Episode 1 is our introductory episode. We cover an overview of what's to come in the podcast, and what you can expect to learn from it. We also review two key concepts, which will serve as a foundation for future episodes.
TO LISTEN TO EPISODE 1, CLICK HERE.
Hi, everyone, and thank you so much for tuning in to the Divorce Field Guide. If you are considering a divorce, or you’re at the outset of a divorce process, or in the midst of one, you are in the right place. My name is Ani Mason, and I am a divorce attorney and a divorce mediator, and I am also the creator of this podcast.
WHY CREATE THIS PODCAST?
I wanted to start off by just saying a few words about my thinking and my motivation in creating this podcast, and within that, I also wanted to speak to why in the heck I’m calling it a field guide. Hopefully, both my thinking and my choice of title will become clear to you in a moment.
So, what was my thinking in creating this? You know, I imagine that if you’re considering or you’re in the midst of a divorce process, you find yourself in a really challenging and somewhat conflicted position. Because most people going through a divorce want to figure out and come to some sort of fair resolution, and that’s not easy. They don’t want to fan the flames of conflict unnecessarily, they don’t want to burn money on attorneys’ fees, but they also don’t want to get steamrolled. If you’re like most people going through a divorce process, you don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars to easily throw at your divorce, but you also are not drawn to the $399 offers for divorce that you might see on the BQE (that’s the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway for our non-New Yorkers). You want to do things right, but it’s hard to know how to strike the balance between these conflicting interests that I’m describing. And I think a lot of people find themselves frustrated and at somewhat of a loss because they’re going through a divorce for the first time and they’re really not sure how to do that.
My hypothesis is that having more information is generally better. I think here, specifically, in the context of divorce, having more information to a point is better. I think having too much information can be completely overwhelming, and I don’t want to do that to you. But I think that sharing a reasonable amount of information about divorce, in hopefully intelligible language and not lawyer-speak, will be helpful to you as you walk the balance between those different interests that I described just now.
WHY A “FIELD GUIDE”?
Let me say a quick thing about the Field Guide. Why is this a field guide? Here’s my thinking. I know that when you step into a divorce process, it’s like entering this new weird world where the terrain is totally unfamiliar for you and confusing and not transparent. In contrast, the terrain is very familiar to divorce attorneys, to people like me. So, that idea of having someone who’s an experienced guide to lead you through this unfamiliar terrain is, well, in part it’s what made me think of a field guide.
I think what happens in divorce is that you pay, you hire, an individual to be your guide in the process. I’m not against that. I think that’s the right thing to do. But it doesn’t come cheap because you’re paying for one person’s time and one person’s expertise. What I’m trying to do here is to download some of my knowledge, most of my knowledge, or a good part of it anyway, about the divorce process and the different concepts and the different frameworks that I use in my day-to-day work with individuals and with couples who are divorcing, to download it for you, to make it clear to you, so that you can have a resource to help you understand the terrain of divorce better on your own.
That’s not to say I suggest that you DIY your divorce. In general, I don’t suggest that. But I think it helps for you to know the terrain a bit better as you’re walking through it. So, that is my goal with this podcast.
What I want to do today – this is going to be a shorter episode – but what I want to do in this episode is to cover two really foundational concepts, and then to give you a sense of what’s to come, what can you look forward to in future episodes.
WHAT IS A DIVORCE?
The first concept I want to cover is: what is a divorce? I’m sure you have an idea of what a divorce is, and it’s probably mostly right, but I just want to make sure that we’re defining our terms at the outset and we’re really on the same page when we talk about them.
A divorce is the process by which you legally dissolve your marriage, that you put an end to your marriage. It undoes your marriage going forward; it does not undo your marriage historically, if that makes sense. That’s another topic for another episode. That’s an annulment, and a lot more difficult to obtain than many people think. We’re talking about divorce here. That recognizes that you had a legal marriage and that your legal marriage is ending.
The other piece of a divorce is that it is not just ending your marriage, but it is also the process by which you put your affairs in order, so to speak. You have, when you’re married, intertwined your lives. If you’re parents, you have overlapping lives with regard to your kid or your kids. You most likely have financially overlapping lives. You’re on each other’s insurance, you file taxes together, a lot of areas of overlap. As part of the divorce process, you need to disentangle all of those and clarify what you intend to do about each one of them going forward.
So, that’s a divorce. We’ll come back to that again in future episodes but I just wanted to lay that groundwork and let you know what I am talking about, what I mean, when I say divorce.
DIVORCE PROCESS VS. DIVORCE SUBSTANCE
The other foundational concept is the difference between process and substance, and I’ll explain what I mean. (I don’t have a great pithy or short explanation of it, so bear with me.)
When people think about divorce, the topics that are most important to them tend to be their kids and their finances. So, when they think about divorce, they immediately go straight there. Who’s going to stay in the marital home? What will our schedule with our kids be? How are we dividing our retirement accounts? To me, those are the substantive issues of divorce.
