What the hell is a QDRO?

Don't you feel like some people just use acronyms to make you feel stupid?

Now, I'm not saying that acronyms don't serve a purpose. I much prefer NASA to National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Ditto for CNN and ATM.

Other acronyms, though, have completely displaced the word. For example, I don't know what the letters RSVP mean. Same for AM/PM and IKEA. My hunch is that many of you didn't even know IKEA was an acronym.

The term QDRO is no better. And it's just one of the many acronyms that crowd out normal people from understanding family court.

It means Qualified Domestic Relations Order. Does that help? Didn't think so.

What we should call it is a DRO: Divide Retirement Order. That's clearer anyway.

A QDRO is a special order that a divorce court judge signs instructing a retirement plan on how to divide a person's retirement account or pension. It is separate from a divorce decree.

State law dictates the terms of your divorce. But federal law (which is supreme and controls if the two fight) dictates how a QDRO must be drafted. The result is a nightmare for many people.

Why?

Because the federal law does not paint with a broad brush. It is not warm and fuzzy, considering what people were trying to do or what's fair given the overall scope of a divorce.

Instead, it's like an anal retentive boss who stands over your shoulder, reading every line of your email looking for a missing comma. If he finds one, he makes you start typing again from scratch.

Last year, a Plan Administrator (the person who runs the retirement plan for your benefit) in one of my cases rejected a QDRO the other side had drafted. Care to guess how many times they rejected it? 4 times! And it wasn't nearly that bad.

Does every case need a QDRO?

No. It depends on whether a plan is subject to a federal law called ERISA. Ha! Yet another acronym!

The simple answer (if incomplete one) is that you need a QDRO for 401(k)'s and pensions, but not for IRA's. These can be divided by completing a simple form you get (for free) from the plan administrator.

Good luck and goodbye,

Rob

 

 

 

Letters No. 8 and 9

This post continues my experiment of applying ancient wisdom to the present day experience of people facing divorce in Minnesota.

The wisdom comes from Seneca (an old Roman dude) who wrote a series of letters to his friend, Lucilius. Whether Seneca actually sent the letters, or just compiled them as a book, doesn't matter to me because I've found his advice as sound today as when he wrote it in 65 A.D.

All the letters can be downloaded (for free) courtesy of Tim Ferriss. Click (here) for his website. He's got lots of other amazing stuff there too. I highly recommend his book, Tools of Titans, which is worth the cost.

There is no post for Letter No. 8. To be blunt, it's worthless. The focus is on whether philosophers should seclude themselves. If you must know the answer, you'll need to read it yourself. Although, you probably could guess it.

Today's letter is No. 9. It's titled On Philosophy and Friendship.

The letter starts with Seneca answering a concern Lucilius expressed about whether wise men who are self-sufficient need friends. Apparently, one of Seneca's critics is hammering him on the topic, saying Seneca's theories make friends pointless.

Seneca responds by telling Lucilius that the critic doesn't understand what it means to be a self-sufficient person. He explains that a self-sufficient person is one who "feels his troubles, but overcomes them." A wise man is "in want of nothing, and yet needs many things."

At first, I found this hard to understand. But then Seneca explains that a "want" implies something is needed and that a wise man needs nothing beyond that which he already possesses.

Although it is normal for a wise man to "crave" friendships, he doesn't need them. This is important because it allows a self-sufficient person to form the right type of friendships (ones where he can focus on helping others) while still remaining intact if the friendship dissolves.

Seneca ends the letter by reinforcing that being self-sufficient means being happy with oneself, regardless of what happens in the outside world. He quotes another philosopher as saying: “Whoever does not regard what he has as most ample wealth, is unhappy, though he be master of the whole world.”

How does this apply to a Minnesota divorce in 2018?

To me, it means that all of us need to find a way to be happy (and content) with who and where we are in life.

We can't let our happiness depend on our spouse's opinions or behaviors. We shouldn't let it depend on the behavior of bosses or friends either.

Like Seneca says, we should have friends, but not need them to make ourselves whole. Friends are people we want to help. To serve. Not the other way around.

