Guiding Clients: Financial Aspects of Divorce

On July 9, 2014, the Collaborative Divorce Association of North Jersey was honored to have one of its members and past board member, Hubert Klein, CPA/ABV/CFF, CVA, CFE, give his presentation, “Guiding Clients: Financial Aspects of Divorce.” His presentation included collaborative divorce, mediation and litigation.  Hubert offered a detailed review of the process of filing the complain, the response and management aspects of the divorce process.  During a marriage couples accumulate a lot of financial personal date.  An informative handout provided a detailed list of what each spouse should obtain to get a total picture of the marital estate.

Suggestions were offered on how a financial expert helps the parties sift through the maze of information.  He clarified the actual role of the financial expert.  Major areas in which the financial expert can assist are:


*  Gather documents
*  Prepare a current budget
*  Prepare a personal balance sheet
*  Help the client plan and understand current and future
financial obligations
*  Understand the after-tax value of assets available for
equitable distribution
*  Help client understand the tax implications of various
transfers and its implication on liquidity
*  After the divorce, many things need to be taken care of,
such as retitling of assets, facilitate the transfer of IRA’s,
review and update Wills and beneficiaries

A second handout “Seven Financial Mistakes” was offered.

Collaborative members appreciated this excellent educational opportunity .

Walter Loeffer, CPA/ABV, CFF, CVA

A Future International President in Our Midst !

The Collaborative Divorce Association is extremely proud to announce that one of its own, our immediate past President and current Treasurer and Board member, Shireen B. Meistrich, LCSW, has bee selected President Elect of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP).  Shireen currently serves as Secretary of the IACP and will assume the Presidency in 2015/2016.  When Shireen assumes the Presidency of the IACP, she will be the first full-time non-attorney President of the organization.

Shireen’s selfless contributions and commitment to the Collaborative movement, internationally and particularly in New Jersey with the Collaborative Divorce Association of North Jersey and as a founding Board member of the New Jersey Council of Collaborative Practice Groups, are unsurpassed.  Shireen serves as a divorce coach and child specialist and is deeply committed to helping families resolve their conflicts with dignity and respect and to maintain a healthy connection after the divorce. LARRY J. ESPOSITO, ESQ.


DATE:  JUNE 12, 2014



Today, the New Jersey State Legislature took a major step forward toward empowering families to divorce with dignity and self-esteem, without resort to conventional litigation. The Assembly Judiciary Committee unanimously released A-1477, the New Jersey Family Collaborative Law Act. S-1224, the Senate counterpart to A-1477, was unanimously released by the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 24th and the Senate Budget Committee on June 5th.
The bills have received widespread bipartisan support throughout the State Legislature, as well as the endorsement of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP), New Jersey State Bar Association (NJSBA), New Jersey Law Revision Commission (NJLRC), and all five New Jersey Uniform Law Commissioners.

The New Jersey Council of Collaborative Practice Groups spearheaded the efforts toward passage of the act with the support of its eight practice groups, consisting of hundreds of collaboratively trained professionals throughout New Jersey. Asm. Patrick Diegnan, Esquire (D-14) (Pictured at the far right in the above photograph), the Assembly bill’s prime sponsor, strongly praised the Council’s efforts in swiftly advancing the legislation.

Speaking at today’s Assembly Judiciary Committee meeting, Council Co-Chair Linda Piff, Esquire said, “My colleagues and I were determined to change the way people divorce in New Jersey. We started in 2004 with a small group of ten like-minded individuals and our movement has grown throughout the State. Collaborative law is a powerful idea whose time has come!”

Speaking on the Disqualification Clause in the bill, Council Co-Chair, Anna Maria Pittella, Esquire, said, “This bill creates an obligation on the attorney to focus only on negotiations and to use problem solving skills to break an impasse. It provides for team building that is needed to address all three parts of the divorce: legal, financial, and mental health.”

Finally, Council Co-Chair, Shireen Meistrich, LCSW, IACP President-Elect said, “I truly believe that the collaborative process is an agent of social change as it has the ability to truly shift the way we think about conflict and how we resolve it.”

Other Council members speaking in support of the bill included, John Caroli, CFP, Patricia Carney, Esquire, and Joesph Noto, Esquire. Jeralyn Lawrence, Esquire, Chair-Elect of NJSBA’s Family Law Section and Laura Tharney, Esquire, NJLRC Executive Director, rounded out vigorous testimony in support of the bill.

The bills now head for a vote before both Houses of the State Legislature.

Therapy Can Be an Important Part of the Divorce Process

therapy in divorceOne of the things that I have noticed over the course of my career as a family law attorney is that people going through the divorce process have an unwillingness to go to therapy even though they could benefit greatly from the process. “I don’t need help, I’m dealing with it” or “I need a divorce, not therapy” are refrains I have become used to hearing. Continue reading

Before You Start The Divorce Process

You can’t make another person be something they aren’t.

