How a Child Specialist Can Help You and Your Child

As parents navigating separation or divorce, you want to do what is best for your children. However, it is not always easy to work together or know what to do or say. Resources are available to help you both consider the impact of restructuring your family and provide ideas on how to reduce risk for your children.

While there are no single answers that fit all families, tools like the online help page can provide useful information about co-parenting or other relevant divorce/separation related topics. Many parents find that while books and webpages are helpful for basic education, they lack consideration of their unique children and family situation.

Families looking for more specific support and input individually tailored to their family and their children’s needs will find educational/consultation support from a child specialist valuable.

A child specialist helps you as a parent:

· Understand the impact of separation on your child

· Talk openly about your thoughts and feelings about and with your child.

· Create a child-centered parenting plan that addresses your child-related issues and concerns.

· Have an ongoing resource as an alternative to court.

A child specialist helps your child by:

· Giving the child a chance to express feelings, thoughts and concerns about what is happening.

· Encouraging the child to feel safe and supported throughout the separation.

· Providing a number of different ways to manage stress and emotions during the separation period.

· Giving an avenue to feel heard by you as parents through the child specialist—“voice not a choice”.

If you have questions about child specialist services or would like to discuss your options regarding separation or divorce related processes, please contact Casey Holtz, Ph.D. (414) 810-7647 or the Family Mediation Center (414) 939-6707.

Link to sample parenting guide:

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/family-divorce/co-parenting-tips-for-divorced-parents.htm?pdf=true

Estate Planning During and After Divorce

Attorney Stephen A. Lasky
Moertl, Wilkins & Campbell, S.C.

Divorce can impact nearly every facet of your life. With so many important and challenging issues to address both during and after a divorce, it comes as no surprise that updating your estate plan can seem like one of those tasks that can wait until the divorce is complete and life begins to stabilize. However, if you become incapacitated or pass away during or subsequent to a divorce proceeding and you do not have an appropriate estate plan, events may unfold in a manner very different than what you would wish or intend. This can leave a legacy of conflict rather than a smooth implementation process.

As an initial matter, it is important for you (and all adults) to execute both financial and health care power of attorney documents. These documents ensure that, if you develop an incapacity, the person or persons you have appointed to act as your agent(s) can step in to make financial and health care decisions on your behalf. Married individuals most commonly appoint or nominate their spouse to serve as their agent (depending on their own family circumstances, they may also appoint a relative of their spouse to serve as a backup agent in the event their spouse cannot act).

If you are in the process of divorce, or if you have completed a divorce, it is unlikely that you want your ex-spouse (or soon to be ex-spouse) and/or his or her family members to act as your agent under a power of attorney document. While it is possible that the appointment of these individuals will be revoked by operation of law, this creates undesirable uncertainty and complication. Further, if you have no one else (i.e. other than your ex-spouse) appointed under your power of attorney documents to act as agent, a guardianship court proceeding may be necessary to have a judge appoint a decision-maker in the event of your incapacity. Therefore, as soon as you make the difficult decision to commence divorce proceedings it is very important that you execute new financial and health care power of attorney documents that nominate agent(s) of your choosing who are appropriate to your new circumstances.

Creating a new estate plan is also very important. As you may be aware, Wisconsin is a marital property state. Amongst other things, this means that there are rules in the statutes that govern issues such as whether and to what extent a Will or other testamentary document (such as a trust or a beneficiary designation on a life insurance policy or retirement account) executed prior to divorce remains valid during and after the divorce is concluded. The application of these rules vary by circumstance (such as whether you have children with your now ex-spouse or whether you subsequently remarried following your divorce), and it can be difficult to determine the application of these rules to your specific situation without the assistance of an attorney.

Further, the terms of your divorce judgment or marital property settlement may impose upon you certain restrictions or obligations with regards to the disposition of some or all or your assets in the event of your death. For example, it is not uncommon for the terms of a divorce agreement to require one or both spouses to maintain a certain amount of life insurance coverage on their lives and to designate one or more specific individuals (such as the couple’s child or children) as the beneficiaries on any such insurance. If you attempt to alter your estate plan in a way that might violate your obligations under the terms of the divorce agreement, your ex-spouse may be able to invalidate any such change following your death, thereby frustrating your testamentary wishes.