The idea of self-sufficiency runs through a lot of Seneca's letters. It sounds simple, but I don't think I've ever seen it in real life. Certainly not from me. I'm hardly ever comfortable in my own skin.

Can you imagine how powerful a person would be if they were self-sufficient?

Life could bounce them up and down like a ping pong ball, yet not touch who they were inside. They could be rich or poor, healthy or sick, married or divorced, and still they would be enough for themselves.

I don't believe such a person would approach divorce in a caviar way. My guess is they'd be saddened by the loss of family, friends, and relationship. But it wouldn't rock them. Not to the core.

They'd pick up, carry on, determined to make new friends and help other people. Because they know that there is nothing anyone can take from them that they really need.

Stay strong,

Rob

 

 

 

Hiding Income at the IRS

One of the most important tasks in a divorce involving child support or alimony is to calculate each party's income. The figure becomes a starting point for determining how much (if any) a party should pay.

Sometimes, the danger of one party hiding income is obvious. Think of the self-employed sole proprietor who doesn't have employees or keep good books. Every sensible person would be skeptical of that person claiming they suddenly went broke two weeks after being served with divorce papers.

But what about W-2'd employees who work for large companies? Should people worry about them too?

Yes.

There have been cases where people increase their tax withholding at the time of a pay raise. The effect being that their "net pay" remains the same every two weeks even though they are earning more. Essentially, they are "saving" money in the U.S. Treasury, which will be refunded to them when they file taxes the next year.

A small business owner could do the same thing by overpaying estimated quarterly taxes.

What should you do to make sure this isn't happening to you?

First, demand to see copies of payroll check stubs showing gross income per period and cumulative gross income earned for the year-to-date.

Second, never rely on a person's W-2 Form as evidence of income. Some contributions (e.g., retirement) can reduce a person's "income" but be hard to spot on the form. I remember one case where this changed a person's income by more than $10,000 per year.

To be safe, demand to see the person's last payroll check stub showing total gross income earned that calendar year.

Also, ask for a copy of the person's Social Security Statement and compare the Medicare / Social Security Wages against the numbers the person claims to have earned.

Determining a person's income can be harder than it sounds. In really tricky cases, I always hire a forensic accountant.

Stay strong,

Rob

 

 

Letter No. 7 -- Avoiding People

This post continues my experiment of applying ancient wisdom to the present day experience of people facing divorce in Minnesota.

The wisdom comes from Seneca (an old Roman dude) who wrote a series of letters to his friend, Lucilius. Whether Seneca actually sent the letters, or just compiled them as a book, doesn't matter to me because I've found his advice as sound today as when he wrote it in 65 A.D.

All the letters can be downloaded (for free) courtesy of Tim Ferriss. Click (here) for his website. He's got lots of other amazing stuff there too. I highly recommend his book, Tools of Titans, which is worth the cost.

Today's letter is No. 7. It's titled On Crowds.

In it, Seneca tells Lucilius that he must avoid crowds because no one ever returns home the same person. Others will change you, he says. Even a single exposure can disrupt one's mind.

For example, eating with a rich person will make you jealous. Drinking with a slanderous one will loosen your tongue, and lounging with a lazy friend robs you of spirit.

Crowds force you to either "imitate or loathe the world," neither of which is right. Instead, Seneca urges Lucilius to, "Associate with those who will make a better man of you."

He ends by offering Lucilius this bit of advice: "Many men praise you but have you any reason for being pleased with yourself, if you are a person whom the many can understand? Your good qualities should face inwards."

How does this apply to a Minnesota Divorce in 2018?

Seneca's advice reminds me of what my mother used to say about a boy in my grade. The boy's parents were extremely rich. I envied his ability to watch rated R movies and to grab a soda at will from a special refrigerator in his garage.

My mother worried that the boy was a bad influence. I couldn't see how that possible. But now, as an adult, I understand what she meant.

How many of the people you associate with bring you down? How many make you a better person?

