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More than just Divorce

Many West Michigan divorce attorneys advertise other areas of practice as well, including arbitration and mediation. Many people, however, do not understand the difference between these alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods and how they can be used during a divorce or family law matter.

At Johnsen Wikander, we provide more services than just traditional divorce litigation, and each option could help you achieve a better, less stressful outcome that does not involve the court system and potential related costs. These options also provide private, and sometimes faster, results.

Mediation

Mediation is the practice of working with a neutral party to achieve a mutually acceptable resolution to a dispute. The parties meet with the mediator and discuss their issues. The mediator attempts to bring each person to common ground in order to resolve an issue, often minimizing cost and keeping disputes outside of court.

The mediator will meet with each side of a dispute to negotiate their case and reach a settlement or compromise. This can be used to settle spousal support and child custody issues while keeping both parties out of court. Mediation depends on both side’s willingness to achieve an agreement and may not work for everyone.

Arbitration

Like mediation, arbitration involves a neutral third party who makes decisions regarding disputes outside of court. Unlike mediation, an arbitrator hears each side state their position and makes the final decision. Although the arbitrator is a decision-maker, they are making their decision outside of court, in the less formal setting of a conference room or law office.

Albeit more adversarial than mediation, arbitration can still keep a case out of court and reduce costs.

Many cases can be resolved without appearing in court or dragging an issue out for months to reach a settlement. By using an alternative form of dispute resolution, a more acceptable, less expensive, and more private outcome can be achieved. Although this may not be a viable option for all cases, it is always worth discussing.

Please contact Johnsen Wikander today and let us help you understand these alternative methods of dispute resolution. Our experienced team of attorneys can help you reach a cost-effective solution to your most difficult issues.

 

Social Media can be Divorce Case Evidence

Social media and personal messaging apps, such as those associated with Facebook and Twitter, are being used for more personal communication than ever. Facebook friends or Twitter followers are easily found in the list of contacts associated with the user’s account, so many people never bother to add them to any other contact list.

Convenient private messaging apps are also available for phones and computers. Some dedicated communication applications, such as Snapchat, are used to send sensitive information because their short-lived messages disappear from the sender’s account after a predefined time. Each messaging app and social media outlet has its own pros and cons, but all of them share something in common – their content, when discoverable, can be used as evidence in divorce cases.

Social media content can show a wide variety of evidence that may help or hurt a divorce case. Photos can be especially harmful, but text messages and online comments can be equally damaging when they contain proof of a lie or illicit behavior. A cheating spouse (or their friends) may post photos of themselves out to dinner or vacationing with another party, which may present usable evidence to a legal team.

Social media can also be used to prove, or disprove, a person’s state of mind at the time they created a post. Comments that threaten to harm other people, or the poster themselves, can affect important pieces of a divorce case such as child custody decisions. Even if the threats are hollow, they can still be used to show potential intent or instability. Angry messages or threats can even be used to justify a personal protection order.

Many people post their daily activities without thinking. Posting on social media has become so commonplace that people rarely stop to consider the implications of their actions. However, bragging online about a financial windfall or hidden wealth, or claiming to be unemployed while posting pictures of new cars or expensive vacations, could provide information that impacts property settlements or alimony.

For more information or a consultation, please contact the experienced West Michigan divorce attorneys at Johnsen Wikander to discuss your current situation and let us help you through this difficult time.

Divorce Themed Jewelry

After wearing a wedding ring for years, many newly divorced partners become all too aware that the ring is now missing from their left hand. In order to fill that void, a new wave of divorce-themed jewelry has begun to appear in its place. Or, in the case of rings, next to its original place.

Available on websites as big as Amazon and through craft outlets like Etsy, divorce rings, necklaces, and other “bling” can take many unique and interesting forms. Although the patterns vary, many feature obvious signs of separation such as a cut or opening down through the item’s center.

Rings and Other Things

Divorce rings, often worn on the middle finger of the left hand, can be simple symbols of survival or more intricate designs that are only meaningful to the wearer. A popular option features a gold band with two small bars broken away from the larger design and creates a powerful message when the ring’s purpose is understood.

Other options, such as necklaces or bracelets, can carry engraved messages of strength, wisdom, or humor. Amazon carries jewelry aimed at divorced partners with messages including “He had it coming” or “I’m not giving up, I’m starting over.”

Many people have used the money gained by selling their wedding or engagement rings to buy jewelry that symbolizes their freedom or that provides a reminder that time can heal. Some have even melted their original wedding sets to create something new, just as they see the divorce process unfolding in their own lives.

Additional Options

Another option has recently gained in popularity. Instead of melting the original rings down to form new pieces, divorced spouses have sold their rings and donated the proceeds to charities for domestic violence or homeless women.

