SEASON 3, EPISODE 23
Jessica: Are you starting the divorce process and figuring out what kind of divorce would be best for you and your soon-to-be ex? Have you heard all of the out-of-court options, which can help you have an amicable resolution in the end? Well, the Amicable Divorce Network can help you in all of those areas. That’s what we’re talking about in today’s episode of the Divorce etc… podcast. We’re the exEXPERTS, Jessica and T.H. We focus on helping you navigate your divorce and successfully move on with your life. Please follow us on all social media at exEXPERTS, and check out www.exexperts.com for tons of free divorce related resources. Let’s bring in today’s guest.
T.H.: Hey everybody, this is Tracy Moore Grant joining us today from the Amicable Divorce Network. She created this amazing network of professionals who are all focused on some form of settlement when there’s a dispute in your marriage and your marriage relationship. But this network is amazing. We’re thrilled to have you here as our guest today.
Tracy: Thank you so much. I’m excited to be here.
T.H.: I was just going to say, what made you start the Amicable Divorce Network? I mean, it sounds like a fairy tale, like “The Amicable Divorce Network, where all of your dreams come true.”
Tracy: That’s exactly what it is!
T.H.: “Where divorce is simple, and you can skip your way down the aisle in front of the judge.”
Tracy: We give you a unicorn with every order.
T.H.: Yeah, what is this?
Tracy: So first, why I founded it, I’m an attorney; I’m a mediator; I’m an arbitrator; a parent coordinator; a guardian ad litem. This year, I’ll be practicing law for 21 years. Any professionals that are listening to this, and I always find that people that are going through a divorce, the clients are always very surprised to learn how hard the process and the job is on divorce professionals. You really take on your clients problems, their emotions. You get very intertwined with your clients, if you care about them, right? We hope you have an empathetic professional. And so that’s fine. I think that people who got into family law, half of them got in because they wanted to help people. What I found as a professional is that the other professional was really becoming an obstruction to me helping my clients. A client would come to me and they would always, always ask the same two questions: How long is this going to take? And how expensive is it going to be? I would always, always, always have to say I don’t know, because it really depends on who your spouse hires. This can be easy, quick, cheap, reasonable, or it can be a two year bloodbath of depleting your kids’ college accounts. I didn’t like that I couldn’t answer that question. Those who know me probably would say I’m kind of a control freak. And so I was like, I want to be able to answer all of these questions for my clients in a very reasonable way. I realized the sticky wheel, so to speak, were these other high conflict professionals. And so I wanted to figure out a way to keep them out of my cases. Very selfishly, I wanted to control who I worked with. That’s how it started.
Jessica: It’s sort of a genius concept. Because I think that, and I’ve said this before, T.H. and I grew up at a time—I’m aging us—but we grew up in a time where it’s The War of the Roses and Kramer versus Kramer. When you heard the word divorce, you immediately had a vision of people going at it, and literally, fighting to the death. It definitely seems the overwhelming majority of divorce industry experts that we speak with, even the litigators, that the main goal really is, how can we stay out of court, and how can we not have to present all of this in front of the judge knowing that the judge, who is a stranger, is going to now make all of these crucial decisions for the rest of your life and your children’s lives? One thing we’ve certainly talked about a lot is collaborative divorce. I admit myself I mistakenly misunderstood when first talking about the Amicable Divorce Network thinking that that’s what it was based on, collaborative divorce. Can you help us dispel the misunderstanding of exactly what you guys do and what the differences are between the Amicable Divorce Network and collaborative divorce?
