Four Reasons Mediation Can Be Beneficial When Divorcing

By Erica V. Speraw, Attorney

Mediation is a process that allows a couple to craft their own divorce agreement.  It involves an impartial third party, the mediator, who facilitates communication between the two sides.  The mediator’s role is to assist the parties in understanding each other’s respective positions in order to reach a mutually acceptable solution without going to trial.
The intent of mediation is to promote a more amicable settlement to a pending divorce.  The process is especially beneficial for parents who will continue making decisions together about their children.
Typically, during mediation, the parties are placed in separate rooms with their respective lawyers.  The mediator then takes time talking privately with each side.  However, some mediators do like to have both parties meet in one room briefly at the onset of the mediation to discuss the procedure and expectations.
It is not the mediator’s duty to determine who is right and who is wrong. The mediator is there solely to guide the process and facilitate discussion. The mediator has no authority to impose settlement on the parties.
There is little to lose in agreeing to mediate family law issues. In fact, in many Indiana counties, local rules require mediation prior to setting the matter for trial.

There are four main benefits of mediation.

  1. Mediation provides certainty. That is, you and your spouse control the process; the Court does not. If you and your spouse are unable to reach a final agreement as to property division and issues regarding children, the other option is to proceed to trial.  At trial, a Judge, who is not familiar with you and your family, can make significant decisions impacting your lives based on the limited amount of evidence that can be placed in front of them. This is because of evidence rules.  On the other hand, mediation allows you to attain a resolution centered on your own opinion of what is fair in your specific situation, rather than having a situation compelled on you.
  2. Mediation is confidential. There is no risk in sitting down and attempting to hammer out a solution that works for you and your family.  Everything discussed during a mediation session is confidential unless the mediator is given direct permission to disclose certain information to the other party.  Additionally, the rules of evidence preclude the content of settlement negotiations from being addressed in front of the Judge.  So, if despite your best efforts, you and your spouse are unable to reach an agreement at mediation, there is no worry that your spouse will introduce evidence of previous offers during trial.
  3. Mediation is more cost efficient than proceeding to trial. The formalities required to adequately prepare for trial can be quite time consuming and expensive. Mediation also requires preparation but given the fact that it is less formal by nature than a trial, the preparation cost is considerably less.  Additionally, couples who are able to be reasonable with one another and reach an agreement in mediation typically also end up in Court less often after the divorce is finalized.  In most cases, it is much more palatable for people to abide by agreements they crafted themselves and in turn, fewer problems typically arise post-divorce.  Therefore, mediation usually saves the couple money both during the dissolution process and after the divorce is final.
  4. The decision-making process demonstrated in mediation can serve as a model for future communications. This is especially helpful when children are involved. We know life is never static and situations change.  The agreements you make when your children are young will likely have to be modified to suit their lives as they grow.  Additionally, some level of interaction between the couple will likely continue even after the child is an adult.  For example, there will be special occasions that both parties are likely to attend such as graduations, weddings, grand-children’s birthdays and funerals.  Starting off on the right foot with accomplishing a reasonable settlement agreement in mediation goes a long way in promoting healthy interactions in the future.

Mediation may not always work.  That is why we believe that a key to obtaining a reasonable settlement at mediation for our client is to make clear that we are ready, willing and able to try the case in Court.
No one wants to end a marriage with a trial that can be costly, time consuming and hurtful to all involved.  We also understand and appreciate the fact that settling the matter in front of a judge may not be in the best interest of our client and their family. While a trial may be necessary in some cases, a more cordial and collaborative process may reduce stress, lower expenses and lead to better results.

At Halpin Slagh, we believe in the potential benefits of mediation. Contact us to discuss how mediation can work for you.

It’s January – Time for a Business Checkup

By Andrea Halpin and Bil Murray

Most of us recognize the benefits of an annual physical, especially as a way to identify potential problems. Many business owners will think nothing of going to see the doctor once a year, but ignore checking up on the health of their organization.
January is an ideal time to take an honest look at your company’s health – your accomplishments, assets, liabilities and financial position. It is an opportunity to take stock and determine what you may want to do to minimize risks and get the results you want.
We have identified 10 key aspects of your business you will want to examine. No matter what field you are in, these are important matters. Any of them could derail you if problems go unrecognized or do not get addressed.