Divorce is difficult enough without a constant reminder of loss in the shape of a ring, or that ring’s absence. If a symbol exists for love, it is no surprise that a symbol would become popular for the loss of that partnership. Whether the symbol takes the shape of a ring, necklace, or bracelet it is the message of strength and hope that it carries, which is ultimately important.

To discuss the challenges of divorce, please contact the experienced West Michigan divorce attorneys at Johnsen Wikander today. Please let us help you find your way through this difficult time.

The Truth About Divorce Rates

We have been told for years that more than half of all marriages end in divorce. The entertainment news, friends, and social media spit out facts and figures that are often repeated until they become truth. But, what is the real truth?

We’re all privy to celebrity divorces when every detail is broadcast into our living rooms each night. Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow, etc; their struggles are discussed over dinner and in break-rooms across the country.

The real truth: divorce rates are falling in West Michigan, and nationwide.

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Humans Services, Michigan divorce rates have declined overall by more than 25% in the last 15 years. Since the 1980’s, divorce rates have been declining steadily from their most recent peak.

Although the general marriage rate has also fallen since the 1980’s, it has also begun to increase again in recent years. However, today’s couples are waiting longer before tying the knot, and one or both partners standing at the altar may also have already experienced divorced.

There are several possibilities for the drop in divorce rates, but there is little hard evidence. With many couples embracing marriage for the second time, it’s possible that some “trial and error” may be a factor. Couples waiting longer to get married may have also worked out some of the uncertainty other new spouses face when sharing a home for the first time.

Marrying later may also mean that both partners have had time to mature. Compatibility is now a more important factor in partnerships as well, meaning couples are more likely to experience successful, loving partnerships longer, and later, in life.

No matter what the reason, the divorce rate has definitely seen its peak, and has begun its descent back to earthly levels. However, there is still a fairly high percentage of marriages that just don’t work.

If you are struggling to find the truth about divorce, please contact the experienced West Michigan divorce attorneys at Johnsen Wikander today. Let us help you navigate the uncertain path ahead.

 

New Year’s Resolutions and Divorce

For many people the New Year brings new hope, providing a fresh outlook and the feeling of renewed opportunity. However, the turn of the year also brings a spike in divorce cases nationwide when holiday events are over, family commitments have been met, and guests have gone back home.

Both spouses may have reached common ground and agreed to divorce after the holidays are over to preserve family traditions and protect their children’s holiday experience. If both spouses are on common ground they may also have agreed to preserve appearances and avoid explaining the situation during family gatherings or parties.

However, a spouse who has been unhappy for some time may use their New Year’s Resolution to commit to a difficult choice and end a rocky marriage. Holiday stress can also become a driving force in the decision to divorce. Family visits, party preparations, and excess spending can increase tension and stress, and push an unsteady relationship over the edge.

One partner’s decision to divorce may blind-side the other partner, leading to angry and emotional confrontations. Even though both partners may know there is something wrong one may not be aware that other has become unhappy enough to leave, especially if any attempt has been made to resolve personal differences and repair the marriage.

With any unexpected confrontation, emotions and anger become factors that can only make matters worse. As difficult as it may be, it is extremely important to keep a level head and approach the situation cautiously and to be as informed as possible, especially when there are minor children involved.

The situation can also create knee-jerk reactions and spontaneous decisions that could create additional challenges, especially if any discussions about finances, custody, or assets take place. As hard as it may be, the best options are to face the issue head-on with rational conversation, or to step back until both partners have time to process the information and can talk through the issue.

An angry response or clouded judgment can make matters substantially worse. A snap decision could create an outcome which is difficult to reverse and has long-lasting effects on one or both partners.

If you are facing a potential separation or divorce, please – don’t make any quick decisions. Contact the experienced West Michigan attorneys at Johnsen Wikander and let us help you through this difficult time.

Holiday Stress and Divorce Remorse

For someone going through separation or divorce the holiday season may seem more like a challenge to be overcome than an opportunity to celebrate family bonds and friendship. Social events like Thanksgiving may be accompanied by feelings of sadness or loneliness for someone who is newly single, especially for a parent facing their first holiday without their children.

Even West Michigan family gatherings can seem like overwhelming situations involving endless explanations and unwanted attention. Parents may hover over their newly divorced child, smothering them when they need room to breathe and adjust. Friends and relatives may push their “help” by offering unwanted or inappropriate advice, or worse, they may dig for information they can use to spread rumors and gossip.

Holiday parties can also be difficult for newly divorced people. Friends may be loyal to one person or the other, potentially leaving a void where one is unexpected. Parties can present another challenge when both newly divorced people are invited. Well-meaning friends may intentionally invite them both to try to patch up a failed relationship, creating more stress or increased tension.

