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Divorce Checklist

This came to me in a newsletter from Gillespie, Shields & Durrant. It’s exceptional information for anyone who’s just decided to dissolve their marriage.

1.     Consult an family law attorney. While you may not know much about lawyers and fees, at least meet with one and learn about how to hire one if you ultimately decide to.

2.     Copy documents. A little planning goes a long way in this area because it is much more difficult to obtain these documents through discovery procedures later. If you are unsure of what documents to copy, go to our Document Checklist.

3.     Open a separate bank account in your name. What is important is opening it, not how much you have in it. Establish your own credit and your own financial system. Talk to your attorney about how to fund it.

4.     Get a copy of your credit report from all three credit reporting agencies: Experian, Trans Union and Equifax. Your credit report will list all credit cards and loans in your name (including those that are joint). You should close any accounts that are open but inactive to prevent future abuse by your spouse, and you’ll find out if your spouse opened any new joint accounts without your knowledge.

5.     Safe Deposit 101: If you have a joint box that holds cash and assets, ask the bank to require both signatures to open the box. While you’re at the bank, inventory everything in said box and take pictures of any unique asset. Finally, open your own box while you’re there!

6.     Change passwords for ATM cards, home security systems, voice mailboxes, online access to bank accounts, e-mail accounts and online sites you shop on.

7.     Inventory household and family possessions. If you begin to notice things are missing, analyze your assets.

8.     Review Powers of Attorney and Health Care Directives. If you have executed any power of attorney giving your spouse any authority to handle business or financial affairs on your behalf, destroy them. Do the same relating to living wills or health care proxies. If you become unable to make your own decisions, now is certainly not the time that you want to count on a former spouse (to be).

9.     Put your children at the top of your agenda. If a divorce is imminent, you will undoubtedly spend lots of time researching, collecting documents, and interviewing attorneys. Of all the parties to a divorce, children are the ones who suffer the most!

10.  Because you have a rough road ahead, get a good Divorce Therapist on your personal team.

Conflict Revolution

Last week I returned from Italy, where members of Mediators Beyond Borders presented to the new Italian chapters in Florence and Rome. I wanted to share with you one of the talks I gave in Florence. Thank you for reading.

Photo courtesy of

When I was a little boy growing up in Seattle, Washington, I studied the life of an extraordinary Italian man. Three days ago I had the privilege of kneeling and praying at the tomb of Francis of Assisi. He lived during a time of dissonance, distress, and hostility, amid a crisis of violence and bloodshed. He had been a soldier. He was taken as a prisoner and spent a year in a dungeon. Through his suffering he came to an awareness that violence does not end violence. He came to the conviction that there had to be another way. He realized that he must give his life as the example of this new and different way. In so doing he founded the Franciscan Order based on poverty, charity, and good works.

We also live in a time of crisis, conflict, violence, and bloodshed. Innocent people are dying in unprecedented numbers in many places around the globe. Our leaders only fuel the flames with their failed efforts to force peace through war. It is again time for a new and different way.

Not long ago, Ken Cloke, a mediator from Santa Monica, watched paratroopers dropping into Bosnia with machine guns and grenade launchers.  He wondered what the outcome would be if they came bearing tools of peacemaking, rather than weapons of destruction.  If the paratroopers were facilitators of dialogue and mediators of conflict, carrying only the skills and technology of dispute resolution. What if their message elicited and encouraged disputants to stop, listen, and reflect in a mindful way that promoted understanding and invited participation? His musing was the birth of Mediators Beyond Borders. Still in its infancy, but engaged in eleven countries around the world, it is helping to build indigenous capacity with tools for dispute resolution wherever requested and invited.

My own journey is similar. A scorch-and-burn litigator for over thirty years, I knew my training in traditional methods of dispute resolution left wreckage and chaos in its wake. Mediation opened the door to consciousness and collaboration, and underscored the need for signed agreements to avoid litigation by both parties and counsel. First I used the services of a court mediator. Then I became a court mediator. Now I am a member of a Collaborative Law Firm that, first and foremost, promotes consciousness, awareness, discernment, and litigation avoidance whenever and wherever possible.

Having known Ken Cloke for several decades, and as impressed as I was with his intelligence and empathic peacemaking skills, I was immediately drawn to the vision and mission of MBB. Attending the Annual Congress, serving on Committees, and becoming familiar with the caliber and the talent of my professional colleagues among MBB members has confirmed my belief that this organization, by virtue of its values and the quality of its aspirational intentions, would only attract the best of the best.

If you only read one book about Mediation, it must be Conflict Revolutionby Ken Cloke.  It paints a picture both breathtaking and inspirational of the possibility of peacemaking on a global basis. It deserves to be translated into all languages and shared with all people who seek to peacefully change the world. The information is essential to the present task we face together.

When I was a little boy growing up in Seattle, I read, “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” I still believe that. I believe you do as well. Welcome to the Revolution.

