending on the choices we make. We make choices daily. Every choice has a consequence for good or bad. Are you making choices congruent with your intended future? If you are, they are good choices. Put yourself in your former spouse’s shoes. Recognize your differences. Acknowledge your feelings and theirs.

2.  Improve Communication With Your Ex
Listen without interrupting. Consider their point of view. Ask questions to understand better. Keep an open mind. When you talk to your former spouse, remember what you have in common. Explain what matters to you, and why. When you get angry, stop, take a deep breath, and carefully choose your words. Let go of the blame game. Instead, use “I” statements.  For example, “I feel angry when you walk out of the room while we’re talking because when you don’t listen to me I feel disrespected.” Express how you feel, accept responsibility for your feelings, and describe how their words and actions affect you. Improved communication can help you move through conflict to resolution.

3.  Practice the 7 Rules for Fair Fighting
When difficult conversations have to be had, abiding by the seven rules for fair fighting will help keep the conversation moving in a forward direction that will foster a fair resolution.

4.  Write a Marriage Eulogy and Resolve to Act in Accordance
Fifty years after a divorce, your children and grandchildren will tell a story about why you divorced. They will talk about what kind of person you were. What legacy will you leave behind?  You have the opportunity to design your legacy, to write your divorce story. By writing that story, and by keeping that story in mind, you can guide your actions in a way that the story will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Without having the story as a guideline, you are building without a plan, traveling without a map. You’ll build something you didn’t intend and end up nowhere.

5.  Be A Better Co-Parent
Resolve to keep your problems private, and out of your children’s earshot.  Be kind to each other in front of the children. Your child’s other parent deserves to be treated with kindness. Cruelty to their other parent is child abuse. When speaking about the other parent to the children, keep it positive. Focus on the good in each other, the things you enjoyed, and the things you loved about the other, to help you stay positive in front of the children. Your children are learning from what they see you do and will one day mimic your behavior in their own relationships. Be the bigger person and lead by example. Be a role model to your kids. Assure their successful future relationships. Always remember that your child’s other parent will be a part of your life forever, so treat that person with the respect that you, yourself, would like to be treated.

6.  Respect Family Relationships
Resolve to respect the relationship with your former spouse’s extended family – if it was good, maintain the integrity; if it was problematic, do your best to build cordiality and kindness.

7.  Apologize (Even if you are innocent)
It’s OK to say you’re sorry, even if you didn’t do anything wrong. Acknowledging your ex-spouse’s pain and showing empathy by way of a sincere apology can reduce tension and help your ex move on. And besides, no one is ever completely innocent.

This post was written collaboratively by several members of the TLC Team: Ron Supancic, CFLS, Ty Supancic, Esq., Maria Barcena, JD, Terrie Frost, LMFT, and Patricia Frost, Executive Editor.

The Marriage Eulogy

By Ty Supancic, Esquire
Associate Attorney at The Law Collaborative, LLP

There is an old saying, “History is written by the winners.”  In litigation, there are winners and losers.  We believe that when parties in crisis choose mediation over litigation, everyone has the potential to come out a winner.  If the winners write history, why can’t the winners in a dissolution write their own history?

Fifty years after a divorce, the children and grandchildren of the original divorcing couple will tell and believe a story about why their parents and grandparents divorced, what kind of people they were, and what aftermath or legacy they left behind.  A couple going through a dissolution has the opportunity to write what they would like that story to be.  By writing that story, and by keeping that story in mind, they can guide their actions and decisions in such a way that the story can become a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.  Without having the story as a guideline, the parties are building without a plan, traveling without a map. They’ll build something and end up somewhere, but not with anything or anywhere they would have hoped.

The exercise of having individuals who are going through a dissolution of marriage write a “Joint Divorce Story” is not a new idea.  Ron has been recommending it to his clients for years.  Unfortunately, few ever take the time to engage in this useful exercise.  Oftentimes they confuse the Joint Divorce Story with a mission statement or their short-term goals.  The exercise might be more easily understood if it is renamed “The Marriage Eulogy”.

One of our paralegals, Maria, told me that when she was in high school, the nuns had them write their own eulogy as part of a “Death and Dying” class exercise.  The idea was that by writing about all the great things they wanted to be remembered for when they died, one might be guided in making decisions during their lives.  The Marriage Eulogy has the same goal.

At common law, upon marriage a couple ceased to exist as individuals and became one entity.  This concept lives on today as new couples dream about what their married lives will be like.  Couples build powerful dreams that take on lives of their own.  While divorce never ends a relationship, it does end marriage, and with the end of the marriage, that powerful dream of marriage dies.  Couples going through divorce really are witnessing the death of an entity. Psychology informs us that children witnessing the divorce of their parents can be as devastated as a parent losing a child.