Much of the "helpful" advice I hear offered to divorcing couples isn't helpful to them at all. How does a co-worker announcing, "It didn't happen that way in my case" or "You need to fight that bastard" make things better for you?

It doesn't.

A wise therapist once told me that the fastest way to feel better is to stop talking about your problems all the time.

I think Seneca was right. We should be very careful about whom we associate with because we end-up being twins.

Stay strong,

 
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Letter No. 6 -- Sharing Knowledge

Today's letter from Seneca keeps us focused on ideas that at first seem hard to analogize to a 2018 Minnesota divorce.

For the most part, Seneca talks about himself, explaining that he too is applying the principles with great success. However, he says his joy would be diminished if he ever found out that Lucilius wasn't benefiting from his advice.

I'm sure he would be. It'd mean he spent his time spitting into the wind.

It's not until the last paragraph of his letter that Seneca actually gets around to offering his daily bit of wisdom. He says: "I have begun to be a friend to myself. That was indeed a great benefit; such a person can never be alone."

How does this apply to a 2018 Minnesota Divorce?

Seneca's wisdom about being a friend to oneself got me thinking about the issue of negative self-talk. How many of us talk to ourselves in ways we would never allow another person to do?

I know the words I use: You're a failure. No one is worrying like you. Why are you so screwed-up?

If anyone on the street badgered me this way, I'd punch them in the nose. But for some reason, I don't have a problem saying it to myself.

Or maybe I do. Perhaps it's the reason I get depressed sometimes, feel down.

Can you blame me?

If I harassed a colleague that way they'd write a front page story about me in the newspaper.

With that in mind, being a friend to oneself does sound like a "great benefit."

Imagine what would happen if the professionals in the divorce machine were truly friends to themselves? How many of us lawyers would still be nasty, cynical, or obnoxious?

What if the people getting divorced were also friends to themselves? What would that world look like?

My guess is that it's a place I'd like to see. A place where people wouldn't feel so threatened all the time. A place where each of us would believe in our own intrinsic value, that we were powerful, good people, caught in a bad moment.

And whether that moment continued for one more week or month or year, it would end-up being but a small fraction of our time on Earth. No one would willingly prolong it by fighting for things that didn't matter.

More than anything, though, that world would be a place where no one would fear being alone. Because, of course, no one is alone if they have themselves for a friend.

So today, I'm going to try to be my own friend. A friend to a guy who loves his family, always tries to do the right thing, and wants to blaze his own trail, even if the rest of the lawyers stand on the sidelines and snicker at me.

At least I won't be alone.

Stay strong,

 
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Letter No. 5 -- Terrible.

This post continues my experiment of applying ancient wisdom to the present day experience of people facing divorce in Minnesota.

The wisdom comes from Seneca (an old Roman dude) who wrote a series of letters about the meaning of life to his friend, Lucilius. Whether Seneca actually sent the letters, or just compiled them as a book, doesn't matter to me because I've found his advice as sound today as it was in 65 A.D.

All the letters can be downloaded (for free) courtesy of Tim Ferriss. Click (here) for his website. He's got lots of other amazing stuff is there too. I highly recommend his book, Tools of Titans, which is worth the cost.

Today's letter is No. 5. It's titled On the Philosopher's Mean.

To be blunt, this letter sucks. You'd be better off watching a Thomas the Train rerun than wasting your time on it.

Seneca drones on for paragraph after paragraph about how Lucilius shouldn't look too good or too bad. Don't be too rich or too poor. Instead, live a plain life.

Because I'm trying hard not to be a quitter anymore, I did read to the end of the letter. And I'm happy to report Seneca does offer something I can share.

He tells Lucilius that the best way to eliminate fears is to get rid of desire. The two are linked together like a "chain [that] fastens the prisoner and the soldier who guards him."

How so?

Because both fear and desire "belong to . . . a mind that is . . . looking forward to the future. In so doing, we don't "adapt ourselves to the present, but send our thoughts a long way ahead."

He closes by explaining that animals avoid the dangers they see and then forget about them. But not us. We humans continue to worry about both the perceived future dangers and our past shortcomings.