In a perfect world,  you probably would not be getting divorced. So if you are going to go through mediation, the collaborative process or litigation, your soon-to-be-ex-spouse is not going to have a major personality change. If he/she was selfish during the marriage, he/she will be selfish during the divorce. If he/she was stingy, he/she will continue to be that way.

Keep an open mind.

If you approach the divorce process with a mindset like: <i>“I only will accept X, Y and Z and nothing else.”then not only won’t you do well in the mediation or collaborative process, you will spend a significant amount of unnecessary funds in the litigation process, as well.

Yes, you should have a basic plan. Yes, you should have an understanding of your financial picture and where you want to be at the end of the divorce. But you also need to be flexible and able to compromise. You also need to hear what your counsel is saying . If you think you’ll be the first to get something no one else gets – what we lawyers refer to as “making new law”- then great. But, remember, you may not be successful and whether you are or are not, it will cost you thousands of dollars to get there. For everyone else, consider these tips:

Get advice from a specialist in your state! Family law differs from state to state</span></i>.      Even neighboring states such as New Jersey and New York have significant      differences.
Be transparent.  Be honest and open when providing information to your spouse and the professional working on your case. Trying to hide or mislead the other side about pertinent information, such as the existence of bank accounts, can deal a fatal blow to the entire process. Even if you don’t think it’s  a big deal, when the other side finds out that you lied about something  relevant, it may not be able for him or her to trust your information any longer. The voluntary process of mediation or collaborative law could then fall apart.
Act in good faith. If you reach an interim agreement during the mediation or collaborative      process, abide by it. If you agree in your mediation session not to disparage the other party to the children and then you go home and disparage him/her, you’re being counterproductive to the process. If you agree not to spend money from a certain account and then withdraw most of the money, it will just cause the other party to get angry and distrust you. Eventually, you will end up in dragged out litigation. The more you uphold the interim agreements, the more likely your spouse will have reason to  believe you will abide by the final agreement.
Take responsibility for your actions and your future.</b> Don’t blame everything on everyone else and don’t rely on everyone else. Bad outcomes are usually a two-way street. This applies to your  marriage and to your final settlement. Don’t rely on theprofessionals to make all of the decisions. Be actively involved and know your finances, figure out what is best for you, and work with the professionals.
You are your own best friend and your worst enemy. The divorce process is a stressful time for everyone involved so you need to find time  to relax and get over the trauma of the separation. At the same time, you need to keep your emotions from causing you to agree to terms that you can’t live with. You shouldn’t agree to a settlement you’re not satisfied with, out of guilt about how the marriage failed or out of the hope that there will eventually be a reconciliation.
Justice? There is a misconception that “having your day in court”  will not only give you the chance to plead your case to a judge, but will result in justice. For example, believing theJudge will punish your spouse because he/she had an affair – not likely to happen. There are rules of evidence and, often,  the things you think should be heard  can’t be and,  many times.  the things you think are important to the outcome, are not. The reality is, that leaving matters up to the court is often a disappointing experience for both parties.
Just Because You Don’t Like It, Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Fair. You won’t get everything you want. A divorce involves compromises made by both sides. If both parties are satisfied, but not overjoyed with the results of the process, then it  likely resulted in fairness. Focus on the issues most important to you and be prepared to compromise, even if you’d rather not. If neither side agrees to compromise on any matters of significance, you’ll end up in litigation and your divorce will become a much more expensive, painful and prolonged exercise.
These are some of the things to consider when you weigh the merits of collaborative law, mediation and litigation. Resources like can put you in touch with collaborative professionals in your state and can put you in touch with mediators in your state.

Lorraine R. Breitman, Esq.

#101 on Retirement Accounts and Deferred Compensation

Many divorcing couples are not aware that retirement and deferred compensation accounts, including IRAs, are subject to equitable distribution. Many individuals, who know that these accounts are ‘ in the pot’ to be divided, believe they have to withdraw the funds in order to transfer them – and thus pay significant penalties, taxes and interest. Thus, they think that getting their fair share is more work that it’s worth.

If you are in New Jersey, and believe either of the above, you are mistaken.

With some exceptions, in New Jersey, most assets acquired during the marriage are subject to Equitable Distribution, that is, to be divided upon divorce. This includes retirement and deferred compensation accounts, even though they are titled in the name of only one of the parties.

How does this work?

All contributions (whether by the individual or the employer) made during the marriage to pensions, 401Ks, IRAs, Deferred Compensation accounts, etc., are subject to be divided during a divorce. The percentage of the division and/or the amount you are to receive depends upon the specifics of your case.