Dr. Kathy Memel on Divorce (Part 1 of 4)

This week’s podcast features a live recording from the mental health portion of a recent Second Saturday Workshop. The speaker, Dr. Kathy Memel, is a therapist with a private practice in Beverly Hills. She works with individuals, couples, and families, and she provides a safe, caring, confidential environment. In addition to her work as a therapist, Dr. Memel has served as a family mediator at the Los Angeles Superior Conciliation Court for over twenty years. She also worked for five years as a family law paralegal, so she understands what people go through in a lawyer’s office. She’s also a wonderful person and a joy to be around.

In this segment of her presentation, Dr. Memel talks about how past family history plays a role in current family conflict.

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Marriage Vs. Living Together: It’s a matter of commitment

By Erma Bombeck

Drawing courtesy of Luke Gattuso

One of the hardest things in the world to explain is the difference between being married and living with someone.

As an advocate of orange blossoms and long mortgages, I usually end up throwing around a couple of high-class words like “commitment” and “responsibility to offspring,” and then when my opponent tosses back phrases like, “Love doesn’t need a piece of paper” or “Look how many people get stuck in unhappy relationships,” I crumble. I don’t have a good answer for it.

Somehow, I can’t seem to put my finger on that elusive bit of intimacy that makes marriage “different.” In both relationships, one shares the same bathroom, feeds the collective dog, eats together, shops together, sleeps side by side, and yet…

Recently on a TV show called “A Year in the Life,” the widowed father no longer wanted to continue his relationship to a contemporary without marriage. She couldn’t understand it. They were doing just fine the way they were, going to diner, sleeping together, and still hanging on to their own independence and careers. He looked at her and said sadly, “But we don’t worry about things together.”

You have to be married to understand that line. Anyone can play house, but a couple struggling to pay for one is something else. A philosopher once said, “Marriage is our last…our best chance to grow up.” He could be right. Everything up until the time you walk down the aisle has been polite, guarded and a little superficial. Returning from the altar is a different feeling altogether. You have not contracted for a temporary position…this is a permanent career. You have just bet all your chips on the biggest crapshoot of your life.

But there is something else. You have agreed to legal rights to share equally in belongings, debts, closets, fidelity and children.

We’ve gone through three wars, two miscarriages, five houses, three children, 17 cars, 23 funerals, seven camping trips, 12 jobs, 19 banks and three credit unions. I stopped counting slammed doors after 3,009. What do I have to show for it? A feeling of pride and contentment for having done something that isn’t easy. A realization that there is someone outside of myself without whom I do not feel whole. Maybe the difference between living together and being married is the former is a spectator sport and the latter is playing the game by all the rules.

A Daily Journal Exposé

Photo courtesy of Michael Zara. All rights reserved.

By: Ronald M. Supancic, CFLS

As Chief Justice Warren Burger stated in 1984, “The entire legal profession … has become so mesmerized with the stimulation of the courtroom contest, that we tend to forget that we ought to be healers of conflict … Trial by adversarial contest must in time go the way of the ancient trial by battle and blood … Our system has become too costly, too painful, too destructive, too inefficient for truly civilized people.”

This is especially true of divorces. A divorce is not an event – it is the process by which one makes the transition from being part of a couple to being single. The goal of a healthy divorce should be to begin as two, end as one and still feel whole.

This journey will lead the parties through an often treacherous and painful maze of transitions: legal, physical, emotional, financial and spiritual.

If this maze is to be successfully navigated, then in addition to attorneys, parties should enlist the services of experts in these other specific transition areas. This will more likely assure that dissolution can become a key to wholeness.

If we are to successfully navigate this treacherous and painful path, we must enlist the services of those who have expertise in specific areas of the divorce process, to guide us along the way, so that at the end of our journey we remain whole. When we do this we are doing something new and extraordinary called “Collaborative Divorce.”

Read more…

Trendsetter Justice Sheila Sonenshine on Family Law (Part 3 of 4)

Among the first Certified Family Law Specialists (CFLS) in California, the very first CFLS to sit on any court in California, and the youngest person appointed to the Superior Court and the Court of Appeals, the Honorable Sheila Prell Sonenshone was also on the first State Bar Commission to study gender bias at the court level, and was adamant that the study focused on gender bias against both women and men. Listen in as Ron and Robert interview this incredible, inspirational woman, whose many accomplishments go above and beyond the achievements so far listed. (Podcast #55, Part 3 of 4)

Missed parts 1 and 2? Check them out here and here.

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

Healers of Conflict

At the annual convention of the American Bar Association in 1984, Chief Justice Warren Burger said:

“The entire legal profession: lawyers, judges, and law professors, has become so mesmerized with the stimulation of the courtroom contest, that we tend to forget that we ought to be healers of conflict.  For many claims, trial by adversarial contest must in time go the way of the ancient trial by battle and blood… Our system has become too costly, too painful, too destructive, too inefficient for truly civilized people.”

