Visions Anew Institute

Visions Anew Institute
Divorce is Challenging

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Facing Mediation? Five Key Strategies You Need!

By JoAnne Donner

As a mediation coach, my mantra is “Mediation can be one of the most important days of your life. The decisions made that day can affect you and your family for the rest of your lives.”

I like to remind people of the importance and far-reaching effects of mediation because time after time disputing parties tell me that they went into mediation not knowing what to expect, they got overwhelmed during the session and had trouble making sound decisions, or they just got worn down and did whatever it took to get it over with.

A mediation session characterized by anxiety, confusion and disappointment can be avoided with the proper knowledge and proper preparation. Indeed, one secret to achieving success at the mediation table is to be prepared. Don’t fall into the all-too-familiar trap of walking into a mediation room woefully unaware of the ins and outs of the mediation process and the basic communication strategies you should employ during a conflict-related encounter.

Here are five points to keep in mind to help you deal with the pressures, pitfalls and possibilities of mediation:

(1) Spend some quiet, high-quality time thinking about what you want and what you need.
Write your thoughts down on paper and read it aloud. This process helps you organize your thoughts, identify your priorities and set realistic expectations. Take a colored highlighter and identify your key points. Take this paper with you to mediation. If you are represented by legal counsel, give your attorney a copy. Many people have told me sharing this written presentation with their lawyer has helped clarify issues and has improved the attorney/client relationship.

(2) Analyze strengths and weakness on both sides of the table. In other words, identify the strengths and weaknesses of the person on the other side of the table, but don’t forget to think about your own. What are your soft spots that might make you vulnerable during the negotiations?

(3) Keep in mind that your reactions do not need to be your responses. It is very easy for emotions to get triggered during a mediation session. Monitoring and controlling your emotions can be difficult, challenging task, but doing so can help you reach your goal – arriving at a successful outcome that gives you what you want and what you need.

(4) Remember that it’s only a first offer. Many times a party to mediation will react strongly to a first offer. Reactions might include comments like “That’s outrageous. We’re never going to agree on anything,” or “That’s an insult. I’m out of here.” A first offer is a starting point and should elicit a thoughtful, strategic response rather than an emotional outburst that derails the potential of a mediation session.

(5) Don’t say “Yes” when you should say “No.” Many people in mediation feel pressured to accept an agreement that really does not serve their best interests. Or they give in because they are tired and overwhelmed. If you are not confident that the offer being presented serves you well, don’t agree to it. Ask for a break or ask for the mediation to be continued another day. Give yourself time to think over the consequences of your decision.

The increasing popularity of mediation to resolve disputes is evident in settling divorce cases, civil matters and workplace conflicts. One reason it is being used more and more frequently in a variety of settings is that it works; it is a cost-effective, time-efficient and less stressful way to manage and resolve conflict. If you find yourself facing mediation, make it work for you: take the time to get the preparation you need to succeed and reach a favorable settlement. Your future can depend on it.

The Road to Resolution…
Mediation Services of Georgia, Inc.
JoAnne Donner CDFA, President
Arbitrator/Mediator/Mediation Coach
770-399-0619 Fax

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Social Security After Divorce


