This is a blog about relationships, and it covers dating, marriage, parenting, modern family dynamics and divorce as seen from the very personal perspective of a divorced divorce lawyer.
The Top Things to Consider Including in Your Prenuptial Agreement
Getting married is an exciting time in your life. It is important to consider the potential legal and financial implications of your union. That's where a prenuptial agreement comes in. While it may not be the most romantic aspect of wedding planning, a prenup can provide peace of mind and protect your assets in the event of a divorce. This is even more important as 40% to 50% of marriages end in divorce. But what should you include in your prenuptial agreement? From property division and spousal support, to the logistics of selling the marital home in the event of a separation, there are several critical elements to consider. In this article, we'll explore the top things to include in your prenuptial agreement so you can feel confident and prepared for your future together. So, whether you're getting ready to tie the knot or just curious about prenups, read on to learn more! Understanding the Importance of a Prenuptial Agreement A prenuptial agreement is a legal document that outlines how assets and debts will be divided in the event of a divorce. It can also address other important issues, such as spousal support and alimony. While no one wants to think about the possibility of divorce, it's important to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. A prenup can help avoid costly legal battles down the road. One of the most significant benefits of a prenuptial agreement is that it can protect assets that were acquired before the marriage. For example, if you own a home or have a significant amount of savings, a prenup can ensure that you maintain control over those assets in the event of a divorce. Without a prenup, those assets could be subject to division according to certain state laws. Another important consideration is that a prenup can help avoid conflicts that may arise in the event of a divorce. By setting clear expectations upfront, both parties can feel more secure and confident in their financial futures. A prenup can also help protect any children from a previous marriage by ensuring that their inheritance is preserved. What to Include in a Prenuptial Agreement When drafting a prenuptial agreement, it's important to consider all the relevant issues that may arise in the event of a divorce. In 2021, the divorce rate in the US stood at 2.5 per 1,000 people. Every situation is unique, there are some [...]
How To Reframe A Difficult Mother’s Day
Twenty five years ago I graduated from George Washington University Law School on Mother's Day weekend, and soon thereafter I immersed myself in the practice of family law in our nation's capital. Although the first five years were relatively straight forward, the past two decades have definitely been hard juggling a challenging career and motherhood. A year after opening my own law firm, I got divorced, which made the decision to remain self-employed as a single mother a whole lot scarier, yet somehow I persevered hoping to set a positive example for my son, who was a huge source of inspiration for me especially during COVID when we became so isolated from colleagues, family and friends. Last year, my son launched, and unfortunately his life choices have caused a huge rift within my family, particularly my own mother, who has once again stopped talking to me because somehow I have failed to meet her expectations. What's lost on her is that after law school I stopped letting her guilt trips get to me, and the past 20 years as a mother I have learned the beauty of giving unconditional love, which I never got from her. Some parents model for us the behavior we want to pass on to our children, while others model for us what we don't want to replicate in our own lives. For me it was definitely the latter, because despite years in therapy I never fully got over her hyper-critical and judgmental tendencies, or how she would ignore boundaries and dismiss my feelings. Her emotional blackmail and erratic moods drove me to the point that at age 15 I opted for boarding school and never really returned for long after that. Until I had my own child, Mother's Day was always difficult for me because none of those sappy cards ever applied and the desire to celebrate with my own mother was non-existent. Once I had my own little bundle of joy that all changed, and for years I looked forward to making the day special for us-- at least until he hit puberty and then it became far more difficult to get him to cooperate with what he considered a fake holiday created by Hallmark. Well, we all know teenagers can be difficult, and yet I remain hopeful that at some point my son will figure things out. In the meantime, I accept [...]
