New York Divorce Lawyer | Divorce Mediator Lois Brenner

A Prescription from The DIVORCE Doctor

Conscious Uncoupling and Divorce Mediation

Gwyneth Paltrow conscious uncouplingGwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin announced their separation this week and described it as a “conscious uncoupling” over at Goop, Gwyneth’s personal website. Their statement read they had “come to the conclusion that while we love each other very much, we will remain separate” and “we hope that as we consciously uncouple and co-parent, we will be able to continue in the same manner.”

Many people hearing the news have been asking the question what exactly is conscious uncoupling?

Although “uncoupling” may sound like a modern term, it was actually listed in the 1942 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary as a term to describe the end of a relationship.

As a divorce lawyer, looking at the way that Gwyneth and Chris are handing the public face of their break up, it suggests to me that behind the scenes, they may well be using “mediation” as a positive way forward to divorce.

Divorce mediation is one of the three routes my own clients choose from when they are contemplating a divorce. It’s non-adversarial and is an excellent alternative to divorce court, particularly as it helps couples to build a positive relationship moving forwards with their “uncoupling.”

With divorce mediation, the settlement process can begin immediately.

Being trained in both Law and Psychiatry, I am uniquely qualified and have created an effective psychologically-based mediation service which helps couples create their own solutions for managing finances, support, visitation, custody and tax issues. We meet together in a supportive setting and my role in the process is to be an unbiased mediator, not an adversarial divorce attorney, so you and your partner are able to make agreements quickly and compassionately.

I make sure there are no losers and even couples who are very angry can express their wants to me as I’m specifically trained to manage any conflict and the mediation process works, even turning conflict from destructive to productive.

For those with children, like Gwyneth and Chris, mediation can ease decision making around contentious areas such as property issues, alimony, child support, moving out, protecting your children, your family, and developing a budget that will work for you. These are typically areas where my clients value the support I can give them, without value judgements.

At the end of the mediation process, a written separation agreement is then drafted for you and divorce documents are filed with the court. You will receive your final Judgment of Divorce after it is signed by a judge.

If you are looking for an alternative to divorce court, then consider divorce mediation. I will help you and your spouse “uncouple” with grace and empower you both to move on with your lives.

photo by: O2UKOfficial
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Tax Season 101: Is Your (Former) Spouse Actually Paying Your Taxes?

 

Here’s a hypothetical based in reality: three years ago you were going through a divorce. Your former spouse (who was also the primary breadwinner at the time) had their accountant give you paperwork to sign that said you acknowledge that all taxes from the previous fiscal year would be paid by your former spouse. You happily signed that document, relieved that you saved some money at a time when finances were so tight.

It’s now three years later.  You’ve been divorced for two-and-a-half blissful years. You’re at your local bank making a withdrawal from your primary bank account which has five thousand dollars in it. The teller says you can’t make the withdrawal because your account has a lien on it. You call the national office of your bank to find out that the IRS has placed a lien on your account due to unpaid taxes the year you completed your divorce.

You find out that your former spouse is completely financially insolvent. You and you alone are responsible for the unpaid taxes that now add up to more than twenty thousand dollars. Technically, you were married three years ago and are therefore responsible for all of the unpaid taxes because you filed a joint tax return with your former spouse.

This story is, of course, fictional but lately I have been getting a slew of similar phone calls from divorcees who have been misled by their former spouse and who are now thousands of dollars in debt to the IRS.

In the previous hypothetical scenario if the innocent spouse had sought out and received adequate legal counsel after learning of the IRS tax lien, they would have learned that they could qualify for tax relief due to the IRS Innocent Spouse rule.

If you think your spouse is involved in wrongdoing and it might make you liable or if you simply feel that your spouse has a lousy accountant who is exposing you to significant tax penalties—it’s important that you seek out legal counsel who can help you sort out these issues. You don’t need to file for divorce or be engaged in a divorce to seek out legal counsel—you can do it within the confines of a perfectly healthy marriage and with the knowledge of your spouse.

Don’t take any chances with your taxes or the IRS. Seek out legal counsel to prevent even the slightest chance of a tax lien or stiff penalties.

If you have any questions about your taxes as it related to your current or former marriage, please feel free to call me at 212-734-1551, and I’d be happy to advise you on the outcome you are looking for.  I’m Lois Brenner and I will always help you achieve the future you deserve.