Alex Baldwin wrote a book called A Promise to Ourselves in which he decries the California “divorce industry”. It is no secret that the courts are in crisis. If you try to have a traditional divorce today, it will likely take you twice as long as it would have five years ago, simply because budget cuts have reduced court resources to nearly zero. For years Ron and Robert have envisioned a way to transform the business of law. Last year they teamed up with Kathryn Dager, an organizational expert, to help develop the process.  The current system may be in crisis, but now we have a solution.

The Center for Collaborative Learning (CCL) is The Law Collaborative’s brand-new educational division, designed to empower legal professionals to be what they truly are: Healers of conflict. CCL aims to change the way law is practiced; to turn what has traditionally been an adversarial system into a system that heals, helps, nurtures, and thrives.

The world is changing. Every second of every day new advances are being made in medicine, technology, architecture, security, agriculture, education, the list is endless. Collaborative Law is the newest and fastest growing method of alternative dispute resolution and it is revolutionizing the way law is practiced. Whether you are a lawyer, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, divorce coach, child custody mediator, psychotherapist, or judge, CCL is committed to providing the tools, skills, and support necessary to help change the face of America’s legal industry. Together we can create a community of professionals who are committed to healing conflict.

This November 12, 13, and 14th we are proud to introduce The New Model for The Business of Law, a three-day workshop that will give participants the skills, strategies, and structures to create a thriving collaborative legal practice. Last month we gave some of our esteemed colleagues a sneak peak at what we have to offer, and here is what they had to say:

“It’s really exciting to be a part of this revolutionary business model and the idea of having a more peaceful way to practice law.” Christine Campisi, Child Custody Mediator

“The most beneficial thing for me was really understanding how people process information and how powerful the exercises were in getting to resolutions and ideas.” Byron Lane, Estate Planning Attorney

“Collaborative Law really does look to be the future. The old system, as it works now, everyone knows it’s broken. It’s not a perfect world. It needs to be pushed forward into the next decade.” Jesus Silva, Family Law Practitioner

“We have an opportunity to get trained to practice collaboratively. Then they give you all the structures, all the tools, all the tricks of the trade that they’ve built for so many years to be successful. They provide that for you. These are leaders, successful practitioners, and they are compassionate. One out of five lawyers suffer from drug, alcoholism, or stress related issues. But if you are practicing collaboratively you can take the compassion you learn into your home and into your life. It’s incredible.” Michelle Daneshrad, Esq.

If you’re a legal professional and would like more information, visit, where you can watch video testimonials, view our online brochure, and register to attend.

Center for Collaborative Learning – We hold the key to a massive paradigm shift.

Trendsetter Justice Sheila Sonenshine on Family Law (Part 2 of 4)

This week Judge Sonenshine discusses the lessons she’s learned about family dynamics during her years as a family law attorney, how she became a judge, why she loves settling cases, what’s the best advice she can give to an attorney, and what’s the best advice she can give a person testifying in court. (Podcast #54, Part 2 of 4)

Missed Judge Sonenshine’s interview last week? Click here to listen now.

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

If you haven’t signed up yet…

…there’s still time! Sign up for tomorrow’s Second Saturday Divorce Workshop and get all your divorce questions answered.

Roth IRA Conversion Strategies

Today we will hear from Irene Smith, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst and an affiliate of The Law Collaborative. Irene is a member of the Institute of Divorce Financial Analysts and the Los Angeles Collaborative Family Law Association. She served on the board of the American Women Society of Certified Public Accounts – Los Angeles Chapter, and was the scholarship committee chairperson for the Chapter. She is a frequent speaker on the subjects of financial planning, risk management and financial fitness strategies for women. She holds the designations of Certified Divorce Financial Analyst™, Certified Financial Planner® and Certified Public Accountant. You can visit Irene’s website at

Ron and Robert

Roth IRA Conversion Strategies

Traditional IRAs offer some great advantages, such as tax-deductible contributions and tax-deferred growth. However, with tax-free growth of earnings, tax-free qualified withdrawals and no required minimum distributions for original account owners, Roth IRAs offer remarkable benefits.

Beginning in 2010, the modified adjusted gross income limit for ROTH IRA conversions no longer applies. To help relieve tax liabilities on IRA conversions, investors who convert in 2010 have the unique opportunity to pay the taxes on conversion with their 2010 income tax return or elect to pay the taxes over the following two years, 2011 and 2012.

If no withdrawal is needed from a retirement account, Roth IRA conversion can transform the account from a retirement vehicle to a wealth transfer tool. Since there are no required minimum distributions (RMD) with Roth IRAs, the account can continue to grow tax free throughout your retirement. Eventually, you can pass it on to your beneficiaries, giving them growth potential and tax-free access to this portion of their inheritance. They will need to take RMDs, but the RMDs will be income tax-free.

Another strategy may apply if you have experienced a loss in the value of your qualified retirement plan or traditional IRA. You could convert the account to a Roth IRA while the markets are down, and pay taxes with non-retirement funds. As the markets recover, the recovered investment loss and any additional investment growth would be tax free, as would any qualified distributions you choose to take in retirement.

Now is the time to talk to your tax and financial advisor to formulate a game plan.

Irene Smith

To contact Irene, email her at