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VOL. 41 | NO. 9 | Friday, March 3, 2017

Top-notch attorney offers 'Divorce 101'

By Linda Bryant | Corresponden

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Divorce attorney and mediator Jan Walden in her Nashville office.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

Jan Walden is a Nashville-based attorney with a specialty in handling uncontested divorce and family and divorce mediation.

She also has experience in the emerging field of collaborative divorce, a relatively new method of alternative dispute resolution in family law.

Collaborative law provides divorcing couples an alternative to a traditional courtroom divorce. Typically, a collaborative divorce involves a settlement tailored to the needs and situation of the divorcing couple and their family.

The approach also allows financial and mental health professionals familiar with the collaborative law process to help divorcing couples come to agreement.

The Ledger recently spoke with Walden to find out more about her practice.

If you could warn divorcing people of a few things what would they be? What questions should they be asking?

Jan Walden: “Does your attorney believe it is his/her responsibility to preserve your assets and avoid unnecessary litigation costs?”

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According to Records.com in 2015 Tennessee had the 10th highest divorce rate in the U.S. with about 13 percent of residents divorced.
Researchers at the University of Washington found that most divorces come after the winter holidays and summer vacation.

They analyzed divorce filings between 2001 and 2015 and found most happened in March, followed by August. (The spike in divorce filings start increasing after the Christmas holidays and peaked in March.)

According to research release in late 2016 by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research, the U.S. divorce is at its lowest level in more than 35 years. The research showed 16.9 divorces per 1,000 married women in 2015, down from 17.6 in 2014.

Meanwhile, marriage is up a bit, at 32.3 marriages for every 1,000 unmarried women age 15 or older last year, from 31.9 in 2014.

 A 2015 study by the National Sociological Association found that women initiated nearly 70 percent of all divorces.

“Does your attorney understand that divorce is an adverse childhood experience as defined by a Center for Disease Control study? Prolonged litigation increases the negative impact on the whole family. The children must live with their parents after the divorce. Will your attorney work with the other attorney, if possible, to achieve a positive outcome for the children?”

“Is your attorney focused on problem solving for a successful outcome for the future or does he/she focus on past bad acts. The courts can only address what has happened, but your attorney can help you plan for the future and hopefully avoid costly court appearances.

“While being empathic to your emotional issue does he/she help you address your situation in a rational manner for the best possible outcome for the family? Does he/she agree that court appearances should be necessary only after attempting to communicate with the other attorney to resolve the issue?”

How can a divorcing couple get to the point where they really are working in the best interests of the children? Do you see transformations during the mediation process?

“Feelings need to be acknowledged, but the emphasis needs to be on what will happen in the future, not what happened in the past. Sometimes it takes a client a little while to get to the place when they can use their thinking brain instead of their feeling brain. I don’t meet parents who don’t love their children. If we can focus on the children, and if parents can try to see things through the eyes of their children, there is generally cooperation in creating the best possible parenting plan for the children.

“Once the clients accept the fact that unless the two of them agree there will be a divorce and that the mediation process can save them thousands of dollars, they are generally willing to commit to the process. Once they understand that we are problem-solving, not punishing — and they only have control of their own actions — they are generally able to proceed with resolving the issues.

“I often share the story of the clients that had such a confrontational first session that I feared we would not be able to continue the process. After returning for three more sessions they reached agreements on all issues. They were my last appointment for the day, and I was last to leave the office. After I locked up and went to the parking lot I found them there — talking.

“This is the most beneficial part of pre-litigation mediation. The parties work together in the same room and in the process are able to develop a post-divorce co-parenting relationship. Appropriate and respectful communication between parents is necessary for the emotional health of the children after the divorce.”

Is there anything about divorce in Tennessee or Nashville specifically that makes it a good or bad place to get a divorce?

“One good thing is the short waiting period for divorce. Once the decision is made to divorce, I feel the process needs to proceed as soon as possible. The longer the process the more the stress. Some cases need longer to percolate, but the shorter waiting period gives the parties flexibility to move at their needed pace. The 90-day waiting period can be a good time for the parents to implement their parenting plan to see if it work, before it becomes a part of the final decree of divorce.

“They may find that it needs to be tweaked. Once parties have reached agreement they are usually ready to move on with their lives. In some states there is a one -year waiting period. We have the requirement for mediation before a trial date can be set. Also, there is a required 40-hour seminar for divorcing parents of minor children. These are positives.”

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