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4 Ways to Divorce-Proof Your Valentine’s Day Engagement

According to a recent American Express consumer report, more than four million expected to get engaged to be married on Valentine’s Day. Naturally, being in the field of family law as an attorney for more than thirty years, I expect that fifty percent of those Valentine’s  Day engagements will end in divorce—which is sad and unfortunate. There has to be a better way to ensure that all of the love and affection showed on February 14, lasts a lifetime. In fact there are several issues I see as a common thread that lead to divorce.  Here are four tips to help you divorce-proof your relationship from the very outset, so that the shine of that new engagement ring doesn’t blind you to some of the very basics of a long and successful marriage.

  • Discuss Finances: Before marriage, couples discuss where they’re going to live, children, careers, and what side of the bed to sleep on… but never money. Some people have anxiety, guilt, and even shame about the way they handle money. Do you really want to tell a potential spouse you’re an overspender? Not exactly the topic of discussion you want to have before you are walking down the aisle.  Have an open and honest conversation with your future spouse about it and know your “marriage money style.”
  • Be Aware of Abusive Qualities: You don’t have to be “hit” to be abused. Name calling, playing the blame game, emotional manipulation, and attacks on your character and abilities are all signs of emotional abuse. Of course, if your future spouse actually physically abuses you then that is an immediate sign that it’s time to call off the engagement. Violence never solves anything and you don’t deserve any kind of physical abuse doled out to you.
  • Get a Prenuptial Agreement: Not just for the rich and famous, a prenup forces you to have in depth conversations about uncomfortable but important marital issues with your future spouse. Money matters, what religion you plan to raise your children, family business ownership, and planning for death are just several crucial topics that are brought to the forefront when discussing a prenuptial agreement. Speak now or forever hold your peace.
  • See a Therapist: This person should be an objective, non-partisan third party concerned only for the emotional well-being of you and your future spouse. A therapist is someone who will talk you and/or your soon-to-be spouse through the logistics of making decisions and compromises where there are no losers, and help you navigate the peaks and valleys of being in a healthy marriage.

Within the scope of a relationship, communication is key—honesty with yourself and your future spouse. Communication ensures that you don’t marry the wrong person or that you stay married to the right person. If you have any other questions about relationships, prenups, or therapist referrals; please feel free to call me at 212-734-1551, and I’d be happy to advise you. I’m Lois Brenner, mediator and divorce attorney; and I will help you achieve the future you deserve.

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A New Year and a New You… Is Divorce Right For You?

December and January—the time of year when both gifts and the financial year are wrapped and focus begins anew on a fresh start and a “better you.” It’s the closing of one chapter and the beginning of a new, when well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions are set into motion.

Perhaps a page from last year that you’d like to turn quickly involves a broken or irreparable relationship with your spouse that has you contemplating divorce.

But before you close the books on that relationship; it’s best to take an extra hour, day, or week to speak to a professional, objective divorce attorney to make sure you know all of your options.

You don’t want to speak with a divorce attorney when you have a crisis on your hands and emotions are high. You need to speak with one in advance to find out your rights, procedures, bargaining methods, and whether filing for divorce is the right decision for you.

You may think that once you see a lawyer, you have to move forward right away with a divorce.  But that is not so. Just because you have a conversation with an attorney doesn’t mean you have to take any action. Think about it like this: if you were considering going back to school to get your master’s degree and you request a course catalog from Penn State, that doesn’t mean you have to take the trip out to State College the next day. You’re simply considering all of your options.

Educate yourself about all of the options, including NOT hiring a lawyer or starting a lawsuit; but rather seeing a mediator who will keep you out of court, charge a fraction of the cost, and help you avoid unnecessary conflict.

The start of a new year and a “better you” means self-examination and part of that involves asking for help.

If you have any questions about divorce or need help in the choice you are thinking of making in leaving that relationship, please feel free to call me at 212-734-1551, and I’d be happy to advise on the outcome you are looking for. I’m Lois Brenner, a psychologically trained medical professional, mediator, and divorce attorney; and I will help you achieve the future you deserve.

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THE MANY FACES OF AN ABUSIVE SPOUSE AND HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF

A young woman came to see me recently at the urging of a family friend who felt I could help.   She was a successful financial professional, who had graduated from Harvard, was married to a physician and had one child.  She explained that over the past few years she found herself “falling apart” and didn’t understand what was happening to her.

