Talking Turkey: Creating Happy Holidays for Children in a Divorce

Posted by: Gerald A. Maggio, Esq.

Divorce attorneys Orange County; The Maggio Law FirmThe holiday season is almost here.  And for parents who are divorcing or who are newly divorced, the prospect can be terrifying.

Many parents in this position wonder how they can possibly spend part of all of a holiday away from their children.  For most, it is a painful idea.

But for the kids, the holidays don’t have to be painful and sad.  With some planning and some dedication on the parts of both parents, the holidays can still be an opportunity for kids to create happy and fun memories while surrounded by family and love.

Use a mediator to collaborate on a child-focused holiday plan

Whether you are just beginning the divorce process, or have been divorced for many years, it is never too late to work with a mediator on a better holiday plan.

A child-focused holiday plan maximizes the child’s meaningful time with family and sets the stage for new traditions.  In addition, child-focused holiday planning puts special focus on creating calm and healthy transitions.

Get ready to provide a positive outlook

Your children may be especially anxious about the first holiday after the divorce, and they will take their emotional cues from you.  Listen with empathy, let them know that their feelings are valid, and reassure them that the holidays will still be special.

Involving children with planning new traditions or activities may help them regain a sense of control and excitement about the holidays.

Make a plan for yourself

Make a plan for the transitions and time away from your children.  You may want to ask a friend or family member for help.  Individual moments can be easier or harder than you expect – the best policy is to be prepared.  Planning in advance will help ease your anxiety and day-of emotions, creating a better experience for your kids.

Once the holidays are over, consider communicating with your co-parent about how it went.  If both of you are united in the goal to create a happy holiday for your child, then you may be able to email or talk about how the holiday went for your child and what can be done next time to make it better.

Mediation vs. Do-It-Yourself Divorce

Posted by: Gerald A. Maggio, Esq.

Divorce mediation Orange County; California Divorce MediatorsThere’s nothing to mediate, so we don’t need a mediator.  This is the thought of a large number of couples who want to avoid unnecessary cost when the divorce is reasonably amicable.

For a couple who isn’t arguing, the idea of do-it-yourself divorce sounds excellent.  Download some forms, fill them out, pay the filing fees, and it’s done.

Unfortunately, do-it-yourself divorce has a different reality.  Paperwork gets held up.  Filings get rejected.  Spouses spend a lot of time in county offices and in court trying to fix mistakes.  In fact, many California counties have had to create special programs just to deal with the many do-it-yourself divorce couples that get hopelessly lost in the system for years.

For many who have started down this path, the only way out of the quagmire is to pay for an attorney, which is what they were trying to avoid in the first place.

And there is another hazard of the do-it-yourself divorce.  The do-it-yourself divorce does not offer individuals the opportunity to hear what they are entitled to, and to get a professional view of the implications of their decisions.  The results can be devastating, from unanticipated tax implications to heartbreaking custody issues.

Couples who engage in mediation can complete the divorce more quickly, with the peace of mind that comes from knowing that all issues have been professionally examined and professionally handled.

In California, the minimum legal amount of time for finalizing any divorce is six months.  For many couples, especially those who are divorcing amicably, this is ample time to complete the mediation process and ensure that all issues are fully discussed and understood.

The rise of the divorce mediation process is a boon to couples who are looking for a quick and inexpensive divorce.  It is true, at the outset mediation – while reasonable – seems to cost more than D.I.Y. divorce.  But the truth is that it often costs less, while saving enormous amounts of time and headaches.

Expert tips for telling your children about your divorce

Posted by: Gerald Maggio

8268252_mlTelling your children about a divorce will always be difficult. But the conversation also provides an opportunity for parents: the first chance to practice co-parenting together in the face of the split.

In order to achieve the best outcome, we suggest that both parents independently consult expert resources on telling kids about divorce. These resources may include family therapists, individual counselors and books. Then, the spouses can have an informed conversation with one another, using the ideas found to formulate a plan for the conversation with their children.

Here are a few basic ideas to get the conversation going.

1. Give some thought to the setting.
In Psychology Today, Dr. Kevin Arnold, Ph.D, points out that most children will remember the moment that they learn of the divorce for a long time. Arnold suggests thinking carefully about the where and the when of telling kids about the divorce.

2. Stick to a simple message.
The American Association of Pediatrics suggests that messy details may encourage children to feel that they can or should become involved in fixing the problem. Choose a few simple sentences to announce the divorce, reassuring children that it is not their fault and reinforcing the fact that they are still completely loved.

3. Consider having several talks.
Like adults, children need time to process information. Shirley Thomas and Dr. Robi Ludwig, Psy.D., authors of a co-parenting book, suggest planning a few short conversations instead of one long conversation.