For these reasons, it is very important that you sit down with a qualified estate planning attorney both during and subsequent to your divorce to make sure that your plan is both enforceable and accurately reflects your current wishes in light of the totality of your circumstances. As your life continues to change and evolve following a divorce (for example, if you or your ex-spouse remarry), it will be important for you to revisit your estate plan with your attorney to make sure that, in the unfortunate event of your passing, your wishes will nonetheless be carried out and your loved ones will be taken care of in the manner in which you intend.

Attorney Stephen A. Lasky is a partner at the law firm of Moertl, Wilkins & Campbell, S.C. where he focuses on providing his clients with cost effective and personalized legal services in the areas of estate planning, probate and trust administration, elder law and closely held business matters. Stephen is honored to have been recognized as one of Milwaukee’s best estate planning attorneys by receiving both the Five Star estate planning attorney award and the SuperLawyers Rising Star award in multiple years. For information about Moertl, Wilkins & Campbell, S.C. please visit www.lawmwc.com or contact Stephen at 414-276-4366 or slasky@lawmwc.com.

Divorce Impacts Businesses as well as Families

There are daily articles and online posts about the impact of divorce on families. Divorce, particularly high conflict divorce, can also impact businesses. Here are five common ways that a business can be affected when an employee is going through a divorce:

Reduced focus and productivity. The emotional toll of divorce can distract employees and contribute to less focus and attention and increased errors.

Missed work. The emotional trauma can impact health and increase absenteeism. The time demands of the legal process, as well as potential increased demands for child care when parents separate, can cause increased tardiness and absenteeism.

Legal discovery. When divorces are high conflict, formal demands for extensive document production can be directed at the employer. In some cases, management or business owners are even compelled to testify regarding payroll, benefits and personnel issues.

Payroll, benefits, and tax issues. Divorce impacts benefits, insurance coverage, payroll deductions, and potential child support or spousal maintenance income assignments.

Business valuation disputes. If one of the spouses has an ownership interest in the business, there may be demands from lawyers or hired experts for appraisals, accounting records, or other business internal documents to support legal claims.

The common thread in each of these business disruptions is not the divorce itself, but the conflict inherent in litigation. These negative impacts on businesses can be minimized if spouses choose processes such as mediation or collaborative divorce which are designed to minimize conflict. Business owners should be aware of these options to help employees make positive choices and lessen the cost of divorce for their employees and their business.

Tis the Season: Managing Holidays and Parent Separation

By: Casey A. Holtz, Ph.D.

Separation and divorce is often stressful for parents and learning how to adjust to new routines and traditions can be especially challenging. Further, parents commonly struggle to figure out how to share their children’s time between households and the emotions tied to many family holidays further exacerbate challenges with already difficult decisions. Many parents aim to focus on their children during the holidays but also notice traditions and holiday time matter very much to them as adults as well.

Here are a few tips as you look forward to the holidays.

  1. Try to keep things simple for the children. Keep transitions easy and conflict low.
  2. Discuss the holiday schedule well ahead of time. Any disagreements need to be settled in advance so both parents can communicate to the children how they will spend their holiday with confidence and contentment.
  3. Continue family traditions if possible. Although this holiday season may feel very different from previous years, children find comfort in tradition. Baking together, watching movies, gathering with extended family, and certain traditional outings can provide stability amidst change for your children.
  4. Can you manage shared time during holidays? Children will often appreciate this effort and it can pay dividends in the children understanding their family remains relatively intact regardless of separation. If parents are unable to manage joint time without arguments, conflict, or significant awkward behavior, it may be preferable to learn how to establish new and separate holiday traditions.
  5. Separate time during holidays? Children will appreciate the opportunity to celebrate with important people in their lives. There are numerous ways to decide how to split holiday time. It is also important each parent inform the children of the importance of spending time with the other parent and to avoid sending messages of guilt.
  6. Find something to do when not with the children. It is easier to help the children you are ok when they are with the other parent if you are engaged in things you enjoy. If doing something very fun, try to avoid making the children feel as though they are “missing out” on something important when with the other parent.
  7. Try your best to be fair to your children. Understand the holidays may be difficult for them too. They may not know how to act without some help from you. They will want to know it is good for them to enjoy their time with both parents.