Is your mother getting shorted on her Social Security payments?
If she is divorced or has been married more than once, or her late husband delayed taking Social Security, she might be entitled to a bigger monthly benefit than she is collecting. That can be important news for someone with a fixed or limited income.
If you are one of the thousands of baby boomers who help their parents with their finances, reviewing their Social Security benefits ought to be at the top of your list.
A Bigger Bang
You might be eligible for a bigger Social Security benefit based on a former spouse's earnings record if the marriage lasted at least 10 years, and:
• You are at least 62 years old and unmarried and your former spouse is currently collecting benefits.
• You have been divorced at least two years, your former spouse isn't collecting benefits and you are both over 62.
• You are over 60 and your former spouse has died.
• Your spouse or former spouse delayed taking Social Security until after his full retirement age.
(Source: WSJ research)
These days, couples getting divorced likely will hear about the ins and outs of how their Social Security will be affected, often from an attorney or accountant. But people who divorced years—or even decades—ago usually have no clue. This may include your parents.
The rules apply to both genders, but because women typically earn less over their working lives than men, they are more likely to be collecting lower benefits than they might be eligible for based on the earnings history of a former spouse.
The basics: A person can collect Social Security benefits based on her own earnings history, or 50% of her spouse or former spouse's benefit, if it is greater than her own, and 100% if he is deceased.
Rules for Divorced Couples
For divorced spouses, there are a couple of catches: The marriage must have lasted 10 years or longer, and the person seeking a former spouse's higher benefit must currently be unmarried, unless she remarried after age 60.
Let's say your mother was married in the 1950s or 1960s for at least a decade. Perhaps she was out of the work force raising children and subsequently worked at low-paying jobs, so her benefit might be, say, $800 a month.
By contrast, her former husband—with more years in the work force and higher wages—might be eligible for a monthly benefit of $2,000. (Social Security benefits currently max out at $2,366 a month.)
Your mother might not realize she can collect a total of $1,000 a month if her former spouse is alive, and $2,000 a month if he isn't. If the Social Security Administration determines she is eligible for higher benefits, she also will receive retroactive amounts going back six months. For the woman in the example above, that would be a lump sum of either $1,200 (six times $200) or $7,200 (six times $1,200).
It doesn't matter whether the ex-husband remarried; collecting on his earnings record doesn't affect what his current spouse (or any other ex-spouse) will receive. Nor does this require any involvement with the former spouse: The Social Security Administration has information about a former spouse's earnings history and whether he is alive or not, and makes its determination based on those records.
If your mother is under full retirement age—65 or 66, depending on her birth date—there are other options. If the former husband is 62 or older, then regardless of whether he has begun collecting Social Security, your mother can begin receiving a reduced benefit at 62 based on the husband's record, provided the divorce took place at least two years prior. She can later switch to her own benefit once she reaches full retirement age, if the benefit is higher.
If the former spouse is deceased, your mother can begin collecting a reduced widow/divorced widow benefit at age 60, then later switch to her own benefit at her full retirement age, if it is greater. Working while collecting Social Security, delaying receiving benefits, being disabled or having a dependent child also can change the equation. The Social Security Administration can answer initial questions about a benefits review over the phone (800-772-1213); the agency's website has details.
An Ex-Spouse's Earnings
Applying for benefits based on a former spouse's earnings is a legitimate move, unlike the gimmick of taking a reduced benefit at age 62, then paying all the money back and commencing a benefit at full retirement age. (The Social Security Administration has closed this dubious loophole, which affluent people were using to get an interest-free loan from the government.)
Besides family members, others who might want to consider requesting a benefits review on behalf of an older person include legal-aid attorneys and counselors advising people struggling with debt and foreclosures; nursing-home administrators, since Social Security benefits often go to the facility to help pay for the resident's care; and financial planners who are reviewing clients' sources of income.
Last year, Chris Walker of J. Mark Nickell & Co., a fee-only advisory firm in Brentwood, Tenn., helped the widow of a client obtain the full value of the survivor benefit to which she was entitled. Because her husband had delayed receiving Social Security until age 68, the widow's benefit was supposed to be $2,140 month, not the $1,862 that the Social Security Administration was paying her.
It took numerous phone calls and letters over a period of almost five months to get the benefit corrected, Mr. Walker says, but he persisted.

Social security after divorce can be very helpful.

Monday, November 14, 2011

My Friend's Divorce

Today marks the first of Spring, and my friend's new shoes have played a part in its sweet coming. It is a season of new beginnings, not just for nature's bounty, but for my good friend, too. She has weathered a long and arduous winter. A winter of the heart, if you will. Her marriage came to an abrupt end last February when her husband told her he needed a new place in his life, other than the one he had occupied beside her for so long.