The focus of the conversations will differ depending on the age of your children. We suggest that parents consider what types of information are appropriate at what age, and what concerns children of different ages are likely to have.

Older children and children with friends who have divorced parents may be especially concerned about the process of divorce. An agreement to use divorce mediation allows parents to truthfully reassure children that the divorce process will be handled as calmly and as cooperatively as possible.

How to get a reluctant spouse to try mediation

Posted by: Gerald Maggio

14619487_mlSometimes, both partners in a divorcing couple agree that divorce mediation is the right choice. After all, it saves money, time and sanity.

But many times, one of the two spouses will resist mediation. It may be that the reluctant spouse is resisting the divorce in general. Or, one of the spouses may be highly emotional and feel like hiring a lawyer in order to create pain and difficulty for the other spouse.

The trouble with this last is that by the end of the long and expensive litigated divorce process, both parties will be feeling that pain and difficulty.

Here are a few steps that anyone can take to encourage a reluctant spouse to try mediation.

1. Give your spouse some time to digest the idea.
Often, the announcement that you want to try mediation is the first time that the divorce becomes real for your spouse. This can be true even if your spouse initiated the split. If your first attempt is met with rejection, give your spouse some time and space. Calmly try again later.

2. Provide some objective information.
Your spouse is more likely to agree to mediation if he or she feels that it is a choice, not a mandate. Gather basic information from several local mediators. Contact several lawyers and ask about retainer fees and the cost of litigated divorce. Talk to any friends who have been through litigated divorce or mediated divorce, and ask them about the cost and the duration of the process. The facts will speak for themselves. Mediation will seem less like your agenda and more like the logical choice.

3. Focus on the kids.
Numerous available resources explain the toll that litigated divorce can take on children. Your spouse may be angry and upset with you, but it is unlikely that he or she is mad at your children as well. By explaining the benefits of mediated divorce for your children, you may be able to shift your spouse’s attention away from his or her own emotions and toward the long-term realities of his or her choices.

Mediators can often provide extra resources and help for dealing with a reluctant spouse. Contact a divorce mediator to discuss the issues you are having. Find out if the mediator has information packets, seminars or other information that can help your spouse give mediation some objective consideration.

The 5 Stages of Divorce Mediation in California

Posted by: Gerald A. Maggio, Esq.

Divorce Mediators Orange County; California Divorce MediatorsWhat is all the hype surrounding divorce mediation and why should you consider it? The reason divorce mediation is encouraged because it doesn’t create animosity between the divorcing partners. What happens during divorce mediation?  Just refer to the five stages mentioned here and you will get an idea of what happens during divorce mediation:

First Stage: Introductory

The mediator will familiarize you with the process and so you should come with a list of questions in mind to ask. Discuss all the issues that you want resolved. If an issue needs more attention than others, convey that to the mediator. Moreover, the mediator will suggest different ways to optimize effective communication.

Second Stage:  Information-Gathering

Your first session may have brought up many different issues such as finances, children, debts, and loans, among others. If you haven’t brought the documents with you in the first meeting (it’s better to bring them in the first stage), the mediator will tell you to bring them when you visit again. During the second stage, finances are discussed, documents reviewed, and suggestions thrown around. Since division of assets is a critical issue, two or more meetings could be required to come to an agreement.

Third Stage:  Framing The Issues

The divorce mediator will ask the partners to write down reasons of what they want to see in the agreement. Their outline will consist of reasons such as concerns, goals, values, priorities, needs, and interests. After both parties have created the outline, they will discuss it between each other to see if they can come to a resolution. In order for this to be successful, don’t write off the suggestions that your partner gives, but listen to them even if what they are saying doesn’t sit well with you. Most importantly, keep in mind that in order for your partner to consider your interests, compromising on some is necessary. When you cooperate, they may as well.

Fourth Stage:  Negotiating The Issues

With the assistance of the mediator, partners will come up with a few options to solve the issue. They will evaluate each option to determine which one works better. At this stage, the partners will negotiate with each other until they can see eye to eye on a resolution. Towards the end of this stage, the options are decided.

Fifth Stage:  Written Agreement

The mediator will send a draft of the settlement agreement to both spouses to view. If both spouses agree, the mediator will write up the final version of the settlement agreement, which the mediator can submit to the court for filing.  As a precaution, it’s advised to have a lawyer review the agreement before submitting it to the court.  Sometimes, your mediator is a lawyer, but it is important to note that they are not representing either party as a legal advocate in that situation.

5 Things Every Person Should Know About Divorce and Taxes

Posted by: Gerald A. Maggio, Esq.