Tracy: Yeah, certainly. We have a ton of collaboratively trained professionals in our group. I just want to introduce myself. I said I’m an attorney and mediator; I listed all these things, right? Collaboratively trained professionals can add amicable divorce as a service that they offer. We have the same mindset. We want to get things resolved out of court for the parties and work together on the best result. But there are just some key differences. First, we vet all of our members on the front end. They do not get to take our training until they are vetted. We’re the only organization in the world that vets divorce industry professionals for being experienced. You have to have a minimum of five years of experience in every area in which you’re a member. You’re vetted for being resolution focused and engaging in fair billing practices. The difference with collaborative is anybody can take the training. And so then you’re deemed to be collaborative because you’ve taken the training, whereas frankly, you could have a collaborative jerk. I mean, I don’t know that it happens very often. But it could. There’s no vetting in that process; it is education based. Once you’re a member, then you can take our training. We flipped that script. Second is in collaborative, you must work on a team of professionals: two attorneys, two coaches, a financial neutral, and a child expert, if you have minor children. All of that sounds really great, but a lot of people can’t afford that, to start a divorce and pay three or four retainers to professionals. With the amicable process, we have all kinds of professionals at your disposal, but none of them are required. Some parties may not be able to afford that, and so they shouldn’t be unable to have a collaborative approach to their divorce because they can’t afford it. Maybe they can only afford two attorneys. Maybe they just need a mediator. Maybe they need a special needs expert for a child with special needs, or a certified divorce lending professional to help them with that mortgage on the home. Maybe only one of them needs a coach. Maybe they don’t both need a coach. And so we really want to use the family resources wisely and for what’s available. Nobody should go bankrupt trying to get a good divorce. Or a bad divorce, frankly, but that’s your choice. But I’m at least trying to get a good divorce. Then for the professionals, a lot of people don’t realize when you’re doing a true collaborative approach, they are all compromising their confidentiality. You have no attorney client privilege or privilege with a mental health professional that’s on that team. Because their ideal is that if everybody speaks very candidly about the case, then that will lead to settlement because it’s just a free flow of information. For example, I could talk directly with the other party who I don’t represent, it’s just everybody’s communicating very openly. In the amicable process, by contrast, nobody changes their role, and nobody compromises confidentiality. I still have attorney client privilege with my client. Everybody does their normal role. What that means is, if the case does get contested, which in our experience happens very rarely, but if somebody has to access the court system, in a collaborative case, all of those professionals have to now excuse themselves, and you have to start over because of the confidentiality breach. But with amicable, you can keep your same attorney, if they’re a litigation attorney. You can keep all your professionals, your business valuator, and just pick up where you left off in the court system, if needed. It hasn’t happened very often. But it certainly saves the parties money should that happen. You don’t have to restart the wheel with anybody.
Jessica: I had no idea.
T.H.: That’s really interesting about client privilege.
Jessica: Also, the idea that both people need to have a divorce coach, I didn’t know that.
Tracy: Yeah, I mean, that’s the true collaborative model. It just may not be needed. But when I was developing Amicable, of course, I thought of collaborative. It’s been along for a very long period of time. We just don’t have it in Georgia, and so I went on a mission to figure out why. I met with collaboratively trained professionals who had taken the training and said, “Why didn’t this work for your practice?”, and they pointed out these issues. I would have a middle class client come in, and I would say, “You have to pay these three retainers,” and they would get glassy eyed and emotional because they couldn’t afford the collaborative approach. Or another thing is that collaborative a lot of times work in pods. It would be if party one hires this attorney, the other spouse has to hire this other attorney because they’re working in this pod. The professionals are set. But with Amicable, we want those choices to be client driven. If the husband comes and hires me—and I’m just going to use a traditional hetero family—the wife, she can go online and pick any professional she wants. Maybe she wants a man. Maybe she wants a woman. Maybe she wants somebody who has our financial expert designation or somebody close to her work. We want people to identify with those professionals also, not to have them forced on them.
Jessica: If someone does start with one side and hires their attorney through the Amicable Divorce Network, then does the other spouse have to hire someone within the Amicable Divorce Network?
Tracy: They do. I mean, it’s sort of like keeping within your insurance plan. You got to stay in the network, right? Yeah, and people are like, “Oh my gosh, my spouse would never agree to this. They’re not going to agree to something.” We have a pretty high success rate. If somebody comes to me and they say, “I read about this,” or “I talked to them about it,” or they say, “I think this is great, but my spouse knows nothing about this,” I send them a very nice letter: “All of our members received training on this. We are looking for a low conflict result out of court, child focused. We think you value the same things.” We send literature with it that explains why they need to get someone in the network. 80% of the time, they do. Of that other 20%, we’ve had a certain amount that go hire a different attorney outside the network, and then change their mind and come back to Amicable when they’re like, “Oh, I didn’t mean to do that.” Usually, people, they might get upset, but calmer heads prevail. I mean, who doesn’t want a cheaper divorce, a lower conflict divorce?
T.H.: Well, you might want it, but the three of us know that emotions come into play sometimes, and you lose sight of the fact that in the end, how much money you spend, and whatever you do, you might still land where you started.
Tracy: I think what people need to really understand, and that’s a good point, all the professionals in this industry know you can assess a case on the front end and sort of get a range of what’s going to happen here. It’s how you get there. How much money are they going to make and are you going to spend, that’s up to you. That’s up to the consumer, what type of professional you’re going to choose. You really need to understand when you’re choosing a high conflict situation, a lot of people think that they are spewing vengeance on the other party like, “Oh, they’re going to have to sit for a deposition. They’re going to have to answer all these questions.” Well, you’re going to have to do the same thing. It’s not one sided. Anything that you put back is like a boomerang, it’s going to come right back to you. Spend your money on a lawyer so that they can go to the beach, or you spend the money on you going to the beach. I mean, that’s entirely your choice.
