Ask the Love Lawyer

Please submit your question to the Love Lawyer and check back to see if your question has been answered. Additionally, check out the following social media platforms (put links here) as the Love Lawyer frequently posts answers to viewer questions. Below are some questions that have been answered. You can also search by subject matter as well. Thank you!”

Topic: Relationships

Mark L., Burbank, CA:

I just started seeing a woman and I think that she could be the one! We just click and things are going so well (we’ve been seeing each other for about two weeks). I’m ready to ask her to move in with me and get married, but all of my friends tell me I should wait longer–what do you think?

The Love Lawyer:

I think either you had a lobotomy or this woman’s vagina sings “La Boheme.” Why is there such a hurry to move in and get married after 60 days? Take your time and get to know this woman and find out if you are truly compatible in real-life scenarios. Get to know your love further by taking a 14-day camping trip in the swamps of Africa without any amenities and then tell me when you come back whether she is “the one.”

Topic: Relationships

Toni C., San Diego, CA:

I have been dating this great guy for about three months. He is smart, funny, super-sexy and we get along great. I am 35 and he is 54. I want my friends and my guy to enjoy hanging out together, but my friends are all pretty opposed to the relationship due to the age difference. I say that age does not matter if I am happy and he treats me like a princess, but they just keep seeing his age as a number. What do you think I should do?

The Love Lawyer:

Get new friends. Age is a state of mind and irrelevant. If he is kind and possesses all the important qualities you respect in a potential partner, pursue the relationship. Three months is not sufficient time to truly determine if you found your soul mate, so just have fun and see what happens. If your friends are not as happy for you as they should be, then they do not have your best interests at heart and never will.

Topic: Cohabitation Agreements

Robert, Pensacola FL:

I am not married but want to buy a house with my girlfriend and share expenses while we live together. What can I do to protect myself in the event we break up?

The Love Lawyer:

Besides sleeping with one eye open, you should consult with a family law attorney before you purchase the house. The key question is whether your particular state favors cohabitation agreements so that you will know whether or not the agreement will serve to protect you rather than causing additional litigation.

A properly drafted cohabitation agreement is a contractual device which allows non-married couples who are living together to plan some of the following: (1) the sharing of living expenses during the course of the relationship; (2) the division of joint property upon termination of the relationship; and (3) the retention of your own separate property acquired prior to, and after, the execution of the agreement.

Keep in mind that since these agreements are relatively novel in practice, they are tricky to draft properly. You need to find a skilled and creative family law specialist who also understands the tax ramifications of this type of arrangement. If all else fails, save your money and buy the house by yourself. At that point, whatever you do, do not add her name on the title no matter what.

Topic: Mediation

Bob, Hershey, PA:

Should I consider mediation when I go through a divorce?

The Love Lawyer:

Mediation can be a great solution. But it can only work if you and your spouse are both committed to resolving the issues.

The mediator is a referee who makes suggestions while you and your spouse air your dirty laundry. The couple meets with the mediator over a period of weeks or months to gather facts, discuss goals, brainstorm options and choose solutions. While the mediator guides the discussions, the couple controls the ultimate decision making.

A second approach is for both you and your spouse to have attorneys who work together to engage in mediation on your behalf. Then whatever agreement you reach will be completed and can be drafted by the very same attorneys.

These attorneys will perform due diligence on the financials and disclosure of financial information and make sure you are protected. They also act as a buffer between you and your spouse so that the negotiations do not get sidetracked by emotional issues. The attorneys can formulate the best deal for both parties and make sure you and your spouse finalize the deal when you have a deal.

A third alternative is called “Collaborative Law.” Collaborative Law is based on the same principles as mediation in that it is non-adversarial and result oriented. As in mediation, the couple maintains control of the path the divorce will take and decisions are made outside of the court system. The main difference between mediation and collaborative divorce is that in collaborative divorce, the parties are represented by attorneys.

In Collaborative Law, each party is represented by their own attorneys, but those two attorneys have both been trained in a new system of handling such cases by working together toward an equitable solution. The parties and their counsel sign a legally binding contract (called a Participation Agreement) committing themselves to resolving the dispute. Settlement remains the main objective because the lawyers’ continued employment depends upon his or her ability to facilitate an acceptable settlement proposal. Failure to reach settlement results in the end of the collaborative divorce process and an end to the attorney’s employment because the Participation Agreement provides that collaborative counsel is prohibited from representing the client if the case goes to court.

The couple may employ a team of professionals and each team member focuses on the issue that is within their respective expertise. Typical team members are a parenting specialist and a financial specialist. The parenting specialist helps the couple resolve issues related to the children, such as custody and parenting time but also to assists the couple in developing good communication skills to foster effective post-divorce co-parenting. The financial specialist assists the couple in completing their required financial disclosure statements and determining the character and value of marital and non-marital assets. The financial specialist also assists the team by creating alternative scenarios for asset division and structuring spousal support.

The Collaborative process is conducted in a series of meetings during which the lawyers guide the parties through the process by providing a structured, but non-adversarial environment that focuses on the parties’ legitimate needs and interests, rather than on legal positions.

A collaborative process differs from a litigated process in many respects–some obvious, some not so obvious. Among the more obvious differences are timing, cost, the use of experts and the manner of resolution of disputed issues. A collaborative process proceeds at the pace that the parties require, rather than at the pace the court dictates in a litigated case. Because a collaborative case is not filed with the court until all agreements have been reached, there is a significant cost savings to the clients through the elimination of multiple court calls, filing motions and time-consuming discovery pleadings.

Once agreement is reached, the collaborative attorneys draft the necessary agreements. The agreements are presented to the Judge for approval and entry of the divorce judgment.

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