Okay, I hope you all can hear me. We are having some technical difficulties here, and I apologize for that. Zoom is different from the user-friendly program they make itself out to be. But with that in mind, I am going to get started. And again, if I have anybody cut off from here, I sincerely apologize, but I want to respect everybody’s time. Unfortunately, at the moment, my co-participant, Andres Montes De Oca, is having some trouble signing on, and that’s where the delay came in here. I’m hoping he can get onto this presentation, but if I still need to, I have the recorded version from this morning. So, for those of you who are listening in, I will get that information to you. I can send you that video link if we cannot connect him live to this presentation.
But anyway, welcome to Successful Divorce Strategies for Smart Women. And I am Lori Barkus. I am curious to know if my video is showing. It doesn’t appear to be, and I don’t know why that is. But in any event, I will get started on this presentation. And the place where we start with this is we start with you because generally, when it comes to women in divorce, or generally women in any family situation, we tend to put everybody ahead of ourselves. Women tend to think about their children; they also think about their families, what their families will think, and what their families will say. A lot of times, they also think about their spouse. And all of these things are undoubtedly important, but it’s far more essential to go through this process so that you can focus on yourself. As you probably already know, and as we’ll discuss, this is a complicated process.
Divorce is one of the hardest things that you can go through in your life. And if you are not well-resourced or taking care of yourself, you will not be able to handle the process or help anybody else successfully.
Continuing and talking about kids, and I don’t know how many of you have children, how many of you don’t. But for those who do, it is generally at the forefront of your mind; how will my kids do? Is this going to ruin their future? Is divorce a bad thing for them? Again, it’s not for me to tell you whether you should or should not divorce, but what I can tell you is the most important thing for your children is continuity, that things stay the same as much as possible. And that mainly includes their relationship with both parents as much as possible, that they can maintain that contact and maintain that relationship, and that they are in an environment free from conflict.
I will move on to the next slide because it illustrates that point. There was a long study that followed children of divorce as adults 20 years later to test the theory of whether it was a divorce that harmed children or whether they could get through it. And what was found is that these adult children were thriving. They were doing very well. And the reason why, as they reported themselves, was because they were not in a conflict environment anymore. And by removing the conflict, they could function an awful lot better.
So, again, I’m not here to tell you to divorce or not to divorce, but I will emphasize that the most important thing for your kids is to reduce the level of conflict as much as possible. And I know that’s easier said than done, given how emotional this process is; indeed, complicated at present, given everything we’re going through. I know many people are staying at home right now, working from home. Some people are at home with their spouse and in an already strained situation, and their kids and everybody’s together more than they usually are. But again, that goes back to our first point about ensuring you are resourced and taking care of yourself to avoid conflict as much as possible.
After we focus on the kids, the next critical piece of this equation is the financial planning piece, which, again, Andres will address for you, and I will have that presentation for you if I can’t get it up today. But one of the most important things you can do to prepare for this process is to understand your finances. Because I can tell you one of the biggest mistakes people make in the divorce process is fighting over money, they don’t have. And if you said that to somebody outside of the process, they would think that would be crazy because attorneys and experts cost money. So why people would spend money fighting over something that doesn’t exist doesn’t make a lot of sense. But what happens is people need to understand their finances, and they need to understand their budget. They don’t understand how much money there is, they don’t take the time to plan for this step, and it leads to many of those nightmare divorces that we hear so much about.
So, one of the things we do, after we focus on your resources, is that we help you create that financial plan and that budget, and we make sure that if you’re not the person who handles that, if you’re not the person who understands the finances, that we help you partner with somebody who can help you understand that so that you can make decisions. And part of the finances in a divorce is alimony, which in Florida, Florida is an alimony state. It’s a gender-neutral alimony state. So, those of you who are the income earners in your marriage or the higher income earners may find yourself in a situation where you must pay alimony. And those of you who are staying at home or lower income earners may be able to receive alimony.
Florida has no guidelines for alimony like other states have passed that would make the process more defined and easier to navigate. Alimony is based on what is called need and ability to pay. And there are a lot of factors that go into that, which make it very difficult to talk about in a seminar format. So you want to ensure you understand in consultation with an attorney and a financial professional to understand your possible exposure to alimony or the alimony you should receive.
