Feb 2012 15

5 Myths about Premarital Agreements

Between news coverage, soap operas and family drama, we all have some preconceived notions about premarital agreements (also know as prenuptial agreements).  Here are a few of the most common myths, debunked:

Myth 1:  Prenuptial agreements are only for wealthy people, my fiancé and I are not rich and so we don’t need an agreement.

You may not be rich, but you definitely want to have a successful marriage. Having those honest discussions regarding how the two of you will approach finances will ensure that there won’t be any surprises once you are married.  You never want to actually need to enforce the premarital agreement, right? Talking about financial issues in advance will help insure that you handle your finances with minimal conflict during your marriage as well as in case of divorce.

Myth 2:  Prenuptial agreements are designed to simply protect the wealthier spouse and strip the other spouse of all of his or her rights.

Fact:  Prenuptial and premarital agreements should be designed to protect both spouses.  Premarital agreements which are unfair and completely one-sided are probably not enforceable in court.  By definition, the agreement must be fair.  The basic requirements for premarital agreements to be enforceable are:  signing the agreement must be voluntary, it can’t be unfair when it’s signed; each party needs to make a full disclosure of your assets and debts.

Premarital agreements can be designed so that everyone’s needs are met.

Example:  With a premarital agreement, you will know in advance how your assets and debts would be handled in the event you do not stay married. You’re negotiating the property settlement while you’re both in love with each other.  You would not be at the mercy of your spouse’s generosity or lack of generosity at the time of a divorce.

Myth 3:  Premarital Agreements Aren’t Romantic.

 Fact:    Jessica Simpson and Paul McCartney didn’t think they were romantic, either.  And, there’s nothing romantic about fighting about money once you’re married because you never discussed how you’d handle your finances, either.

Myth 4:  Premarital Agreements must deal with every issue that might come up in a divorce.

Fact:  You can include as many issues or as few issues as you wish. Because premarital agreements are private contracts, you can make them as detailed as you want.

Example:  If the only thing you want for your premarital agreement to accomplish is to protect your pre-marital property, you can limit your premarital agreement to that issue alone.

If the only thing you want for your premarital agreement to accomplish is to outline what would happen in the event of your death, in addition to a Will or a Trust, you can limit your premarital agreement to that issue alone.

If you want your premarital agreement to cover almost every issue that might come up in a divorce except one or two issues (like spousal support, or contributions to a pension during the marriage, for example), then you can have the agreement cover everything except the issues you want to exclude.

If you want your premarital agreement to cover every issue, you can do that, too.

Myth 5:  If we don’t get married, my live-in mate won’t have any claims to my income or property.

 Fact:  You could risk your income or assets by living together without marrying.

Palimony is a spousal support substitute for alimony or spousal support for people who are not married.  Palimony claims are difficult to prove, but that doesn’t stop some people from trying.

If you are going to live together without getting married, you’ll want a cohabitation agreement.  It’s better to decide who contributes to and owns property before you buy things rather than afterwards.

Conclusion:  The truth is that a carefully crafted premarital or prenuptial agreement can cement your relationship, prompt you to have the hard discussions that engaged couples need to have, and insure that your finances are handled the way you each intend in the event you were to divorce or pass away prematurely.

Diana Mercer is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Perigee 2010). Join the conversation and community on our video blog and check out Diana’s divorce blog on the Huffington Post

Sep 2011 29

It’s much harder to mediate your personal situation and family problems than it is to help someone else with theirs!  That is the ultimate test of your skills as a professional–do you YOUR skills translate to home?

I was concerned that mine did not, or at least not enough to warrant dishing out advice on the 8 Keys to Resolving Conflict in my latest book. I’ve always felt strongly about walking my talk as an attorney. I made it my business to be honest and not to get involved in a bunch of lawsuits.

But doing so as a mediator was much, much harder.

My relationship with my 2nd husband is the easy part. Steve is a very easygoing guy and I’m definitely the higher maintenance of the two of us.   I truly appreciate him.  We’ve been married almost 13 years and have more fun together all the time.  I even have a good relationship with my 1st husband, Bill, and his family.  I am friends, or at least Facebook Friends, with many of my high school classmates, including the ones I “hated” at the time.