Divorce mediators Orange County; California Divorce MediatorsDid you just get a divorce? If your divorce was finalized a few months back, the headache of filing for taxes may have already fallen upon you. New divorcees will get to experience all of it for the first time, i.e. filing tax returns and dealing with new tax issues.  Here are five things to know to reduce the anxiety that comes with filing taxes:

1.     Figure Out Your Filing Status

Determine the date the judge finalized the divorce. If your divorce was finalized by midnight on December 31st, you will generally have to file your tax returns separately.  If your divorce judgment was entered after January 1st, you have the option of filing “married filing jointly” (if your spouse is agreeable and it makes sense to do so) or “married filing separately.”  If you share custody of your children, you will generally get to claim head of the household status.

2.     Child Support Payments vs. Spousal Support Payments

It is very important to know that people who pay alimony are entitled to write those payments off as a tax deduction, and those receiving spousal support must claim it as “income” on their tax returns.  Therefore, both parties should plan their tax obligations accordingly.  On the other hand, those paying child support cannot claim such payments on their taxes as a deduction, and those receiving child support do not need to report such payments on their tax returns.

3.     Determine Who Gets the Child Exemptions

During divorce proceedings, you and your partner can decide on who gets qualified to claim the child/children as tax exemptions. If you have joint custody (i.e. 50% each), then generally you should agree to alternate the right to claim the tax exemption each year.  Otherwise, the party who has over 50% custody gets to claim the child as a tax exemption pursuant to the IRS Code.

4.     Change Your Withholding on the W-4 Form

You can claim extra tax exemption on your W-4 form through your employer to offset the tax deduction for spousal support payments you are making, leaving you with more net income each month.  On the other hand, people who receive alimony payments can ask their employer to withhold additional taxes from their paycheck to cover their new tax liability.

5.     Review the Legal Fees

If you filed for divorce using the litigation method, you might have significant legal fees incurred.   Unfortunately, most legal fees are not tax-deductible, but fees that you paid for advice regarding taxes are.

The Basics of California Divorce Mediation

Posted by: Gerald A. Maggio, Esq.

Divorce mediation Orange County; California Divorce MediatorsDivorce mediation is a popular method used by divorcing partners to settle their differences amicably. The proceedings involve a mediator who sits down with the two parties to discuss and solve issues. A mediator isn’t supposed to support one party over the other.  The mediator is neutral and impartial.

What role does a mediator play then? They are more like facilitators helping you and your partner come up with a settlement agreement. To help you understand what mediation is exactly, read on.

Can Anyone Use Mediation?

Mostly everyone can use mediation to dissolve his or her marriage, except for those who are victims of physical or emotional abuse. If you aren’t a victim of extreme circumstances, you should contact a mediator if you want to avoid a messy divorce. If you are still unsure about mediation, you should know that this method has many benefits.

What are the Benefits of Mediation?

Divorce mediation can provide you and your partner with numerous benefits such as these:

  1. It’s cheaper than litigation
  2. Both parties, together, decide what goes into the settlement agreement
  3. Mediation is confidential, no record is kept of the sessions
  4. It’s a collaboration between both parties so both parties leave satisfied
  5. Both parties can still visit a lawyer for additional advice
  6. Instead of the court controlling the process, both of you control it
  7. Mediation improves communication between the two of you, which helps you avoid conflicts in the future

In addition, it’s important that they compromise and not stay rigid when deciding on a solution to resolve an issue. Also, remember that mediation will only be successful if both partners are equally willing to put their differences aside and discuss issues.

Tips to Make Your Mediation Sessions a Success

If your partner has suggested that you both should try mediation, don’t brush the suggestion off. Instead, research on what it is or talk to a mediator to find out more. Most sites will tell you that divorce mediation is a powerful process that actually works and they are right.

However, the process won’t work if you visit the mediator with a negative mindset to attack every suggestion your partner gives you. Use this time to discuss everything that’s on your mind such as property disputes, child support and child custody, among others. Hence, if you are seriously considering this option, follow these tips to make your sessions a success:

  1. Involve yourself in the discussion
  2. Don’t hold back, voice your concerns
  3. Compromise on certain issues
  4. Remember that the primary goal is to resolve issues, not create more
  5. Keep your tone pleasant
  6. Don’t lash out at your partner
  7. Be patient and listen

What are the Benefits of Divorce Mediation in Child Custody Cases?

Posted by: Gerald A. Maggio, Esq.

Top Divorce mediators in Orange County; California Divorce MediatorsThink about your children when you are in the midst of divorce proceedings. If you have children, they should be your primary concern. They are young and impressionable and may not handle divorce well. You don’t want to see them in tears, hurt, or act out in school or at home. If you both continue to argue in front of them, children are more likely to lash out at you, their siblings, teachers, or friends. When it comes to taking custody of the kids, their behavior may get worse. What can you do ease the situation? You can choose divorce mediation to settle your differences like mature adults, if not for you, then for the sake of your kids. Here is how choosing divorce mediation will help:

1.    Divorce Mediation is best for Your Kids

Divorce mediation lets you and your partner focus on the well-being of the kids rather than deciding who the better parent is. Fighting over your children in court or when around them is not going to help them. Day to day, your kids are going to be affected by the on-going situation developing between you and your partner. Divorce mediation will help bring closure to your children, as it will help develop a parenting plan that you both decided together during your sessions.

