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COVID-19, Energy Conservation and Divorce Settlement

COVID-19 is guiding us to see inefficiencies and find new ways to help ourselves and others.  We hear a lot about energy efficiency in cars and conserving fuel usage.  But we don’t think as much about energy as our life force and conserving it for times like this when we need it to survive, thrive and evolve.

COVID-19 causes us to share experiences of pain that test our resilience and make us more compassionate. Responding to that pain in ourselves and others takes efficient use of our life energy.

Collaboration is a concept of importance as we move through this phase of growth to make what we do for work effective and efficient.  Changes in the law have been slow but Collaborative practice is cutting edge.  With COVID-19, adaptation to current needs has been swift.  What was started a few decades ago as a new way to practice law and settle cases is accelerating right now.  We at Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions are building on a process that is already well established in our collaborative practice group.  We have been together learning, developing and sharing with the broader legal community for over 10 years.

What development has COVID-19 accelerated in collaborative divorce settlement – whether it be collaborative process, mediation or consultation and coaching?

Technology:

Zoom Meetings make communication efficient, focused, personalized and more frequent.  It’s surprising the difference it makes meeting with your lawyer, coach or financial neutral in your home or office without having to take the time and experience the stress of traveling to an office to do the same thing. Going to an office, sitting in a waiting room and around a conference table is impersonal and adds to an already stressful situation.  It saps your time and energy.  Meetings can be more spontaneous, frequent, timely and efficient.

Software makes the “back office” of settlement practice more efficient in time and cost.  These benefits are passed on to the consumer. One of our members, Forrest Collins, has developed a program that helps lawyers draft pleadings more efficiently and thoroughly. Please visit MyPleadings.com

Practice Management Systems provide organization, clarity and security to the tasks of client service.

Cloud based communication products that coordinate email with document and exhibit preparation and storage make a paperless process that can be fully accomplished with only a laptop and access to Wi-Fi.

Electronic signatures and electronic court filings make trips to law offices or the courthouse unnecessary.

Skill Development:

Professional organizations of collaborative professionals are working constantly to help each other develop improvements and skills to bring peacemaking to the law.  They include our local practice group of Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions Bridgesdivorce.com; the statewide group of Oregon Association of Collaborative Professionals collaborativepracticeoregon.org; and the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals www.collaborativepractice.com

Resilience, difficult conversations, collaborative career coaching, the cross-generational effect of adverse childhood experiences, visioning for your financial future. These are all things we train in and you will see discussed in our blogs click on this link bridgesdivorce.com/blog These are life changing, evolutionary ideas, methods and  cutting edge approaches to helping families through conflict. We are constantly training.

Teamwork:

It’s all about collaborating with others.  Teamwork reduces stress, improves resilience and results in constant improvement.

That’s “Divorce Evolved” and WE MEAN IT.

         Check out our professionals and give us a call to find out more

Please visit us at the link below

bridgesdivorce.com/professionals

GROWING STRONGER TOGETHER

 

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What should I know about divorce during COVID-19 in Oregon?

Is it possible to start and complete a divorce during social distancing and “shelter in place?” orders?

Short answer is, yes. 100% of a mediated, collaborative, or uncontested “kitchen table” divorce can be done remotely through phone, email, and video conferencing. Our office has been utilizing Zoom video conference as a resource for almost a decade for families where one or both participants are in a remote location (Costa Rica jungle coffee shop divorce for example!). Several years ago, I participated (along with several other BridgesDivorce.com practitioners) in an intensive six week training held by a company called Wevorce where the platform was designed to have multiple neutral professionals (financial, legal, and mental health/ parenting) working with the families remotely via video conference throughout the entire case.  Through these trainings and subsequent successful virtual co-mediations, we’ve been able to help families who could not participate in person. Virtual co-mediation or collaboration will be especially helpful with our current social distancing requirements.

