As we work with our clients during their retirement, there are times when couples just don't make it. "Gray Divorce", "Diamond Divorce", and "Silver Divorce" are all trendy terms for this uptick in divorce in this demographic. How does this trend impact not only the couples but their kids and grandkids? Does it mean financial ruin? Listen in as we discuss this topic with JoAnne Meyers, Esquire, CFL of Novick & Meyers - Attorneys & Counselors at Law.
What You'll Learn In This Podcast Episode:
On this episode of The Retirement Success in Maine Podcast, Abby, Ben, and Curtis are joined by JoAnne Meyers, Esquire, CFL. JoAnne discusses the uncomfortable topic of divorce, specifically “Gray Divorce.” JoAnne discusses the overall trends of Gray Divorce, including her thoughts on why there has been such an uptick recently. We asked JoAnne some hard questions, such as: what are some ways to approach a divorce if it feels like your relationship is heading towards this area? With those over 50 having higher than other life stages in financial assets, a messy divorce can be catastrophic. How can each side of this minimize this damage? What are the different steps of getting a divorce? Is it different for this demographic? What about costs – what can someone expect to pay for divorce services? JoAnne also provides insight and even some suggestions on how a divorce can lead to a good outcome for everyone involved.
JoAnne founded her own practice, Novick & Meyers in 1996 and has used her unique background as a Finance Major and Certified Financial Litigator (CFL) designation holder to thoroughly investigate and evaluate financial issues in a divorce.
Be sure to listen in and hear everything JoAnne has to say!
Welcome, JoAnne! [3:18]
Introduction to Novick & Meyers and the services they offer. [9:54]
What is Gray Divorce? [16:09]
How does someone approach a divorce? [25:18]
What are stories of good and bad outcomes to a divorce? [30:42]
What are the costs associated with the divorce process? [46:21]
What is Retirement Success for JoAnne? [51:17]
Ben, Abby, and Curtis wrap up the episode. [52:50]
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Ben Smith: Welcome, everybody. My name is Ben Smith. I am joined by my co-host Abby Doody and Curtis Worcester, the Portland Press Herald, and Houlton Pioneer Times, to my Bangor Daily News. How are you guys doing today?
Curtis Worcester: Good.
Abby Doody: Good Ben, how are you?
Ben Smith: We're doing really good, right? I think it's summertime here and we're joining some of the summertime in Maine, which is I think where everybody strives to be, which has been really good. But we wanted to talk about a specific topic today and it can be a hard topic to talk about, but I think with a lot of our clients they start coming in. And again, we're talking about life challenges, right? It's aligning money to life purpose. And sometimes what we're digging into, or we hear about afterwards is sometimes there's relationship issues that are happening. As you get to retirement and all of a sudden the person that you want to spend a lot of time with is maybe you're figuring out that relationship is not something you want to go forward with a whole lot, or I'm looking forward and thinking, hey, I have 30 more years of my life here. And I have a lot of the fun stuff I want to do and again, maybe that partner that I have is not the one that I want. And that's tough, it's a sad thing and it's tough for everybody around it.
Ben Smith: But again, those sorts of things happen in life. And for that reason, that was something we wanted to have as a topic. All of us had discussed because we've had clients go through it or we have clients that are going through it. So with that, we want to bring an expert in and it's not just someone that just said, hey, I have expertise in divorce, but maybe specifically about divorce that is in or closer to retirement. And you're hearing this as a theme that's happening and it's being called lots of things, whether it be gray divorce, silver divorce, diamond divorce, boomer divorce. So you're hearing these trends. And so we want to have someone that works with that population more and not just, hey, here's just generalized divorce stuff.
Ben Smith: So with that, we were looking for an expert. So we were looking for someone that also had a lens around finance and around maybe a designation, which we've seen a little bit in the industry about certified financial litigator, that's an important part. So thinking about aligning your financial assets to success of a divorce over time. So that was where we were searching that out. We actually did a blind request over to JoAnne Meyers. And JoAnne is an attorney for Novick & Meyers and is at Chelmsford, Massachusetts. Chelmsford, yeah. So Chelmsford, Massachusetts. So we reached out to JoAnne and just explained, hey, this is the thing we want to talk about with you, would you be open to it? And she was fantastic, we are really appreciative of that. So JoAnne welcome to the show, appreciate you coming on.
JoAnne Meyers: Thank you very much, Ben. I am happy to be here today and happy to help whoever listens to this program to maybe give them some guidance about what happens with gray hair divorce.
Ben Smith: Perfect. So JoAnne, one of the first things we always do with our guest is to start digging into a little bit of you here. Can you just talk a little bit about your upbringing and growing up?
JoAnne Meyers: Sure. I actually grew up in Stratford, Connecticut. It's a little town on Long Island Sound on the shore about an hour and a half train ride from New York City. And I had the privilege of living in a smaller town, but being close to a big city. I came from immigrant grandparents who came from Germany, Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, all of them came over. So I am very new in terms of who came over to the United States and how they got started. Came from a middle class, hardworking family, lived in a very small home growing up. But the one thing that did happen is I had a dad who had a lot of vision, very intelligent, and he actually purchased some land and an old farm in Maine and then there goes my connection to Maine.
Ben Smith: Great, Excellent. So JoAnne, so your dad purchasing land in Maine, can you talk about what Maine represents to you then? Because I know we chatted about this on the side here. I'd love to just, because I know why JoAnne, obviously she has expertise here, but what was really great is she said, "Jeez I have this really great affinity for Maine." Can you just expand on that for us?
