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.