Holidays in Grand Rapids will be hard on the children of divorced parents as well, whether they spend the day with only one parent, or split the day between both. Children spending the day with only one parent may wish to be with the other, or, if they are younger, they may not understand why only one parent is present on such a special day. If they are shuttled between two households, they may feel overwhelmed by the situation or by an overabundance of attention from concerned adults.

For newly divorced partners, and especially parents, it is important to think ahead to the coming holiday season and prepare for the changes to routines, events, and travels that you may encounter. It is also important to avoid situations which fuel loneliness and anger, and which can create discomfort or stress.

When children are involved, planning events, such as visitation days ahead of time, will reduce stress and tension between parents. Children are especially affected by divorce during the holiday season since family traditions may be replaced by new routines and potentially twice as much activity. A special day can quickly be reduced to a series of transitions and extra travel.

Divorce creates a new normal for everyone involved, which will improve with time. However, it is also important to fill that time with positive actions and events. Choosing to participate in volunteer opportunities can provide distraction, as well as feelings of accomplishment and charity. Changing routines can also eliminate stress by removing expectations.

Surviving the holidays may not be easy for some time after divorce, however, things will improve with time. For more information, please contact the Grand Rapids divorce attorneys at Johnsen Wikander today.

Proposed Tax Changes – Impact on Divorcing Couples

Major changes to the U.S. tax code have resurfaced as part of the nightly news during most modern election cycles. However, the new administration appears to be intent on pushing through some form of change, parts or all of which may soon come to pass. For couples who may be considering divorce, some of those changes could have far-reaching effects on one or both spouses.

The IRS has a post on their blog ominously titled “The Tax Consequences of Divorce.” Tax law is challenging enough before throwing divorce into the mix. A fair settlement is important, but divorcing couples need to carefully consider the effects of their actions on the long and short-term financial stability of both parents, and on their children.

The New York Times has a set of charts that help explain the proposed tax plan. Some of the potential changes to the current tax code will affect exemptions available to one or both spouses. The possible reduction in the number of tax brackets may also change the income level with which either partner identifies, creating financial strain where none may have previously existed.

One of the most important issues currently under consideration is tax implications of alimony. Under current tax law, alimony is deductible by the spouse who pays out the alimony payments and included as income to the recipient. Under the proposed changes, the payments would no longer be deductible. If the payer is also reclassified under a higher tax bracket their financial impact may be much more dramatic than expected.

Other tax implications, such as dependency exemptions and child support, may not be under consideration today, but that does not mean they will be completely ignored. Although child support is currently not taxable to the spouse receiving the payments, this should be carefully watched for any changes.

With or without tax code changes, there are many reasons to consult a West Michigan accountant who is familiar with divorce implications on taxes. It is also important to discuss the effects of current tax obligations and potential adjustments with a qualified Grand Rapids divorce attorney, such as Johnsen Wikander, before filing any paperwork.

Please contact Johnsen Wikander today and let us help guide you through the many challenges of divorce.

The Effects of Parental Conflict on Children

During a divorce, parents can become increasingly angry and far more stressed than they were before reaching the decision to separate. Asset distribution, custody issues, parenting time plans, and many other difficult decisions can create tension in the home or any place that divorcing parents are brought together. Any fighting that may occur can leave a lasting impression on the children involved.

Children of divorced parents are affected by fighting both at the time of the argument and years into the future. According to WebMD, children’s emotional development is likely to be affected by heated conflict between their parents. A child’s emotional security is especially affected, often creating depression and anxiety when parental conflicts are unresolved.

Modern studies have shown that divorce can be a relief for children caught between fighting parents because they no longer live in the middle of the constant conflict. According to adolescent psychologist Nancy Cahir, “conflict between parents can be just as damaging as physical abuse.” Parental conflict can also lead to trust issues and difficulties with attachment.

Fighting parents can cause an unexpected issue for their children. A child’s sleep pattern can be negatively affected by parental conflict, causing the loss of 30 minutes or more of sleep per night. If this loss occurs in the middle of regular sleep patterns it can be even more disruptive, leading to irritability and other behavioral issues. Parental conflict can even lead to physical illness in extreme cases.

Studies by psychology professor Patrick Davies have shown that children exposed to fighting between parents do not get used to the conflict over time. Instead, they become more sensitive to it. Parents who stay together for their children’s sake are more likely to have a negative effect on them. Children exposed to conflict very often expressed the wish that their parents had divorced sooner.