But my family….not so easy.  Without going into too much detail, my parents’ marriage had rocky parts, and there were individual problems for them as well. My brother sometimes struggled in school and I was a mischief maker.  Like any family, pretty much.  

My dad pointed out once that his brother’s family, which I basically see as the ideal family, also had problems. He rattled off a few of the “bad” things that had happened to them and between them, and I said, “But that’s exactly what makes them such a great family. They aren’t perfect, but they support each other and they work through things and in the end come together as a family!”

I could see from the look on his face that he didn’t get it.  If it wasn’t a Beaver Cleaver family, it wasn’t good enough.

Anyway, so the seeds of my rocky relationship with my dad run deep. Let’s just leave it at that.

So imagine my surprise when my dad reflected on of the 8 keys to resolving conflict back to me, unprompted!  “This is a tough problem, but we’re smart people. We can figure out a solution.” 

I almost fainted!  I am getting through! And it’s working!

By way of the back story about why I’m even bothering and putting myself out there with my father…..

So I figured the ultimate challenge for myself on this blog was to attempt to mediate and repair my relationship with my father.  After all, how could I tell others to choose their battles or use “I” statements if I wasn’t going to do it myself?

And you know what? It changed my life.  Profoundly.  My relationship with my dad is still pretty rocky, but it’s better. But bringing those 8 keys to resolving conflict into my everyday life has been nothing short of a game-changer. My capacity for empathy has expanded and I’m better able to relate to clients and friends by aligning with my true commitment to help resolve things, be honest, approach problems with integrity, and live my life as a mediator and peacemaker.

Pretty exciting stuff.

 
Diana Mercer is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Perigee 2010). Join the conversation and community on our video blog and check out Diana’s divorce blog on the Huffington Post

Sep 2011 26

My dad is 83. We’ve had a rocky relationship since I’ve been 10 years old. I suspect I’m not alone, hence starting Project Vic, a video series which chronicles my attempts to mediate and repair my relationship with my dad.

Vic has agreed to be a guest blogger today.  He doesn’t do a lot of media appearances anymore. Back in the day, as the Director of the Dental Division at the Indiana State Board of Health, he’d go on TV and tell kids not to eat frosted Pop Tarts and Count Chocula cereal (and then bring that stuff home to us). But it’s been a long time since he was on camera.

So I try to be patient.

I remember my mother getting impatient with old people in the grocery line, fumbling for their coupons or check book.

I try to remember not to be so impatient, now that she’s gone.  As her cancer progressed, one of her favorite things to do was to go to the Kroger grocery store by the house and go grocery shopping.  When Kroger had a big party in the parking lot, she wanted to go every day. I happened to be visiting and so I went with her every day, too. I tried to get her to try the Jaegermeister the rep was sampling on tap, but she knew me too well and took a pass.

She could barely walk, and leaned on the grocery cart for support. She wasn’t very fast. She didn’t have her coupons or money ready.  And it didn’t matter. She was having fun, and that’s what counted. It wasn’t my definition of fun, but if I could take care of her in this little tiny way by helping her through the grocery store, then that was what we’d do.

The day she died, my dad and I sat in stunned silence for awhile, and then helped the funeral home remove her body from the house.  We sat in the dark for awhile, and then finally decided we should go to the MCL cafeteria for dinner.  We’ve eaten at MCL as a family ever since I can remember. In the 60’s there was a cute woman with blonde flip hair. I must’ve been about 5 and I said loudly, “When I grow up I want my hair to look exactly like that lady’s!”  Hey, at least I was saying something nice!

So as we sat at the MCL I looked at all the old people. MCL is a pretty forgiving place, so there are lots of people with babies and old folks.  I realized that other people got to have their old people with them at MCL, but that my family didn’t get to anymore.