It was a gut-wrenching situation.I watched as the couple walked up from their dock on the lake that chilly February day in 2005. He had told her that he needed to leave. As they made their way along the path to their house, I studied them both. I did not know what had transpired, but I knew it was not good. They moved with an air of despair. My friend had a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. She held her head down. As I would learn later, her heart had just been broken.

So, I stood by my friend. We spent hours talking on my back porch. Maybe the marriage could be repaired? Maybe if he had more time to think about things, he would reconsider? But no, reconsideration and repair were not options. He was determined to travel a new road.
As the weeks unfolded, I saw my friend take a journey, too. She traveled to a dark place where one struggles alone with the issues of the human heart. How did this happen? What signals did I not not see? What did I not hear?

I did not have any answers for my friend. I only saw the sorrow and the anger and the questions and the fear of the unknown and of being alone shaking her heretofore sure and firm foundation. So, I said, "Enough. Let him go and let your healing begin."
And that's what she did.

Some weeks later, we sat in her bedroom. My friend had been taking a nap in the bed that was now too full of unfilled space. The folding doors to the bedroom closet where he kept his clothes were open; the closet, empty. I studied the wire hangers. Just like my friend's heart, they were askew, left holding nothing.

Months then passed. Legal papers were signed. Property was divided. Photographs were put away. Holidays were endured.

And then, just the other day, the most amazing thing happened. With all its hope and promise, Spring was showing itself - a touch of green was appearing here and there.

With the purchase of a new pair of shoes, a healing season for my friend's heart was emerging, too. She modeled the soft, suede mules with the lavender hue and the pointy toes and the perky heels.
"He wouldn't have liked them," she said. No, he wouldn't have. They were too trendy.
My friend took off one shoe, and then other.

"But you know what?" she said, tossing them in the closet that once stood so empty. "I like them."

Welcome, my friend, to your own sweet Spring.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The "F" Word in Divorce

What do Benjamin Franklin, Mahatma Gandhi, and Tyler Perry all have in common? Does this sound like the start of a bad joke? It’s not. All three of these iconic personalities who transcend historical boundaries of time, culture, and heritage have commented on the importance of one item.

Ben Franklin said, “The best thing to give to your enemy is forgiveness…”

Mahatma Gandhi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

Tyler Perry said, “It's simple: when you haven't forgiven those who've hurt you, you turn your back against your future. When you do forgive, you start walking forward.”

Those are pretty powerful words for a powerful force.

I’m fairly confident that I wouldn’t have gotten through my divorce positively without being able to forgive my ex-. Prior to forgiving him, I was angry, bitter, resentful, and full of revenge. Sound familiar? I realized one day that this was no way to live. I don’t want to make this sound like all sunshine and roses, but I was tired of my mental reel playing out my little revenge scenario. It was only hurting me, and my outlook on life, which certainly impacted my kids. When I decided to forgive him, life changed immediately. My whole outlook changed. I felt it. People noticed it.

If someone has ‘crossed’ you, and you have yet to forgive, I would dare to say that you are still angry. You are still mad. You think about it constantly. It keeps you up at night. You can’t seem to let it go. You brood about it. You may turn to vices to help you get through it. You remember every detail of the ‘infraction’ and you relive it and rehash it over and over. All this serves to do is create stress and strife in your life. It affects your health. It affects your emotions. Is it worth it?

Enter the power of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a selfish act. Think about it. When you choose to forgive someone, it’s a decision that you make, and then you feel better. The other person doesn’t have to give you permission to forgive. The other person doesn’t have to accept your forgiveness. You alone are in control of having the power to decide to forgive. How awesome is that?

People say to me, “I’m not ready to forgive yet because I don’t want that person to get away with it (whatever ‘it’ might be).” There is a popular misconception that if you forgive someone that it means he isn’t going to be held accountable for his actions. That is actually irrelevant. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you aren’t going to hold that person accountable. It doesn’t mean that you are going to let that person walk all over you. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be consequences for his actions. It does mean that you are choosing to not dwell on it every day and let anger consume your every thought.