5 Tips For Managing A Domestic Partnership
Although fewer people may be walking down the aisle these days, there are still plenty of couples that cohabitate together, sometimes as a test-run prior to getting married, but not necessarily. Over the past two decades, I have learned as a matrimonial attorney not to make any assumptions, however, if you want to successfully navigate shacking up together here are some tough discussions you need to have before moving in together: What is an equitable division of household expenses? First you need to establish a realistic housing budget and agree on what counts as joint expenses, which typically include housing, food, and shared travel and entertainment. Then, if you don't earn the same, it probably isn't fair to split everything evenly. However, if someone is paying off significant debt either from a student loan or prior obligations (such as alimony or child support) then maybe using a pro rata share of net income is more appropriate than focusing on just gross income numbers. How will you manage your finances? Most modern couples have a joint account for shared expenses, but they maintain separate accounts for their separate expenses, such as clothing, transportation, medical costs, debt or independent travel and entertainment. However, not everybody has a transparent discussion about what those separate expenses look like or how they may impact future choices. If the plan is to eventually buy a house together or grow old together, then I would suggest you embrace total transparency as your policy with each other. Which chores do you want to tackle separately vs. together? Often, the most efficient way to divide up tasks is to divide and conquer by playing into each other's strengths. Usually, one person is the better cook, while another one might enjoy doing laundry more. Be honest about what you are capable of taking on, and also what you would prefer to farm out. For example, if you both hate cleaning and/or lack the time, then look into hiring a cleaning service. If neither one of you enjoys cooking, maybe consider taking turns using a meal prep service. The key is to not take on more than you are able to handle and letting resentment build up. What happens in the event of an illness, death or a separation? These are admittedly not pleasant topics to discuss, but you do need to plan ahead in the event someone gets sick-- [...]
Families Are Like Rock Bands, They Break Up
In just a few months I will be celebrating 25 years as a family lawyer in our nation's capital. That means half my life I've been helping to restructure hundreds of families tackling major issues related to their finances and children, as well as the redistribution of responsibilities and resources. Meanwhile, despite my best efforts, my own family has gone through several painful reorganization endeavors with incredibly mixed results. The fact is after all these years, my conclusion is best summarized in this one line from the new movie, The Jesus Revolution: families are like rock bands, they break up. The most common factors contributing to a falling out among family members are disagreements over (1) money, (2) kids, (3) an individual's poor choices and/or bad behaviors that negatively impacts others, and (4) unmet expectations. These issues are easily exacerbated during trying times by our inability to communicate effectively and respectfully. Family problems never just go away on their own, and unfortunately left unattended tend to slowly erode trust and respect until there is nothing left but deep resentment and contempt. Over the past two decades while navigating motherhood and an intense professional life, I wish I could say my family has always stood by me, but nothing could be farther from the truth. All the plot twists and turns in our story could easily make a telenovela seem like a child's fairytale. Instead, it's been the support of my peers and friends that have kept me going on my journey, which has been chock full of trials and tribulations, particularly over the past decade in the category of romantic partners. After my own divorce, I easily lost sight of the big picture while focused on the daily mundane tasks at hand. Months quickly turned into years without a true partner to share in all the joys and sorrows of life, and then COVID hit. There's nothing like a worldwide pandemic and a milestone birthday to shake you out of auto-pilot mode and force you to reckon with questions about your true purpose, desired legacy and the meaning of life. One might easily surmise that I have become jaded to the point that I no longer believe in the institution of marriage, particularly as a divorce attorney. I will admit there have been times when I have had my sincere doubts--especially with a mother that never married and a [...]
Are You Struggling With A Family Estrangement?
According to several recent publications approximately one-third of all families are struggling with some type of estrangement. There are several reasons an estrangement may occur within a family, including when (1) there is significant abuse/neglect by a parent; (2) relatives disapprove of someone's choice in a bride or groom, or the dynamic with in-laws becomes problematic as time progresses; (3) a couple gets divorced and maybe relatives sympathize more with the other spouse; (4) there is conflict over money, especially an inheritance; (5) someone fails to live up to the family's expectations or (6) there is firm disapproval of a person's lifestyle choices. Fault Lines, by Dr. Karl Pillemer is a fantastic book that I recently read, which does an excellent job of providing examples of each such scenario, as well as tips for coping with and/or overcoming this difficult situation. As a family lawyer for over two decades, I have been privy to many stories of family rifts, and I have also witnessed the ripple effect that they tend to have over generations. Sadly, we have experienced this situation many times within my own family, and as a result I have come to accept that sometimes despite our best efforts, some relationships simply cannot be repaired. Unfortunately, we rarely talk about these painful issues and many often just don't understand what could lead someone to completely sever ties-- a dilemma that is poignantly portrayed in the recent movie The Banshees of Inisherin. The truth is it only takes one person to opt out of a relationship and often the full extent of the collateral damage is left unknown for years. Within my own family, my mother was estranged from her father as a child, and this has always haunted her. I was estranged from my father, and it took me years in therapy to work through the trust and abandonment issues that resulted from that experience. The lingering issues that I have with both my parents have undoubtedly impacted my own relationship with my son, and we may never fully comprehend the full extent of how these rifts have been absorbed by my extended family. The undeniable reality, however, is that at this point no amount of repair work will ever fully heal the wounds that have cut deep into the fabric of our lives. When you can't count on your own family, it begs the question: who [...]