In contrast to that – and as I said, that’s usually what people think about first, but – I want to encourage you to think about process questions first. What in the heck do I mean by that? What I mean by that is that I want you to think about how you want your divorce to work. Not how you want it to work out, but what you want the process of your divorce to look like.
For instance, how are you going to work through the issues you need to resolve in your divorce? Are you going to do that in the same room with your spouse or in separate rooms? Through lawyers, with a mediator, or directly with each other? In court or out of court? What do you want your divorce process to look like?
Divorce is not a one size fits all kind of thing, and it is a process that can be personalized and tailored in a lot of different ways. The choices that you make around that really impact both your experience of your divorce, but they can also impact the resolution of substantive issues within your divorce.
I’m going to say more about that in future episodes, but I just want to tease out those two concepts. There are the questions that are, “Are we going to have joint custody of our kids, or is one of us going to have sole custody?” “How much of your retirement account am I getting?” Those are substantive issues. But process questions are questions like, “Are we going to get divorced through mediation?” “Or are we going to get divorced in a litigated process?” “Are we hiring a mediator?” “Are we both hiring attorneys in addition to that mediator?” “Are we both hiring litigators?”
Again, I’ll say more about all that in future episodes, but I wanted to tee that idea up as a concept that you will hear about again and again from me: process versus substance. And think about process first.
WHAT’S TO COME
What’s to come in future episodes? Not surprisingly, we’re going to talk about process first.
In essence, your divorce is a big negotiation process. We’re going to talk more about: what is negotiation? How does it work?
And then, specifically in the context of divorce, what are the different process options you have? What are the different ways that you can get divorce? And how should you, individually, assess what makes the most sense for you and what makes the most sense for your spouse?
Then, when you have a sense of the kind of divorce process you’d like to be in, ideally, how do you go about hiring the right person or the right people to help you navigate that process?
From there, we will talk about what to expect in an initial meeting. I should say that my own practice is focused on mediation and collaborative law cases, and in both of those processes, we meet in person more than we do in what I’ll call a settlement negotiation process (and again, I’ll define these things for you later) or a more traditional litigation process. I’ve practiced in all four areas, and in mediation and collaborative law, there are more in-person meetings. So I just want to flag that the vast, vast, vast majority of what I’m going to talk about it applicable no matter what kind of divorce process you choose, but you should listen to this through the lens of or with the knowledge that I’m primarily a divorce mediator and collaborative lawyer. So anyway, we will talk about what to expect in a first meeting, whether it be a collaborative meeting or a first mediation session or a first negotiation meeting.
Then, we are going to start to shift toward more “substantive” divorce issues, kind of a hybrid issue actually, which is going to be preparation for the divorce process and, specifically, gathering information, mostly financial information. I have to be honest here and say, this is one of the more painful areas of the divorce process for many of my clients. I am going to take you through it step by step, make it as easy and straight-forward for you as possible, but that’s not to say that I can make it easy. I wish I could.
From there, we are going to move on to talking about the purely substantive issues. If you have children, we’re going to do a deep dive into kid-related topics, parenting schedules, decision-making, plans to relocate, and more. Everything you can imagine that relates to co-parenting your kids when you are in separate households.
Then, for both parents and non-parents, we are going to talk about financial topics. And those can become pretty complex in a divorce. They may not be for you, or they may be.
We are going to start with talking through support. And that covers both child support and spousal support, or we will talk about both of those things. They’re not the same thing. They’re quite different. A lot of subtopics within the overarching topic of child support or support for your children, but we will dive in there to walk you through how to know what to expect in a child support discussion, how to prepare for one, what kinds of things you should be thinking about. And same for spousal support, which is also, depending on where you live, called spousal maintenance, also called alimony.
From there, we will start talking about dividing assets and debts. That’s a big part of a divorce process, taking stock of what you own and what you owe and figuring out what you’re going to do about it.
And then we’re going to cover some important - I don’t even want to say ancillary issues - but let’s say often less onerous issues: taxes, health insurance, life insurance and more.
We’re going to swing back around to what I think of as more sort of process-focused topics toward the end of the podcast. I’m going to talk to you about how to think about who pays for and how you pay for the costs of the process, and how to handle that, how to handle payments and paying for the process during the process, before you’ve figured out who has ultimate responsibility for paying for it.
I’m also going to take you through how to find out, how to talk about or think about “what the law says” on a given topic that you’re discussing. So what does the law say about custody of your kids? What does the law say about how to divide your retirement accounts? And how should you find that out? And how should you think about it in your process?
I’m going to give you some pro tips, some bonus tips, on negotiation strategy and on interpersonal dynamics because of the highly personal and sometimes charged nature of a divorce negotiation. It can be really, really useful to keep some sort of basic interpersonal dynamics or interpersonal theory in mind as you navigate this process.
And then, as you’re going through the podcast, if you have questions that I have not answered, I want you to send them to me. At the very, very end of the podcast, I will compile any listener questions that I have received and I will do my best to answer them. And that is our roadmap.
That is it for today. Thank you so much again for tuning in. I’m really glad that you’re here, and I am looking forward to talking to you again soon in Episode 2 of The Divorce Field Guide. Thank you so much.