Often when we lose somebody important to us, we feel compelled to write a eulogy in honor and memory of that person.  A eulogy is not something scrawled in haste.  It is not something we compose in our heads while driving.  A good eulogy is something we take great pains in writing.  It is something we craft and hone and polish so that the result is powerful and evocative.  We are trying to sum up the essence of an entire being in a few succinct words.  The Marriage Eulogy should be written in such a manner.

When couples are not ready to write a joint eulogy, I have proposed that they write individual eulogies to exchange and reflect on individually.  Knowing how your ex-spouse wants your marriage to be remembered by their grandchildren can be a powerful thing.

One might tread more softly and be more thoughtful if mindful of what history could say about them and their life.  “I can’t think about my ex in that way yet!  It’s too soon.”  Okay, but you could write a fairy tale about how a divorce would be remembered.  That is a powerful starting place.  If we all were to conduct ourselves in accordance with the values and motives of a fairytale hero or heroine, we would all find ourselves kinder, gentler, nobler, and wiser as a result.

The Night Before Christmas – Legally

Whereas, on or about the night prior to Christmas, there did occur at a certain improved piece of real property (hereinafter “the House”) a general lack of stirring by all creatures therein, including, but not limited to, a mouse.

A variety of foot apparel, e.g., stockings, socks, etc., had been affixed by and around the chimney in said House in the hope and/or belief that St. Nick aka St. Nicholas aka Santa Claus (hereinafter “Claus”) would arrive at sometime thereafter.

The minor residents, i.e., the children, of the aforementioned House were located in their individual beds and were engaged in nocturnal hallucinations, i.e., dreams, wherein visions of confectionery treats, including, but not limited to, candies, nuts, and/or sugar plums, did dance, cavort, and otherwise appear in said dreams.

Whereupon the party of the first part (sometimes hereinafter referred to as “I”), being the joint-owner in fee simple of the House with the parts of the second part (hereinafter “Mamma”), and said Mamma had retired for a sustained period of sleep. (At such time, the parties were clad in various forms of headgear, e.g., kerchief and cap.)

Suddenly, and without prior notice or warning, there did occur upon the unimproved real property adjacent and appurtenant to said House, i.e., the lawn, a certain disruption of unknown nature, cause, and/or circumstance. The party of the first part did immediately rush to a window in the House to investigate the cause of such disturbance.

At that time, the party of the first part did observe, with some degree of wonder and/or disbelief, a miniature sleigh (hereinafter “the Vehicle”) being pulled and/or drawn very rapidly through the air by approximately eight (8) reindeer. The driver of the Vehicle appeared to be, and in fact was, the previously referenced Claus.

Said Claus was providing specific direction, instruction, and guidance to the approximately eight (8) reindeer and specifically identified the animal co-conspirators by name: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen (hereinafter “the Deer”). (Upon information and belief, it is further asserted that an additional co-conspirator named “Rudolph” may have been involved.)

The party of the first part witnessed Claus, the Vehicle, and the Deer intentionally and willfully trespass upon the roofs of several residences located adjacent to and in the vicinity of the House, and noted that the Vehicle was heavily laden with packages, toys, and other items of unknown origin or nature. Suddenly, without prior invitation or permission, either express or implied, the Vehicle arrived at the House, and Claus entered said House via the chimney.

Said Claus was clad in a red fur suit, which was partially covered with residue from the chimney, and he carried a large sack containing a portion of the aforementioned packages, toys, and other unknown items. He was smoking what appeared to be tobacco in a small pipe in blatant violation of local ordinances and health regulations.

Claus did not speak, but immediately began to fill the stockings of the minor children, which hung adjacent to the chimney, with toys and other small gifts. (Said items did not, however, constitute “gifts” to said minor pursuant to the applicable provisions of the U.S. Tax Code.)

Upon completion of such task, Claus touched the side of his nose and flew, rose, and/or ascended up the chimney of the House to the roof where the Vehicle and Deer waited and/or served as “lookouts.” Claus immediately departed for an unknown destination.

However, prior to the departure of the Vehicle, Deer, and Claus from said House, the party of the first part did hear Claus state and/or exclaim: “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!” Or words to that effect.

(PS: I don’t know where this came from originally – if you know who the is author, tell us so we can give credit where credit is due! Thank you, and have yourself a very Merry Merry.)

What Does Assembly Bill 939 Mean For You? (Part 2)

Assembly Bill 939 lays out major changes to California family law, including changes to the laws surrounding child testimony. While it’s important to acknowledge the positive effects some of these new laws will surely have, Ron and Robert are left wondering whether anyone has considered the children. What’s going to happen to children who are called to testify against a parent in a divorce case? How do we know children won’t lie to protect one parent over the other? What about the trauma caused to children who are forced to choose between parents? How will these new laws affect today’s children later in life?

