How to Prepare for Meeting with a California Divorce Attorney

January is “divorce month.” While it’s certainly not something to celebrate, it is, nevertheless, the time of year when divorce attorneys sometimes see a 20-30% spike in the number of initial consultations.

It makes sense. Many couples try to stay together through the holidays for a variety of reasons–especially if they have children. There are family and social gatherings, kids’ recitals and plays, company Christmas parties…for many couples, it just seems easier to get through all the events and festivities together, avoid the uncomfortable explanations about a separation, and make sure the kids have a peaceful and enjoyable school break and celebrations. 

If you are one of many couples who is making the difficult decision to separate and divorce now that the calendar page has turned, the first thing you should do is meet with an experienced and compassionate divorce attorney to understand the overview of the process.

Our office can provide a consultation for you so that you know where to start and what your rights are in California.  We will discuss the option of having my representation as part of a collaborative “out of court” option, which facilitates productive communication between you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse, with a signed agreement to keep the matter out of court.  If the two of you are on the same page and just need help navigating the divorce paperwork, then using a “mediation” process might be your best option.  Click to learn more about mediation or collaborative divorce.

What to Bring with You to Meet with a California Divorce Attorney

Sometimes when a new client first arrives at my office, they are nervous about meeting with me.  Please don’t worry if you don’t have every single document needed, as we can make a list together of what is most important for your situation.  For our first meeting, it is important to think about your personal goals, both for our meeting, and for your future. You might want to make a list of questions that relate to your goals, for instance:

HOUSE: Will I be able to keep the house, or should I consider allowing my spouse to keep it?  The best way for us to discuss the options on the house would be to review the following documents:

  • Mortgage statement
  • Property insurance statement
  • Paystubs or tax documents that show income for you and your spouse
  • Current deed (can be obtained from the county where property is located)
  • Any signed prenuptial or post-marital agreement, if any
  • Any separation or divorce documents that have been filed with the court
  • A list of assets (and identify if either of you owned before marriage or inherited)

SUPPORT: How much would child support and spousal support be?  For this question, it would be helpful to have three recent pay stubs for each of you, tax return information, and the following:

  • Information on health insurance coverage costs for you both, and children, and what it would be if the other parent had to get new insurance coverage after the divorce
  • Information on if either of you pay union dues and how much
  • Information regarding how much you each contribute to a 401k, 403b, or deferred compensation plan per month
  • Information for the amount you pay into any “mandatory” state or county pension such as CalSTRS or CalPERs 

Documents You’ll Need to Gather for Your California Divorce Process

Getting divorced involves a lot of paperwork! Starting out–as I call STEP ONE–is probably the easiest step, as it’s only two or three forms to file: Petition, Summons, and (if children) the form showing where the children have resided for the last five years. After that, STEP TWO is a bit more complicated. This is called the Disclosure Process, where you each have to provide the other with copies of many documents and complete two main disclosure forms that we can assist you with.  If you want to get a jump start on “disclosures” then it’s best to start pulling together the following:

FINANCIAL DOCUMENTS:

  • Bank statements - checking, savings, and any other accounts, both joint and separate
  • Investment account statements - stocks, bonds, mutual funds, cryptocurrency
  • Retirement account statements - pension, 401(k), IRAs, and any loans thereon
  • Real estate documents - deeds, mortgage docs, home equity credit loan docs
  • Vehicles - titles and loan docs
  • Credit card statements and docs for other loans and outstanding debt
  • Tax documents from the past 2 years
  • Detailed list of physical property and assets - artwork, furniture, tools, electronics, etc.
  • Detailed list of digital assets - software, gift cards, domain names, downloaded games and music and videos, NFTs, etc.

INCOME AND EXPENSES: 

You could prepare a spreadsheet of these, or if you are not a “spreadsheet” kind of person, you can download the FL-150 Income and Expense declaration form to start working on. It’s four pages, and it’s a great way to keep focused on what you need. We won’t need copies of your utility bills or other listed expenses, unless requested by your spouse after this form is provided to him/her.  

CHILDREN: 

It would be helpful to have a separate list of extra expenses for your children, and perhaps a proposal as to how to share them between you both as parents–for example equally or by assigning certain extra-curricular expenses to your spouse and others to you.  Unless there is a serious custody dispute heading for a court battle, you won’t need your children’s medical records. Both parents should have electronic access to them through the medical provider. If one of you is asking for reimbursement of 50% of a medical expense for a child, then a receipt should be sent to the other parent with a request for reimbursement, giving the other parent at least 30 days to reimburse. (By the way, always do your best to keep each other informed of any medical needs or appointments for your children.)

BUSINESS INTERESTS:

If you and/or your spouse own one or more businesses, and you cannot agree regarding division, you might need a business valuation, which involves hiring an expert and can be very expensive. The person who has access to the business records would be asked to provide the information to the expert, with copies going to the other party. 

It’s Challenging, But It’s Doable

You might feel pretty overwhelmed about all the paperwork, but it can be approached in stages. If paper copies are not accessible, remember that most financial documents can be obtained online and then downloaded into a file that you can print from, or you can even provide a thumb drive to counsel so that paperwork can be reduced.  Your CPA and financial planner would assist you in accessing many of the documents you need. Almost everything you need for your divorce can most likely be obtained by calling a few professionals and going online. If your spouse is not being cooperative or helpful in gathering all the documentation needed for your attorneys to help you move through the divorce process, do your best to stay calm as we can look for cooperative solutions short of issuing subpoenas. This is a difficult and stressful time, and emotions will be running high, so give yourself grace in this process. You could try emailing your spouse saying something like, let’s work together on all this documentation so we don’t have to pay attorneys to do it for us. If that doesn’t work, a phone call or email to the other attorney can help encourage cooperation. 

The Bottom Line

If you and your spouse will be separating or getting divorced this year, it’s best if you can work together to collect all the documentation your attorneys and the court will need. Hopefully, the above information will make this overwhelming task easier to accomplish. Just move down the list, gathering paperwork and documentation a little at a time. Chip away at it and don’t let it stress you out. For now, pull the short list of documentation and meet with a knowledgeable California divorce attorney–preferably one who can help you explore your no-court divorce options like mediation and collaborative divorce.

Explore your no-court divorce options and the prenuptial process in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County and schedule a confidential consultation with divorce lawyer Jeanne Browne. With more than 30 years of experience helping couples divorce without court through mediation and collaborative practice, she will give you compassionate legal advice on your issues related to family law, divorce, and prenuptial/postnuptial agreements. Click here to schedule a meeting.

Please Note: Articles posted on this website are for general information purposes only and are not to be considered legal advice. Every situation is unique and we recommend you reach out for a private conversation about your specific circumstances and concerns by booking a consultation.


upright piano

Is the Thing You’re Fighting About in Your Divorce the Thing that Really Matters? 

Divorce often brings out the worst in people. Emotions are running high—anger, disappointment, sadness, confusion, and countless other feelings may be part of your experience. 

And while you’re dealing with emotional fallout and turmoil at the end of your marriage, there are very real logistical and practical matters that must be attended to—not the least of which is finalizing the terms of the divorce settlement. To make matters worse, you may be experiencing new financial strain, struggling to get used to a new living situation, settling into a new home or apartment in a new neighborhood, juggling more responsibilities with your children or aging parents, and overall adjusting to being alone. 

It’s very easy to allow feelings of overwhelm and resentment take over. You may feel that the situation isn’t fair and that your ex got the better end of the deal. You may find yourself fighting with them over things that aren’t intrinsically valuable or important because you’re letting emotions take over. 

The best advice I have for you in this situation is to stop, breathe, and ask yourself some grounding questions: Is this really worth it? Am I trying to win? Am I being cheated out of something that is rightfully mine? Is it really important that I get my way? Am I allowing my emotions to take over when being more measured and rational would be well-advised? 

Recently a friend of mine shared a story about her divorce that I think illustrates something I see all too often with separating couples who are angry and resentful with one another. They often fight about something that doesn’t matter while avoiding conversations about the things that do matter. 

