by Mary Ellen Flynn, Attorney
When it comes to divorce – collaborative law is an alternative dispute process that offers a more cooperative and transparent approach to resolving the parties’ issues. When it comes to gray divorce – collaborative law may be exactly what the parties need.
In the “traditional divorce” approach, each party typically advocates for what they want and the most they can get through the courts. As an alternative option, the collaborative law process allows the parties to work together and with a team of professionals to reach an agreeable resolution for everyone. Each party is represented by their own attorney and can benefit, when appropriate, from the assistance of other experts, such as mediators, financial advisors, or mental health professionals.
“Gray divorce” refers to divorce between parties near or past retirement age. They are less likely to have minor children or the accompanying custody and child support issues. Instead, gray divorce issues tend to focus on detangling assets and debts that commingled over a long marriage and ensuring each party is prepared for their post-divorce financial and logistical implications. In such cases, the aspects of collaborative law may be especially beneficial and important to resolve in an efficient, low-cost manner that meets the particular needs of older parties.
This blog details some of the issues that can come up in a gray divorce and how collaborative law may be the best path to resolving them. In a case where the parties are aged 50 or older, they may turn to the collaborative law process to address:
Learning About the Finances
After a long marriage, it is not uncommon to see one (or both) of the parties unaware of all the property and debts they accumulated together. With collaborative law, both parties can benefit from learning from the financial neutral involved. The financial neutral is not on either party’s side, but instead acts as an educator who helps everyone understand the financial situation, learn about their personal finance, and make informed decisions.
Planning For or During Retirement
When a younger couple divorces, the parties likely have more time to rebuild their retirement accounts or other savings that may get divided (or depleted) in a traditional divorce. But that isn’t true for gray divorces. But through the Collaborative law process, the older parties can work together or independently with experts, such as financial planners, to ensure that they each have what they need for a comfortable retirement. The process enables the team to look at everything and creatively strategize on meeting the parties’ financial needs, such as projecting a party’s cash flow or the income necessary to continue a standard of living. Whether the parties have retirements savings, pensions, and/or social security benefits to analyze and divide – a team of experts working together is invaluable.
Although the parties in a “gray divorce” might be at an age where they stopped working full-time, they may not necessarily be old enough to qualify for Medicare (65 years old) or they may need Medicare gap insurance. If one party relies on their spouse’s health insurance plan, that party will need to consider how else to become insured post-divorce. In the collaborative law process, the professionals involved can present the parties with options to decide the best solution. They may consider various spousal support payments to go towards health insurance until that party reaches Medicare age. In other cases, they may decide to postpone divorce in favor of ‘legal separation,’ allowing the division of property and debt without a divorce decree, which allows the parties to stay on the same health insurance plan. Given the parties’ ages, preserving health insurance is critically important and deserves the careful, joint decision-making available in collaborative law.
As the parties are older, they may be at a higher risk for medical conditions that affect their competency, meaning their ability to understand and make reasonable decisions. An attorney can help determine if a party is legally “competent” with the help of their doctor, medical records, or adult children if available. If a party is determined not competent, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to represent their best interests in the case. In any event, collaborative law can provide a compassionate and amicable approach for parties that may need it most.
The collaborative law process can benefit divorcing parties of all ages, allowing them to avoid the time, expense, and emotional drain of the “traditional divorce” approach. And for “gray” parties in particular, the collaborative law process might especially be the perfect fit.
Founded in 1998 in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, Andalman & Flynn has forged a distinguished reputation for legal excellence. The Firm practices family law, estate planning, and probate throughout Maryland and the District of Columbia, and represents individuals seeking disability benefits throughout the country. The Firm focuses on cases that impact the rights of everyone, and are there for clients when responsive legal help is most critical. The Firm has provided legal analysis on national and local television and radio, and their attorneys often testify before legislative bodies and are routinely invited to contribute to prominent legal publications. For more information about Andalman & Flynn, please visit the website at andalmanflynn.com or call 301.563.6685.