How Will You Celebrate Valentine’s Day?
Valentine’s Day, which some have reclaimed as Single Awareness Day is just a few weeks away– and there is still plenty of time to make a plan with or without a significant other. In past years when I was single I would always treat myself to something and make an effort to celebrate with friends, mainly because I believe the day is about celebrating love, not just a romantic partnership. Whether you treat yourself to a fun yoga class, a massage, a new outfit, some chocolates or a night at the movies, the point is to make sure you recognize Valentine's Day for yourself in some way. Why? Because the saying is true- you are not going to find the right love until you learn to love yourself. And beyond that, Valentine's Day is the perfect day to acknowledge and be grateful for all the loved ones in your life, even if you have not yet found your forever person. For those of you that are fortunate enough to have a special someone to celebrate the day with, I urge you to share with each other your expectations for celebrating the day together. Don't assume that the other person can read your mind or that some spending limit you have in mind is simply understood without actually being spoken. Do you want to go out or stay in? Do you want flowers and chocolates, or do you prefer something else? Have an open discussion about your needs and wants, this way you're sure not to be disappointed. Whatever you decide to do I hope it brings you joy, and that beyond Valentine's Day you continue to make an effort to allow past disappointments to fade while you nurture those relationships that help love find its way into your heart. By Regina A. DeMeo
5 Simple Tips To Safely Navigate Dating
Just a few days into the new year, and already many are diligently working on keeping their new year's resolutions. For singles, a popular task to tackle is to make a more concerted effort to get back into the dating scene. But the older you are and the longer you've been out of practice with playing 20 questions, the more daunting this might seem. Here are 5 simple tips that my divorce clients have found helpful when getting back out there: 1. Cast a Wide Net- Rather than put all your eggs in one basket, make sure you check out various dating sites (and ask a friend to check in on you after a new date). If online apps aren't appealing to you, then maybe consider reaching out to a matchmaking service that will do some of the vetting for you. You can also look into group activities or take a class that interests you to increase your chances of meeting others with a similar passion. 2. Be Mindful- People have different dating goals, and a lot can depend on how long they've been separated or how acrimonious their divorce was. Try to be curious and not make assumptions about someone's dating intentions. Some may just not be ready for a serious relationship, and others may lack the capacity to be flexible on certain criteria that they want in a partner, so don’t take rejections personally. Focus on what you need and clearly identify your deal-breakers. 3. Follow the Golden Rule- Be respectful of each other's time by showing up on time, being polite and ready to have fun while playing 20 questions. Try not to make that first date feel like a job interview. And if you're not feeling it, just be honest but in a kind way-- don't ghost, breadcrumb or cushion. 4. Take Your Time: Enjoy getting to know someone, going on trips together, meeting their friends and family, and planning fun adventures. Just remember, everyone is typically on their best behavior during the honeymoon phase. Use this time to do your due diligence by collecting various data points and making sure that your dreams and aspirations align. 5. Moving In Together: You truly don't know someone until you have lived with them for a while, so why not play house before you buy a house together? Of course for this to be a successful exercise, it's important to [...]
What’s Your 2023 New Year’s Resolution?