Houses Divided: inheriting property with your siblings

The March 2016 AARP Bulletin contains an article called “Inheriting Trouble”:

Inheriting Trouble: For some families, inheriting a house is a harmonious affair. Unfortunately, “we’re seeing disputes a lot more often,” notes New York elder-law attorney Bernard Krooks. “It’s just awful.” The sluggish economy also plays a role, as some financially strapped siblings seek to cash out of a longtime investment. Inevitably, there are arguments over the value of the house and payout terms. Estate planners say the best way to avoid disputes is to have a family discussion while the parents are still alive, to explore everyone’s expectations and desires. The article details the troubles with estate planning and ways to avoid them.

When it comes to the recommended “family discussion”  do families think of mediation?  They should.  The mediation process makes it possible to agree on the kind of specific terms that make shared family properties work over the long haul.  Why?  Mediation promotes interests rather than entrenched positions.  Molly wants her children to be able to use the Lakehouse in October, because Fall is her favorite time of year and she wants to pass a legacy of memory on to her kids.  Her brother Jerry, learning this, is far more agreeable to trading with her for using the house in June, since he cares more about using the boat for fishing when the crappies come in.  Plus-  the summer expenses of operating the cabin are less, and Jerry can afford that better while he looks for another job.  Mom and Dad simply assumed that it would be better for them to divide all the time equally among the kids, and now they understand why Molly and Jerry’s needs are different.

Getting to interests required a trained mediator or meeting facilitator to help people ‘Get to Yes,”  as the famous negotiation handbook by Ury and Fisher says.  Trained mediators can expedite these family conversations, manage emotion, and bring out the best in parties toward the goal of shared values and specific interests.  Families come out stronger, communicating better, and looking forward to more years Up North enjoying the things that they value most: nature, sharing meals, good memories, simple down-time with family, and holding hope for the future.

Rachel Monaco-Wilcox is an Attorney and Mediator who specializes in Elder Mediation.  She is a frequent public speaker, advocate, and policy analyst regarding issues of the aging.  Rachel is also Chair  and Assistant Professor of Justice at Mount Mary University.

Is 50/50 Placement a Reality?

Many parents begin mediation stating, “I want 50-50 placement of my children. That is my right as a parent.” As a mediator, I must tell them that there is no such right in Wisconsin law. The law on placement, section 767.41 of the Wisconsin statutes, provides that the court must set a placement schedule that, “allows the child to have regularly occurring, meaningful periods of placement with each parent and that maximizes the amount of time the child may spend with each parent.” The statute provides a list of factors that the court must consider in each case when determining an appropriate placement schedule. The focus of the law, and hopefully of both parents, is the best interests of the children.

Equal placement in various blocks of time is an option to consider, though there may be other schedules that would also achieve the goal of regularly occurring, meaningful periods of placement with Mom and Dad. After considering individual family circumstances, judges, lawyers and mental health professionals have defined shared placement to include many schedules other than 50-50 as being in the children’s best interests. Based upon work schedules, geographical separation, parent-child relationships, individual needs of children, ability of parents to communicate and work together and a host of other factors, many cases end with a placement schedule that does not necessarily carve children’s placement time in half. Child specialists are a valuable resource to give children a voice and help parents understand and focus on the needs of their children.

Determining a schedule that meets the best interests of the children is what Wisconsin law requires, and that can be a challenge. There is no one size fits all. Dividing time in a mathematically equal way may or may not be the answer.

As a lawyer-mediator, I urge parents to focus on creating a placement schedule that serves the best interests of the children while fulfilling the goal of allowing the children meaningful time and a healthy relationship with each parent.

Attorney Judith O’Connell, Peterson, Johnson & Murray

Judy O’Connell is a family law attorney in private practice with Peterson, Johnson & Murray, S.C. She is also a lawyer-mediator with Family Mediation Center and with the Milwaukee County Family Court Services.

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Top 10 Financial Mistakes You Cannot Afford to Make in Divorce

1. Failure to obtain professional input at the outset and consider settlement divorce options such as Mediation and Collaborative Divorce.  Often the most important decision is deciding on a process for divorce.  Options such as Mediation and Collaborative divorce often involve neutral specialists to help you make informed decisions, provide creative options that save you money, and help you avoid costly mistakes.  Mediation and Collaborative divorce can provide a more efficient use of your time and money.