And so, let’s turn to the big picture here. What we’re going for here is that this should be something other than a process you jump into and fight blindly or react blindly, which people do an awful lot. And one thing I often hear is, “I need an aggressive lawyer, I need an aggressive divorce attorney, I need a pit bull. I need a strong, tough person to fight my tough ex. In my case, that is more difficult than anybody else’s.” One of the things I need to emphasize more is how much of a mistake this is. And again, I’ve been on all sides of this field for over 20 years. I’ve done quite a lot of litigation, and I still do. And I can tell you that hiring an aggressive lawyer is one of the biggest mistakes anybody will make, especially if your spouse does so. Because the case takes on a life of its own, it becomes a battle. You’re hiring somebody to fight without knowing where you’re going in this.
If and when you hire a lawyer in this process, you should always know what your endgame is. What is your plan? Not just that you want to get divorced, what is it that you’re looking to get? What does the picture look like, the settlement, the trial? You should have those answers. You should also know the path that you’re going down to get there. A lawyer that can’t tell you that cannot adequately represent your interests.
And just a little bit of a lighthearted moment here. And again, certainly not making fun of anybody’s mental health issues or anything else, but something I hear an awful lot is, “No, I need an aggressive attorney because I have a ‘crazy’ soon-to-be ex-spouse.” Or, you know, “There are some mental health issues. This tough litigious person will fight me, so I need to fight as strongly as they do.” So, again, I can’t emphasize this enough; it’s the worst thing to do with that personality type.
Before the afternoon seminar, somebody had asked me to touch on what to do when a spouse has mental health issues and how to handle that. And I’ll try to talk about that a little bit more. But when it comes to the aggressive lawyer, that is the worst person to work with, when your spouse is a high-conflict person, somebody with mental health issues because that will drive them to prosecute more, to fight more, that will bring your kids more into this battle. And we’ll talk a little bit more about some alternatives that you have to that.
But before we do, I want to explore staying resourced. We’ve discussed how important it is to care for yourself during this process. To do that, there are a few things that you need. In our consultation process, we do a very detailed intake that I review thoroughly before I meet with potential clients. What are your sources of support? For many people, that may be your friends, your family, a religious group, or some support group. And I would like to know what those are, what that support looks like for you, and what these people do that is helpful to you.
For other people, sometimes you’re living far away from family, and sometimes you’ve been isolated because of your marriage. And some people may feel I need a source of support. So if you feel that way, it is okay; please know you’re not alone. And please also know that we can find you those support resources. There are a lot of community resources out there, both online as we’re all discovering currently at this particular time and other groups that gather when we’re once again allowed to gather. And we will talk to you about how to create a support system that can help you, be part of your resource, and help you stay focused on this so that your emotions don’t get the better of you.
And the other thing I talk to people about is your pause. Your pause is any activity that allows you to get away from everything that’s going on mentally and emotionally and take a break before you go over the edge, so to speak, with it. And everybody has this or can find it. If you’re an exercise person like me, it might be running, hiking, or something outdoors. Other people like things that are like puzzles or even cleaning your house, something like that. So you turn to it when you want to get a break. And we must find those things for you because this is a complex process. We can’t make it not be a complex process, but what we can do is give you the resources to get through it.
And going back to those options for an aggressive attorney, I hear a lot from people who think they have only two choices in life. Either I hire somebody who’s aggressive, who’s going to fight hard for me, or somebody who’s just too friendly or not exceptionally competent, and that’s why they’re not aggressive. So there is a middle ground, and those are the types of people you want to find to work within this process.
And that’s somebody who can temper their emotions because you don’t want to pay somebody else to battle another lawyer because they like to argue this, or maybe they had a nasty divorce. They’re litigious because of what they’ve been through. So you certainly don’t wanna put your money into that. That’s going to get you a bad result. So what you want is somebody who has the experience and who’s also strategic, that can help guide you through the process, give you a roadmap, and help you figure out where you want to go. But simultaneously, it is fearless to go to court if you have to go there. And only a few people do. We’ll talk about that in a moment as well. But if you need to or if you need to press forward, you do need somebody that can stand up for you. And some people can do that without being overly aggressive.
So, putting this together, what we’re going for here is a life plan for you. When people go through the divorce process, they often think that they get so consumed by it that they don’t realize there will be life after it. This isn’t everything. And one of the ways that you can take yourself out of that thought process is by planning; it’s also by staying resourced. But we’ve talked about that. We’ve built that base. But also knowing where you want to go; what is your financial plan? What are your career goals?
If you’ve been out of the workforce for quite some time, are you considering returning? What would that look like? And also finding something for yourself, what your life will look like, and even giving yourself something to look forward to. I’m not saying this is a great process; it won’t be; this is a big ending. It’s up there with the death of a loved one in terms of grief and loss. But again, there is life afterward. And knowing where you’d like to go with that or even thinking about something you’d like to do, create, or accomplish will go a long way toward helping you get through this process.