The solution: Focus on the present, which "can make no man wretched."

How does this apply to a present day divorce in Minnesota?

Almost everyone I meet (me included) is stuck in either the future or the past. Or both. It clouds their decision-making.

Not many people appreciate that things are okay right now. Few of the dangers they fear are actually happening. And many never will.

It reminds me of the old quote sometimes attributed to Mark Twain: "I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened."

Fix this problem now! Focus on the present moment. What needs to happen today to make it a good day? What are the one or two things that if you did today, you'd be proud of yourself?

Do those things. Stop doing the things that don't matter. Your life won't fall apart. Neither will the rest of the world.

Stay strong,

 
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Om Shanti

Meditation.jpg

When my wife makes fun of me (which she does often), she calls me, "Om Shanti." It's because I meditate to stay calm.

No, I don't sit in that position. Are you nuts? It would kill my knees and lower back.

But, meditation has been life changing for me.

In the past, I've written about my struggles with anxiety. As far back as I can remember, I've always been stressed. It's a part of my DNA. If I got 92% on a test, I'd worry why I hadn't gotten 97%. If a judge awarded my client $105,000, I'd worry why she hadn't gotten $110,000.

Trust me, anxiety can be a real bummer.

On December 3, 2016, my life changed forever when I learned Transcendental Meditation ("TM"). Sounds crazy, right?

I felt the same way when I heard other people make outrageous claims about it.

The actor Hugh Jackman says TM is "literally one of the best things" in his life. Come on! Really? Better than sex, drugs, and rock and roll?

Then I learned to meditate. The world spun-off its axis.

What does mediation do for me? Everything.

It makes me feel less stressed. It makes me less concerned about what other people think. I no longer have a constant tight feeling in my chest. I have more energy. Psst . . . don't tell anyone, but the feeling is similar to when I have 2 drinks.

I'm way more fun now - but in a good way, of course.

Am I 100% percent better? No. Not yet. But I am lots better. And they say the benefits are cumulative. Plus, there are no side effects. Sounds good, right.

If you're interested, you should check out the website.

Gotta run.  Time to mediate.

Stay strong,

 
2017.01.11 -- Rob Signature.jpg
 

Letter No. 4 -- Fearing Death

On goes my continuing experiment of applying ancient wisdom to the present day experience of people facing divorce in Minnesota.

The wisdom comes from Seneca (an old Roman dude) who wrote a series of letters to his friend, Lucilius. The letters were about the meaning of life. Whether Seneca actually sent the letters, or just compiled them as a book, doesn't matter to me because I've found his advice as sound today as it was in 65 A.D.

All the letters can be downloaded (for free) courtesy of Tim Ferriss. Click (here) for his website. Lots of other amazing stuff is there too. I highly recommend his book, Tools of Titans, which is worth the cost.

Today's letter is No. 4. It's titled On the Terrors of Death.

At first blush, the title seems light years away from sensible divorce advice. Everyone agrees that divorce is bad. But it's not like death, right?

Or is it? Do people worry about divorce in the same way they worry about death?

Seneca explains that we shouldn't fear death because:

"No evil is great which is the last evil of all. Death arrives; it would be a thing to dread, if it could remain with you. But death must either not come at all, or else must come and pass away."

He reminds us that from the instant our life begins, we start the march towards its end. Resistance is futile. Rich or poor. Old or young. Happy or sad. We all go the same.

And yet, instead of living boldly, we spend our time alternating between complaining about life's inequities and fearing its end. "Unwilling to live." Not prepared to die.

What is a person to do?

The solution Seneca offers is to "make life as a whole agreeable to yourself by banishing all worry about it." He tells Lucilius that most anguish is caused by "superfluous things." Those things we don't really need, which consume our time and desire.

He says, "That which is enough is ready to our hands."

How does this apply to a divorce in 2018?

For many people, the self-talk during a divorce mirrors what happens with death. They are not content or happy or living boldly in their marriage. Instead, they alternate between complaining about their spouse and fearing the marriage's end.