When Robin and Jay (their names have been changed of course) decided to divorce, it was mostly driven by Robin. They were more friends than lovers, and both agreed they deserved to have relationships of true love. Jay didn’t really want to separate, but Robin was dead set on it, so he didn’t put up a fight. 

At first, they prided themselves on being what they joked was the first couple in history to have an amicable divorce. They prepared the home to go on the market, took trips down memory lane looking through old photos, took day trips to their favorite places, and spent bittersweet evenings splitting up books and CDs and other belongings fairly. 

Jay moved out, Robin sold the house, and things seemed to be going smoothly. But then things hit a standstill. Even though Jay had been the one to file the initial separation papers, he soon dug in his heels and refused to cooperate in moving the divorce forward. He started picking fights with Robin about small perceived financial inequities. Robin was confused because they had split the proceeds of the house equally, they each had a vehicle of similar age and value, and Jay had taken everything he wanted when he moved out. 

Suddenly, a major sticking point for Jay was a small upright piano worth about $100 that Robin had given him for his birthday several years earlier. He had never expressed any interest in taking the piano with him, so Robin had it moved to her new apartment (they both were talented pianists). She didn’t know he cared about the piano, and the truth is he didn’t care about it. He was angry with her, full of resentment, but didn’t actually want to get divorced. But instead of discussing things with Robin, instead of being open and honest about his feelings, he chose to pretend he wanted the divorce as well...and then fought with her over a piece of furniture. 

A mutual acquaintance saw the toll the situation was taking on both of them and stepped in. He asked Jay what could be done to move the couple toward a resolution. Jay said he wanted the piano. It was that simple. So they wrote into the settlement agreement that Jay had 60 days to arrange for movers to pick up the piano. Jay finally signed the papers. 

But the most telling part about this story is that Jay never picked up the piano. He didn’t really want it. It was never about the piano. It was about a lot of hurt feelings and Jay’s inability or unwillingness to deal with what was really bothering him. He felt betrayed by Robin (and probably rightly so—she admits she pulled the rug out from under Jay when she asked for a divorce). He had a right to all of his anger and resentment and sadness. What’s unfortunate is that rather than deal with feelings, he allowed them to muddy up the divorce process, fighting over things rather than issues. 

You may have heard the expression “the thing is never the thing.” Nowhere is this expression more true than in a divorce. The end of a marriage is truly one of the most difficult experiences a person can go through, so it’s no surprise that emotions often take over and logic takes a backseat. 

I wish I had known my friend when she went through her divorce. I would have recommended she seek out a mediator or engage in the collaborative divorce process with a supportive team of professionals. Not only would she and her husband likely have gotten through the experience more quickly, but with the help of divorce coaches, they would have had help in communicating some of the complex and difficult feelings between them that were never fully discussed during or after the marriage. Those feelings came out instead as arguments about meaningless stuff that never really mattered. The fight centered on a thing, but in a divorce, the thing is rarely ever the thing. 

Explore your no-court divorce options and the prenuptial process in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County and schedule a confidential consultation with divorce lawyer Jeanne Browne. With more than 30 years of experience helping couples divorce without court through mediation and collaborative practice, she will give you compassionate legal advice on your issues related to family law, divorce, and prenuptial/postnuptial agreements. Click here to schedule a meeting.  

Please Note: Articles posted on this website are for general information purposes only and are not to be considered legal advice. Every situation is unique and we recommend you reach out for a private conversation about your specific circumstances and concerns by booking a consultation.


photo of young couple riding bikes and holding hands on the beach

Can I Waive Spousal Support in Our California Prenuptial Agreement?

Couples who are willing to start off their marriage with a prenuptial agreement are not people who expect to be divorced someday. Often they’re not even thinking that a prenuptial agreement helps them plan for the worst. This may surprise you, but many couples see entering into a prenuptial agreement as a gesture of love—a separation of finances from affection—a way of saying, “I choose you for you, and not for any financial gain or advantage.” 

At times, I have had couples come to me to create a prenuptial agreement with such open hearts and pure intentions that one or both parties have been eager to be generous as a gesture of pure intent. For example, the lesser-earning party may be willing to sign away the right to collect spousal support should the marriage end. I have seen this in situations where both parties earn a similar income and in situations where there is a great disparity in income and separate assets and property. 

I typically try to dissuade couples from including language that eliminates or limits the obligation of spousal support. The reason for this is that we really never know how a court will rule with regard to this issue, no matter how carefully we craft the agreement. The California divorce of Peter and Debra Last is one that illustrates why most attorneys are very hesitant to include such language. 

Instead of Spousal Support, They Agreed to Anniversary Payments 

When Peter and Debra married in 2002, they entered into a prenuptial agreement wherein Debra completely waived her right to spousal support should the marriage end. The agreement included a deal that many of us would find interesting. The equity Peter had in his separate property was made community property immediately, and then there was a payment schedule of sorts. Peter agreed to give Debra specified amounts of money as her separate property: $16,000 within three days of the marriage; $3,500 at the ends of years 7, 8, 9, and 10; and $4,500 at the ends of years 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15...for a total of $52,500. Quite the wedding and anniversary gifts! 

Debra Asked for Spousal Support Anyway

After 19 years of marriage, Debra filed for divorce and requested temporary spousal support, which she was granted. Even though Debra had waived her right to spousal support when they married, her attorney argued that the court should disregard that part of the prenuptial agreement because there was such a dramatic disparity in the parties’ incomes, then and now. California divorce courts strive to aid both parties in maintaining the status quo in terms of living conditions and standards until a divorce is final—and in this case, that meant ordering Peter to pay Debra $8,511 a month. 

Peter Pushed Back

Not surprisingly, Peter fought back. After all, he had what he assumed was an ironclad legal document, and he had paid Debra on their anniversaries as they had agreed. His position was that—by default—their prenuptial agreement should be considered inherently valid and enforceable. But it’s not that simple. The law rarely is.  

Peter’s attorney also argued that if Peter paid Debra $8,511 a month per the temporary order, and later the court determined Debra was not entitled to spousal support, it would be impossible for Peter to recover that money from Debra. The court determined that Debra would be able to repay Peter if she were required to, so the temporary order stood.  

The Prenuptial Agreement Was Not Assumed to be Enforceable

To make a long and complex story short, the court drew upon several cases to determine that a prenuptial agreement should be considered unenforceable unless certain legal standards are met. The burden of proof was on Peter to show that the agreement was enforceable, not on Debra to show that it wasn’t. Every American knows that when it comes to being accused of a crime, you are innocent until proven guilty—not the other way around. The same basic idea applies to a prenuptial agreement that is challenged by one party: it may well be considered unenforceable until proven enforceable. A prenuptial agreement that waives spousal support will always receive more scrutiny and therefore there will be an increased likelihood that a court will decide it’s unenforceable. 

As of this writing, the divorce between Peter and Debra Last has not yet been finalized, but the temporary spousal support order was held up in Debra’s favor.  

The Bottom Line

You’re free to enter into a prenuptial agreement that waives or limits spousal support, but you can’t rely on that spousal support clause to hold up. The case of Peter and Debra Last is just one of several California divorce cases that really encourage attorneys not to include such a clause because we just never know what a judge will do. What I tell my clients is yes, you can agree to limit spousal support, but you can’t depend on that agreement to protect your future liability for support. 

Again, no one gets married expecting to get divorced, and no one enters into a prenuptial agreement expecting to have to fight about it later. You may feel compelled to waive your right to spousal support as a sincere expression of your love and faith in your upcoming marriage, but think twice. I strongly recommend you hire an attorney who is very well versed in California divorce law and who can give you solid advice about how to craft the agreement. 

And should you find yourself in the unfortunate position of getting divorced, please consider either hiring a divorce mediator or a collaborative divorce team to help you navigate the situation. If you have a prenuptial agreement, it may be challenged...and even if it isn’t, you’ll still need compassionate legal support as you end that chapter of your life. 

