Solving Family Money Fights

This Consumer Reports article shares a lot of helpful information about how families can solve financial problems.  The ideas certainly can be helpful for people who are separated and divorced who are trying to figure out how to handle debts, the sale of a house, tuition, and retirement accounts.

Tobie Stranger recommends that people meet in a neutral place and hire a neutral person.  Mediators are particularly well trained neutrals who can effectively guide conversations.  During mediation, people share information (e.g. recent credit card  and retirement account statements).  The mediator helps people think about realistic ways to handle each issue.  Mediators make sure that people fully discuss options and are well informed before making decisions.

The article emphasizes the need to be respectful during these difficult conversations. Mediators make sure that each person has ample times to share his/her ideas. Mediators also monitor the conversation, so that one person does not dominate the discussion.

Solving money disputes is crucial.  Mediation helps people make informed financial decisions; then people can move on with less disruption to family relationships



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Staycation or Vacation?

Summer planning is not typically the first issue separated or divorced parents want to resolve. More often the most pressing topic is where the children are going to be living during the year when the parents are working and the children are in school.

However, after decisions about the “typical” week are made, it is important to discuss vacations.  Mediation is an effective way to discuss vacations.

Vacations raise a variety of questions:

  1. How will the parents share information about summer activities?
  2. When do the applications need to be completed?
  3. Are there scholarships available, and if there are, what information do the parents need to provide?
  4. What will the costs be? Who will be responsible for these costs?
  5. How will the parents coordinate their vacations? When will each parent notify the other one about vacation plans?
  6. Are there any special travel arrangements that need to be made? (e.g. if the child will be flying alone)
  7. How much information does each parent want about the other parent’s vacation? Location?  Contact information?  Names of other people who will be on the vacation?

During mediation parents discuss and answer these questions.  Then plans for annual vacations, whether they take place locally or faraway, involve only the child or include his/her parent, can be made more easily and with less stress.


Sheila Russian



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Mediation and Insurance Coverage

Sheila Russian recently attended Mediator Training sponsored by the Baltimore City Circuit Court. Sheila is certified by the Baltimore City Circuit Court to mediate civil cases.

The speakers were John Bickerman and Rachel Ehrlich who focused on issues related to mediating cases that involve insurance companies.  Insurance coverage is typically an issue in motor tort, workers’ compensation, and personal injury cases.

The four hour session included extensive discussions and a role play.  Mr. Bickerman and Ms. Ehrlich shared theoretical as well as practical information about topics such as how to handle joint sessions and caucuses, confidentiality, the role of insurance adjusters, and overcoming impasses.


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The Secret to Sibling Success

This NY Times Article (Sunday 2/5/17  Style Pg 5)  describe how the author’s relationships with her siblings  were strengthened  after their parent’s divorce.

“Years ago my  younger brother and I attended the wedding of a childhood friend…We were ..joking with each other, when the sister of the groom approached.’

‘You guys are so close with each other…it must be nice.  Tell me, what  can I do to make my daughters are close as you are.?’

‘You want to know,’ Eric said. ‘I’ll tell you: You and your husband should separate, then go through an ugly divorce.  That’ll bring the children together.”

Ellen Umansky’s article describes how she and her brothers supported and comforted each other as they experienced their parents’ divorce.  She describes how they handled living in more than one house, parental anger and tension, and their  own intense feelings. “… brothers were my one constant and comfort…..we created a family within a family..”

Divorce is an intense experience for children as well as adults.  Divorce mediation includes discussions about how to communicate with children, create parenting plans, and arrange finances  in ways that address the needs of children.  Divorce mediation  focuses on  fostering strong relationships among siblings, as well as between each parent and child,  and eliminating the extreme stress of ugly divorce.

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Retirement Planning

Retirement is an important issue to address in divorce mediation.  Frequently people have several kinds of retirement accounts–traditional IRA’s, SEP IRA’s, 403B’s, or pensions.  Some people are employed by small businesses or large corporations; others work for state or federal government.  It is important for people to gather statements and to share account information.

Social Security is another source of retirement income.  “If you are divorced, but your marriage lasted 10 years or longer, you can receive benefits on your ex-spouse’s record.”

During mediation people share information about retirement savings.  Clients  also find out what paperwork is required to divide accounts, as well as fees or penalties that will need to be paid.  Each kind of account may have different requirements.  Clients also decide when the best time is to divide or liquidate particular accounts.

It is extremely important for people to understand the tax implications of decisions related to retirement accounts. For instance, the tax implications of using funds in an IRA as a down payment on a house may be different from rolling over the same funds into another retirement account. Clients frequently consult with accountants, financial planners, and attorneys.  Then they are able to make decisions that make financial sense.


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Adult Children and Divorce


How do we tell the children? In the past this question was usually asked by parents of young children and teenagers. However, due to the increase of divorce by couples who are in their 50s and 60s, the children are often adults.  Custody issues are not decided for adult children; nonetheless, divorce often has a profound impact on them.

In the New York Times on April 24, 2016 (“Never Too Old to Hurt From Parental Divorce”, pg. ST 15), Jane Gordon Julien describes how divorce can impact adult children.  Parents may expect their children to provide significant emotional support. However, the adult children may be preoccupied with their own feelings and reactions to their parents’ breakup.  Parents may want to talk with adult children about dating and new significant people in their lives while the adult children are still grieving the end of their parents’ marriage.

When older parents divorce, the adult children may question many aspects of their own lives. Dr. Carol Hughes, a divorce coach, remarked, “Some parents will say, ‘I wanted to divorce your mom or dad when you were little, but we had you kids.’ The adult child asks, ’Was it all a façade?’”

Therapists or mediators can help older divorcing parents and their adult children. Ms. Julien ‘s article contains advice from several professionals.  During divorce mediation, parents of adult children can discuss and decide when and where they will tell their children, and how they will handle holidays.  Divorce at any age affects each family member; the needs of adult children deserve to be addressed.

For more information about Sheila Russian and divorce mediation:


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Financing college education is challenging for just about everyone.  However, children whose parents are separated or divorced face additional obstacles.  Filling out the Federal Student Aid Application, applying for scholarships, and obtaining loans each require coordination, detailed financial information, and skill cam be particularly stressful for separated or divorced parents.

A 3 year old start up in California,, may offer some relief for students and families.  This unique program gives students specific financial incentives at a variety of colleges and universities, if students achieve particular goals and if they are admitted to participating colleges and universities.

For example, Pennsylvania State offers $120 for each A in a core course, $400 for each AP course, and $5 for each hour of community service.   Receipt of these funds does not depend on anything other than the ability of each student to meet the criteria and obtain admission to the participating college.

In an article by Natasha Singer in the New York Times Business Section on February 21, 2016 (“Got an A in Algebra? That’s Worth $120” pg. BU3) the benefit of is described as one way to,”level the college playing-and paying- field for low income students who may not receive the same advice at home as their higher-income peers. “

High school students whose parents are separated or divorced often have limited resources for college. Their parents may not have a clear understanding about how to finance college.  Parents often have difficulty sharing detailed financial information.  Their children are often caught in the middle. offers one way for these students to take the initiative and, on their own, earn a scholarship for college.  Students can use earned scholarship credits after they are admitted to a participating college. does not fully fund college educations. However, it is possible for students to earn several thousand dollars toward each year’s expenses. is a creative and practical resource for motivated students.


For more information:

Sheila C. Russian, Attorney-Mediator


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