To sum up, do not hire an aggressive lawyer, one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Could you make sure that you have a strategy? Now, I always tell people that if you were only going to hire somebody for two hours, only two tasks, and I’m not necessarily recommending that. It may or may not be a good idea, but if that’s what you can do or want to do, you want to meet with somebody initially to understand the process; that’s certainly one of them.
We’ll talk about the second one. But in that meeting, if you’re meeting with a lawyer you’re considering hiring, you should know the strategy by the end of that meeting. What are we trying to do? Or what information do we need to figure that out? And what are the exact steps we’re going to take? So, anybody that can’t tell you that, you should have some questions about. Because you need to know where you’re going with the process, and if the person you’re thinking of hiring can’t articulate that, you’ll have a lot of problems. And the other thing is to plan because this is about your life. This is about where you’re going to go on a go-forward basis.
I’m going through these quickly because you all have the materials. A lot of this is just some general information so that you have it. If you need it, some of you might be going through this alone; you might either be going to mediation or handling your divorce. So, ‘s some helpful information here. Sorry, I went the wrong way.
This is just a residency requirement for one of you to file for divorce in Florida. And we have some information about the forms that must be filled out. You can find those forms online. One of our slides will tell you where to find those. This is the procedure for people who can do this uncontested and get along, or if it is contested, some information about a mandatory parenting class you would have to take.
Just a couple more resources about family court and information. Also, here are some things to remember about changing your name, whether or not you want to do that. And also status quo, which means that when you file… Certain districts have the status quo order, meaning everything needs to be kept the same, nobody can cancel insurance policies, and nobody can take money out of bank accounts. Nobody can take the children out of state. So you want to know what those orders are in your jurisdiction, where you live, and where you’re filing.
A couple of things about different resources: we’ve talked a lot about emotional and support resources and how you will handle that. Regarding financial resources, I always remind people that the process may take a while to move forward. If for some reason, you need support or financial relief, the courts sometimes take a little bit of time to react. And that’s especially true right now. Most courts are functioning somewhat; they are still holding some hearings, some judges are, and some aren’t. So different things are going on, but a backlog is already created in a backlog situation.
So, suppose you find yourself going through a divorce or thinking about it. In that case, one thing you want to think about is how to build some cushion in case you’re not receiving the support you usually were, or specific financial resources are unavailable to you because somebody did something they shouldn’t do. So, this can be your finances, setting aside an emergency fund, or borrowing from friends or family. It may be looking into loan alternatives. There are different possibilities. Too much to go into here because, again, it depends on your facts and circumstances, but it’s something that you would want to flush out before you go through this process.
And again, I hope you don’t need it. I hope it doesn’t come to that. But often, I tell people to plan for scenarios like this because sometimes, when you file for divorce, the other side can get emotional. And if you have a spouse with specific mental health, substance challenges, or anger issues, that person may try to cut you off for some time. And knowing you have resources will go a long way toward giving you a little comfort level during that time.
Just a couple of other resources are available. There are self-help forms available in most jurisdictions on the clerk website that you can access independently. There are alternatives to hiring a lawyer and having that person represent you for the entire process. There’s something called modern law or unbundled legal services, which means basically, you hire a lawyer for just part of the process. And again, we talked about consulting with somebody.
Another thing, again, going back to that two-part recommendation, if you only hired somebody for two things, hire somebody at the outset to tell you about your rights and responsibilities and to help you create a strategy and a game plan. And also, if you reach an agreement or your spouse creates an agreement and hands it to you, you certainly want to review that with somebody.
And under unbundled legal services, you could take an agreement to an attorney and say, “I want to pay for your time to review this, to go over it with me to make changes and suggestions.” And under unbundled legal services, you can do that with any aspect of your case. You have to find an attorney who works under that format and find out about the pricing of that. Another couple of options that are great for people who can do them are mediation or collaborative law. Mediation involves a third party who’s not an attorney for either person who sits down with you and helps you resolve the issues in your divorce and can even help you prepare the agreement and the forms you need to fill out with the court.
I used to do a lot of pro se mediation, which is mediation for people who don’t have lawyers. And it was a gratifying part of my work when I had people who could do that. So there’s different… Some people can, depending on their level of cooperation and collaboration. But, again, you don’t have to be the best of friends. You could be in a difficult situation, but you do have to be able to sit down, talk, and negotiate the process.
