New York Times > From a Prominent Divorce in the Affluent Class, Lessons For All

Posted on September 6, 2013


From Paul Sullivan:

FEES For all but the wealthiest people, fees paid to lawyers, accountants, appraisers and other advisers can reduce what the spouse with less is fighting for. Jeffrey R. Cohen, a divorce lawyer at Cohen Goldstein, estimated that a cooperative divorce could cost 15 percent of the cost of one that dragged on or went to trial.

When it comes to agreeing on what people believe is their rightful share, he recalled telling clients: “If you’re 10 percent away, I know you’re going to settle your interest. If you’re 15 percent, there’s a chance. But if you’re 50 or 75 percent away, you’re going to war.”

An alternative some practitioners advise is “collaborative divorce.” (This is not to be confused with arbitration or mediation.) It is meant to minimize the costs — having one appraiser instead of his, hers and a neutral third appraiser, for example. It also focuses on getting to a quick, fair resolution.

“Spouses are assisted in coming up with their goals,” said Tracy B. Stewart, a certified public accountant in College Station, Tex., who works on collaborate divorces. “Then they agree on the value of all the property. Then we generate options for each piece of property and brainstorm how best to divide these things so they both end up with a secure financial future.”

It requires the couple to be ready to move on, even if they don’t like each other any more. One of her more challenging but ultimately successful cases was working with a couple where the husband was addicted to alcohol, cocaine and sex. (“You think that wife wasn’t mad?” she said.)

Where this or any type of negotiation fails is often over small things that have an outsize significance in a marriage.

“I have seen people fight over things that didn’t need to be fought over and it cost them a lot of money,” Ms. Stewart said. “If you’re going to fight over the souvenirs you got in Europe 30 years ago and your attorneys have to listen to it — ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching.”

Mr. Cohen said he told a story to clients who were headed for a long, expensive, contested divorce about the wife of a well-known billionaire who decided to take his offer and move on. “She says, ‘Either I take the offer or he’s going to keep me in court for the next seven years,’ ” he recalled. “She says, ‘This is enough money for me. I can take care of my children and live a good life. I don’t care how much he has.’ ”

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