Fortunately, the court is still “open” for processing and approving legal documents including divorce and family related. This is all done through electronic filing straight to a judge’s computer for signing after initial clerk’s approval. Document signings by clients, court filing, and parenting classes can also be done remotely, but it will likely be difficult for families to navigate the technical hurdles and obtain court approval without help of a mediator or collaborative attorney. For remote signings by clients, it is helpful to have a printer and scanner, or we can use regular USPS mail if needed.

Families in higher conflict situations, however, needing the court’s assistance with hearings, temporary orders, or trial, will unfortunately face delays or logistical challenges until the courts are able to be functional remotely. As of this writing, the courts are closed for all but emergency or restraining order hearings. In the near future for litigation, all participants (attorneys, experts, judges, clients) will likely need to appear by video or phone conference until it’s deemed safe to physically appear in court for a hearing or trial. There are many questions remaining on evidence procedure, exhibits, testimony, and custody evaluations (in person contact usually required). My recommendation for higher conflict families is for clients to obtain legal advice and encourage your attorney to utilize virtual “attorney assisted” mediation or arbitration if needed. There are built in features to web conferencing software for “private meeting rooms” for attorney and client during a collaborative session so it can be productive and still have capability for caucusing or 1:1 discussion during mediation.

What is required for virtual mediation or collaboration to take place?

The only requirements are for each participant to have a smart phone OR computer with internet service and audio (built in speaker or external speakers) and web cam. Most newer computers have built in web cams, or use your smart phone if your computer is not equipped with a web cam. A quiet, private space is also helpful whether it’s a room in your home or vehicle safely parked.  Having a pen and paper nearby is also helpful to take notes, but not required as meetings can be recorded for later playback.

Should we hold off on pursuing a separation or divorce because of COVID-19?

This is a very tough question and deserves much thought and consideration for each family and the multitude of potential impacts on moving forward versus maintaining the family “status quo.” Sometimes, prolonging separation can be even more difficult for families if there isn’t a roadmap or plan in place to move forward toward goals, disentanglement, and healing. However, it’s even more important in these uncertain times that all are mindful of health and safety for the whole family. I recommend families consider talking to a marriage counselor, parenting coach, trusted pastor, or therapist to help navigate the difficult emotional dynamics as well as timing and logistics of any possible changes or decisions impacting the family unit. It can also be helpful to talk through the potential legal topics with a mediator or collaborative attorney in a “planning session” for peace of mind as well as helping to get organized for future decision making.

One option during this stressful, difficult time is to come up with temporary agreements and a family plan to address each person’s needs with ability to modify as changes take place. We can help prepare mediated settlement agreements to track agreements and add accountability if this is a concern. A mediated settlement agreement is a private contract between parties and not filed with the court, except for enforcement or issue of attorney fees if litigation is necessary. We can also “pause” the process at any point and track progress with partial mediated settlement agreements.

One substantial impact of COVID-19 is the recent stock market volatility, and many clients are concerned with proceeding with a divorce with division of retirement or investment assets. One clarification to ease concerns is that divorce related retirement divisions and transfers (if done properly – please consult an attorney) do not liquidate or sell underlying investments or stock. Instead, an agreed upon percentage (50% for example) of the account is separated into the other spouse’s account via Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) or IRA transfer after divorce judgment is signed by the court. Often this segregated portion is rolled into a new or existing IRA, or there are exceptions allowing penalty free withdrawal under certain circumstances. This is a complex area with tax ramifications and requiring specific legal documents, please use caution and consult a divorce professional to learn more about options. There are ways to have early cash disbursements without penalty after divorce, and it’s likely more of these distributions will be needed as COVID-19’s financial impacts worsen for some families.

Do we still have to take required parenting classes in person to get court approval?  

Answers to this question vary by county and information is changing daily. Washington County, for example, has canceled their April classes, but is reaching out to currently enrolled families for possible in person May classes. Some counties already offer an online option post-Covid-19, such as Multnomah County, and we may be able to obtain approval on a case by case basis from judges based on individual circumstances for online parenting classes to satisfy court requirements.