As I asked her questions, it became evident to me that she was a victim of abuse but she was clearly not aware of it. When we talked about her marriage, she explained her husband no longer wanted her to work, so she didn’t. She had no access to finances and was not “allowed” to have her own checking account. Her husband even had to approve of all her friends and he scrutinized her mail. She then defended his behavior and said he was a good father and provider.  She stated, “He is not responsible for his behavior because he’s stressed out all the time.” When I asked about his angry outbursts, she quickly said, “Well he doesn’t hit me, but he can say very mean and hurtful things.”

As we further discussed his rage and her marriage, my client realized that her husband had diminished and isolated her so much that she had lost her spirit, her self-esteem and most importantly, herself. Yes, this is the face of abuse. You don’t have to be “hit” to be abused. If you’re unsure or think you might be a victim of abuse, below are five signs that you’re in an abusive relationship.

  • Name Calling: This is a nasty little psychological tactic of an abusive person to try to raise their status over the person they’re mistreating.
  • Playing the blame game: Someone who is not able to take responsibility for their actions or missteps is not an adequate partner, especially when they erroneously put the blame for their failure onto you. Failure is a wonderful tool to help us grow and learn from our mistakes, but someone who chooses not to see it that way isn’t growing as a person—and is more than likely growing apart from you.
  • Verbal arguments escalating to physical abuse: This one is more than a red flag; it’s a king-sized alarm clock giving you a wake up call that your partner is not the right one for you. If it happens once, it’s more than likely to happen again and it usually gets worse.
  • Manipulative: It seems pretty self explanatory, but a potential abuser will prey on your emotions and fears to get you to do their bidding. They might even go as far as forbidding you to see a specific friend or from going certain places. In some cases the abuser will do everything they can to get their future or current spouse to quit their job—not because they care about their comfort but because they want the other person to rely solely on them so they can leverage that reliance to keep the other person in a weaker position. They subtly separate you from your sources of support – people and money.
  • Subtle attacks on your character and abilities: This one is a bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The abusive partner might smile and act very polite while telling you you’re no good at your chosen field, you’ll never achieve your goals and dreams, or you’re not handsome or pretty enough.

If this picture looks like you, consult with a psychologically trained legal professional who can guide you on the steps you can take to remove yourself from an unhealthy marriage. Become educated, know your rights, and take some action!

If you have any other questions about abusive relationships or need help in the choice you are thinking of making in leaving that relationship, please feel free to call me at 212-734-1551, and I’d be happy to advise or help you fight or negotiate the outcome you are looking for. I’m Lois Brenner, a psychologically trained medical professional, mediator, and divorce attorney; and I will help you achieve the future you deserve.

 

 

 

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Know Your “Marriage Money Style”

Money is an emotionally charged topic. That’s why few of us and few couples like to talk about it. When couples come to see me and are considering a divorce, money can actually be—yes, even more than sex—what is driving the couple apart.

Money can represent many things. Money is love (not according to a British guy named McCartney), happiness, security, control, freedom, and lots more. When couples fight over money, usually deeper issues come to the surface. I find that these issues have long been neglected and money has become the vehicle for battle. For most of us, there’s just never enough money. We don’t realize when we enter into a romantic relationship; there is often a third party— silent partner.

Before marriage, couples discuss where they are going to live, children, careers, and what side of the bed to sleep on… but never money!  Money is still a taboo topic.  Some people have anxiety, guilt, and even shame about the way they handle money.  Do you really want to tell a potential spouse you’re an overspender?  Not exactly the topic of discussion you want to have before you are walking down the aisle.

Most people have complex relationships with their money. We usually learn about money from our families as we grow up and the lessons can be very different. Dad spent his savings on poor performing “hot tip” stocks. Conversely, mom always deposited ten percent of her salary into an interest bearing savings account. When couples enter a marriage, and have different money styles, they can actually battle and suffer together for years. As the marriage erodes and things begin to explode, that’s when they come to see me. Usually by that time it is already too late and divorce is on the horizon.

Men and women also have different money styles. What sets women apart from men is the different situations women will find themselves in during their lifetime.  Women live longer than men. They usually have been in and out of the work force. When women marry, they often become part of a financial dependency that can work against them if they are not prepared. Women are frequently the primary child care providers. Women usually care for aging family members. A woman’s healthy relationship with money is vital in handling all the responsibilities and difficulties she may face.

Have an open and honest conversation about money with your current or future spouse.

If you are recently engaged to be married, and have decided to go the route of a prenuptial agreement, this is the perfect time to have that much-needed conversation about money.

So what’s your money style?  If you haven’t thought about it, maybe it’s time!  Get in touch with your money style before you make important decisions in your life.