Explore your no-court divorce options and the prenuptial process in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County and schedule a confidential consultation with divorce lawyer Jeanne Browne. With more than 30 years of experience helping couples divorce without court through mediation and collaborative practice, she will give you compassionate legal advice on your issues related to family law, divorce, and prenuptial/postnuptial agreements. Click here to schedule a meeting.  

Please Note: Articles posted on this website are for general information purposes only and are not to be considered legal advice. Every situation is unique and we recommend you reach out for a private conversation about your specific circumstances and concerns by booking a consultation. 


bitcoin token

Who Gets the Cryptocurrency and NFTs in a California Divorce?

If you have questions about how cryptocurrency (sometimes called simply “crypto”) and NFTs (short for non-fungible tokens) are handled in a divorce in California, you’re not alone. These relatively new investment vehicles are increasing in popularity and that means it sometimes takes time for laws to catch up. But there are some basic principles that guide how courts decide on division of property, and those principles apply to digital assets like crypto and NFTs in the same way they apply to real property and tangible assets. 

Cryptocurrency and NFTs Are Digital Assets 

Cryptocurrency is digital or virtual currency that can be used to pay for goods and services and can even be invested. It is encrypted and decentralized using cryptography. You may have heard of Bitcoin and Ethereum, but there are thousands of other cryptocurrencies as well. Crypto is fungible, meaning each unit is exchangeable for another unit—just like one dollar bill is replaceable by and equal in value to another dollar bill. 

NFTs are unique digital assets, often collectibles like artwork or music. Like cryptocurrency, NFTs are secured using blockchain technology, but each NFT is non-fungible, which means it is unique and not exchangeable with another NFT, just as one painting is not directly exchangeable with another painting. 

There are other digital assets that you may not necessarily think of as having value, or at least not until you go through a divorce. Downloaded e-books, video games, music, movies, websites and domain names, online business, airline miles and gift cards—all of these are digital assets. Some can be duplicated so both parties get to keep a copy, while some must be split or awarded to one party in a divorce. 

I recall a friend of mine telling me about the thousands of songs she and her husband had downloaded during their marriage. When they decided to separate, she asked him to copy all of them so she could take a copy of the extensive music library with her. Luckily, he did just as she asked, but sometimes things like this can actually become a sticking point during a divorce.  

Community Property vs. Separate Property 

In short, property and assets acquired during a marriage are community property. Property that is owned by one partner before the marriage is separate property. This principle applies to both tangible and digital assets. If you own a car and then you get married, that car is your separate property. If you own cryptocurrency or NFTs and then you get married, those assets are separate property. Everything that you and your spouse acquire during your marriage is community property, whether it’s a car, a house, Bitcoin, or NFTs. 

Assessing Value of Digital Assets 

Cryptocurrency is volatile and its value can change quickly and frequently. This can make valuation challenging—certainly more difficult than assessing the value of real estate and other real property. Bringing in a cryptocurrency expert is often necessary. 

When only one person is investing in crypto and doing so on a small scale, the other partner may be willing to let them keep all of it, and that’s not just because it’s expensive to bring in an expert, but also because the volatility of crypto means the value can crash suddenly. One notable example you may have heard about is from May 2022 when cryptocurrency LUNA lost 98% of its value in just 5 days

Can Cryptocurrency Be Used to Hide Assets? 

Because cryptocurrency can be difficult to trace, some people may worry that a spouse is hiding assets in a digital crypto wallet...and some people may actually have the intention of hiding assets via crypto.  

So does crypto make it easy to hide assets? Yes and no. In many cases, it’s not too difficult to figure out that money has been put into a “hot” wallet (like Coinbase” which is a crypto wallet connected to the internet. It can be a little tougher to work out where crypto assets are when they’re stored in a “cold” wallet which is a crypto wallet kept on a hard drive and not connected to the internet. However, there is a record of transfers into and out of hot wallets, so it’s not impossible to figure out—but it can be expensive. Again, this is where a forensic crypto expert will need to be consulted. 

NOTE: The penalties for attempting to hide assets during a divorce are severe. Whether you are thinking of moving money to a bank in the Cayman Islands, transferring the deed to property to a third party, secretly stashing cash under your mattress, or attempting to conceal cryptocurrency in a cold wallet, any attempt to hide assets of any kind and not be completely forthcoming with your soon-to-be ex-spouse will result in serious consequences from the court. 

Again, if you’re getting divorced and cryptocurrency or NFTs are something in dispute, my recommendations are that you (1) be prepared to pay for an expert to determine valuation AND (2) be willing to have a cooperative attitude in dividing assets, and the best way to do so is to work with a mediator or a Collaborative Divorce Team to you help you work through this and other difficult issues. 

The Role of Prenuptial and Post-marital Agreements with Crypto and NFTs 

The primary reason to work with your spouse to create a prenuptial or post-marital agreement is to document your mutual understanding of the ownership of assets. My experience is that when couples have the necessary conversations to lead to creation of an agreement, they don’t feel they’re planning to separate. On the contrary, they gain understanding of one another’s values and priorities, respect for the other person’s point of view, and peace of mind about their financial security. 

When assets are acquired during a marriage, especially those of significant value or those that can dramatically increase or decrease in value, couples who update their prenuptial agreement or (if they don’t have a prenuptial agreement) create a post-marital agreement enjoy the same benefits—understanding, respect, and peace of mind. Post-marital agreements have additional requirements from Premarital agreements, so please schedule an attorney consultation before assuming that the same rules apply. Our office can help you sort these issues out with your spouse. 

The time to discuss important issues in a marriage is always ASAP. Don’t let questions, concerns, or fears linger and fester. Money can be a touchy subject even within very happy marriages, and you might feel unsure how to broach the topic with your spouse. Turn to a mediator or Collaborative Team and let us facilitate difficult conversations and provide expert legal advice during the process, whether you are planning a wedding, are happily married, or contemplating separation or divorce. We’re here to help. 

In the ideal world, this is a happy time of year, full of family, friends, food, fun, and festivities! But for those who have gone through a divorce, this season can be painful, especially if you have children. The first few Christmases after a divorce are often particularly difficult as you adjust to a new normal and mourn the loss of family gatherings and traditions that used to bring you joy. 

But even though you might be dealing with feelings of loneliness, sadness, and even fear, try to remember that this can be a season of new beginnings and the road to future happiness.  

Here are 10 tips and ideas to help you make the absolute best of the holiday season—for you, and for your kids. 

1. Feel your feelings, but don’t completely surrender to them.  

You’re going to feel a range of emotions, and it’s okay to feel all of them. Realize feelings will come in waves. Acknowledge that it’s normal to experience grief, resentment, stress, and countless other emotions. Don’t let them rule you though or you’ll miss out on all the good stuff. (There is still good stuff!) 

2. Talk to your kids honestly…and really listen to them.  

Plastering on a fake smile and pretending everything is perfect isn’t going to fool anyone, especially your children. If you’re feeling sad about the changes to life and the holidays rhythm, imagine how much more difficult and confusing it is for kids who had no say in whether their parents stayed together. Children of every age need help adjusting after divorce. Assure them that feelings of anger, sadness, and confusion are normal. Let them talk. Don’t judge. Ask them how they feel. Ask them for suggestions about what would make the holidays the most enjoyable. Listen and truly consider their point of view.  

3. Assess which traditions to hold onto and make adjustments.  

Some of your family traditions may be very important to you, perhaps because they’re rooted in your religious beliefs or because you’ve brought them from your childhood into adulthood and the family you created with your spouse. Somet traditions, however, may be more like habits and not particularly meaningful to you. It’s okay to make changes to your current traditions or even let some of them go completely to make room for new ones that make more sense for your new situation and family structure. Honor the traditions your children have with their other parent, even if you are no longer involved in them. 