JoAnne Meyers: Maine is a second home to me. My father purchased this land when I was born, I learned to walk in Maine, I ran up there all the time. And what Maine did teach me was even another way of life. And I think in this world, a lot of people don't understand that everyone lives at a different level. We in the United States, we're quite fortunate, there are some that are impoverished in this nation, but you need to have an understanding of how people live. And in Maine, the farmhouse that my father bought had no running water, no hot water, no potable water, a hand-dug 20-foot well. We lived in a very rural area and it was rough to begin with. My dad built this farm back, he actually worked on it himself, put windows and roof on.
JoAnne Meyers: So this is the type of background I come from. I come from someone that understands things don't always come easy and it takes hard work to get where you're going to be. If you're willing to put the hard work in, you're going to be successful. So that's a little bit about my background. And Maine to me has become now a vacation place. I'm an avid ATV enthusiast, I head up to Greenville and Moosehead Lake and I love the state of Maine. It just offers a lot to people.
Ben Smith: And Abby, of course, is our ATV in residence on our team as well. So-
Abby Doody: Yes.
JoAnne Meyers: It's you on the trail sometimes.
Abby Doody: Yes. We love the trails around Greenville. They are wonderful. Yeah, we've been all over the state, it's so much fun, yeah.
Ben Smith: So you guys can high five on the way through.
Abby Doody: Exactly. That's right.
Ben Smith: And JoAnne, you explained to me too, you have family still there. So from that farmhouse with your family, you still have family here as well, right?
JoAnne Meyers: Yes. My sister ended up permanently relocating up to that farmhouse area and married someone who is an assistant deputy sheriff up in Kennebec County. And a retired forest ranger. We get the best of all worlds.
Ben Smith: That's great. So now you have a kind of insider view on taking advantage of all that Maine has offered too with the Maine guide thing and ridding...
JoAnne Meyers: Oh, yeah.
Ben Smith: So from ATV-ing perspective, that's going to be great, where all in the sports.
JoAnne Meyers: Oh, yes. We're lost without uncle health.
Ben Smith: So, JoAnne, I want to pivot towards your path, towards the legal practice. So you've talked about the values and especially from the farm perspective and getting on that working area and you'd get these Maine values here. Can you talk about getting towards that path on legal practice and then especially working towards divorce as an item of passion for you?
JoAnne Meyers: Yeah. Ironically as a child, I always wanted to be a lawyer, but I had a proclivity for math. And so I thought when I started college that I would start out as an accounting major and I'm going to do the numbers game and then finance. The accounting major turned into a finance management major and then I started to think, wow, this is not really very personal and I would like to help people, that's my goal in life. And I took a business law class, my senior year of college and I said, well, that's it, I'm not getting the MBA in finance, I'm going to go to law school, and I did. And I ended up at Suffolk University in Boston, so moved to the big city. And it was great, I had a good education there but I didn't have a lot of connections. And I also realized very young that the more people you know, opportunities can open for you.
JoAnne Meyers: So I started working part-time at the Statehouse for a junior senator and that was something to help me survive financially. But it opened doors in the Statehouse for me, I met a lot of people. And I also went to the courthouse and I went up to the register's office and said, "I don't know anybody here, I'm looking for a second job and I'll even volunteer, I don't care if I get paid. I'm just trying to figure out how this all works." So they were kind enough to give me a summer lot internship with Judge McGovern who was the first justice at the probate and family court. And there began my just exposure to the divorce process and divorce law and estate planning.
Ben Smith: And then from there, so you start, that launches your career there. So can you go towards it? It sounds like you have your own practice today, can you talk about that progression in terms of what your firm is doing, again, building your own firm, what is it doing? What the services you offer? And then how have you helped divorcing couples over the years?
JoAnne Meyers: Okay. So let me start back after I got out of law school. I had a general practice career in law, which was wonderful because it enabled me to practice a lot of different aspects of the law and figure out where I really wanted to end up. And I was always drawn back to that divorce, family, estate planning, that helping families that's really where my draw was. I worked on a appeal of a murder case and after that I said criminal law is not for me so that was the end of that. And then I started my own firm back in 1996 with a six month old baby. So it was a little crazy, I look back and say I don't know how I did it, but they'll hear all these years later. So my firm it's called Novick & Meyers. I'm actually a sole proprietor, the Novick part was an old boss of mine who had passed on and I kept his name after he passed.
JoAnne Meyers: And I have an associate attorney, attorney, Janine Holdsworth. We both practice law, she's been practicing for 20 years, 25 years, I'm sorry and I've been practicing for 35 years now. So we've got a lot of experience behind us. As you said, we're located in Chelmsford, Mass. And we primarily do family law, which is anything from divorce, paternity, custody, support issues, I also do estate planning, estate administration, I am the vice president of the Merrimack Valley Planning Board in the area, and we also offer personal injury services. And my training also of recent years, has been in mediation and collaborative law, which we'll talk about in a little while. So that's what I did.
Ben Smith: So JoAnne, can you talk a little bit more about then divorcing couples. So someone, obviously, one of the couple is coming to you and saying, here's my issues. Can you talk about what you typically have done for that. Again, what are your services relating to divorce? And then how has that evolved going from 1996 until today? Again, I don't want to get into law changes because law, of course, is different from state to state as well. But in regards to maybe the people side of this, what have you seen?