These are just some of the questions raised in today’s episode of Ron and Robert on Divorce. Listen now and tell us what you think.

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Missed Part 1? Click here to listen to it now.

Happy Holidays from Ron & Robert

Warmest regards and sincere best wishes for a wonderful Holiday Season
from Ron, Robert, and All of Us at The Law Collaborative, LLP

Greetings!  Our warmest thoughts go out to our friends and colleagues who have made our success this year possible.  This Holiday Season, rather than sending out ‘hard’ greeting cards (with envelopes & stamps),  we’ve decided to donate the cost of cards and postage to The Smile Train, an organization that provides cleft palate surgeries to afflicted children all over the world.  We hope that by doing so we’ve given a good many small needy children something to smile about.  If you are interested in making your own donation to this worthy cause, contact them at www.smiletrain.org.

As this year rolls to an end, here is a to-do list for the coming weeks:

1.  Remember that the tax filing deadline for individuals and partnerships is April 15, 2011.
2.  Opening and/or contributing to a Roth IRA seems to be more advantageous every year.
3.  If there have been changes to your estate, you must keep your heirs informed.
4.  Schedule a Legal Check-up early in the New Year to help plan for your future.
5.  Find something to be thankful for every day. Breathe deeply and often.

A Happy, Healthy, Prosperous, and Peaceful New Year to all of our readers.

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Rules for Fair Fighting

Everyone disagrees sometimes.  In fact, a relationship that avoids conflict may be unhealthy. A healthy relationship does not avoid conflict, but uses it to clear the air productively, without hurt feelings.

Here are fourteen rules for fighting fair:

1.  Take Responsibility. It may take two to argue, but it only takes one to end a conflict. Make a commitment to never intentionally harm your partner’s feelings.

2.  Don’t escalate. The most important commitment you will make to fair fighting is to overcome any desire to speak or act hurtfully.

3.  Use “I” speech. When we use “you” speech, it is often perceived as accusatory.  Instead, talk about your own feelings: “I feel hurt when I hear that.” This may prevent defensiveness, as it’s hard to argue with a self-report.

4.  Learn to use “time out”. Agree that if hurtful speech or actions continue, either party may call a time out.  The three elements to a successful time out are:  1.) Use “I” speech to take responsibility, such as, “I don’t want to get angry.”  2.) Say what you need: “I need to take a walk to clear my head.”  3.) Set a time limit: “I’ll be back in 15 minutes to finish our talk.”  These steps will keep either of you from feeling abandoned.

5.  Avoid and defend against hurtful speech. This includes name-calling, swearing, sarcasm, shouting, or any verbal hostility or intimidation.  Agree to a key phrase that indicates hurt feelings, such as “That’s below the belt.”

6.  Stay calm. Don’t overreact.  Behave with calm respect and your partner will be more likely to consider your viewpoint.

7.  Use words, not actions. When feelings run high, even innocent actions like hitting a tabletop may be misinterpreted.  Use “I” speech to explain your feelings instead.

8.  Be specific. Use concrete examples (who, what, when, where) for your objections.

9.  Discuss only one issue at a time. If you find yourself saying, “And another thing….,” stop.

10.  Avoid generalizations like “never” or “always”. Use specific examples.

11.  Don’t exaggerate. Exaggerating only prevents discussions about the real issue.  Stick with facts and honest feelings.

12.  Don’t wait. Try to deal with problems as they arise — before hurt feelings have a chance to grow.

13.  Don’t clam up. When one person becomes silent and stops responding, anger may build.  Positive results are attained with two-way communication.

14.  Agree to these ground rules.

Remember, when you both agree to common rules, resolving conflict is more likely.  Sometimes, no matter how hard we try to fight fair, we simply can’t resolve a conflict.  When this happens, talks with a trained professional may help.  We are always available to assist you when you are unable to reach a resolution you can both live with.

The family law lawyers at The Law Collaborative, Los Angeles, is dedicated to providing useful tools like these to assist couples in managing conflict, resolving issues, and preserving families.  Please visit our website for more tools and resources.

What Does Assembly Bill 939 Mean for You?

Family Law touches the innermost aspects of a Californian’s life. It determines how often a parent will see his or her child, how much support they will receive, how they’ll be protected from domestic violence, and more.  Last month the governor signed Assembly Bill 939 and as a result, we’re looking at profound changes to the legislature after the first of the year. These changes will significantly impact members of the family law bar, the bench, and the public.  Listen now as Ron and Robert talk about what this important bill means for you.

To download a PDF of Assembly Bill 939, click the following link: Assembly_Bill_939

Like what you heard? Subscribe to Ron and Robert on Divorce on iTunes.