Culture / Newsy

Getting Your Divorce Questions Answered From Lawyers Who Know the Breakup of a Marriage Needn’t Be a War

Dawn Budner and Carla Calabrese Advocate for the Power of an Emotionally Intelligent Divorce

BY // 06.30.21

If you want a lengthy, expensive divorce, you can have it. Just look for the ads with family lawyers who promise vengeance against the parent of your children. Fixate on having your day in court, when all wrongs will be redressed, with your ex-spouse declared the villain and you the innocent victim.

Push those emotions down and stay stuck in revenge mode. Burn through financial resources and create new wounds instead of planning for a better future. You won’t have trouble finding a lawyer to fight those battles. For a price.

Law partners Dawn Budner and Carla Calabrese are not those lawyers. They created the concept of the Emotionally Intelligence Divorce — even trademarking it — for clients who want to make their own decisions about the future for their family. Regardless of how challenging that may be.

Now, these smart divorce experts answer some of your most pressing questions about divorce.

In divorce, you have the same income stream, but double the expenses to establish two households, with legal fees for both of the spouses. Do you see clients depleting their estates with all of these expenses?

“The best advice I can give to a client is to stay laser focused on the future versus spending a lot of legal time and personal energy on the past,” Calabrese says. “It sounds enticing to think that the court might make your spouse pay for his or her wrongs.

“The problem is the court may not see it your way, and even if it does, the litigation costs often completely outweigh any benefits.”

DIVORCE Law partners Dawn Budner and Carla Calabrese
Law partners Dawn Budner and Carla Calabrese created the concept of the Emotionally Intelligence Divorce for clients who want to make their own decisions about the future for their family

How do you keep clients focused on the best outcome for themselves and their children, especially when they are triggered by the other side’s tactics or when they feel their spouse has done wrong?

“Most parents say the children are their No. 1 priority, but they may not be aware of their own reduced emotional functioning while in the throes of divorce,” Budner says. “They don’t see how intense feelings impact their own thinking and behavior, much less how they impact their children, who are struggling to understand what’s happening to the family.

“Divorce is a mental-health event for families. Nobody is immune. When clients are suffering emotionally, I advocate for getting the right support. Emotional wellbeing is foundational for making good decisions, so nothing is more important.”

If you are married to someone who has been secretive during the marriage, how do you uncover the truth of your community assets during a divorce?

“Texas law provides tools for locating hidden assets, but it is usually difficult, time-consuming and expensive, especially if the wealthy spouse is committed to resisting production,” Budner says. “Just how difficult and expensive depends on the size and complexity of the marital estate and the nature of the assets involved.

“A party can subpoena tax returns and work papers directly from the CPA who prepares them. Forensic accountants can trace and follow funds from their source with bank account and credit card statements.”

Calabrese adds, “We have found that we get more information about the community assets in a collaborative divorce, even where there’s been secrecy such as with affairs. This is largely due to the way the process operates, which is vastly different than litigation.”

Communication and finances are two of the primary reasons people seek a divorce in the first place. How do you facilitate your client’s communication about a division of finances when they are going through a divorce?

“We involve neutral financial professionals and mental health professionals as much as possible in our divorce cases, whether they are in the collaborative process or on a settlement track,” Calabrese says. “Finances, division of property and post-divorce support can be very touchy subjects. We see a tremendous benefit in having a neutral voice at the negotiation table.

“These skilled divorce professionals can facilitate not only the clients’ communications but the communication among the lawyers as well. When negotiations become tense, as advocates, we are inclined to see issues only from our client’s perspective, which contributes to breakdowns in the process. Neutral professionals help bring the reality check that is crucial to reaching a resolution.”

We know Texas is a community-property state, but sometimes one spouse believes they are entitled to more than half of the marital estate. Are there any reasons why a client might receive a disproportionate division of the estate?

“In deciding whether a reasonable basis exists for an unequal division of the marital estate,” Budner explains, “the court may consider many factors, including: (1) the spouses’ relative earning capacities and abilities; (2) benefits that the party not at fault (in a divorce based on fault) would have derived from the continuation of the marriage; (3) the business opportunities available to the respective spouses; (4) the relative physical conditions of the spouses; (5) the relative financial conditions of the spouses; (6) any disparity in ages; (7) the size of any separate estate(s) of the spouses; (8) the nature of the property in the marital estate; and (9) disparity of income or earning capacity between the spouses.”

Divorce emotional
Getting a divorce does not have to be another drag-out fight. An emotionally intelligent divorce offers a different way.

Knowledge is power, yet a lot of women don’t know much about their family’s finances. What is the biggest mistake you’ve seen made during your years in practice? How could it have been avoided?

“Do we have a megaphone? Women! You cannot afford to be uninformed about your finances!” Budner says. “It’s so easy to fall into this trap. You have a brand-new baby. Maybe you stepped back from a big career or out of a boring job, to focus on raising your little miracle with your soulmate. You are steeped in diapers and naps and learning about life from a completely different perspective.

“Meanwhile, your spouse showers and wears pants to the office, interacting with adults. An obvious division of labor emerges, and it takes family finances off your plate. What a relief. That is, until 10 or 20 years later, when you find out your spouse has a double life or that you overlooked his/her drug habit or something less dramatic but just as impactful when it ends your marriage.

“The statistics don’t lie. You are taking a significant, unnecessary and potentially devastating risk by ceding not just control but also basic knowledge about your own financial future. Do not do it. If you’ve already started down the path, schedule a meeting with your spouse today and insist on preparing a spreadsheet together with all the financial information — assets, liabilities, separate property.

“Insist that it be updated each year. Read the tax returns. Meet with the accountant if you don’t understand or need more information. And by the way, how about putting aside retirement funds in your name, as you would be earning if you were employed outside of the home? This is some of the best advice we can give women, happily married or not.”

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