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This Web site contains a compilation of more than a thousand consumer finance  columns written by Tony Novak from the 1980s through 2006, updated and reformatted for maximum usefulness today.  New material was added after 2010.

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Collaborative divorce

originally posted: 11/22/2006  reposted: 2/18/2011 This post has not been recently reviewed or revised by the author and may be out of date. If you notice an error or are in doubt, please send a new question by email or ask for an update. Email

Q: I am a self-employed farmer; my wife has not worked outside the home, has not paid in social security or disability on herself. How do you come up with fair settlement in a divorce so she can be taken care of as neither of us are young anymore.

A: First, your expressed intent of reaching a fair result is commendable. I wish that more people held this attitude through the uncoupling process. The social security system has built in protection for spouses and former spouses who were not employed where benefits are based on income reported by the former spouse. There is no need to consider this in your divorce action since it is "automatic" feature of the system. As far as your other assets are concerned, of course the courts will divide the assets grown during the marriage. Specific rules regarding valuation of assets vary based on local court systems. In the case where a farm or business is the primary marital asset and also the only source of income usually the biggest challenge is to try to come up with a plan that allows one spouse to leave and start a new life while the other continues to run the farm/business. This is easier said than done. The best advice is for both of you to agree to enter a collaborative divorce mediation program where both parties agree not to sue each other but use professional resources like a financial adviser, accountant and attorney to reach the best possible outcome. This is far less expensive and results in a far better end result than the litigation route. It is important to use both an attorney and a non-attorney for this process. The role of the attorney is obvious - you want the end result to be effectively executed as a valid legal settlement. A non-attorney financial adviser adds a whole new dimension of efficiency-minded strategies. Find an accountant/financial adviser who is experienced in this area; most are not. The same with the attorney; most are not using collaborative divorce mediation. I have experience in this area of practice specifically including farm settlements and would be available for a consultation at your request.


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