JoAnne Meyers: So first off, how have I helped divorcing couples over the years? If it's couples with children, I hold children near and dear to my heart, and it's always been a priority for me. I don't care if I represent someone or not, if whatever's happening is going to affect those children, I am going to bring that out first and foremost because that's who I am. So that's been wonderful. If I can be successful and believe that after this process is over that I've somehow helped children, that makes it worthwhile for me. But as far as helping the individual going through the divorce, it's also important. I do have a finance background, I'm I am a certified financial litigator. So I always try to bring focus to a cost benefit analysis. How much money are we spending and what are we getting out of this process?
JoAnne Meyers: Now, unfortunately, at the time of divorce, people are very emotional, it's raw, and they are at different stages in the grieving process for the breakup of the family. So sometimes they don't want to hear about the cost benefit analysis, they're in pain. But I do try to bring them back to that focus because ultimately, no one's going to be happy with a huge legal bill and getting to the same result that they could have had had they not spent thousands and thousands more in dollars.
Ben Smith: And then there's one thing we want to talk about as a topic today is again, what's a good result for going through a process and what's a bad result? And what are you getting for going through a certain process versus not? So I think that's something I want to table for later because that's a really key thread to cover. You touched on it a little bit, JoAnne, in terms of some of your core value and key purpose is kids, which is an interesting angle here. Is hey, if there's kids involved, that's something you're really passionate about is making sure that they're first and foremost here. Can you talk about what you love about your job?
JoAnne Meyers: I love to help people. I get a great feeling of satisfaction when I can address an issue with somebody and get them over the bridge to a point where there's a resolution and they can live with it, I love that feeling, I don't think there's any feeling better than that. I have never been bored in 35 years, not one minute on my job. I don't know how many people can say that.
Ben Smith: Yeah, that's great.
JoAnne Meyers: It's constantly keeping me on my toes. The law evolves and every person's situation is totally unique. So I do love it.
Ben Smith: And I think we echo that too in our side, JoAnne, because again from the financial plan... Again, you're spending a lot of time in the financial end too in marrying the law, to the relationship, to the money, and putting those three things in. And I think from us, which is why I think our conversations so far, it's been pretty easy natural is, hey, that's what we're doing on the financial planning side. Is hey, where are you heading? And what are your life goals? Here's where your money is, let's tie those resources together and try to get those three things to all fit to make sense. So I think that's when there's win-win-wins is when everybody is the happiest and getting people to those results is a service, is a bridge really gets us up in the morning and gets us that jump in our step.
Ben Smith: So at this point, JoAnne, I want to talk to the topic at hand. again, that's silver divorce, gray divorce, boomer divorce, things that we've been hearing out there. First of all, I think it's always helpful to define it. So and sometimes what we've discovered in this podcast is when people hear seniors, it's always somebody older than them. It's like, I'm 95 but there's a senior here. It's like, well, I'm young because of 95. So we all don't tend to label ourselves a certain way. Can you talk about that? What is this in terms of this gray divorce thing?
JoAnne Meyers: Sure. I think historically when people use the term gray divorce, they looked at it more as a longterm marriage, not necessarily as older people that are getting divorced. But as the time has evolved and in more recent years, I think when you talk about gray divorce, most people are going to say, it's people that are over 50 and probably been in a longterm marriage, which we define as usually 20 years plus or more. So that's the definition of a gray hair divorce or a silver divorce.
Ben Smith: Can you talk about why is this becoming a prevalent thing? Because sometimes there's fashionable things that happen in these buzzwords and things, but why is this becoming more of a trend that you think maybe nationally?
JoAnne Meyers: Before I jumped right to that, I just want to put a few facts out there and a couple of things. So divorce rates actually fell between the years of 2008 and 2016, so it fell 18%, that's how much it fell. But people have to understand that if they look at the US Census Bureau statistics as of November of 18, 2018, in 1978, 59% of young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 were married. In 2018, that's down to 29% of the adults, 18 to 34 were married. So you've got to understand that we're not getting as many young people marrying as we did years ago. That in part relates to why divorce rates have somewhat fallen and also relates somewhat to why the divorce rate for people over 50 has increased. Also, if you're over 50 and you've already been divorced once, the divorce rate is two and a half times higher for that second. So it just gets higher exponentially. But-
Ben Smith: JoAnne, and I know that's a theme because we've been reading that too. Why do you think that is? So is it there's maybe a confidence level of, hey, I've already gone through this once and now I've married and that wasn't so bad the first time and I just say, it's okay to get divorced again? Why is that two and a half times higher?
JoAnne Meyers: I'm not sure anyone wants to go through that again, but I do think, and this is going right into why is gray hair divorce prevalent? We've changed as people, our attitudes have totally changed through the years. When I started practicing, divorce was still like, oh, you're getting divorced. And nowadays, the attitudes towards divorce and all family forms have changed, we have all kinds of families now. So I don't think it's as big a deal, nobody worries about what somebody's going to say if I do this. And we have also become a very much me society, it's all about me, individualism, and I want to be happy, and I want to do what I want to do. So yeah, if I'm not happy, I'm not necessarily looking as much to my family unit, I'm looking at me personally. So I think that's why you've seen an uptick. And in part it's not the entire reason obviously, but...
Ben Smith: Yeah. And I want to add a layer to that, JoAnne, in terms of again, the name of the podcast, Retirement Success in Maine. So within Maine itself, the statistics we're seeing, again from the US Census Bureau and varying data there, but we're seeing the percentage for being divorced is about 1.5% higher in the state of Maine than it is nationally. And we're seeing that because, of course, we're an older state, we're essentially the by median and the oldest state in the nation. So you go as a trend, if we're older anyway, then divorces anyway are going to be higher because of our population being there in this demographic more. Again, which we think for us, we were just saying, well, as a topic, getting coverage of divorce and especially gray divorce is more prevalent to Maine than we would probably find these other States. And so I think the need for today as well.