What happens if the employee made contributions before the parties were married?

Does the employee get a credit? YES! There are specialists in this industry who use:

  • the date employment began
  • the date contributions commenced
  • the date of the marriage
  • the date of the complaint or other agreed upon cut-off date for equitable distribution

Specialists use the above information to determine the portion of the account that is pre-marital and what is in the marital pot to be divided. If your attorney specializes in family law, he/she should know qualified individuals who can make these calculations.

Some of you just read the term “cut-off” date and you’re thinking, What is that? In order for something to be in the pot, to be divided, it must have been acquired during the marriage. So the marriage, with some exceptions, is the date of the marriage until the date when one spouse files for divorce or some other cut-off date upon which the parties agree.

In addition to the specialists determining the value of the pension/deferred compensation plan, they also prepare documents known as Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (QDRO). The QDRO enables an employer to transfer a non-employee spouse’s share of the account into a separate account, without the parties having to incur taxes and/or penalties.

Note: Whenever you withdraw the money for your own use, you will have to pay the appropriate taxes, etc. A QDRO only eliminates the tax/penalty consequence for the initial transfer to the non-employee spouse pursuant to the final settlement.

It is important to learn about retirement/deferred compensation accounts during the discovery process and to obtain the appropriate documentation from an employer. Some of the documents needed include:

  • The most recent benefits statement
  • A copy of the plan
  • The date employment commenced
  • A sample QDRO or its guidelines

The reason to have a sample QDRO is that it may provide an example of what the plan does and doesn’t permit.

“It is critical to obtain all pension information during the divorce process,” states Judith Deer, Esq., President of All Pro QDRO, LLC. “So often in my practice I see parties attempting to gather information and resolve pension issues post-judgment, which is very difficult. The pensions are usually one of the parties’ largest assets and yet the least attention is paid. Be sure to thoroughly negotiate the pension benefits before the divorce is finalized.”

It also is critical to learn whether the plan permits survivor benefits. This is crucial if a person dies before the QDRO is prepared or before their benefit goes into effect. There is language that can be used to protect a non-employee spouse’s interest. This language should not only be in the QDRO but needs to be incorporated into the Property Settlement Agreement. The Settlement Agreement should have language that an employed spouse may not withdraw any funds or take any loans against the accounts until the QDRO is finalized and in place with an employer.

Additionally, a plan administrator needs to be notified as soon as possible when a QDRO will be needed so they do not place the account into payout status prior to the QDRO being instituted. Be aware that , legally, a plan does not have to put a hold on an account until there is a finalized QDRO signed by a judge, which is another good reason to get your pension benefits in order prior to finalizing your divorce.

Lorraine R. Breitman, Esq.

“Shoot the Moon ” – Divorce Movie

I decided to do a little online research to find out what other people thought were good” divorce movies. After, I realized that not only were many of the movies new to me, one of my favorites, Bye Bye Love, wasn’t on most of the lists.

What makes a good or bad divorce movie? In my opinion, a good divorce movie has a message or opens our eyes in some way, shape or form – or maybe helps a child or adult in a real way.

The first movie on my list to watch was Shoot the Moon, a 1981 drama starring Albert Finney and Diane Keaton. Shortly into the movie I realized why most people watch divorce comedies rather than dramas. Let me tell you divorce dramas can be really depressing. That being said, Shoot the Moon is a top-of-the line divorce movie.

Spoiler Alert: Shoot the Moon would likely cause a divorced or divorcing individual to relive some raw emotions which may lead to an Aha! moment.

I’ll try not to spoil it any more for you. Albert Finney (George) and Diane Keaton (Faith) have been married for years and have four daughters. The movie starts with George, a writer, crying and then calling his girlfriend from the house telephone. The teenaged daughter happens to pick up the phone and hears part of the conversation. That evening, George and Faith attend an award show for George. The next morning they have a huge fight and George moves out.

The three younger daughters deal with the back and forth between the parents and the awkwardness of meeting their father’s girlfriend and their new situation. The teenage daughter, Sherry, wants nothing to do with her father. We know what she heard, so we know, on some leve,l that the mother didn’t tell her the nitty gritty and we are pleased that mom does say the right things.

Mom and Sherry have a conversation and then Sherry wants to know why her father left them. Faith responds, “I don’t think he left you; I think he left me.” She didn’t bad mouth George, and she made it clear that the breakdown of the marriage was no one’s fault. We have the watch how the relationship between father and daughter evolves. Personally, I applaud the acting and the writing.

There are times you think that George is moving on with his life along with his girlfriend, Karen Allen, and her son from a prior marriage. Then there are times when we think George isn’t happy in that situation, either.

Faith begins moving on with her life with the guy building her tennis court.

