Divorce with Dignity

Collaborative Divorce and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

On December 7, 2017, Pauline Tesler, Esq., a California lawyer who has been a pioneer in collaborative divorce practice, gave a presentation before the New York Association of Collaborative professionals entitled “The Art and Craft of Deep Peace.”
During that presentation, Pauline shared Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (“Maslow’s Pyramid”). In the context of a divorce, Maslow’s Pyramid breaks down the various needs that a spouse going through a divorce may have:

Maslow pyramid










At the base of Maslow’s Pyramid are basic needs. Basic needs include physiological needs (food, water, warmth, rest) and safety needs (security, safety). The “snake brain” is the part of the human brain hell-bent to satisfy those needs. When basic needs are threatened, they trump all other needs higher up on Maslow’s Pyramid. The snake brain is the most primitive part of the human brain. When something triggers the snake brain, the response is: fight, flight, or play dead, just like a snake. Nothing else matters. The snake brain has not a scintilla of compassion or empathy.

If someone is being deprived of such basic needs, there is an emergency and time is of the essence. Unless a potentially life-threatening situation […]

NY Maintenance Guidelines in High Income Cases: The Wild West

For New York divorce cases commenced since January 23, 2016, a maintenance (alimony) guidelines formula will usually be applied to determine the amount and duration of maintenance. Schedule a consultation with me and I can calculate the amount and duration of maintenance following your divorce by applying a formula in this new statute to the facts of your case.

This new law, now only 20 months old, is embryonic. To date, there has not been enough time for high income divorce cases with maintenance issues to go to trial, and for aggrieved litigants to file appeals and for such appeals to be decided by appellate courts. There are no New York appellate court decisions interpreting this new statute at this time. As one of my attorney colleagues recently told me, divorce court is like the Wild West when he makes arguments in high income maintenance cases.

What happens when a spouse earns income that exceeds the current $178,000 statutory income cap? The statute says that the NY maintenance guidelines formula should only be applied to income up to $178,000, but gives the Judge discretion to apply general “statutory factors” (like marital standard of living, […]

Divorcing Parents in Westchester County, NY: Meet Your Child’s Needs — Choose Collaborative Divorce or Mediation

With April being Autism Awareness Month, I am reminded that – for a divorcing couple who has a child with special needs – a collaborative divorce offers the best way for the parents to come to an agreement on addressing the needs of the child.

About ten years ago, I worked on a collaborative divorce in Westchester County in which the couple had two children, one of whom had been diagnosed on the autism spectrum. I represented the husband, and another collaborative attorney, “Lisa,” represented the wife.

The parties were having heated arguments about parental decision-making.

The defining moment in the case occurred at a four-way settlement conference when, after a few niceties were exchanged, the wife suddenly lashed out at the husband, exclaiming how upset she was at his criticism of her decision-making with respect to their child, and the various therapies she wanted him to undergo.

Specifically, she accused her husband of telling her that – if she wants the child involved in certain programs to treat his autism and the child becomes labeled “handicapped”— then it will be “on her”(her responsibility) for “ruining the child’s life.” The husband then expressed his strong feelings in his own defense.

At this point Lisa […]

In a Collaborative Divorce, You – the Client – Have the Power

I recently participated in a Collaborative Six-Way Meeting, which comprised both spouses, their lawyers, a divorce coach and a financial specialist. During this meeting, my collaborative counterpart was very aggressive. While that tactic can work in a case being negotiated through the court system, an overly aggressive attorney in a collaborative divorce is less effective. My collaborative colleague is a well-trained collaborative attorney, and well intentioned. However, she still does a lot of divorce litigation, and that affects her collaborative practice.

im-right-1458410_640In divorce litigation (court based), being aggressive can be very effective because of where the power lies. In litigation the power rests primarily with the Judge, secondarily with the attorneys, to the extent they can persuade the Judge or intimidate or outfox the other side. The clients have virtually no power. Indeed, during a trial the clients can only speak during the limited period of time that it is their turn to testify as a witness.

In a collaborative case, there is no Judge, and the power rests primarily with the spouses, and secondarily with the collaborative attorneys and other professionals.

So here is what happened in my recent collaborative settlement conference. The […]

Divorce, Children and Holiday Plans

For divorced parents, the holidays are often beset with conflict and stress, even many years after the divorce. We have all heard about couples who go back to court several times after their divorce to re-litigate holiday visitation issues that were supposedly settled through the adversarial process. This year, with Christmas and Hanukkah falling on the same day, interfaith co-parents face a scheduling conflict they have never faced before.

6615_Christmas-gift-boxes-golden-backgroundFor couples who choose a collaborative divorce, however, the stress of the “holiday shuffle” is eased, if not eliminated. The collaborative process allows the divorcing parents to structure a holiday plan for the children tailored to the needs of their specific situation. However, interfaith co-parents face a unique holiday scheduling challenge this year, one that probably wasn’t anticipated when their divorce settlement agreement was written.