JoAnne Meyers: Yes, I have heard that as well. So just looking at the population of Maine.
Ben Smith: Obviously then other than just the individualistic thing that's happening in this society and this me attitude that's happening more, are there other trends about why you see divorce trending up? What problems do you think are happening in relationships that is causing this to eventually get to divorce versus maybe just resolution or other sorts of mediation there?
JoAnne Meyers: There are many. Number two on the list though, I think, is you get married and maybe for the wrong reason. Maybe your father or mother said, oh, he or she is a good person, they're a good provider, think about this, this is going to be good for you. You get married, you stay in a relationship, you have children, and then your children leave the nest and you're an empty nester, and you turn around, and you look, and you say, who are you? To your spouse. And you've simply grown apart. So I think that's a large issue right now for people, is who are you?
Ben Smith: JoAnne, can I ask maybe a follow up question to that too? It's not just... Because again, going through life stages and retiring from work. And maybe there's a lot of people that are rediscovering their relationships in retirement, but also COVID-19. And we're still sheltering in place and working from home here too and all of that, but thinking about all these retirees right now that are not going to stores, they're not having more of their time to go out and venture and go away from the relationship for some time and doing outside activities, they're more in place. So I could see where if there's cracks or fractures in the relationship and now you're spending 24/7 with each other in a household quarantining even more, so that could break some of that. Is there any thing that you're seeing in terms of the COVID-19 sheltering and maybe more requests out for gray divorce or divorce at this point?
JoAnne Meyers: People have asked that question. I've had a steady stream of requests for divorce, I haven't seen a major uptick, I have some other fellow practitioners that have seen an uptick. But I do believe that in large part, people are afraid right now to leave because of COVID. Where are they going to go? There's so many unknowns with this virus. I anticipate there's going to an increase at some point, I do.
Ben Smith: Got you.
Abby Doody: So with those people in the demographic you are talking about, so over 50, being married for 20 plus years, generally, that is a group that has a larger asset base that they're splitting up when they do get divorced. So how do those financial assets play into divorce? Because a messy divorce can be catastrophic financially and emotionally, so how does that play into it and how can we minimize that financial disaster I guess?
JoAnne Meyers: There's a lot of sides to that question.
Abby Doody: Yeah, I'm sure. I know it's pretty...
JoAnne Meyers: So first off, you need to know your parties. Sometimes you run into a very traditional marriage where only one party is well versed in what the finances are. And if the other person isn't, the first thing they need to do is to get up to speed. And some people give me the deer in the headlight look and say, I'm not going to get it even if you try to get me up to speed. So that's where financial professionals should be involved. And depending on the process that you utilize for divorce, whether it's collaborative and you have a neutral financial professional, or if not, if it's a traditional divorce, I encourage anyone that doesn't understand, and even if they do, to have a professional by their side so that if they have any questions about what is this assets or their income tax ramifications to this, they have someone there that's knowledgeable they can trust.
Curtis Worcester: So, JoAnne, I have a two part question for you. Zooming out, how can someone approach divorce? Say I'm in a relationship and I feel like we're headed that way, what are some things that lead to that? And then the second part of that question, sorry, is how can someone go about finding proper representation. I know specifically, you're in Massachusetts, but say us here in Maine, what are some ways that we can find someone like yourself who specializes in the field?
JoAnne Meyers: So getting back to the first part of the question, communication and trust is the basis of all relationships. And a lot of times, either one or both are broken and communication is so key. So if you are facing divorce, if there is any hope that from either of you, that you would want this relationship to continue, go to counseling. A lot of people see that as a weakness and especially people that are more from my generation, they don't believe in counseling. But honestly, if you're ever going to try to repair this relationship, if you have any desire to repair it, it's the only way to go because your communication system is broken.
Ben Smith: JoAnne, can I stop you there?
JoAnne Meyers: Yes.
Ben Smith: Why the resistance to counseling? What's the... Because I know in Maine I can see it, but what's been your experience in terms of why people don't want to do that?
JoAnne Meyers: I think from a very young age, people, years and years ago, they were taught that counseling is needed for people that have weakness. And I think that people feel if they go to a counselor they're saying they have weakness. It doesn't make sense to maybe millennials and people that have been more experienced with counseling, but back in the day, it just wasn't something anyone did, unless you had a problem. And you were mentally deficient in some way, it wasn't looked at as a way to save a marriage.
Ben Smith: Are you seeing people because the reluctance to go get counseling or they're not maybe fully committing to it because of what that stigma is that they may be are skipping past it and going right to final conclusions with divorce, is that happening?
JoAnne Meyers: Yeah, I have seen that. Yes. And it's interesting, sometimes when somebody is getting divorced and wants counseling, the other person is already so far ahead and resolved that this divorce is going to happen that they're in two different places and it's just not going to work. I've seen that.
Ben Smith: But you have got to get them to the same place? So that's going to be tough. Is either you're backing somebody down from the wall of I'm on the divorce and we're going to be there to then come back and salvage or not and then trying to get them to that same place?
JoAnne Meyers: Right, yes. It can work.
Ben Smith: Both ways?
JoAnne Meyers: Yes. But the longer that you let it stew and the person that's feeling like they're not happy doesn't say anything, it makes it worse and it may be irreparable.