If you have any other questions about managing your money style within the boundaries of your marriage or separation, please feel free to call me at 212-734-1551. I’d be happy to advise you. I’m Lois Brenner and I will always help you achieve the future you deserve.

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Dispelling the Myths of Child Custody Versus Visitation

The holidays are a time for reflection, love, and getting together with family. Divorced families have an extra variable to take into account. Because Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Winter break from school are all just around the corner, I’ve had newly divorcing parents of young children calling me about their custody situation.

Often, these parents have little idea that custody to which they’re referring is actually a question of visitation. In fact, many soon to be divorced parents confuse visitation with custody and as such, it puts the fabric of their relationships and discussions in a precarious situation.

To that end, I want to dispel a few myths that surround child custody and visitation.

Custody

Is not defined as the primary residence of the children. Custody is the right to make major decisions, including: What school the children will attend, the children’s primary care physician, the religion of the children, and attendance at sleep away summer camp. Custody can be retained by one or both parents

Visitation

Signifies the time children spend with each of their parents—especially when it is with the parent whom the children spend less time.

There are many varieties of visitation arrangements. One parent can have the children living with him full time while the other parent gets the children for two weeknight dinners and weekends.

Factors in visitation can include: hours and location of parental employment, location of children’s school in relation to one of the parent’s residence, and the reliability and maturity of the parent.

In determining child custody and visitation rights, the decision is supposed to be in the best interest of the child. A knock down, drag ‘em out fight should be avoided.

Solely using the courts to make these decisions is expensive financially and emotionally. Lawyers can cost tens of thousands of dollars or more and can often be adversarial, elongating the time that a custody or visitation decision will be made.

Judges can make decisions about your future by relying on the advice of court-appointed psychiatrists who assess a family’s dynamics and mental health. But how well can these doctors get a true understanding of a family after only a couple of hours of evaluation?

Mediators are often much better equipped to help divorced parents make custody and visitation decisions. Mediators using psychology and other skills can help parents come to agreements that are in the best interests of everyone—without spending tens of thousands of dollars. Mediators can also help divorced parents make decisions without all of the hurtful emotion behind a court battle.

For any other questions regarding child custody, visitation, or mediation please feel free to call me at 212-734-1551. I’d be happy to advise you. I’m Lois Brenner and I will help you achieve the future you deserve.

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Gentlemen’s Guide to Navigating a High Profile Paternity Suit

In my thirty plus years as a family law attorney, I cannot recall a period of time in which I’ve seen so many stories in the news concerning high profile paternity cases.

Within recent years, big names like former NBA star Michael Jordan, Senator John Edwards, Antonio Cromartie of the New York Jets, actor Jude Law, and the Governator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, have denied accusations of fathering children with former girlfriends, flings, or mistresses. Most recently, Simon Cowell has been subject to rumors that he is the father of his friend’s wife’s baby. There are enough of these cases to make the mainstream news sound like one long episode of The Maury Povich Show.

None of these stories ended gracefully, in fact each brought a share of negative publicity to the fathers in question. How is a male celebrity supposed to handle a paternity suit? How should be conduct himself?

I present to you a Gentlemen’s Guide to Navigating a High Profile Paternity Suitan open letter and some much needed advice for celebrities who may or may not be “the father.”

Control Thyself — This is pretty much self-explanatory. Show some restraint and discretion. This also happens to be the most cost-effective strategy.

Keep it Out of the Press — After all this is a Gentlemen’s Guide. Whether the child belongs to you or not, think of his or her well-being. Not all press is good press.

Just Take the Test — There’s no need to prolong the inevitable with a countersuit or with the filing of an injunction. You are either the father or you are not. Face your problems head on.

Don’t Slander the Mother in the Press — This goes back to “Keep it Out of the Press.” Playing a catty game of tug-of-war with the media is not good for one’s public image and diminishes your reputation.

Confidentiality Agreement — If the child is yours and widespread news of your fatherhood is career threatening, propose a settlement with the mother and ask her to sign a confidentiality agreement. You can tie your level of financial support to the promise of the mother keeping your paternity a secret.

Paternity lawsuits aren’t only for Hollywood and professional athletes. I’ve had my own share of clients who work on Wall Street or who are top-level executives—well-to-do men who have been hit with paternity suits that threaten the fabric of their family and their livelihood. Sometimes the suit is warranted and sometimes a woman makes a false accusation to force some sort of monetary settlement.

In any case, it is important to speak with an attorney or a mediator. Take the DNA test and handle yourself with poise and dignity.