4. Don’t be afraid to make new traditions. 

While it’s hard to let go of old traditions, this is actually a wonderful time to make new ones. Whether you’re on your own or you have children, think about new ways to make new memories that aren’t burdened with the echo of Christmases past when you were still married. What about passing out cookies to less fortunate people? Or bringing a care package to a struggling neighbor as a secret “caper” together? You may find you like some of your new traditions even better than the old ones! What are some things you’ve heard some people enjoy that you might like to try? This is the year to experiment with new options! 

dad and son at Christmas tree farm

5. Accept invitations.  

Resist the urge to isolate. You may not be in a celebratory mood, but say YES to invitations as often as you can so you can be in the company of people who love and support you. Even going out with people just for fun is a great way to shake off a funk! It might be awkward to attend someone else’s family functions, especially for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but you just might have a great time. And when you let someone do something nice for you, like invite you into their home for Christmas dinner, you allow them to experience the joy of giving. Accept graciously…and enjoy!  

6. Reach out to others who might be feeling lonely.  

Not sure who to spend Christmas with? Think about who you know who may also be feeling alone. You likely have friends who are single, divorced or widowed, who are estranged from their families, who have lost parents to illness, or who are new to the area. Invite them over and to share a favorite holiday meal or dessert or to do something festive like view holiday lights or go to a play or concert. 

7. Put differences aside for a whole-family event if possible.  

This may seem impossible, but have you talked to your ex-spouse about doing something together with the kids so they can experience having the whole family together, if only for a little while? Perhaps you can take one short outing or participate in one tradition that has been particularly fun or meaningful for all of you. Some families are successful in doing this, and if you can do it too, it’s worth the extra effort. Your children will thank you later. If possible, put hurt feelings away for a couple of hours and show your children that in spite of the divorce, you’re still family in the most important sense of the word. 

8. Take time to treat yourself. 

Counter the tough feelings by doing things that lift your spirits, especially if you’re spending the holidays alone. Get a massage, listen to your favorite music, take yourself to see the kind of movie your spouse didn’t enjoy, rearrange the furniture for a fresh look, buy yourself something you really want, have a meal you’ve been craving…be kind to yourself. 

9. Exercise and eat mindfully. 

Move your body. Take a walk. Go to the gym. Eat healthy food. Don’t completely overindulge with fattening meals and desserts and alcohol. Both alcohol as well as fatty and sugary foods have been shown to promote depression and anxiety after the initial high of consuming them has worn off. Exercise promotes endorphins and makes you feel good. So treat yourself a little, but remember that exercising and fueling your body with nutritious food are absolutely essential for maintaining good mental and emotional health, so make it a priority. 

10. Remind yourself of the true reason for the season. 

For all of us, Christmas is a time of giving generously and receiving graciously, and whether you are married or divorced, you can still experience all the season offers. If you are a believer, then Christmas has an even deeper meaning, and this is a time to celebrate and be grateful for the birth of our Savior. Whatever is happening or has happened with your marriage and your family, trust that today’s painful feelings will pass and that you will be okay as you trust God, the only one who truly understands all of you, and every part of your situation. Don’t let your current circumstances stop your celebration and acknowledgement of your Heavenly Father who loves you, and all the joy that comes with keeping your heart open.  

A Compassionate Divorce Process Is a Good Starting Point 

If you are preparing to go through the divorce process, I’d like to encourage you to consider mediation or a collaborative divorce. With both of these options, you and your partner have support in communicating and compromising as you come to resolutions about all the difficult issues that come with ending a marriage. Both processes allow you to work together to make decisions about what will be best for your children. In addition, a full collaborative divorce team even includes a person who speaks on behalf of the children, giving them a real voice. When you choose one of these no-court divorce processes, you and your partner will benefit from facilitated communication that often helps couples move past the bitterness sooner—sometimes enabling them to have holidays together, or at least leaving them to feel good about the arrangements they both agreed to about how to split time during these precious occasions. 

Explore your no-court divorce options and the prenuptial process in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County and schedule a confidential consultation with divorce lawyer Jeanne Browne. With more than 30 years of experience helping couples divorce without court through mediation and collaborative practice, she will give you compassionate legal advice on your issues related to family law, divorce, and prenuptial/postnuptial agreements. Click here to schedule a meeting.  

Please Note: Articles posted on this website are for general information purposes only and are not to be considered legal advice. Every situation is unique and we recommend you reach out for a private conversation about your specific circumstances and concerns by booking a consultation. 


photo of hand-drawn heart

14 Inexpensive and Last-minute Ideas for Valentine's Day (or Anytime You Want to Show Your Spouse You Care) 

Let’s talk about Valentine’s Day! Do you roll your eyes at this “Hallmark holiday” or do you see it as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship? 

We learned in childhood that when it comes to giving gifts, it’s the thought that counts. Grand romantic gestures can be nice, but they aren’t necessary to keep you and your partner connected—and you might find that schedule and finances make those difficult anyway.  

Little acts of kindness go a long way toward keeping a marriage strong. Even if you and your spouse are struggling—in fact, especially if you are struggling—putting in a little bit of effort to express affection and appreciation is a smart thing to do. And you don’t have to wait for a special occasion to do it. 

So if you want to buy your sweetie a big box of chocolates or a bouquet of red roses on Valentine’s Day, go right ahead! But might I suggest thinking outside the proverbial heart-shaped box? With a little creativity and care, you can give a thoughtful, personalized gift that will mean the world to them. 

(If you are separated, divorced, or struggling in your marriage, be sure to scroll down past the list for a special note from me that I hope you’ll find helpful.) 

Here are 14 ideas for how to show your sweetie a little love this Valentine’s Day without breaking the bank...and some are easy to pull off in a pinch if you’re running short on time! 

  1. Complete a chore, run an errand, or cross something off the honey-do list that you know would give your partner relief or make their life easier. 

  1. Put together a basket of food and drink you know they’ll like and have a picnic. (It doesn’t have to be fancy, and it doesn’t have to be dinner. Think pastries at sunrise, simple snacks at the beach, or even takeout from your favorite place eaten on a blanket at the park.) 

  1. On individual slips of paper, write down different things you love and appreciate about your spouse. Put them in a box or creative container so they can be pulled out and read whenever they need a pick-me-up. (Consider writing 30 of them for a month of love, or 52 of them for a weekly boost, or go crazy and write 365 of them!)  

  1. Make all the arrangements to go somewhere or do something you know they really enjoy but isn’t necessarily your favorite. Make sure you’re pleasant and enthusiastic the entire time so they don’t have to worry about whether you are having a good time. 

  1. Make a simple scavenger hunt around the house and yard, ending with a small gift, a meal or dessert, a bubble bath, or something else you know your spouse will appreciate. 

  1. Ask your partner’s friends, family, and maybe even co-workers to write short notes of appreciation, admiration, or fond memories and present them creatively. If you’re digitally inclined, get videos instead. 

  1. Draw or paint each other's portraits. Don’t take it too seriously. Have fun with it! Not in the mood to be artistic? Write each other love letters or romantic poems and read them out loud. 

  1. Make a visit somewhere that brings back good memories and reminisce—maybe where you had your first date, where you got engaged, where you first realized you were in love, or where you had a lot of fun together. 

  1. Pull out the photo albums and take a walk down memory lane looking at pictures from your relationship. You might even go further back to look at photos from before you met. Tell each other some stories you haven’t shared before. 

  1. Put together a time capsule. Prepare ahead of time by getting a container but then work together to decide what to put in it, where to put it, and when you’ll open it again. 

  1. Write a couple’s bucket list. Take the extra step of scheduling and committing to crossing off at least one item on the list. 

  1. Make out in the backseat of the car like teenagers! 

  1. Make their favorite meal or dessert. (Bonus: Ask the kids ahead of time to do the dishes afterward or let the dishes sit until tomorrow if you want.)  

  1. Pray together. Ask God to strengthen your relationship and your love for each other. Ask for a united spirit of mutual respect even during the challenging times. 

This is just a short list to get you started. The important thing when it comes to expressing your love is that it be sincere, heartfelt, and selfless. The amount of thought you put into a gift is far more important than the amount of money you put into it. 