Ben Smith: Okay. And I know I wanted to bring forward to what Curtis is asking too in the second part. So they get to the point or one of the parties get to the part is like, you know what? We've maybe done mediation, the counseling, we tried to work on the relationship and it's just not going to work. And one or both of them gets to that point and they say, probably I should go to somebody to have this conversation about what's next. And they say, I need probably representation to figure out what's best for me here. So how would they go find that representation?
JoAnne Meyers: What I would encourage people to do is when you're researching for attorneys, you want to find somebody that has been collaboratively trained, they're trained in collaborative law. And the reason being is that's a person that's going to give you that option of trying to get a divorce without the win-win fight battle in court. And someone that mediates is also good, someone that does mediation, anybody with a CFL designation, certified financial litigator designation is someone that's going to understand finances. There are many people that hang shingles that are well intentioned but they don't get it. And that's dangerous especially if you have significant assets, you're not going to be fooling around with that.
Ben Smith: It's a really good point because we see that too is in Maine, we have a lot of general practicing attorneys it feels like. And while they all do a really great job and they serve a really great purpose because they served access, a lot of times it's really tough to get good access to an attorney. So having one that's locally there available to you is a good thing. But then when it comes to maybe more complex issues, maybe I have to go to someone that has specialized more. And again, that's I think to what you just said is, going to maybe some of this a little bit out of your market, or maybe it's a little bit more of a drive because of how rural we are as the state, that's important to maybe just think about that as extra step. So I wanted to make sure I highlight that.
JoAnne Meyers: Absolutely.
Abby Doody: So shifting gears a little bit, can you share with us a story, generic of course, of a divorce that went well. So what is a good outcome of a divorce? And were there some characteristics of the relationship prior to the divorce that had this good outcome? Or are there trends that you see or how can a divorce be successful?
JoAnne Meyers: I consider a successful divorce as one where even though both parties aren't happy, the result is actually equitable. And sometimes we joke around and say, well, if both of them are a little unhappy, then we must've done a good job financially at least. Because if somebody is really happy, then somebody probably got screwed. So that's the way it is. But I think the easiest cases for an attorney to deal with are dealing with people that even though they're emotionally hurt, they have intelligence and they have the ability to pull themselves back from that emotional hurt and say, okay, I have to do this and let's get through this. I think the worst results are people who are narcissistic, who are greedy, and again, they're all about me, the individual and not about their families. People that tend to focus and put their families first, we can usually bridge the gap and find a way and resolve things. But if you have that other psychological profile, you're probably in for a long battle and some trouble and it's very sad. So that's what I see.
Ben Smith: JoAnne, I just want to ask one little thing there. I know you're going to continue on that story, but divorce is so damaging it feels like to lots of different parties, but you mentioned the first was one thing that you really have a keen eye towards is kids. Now, with gray divorce, so if you're maybe boomer age at this point, more than likely you have kids that are a little bit more grown. Can you talk about again, in this point, what you're seeing from a kid perspective, observing maybe the parents divorcing at this stage. Because I think it's just good to observe from an outsider perspective of how are people seeing me and my relationship and what's been the impact you've seen on kids?
JoAnne Meyers: Very interesting question because after 35 years of practicing, I have observed that it is more difficult for older children to deal with the parent's divorce than it is for younger children in most instances. Younger children are pretty malleable and they tend to adapt to situations. But when you're older, you have this longterm view of the family unit and it can be very, very damaging to relationships with older children. And you see a lot that one side or the other has no relationship with that older child for a period of time.
Ben Smith: Interesting. Again, I want you to get back to the good outcome story, but I just had to throw that in there because I think that was a data point to put in.
JoAnne Meyers: Well, one of my recent good outcomes that just stays in the forefront is it was a collaborative law case, which we can talk about what that is later. It was a longterm marriage, gray hair divorce, pretty traditional type of marriage where one spouse was the bread earner and one spouse was really the homemaker, and had limited financial acumen as to what was going on. And we brought in a financial person for the person that had the limited financial acumen. And we had a coach in our collaborative case who is a mental health expert. And one person had his or her foot on the accelerator and one didn't and we call it the tortoise and the hair. One wants full speed ahead and one is like this is not going to happen.
JoAnne Meyers: So it was a very interesting case. Older children, obviously out of the house, but involved in the background. And why I look at this case and find it as a good result is they had really grown apart as far as interests, physical appearance, which we didn't have a chance to talk about, some of the other issues as to why this gray hair divorce phenomenon was happening, but activity levels, physical fitness levels, appearance. Some people it's important to them, we're going to live longer according to statistics. You sit there and you say, I don't want to stay in this for that long and then be stuck on a couch. I'm an active person. And that's huge. And some people try to bridge that gap. And in fact, in this particular, they did try to bridge that gap, but it just didn't work.
JoAnne Meyers: So they ended up divorcing. But what was great about the story was even though the person had the foot on the accelerator, with the help of a coach, we were able to slow things down, but to also speed things up so that the parties met in the middle. We were able to educate the person that had limited financial acumen and able to get assistance for that person so that they weren't so scared about what was their future and their ability to actually run a household on their own. And the children, there was a wedding ongoing through this whole process they had a lot to deal with while their parents were getting divorced. But with the assistance of the coach who was the mental health professional, we were able to talk about how everything was going to progress. We were able to talk about how everyone was going to finance this, the wedding, and it worked out great. And actually, in the end, these people are still talking to each other, which is always a win-win, actually for the sake of the children.
JoAnne Meyers: As one divorce judge has said, and it's always stuck out in my mind, you may no longer be husband and wife, but parents are forever. And that is the truth. You will see each for a lifetime if your children have children because you'll be sharing different activities with your grandchildren, hopefully, you will.