For any other questions regarding the resolving a paternity lawsuit, please feel free to call me at 212-734-1551. I’d be happy to advise you. I’m Lois Brenner and I will help you achieve the future you deserve.

 

 

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Is Your Business or Practice up for Grabs in a Divorce?

You’ve spent countless hours working to build your business. You have an intellectual property law firm or pediatric medical practice or even a landscaping company. You’ve taken on loans and have worked more weekends than you care to remember. But you’re finally at a point where your business is thriving.

Unfortunately, you’re also at place in your life where you’re going through a divorce.

When you first started your business or practice you never considered that it could be deemed a marital asset that gets evaluated and divided under current New York State law. You are now being forced by a judge to relinquish a substantial portion of your business value to your soon-to-be former spouse. How could this be? It’s not fair. It’s not right. This is a serious threat to decrease the value of your business.

Hopefully this is all hypothetical—except the part about the thriving business.

Unfortunately, in my thirty years as a family law attorney, I’ve seen far too many cases like the one I’ve described above.

When starting your business or practice it is imperative that you divorce-proof your business. Here a few ways you can do that:

  • A prenuptial agreement—With a prenup, couples can decide what portion of their business is considered separate property from the marital assets as a result of a divorce. With something like a small business where the two spouses are both owners, a prenup can establish from the start the distribution of business interests to each spouse.
  • Create a buy-sell agreement—This protects any of your business partners from having your former spouse as an unwanted business partner. It also protects you from having their spouses as business partners.
  • A postnuptial agreement—Similar to a prenup except this agreement takes place during the marriage. However, spouses have limited leverage and can no longer say “I’m not marrying you if…”
  • Pay yourself a fair salary— If all you’re doing is reinvesting your profits back into the business and not into your household, your spouse could make a claim that they are entitled to a larger share of your business.

How to protect your business during a divorce:

  • Mediation—Rather than litigation and months of court proceedings, this is a much more flexible method in settling the business end of your divorce. It is a customized manner in which to split the value of your business or practice, which is normally evaluated by a professional forensic accountant.

-   If you do owe your spouse a portion of the value of your business or practice, you can use one or more of your other marital assets to pay off your spouse.

-   You can pay your spouse the value of what you owe them over time, with or without interest.

For any other questions regarding the many variables of protecting your business from divorce, please feel free to call me at 212-734-1551. I’d be happy to advise you. I’m Lois Brenner and I will help you achieve the future you deserve.

 

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3 Best Methods to Settle a Custody Dispute

As a family law attorney and mediator, I regularly counsel fathers and mothers going through divorce who are considering a custody action. Often these concerned parents have a fair amount of misconceptions as to what custody actually entails.

From the outset, it’s important to know that custody is not necessarily about the physical location where the children live. It’s about the right to make major decisions on matters such as a child’s schooling, religion and medical care. In my thirty years of experience, I’ve witnessed custody battles that can be vicious, lengthy, and excessively expensive. Parents going through a divorce, if you want to be sure you make the right choice when it comes to your child’s custody; here are the three best methods for settling a custody dispute:

  1. Mediator: A third party who can help negotiate an acceptable agreement. This is a person who helps spouses communicate but doesn’t make any decisions for them. Someone who can save you time and tens of thousands of dollars.
  2. Lawyers Negotiate Out of Court: As straightforward as it sounds, it’s for spouses who tell their attorneys to try to stay out of court. This may be an option when spouses have engaged in threatening, deceptive, or manipulative behavior between one another. Unable to resolve conflict on their own, they must come to a reasonable solution using their attorneys outside of the courtroom.
  3. Parent Coordinator: A relatively new practice used in some states to manage ongoing issues in high-conflict child custody and visitation cases.  Usually performed by professional psychologist or a lawyer assigned by the Court. The coordinator meets with both parents regularly, handles questions and complaints, and makes recommendations to the mother and father. These are usually supported by the judge. Instead of ending up back in court to discuss details such as a 7am drop off on Christmas Eve or at which house the child keeps their toys; a PC will help resolve these issues within a few phone calls.

There are times when using the court to settle child custody is necessary, such as in cases of abuse or neglect. But know that judges can make decisions about the future of your children without having all of the facts or a true understanding of the psychological dynamics within your family. And buyer beware, this option is often the priciest.

For any other questions regarding the many variables of child custody, please feel free to call me at 212-734-1551. I’d be happy to advise you. I’m Lois Brenner and I will help you achieve the future you deserve.

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