  1. Profitability First and foremost, profits are needed to ensure the long-term viability of your business. Looking closely at your revenues and costs can lead to decisions about where to invest and where to scale back. Making year-to-year comparisons can help you see where the growth is and identify problem areas. Declining profits are sure-fire indicator that something less than ideal is happening and changes are probably in order.
  2. Cash flow No one enjoys having to work through “feast or famine” crises. Without adequate cash flow, you may have to increase revenue or scale back expenses – or both. Your cash flow statements will show you how long you can keep going with the money you have and when you will have to make some very important decisions.
  3. Customers If your business is like most, the bulk of your revenue (and probably your profits) is coming from a relative handful of customers. Are you treating them right? Is there a risk they might be looking elsewhere? Meeting with your key clients in the first few weeks of the new year can be time well spent. It strengthens the relationship. It also can let you know of how well you are keeping them happy or if they might have some issues that need to be taken care of.
  4. Employees If anyone knows more about your business than you do, chances are good it is those who work for you. Early in the year is a good time to take stock of the talent you need and how your team stacks up. It also gives you an opportunity to look ahead and identify times of high demand and when things might slack off. One thing you should be sure to ask yourself is, “What do I need to do to keep my high performers happy?” Your high producers warrant consideration for promotion, expansion of responsibilities or compensation and recognition for what they do for you.
  5. Vendors Value is a function of quality and service as well as cost and time considerations. Take stock of who is providing you with goods and services. Are they giving you the value you deserve? Have you upped quantities that may give you better pricing? Are there new products or services that you can use to either make more or spend less? Vendors can be a source of valuable information about your customers and competitors. Don’t hesitate to ask them what’s going on in your market.
  6. Sales and Marketing The changes happening in how things get marketed and sold are astounding. Is your business in a vulnerable position? Is your message getting through? Chances are good that newspaper ad that worked so well a few years ago won’t have nearly the impact today that it had then. If you are not getting the revenues or profits you want, now might time for you to increase your marketing spend rather than cutting back. It might be time to bring someone in to assess the situation and help you make changes for the better.
  7. Taxes Meeting with your accountant early in the year is always a wise move. With all that is happening as a result of recent legislation, this year it is even smarter. A meeting in January can help you get organized sooner and better able to provide the information your tax accountant needs. It can also help you determine what you might be able to take advantage of and how to do it.
  8. Banking Comb through your bank statements to see if there are fees you are paying, but perhaps shouldn’t be. Look and see if a different credit card can give you better rates. Meet with your banker to get caught up. Ask for observations and insights that may be helpful. See if your bank has new services or value-added offerings you can use.
  9. Insurance Most companies need two types of insurance: liability and property damage. This is a good time to contact your agent and to see if you have the insurance you need and that your policies are providing adequate coverage.
  10. Legal Sitting down at least once a year with your business’s attorney can help you identify issues you might not have considered. A savvy attorney can help you avoid costly mistakes. Her advice may save you money that would look so much better on the bottom line.

Your January business checkup can pay off throughout the year. You might be able to spend more wisely, be more efficient, take on new projects or grow your customer base. It is a chance to see what is ahead, identify opportunities and avoid setbacks.
Finally, take a close look at yourself. Chances are very good you work hard. A business is often, not just a source of income for the owner, but a labor of love. Business owners can be passionate about what they do. At the same time, they can over estimate their strengths and overlook their own personal needs. This includes not getting the help they need, not taking good care of themselves and becoming burned out. Look back and look ahead. What will you do this year to make sure your time and effort is effective? Start with a checkup.

Estate Planning Matters

by Andrea Slagh and Bil Murray

No one can foresee the future with certainty. That’s why committing the time and energy needed to develop an estate plan makes sense. Answering difficult questions now is important and it shouldn’t wait.
An estate plan goes further than a will. It deals with the distribution of asset, and can help you and your heirs pay considerably less in fees, court costs and taxes. It can also help you establish the legacy you wish to leave.

Here are five good reasons why estate planning matters.

  1. Protecting your family.
    Who inherits your assets if you die without a Will? Without a plan, what you leave behind is passed to your heirs according to state law. That may result in certain family members inheriting your property despite the fact you may not want those individuals to receive anything. An estate plan allows you to control who inherits your property. Losing a loved one is tough enough. You want your family to be able to continue on without facing financial difficulties. Your estate plan can provide your family with such financial security.
  2. Protecting your family.
    Who inherits your assets if you die without a Will? Without a plan, what you leave behind is passed to your heirs according to state law. That may result in certain family members inheriting your property despite the fact you may not want those individuals to receive anything. An estate plan allows you to control who inherits your property. Losing a loved one is tough enough. You want your family to be able to continue on without facing financial difficulties. Your estate plan can provide your family with such financial security.
  3. It can help avoid a mess.
    You already know what assets you have and the value of those assets. You also know who you want to receive your assets upon your death. Often, without an estate plan, time and money are wasted trying to determine what assets the deceased individual owned when he or she died and who should receive those assets. With an estate plan, you can decide who will get what, how much they will receive and when will they receive it. Such decision-making can help avoid unnecessary arguments amongst those you love.
  4. Avoiding Probate.
    You don’t have to have personal experience with the probate process to know that the less a Court has to be involved, the better. If you die without a Will, it is likely that your family will be subject to the probate process. This can result in unnecessary attorney’s fees and undesirable delays. An estate plan may help those you care about avoid the cost of having to go to Court to have decision made that you could have made in your estate plan, or, at least, minimize the Court’s involvement in your affairs.
  5. Protecting Minor Children.
    Who will raise your minor children if you die? Having someone to oversee a minor’s needs and finances until they reach adult age is required by law. Through your estate plan, you can nominate who you would like to serve as guardian of your minor children. If you do not nominate a guardian for your minor children, the Court will decide who will serve in this role. Obviously, this could result in someone being appointed who you would not deem appropriate. It could also result in a dispute amongst family members.
  6. Losing Capacity
    Who is going to step in and help you with your personal affairs if you become unable to manage those affairs on your own? An estate plan allows you to nominate someone to help you with your finances as well as help you make medical decisions if there comes a time when you cannot make such decisions on your own. If you do not nominate someone to help manage those affairs, and the need arises, the Court will appoint someone to help with those decisions. Unfortunately, the person the Court appoints may not be who you would have chosen.

No one wants to think about the fact that there may be a time when we cannot handle our own affairs. We also do not want to think about dying and what will happen to our property and our family when we are gone. But, doing so is very important. The proper estate plan will allow you to ensure that your affairs are handled properly while you are still alive and that your family is taken care of when you are gone.