Ben Smith: JoAnne, I just want to maybe emphasize the lesson you just shared because I think it's an important one. What I just heard you say was, hey, here's maybe one part of the couple, then here's the other and assembling the team to essentially address the gaps so that when they decouple going forward, that they have either the acumen, the literacy level, the education part so that they can see how that they can maybe live apart going forward. So you get to not only just mediate the relationship it's at an even place and it can work but also see the future. Because I think that's also tough for us when we say, hey, I'm sitting down with somebody. And if they just can't see what the future is going to look like and they're so in the present and they're so just emotionally invested in today, it makes all of our lives difficult. So it feels like what you just said is a successful outcome is assembling this team.
Ben Smith: And personally, for us the three of us and working with clients in Maine, privately, I'd say that's something that is a successful outcome for us as we're interviewing people on this type of show is to say, hey, here's people that we've had conversations with in certain scenarios, we know who to pull in different situations so that we can have maybe a better conversation, more well rounded to provide you better results in outcomes. Because when we put the person at the center of what we're trying to do, then I think magic happens. When it's about us, and it's all about how, what is, Ben, Abby, Curtis doing, or JoAnne's doing? Then it feels disingenuous. So kudos to what you just said there because I think that's a very, very important thing about when good outcomes are happening, you're seeing those things thrive.
Ben Smith: So I do want to maybe now flip the script on you. So here's the good stuff, and you said, here's the story about how it worked truly. Now, I think this is where everybody goes. You said divorce, negative, everybody hates each other, we're all bankrupt, attorneys got a lot of legal fees out of this, and everybody loses in every case. Can we talk about so bad outcomes and can you talk about stories about then what went badly? What were the characteristics of the relationship of the divorcing couple that led to it? And also defining some of the what is a bad outcome here?
JoAnne Meyers: Well, that's a loaded question.
Ben Smith: It's huge.
JoAnne Meyers: I tell people when they come to see me, honestly, how your divorce process progresses depends in large part on who I'm dealing with as a person. It really does. People don't understand that psychology plays such a huge role in the divorce process. So I could have the same set of facts, but just give me two different sets of personalities and it's going to be a disaster. So people need to understand that. I can't change behavior, I can recommend counseling, that's all I can do. So bad outcomes, bad situations, it's, horrific what we've seen in this office. There's several horrible cases, but one of they're very similar in one way, people can't stand each other, they'll do anything to push the other person's buttons, money is thrown to the wind, sometimes you even have parents supporting this bad behavior that are willing to throw their money into the situation. Sometimes someone has more money than the other person and tries to perpetuate the litigation, to put the other person down because they know they have more money and they can keep it going.
JoAnne Meyers: Bad outcome always in these cases are the children. The children are usually affected by this type of fighting and this type of viciousness. It comes out in suicidal ideation, acting out at school. So we've seen some horrific cases. I know we're talking about gray divorce for older people, bad outcomes for older people are probably somebody that's narcissistic that wins at no cost, wants every dollar they could get their hand on and is trying to push the other person down and break them because that's what they want. And that's who they are. Those are hard to fix. I like to see a good outcome, there's at least financial equitableness. And when I say equitableness, it may not be equal division, you have to look at the financial situations to determine what's equitable. But I can't fix the psychology of it, unfortunately.
Ben Smith: JoAnne, can I ask a follow up there?
JoAnne Meyers: Yeah.
Ben Smith: And I think you just brought up a term which I think is important to just investigate real quick, is that financial equitableness. And everybody would define that differently but I would imagine is you just have a really interesting perspective of how people have defined it and finding the middle ground of that. Could you talk about that?
JoAnne Meyers: Most people coming in to see me in a longterm marriage, I think basically just assume it's going to be a 50, 50 division of the assets and what are we arguing about? But I like to look at the future for everyone. And you may have a spouse that has been in the workforce for many, many years and is going to get social security. And even though the other spouse hasn't been in the workforce, they're only going to get half the amount of social security, if they've been married for 10 years, they get half. How is that fair in a longterm marriage? You may have a spouse that has a corporate job that gets 401(k) matching. How is the other spouse who has barely worked ever going to be able to catch up, so to speak?
JoAnne Meyers: So one way to address those situations is to say, look at it equitably, we may want more than 50% of the assets to adjust for these facts. And people can rebuttal and say, well, social security could be gone tomorrow and the benefit may be gone or my 401(k) match may be gone tomorrow. But the reality of it is there's going to be a little give and take here because there's likely going to be a disparity in where these people are five to 10 years down the road.
Ben Smith: Sure.
Curtis Worcester: JoAnne, I want to zoom out a little bit. I know we just talked about both good and bad outcomes of divorce. Can we just talk about the steps involved in getting a divorce? And I know we've touched on various aspects of the journey if you will, in this conversation, but just a start to finish, is there a common trajectory that you see these things go through?
JoAnne Meyers: Well, you can always just file for divorce and get a divorce started. That would not be my advice, unless you're in an abusive situation. Obviously, if you're being injured or hurt by somebody physically and even sometimes if the emotional abuse is bad, you need to get out, and you start the process. But if it's just that I'm thinking about this, things aren't horrible at home, I would really encourage people to have a consult and to consider alternative dispute services, which have burgeoned in the time that I've been in business. And that would be mediation, arbitration, and collaborative law. So I'll touch briefly on what they are just so people understand.
Curtis Worcester: Yeah, please.