T.H.: I also, only because I lived through a very high conflict divorce, fair billing practices, for everybody out there, that’s something you really have to understand what that means. I’m going to ask Tracy what that means, what that criteria is, because I definitely had someone that churned the bills with me and didn’t tell me. I was seeing a therapist, but she wasn’t cutting me off and saying, “You know, this is better for your therapist or your divorce coach.” She was just like, “Oh, tell me more; tell me more; tell me more.” Ching, ching, ching, ching, ching. It was a gross amount of money. It makes me sick every time I think about it. What does it mean, fair billing practices?
Tracy: It’s fair and transparent billing practices. We train our professionals on this and what our standard is. If you look at our database, you’ll see a lot of the professionals who are members, who are particularly attorneys, are sole practitioners, are partners in law firms, and what that means is they control their own destiny. Nobody’s telling them that they have to bill a certain amount. So first, if we ever have an applicant who’s an associate, for example, at a law firm, which is perfectly fine, we just don’t have a lot of them, and they do have a minimum billing requirement, their boss has to sign off on their membership, understanding that this is not where you’re going to be getting your billable hours in so to speak. But here’s a tactic a lot of people aren’t aware of, people have meetings about your case, and then everybody sits at the table and bills for that. I’m not saying that in and of itself is a bad billing practice, but there are firms that literally take seminars on how to increase these bills. They break an hour into, for example, four segments, 15 minutes apiece, as opposed to six minute segments, 10 segments an hour. This may be getting a little high level. If somebody sends me an email and my response is, “I looked at your form. You filled that out properly. Yes, I still have us on the calendar for tomorrow. Will you please not forget to bring in your most recent pay stub?” That should be 0.1, six minutes, a 10th of an hour, whereas another firm might break that into 15 minutes. That adds up over time. They also have this policy of having these meetings, and what they might say is, “What’s going on in the Smith case?” “Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing.” 0.1, 0.1, 0.1, all around the table and you get these bills of all these people doing these things. The list goes on and on. People don’t know the difference. Because how many divorces do you go through? You hopefully won’t. So you don’t know that it’s weird. Whereas if you went to go buy a car and you’re like, that felt really uncomfortable, that was a very strange car buying experience, you would know the difference there, but not with a divorce.
T.H.: Yeah, I mean, the thing is you believe your lawyer.
T.H.: I mean you believe your lawyer. I’m just going to say I believed my lawyer. I don’t know about you. I did. She knew better than me. If we had to file this motion, we’re going to file this motion. If I need to respond in this way, I have to. I was just going along. I didn’t know the right questions to ask. We definitely weren’t keeping track of fair billing practices. I’m 100% sure she had minimum billing hours, which is the problem with all of those types of lawyers and practices, because I shouldn’t just be billed to be billed. This is my life.
Tracy: It’s okay to ask that. When you are having a consult with an attorney, I have been doing this now 21 years, nobody has ever asked me if I have a minimum billing requirement. In my entire career, I never have. I got very lucky. I was raised the right way.
Jessica: Is the minimum billing requirement the six minutes versus the 12 minutes? That’s what you’re talking about?
Tracy: The minimum billing requirement would be, to keep your job, you need to bill 160 hours a month. To meet your bonus, you have to bill 180 hours a month.
T.H.: It’s like a sales job. It’s like a sales commission, except it’s your life.
Tracy: Yeah. Ask people. Like, my answer would be no, if I don’t have anything to do, I go home, or I go to Pilates. Or I schedule something to do that’s enjoyable to me. I don’t create things to do, because I have no minimum billing requirement, and so I don’t just work for the heck of it. I’m going to go do something pleasurable. People don’t understand that, and they also feel intimidated to ask, and you absolutely can ask.
T.H.: Of course. You’re already beaten down, you have low self confidence. You’re like, “Oh, my God, excuse me. Can I ask a question?”
Jessica: Also, having to ask about money always makes it—it’s just an intimidating thing.
Tracy: For sure. Yeah. But you shouldn’t be. Yeah, I have a handout on questions you should ask when you have a consult, and red flags, and things of that nature. We’ll provide it for everybody that’s listening. Interesting, I don’t know if somebody knew that I created this, but they brought it to my consult with me. I saw it tucked in their folder. They didn’t whip it out or anything, but I recognized it. But sit there and just go through the answers. This is a partnership. It’s like going on a first date. If it doesn’t feel right, go on another first date. This person is going to be holding the destiny of you, your home, your finances, your children. You are hopefully, trusting their advice and their guidance. Feel good about it.
T.H.: Yeah. We’re going to take a quick pause here. Because we know it’s hard to get honest and reliable information about your divorce, so we’ve done the work for you. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and get exEXPERTS in your inbox. Join our events where you can ask questions to top experts live and us, and sign up for private sessions with us so you can move forward and thrive. You can get all of this information at www.exexperts.com. Let’s get back to the Amicable Divorce Network as a network and a single—you’re like a one stop shop. I mean, Jessica and I created exEXPERTS as an education one stop shop. We actually do provide people with a list of things to think about before a consult, during the consult, and after a consult, so that you can compare. You have to be able to compare, otherwise you don’t know anything. Amicable Divorce Network, fair billing practices, professionals in all areas, that you possibly need for your divorce.