A special note: Every holiday can feel more bitter than sweet when you’re separated, divorced, or going through a rough patch in your marriage. At this point in the year, you’ve finally gotten some distance from the intensity of Thanksgiving and Christmas, and then along comes Valentine’s Day, often bringing with it difficult memories and emotions. Remember that this is just one day, and it will pass—as will the feelings that can make the day hard. Write in a journal, talk to friends, and stay busy. Don’t dwell on the negative. You might want to stay off social media for a day or two also until all the lovey-dovey posts from friends subside. 

I know from experience close to my own heart that Valentine's Day can be very difficult for those who are recently separated or have other painful memories about being forgotten by their spouse on that day. One of my daughters was scheduled to be married on Valentine's Day many years ago and the wedding was called off several weeks prior. Every year when that day rolls around, there are thoughts and conversations about how everything changed. She remains in faith for the right person and right time, recognizing that something better is ahead in God's perfect timing. I respect her for choosing to be content in the season of life she is in and for all the love and caring she shows to others in the meantime. 

One more tip for parents: If you have children, I’d like to encourage you to help them put together a Valentine’s Day card or gift for their other parent. While it might be painful for you to help them do so, it can also be very therapeutic as you step outside your own feelings of loss, hurt, or anger and instead think about things through your children’s eyes. It is so valuable for them to see your caring heart toward their other parent. It’s critical for their development and emotional wellbeing to sense peace between the two of you. As you support your child in expressing love and deepening their relationship with that parent, you’re giving them a wonderful gift—and at the same time, you’re giving yourself a gift as well. 

Explore your no-court divorce options and the prenuptial process in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County and schedule a confidential consultation with divorce lawyer Jeanne Browne. With more than 30 years of experience helping couples divorce without court through mediation and collaborative practice, she will give you compassionate legal advice on your issues related to family law, divorce, and prenuptial/postnuptial agreements. Click here to schedule a meeting.  

Please Note: Articles posted on this website are for general information purposes only and are not to be considered legal advice. Every situation is unique and we recommend you reach out for a private conversation about your specific circumstances and concerns by booking a consultation. 


older couple smiling

12 Healthy Communication Tips to Guard Against Divorce and Build a Long-lasting Marriage 

Marriage can be simultaneously the most rewarding and most challenging experience of your life. As elating as the highs are, that’s how devastating the lows are. For more highs and fewer lows, a healthy and lasting marriage requires consistent effort and commitment, and to get through the many trials a couple will inevitably encounter, healthy communication is a must.  

It’s been said that communication in marriage is like oxygen in life—without it, the result is death. If one or both people shut down, that will lead to trouble. Couples have to talk to each other! 

But it’s not enough just that you talk to each other. How you talk to each other is just as important, and maybe even more so. 

Unhealthy and damaging communication patterns can poison a relationship, erode individual self-esteem, create fear and anxiety, and cause a couple to resent each other. Ultimately, they can lead to divorce. Beyond that, the tension and arguments that are often hallmarks of bad communication in a marriage can be extremely harmful to the children who are exposed to it.  

In one recent study, communication problems were cited as the most common contributing factor to divorce with the inability to resolve conflict coming in as a close second. No one gets married with the plan of divorcing a few years down the road because they fight too much. The earlier a couple learns to communicate in healthy ways, the better. 

Disagreements Are Unavoidable, But They Don’t Need Spiral Into Arguments 

Conflict in a marriage is inevitable. No two people will ever agree completely on every topic. Tough conversations will have to be had around many issues in a marriage: money, childcare, division of responsibilities, intimacy, extended family, how to spend free time, just for starters. Even small, everyday decisions like what to have for dinner, what program to watch on TV, who will deal with a child having a meltdown, who will be available for the repairman, and so on can turn into big arguments if you and your partner don’t have good communication habits. 

But disagreements don’t have to turn into fights, and you both should work hard to keep tempers calm if you want your marriage to succeed—and if you want to model healthy communication for your kids. Believe it or not, it is possible to create healthy communication norms even if you’ve already developed some bad habits. Countless studies show a direct correlation between poor communication and marital distress that leads to divorce. A good couples counselor can be very helpful in working with you to break destructive patterns and start new productive ones so you don’t head down the road to a split.  

If you and your spouse aren’t ready or interested in getting professional help with learning better communication skills, perhaps you can start with this quick list of tips for talking to each other more effectively. 

Keep Daily Communication Lines Open and Flowing 

Engage in meaningful and positive exchanges as often as possible and avoid misunderstandings by implementing some of these ideas: 

  • Set time aside every day to connect and share with each other what you did, what went well, what you’re worried about, and what’s coming up in the next day or week. 
  • Have an agreed-upon system for sharing important information like appointments and upcoming events to avoid last-minute scheduling conflicts and frustration (especially important when you have busy kiddos!). 
  • Talk TO each other about things that are bothering you rather than talking ABOUT each other to friends or family members. 

  • When your partner says something that insults you or hurts your feelings, assume benign intent, resist the impulse to be offended, and address it right away—don't let it fester. 
  • Express to your spouse how you want to be spoken to, and ask them how they would like to be spoken to (this may seem like an unnecessary step, but it’s actually quite important). 

Don’t let busy schedules and the stresses of life keep you from connecting with your partner daily about the little things. Healthy communication isn’t just about how you talk through a conflict—it's about inside jokes, paying each other compliments, flirting, and sharing stories from your day. 

12 Communication Tips for Avoiding and Diffusing Conflict 

When you find yourself getting into a tense conversation, be aware that your “fight or flight” instinct will be triggered, so be mindful of what you say and how you say it: 

  1. DO stay calm, speak at a moderate volume level, and be aware of the pitch and tone of your voice. 

  1. DO listen and allow your spouse time to complete their thoughts without interrupting. 

  1. DO pause and reflect on what you’ve heard before speaking. 

  1. DO ask for clarification when needed about what you heard your partner express, then rephrase it and say it back to them to check for understanding. 

  1. DO be aware of your facial expressions while speaking and listening (much of our communication is non-verbal). 

  1. DO aim for understanding and resolution instead of winning or being right.  

  1. DO stay focused on the current topic without bringing up old issues. 

  1. DO express your own feelings and experiences without making accusations, name-calling, or hitting below the belt. 

  1. DO strive for a win-win outcome or compromise that allows both of you to feel good. 

  1. DO discuss issues in a private setting where your children do not have to hear about adult problems. 

  1. DO be willing to table the conversation if things get heated or if you need time to think and reflect before coming back to the discussion, and before returning to the conversation, consider writing down your feelings and what result you are requesting. 

  1. DO remember that you love each other and that this is an opportunity to strengthen your relationship through cooperation, compassion, and empathy. 

Practice speaking kindly and mindfully, with love and compassion for your spouse, even when you’re infuriated! Marriage has lots of ups and downs. Trust that the negative feelings will likely subside—so don’t throw fuel on the angry fire in the meantime. 

What If It’s Too Late and Divorce Is Already on the Horizon? 

Predictably, the bad communication patterns that may have ended a marriage are the same ones a couple brings with them into the divorce process. This is a time of much uncertainty, stress, fear, disappointment, or anger, and usually more than one of these.  

If you have children, it’s particularly important that you be able to put your hurt and hostility aside and work together with your spouse to do what’s best for them physically, emotionally, and financially. Even if you’ve never had healthy and effective communication throughout your entire marriage, for the good of your kids (and for your own good as well), my advice is that you practice being a good listener and a calm speaker. 

So how can you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse work through a divorce with good communication if you’ve never had good communication before? 

My recommendation is that you seriously consider a no-court divorce process, namely either mediation or a collaborative divorce. In a recent blog post, I talked about the 10 best communication methods we use during mediation or a collaborative divorce, and these are methods you can also use while still in your marriage. I recommend you visit that post to learn more techniques for talking through difficult issues.  

When I work with you as a mediator or as part of your collaborative divorce team, I bring with me decades of expertise in facilitating productive and cooperative conversation during a stressful and emotional time. My goal is for you and your partner to reach positive resolutions quickly and peacefully, for the good of both of you and your children. 