2.  Discussing financial issues one at a time, rather than as part of the overall bigger picture.  You increase the potential for conflict, and you may overlook creative options.

3. Looking only at now, not the long term impact of financial settlement options.  Ignoring how your settlement may look 5 or 10 years from now can leave you with an unlivable situation.  Assets may seem equal in value at the time of divorce but may increase or decrease as time goes one.  Understanding how your assets and income work for you now and in the future is an important part of the overall settlement.

4.  Not taking into account the tax implications of support, maintenance and property division agreements. You need to understand the effect taxes have on your agreement. 

5.  Not getting full financial information on all assets, including retirement accounts/pension values and options for division and distribution as well as current and future tax effect. You don’t know you have a problem until it’s too late.  It’s important to get accurate information about your assets and income. 

6.  Failing to secure child support or spousal support with life insurance.  The death of a payee spouse can have a significant effect on a family. 

7.  Trying to retain a home you cannot afford.

8.  Not understanding potential liability for marital debts.

 9. Underestimating your future expenses, including allocation of children’s expenses.

10. Overlooking a Qualified Domestic Relations Order to divide retirement benefits, transferring titles, refinancing loans and other implementation steps.

**When you’re in the midst of a divorce, it is easy to get caught up in emotions and the desire to be done.  Poorly informed financial decisions may cause problems long into the future—don’t just get it done, get it done right!  Consult with a neutral professional at www.familymediationcenter.org to understand your options.

Grant Zielinski

Grant G. Zielinski is a certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA) at Divorce Financial Solutions, LLC in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Grant works as a neutral financial specialist in collaborative and mediation cases to educate clients on financial matters such as tax issues, maintenance, child support, and property division incident to divorce.

 

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Transitioning from Spouses to Co-Parents

Divorce can be an extremely difficult and painful process. If you have children, one of the greatest challenges is to both separate and co-parent. The most important aspect of your relationship with your ex-spouse, your co-parenting relationship, needs to remain intact and, in fact, be strengthened.

Research has shown that the single most important factor in healthy post-divorce adjustment in children is low conflict between the parents. Therefore, when transitioning from spouses to co-parents, ensuring the well-being and future happiness of your children is crucial.

As a child specialist, I help many couples make the transition and restructure their post-divorce relationship for the sake of their children. I urge all couples to consider working with a child specialist to help them be the best co-parents possible for the sake of their children. Here are some insights from my work with families that I want to share.

Moving from a marital relationship to a co-parenting relationship is a process that takes time and encompasses several steps. The first is to grieve the loss of the marriage and the “nuclear” family. This is a process that often moves in a stop and start manner as various events occur and you experience living without your ex-spouse, and begin to re-define your life with your children.

Another step that needs to be addressed is to accept that there may not be a full resolution of the pain, anger and resentment that led to separation. All the issues that came up in the marriage that the two of you argued about and never resolved will not likely be resolved as you go through divorce. All of the patterns, behaviors and resentments that led to the end of the marriage do not simply end with divorce. This is a reality you must accept in order to begin building a healthy co-parenting relationship in which you will not attempt to pursue resolution of these old issues. You must recognize familiar impulses to engage in old conflict and then resist these impulses, as they will inevitably come up. You must both work at creating new patterns of communication and decision-making to be successful parenting partners.

Finally, you must understand that your emotional needs will not be met by your ex-spouse and should not be met by your children. Your children, even if they are adults, should not become your emotional caretakers. You have to find ways to get your emotional needs met in other activities and people, including individual counseling if needed to help you with the transition, so you can manage the business of co-parenting and be the best parent possible for your children. If you can manage to clear away residual issues in your own mind and do the work necessary to eliminate unconscious underlying expectations leftover from your marriage, you can begin to build a very healthy and effective co-parenting relationship with your ex-spouse. Because in the end, no one loves your children more than your ex-spouse, the other parent. Who better to partner with to guide their development and usher them to adulthood?

Sue Schramka

Sue Schramka is a psychologist Cornerstone Counseling Services.  She provides treatment for children, adolescents and adults. Her special interests include treating anxiety and mood disorders, divorce adjustment issues, interpersonal difficulties and stress management.