The holiday season is almost over and as we wrap up 2022 the biggest take-away for me is a very simple one: there is so much that is just outside of our direct control. As frustrating as that fact may be, the sooner you can accept it, the sooner you can focus on that which is within your control. With that in mind, here are 4 key areas in our lives that we can strive to improve upon in the new year: 1. Physical Health– How comfortable are you with your own body? If you want to lose weight or tone your muscles, change your workout or maybe even get some medical intervention to fix things you don’t like about yourself, go do it! Focus on yourself for a bit, and don’t feel guilty about it. The great thing about setting physical goals is that within a short period of time you can really start to see results, and this will boost your spirits greatly. The undisputed fact is the more positive your energy is, the faster you will recover from whatever heart break or disappointment comes your way. 2. Intellectual Stimulation– Are you bored at work or at home? Having a great mind is a gift you should not squander. We all suffer lulls either at home or at our jobs, but rather than allow your brain to just atrophy find something new to learn and challenge yourself. Learn a new language online or in a classroom, sign up for continuing education courses that will either help you advance in your career or maybe assist you with changing jobs. Or maybe it would be fun to teach? Volunteering to teach kids is a great way to give back and connect with your community, and the questions they ask are so insightful. 3.Emotional Intelligence– I’ve met a lot of brilliant people with the emotional IQ of a pea. Seriously, there is not a single person I know that can claim to have mastered emotional intelligence, and that is because it is a work in progress, and we are all constantly learning as we react to different environments, experiences and life challenges. If you truly want to improve your relationships with others, there are tons of great life coaches for one-on one sessions, seminars for those seeking a group setting, or there is always the library (or internet) full of books on psychology [...]
Tips For Avoiding Holiday Drama
All families have drama, and let's be real there is such a thing as too much time together. Sadly, the holidays can be the perfect storm for many who are already on edge as a result of all the pressures we have this time of year to (1) find the right gifts for family and friends, (2) distribute the correct amount in bonuses and tips to our employees or service providers, and (3) make an appearance at all the necessary events/gatherings. Given all these challenges, try to set limits with others to ensure that you don't spend more time, money or energy than you are comfortable with-- remember it's a good thing to have boundaries. Unfortunately, our relatives are often the best at triggering us, so try being proactive vs. reactive. Knowing that some difficult questions might come up, try to problem solve ahead of time by coming up with a canned answer that is polite but firm. For example, if you don't want to discuss something, either say "I appreciate your concern, but this is still a raw subject for me" or "I'm not ready to talk about this now, but I will circle back to you when I am." If you rehearse these types of answers beforehand, then there is much less of a chance you will say something harsh in the heat of the moment. Another key coping skill during the holidays is to carve out some time for yourself, and don't let anyone guilt trip you because you want some time alone. There's no need to apologize or feel badly about wanting some time to decompress by yourself, just know that it's solely up to you to speak up when you need a break to go recharge your batteries. Here are some great excuses to do just that: take a long walk or bike ride, do some yoga, play some tennis or a round of golf, or maybe just go into a separate room to read or take a nap. The key is to specify what you are doing and how long you'll be gone. Some years you may need accept that it's just going to be less than ideal. Keep in mind that situations are fluid within families. In prior years, I would jump at the opportunity to see my family, but this year let's just say we've had more than our fair share [...]
Holiday Engagements & Prenups
With just 31 days left to wrap up this year, we are in full holiday mode now, which goes hand-in-hand with a spike in engagement announcements as almost one-third of all engagements happen during the holiday season. Those couples looking to tie the knot in 2023 will quickly need to work on their budget, which will largely be driven by their guest list and venue selection, along with the fees for other key vendors including a florist, photographer, the entertainment and caterer. Negotiating the various contracts with all the service providers while also navigating family dynamics over the next few months will undoubtedly be difficult and emotional for those recently engaged. Consider investing in some pre-marital counseling sessions as you prepare for this monumental life event, especially if you have concerns about your ability to manage conflict and communicate respectfully and effectively. This would also be a good time to discuss the benefits of a prenuptial agreement with an experienced matrimonial attorney and perhaps set up a meeting with a financial advisor to ensure you are on the same page about the financial implications of your merger. Over the past two decades, prenuptial agreements have become quite common especially as we've come to accept the reality that about half of all marriages will not last. To me, a prenup is like a safety belt-- no one gets into the car thinking it will crash, yet we all put on our seat belts just in case. Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, they don't have to be complicated and simply are meant to ensure that everyone is on the same page with respect to what will be joint vs. separate, along with some limitations on alimony (both in terms of duration and amount). Why wouldn't you invest in some peace of mind with a durable contract that is fairly inexpensive to formalize, particularly in comparison to the other wedding costs that on a national average exceed $28,000? The reality is love and money don’t always mix, but the two are inextricably linked when you get married, merging not just your homes but your financial lives together. A prenuptial agreement (or post-nuptial for those that procrastinate until after the honeymoon to get this done) is a simple legal solution that allows everyone to move forward with a clear understanding of the financial expectations and limitations created by that union. Hopefully, this will [...]