---Announcing an Online Opportunity to Learn More--- 

If you’d like to learn more about collaborative divorce and get to know me better with zero pressure, please join me for a FREE, ONLINE DIVORCE OPTIONS WORKSHOP – SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 4.  

I will be presenting with financial and mental health experts from Collaborative Practice North Bay. As a community of divorce professionals, we assist families in getting divorced through a supportive, cooperative, collaborative process. In our online workshops, we provide valuable information about the divorce process, including no-court options like mediation and collaborative divorce.  

THIS FREE, INFORMATIVE DIVORCE OPTIONS WORKSHOP TAKES PLACE ONLINE VIA ZOOM ON SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 4 FROM 9:00AM TO 12:00PM. 
YOU MUST PRE-REGISTER SO CLICK HERE NOW TO SAVE YOUR SPOT. 


Explore your no-court divorce options and the prenuptial process in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County and schedule a confidential consultation with divorce lawyer Jeanne Browne. With more than 30 years of experience helping couples divorce without court through mediation and collaborative practice, she will give you compassionate legal advice on your issues related to family law, divorce, and prenuptial/postnuptial agreements. Click here to schedule a meeting.  

Please Note: Articles posted on this website are for general information purposes only and are not to be considered legal advice. Every situation is unique and we recommend you reach out for a private conversation about your specific circumstances and concerns by booking a consultation. 


photo of mom and two kids with a snowman

How to Make the Most of the Holiday Season After a Divorce

In the ideal world, this is a happy time of year, full of family, friends, food, fun, and festivities! But for those who have gone through a divorce, this season can be painful, especially if you have children. The first few Christmases after a divorce are often particularly difficult as you adjust to a new normal and mourn the loss of family gatherings and traditions that used to bring you joy. 

But even though you might be dealing with feelings of loneliness, sadness, and even fear, try to remember that this can be a season of new beginnings and the road to future happiness.  

Here are 10 tips and ideas to help you make the absolute best of the holiday season—for you, and for your kids. 

1. Feel your feelings, but don’t completely surrender to them.  

You’re going to feel a range of emotions, and it’s okay to feel all of them. Realize feelings will come in waves. Acknowledge that it’s normal to experience grief, resentment, stress, and countless other emotions. Don’t let them rule you though or you’ll miss out on all the good stuff. (There is still good stuff!) 

2. Talk to your kids honestly...and really listen to them.  

Plastering on a fake smile and pretending everything is perfect isn’t going to fool anyone, especially your children. If you’re feeling sad about the changes to life and the holidays rhythm, imagine how much more difficult and confusing it is for kids who had no say in whether their parents stayed together. Children of every age need help adjusting after divorce. Assure them that feelings of anger, sadness, and confusion are normal. Let them talk. Don’t judge. Ask them how they feel. Ask them for suggestions about what would make the holidays the most enjoyable. Listen and truly consider their point of view.  

3. Assess which traditions to hold onto and make adjustments.  

Some of your family traditions may be very important to you, perhaps because they’re rooted in your religious beliefs or because you’ve brought them from your childhood into adulthood and the family you created with your spouse. Somet traditions, however, may be more like habits and not particularly meaningful to you. It’s okay to make changes to your current traditions or even let some of them go completely to make room for new ones that make more sense for your new situation and family structure. Honor the traditions your children have with their other parent, even if you are no longer involved in them. 

4. Don’t be afraid to make new traditions. 

While it’s hard to let go of old traditions, this is actually a wonderful time to make new ones. Whether you’re on your own or you have children, think about new ways to make new memories that aren’t burdened with the echo of Christmases past when you were still married. What about passing out cookies to less fortunate people? Or bringing a care package to a struggling neighbor as a secret “caper” together? You may find you like some of your new traditions even better than the old ones! What are some things you’ve heard some people enjoy that you might like to try? This is the year to experiment with new options! 

dad and son at Christmas tree farm

5. Accept invitations.  

Resist the urge to isolate. You may not be in a celebratory mood, but say YES to invitations as often as you can so you can be in the company of people who love and support you. Even going out with people just for fun is a great way to shake off a funk! It might be awkward to attend someone else’s family functions, especially for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but you just might have a great time. And when you let someone do something nice for you, like invite you into their home for Christmas dinner, you allow them to experience the joy of giving. Accept graciously...and enjoy!  

6. Reach out to others who might be feeling lonely.  

Not sure who to spend Christmas with? Think about who you know who may also be feeling alone. You likely have friends who are single, divorced or widowed, who are estranged from their families, who have lost parents to illness, or who are new to the area. Invite them over and to share a favorite holiday meal or dessert or to do something festive like view holiday lights or go to a play or concert. 

7. Put differences aside for a whole-family event if possible.  

This may seem impossible, but have you talked to your ex-spouse about doing something together with the kids so they can experience having the whole family together, if only for a little while? Perhaps you can take one short outing or participate in one tradition that has been particularly fun or meaningful for all of you. Some families are successful in doing this, and if you can do it too, it’s worth the extra effort. Your children will thank you later. If possible, put hurt feelings away for a couple of hours and show your children that in spite of the divorce, you’re still family in the most important sense of the word. 

8. Take time to treat yourself. 

Counter the tough feelings by doing things that lift your spirits, especially if you’re spending the holidays alone. Get a massage, listen to your favorite music, take yourself to see the kind of movie your spouse didn’t enjoy, rearrange the furniture for a fresh look, buy yourself something you really want, have a meal you’ve been craving...be kind to yourself. 

9. Exercise and eat mindfully. 

Move your body. Take a walk. Go to the gym. Eat healthy food. Don’t completely overindulge with fattening meals and desserts and alcohol. Both alcohol as well as fatty and sugary foods have been shown to promote depression and anxiety after the initial high of consuming them has worn off. Exercise promotes endorphins and makes you feel good. So treat yourself a little, but remember that exercising and fueling your body with nutritious food are absolutely essential for maintaining good mental and emotional health, so make it a priority. 

10. Remind yourself of the true reason for the season. 

For all of us, Christmas is a time of giving generously and receiving graciously, and whether you are married or divorced, you can still experience all the season offers. If you are a believer, then Christmas has an even deeper meaning, and this is a time to celebrate and be grateful for the birth of our Savior. Whatever is happening or has happened with your marriage and your family, trust that today’s painful feelings will pass and that you will be okay as you trust God, the only one who truly understands all of you, and every part of your situation. Don’t let your current circumstances stop your celebration and acknowledgement of your Heavenly Father who loves you, and all the joy that comes with keeping your heart open.  

A Compassionate Divorce Process Is a Good Starting Point 

If you are preparing to go through the divorce process, I’d like to encourage you to consider mediation or a collaborative divorce. With both of these options, you and your partner have support in communicating and compromising as you come to resolutions about all the difficult issues that come with ending a marriage. Both processes allow you to work together to make decisions about what will be best for your children. In addition, a full collaborative divorce team even includes a person who speaks on behalf of the children, giving them a real voice. When you choose one of these no-court divorce processes, you and your partner will benefit from facilitated communication that often helps couples move past the bitterness sooner—sometimes enabling them to have holidays together, or at least leaving them to feel good about the arrangements they both agreed to about how to split time during these precious occasions. 

Explore your no-court divorce options and the prenuptial process in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County and schedule a confidential consultation with divorce lawyer Jeanne Browne. With more than 30 years of experience helping couples divorce without court through mediation and collaborative practice, she will give you compassionate legal advice on your issues related to family law, divorce, and prenuptial/postnuptial agreements. Click here to schedule a meeting.  

Please Note: Articles posted on this website are for general information purposes only and are not to be considered legal advice. Every situation is unique and we recommend you reach out for a private conversation about your specific circumstances and concerns by booking a consultation. 


photo of couple in deep discussion

10 of the Best Communication Methods for You and Your Partner to Use While Building a Marriage or Ending One Amicably

Marriage is rewarding but tough. Open, effective, empathetic communication between partners is essential for a marriage to thrive. 