 
Diana Mercer is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Perigee 2010). Join the conversation and community on our video blog and check out Diana’s divorce blog on the Huffington Post

Sep 2011 22

Forrest Mosten, known affectionately as Woody Mosten, is one of the country’s top mediation trainers.  I visited his office awhile back and he took me on a tour of his mediation office and talked a little bit about why he set his office up as he did.

I know it might sound like over-kill, but mediators need to be very mindful of how their offices are set up because setting the intention for clients is very important.

What does your office say about you?

Does the Class AAA space say that clients are paying your rent? or does your modest address tell clients that you don’t care about details?

Do the files and file boxes everywhere in the conference room tell clients that you will treat their file in the same way, with papers strewn about and their names written on files and boxes for everyone to see? Or does your lack of paper and files in your office tell clients that you aren’t very busy, and as a result that you aren’t very good?

Oh how I wish I knew the answers to these questions!

I used to feel like putting all my diplomas on the wall was stupid, and like bragging.  Besides, I’d written a book!  I didn’t need to explain my credentials to anyone.

Ah, youth!

Then I went to the dentist. He was putting a crown on my tooth. This was my first major dental work (thanks to my father being a dentist and working on the team that developed Crest toothpaste!) and I was scared.  I looked up at the wall and saw the certificates, awards, continuing education program completition certificates and membership in professional organizations and immediately felt better. My dentist cares about what he does! He keeps up with his continuing education! He is involved with professional organizations!  He’s a mindful practitioner!  What a relief.

So I went back to the office and put up my own “wall of fame.”  After all, we’re dealing with one of life’s most important transitions, and people’s futures.  As divorce mediators, we deal with everything people give a care about in the entire world–their children, their savings, their hopes and dreams for their marriage or partnership…..so I can put a few certificates on the way to silently say that I care and that I believe in what I do.

Diana Mercer is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Perigee 2010). Join the conversation and community on our video blog and check out Diana’s divorce blog on the Huffington Post

Sep 2011 19

Project Vic:  This is the next in an ongoing series of videos where I blog about my own efforts to walk my talk as a mediator and mend my relationship with my dad. It’s one thing to be a terrific mediator when you’re with strangers dealing with a problem you’re not living with, and quite another to apply those skills when you get home to your family.

Not that I live “at home,” or at least not with my dad, anyway.   It’s been quite awhile. But it always amazes me that parents of adult children can forget that they’re still the PARENT and no matter how old the child is, the child is still the CHILD. I’ve got bad news for those of you enjoying your empty nest as the kids go to college and start their own lives….you’re still the mom or the dad.

I still want my dad to be proud of me (my mother passed on in 2010). I don’t care if I’m 47 years old. The sad fact is that he’s never acted like he was proud of me, at least not to my face.  Let me take that back.  Once, when I gave a talk at the Indiana University Law School circa 2007, both he and my mom seemed proud of me. They didn’t exactly say anything to that effect, but they sort of acted like that. Sort of.  Enough for me to connect the dots, anyway.

So Making Divorce Work is my second book. My first book, Your Divorce Advisor, was published by Simon and Schuster in 2001.  When I went to my dad’s house back in January, I looked for a copy of Your Divorce Advisor. I’d given him a copy. It appears that he threw it away, because it certainly wasn’t in the house. 

Interesting, huh?

And when I asked him the 3 word title to  my new book, Making Divorce Work, he said, “Uh, I think it has the word ‘divorce’ in it….” right after he’d attended the book signing party.

My parents (like Howard Stern’s parents!) took great pride in the fact that they didn’t carry photos of their kids in their wallets and that they didn’t trot photos out every time they ran into their friends.

Excuse me?

Maybe it’s a function of not having children myself, but I LOVE to see photos of people’s kids and to hear how they’re doing, particularly when the news is good.

Am I in the minority here?

Would you please weigh in as to whether I’m out of my mind for thinking this way (I know I’m out of my mind, of course, but is this attitude why?) in the Comments below?

Parents are always parents, right? And children are always children, right?

 
Diana Mercer is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Perigee 2010). Join the conversation and community on our video blog and check out Diana’s divorce blog on the Huffington Post

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