Like death, divorce is inevitable if one spouse demands it.

Why not instead make life "agreeable" to you? "Banish all worry" about the divorce. It "must either not come at all, or else must come and pass away."

In any case, you are strong enough to survive it. You have all you need already in your hands.

Our world is one of abundance, if you choose to see it that way.

My Experience.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that living Seneca's advice isn't easy. I get depressed too. Worried. Sometimes, I even believe I'm destined for the opposite of greatness.

But I've found a way out of that tunnel. A way to stop worrying so much about what is going to happen to me and focus instead on the present moment.

How do I do it?

I'll tell you, but you're going to laugh. You'll say, "It's stupid." Tease me about being an idiot.

But it isn't stupid. And it does work.

First, I decide not to feel that way anymore, then I fake it until I make it. I repeat an affirmation 15 times in front of the mirror.

What do I say?

The old Stuart Smalley routine works best: "I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!" 

No joke.

When I'm done, I feel better. You won't be cured after the first day. But after 60 days, you will notice a difference.

Or at least not be afraid of looking like an idiot anymore.

Stay strong,

Rob

 

 

Top 5 Divorce Mistakes

Ready for a hard truth? Divorce sucks. Full stop. That's all you need to know.

Still there? Okay . . . let me try again.

You will survive. You will grow stronger. The sun will rise.

Feel better? I didn't think so. That's why I didn't say it the first time.

The truth is that platitudes, gratitudes, and saditudes (is that a word?) won't make things better. Time is the only thing that heals. And maybe your faith.

While I can't improve things, there are steps you can take to stop them from getting worse. Here are my Top 5 Divorce Mistakes.

Mistake #1: Not Identifying Goals.

Why doesn't anyone think about their future? No, I don't mean passively "worrying" about it. That's the new national pastime. I mean critically thinking about it. Put pen to paper. Outline your goals.

Recently, I heard a podcast where a young woman said she had plotted her life to age 53. No joke. Care to wager if this woman is already successful? Remember, I said I heard her on a podcast.

Okay, since you asked, I'll tell you what you should do. Create a Divorce Plan. And no, I can't do it for you. Not many people could handle living like me. I require too much luxury.

"But shouldn't my lawyer do that?" you say. Maybe. It's not a risk I would take.

Lawyers are like expensive trail guides – We know many different routes to many different places, but unless you tell us where you want to go, we might not take you there.

Identifying goals means prioritizing outcomes. What do you really need from this divorce? You can’t have everything. What are you willing to give up to get it? Be realistic. Don’t waste time or energy asking for everything.

Mistake #2: Hiring the Wrong Kind of Lawyer.

Oh boy, this is a biggie. Maybe the most expense mistake a person can make.

Law is an art not a science. Let me say that again for you skimmers out there. There is nothing about the law that remotely resembles a math problem.

Of course, there are rules and laws and procedures. Yes, most of the time the professionals do follow these guideposts. But the system was built with tremendous discretion to do "justice." This means that a judge or evaluator (or even sometimes a lawyer) has the ability to do what he/she thinks is right in a particular case.

The result is that two lawyers could sit down with identical facts and paint radically different pictures.

So when you're hiring a lawyer, make sure to chose one who has the skills, experience, temperament, loyalty, attention to detail, or other characteristic that you value. Do not assume that all lawyers in the field are the same.

Finally, don't accept being treated badly. Rudeness is not evidence of legal skill.

Mistake #3: Believing You Are Defenseless.

This idea makes me crazy. No one is defenseless. You may not like your options, but in the USA, you have lots of them.

The best advice I've ever read on this topic comes from Jocko Willink, a retired Navy SEAL commander. Here's what he said to Tim Ferriss in the book Tools of Titans:

"If you want to be tougher mentally, it is simple: Be tougher. Don't meditate on it."

What he meant was that being "tough" is a decision. One that you make a million times a day. If you want to feel more empowered, act more empowered. Start with your next decision. It's up to you.

Since I've read Mr. Willink's advice, I've used it in my own life. It's been transformative. No one is defenseless unless they choose to be.