What should I do if I need to modify my divorce or separation judgment that’s already signed by the court?

In Oregon, most spousal support orders are modifiable by statute unless specifically stated in your judgment as “non-modifiable.” Child support is also modifiable if it’s a current order (not past due arrears). It is imperative to seek legal advice if you believe substantial changes have occurred such as a job loss, health status change, income change, parenting plan change, childcare cost change, health insurance availability, etc. As orders cannot be changed retroactively (unless mutually agreed in writing and signed by the court), it’s crucial that anyone impacted by a change requests modification as soon as information is received. Most courts require an attempt at mediation first before having a court hearing, and sometimes this provision is built into a divorce judgment requiring mediation. It is also important to preserve your rights on timing of the changed support obligation in the event mediation is not successful, so please consult an attorney for legal advice as soon as feasible.

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Tonya Alexander
Collaborative Attorney & Mediator
Alexander Law, PC
1925 NE Stucki Ave Ste 410
Hillsboro, OR 97006
503-531-9109

Tonya’s Website
Email Tonya

We are in this together and here to help.

 

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Divorce, Holidays and COVID-19

Co-parenting after a breakup is difficult to begin with. For many families, the holidays are an emotionally charged time and add another layer of stress. On top of that, this year parents are still dealing with COVID-19, including concerns of minimizing exposure across households and navigating periods of quarantine. On top of all this, many parents find themselves faced with the new challenge of educating their children while also working from home. All of these stressors can create a powder keg of emotions for parents. At Posey Legal, P.C., we have some tips parents might find helpful.

Review Your Current Co-parenting Agreement

Before you get into the throes of the holiday season, make sure you know what your current holiday plan is. If you have a written parenting agreement, dust it off and read it with fresh eyes,  making sure the agreements you made when your plan was drafted still make sense in light of all the unforeseen changes that have come our way in the past year. Ask your co-parent if they are still on board with the plan as written. If you feel it needs to be changed or adjusted but your co-parent disagrees with you, seek the help of a mediator or family law practitioner early on while there is still time to adjust the plan so that it works for your family’s unique circumstances. In either case, be sure that you and your co-parent have the same understanding around the holiday parenting plan well in advance of the day of your planned trip to spend time with your family.

Communicate… Which Means Also Listening

If you went through the Collaborative Divorce process, you learned some communication skills to use now. Listen to what your co-parent says to be sure you understand exactly what they mean. You may need to repeat back what they tell you to be sure you really understand what they are saying.

An example is to listen to what your ex-spouse has to say. Then, say, “Is this what you mean?” If the answer is, “No,” repeat the exercise until you understand for certain what the other parent means.  You do not have to agree with what your they are saying but letting them know that you hear them and understand what they are trying to communicate builds a stronger foundation for making parenting decisions together.

One big topic that may come up is about travel and being with groups during this holiday time with COVID-19 looming over everyone’s holiday plans. How is travel going to be handled? How do both parents feel about visitation with the other parent’s extended family visits? These are hotbed issues that need to be resolved ahead of time.

Keep Focused on the Best Interest of the Children

Put yourself in your children’s shoes. Think about what they are going through and how they feel about traveling back and forth during the holidays. You want to encourage them to have a relationship with the other parent and with that parent’s extended family. Pick your battles and focus on everybody having a good time. Try to be flexible and understanding. Your kids will be much happier if you can avoid nitpicking and having a tug-of-war with their other parent over time spent with them.

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Staying Sane During COVID-19 ~ Creating Peace and Balance

Staying sane during this time of COVID-19 has become a challenge for many people.

The stay-at-home order first put in place last April was particularly difficult for some of my clients who were working on their divorce, but still living in the same home. Almost suddenly, they were trapped 24/7 with each other and their children. Conflict was high and everyone in the family was suffering.

For some couples, staying sane requires pursuing their divorce. That is still an option at Bridges Divorce group. Meanwhile, I have come up with some suggestions designed to help families through this difficult time.