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Top 5 Reasons to Mediate at FMC

Divorce is difficult, but you can choose whether or not it is destructive. In Southeastern Wisconsin, more and more couples are choosing to resolve their family issues via mediation with the Family Mediation Center (FMC). In mediation, the couple jointly retains a neutral lawyer mediator who functions as an educator and guide to help them make informed decisions and efficiently navigate the legal process. Check out these top 5 reasons a couple considering separation or divorce should choose FMC mediation:

1. PRIVACY

Rather than addressing relationship issues through a legal conflict in a public courthouse, couples using mediation resolve all issues through confidential discussions in a private conference room. This is important for anyone who is concerned about the public release of personal details and especially for parents, business owners and professionals.

2. RESPECT

By its very nature, cases that go through the court system are adversarial. It pits husband versus wife, mother versus father, as each side tries to prove to a judge that he or she is a better parent or deserves more (or less) money. In contrast, mediation is a method of conflict resolution in which the mediator helps the parties attack the problem rather than each other. The mediator helps foster an atmosphere of respect and dignity within the negotiation process.

3. EFFICIENCY

Over 95% of all divorce cases end with an agreement, whether soon after filing a petition for divorce or after the parties have spent many thousands of dollars and more than a year in and out of court. The key question is the process you choose to reach an agreement. The efficiency and cost savings of a joint process is an enormous advantage for divorcing couples who have the ability to work together.

4. INTERDISCIPLINARY

Divorce is not just a legal process; it is also an emotional and financial process. At FMC, couples work with a lawyer mediator and may involve a child and/or financial specialist as needed. The child specialist helps clients focus on what is most important to them (i.e., their children) and gives the children a voice in the process. The financial specialist can expand value (e.g., determining the most tax advantageous options and maintaining business profitability) and helps ensure financial transparency and informed decision-making.

5. CREATIVITY

When a judge makes a ruling, he or she is bound to rule within certain parameters of the law. In FMC mediation, the parties may create their own agreements that are much broader, so long as they are mutually acceptable and livable for them and do not violate public policy. Any couples who want a family-tailored result rather than a court-imposed decision are best served by the creativity available within the mediation process.

If you have questions about how mediation can benefit your family, contact the Family Mediation Center to schedule a consultation with a lawyer mediator at (414) 939-6707 or visit our website at www.familymediationcenter.com and fill out the contact form.

Greg Hildebrand represents individuals in all matters affecting the family including divorce, child custody and placement matters, as well as paternity, adoption, guardianship and estate planning. He is also a trained and experienced mediator and assists parents and couples in resolving child-related and financial issues privately and without court involvement.

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Tax Tips for the Newly Divorced

Preparing tax returns for the year of divorce can be challenging.  Professional help and consistent filing with your ex-spouse is key to avoiding IRS issues.  In order to navigate preparation of your 2015 tax returns, start by reviewing your marital settlement agreement (MSA) and consider these tax tips for the newly divorced:

1. Filing status – if you were divorced as of December 31, your options are to file as single or head of household; filing jointly is not an option. 

2. Did you sign an Income Reclassification Agreement?  If so, you will report your separate income, deductions and withholdings for the year.  If not, you will need to allocate marital income, deductions and withholdings between you and your former spouse from January 1st through the date of divorce.

3. Dependent exemption – if you have minor children, your MSA should indicate which parent is claiming which children.  If your agreement does not specify, you need to address this with your former spouse to avoid both claiming the same child.  Use form 8332.

4. Check with your attorney to see if any of the legal fees you paid are tax deductible.

5. If you use flexible spending accounts, make sure you qualify for the child care credit or other pre-tax items which are tied to the dependents you are allocated per your MSA.

6. Make sure you know the tax cost basis in the assets allocated to you as part of your divorce settlement.

7.  Be certain you understand the tax impact of payments you are receiving or paying, including maintenance/alimony, to assure proper estimated payments and reporting.

8. Use a CPA who has experience and expertise in divorce tax issues.

Finally, start gathering your tax information early!  You can avoid issues with proper preparation and a knowledgeable tax preparer.

Gaylene A Stingl, MST, CPA, CVA

Gaylene is a principal with Blau-Himmel LLC, providing tax, business valuation and litigation support services.  Gaylene has worked with divorcing couples for over 20 years, providing cost effective, creative solutions to individuals and transitioning families.

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