Mistake #4:  Looking Bad.

No, I don't mean looking ugly - although that's never helped anyone I know.

I'm talking about acting like a lunatic in a way that gets paraded before the judge on some random Tuesday afternoon.

Don't claim you've never acted that way because we all do. It's only by God's grace that there isn't a highlight reel of my dumbest escapades.

The point is that judges want people to act reasonably. For good reason. Try to be reasonable, even though dealing with your spouse might make your skin crawl.

Divorce court is a lot more like Judge Judy than anyone wants to admit. You can only make one first impression. And if a judge hears that a person is dropping insurance, changing the locks on the house, cleaning out the bank accounts, or using the children as pawns, it's hard to recover from it.

Better to just steer clear. Assume your life is an open book. Don't look bad.

Mistake #5: Not Putting the Kids First.

Children are not miniature adults. They have different cognitive and emotional needs. Until they hit their mid-teenage years, most kids don’t have the cognitive ability to understand the concept of divorce.

Kids understand physical separation.

If possible, work with your spouse to tell the kids (in a neutral, nonjudgmental way) what is happening before someone moves out of the house. Last I heard, one-quarter (25%) of all children receive no explanation for why a parent suddenly disappears.

And of course, it's not a good idea to have the kids help you move out.

Stay strong,

Rob

Letter No. 3 -- True Friends

This post continues my attempt to apply ancient wisdom to the present day experience of people going through a divorce in Minnesota.

The wisdom comes from Seneca (an old Roman dude) who wrote a series of letters to his friend, Lucilius, about the meaning of life. Whether the letters were actually sent, or just compiled as a book, doesn't matter to me because I've found his advice as sound today as when he wrote it circa 65 A.D.

All the letters can be downloaded (for free) courtesy of Tim Ferriss. Click (here) for his website. He's got a bunch of other amazing stuff too.

Today's Letter is No. 3. It's titled On True and False Friendship.

In it, Seneca writes Lucilius saying that he's received Lucilius's letter. The one brought by a "friend." Seneca says he's confused by how Lucilius uses the word because in the same letter Lucilius also urges him not to share any private details with the man.

Seneca asks Lucilius how someone can simultaneously be both a "friend" and someone you don't trust "as you trust yourself."

Seneca wonders if Lucilius has the idea of friendship backwards. Instead of calling a person a friend first and then later judging them unworthy, the better way is to judge a person worthy first, then to share "all your heart and soul" with them.

Sharing at least all your worries and reflections. "Regard him as loyal, and you will make him loyal."

How does Seneca's advice apply to a Minnesota divorce?

If you substitute the word "attorney" for "friend," you've hit upon a common problem in divorce cases.

People choose lawyers too fast.

They hand over retainer payments and share intimate details of their lives without first judging the lawyer they've made their "friend." They attach significance to phony awards and popularity contests. They are swayed by the awe of a lawyer's website or whether they have an office in a skyscraper.

But not enough people choose lawyers the way Seneca urges Lucilius to judge "friends." Is this lawyer worthy of my trust? Is this lawyer a person to whom I want to confide? Is this lawyer the kind of person I want representing me?

Believe it or not, clients run divorce cases. Lawyers work for people, not the other way around. People buy services. They pay bills.

I think everyone would be better off if more people: "Ponder[ed] for a long time whether [they] shall admit a given person to [be their lawyer]; but when [they] have decided to admit him, welcome him with all [their] heart and soul. Speak as boldly with him as with [themselves.]"

By far, the worst moments of my legal career involve a client betrayal. A person chooses me, then, for reasons I don't understand, betrays me. They tell a spouse or friend or even the other lawyer I'm no good.

Lawyers do the same kind of backstabbing to clients. Not all, of course. But some. My jaw dropped when I watched a lawyer tell a judge (back in chambers) that her client was crazy.

We shouldn't treat each other this way.

What would happen if you had unwavering faith in your lawyer? What would be like to know that your lawyer had unwavering faith in you?

That's a world I'd like to see.

Stay strong,

Rob