This brings to mind an important reason to consider a collaborative divorce. The collaborative process takes couples through a healthy, respectful way of dealing with contentious issues and conflicts. Having experienced this model, the two divorced partners know that it is possible to address the reasonable needs and concerns of both parents – and their children –without “going to […]

Collaborative Divorce: The Advantages

A highly regarded Collaborative Divorce lawyer in California, Pauline Tesler, has written the authoritative book on Collaborative Divorce: Collaborative Law, Achieving Effective Resolution in Divorce Without Litigation. The third edition of that book was published in 2016, and it includes a “Collaborative Divorce Handbook.” This handbook is a must read for anyone considering a collaborative divorce.  The information is relevant to a New York divorce, although Ms. Tesler practices in California.

The following is the first blog post in a series about the Collaborative Divorce Handbook.

For those considering either a collaborative divorce or a traditional adversarial divorce, Ms. Tesler points out eight advantages of Collaborative Law.
1. In Collaborative Law, all participate in an open, honest exchange of information. There is no “hide the ball.”
2. In Collaborative Law, neither party takes advantage of the miscalculations or mistakes of others, but instead identifies and corrects them.
3. In Collaborative Law, both parties insulate their children from the conflicts. They avoid the professional custody evaluation process, instead making use of specially trained coaches and a child-development specialist to arrive at solutions that both parties can accept, solutions that reflect the children’s needs and concerns.
4. Both parties in Collaborative Law use joint accountants, appraisers and other […]

New York Divorce: Questions Raised by the Brangelina Break-up

The most famous divorce in the news is, of course, the Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie split. Needless to say, their divorce isn’t exactly typical. Moreover, Ms. Jolie filed for divorce in California, which has very different statutes and case law from New York divorce laws. This recent article from the New York Times gives some good basic information regarding divorce options for couples residing in New York State. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/01/your-money/how-rich-couples-who-arent-pitt-and-jolie-manage-their-divorces.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0

The article is a bid misleading in the way it describes team of “neutral” professionals who work on a collaborative divorce. Actually, each spouse in the divorce has their own attorney. But collaborative attorneys are trained in conflict resolution and interest-based negotiation, which is very different from the adversarial negotiation model that most attorneys know. So collaborative represents the best of two models. Collaborative is a form of mediation, which seeks to reduce conflict and facilitate a settlement that works well for both spouses. At the same time, in collaborative, each spouse has his/her own lawyer; this corrects power imbalances that make mediation a bad fit for a couple where one spouse has more financial assets and/or negotiating skills […]

Divorce in Westchester County: Why Consider Collaborative?

The court system is structured to set conflicting parties in opposition to each other. By definition, this is adversarial. In theory – justice is attained because the side with the most persuasive argument “wins.”

In practice, however, when it comes to dissolving a marriage this theory of justice is not borne out in experience. Nobody wins. A divorcing couple’s “day in court” usually comes at an enormous price, depleting their financial resources and causing emotional damage. Moreover, in Westchester County, the backlog of cases is so long, couples can wait months – even years – to get their day in court. This delay further exacerbates the stress on the divorcing spouses.

Of course – there are some situations (cases involving domestic violence, for example) where court action is necessary. In most divorce cases, though, there are no clear-cut villains and victims. Just hurt, angry people caught in a system that encourages antagonism and distrust.

Mediation is a viable alternative for some couples who want to avoid an adversarial divorce. There are some caveats to consider about mediation, though. In mediation, both individuals usually represent themselves. Going through the emotional turmoil of a divorce makes it hard for people to be effective […]

Westchester Divorce Advice for High Net-Worth Individuals

High net-worth individuals need to be savvy when looking for a Westchester divorce lawyer. Indeed, all consumers need to be well informed if they are seeking a divorce attorney. That said, high net-worth individuals are especially vulnerable to potential exploitation by attorneys who are eager to generate many “billable hours.”

Here are some things to consider when researching and interviewing divorce attorneys.

• For most high net worth individuals, collaborative divorce is probably your best option. It is much less expensive than a traditional litigated divorce (divorce through the court system). And since most litigated divorces are settled “on the courthouse steps” so to speak, why not start out with the specific goal of getting a good settlement?

• If you are interviewing an attorney who has a reputation as a litigator, what do they say about your options? Do they mention collaborative and mediation as possible alternatives? If not, buyer beware! Litigation is like surgery: risky and expensive, and should only be done when necessary.

• If you are considering collaborative as a possibility, does the attorney have extensive training and experience in collaborative? There are litigators who also have training and experience in collaborative, and they do a fine job at […]

The Art of Balance in Collaborative Divorce

The flexibility and fluidity of the collaborative divorce process corrects power imbalances in the divorcing couple’s relationship and negotiations. It does this by –

• Providing each spouse with the advice and support of a divorce attorney whose sole agenda item is to make a good settlement in which the needs and interests of his/her client, and, ideally, those of the other spouse, are fulfilled.

• There is a fluid and flexible spectrum of advocacy in collaborative law. During negotiations the well-trained and experienced collaborative lawyer is fully prepared and knows in advance what is most important to his client. Moreover, the attorney has done his/her best to empower the client so those needs and concerns are articulated during the settlement conference.

• If the client, for any reason, does not fully articulate those needs and interests during the four-way meetings (both spouses and their attorneys present), then it is perfectly okay for the collaborative lawyer to be a “partisan advocate” and speak more like a traditional divorce lawyer by serving as the client’s “mouthpiece.”

• If the client, on the other hand, is successful in expressing his/her needs and interests, the collaborative attorney will be a “facilitative advocate,” encouraging the client to do most of the […]