JoAnne Meyers: Mediation is a procedure, it's where both parties discuss their disputes with the assistance of a person who acts as an arbitrator. So it's usually another attorney and it could be a retired judge that takes on the role and you resolve your differences out of court, you mediate an agreement, and present it to the court and you're done. Never has to get into the litigation stage in court. Arbitration could be retired judge again or an attorney. It's different than mediation, you're hiring that person and saying, look, you're going to be the judge, whatever you decide, that's it, your decision is going to be how we resolve the case. So it's somewhat like litigation, but it's outside of court. Then there's collaborative law, it's another way to resolve disputes. And instead of the fight and win approach, I say it's a troubleshoot and problem solve approach.
JoAnne Meyers: And what's different about this is you each go into the process with an attorney and usually there's always one neutral that you hire and that would be the coach, the mental health professional, who is like the glue to the process because when somebody is off the rails and saying, I'm not doing this, the coach comes in and addresses those emotional feelings of each side. And it really works well. Other experts could be financial neutrals to assist, we do vocational experts, could be business appraisers, real estate appraisers, accountants, parenting consultants. All these people can be brought in, the cost is shared by the parties and all to get towards a common goal. What I like about the process I really enjoy is when people walk out of this process, they feel like their voice has been heard because they actually do the speaking in the collaborative law meeting, the party themselves.
Abby Doody: And we haven't really touched on this yet, but what are the costs associated with all of this? You mentioned it a little bit when you mentioned collaborative law. So what is the different costs for each of those types of arbitration, mediation, collaborative law, and then litigation? Is there a significant difference between them?
JoAnne Meyers: Well, there can be, yes. Obviously, I have to start with the litigation. People say how much is this divorce going to cost me? That's the first thing they want to know. They don't understand that the cost is really dependent on how crazy they're going to be. So litigation costs, our retainers run anywhere from 5,000 to 7,500. And the retainer is just money you give to a lawyer, they hold it and it's a security for payment for them. Our hourly rates are 300 an hour, which is just an average rate, it's not high. If you went into the city in Boston, you're probably, it could be going 500 to 700 an hour for attorney space. So it really is less than the suburbs. But those fees, the total fees, that's just the retainer, they can go up to $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 if there's litigation. It's incredibly costly to litigate.
JoAnne Meyers: And people, they don't understand the amount of work that has to be put into litigation. All the paperwork and documentation, the court requires it all takes time and effort. So by far litigation is usually the most expensive. As far as a collaborative law, you're both paying your own attorneys, plus you're paying a coach. So a lot of people right off the bat throw up their hands and say, this is very expensive. But what they don't understand is collaborative law usually leads to a mediated or a resolution of the case. Litigation can go on and on and on, and if you don't like your judgment, you can appeal it. Collaborative law, you come to an agreement in the end. So it really can be much less costly even though you think it's going to be more expensive initially.
JoAnne Meyers: Mediation can be very inexpensive if both have an idea of what you want. And you're really just going to a professional to have a review of it and to put the final seal on it. So both of you pay for the mediator, for our office, if somebody is coming in for mediation, we charge a retainer of $4,000 to begin with. And usually, you can get by up to $10,000 and get your case done if there's nothing unusual in it.
Ben Smith: JoAnne, real quick about, again, another area you mentioned was arbitration. So because you talked about that as another area. So where does that fit in the range there between the three yards you mentioned?
JoAnne Meyers: So for arbitration, you don't have to have your own attorneys, but normally you would, and then you jointly pay a fee to the arbitrator. So generally for an arbitrator, you could be talking 3,000 to 5,000 for a retainer for the arbitrator. They just sit and they act like a judge. So it's not going to be huge money for them because they're just there for a small period of time. If it was case that there were multiple businesses and business valuations, then obviously, it's going to be more complex.
Ben Smith: Got you.
JoAnne Meyers: Works then.
Ben Smith: And I do want to ask, I think one thing I wanted just explained a little bit more on JoAnne, collaborative divorce I know that was just one of the areas, we've covered a bunch in our conversation. It just seems like, again from something, it just seems like creating this atmosphere around it seems to be the most, has positivity to it. It feels like it's working towards the best positive result of a lot of the areas here. Can you talk a little bit about where that has come from and where's the Genesis of it and how is that becoming more of a prevalent kind of methodology to divorce? Because my from under... I don't have a lot of personal experience of divorce, thankfully. I just would love to hear a little bit more about that.
JoAnne Meyers: It probably started, I would say close to 20 years ago that people actually started talking about collaborative divorce. And I have to say when I was practicing, I first looked at it and I was very skeptical because one of the aspects of collaborative law is if you don't resolve the case, your lawyers cannot, we've signed a contract, we can not go to court with you. You're going to have to start with somebody else from square one and I thought, well, isn't that stupid? That's ridiculous. But after practicing for many years, things change, your philosophy changes. And seeing what happens in the courts and never getting necessarily results quickly, it is another process that I really believe can work. And I've had a total turnaround in my own philosophy about it, actually, yes.
Curtis Worcester: So, JoAnne, I'm going to step away from what we've been talking about with divorce here in your practice. Kind of our way of wrapping up our conversation with all of our guests, we'd like to talk about your eventual retirement. So naturally, the name of the show is the Retirement Success in Maine podcast. And as you reside in Massachusetts, but I know you have a deep connection to the state of Maine. So what do you see as your eventual retirement and how do you see that being successful?
JoAnne Meyers: Well, I do hope to always maintain a presence in Mass, but I do expect to be spending more time in Maine, hopefully hitting the trails and fishing and kayaking and doing all those fun things. But yes, you have to look ahead and plan financially for this. And I've been doing that for a lot of years, so.