It’s probably no surprise that communication is one of the topic issues cited by people who have divorced. Sometimes it’s a lack of communication and failure to talk about important issues. Sometimes it’s damaging communication patterns that hurt feelings and cause emotional wounds. 

If poor communication habits lead to a divorce, it’s reasonable to predict the couple will bring those poor habits into the divorce process, resulting in more hurt and frustration, a longer and more expensive process, adjudicated outcomes that seem unfair, additional stress on the children, and emotional pain for everyone that can take a long time to recover from. 

So, if you and your spouse are considering a divorce and you haven’t developed effective communication habits during the marriage, is there any hope of communicating better during the divorce process? 

YES! Even if you don’t know how to communicate well with your partner, within the supportive environment of mediation or a collaborative divorce, you will have tools and experts to help you speak and listen effectively, moderate your emotions, and remain focused on the goal of reaching compromise, mutual understanding, and resolutions you both agree with. 

If that sounds too good to be true, let me reassure you, IT IS POSSIBLE. 

As a mediator, I am uniquely trained and skilled in helping couples have productive conversations. As a collaborative divorce attorney, I’m very experienced working with my clients and with a trained team of collaborative experts to facilitate communication and reach positive outcomes. (By the way, in a collaborative divorce process, each of you even can choose to have a dedicated “coach” to support you and guide you in communicating effectively. It’s an amazing aspect of collaborative divorce.) 

When I start working with a couple in either of these "no-court" divorce processes, one of the first things I do is share with them a list of 10 keys to effective communication, and I’m sharing them with you here.  

1. Remember that we have the chance to be “problem solvers” together.  

It took two people to create your marriage and the problems in it. With mediation or collaborative divorce, you will have a bigger team to work cooperatively with both of you to address issues and come to satisfying resolutions you can both live with. 

2. Sometimes it’s helpful to stop ourselves and ask, “Is this really the most effective way to resolve this issue or talk about it?” 

It’s natural to bring unhealthy communication habits from your marriage into the divorce process, but the ways you spoke to each other back then obviously weren’t optimal. Be mindful about the fact that you both can probably speak to each other in more productive ways. Your mediator or collaborative coach will be helpful in making suggestions in the moment. Be patient and open-minded.  

3. Using inflammatory language usually is not helpful to resolve conflict. 

Whether you’re the target of inflammatory language or the one using it, the end result is the unnecessary escalation of negative emotions, hurt feelings, and less opportunity to find common ground.  

couple looking in each other's eyes

4. Speak for yourself using “I” statements, and let your partner share his/her own feelings or needs. 

When you focus on expressing your own feelings, thoughts, and perceptions without being accusatory, your partner will be less defensive, and this will help keep the lines of communication open.  

5. This process is completely voluntary. 

When you both realize you’re engaged in the process because you want to be and not because someone is forcing you to be, it’s easier to remain present. While you might at times feel an impulse to retreat, shut down, or attack, remember why you’re here and what you can accomplish together. 

6. It’s okay to be creative and ask for help from others who might have more information or insight on a particular issue. 

We all want to be right, but is being right more important than being happy? Of course not. When you’re not sure how to proceed, or you need more ideas about how to resolve an issue, ask for help. You’re not on your own. 

7. It’s okay to disagree. It may feel tense that you cannot agree right now, but try to tolerate that for a little while to give time to look for other solutions. 

Sometimes it’s difficult to create a plan or find a compromise about a certain issue right away. You might have to explore several different options before you find the one that is really and truly best. Resist the urge to dig in your heels and defend your position. And don’t run from issue either. Be patient and remain engaged--resolution will come. 

8. Consider conflict an opportunity and listen for the other person’s expressed feelings, interests, and goals. 

When you’re not seeing eye to eye, try not to argue. Acknowledge that you’re being confronted with ideas with which you may not agree, but they may just be ideas that you don’t understand. If you can listen with empathy and a desire to find common ground, you may find that your partner has something worth sharing that will help you both reach a solution. 

9. Have faith that a mutually acceptable resolution is possible. 

In the heat of the moment or while discussing a particularly contentious topic, it may feel as if it will be impossible for the two of you to reach a compromise. But I have worked with countless couples through mediation and collaborative practice, and I assure you that if you stay committed to the process and to working together, you will find solutions and create plans that both of you will be satisfied with. Trust the process. 

10. We are all responsible for helping each other to use the best communication methods. 

It’s easy to criticize others and feel justified about our own familiar ways of expressing ourselves. But the best thing to do is focus on what you can control—yourself. You get to decide what to say and how to say it. You get to decide how to respond to what you hear. You’ll have support during mediation or a collaborative divorce in using the best communication methods, and doing so will make it easier for your soon-to-be ex-spouse to do the same. 

The Bottom Line 

If your marriage is salvageable, perhaps you will find these helpful in fostering more positive communication patterns with your spouse now as you continue to build a healthy relationship. If you’re already planning to divorce, perhaps you will both find it useful to start practicing some of these best communication methods now as you prepare to enter the difficult conversations and negotiations that are part of dissolving a marriage and moving on with your lives. If you have children, these methods will be invaluable as you co-parent into the future. 

If you’d like to know more about mediation and collaborative practice, please set up a confidential consultation so we can talk about your situation and your options. I’m ready to help. 

Explore your no-court divorce options and the prenuptial process in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County and schedule a confidential consultation with divorce lawyer Jeanne Browne. With more than 30 years of experience helping couples divorce without court through mediation and collaborative practice, she will give you compassionate legal advice on your issues related to family law, divorce, and prenuptial/postnuptial agreements. Click here to schedule a meeting.  

Please Note: Articles posted on this website are for general information purposes only and are not to be considered legal advice. Every situation is unique and we recommend you reach out for a private conversation about your specific circumstances and concerns by booking a consultation. 


How Do California Divorce Courts Deal with Restricted Stock Units?

During a divorce, either you and your spouse will have to divide your assets or you will have to let a court decide how to divide them. The process can be confusing and seem complicated. Unless you have a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement that clearly specifies who gets what in a divorce, you’ll have to let a judge decide. 

You and your spouse may disagree about who is entitled to what, and you may disagree about whether certain property is community property or separate property. It’s not always as straightforward as you might think, and these distinctions are important because anything deemed community property gets divided between the parties (not necessarily 50/50 though). 

Understanding Community Property vs. Separate Property

In California, which is a community property state, the general rule is that any and all assets and property earned or acquired by either spouse during the marriage is considered equally owned by both spouses and is, therefore, community property

The other type of property is separate property, which refers to property acquired by one spouse either before the marriage or outside the marriage (for example, an inheritance or gift given specifically to one person might be considered separate property). It also includes property earned or acquired after final separation.

Stock Options and Restricted Stock Units – Who Gets Them?

One type of asset that can be confusing and that couples often and understandably disagree about is stock options. The reason I say potential confusion and conflict is understandable is because as of this writing, California does not have one standard formula for determining division of a specific type of stock option called restricted stock units or RSUs. 

Stock options give employees or other parties (such as consultants, contractors, and investors) the opportunity to purchase stock in a company at a point in the future at a pre-determined price. Stock options are a form of compensation, but divorce courts don’t necessarily treat them the same way they do regular income, salary, or bonuses. 

Restricted stock units (RSUs) are a specific kind of compensation where the employee does not purchase stock but instead is granted stock that vests (has value) later and after certain conditions are met, for example, after the person works a certain number of years. Sometimes RSUs are given to an employee as a way of motivating or incentivizing them to perform. Sometimes they’re given in lieu of a higher salary upfront if, say, the company is growing and wants to get top talent at a bargain price. 

Where the confusion often lies during a divorce is when one party is granted RSUs during the marriage but the RSUs don’t vest until after separation. In this case, the party who is the employee often feels entitled to 100% of the value of the RSUs—after all, it is only because they worked and met the requirements that the RSUs vested and have any value at all. However, the other party may feel entitled to part of the value in the same way they feel entitled to other earnings during the marriage—the RSUs were granted during the marriage, so aren’t they community property even if they vested after separation, or won’t vest until further down the road? 