Collaborative law, I’ll touch on this briefly so I can keep this moving along. But, again, this is an excellent concept for people who can do things openly and honestly in collaborative law. Both sides have attorneys and agree that they will not go to court. Instead, they’re going to work together to negotiate an agreement. They will share all information and may work with professionals such as financial professionals and perhaps a mental health professional to help everybody stay focused on the issues involved in the case.
Again, this is an excellent option for people who do not want to go through an adversarial process, want to protect their kids from that process, and try to preserve some co-parenting relationship with their children. Both are excellent. I’m also collaboratively trained. I’ve done some collaborative cases. They’ve been wondering when they work. Unfortunately, only some cases are suitable for collaborative laws. So, it’s something that you want to have a very candid, in-depth, and candid discussion with an attorney about whether you and that attorney think this is the proper process for you.
These are a couple of other resources, a link to the court forms, some other reading, and some community resources that might be helpful or useful to you.
I know I’ve covered this, but I repeat things when I think they’re essential. And to me because I hear this one so much because I hear people say it, and I hear people default to it. And no matter how much I hear people say at the outset, I want to be peaceful in this process and resolve this. Almost everybody says that, except for people struggling with something that may be found out something difficult and acting on their emotions, or again, people with specific emotional or mental health challenges. Everybody says they want to get through the process. Nobody wants to hire somebody and spend tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars on the process, but there comes the point where that changes. People get scared.
And you’ve probably seen right now, in our current climate, what happens when people get scared and make decisions; it’s not the best decision-making process. Emotions tend to overwhelm us. And emotional decision-making is not the best way to go about it. So, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, emotional, feel threatened by your soon-to-be ex-spouse, threatened by the circumstances, and scared and think you’ll run to somebody for protection. But the problem is that we have a very adversarial system. And when somebody gets aggressive in that adversarial system, it just makes things worse. Getting aggressive will worsen things if you have a high-conflict party or somebody who’s very difficult to deal with or has difficulty managing their emotions.
Again, that doesn’t mean you fold; you give up and give in. There is a way to stand up for yourself. There is a way to be resourced, strategic, and intelligent, find the right person to guide you through the process, and even take it to court if necessary. But when it comes to aggressive attorneys, I don’t know how many Shark Tank fans I have out there, but I’m going to quote Mr. Wonderful, “Stop the madness,” on that one. That contributes to all of these terrible divorces we hear about. So many of the nightmare stories you’ve heard may have happened to your family members or somebody you know because people just decided to fight with no goal or end in sight.
Now you can continue with that theme; you may or may not know this, but most people don’t go to trial for a divorce. It’s a tiny percentage, less than 10% or less than 5%. So, most people will settle because the court is costly. It generally only writes the wrongs as you see them. And it doesn’t do things in a way that feels fair to people regarding family court, especially when you look at the cost of getting there.
So, why do people go to court? Well, often, it’s because attorneys tell them to. And there are two reasons why. Unless you fall within that 5% to 10% of cases where you have somebody who cannot resolve something where there’s just such a level of not entirely rational behavior and poor decision-making. But for the rest of the cases where an attorney is telling you to go to court, it’s usually either because they lack the experience or the ability to get a fair settlement.
Most of this is about negotiation. And what you want is to hire the best negotiator. But some people need to improve at negotiating. So, they will tell you to go to court because they’re focused on their strengths rather than yours. And the other reason is that court is a much more expensive process, and it’s more lucrative for the lawyer involved. Now, that’s not most lawyers; most lawyers try to do what’s suitable for their attorneys; pardon me, try to do what’s suitable for their clients. But some people want the money from litigation. So, you might be that tiny percentage that needs to go to trial on something. Still, I caution you to be very wary of someone leading with that, someone who can’t even generate possibilities of settlement or even talk to you about how you can try to settle your case. So, I caution you to be very wary of that because even a judge will only try your case once you’ve tried to settle it. So, most cases will go to mediation.
So, moving on and wrapping up here, I stick within my time limits; Sustainable Family Solutions is the company I formed a little over a year ago. As I mentioned, I’ve been practicing for over 20 years. I’m in my 21st year of practicing family law, and I’ve worn many hats. I’m collaboratively trained. I was a certified mediator and did an awful lot of mediation. I’ve prosecuted many cases in custody and net worth matters. And I’ve settled quite a bit.
And one of the things I looked at was what works and what doesn’t. And I went through a very exhaustive analysis. I interviewed many people, former judges, clients, and everybody. So I could get some perspective on that to figure out what we can do to make this process better for you, to get you through this in a way that protects your interests and doesn’t harm your children.