Although, at times, the characters talk about having to be grown-ups, it is apparent that George can’t be that when he sees Faith moving on with her life. I know, that for some, this is a hard concept to grasp:

George had the affair first, so wouldn’t he want Faith to go on with her life? Why is he having regrets?

Well, sometimes people in his situation just do. Marriages are complicated, so is ending a marriage. George is real.

There are some great scenes where George and Faith have some soft moments between themselves, and they each have the opportunity to remember that they were once in love. They each also had the opportunity to acknowledge their counterpart’s good qualities. Of course it made me wonder: What if they had gone to marriage counseling, could this marriage have been saved?

As we watches the characters develop, we see them experience the various stages of grief. We watch them experience denial, anger, depression and some acceptance.

As I tell my clients: No two divorces are the same. Just as people marry for different reasons, people divorce for different reasons, as well. The ending, which is intense and, in some ways, difficult to watch ,allots the viewer decide how this family’s story will unfold and what will be the fate of this marriage. To me, any other ending would have been anticlimactic.

If you want to see an intense or well-acted movie, go see it. If you want a better understanding of divorce from the perspective of the participants, go see it. There is no question in my mind that Shoot the Moon would make a great teaching tool on how to help those going through divorce and to give more insight into their dynamic.

Lorraine Breitman, Esq.


Keeping Your ‘Cool’

By now you probably know the story of Antoinette Tuff, a Georgia school employee possessing courage, common sense and wisdom along with the ability to keep her cool in a terrifying situation.  She talked down a heavily armed gunman who had gotten past the school’s security system and undoubtedly saved  many adult and children’s lives. For once, no one got hurt and tragedy was averted.

The school system,  which provided crisis training instead of armaments,  and Antoinette Tuff , who had highly developed qualities of understanding and respectful human interaction,  averted a tragedy.   The gunman was brought to a point of de-escalating his fury enough to think about what he was doing and its consequences, and to stop himself while he still could. Antoinette Tuff then gave him the confidence to stay with his decision, put down his arms, lie down peacefully and surrender. The only shouting heard on the recording is when the police announced their arrival.

We fully acknowledge the character and competence of the heroine and the extraordinary cool she displayed in such a terrifying situation. The techniques that she used are also present in the tool boxes of mediators and collaborative attorneys who have also been trained to strive for peaceful conflict resolution.

Ms. Tuff set the stage for the gunman to make the difficult decisions needing to be made. Those of us in the Alternate Dispute Resolution community help our clients get beyond their angers and fears, to overcome unrealistic expectations and to tap into their abilities to solve their problems and to make the decisions that have to be made to resolve their less dramatic, but no less complicated, situations. We help them to fully understand the issues and to identify their needs and those of the others within the scope of their dispute. We also do all this, in part, by helping to create and enforce a climate of mutual respect.

That same climate of respect that saved lives in Georgia enables parties in mediation or collaborative practice cases to find their paths through their fogs of negative emotions and tap into those “better parts” of themselves to move forward with intelligence. Where they are successful, and most cases begin mediation, there is the additional payoff of increased possibilities for future cooperation. That is why few previously mediated cases come into the courts for post-divorce litigation.

Lots of times folks who are in major conflicts automatically go into warrior-mode, seeking “big gun” representation and ready to do “scorched-earth” tactics. In warrior-mode, other aspects of human behavior are often not reachable and parties can be limited to exchanging poorly thought-out one-sided ultimatums or otherwise not be fully able to address the big picture. No case should begin with the assumption that this is the best or only way to handle their situation and it is always useful to explore whether a less aggressive mode would have a better probability of success.

When it comes to resolving a divorce or other significant conflict, such as problems between or among warring siblings over a parent’s estate, or a business dispute such as an employment problem or a partnership split, we all have choices as to how to proceed. Sometimes a litigant can be persuaded to side-step from a court case to give mediation or  a Collaborative resolution  a chance.

Antoinette Tuff should be an inspiration for us all.

Elaine Nissen, Esq.

“What Maisie Knew” : A Child’s Vision

Rivertown Film, in Nyack, NY, will be  showing “What Maisie Knew” on October 9, at 8:00pm.  Based on the Henry James novel, this tale of marital spite, sexual jealousy and weakness is  viewed through the prism of a child who doesn’t understand everything she  witnesses.  She rebounds between her acrimoniously divorcing parents and is a pawn in a bitter competition.  She learns that neither parent will protect her despite their sincere but empty declarations of love.  Julianne Moore portrays Maisie’s unbalanced mother whose needs for love far surpass what she is able to give.

Following the film,  Kenneth Silvestri, PhD and Sharon Klempner, MSW will lead a post-film discussion and offer ways to possibly forestall divorce or , if inevitable, come apart in a respectful manner that benefits children and their parents during  an emotionally trying time