Ben Smith: Well, appreciate JoAnne, thank you so much for coming on. We just really can't thank you enough to lend your expertise to the show, to us, to people tuning in it's really valuable. And I know for going forward, that in the resource library that we have here to be able to pull out when we see situations like this and say let's start with this as our foundational conversation when we're entering this really valuable. So we can't thank you enough. And I appreciate your time on the show today.
JoAnne Meyers: Well, thank you very much for inviting me, I appreciate it. And it was very interesting topic and I hope we were able to help some people.
Ben Smith: All right appreciate JoAnne, take care.
JoAnne Meyers: Take care.
Ben Smith: So gray divorce, of course, is not the topic you want to go, hey, this is the one I'm really excited about today. Is something that I think people are... Even the fact that people are probably listening to this is probably tough. To say, hey, I'm actually tuning into something about what is that even like, and again, I think having these conversations with your partner and in retirement and thinking about what that success is, and sometimes you do figure out that success is different for both of you. If it's so different then maybe that relationship is not going to be viable going forward. So again, from our end, that's what we've seen is you start getting this they've drifted apart some, and then they go, I didn't realize how far we've drifted apart.
Ben Smith: So that was again I think an impetus for us to have someone like JoAnne on today to talk about gray divorce, especially from the legal side. I think that's the bugaboo here, is what is that like? And I'm scared of it. And so you want to have somebody on to talk about it. But one thing we always like to do in the wrap up, of course, is to get some highlights for us and all have Abby lead us off here in terms of... Abby, what did you hear from today that you thought was an important takeaway from the show?
Abby Doody: Yeah, so I thought her concept of financial equity was very important. So not necessarily having things be 50, 50 equal, which is what I think a lot of us envisioned as a divorce, where you just split the assets in half. That may not actually be equitable for both parties. And having that equity between the two people involved in a divorce can help have a more successful divorce outcome. And it's just a new way of thinking about it that I had never really thought of and she touched on it quite a bit. So I found that very interesting.
Ben Smith: And feasibility, sometimes it's not feasible to just say, hey, we have this house and let's just have it be 50, 50. Well, you're going to be living apart how do you have that way? So if these assets can't be split, then how do you then split other assets to make it equitable? And it's a really tough thing because we all have different value systems and what we want and all of that. So that's a really good point. Curtis, from your end, what did you see as a takeaway for today?
Curtis Worcester: A big piece that stuck out to me first overall about JoAnne, I thought it was really nice to hear her talk about how much it meant to her to make sure that positive outcome is for everyone involved not necessarily just who she's representing. I think it's easy for people in her situation to just see the end game and as she made it the win, loss game, so I want to give her a little shout out there. But I thought it was really interesting, she was talking about kids in divorce and how the younger kids actually take it better than the older kids. That was something that I'd never really thought about but it made sense the way she said the younger kids are more adapting to change or more welcome, they can adapt and the older kids have this vision or, this experience of their family for so long being together. And then all of a sudden it's split. So I thought that was really interesting to hear her talk about.
Ben Smith: Nice. For my own, too is, I guess what lends out in my mind is when you hear divorce is you hear the litigation side, you go right there. And obviously you hear a little bit about mediation or arbitration, but I had really not heard about collaborative divorce really as a thing at all. Again, because it's just not somewhere that I've lived in terms of my personal expertise. So hearing a lot about collaborative divorce and bringing in experts and having them say, all right, here's where the gaps are when we break this thing apart. And how do I get one of members of the relationship, how do I get them financial literacy? And how do I get you grief counseling because you're grieving the relationship? All of those things, is how do you parent in this way?
Ben Smith: And all of those things are really necessary to make sure that both parties are whole coming out of it. And I think that's the hard part is it just seems like sometimes we're incomplete when we sever those ties. So that was a really interesting thing. And as she said is, yeah, it can be a little more expensive because of the amount of parties you're bringing in to coach you through it. But important from the best outcome perspective. So I really liked that. I thought that was really synonymous with, again, what we were on the show and the career coaching. And we saw with Barbara Babkirk and some of the retirement coaching and life coaching we're seeing through our practice with the lens of financial planning. So yeah, it kind of has this synergy that's kind of flowing through a lot of these shows and these experts we're bringing on. So again, I love that as a theme. So I want to obviously wrap up the show at this point, we are at episode 21.
Curtis Worcester: 21.
Ben Smith: Okay, 21. So we have our ID legally, we can enter those stores and buy adult beverages. That's all part of it as part of the show.
Curtis Worcester: We're growing up.
Ben Smith: We're or growing up. So I appreciated the journey, everybody coming along with us. If you want to read more about us again, we have some more resources, social articles relating to staying in and gray divorce. Because again, that's something we want to hone in a little bit more. So some statistics and stories you have there, we'll have it underneath blog.guidancepointllc.com\21. And also want to just promo, we have a Facebook page. So if those of you are on Facebook, we're nearing 500 likes at this point. Getting a lot of great interaction and feedback going on page Curtis is doing some really great work in terms of getting video clips from these shows out there. If you want to engage with the community a little bit more, feel free to go there. I think that's a really great place. We're doing it also on LinkedIn. You can give us a follow on LinkedIn as well.
Ben Smith: So on the social pathways where we're there a little bit more actively love to have you check us out there, reach out to us again, you can see our contact info on guidancepointllc.com on about us. You can reach out to Abby, myself, Curtis there, feel free to do that. But until next time, we'll see you later.