Children’s emotional and behavioral stability and growth is negatively affected by their parent’s hostility, however, unresolved conflict is much worse. Although parents should do their best to avoid exposing their children to conflict, they can reduce potential impact by allowing their children to see the issue end with compromise or resolution.

Please contact leading Grand Rapids divorce attorneys Johnsen Wikander to discuss available solutions before your children are affected.

Choosing Sides: The Impact of Divorce on Friendships

West Michigan residents tend to be very social, developing strong relationships with people in and out of work, organizational, or religious environments. As social beings, almost all people want to feel like they are part of a group, and friendships provide the natural support system that goes with being an accepted part of a larger whole.

Divorce proceedings can create stress for the people on the outside of the relationship as well as the divorcing spouses. The process often pulls friends and acquaintances into the middle, forcing people who had allegiances with both partners into the uncomfortable position of choosing who they will continue to socialize with when divorce proceedings are complete.

People who choose to remain friends with adversarial divorcing spouses may find it difficult to maintain an allegiance with both. These people may find themselves caught in one partner’s struggle for information about the other, or victims of one’s jealousy regarding the other’s relationship.

Psychology Today reports that married couples rarely stay friends with either divorced partner, and divorced singles rarely remained friends with a strong couple. The married relationship often reminds the divorced individual of what they had lost and creates feelings of remorse or depression.

For couples, remaining friends with a divorced partner is often identified as the source of their own marital strife. New lives, new situations, and new opportunities can be attractive to one or both spouses who are having doubts about their own situation, and they may decide to abandon their friendship as a defensive measure.

Divorcing couples need to remember that people are not an asset to be divided, like furniture or capital. Friends of both partners may naturally choose to remain as part of one spouse’s life or another, but putting them in the middle or demanding they pick a side will almost certainly drive them away.

Friends are natural support systems and few situations create more stress or challenges than divorce. In times of need, we all want a shoulder to cry on or strong back to help us move forward. However, it is important to let other people find their own way through your divorce and come out wherever they feel safest.

That may mean they follow the other partner, keep their distance, or decide to simply disappear. In any case it’s best to let them stand where they are the most comfortable, even if it means the loss of a best friend.

Divorce is difficult, but an experienced divorce attorney can help. Please contact us at Johnsen Wikander in Grand Rapids with your questions and allow us to be your support system during your time of need.

Cohabitation After Divorce: A Growing Trend

In most modern marriages both spouses work to support their family and to move toward common goals such as children’s college expenses, a larger house or retirement. During marriage, most costs associated with housing, cars, and other resources are shared between husband and wife.

Aside from the emotional impact, divorce, whether it takes place in West Michigan or anywhere else, can create another layer of hardship when both partners suddenly find themselves house or apartment hunting, or in need of another car. The resulting financial challenges can add to the stress of an already difficult situation.

These days, many couples are choosing to live together after divorcing for several reasons. Children have the largest effect on strategic and financial decisions during, and after, a divorce. Staying close together, or even under the same roof, to provide parental continuity has led many couples to simply sleep in separate bedrooms in their existing home once divorce proceedings are finalized.

Real estate also plays a major role in the decisions made after separation. When a house or property has been purchased as an investment, or real estate has dramatically decreased in value, it may make more sense to live under the same roof until the market bounces back or a project home is completed.

Another reason couples will live together is to prevent upheaval. A single parent may not be able carry the costs associated with the current family home. However, if both parents continue to shoulder the mortgage, utilities, and taxes together they can ensure their children stay in the same home and the same school with their established friends and teachers.

In many cases, custody or visitation arrangements mean the children are packed up and shipped between their parent’s separate houses. This can result in two sets of belongings, and even friends. When spouses choose to stay under the same roof, the effects of the divorce on the children may again be reduced by eliminating the need for children to shuffle back and forth.

This situation can also impact fighting over custody and over who gets to see the children on which night or weekend. When the children of divorced couples stay put and both parents come to them, the situation’s impact is less severe.

Cohabitation after divorce is by no means an easy solution. Aside from the agreements put in place by the spouses and their respective divorce lawyers, rules and boundaries must be set. This is not a simple roommate situation, especially when old emotions resurface or one former partner begins dating.

Like any other situation, cohabitation after divorce has pros and cons. It may not be possible for everyone, but it could provide an easier solution to financially challenged partners and may allow parents to spend more time with their children.

Cohabitation may not be for everyone, but there are plenty of success stories about parents who have amicably divorced and made cohabitation work. The children of divorced parents appear to reap the most benefits, but it could provide a better financial and structural solution for the parents as well.

Options aside from litigation include mediation and Collaborative divorce. An experienced divorce attorney can help you find the best path forward, so please contact Johnsen Wikander for a free consultation today.