And what we do is plan, strategize, and prepare. As I mentioned, we do an extensive and in-depth consultation, and much prep work goes into that. I have a very in-depth consultation form that I have people fill out. It’s more than just the basics. I get as much information as possible about you, your divorce, your finances, and you. And then, we have a very in-depth meeting, which allows us to flush out those issues. And we create two things for you. One is your legal strategy. I can’t tell you exactly what will happen, but I can provide a roadmap for you. This is where I’d like to see you get to. These are the steps I would take at the outset. We may have to refine that strategy depending on what the other side does. But we come up with a strategy, and we come up with a resource plan so that you know you’re not alone in this, you know that you know where to go.
We then implement that plan. And we know what aggressive lawyers do—do this for a long time. I’ve dealt with quite a few. I know how to neutralize a lot of those tactics. I know how to move forward and stay focused. And what we do is we prepare, and we’re solution-focused. We want to see a resolution that’s fair to you. We want to get there as quickly as possible.
And again, all cases are going to end. Most will end in the settlement; some will end in trial. So, if that’s what it has to be, we’re prepared. We’re ready to go forward for you. And client satisfaction is paramount. I will share it with you; I have more cases than I know what to do with. I have to turn away a good bit of work at this point, especially working in two states; as I do, I focus on working with the people I can work with that I know I can help. And your satisfaction is important to me because I’ve seen many things in this field.
And I know I can’t make your life perfect. I can’t change what happened, but I want to create a resolution for you. And to do that, what we do is we have an offer for you. And I apologize; we do need to change this. There is no such thing as a pain-free divorce. But our goal is to make this as painless as possible for you. And what we do is we have a comprehensive analysis I’ve mentioned. It’s a very detailed intake. The more information you’re able to provide us, the better. We will give you a full audit of the assets and the income you provided to us to let you know what a picture should look like. If you can get us all that information, we can get that for you as thoroughly and in-depth as possible. We look at your circumstances; we create a strategy for you that you can either take to mediation in representing yourself or implement with our firm or another firm of your choosing. We’ll talk to you about when to file, which is essential for you right now.
That’s one of the questions I’ve received throughout the day because things are changing for people. People want to know what’s going to happen with support, what’s going to happen with income, and what’s going to happen with assets. Those are all great questions. I can’t consider all that right now, but I have some things you want to look at regarding your situation.
For instance, you might still be working; you might still be earning income, and your spouse might have been laid off. You have income, your spouse does, and how does that affect the picture or vice versa? The income earner has less income or isn’t earning income right now. What’s going to happen with that? Those are great questions that you need to flush out. In fact, in terms of fact in the circumstance. Now, this comprehensive evaluation that we do, the 90-minute meeting and the comprehensive evaluation that we do beforehand, and the audit that we put together and plan that we prepare for you, usually, my discounted rate on that is $495. But in light of the circumstances that we’re going through, because we’re all on this together, and because of all the difficulties we’ve had throughout the day, with this our first Zoom conference, I am going to discount that even further for you and we are going to offer that for $450.
And there’s also something else I do for you on that, which is that I offer a money-back guarantee. And I only know a few attorneys that do that. And if at the end of that process, at the end of that audit and that analysis and what we’ve provided, you don’t feel that you received value, I will refund your money. And that is because I stand behind what I said. I do believe in this process as we’ve laid it out. And I also believe in your satisfaction.
And that is my presentation. I apologize because I don’t think Andres could get on here, and I’m not sure why that is. Andres Montes De Oca is, and I butchered that; I’m sorry. He is an excellent financial advisor and, even more important, an excellent person who has a personal interest in this type of work in helping people navigate this process. He did a phenomenal presentation at our noon meeting, which I will share with anybody who wants to see it, as well as his slide presentation. I encourage you to contact him with any questions about a financial picture and to help put that together. And also, if you have any questions about your current financial circumstances, investments, or things like that, I’d encourage you to contact him. And if you need his information, please feel free to contact me, and I will get that to you.
I apologize. Usually, we take questions, but because we are online, I won’t do that because we are recording this. So I am going to sign off at this point. And thank you all very much for your time. Again, I apologize to those who didn’t get to this life. I am going to record it. I am going to have a replay of it, and I’m going to make sure I address everybody’s questions. And I wish you the best during this challenging time, not just in your personal lives and what’s happening. But, again, we’re all in it together. And I hope it all passes for us soon, and I hope you stay well and resourceful. Thank you so much for attending.