Establish Routine and Structure to Your Daily Family Life

Creating a structure is helpful for both children and adults. Some things to consider are:

  • How many hours of the day does each spouse need to work?
  • Do the spouses work outside the home or are they both now working remotely from home?
  • How old are the children? What do they need?
  • How many hours of the day do you need to work with your children since they are not in school?

Day care options are almost non-existent. There are only a few summer camps. Make a list of things the children can do. Put it on the kitchen wall so all can see it.

You may need to have an art station and a place for the kids to interact online with their friends. Maybe the kids can get together with friends in a backyard. Get them headphones so they can listen to stories.

Check out the many creative ways parents are working together to create safe pods or home schooling allowing kids to have social interaction and/or to learn together.

Take Care of Yourself

Find a place in the home that is just for you. Even if it is just a small corner, make it a place where you can do your work without being disturbed. Set a time for this and agree with your spouse that she or her will be responsible for the children during this specific time.

Spend less time watching the news. Find positive things. For example, watch a podcast. Download a free meditation app. Spend happy hour with your friends via Zoom. Take walks with a friend. Schedule time for yourself to do something that will bring you joy. Make a list for yourself of things that will give you pleasure, allow you to breathe.

If you are struggling with depression or anxiety, there are counselors available who can help.

Stay Safe Stay Sane

Improve Basic Communication

When couples are in so much conflict, whether they are planning for divorce or not, it is difficult for them to have a productive conversation. Many need facilitation, I have been able to help couples with this and there are many other mediators who are able to help facilitate these conversations.

It is helpful to avoid making assumptions when in conflict with your spouse or partner.  Instead ask questions, check out your assumptions.   If you can take a little time away from the children and talk through the issues, staying sane is at least a little bit easier.

For more information on divorce options during this time of COVID, or to discuss any aspect of your need for assistance with your relationship during this difficult time, Contact Us Here at Bridges Collaborative Divorce Solutions.

Other Resources

Finding a Counselor: Portland Therapy Center  and Psychology Today

Mediation apps:  CALM, Insight Timer, Headspace

Podcasts:  Brene Brown On Being

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Lee Hamilton, MA
Mediator & Collaborative Divorce Coach
2233 NE Skidmore St.
Portland, OR 97211
503-703-0528
Lee’s Website
Email Lee

 

 

 

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Update on Courts Delayed by COVID-19

In Washington County, trials that were supposed to take place in March have been delayed to July and are expected to be rescheduled again.  In Multnomah County, the courthouse has just started allowing trial “assignment” to take place, but the judges have prepared attorneys that those trials will not be happening until January or later.

At just about any courthouse in Oregon or SW Washington, you or a loved one needs to be in immediate physical danger to see a judge. This is because the courthouses are so restricted in what they are able to handle right now with limited staffing and resources thanks to COVID-19. Thus, priority has to go to the extreme emergency issues only.

Yet, some couples are still finding a way to divorce and separate without waiting for a court date. This is because they are settling their cases out of court. If you are able to come to an agreement with your spouse, the paperwork can be filed (electronically), and the judges are still able to sign them, usually in as little as a month.

Settling all of your issues may feel impossible or improbable to some people. They may think this sort of process works if people already have resolved everything on their own; however, Collaborative Law and mediation are not for those who have already figured it out (although we can help them, too). Collaborative processes are for those who need help coming to an agreement. All you need is to have some empathy for one another, and we can help with the rest.

At Bridges, our team of professionals have trained, and continue to train, to be able to help couples resolve their cases through settlement. People do not come in with full agreements, or—quite frankly—they would not need us. Rather, our job is to help people realize their common ground, find creative solutions, and support the parties in reaching agreements that recognize the need for people to move on, while still maintaining a relationship in the future. If this sounds like you, please call one of us today.

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Myah Kehoe, Attorney at Law / Mediator
Kehoe Law, LLC
319 SW Washington St., Ste. 614
Portland, OR 97204
503-388-6065

Myah’s Website
Email Myah