I am repeatedly asked, “Please teach me how to forgive.” I don’t know how to do that. I wish I did. I want everyone to feel the liberation and peace that comes with forgiveness. Some people like to “own” their anger. They make it a part of their life story and frankly enjoy carrying the burden. I think that’s a crazy load to carry. I tell people that forgiveness will happen if they are open to dropping some of the anger and looking forward to the future, instead of dwelling on the past.

The power of forgiveness allows you to feel peace. It doesn’t mean you aren’t still going to face noise, trouble or hard work. It does mean you can be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart.

Arguably the best-known scholar on forgiveness is Lewis Smedes (1921-2002). Smedes was a professor of Theology and a renowned Christian author who wrote the incredibly popular book, “Forgive and Forget.” He said, “Forgiving is love's toughest work, and love's biggest risk. If you twist it into something it was never meant to be, it can make you a doormat or an insufferable manipulator. Forgiving seems almost unnatural. Our sense of fairness tells us people should pay for the wrong they do. But forgiving is love's power to break nature's rule.”

I challenge you to focus on forgiveness and do all you can to ‘break nature’s rule!’

Adapted from “The High Road Has Less Traffic: honest advice on the path through love and divorce” Author Monique A. Honaman wrote “The High Road Has Less Traffic” in response to a need for a book that provided honest, real, and raw advice about how to survive and thrive through one of life’s toughest journeys. The book is available at and on Monique can be reached at

Monique Honaman
Author, The High Road Has Less Traffic
770-855-7225 (m)
Twitter: @highroadthebook

Friday, August 5, 2011

Visions Anew Supports Divorcing Attorneys

By Carla Schiff, Esq. Stern & Edlin PC

“You can’t come to work and just boo hoo” said Debra Chambers, an attorney with Swift Currie McGhee & Hiers LLP, who recently finalized her difficult divorce. In addition to the apprehensions of being a lawyer who is now the client in an unfamiliar area of the law, women lawyers, like everyone else, have to deal with the emotional side when they go through a divorce.

“There’s so much pressure, it’s got to come out somewhere,” said Chambers. Hibernating in her office with the door closed wasn’t enough.

Chambers attended a weekend retreat for women with Visions Anew, a nonprofit, 501(c)3 corporation dedicated to providing support for individuals, primarily women, going through a divorce. Once arriving at the retreat, entitled “Divorce Survival Weekend,” Chambers had misgivings about being there and would have left but for a snowstorm. She was glad she stayed.

“Rise above.” This was the powerful message delivered by Visions Anew CEO and Founder, Margot Swann. As the weekend progressed, Chambers was able to share her story in a comfortable, nonjudgmental and confidential environment. By the end of the weekend, Chambers was able to let go.

Lynn Sturges, an attorney with The Law Office of Lynn H. Sturges, attended a Visions Anew retreat because of her divorce, also found a “safe outlet to tell [her] story,” as did Deborah Ebel, an attorney with McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP, who noted, “very few people want to be bothered listening to your tale of woe; even family and friends tune out after a while. . . . Even those of use who consider ourselves ‘tough cookies’ need a place to break down.”

Michelle Araúz, an attorney with SunTrust who also attended a Divorce Survival Weekend, said, “as an attorney you are very good at the business side of things, you have success in your job, success in your life, how could you fail?” Araúz recognizes, “As a female attorney, you just can’t fall apart, you don’t have the luxury to check out.” Araúz knew that with young child, she could not fall apart or check out at home either.

When Araúz drove up to her Visions Anew retreat, she was immediately greeted as she drove up by a Visions Anew alumnus, who carried her bags to her room. For this “self sufficient female attorney, this wasn’t necessary but it really helped to feel taken care of.”

At Visions Anew retreats, retreat alumni cook the meals and work to make new attendees feel at home, showing that there is life after divorce. While some of the programs involve empowering information from legal, financial and therapeutic experts, other programs allow time to share and listen. Some attendees come ready to share, while others come to listen.