2.    Divorce Mediation is a Neutral Process

The mediator doesn’t pick sides when deciding on custody. The mediator is there just to listen and assist the parties in coming to agreement.  After hearing both of your arguments and solutions, the mediator along with you and your spouse will assist you and work out a solution.

3.    No One is Blamed

Divorce mediation doesn’t put the blame on one party, as in order for mediation to even work, both partners have to work with each other. Instead of assigning blame, you both will be saying what you both think is the right choice for your kids.

4.    Divorce Mediation Focuses on Your Children’s Future

As parents, you both deeply care for your children and wouldn’t want anything to harm them. The only way you would do that would be to create a friendly relationship with each other.  Only then are you able to create a stable and loving environment for your children to grow up in.

5.    Divorce Mediation Decreases Stress

Divorce for both spouses and a child is a stressful time. Divorce mediation works to reduce that stress by providing you with the proper tools to come to a resolution. Your children will be happy to see their parents going about the divorce with a clear head and less stress.

How is Child Support Determined in California?

Posted by: Gerald A. Maggio, Esq.

Orange county divorce mediation; California Divorce MediatorsChild support is ordered by the judge granting one partner the right to receive money from the other.  The partner who has more custodial time of the child(ren) usually seeks child support. However, child support laws differ from state to state so the divorcing parties need to ask their attorney about what the laws are in their state. If you live in California, then you need to have some understanding of the law.

Child Support Laws in California

Judges have to follow specific guidelines when deciding how much child support one party has to pay. They consider these factors when deciding on the amount payable:

  • Gross income of each parent
  • Number of kids
  • Percentage of time each parent spends with the kids
  • Where one party is paying mortgage interest and property taxes on a property
  • The medical insurance premiums paid each month and by whom
  • Whether one party is in a union and pays union dues and mandatory retirement each month

Courts use a computer program, such as Dissomaster or Xspouse, which are based on the California formula for child support to calculate monthly child support payments.

Determining Income

Each partner provides the court with their gross income, which the court uses to determine the gross annual income and divides it by 12 to get the monthly amount.  For your knowledge, gross income can consist of:

  • W-2 income (salary and bonuses/commissions)
  • Rental income
  • Interest
  • Pensions
  • Social Security benefits
  • Disability Insurance benefits
  • Workers Compensation benefits
  • Unemployment Insurance Benefits
  • Investment income
  • Trust income
  • Royalties
  • Dividends
  • Income from Owned Business(es)

What Actions does the Court Take if the Partner is Unemployed?

Some people may quit their job to show the court that they are unable to provide the ordered child support payments. If this scenario comes to the court’s attention, it will consider the amount the partner was earning prior to quitting their job and otherwise is able to earn and calculate child support using that. Before ordering that, the unemployed partner will have to provide the court with proof stating that there are available jobs that he/she is qualified to apply.

Determining Timeshare

The court looks at what the regular weekly custodial schedule is, along with the annual holiday and vacation schedule to determine the percentage of custodial timeshare for each parent.  The most accurate way to determine such percentages is to break down each party’s custodial time into hours and then divide by the number of hours in one year (8,760).

You should always consult with an experienced divorce mediator or attorney to fully understand what child support you can expect to pay or receive.

Considering Divorce Mediation When Finances are not Your Strong Suit

Posted by: Gerald Maggio

20847599_mlIt can be uncomfortable knowing that the spouse you are divorcing is better-informed about family finances or more financially savvy than you. Frequently, less-savvy spouses feel that they must hire an independent attorney to litigate the divorce in order to get a fair settlement. Unfortunately, the amount of that settlement is often significantly reduced or totally wiped out by the attorney’s fees that pile up during litigation.

Fortunately, less costly options exist for those who would like to save money and time by using mediation, but who also need help in assuring that they can get a fair financial agreement.

One option is to hire a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA). A CDFA can help a divorcing party gain a clear understanding of present, short-term and long-term financial issues. Hiring a CDFA early in the process can help individuals feel more confident throughout the negotiation process.

Those who want to proceed without hiring a CDFA may find a simple discussion of concerns with the mediator to be highly effective. Divorce mediators are trained to handle highly complex financial situations and to explain those situations fully to divorcing parties. 

A good divorce mediator will not move forward with an agreement if he or she feels that both parties do not understand it fully. Alerting the mediator to a lack of financial knowledge is often all that is needed to ensure that all financial issues will be explained, explored and fairly settled.