If only it were as simple as one or the other! But the courts use their discretion in dividing RSUs just as they do with other disputed property--which is why you’re wise to have a prenuptial agreement when you marry and continue to update it when there are significant financial changes throughout your marriage (this is called a postnuptial agreement). 

Two Ways California Courts Might Look at Dividing RSUs

There are two California Appellate Cases that judges typically refer to for guidance in deciding how to divide RSUs in a divorce: Hug and Nelson

Under the Hug Rule, RSUs are thought of as deferred compensation, so the value is calculated with a formula that is based on the employee’s start date with the company.  

Under the Nelson Rule, RSUs are thought of as future incentive for performance, so the value is calculated with a formula based on the date the RSUs were granted to the employee (which could be on or near the start date but could also be at a much later time). 

Without getting into the nitty-gritty of the formulas, the point is that there is no ONE hard and fast rule that all courts use consistently in dividing the value of RSUs between divorcing parties.  

This is where a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement can save everyone a lot of time, expense, and aggravation. 

Also, be aware that there is other relevant case law, and laws do change, so in a mediation or collaborative divorce we hire neutral financial experts to analyze these assets and give us a formal report on the best method of division.  

You Don’t Have to Let the Courts Decide

If you don’t have a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement and you’re facing a divorce where there are potentially tricky aspects (like RSUs) that you don’t want a judge to decide, and if you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse can work civilly and cooperatively toward a compromise, I recommend you look into a mediated divorce or a collaborative divorce. With these out-of-court divorce options, the two of you will work with either a mediator or with a collaborative team to make decisions that both of you can live with. 

I find that with everything from complicated issues like RSUs to emotionally charged issues like child custody, couples who use mediation or a collaborative process are far happier with the outcomes. These processes keep the control within the couple and out of the hands of a judge who doesn’t know you and your history. You’re also likely to finalize your agreement more quickly and with less expense than when you go into the process as adversaries fighting for the lion’s share of property. 

Explore your no-court divorce options and the prenuptial process in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County and schedule a confidential consultation with divorce lawyer Jeanne Browne. With more than 30 years of experience helping couples divorce without court through mediation and collaborative practice, she will give you compassionate legal advice on your issues related to family law, divorce, and prenuptial/postnuptial agreements. Click here to schedule a meeting. 

Please Note: Articles posted on this website are for general information purposes only and are not to be considered legal advice. Every situation is unique and we recommend you reach out for a private conversation about your specific circumstances and concerns by booking a consultation. 


6 Reasons Getting Married (Again) Might Be a Truly Great Idea 

After a marriage ends, we might experience many difficult emotions. And why wouldn’t we? After all, no one gets married expecting to get divorced. We’re not just hoping for a lifetime of love—we expect it and we’re excited about it! 

So when things take an unfortunate turn and we get divorced, we might feel everything from disappointment and anger to sadness and despair. Often we tell ourselves, “I’ll never put myself through this again.” We might find it hard to believe that we could love and trust someone else enough to ever get remarried. It’s not surprising that after our happily-ever-after hopes have been shattered, the idea of going through it again can be daunting, painful, or scary. I understand all those feelings and the hesitation to open up your heart again to love and potential loss. 

But let me offer you another way to look at it. Without risk, there is no reward. And while I don’t want you to rush and jump back into dating before you’re ready, I DO want you to keep your heart and mind open to the possibility of loving and marrying again. 

Why open yourself up to another marriage? Because there are countless ways a happy marriage can bring joy into your life. Consider these six very real benefits of being married (even the second time around!). 

1. You have someone in your life who really knows you, likes you, and loves you—in spite of your faults. 

There’s nothing quite like having “your person” be someone who chooses you (even if you’re lucky enough to have loving and supportive parents, siblings, or children). It’s a true gift to have a spouse who appreciates all that is wonderful about you and also accepts all that isn’t so great about you. If you’ve experienced the joy of truly knowing someone and being fully known by them, you know it’s a feeling worth having again—even if you have to risk your heart to get it. 

2. You might live a longer and healthier life.  

When we were kids, we used the “buddy system” because it’s safer to travel in pairs than to go it alone. Studies show married people have better survival rates after events like heart attacks and strokes than single individuals. Plus, you’re safer living with a companion versus living alone, especially if you are a woman, you’re getting up there in years, or you have mobility issues. From picking up cough syrup for you at the drug store to supporting you though a serious illness, your spouse provides an additional layer of stability and security to your life.  

3. You have a true teammate and cheerleader.  

Working alongside someone you love to create a life you enjoy together is uniquely fulfilling. Sure, when you live with someone, you have to make compromises, but you also get to cooperate and collaborate and do things together—renovate a house, plant a garden, learn new skills and hobbies, take vacations, raise kids or pets. You could do these things alone, but it’s more fun to do them with your favorite person! Looking ahead to the future and working as a team to get there is satisfying in a totally different way than going solo.  

4. You get to take the fast track to personal growth and refinement.  

One of my favorite analogies about being married compares the two individuals to rocks with jagged edges and rough spots. Left alone, each rock keeps its shape with all its flaws. But in marriage, the two rocks are thrown against each other—sometimes in conflict and ultimately in compromise--constantly knocking jagged edges off one another until both are smooth. We become the best version of ourselves when we are engaged in self-improvement, and a successful marriage allows us to do so in a uniquely effective way.  

5. You enjoy financial advantages that can be game changers for both of you. 

Have you heard the expression Two can live as cheaply as one? While that may not be exactly true in the literal sense, there absolutely are significant ways to save when you’re married. Splitting the rent, buying food in bulk, getting a break on your shared insurance policies, and enjoying tax breaks are all possible monetary benefits to being married. Don't forget to look into other potential financial perks for married people too like social security, IRAs, and mortgages. 

6. You get a chance to love and be loved and heal the hurt of your previous marriage. 

It’s important to do your own personal work for healing and self-discovery after a divorce to address how you may have contributed to problems in the marriage. But once you’ve done that, there’s no reason to resign yourself to a life of loneliness! Bring your newfound self-awareness and improved interpersonal skills to a new relationship to bless the life of a new person and allow that person to bless yours. You can’t get a “do over” on your failed marriage, but you CAN get a fresh start and do things better the second time around. 

The Bottom Line – Don’t Give Up on the Idea of Marriage 

If you’ve been in love before, you know there’s nothing else like it. Way after the infatuation wears off, you’ve got a partner in every sense of the word—you have “your person.” In a good marriage, you love each other, strive to make each other happy, and do things together. You have fun together, and you get through hard times together. You make plans together, solve problems together, laugh and cry together. You put each other first and you decide every day to stay committed. There’s no other relationship that is fulfilling in quite the same way as a marriage relationship. You are one another’s number one cheerleaders, and you are a family, even if it’s only the two of you.  

Start Things Off on the Right Foot with a Prenuptial Agreement 

I’ve seen some individuals and couples who are afraid to get married a second time because of the fear of losing assets and money in (another) divorce. If you have this fear, let me remind you that a prenuptial agreement prepared by an experienced and compassionate family law attorney will help alleviate those fears. The conversations you’ll have with your future spouse as part of the process will facilitate communication about important issues before you get married. And with your prenuptial agreement in place, you’ll both have confidence that both of you have the financial safety and security you need. 

Explore your prenuptial agreement and divorce options in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County and schedule a confidential consultation with divorce attorney Jeanne Browne. With more than 30 years of experience helping couples divorce without court through mediation and collaborative practice, she will give you compassionate legal advice on your issues related to family law, divorce, and prenuptial/postnuptial agreements. Click here to schedule a meeting. 

Please note that articles posted on this website are for general information purposes only and are not to be considered legal advice. Every situation is unique and we recommend you reach out for a private conversation about your specific circumstances and concerns by booking a consultation