Ebel, who came to a retreat with a healthy does of skepticism, was surprised that she found herself actually participating, sharing and even “letting loose” as the retreat ended with Zumba dancing.

There’s no question that going through a divorce is “extremely distracting and overwhelming, “ said Sturges. Indeed, presenteeism—the problem of employees being on the job but not fully productive due to illness, conflicts at home or other stressors, “appears to be a much costlier problem than its productivity –reducing counterpart, absenteeism.” This is known all too well by any attorney with a crucial staff member going through a divorce.

Recognizing that many employees cannot afford to attend a Visions Anew retreat or seminar, Visions Anew has created a unique, panel presentation, cleverly entitled “Divorce-Proofing Your Marriage and Helping a Divorcing Friend,” which educates men and women about various aspects of the divorce process in house. In April, Visions Anew presented a similar program for the 9,000 employees at the Centers for Disease Control.

Visions Anew also encourages employers to incorporate their services into their Employee Assistance Programs by providing a confidential subsidy for employees to attend a seminar or a retreat with the goal of helping to mitigate the presenteeism caused by divorce.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mediator Changed Hats

I met with a young couple for mediation. They were referred by their couples therapist who had worked with them for several months. I explained the process of mediation and noticed how kind they were to each other. They had young children and were both working hard to put the children first in the mediation. They did not seem to be ready to "call it quits."

In the second session, I said, "I need to take my mediator hat off for a few minutes and put on my psychotherapist hat. I think I would be remiss in not telling you that I don't think you are ready to divorce. You look like you really love each other. I'm impressed with the way that you treat each other and think it would be a good idea to continue with your therapist to help put the relationship back on the right track. Of course, if I'm incorrect, I will proceed with the mediation. It's your call."

They looked at each other, then looked at me and said, "We'll give her a try." I got a call later from their therapist who said that they agreed with me and wanted to work on improving their marriage.

Oftentimes, relationships get stale. That's normal. There are many ways to revitalize them. I'm glad they chose that path!

Sharman Colosetti, LCSW, PhD
315 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., Suite 621
Decatur, GA 30030

Friday, June 3, 2011

Mediation’s Most Common Mistake

By JoAnne Donner, Mediator/Mediation Coach
President, Mediation Services of Georgia, Inc.

One of the most common comments I hear when talking to people about their experience in mediation is, “I just wanted to get it over with.” I hear that with both sadness and concern.

When someone participates in a mediation session, that day is one of the most important days of their life. The decisions made that day affect their and their family’s financial well-being, emotional health, and overall lifestyle. The day of your mediation session is not the time to be vulnerable to the pressures of a fast-moving and potentially overwhelming process. It is the time to be prepared, focused and informed.

If you are going into mediation represented by counsel, make sure your attorney takes the time to prepare you in detail for the mediation process. If you are going into mediation pro se, or without counsel, make sure you enlist the services of a mediation coach who will meet with you several days before your mediation session to familiarize you with the traps, tactics and techniques of mediation. A professional mediation coach will listen to you talk about “your side of the story” from a neutral, impartial perspective and help you prepare, practice and polish the presentation of your story. What you say in your mediation session should serve you well and strategically move you along to your targeted outcome.

Maintaining focus throughout the mediation session is a key to reaching a desirable resolution and something your coach can help you with. There are techniques you can use to re-focus your attention if you find yourself tiring and heading for a sinking spell. There are also strategies you can use if the session, itself, loses focus and begins heading down side paths that are counterproductive. One of these tactics is to consider asking for a break. A break at the right time can revitalize you. It can also break the momentum of a discussion that is overwhelming you or not heading your way.

Being prepared for mediation and being knowledgeable about the dynamics of the process can make the difference between a mediation outcome you are pleased with or a mediation outcome that sadly misses the mark in meeting your financial and emotional needs. Get the preparation you deserve. Your future could depend on it.

Mediator/Mediation Coach JoAnne Donner is the President of Mediation Services of Georgia; www,;; 770/842-9400.