Tracy: Yeah, so geographically, and anybody that helps somebody through the divorce process is welcome in the network: attorneys, mediators, mental health, financial, mortgage and real estate, wellness professionals, coaches, anybody who—and I often have people pop up, “Oh, I do this type of service.” Great, come on. If you’re helping people, we want to really enrich our services. We have all kinds of professionals and all over the world. We’re in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Hopefully, we can find a good professional for you. I get emails all the time, people email us and say, “Hey, can you find somebody in this little part of Michigan,” or something like that, and we do our best to try to ask our referral sources to find somebody everywhere that we would recommend. But you can always look at www.amicabledivorcenetwork.com under the membership directory and just see who’s out there and who’s in your area. If you are somebody who had a good experience with a professional, and you think they are a great fit for our network, you’re welcome to refer them and say, “Hey, my attorney was great. This mediator was great.” Let us know who these good eggs are so we can put them all in one basket.
Jessica: One thing I also wanted to ask about, because we were talking earlier about out of court options, you were saying lay people, like T.H. and I, versus legal experts, call those things different things. A lot of people will be doing Google searches and looking for something like “uncontested divorce”, maybe not using the right, correct legal verbiage. Talk to us a little bit about out-of-court options, the difference between that and “uncontested”. But also, what out-of-court options you mean, a few examples of that, so people understand. If they’re not mediating and they’re not doing collaborative divorce, what are some of the other choices?
Tracy: Yeah, so uncontested means you have resolved everything. That’s what it means to me as a legal professional. If somebody calls my office and says I have an uncontested divorce, as an attorney, that means they’ve resolved everything, there’s no negotiation. They need an attorney to draw up their paperwork and help them get it through the court system, because there are all these little check marks that you have to get, and they want somebody to do it. I always recommend having an attorney do that paperwork. I was just helping somebody this week who tried to DIY it. The court denied them for months and months and months. I’ve seen many nightmares where people just don’t know what to put in the paperwork regarding their 401(k), real estate, kids, and it can’t be fixed later because it’s a final order. Definitely a lot of attorneys, including myself, are flat fee. It’s not even the billing nightmare that we were talking about. It’s one cost. That’s something to investigate as well, just get it handled properly. Uncontested to an attorney means you’ve resolved it all, there’s no negotiation. Now what I’ve come to learn is that lay people, somebody going through a divorce, they’re like, “I want an uncontested divorce.” They’re Googling, and that means they want an out-of-court divorce. Uncontested means you’ve got it resolved, no negotiation, you want some help. Out-of-court, there are several options to you. Obviously, amicable divorce is an option. We are not just a network, we’re also a process. It’s a step by step process to get you divorced outside of the court system, and it’s based on our technology platform. Nobody even has to leave their house. Our mediation can be on Zoom, your appointments can be on Zoom. I always joke I have several clients that I have no idea how tall they are because we always meet on the computer. And so that’s a benefit. You can meet people in person if you want, it’s not required. But some people find that really helpful. Collaborative that we’ve touched on is another out of court process, of course. Then some people talk about mediation by itself as a process. And so I just want to compare that a little bit. Mediation is a way to resolve a dispute, so I often get people who say, “We need mediation,” because they do have something they need to negotiate, when really, they have an amicable divorce. Mediation is one of the tools that would be used to help you resolve a dispute. But generally speaking, a mediator can’t draw up your legal paperwork. They could sit with you and help you negotiate child support, a parenting plan, whatever issues you might have, but it’s a tool. It’s not really a process. There’s a lot of confusion about that as well. If somebody came to me and said they had an amicable divorce, and we were talking about how to resolve their parenting plan, we would talk about going to mediation as a tool to get them to the finish line.
Jessica: What’s the difference between mediation and arbitration?
Tracy: Mediation, when I’m the mediator, I’m a neutral person. I don’t make any decisions in the case. I might weigh in with my opinions, some problem solving, some ideas, but the parties are not bound by anything that I say. With arbitration, I’m vested with the same authority as a judge. And so when each party presents their side and their information, their documents, I make a decision. A binding arbitration is generally what we would use, because why not? What’s the point? And so with a binding arbitration, you issue that arbitration order, and it really circumvents the whole court system because you’ve picked a date and time to have this issue resolved with a professional of your choosing, as opposed to languishing on a court calendar for a year. You say we just have this issue, we’re going to submit it to binding arbitration and be done with it.
T.H.: So if there’s only a single—only…if there’s a single issue, because it’s never just only, but if it’s like, “We can’t figure out our co-parenting plan,” or “We don’t know about the house,” that determines whether you would go to binding arbitration versus going to litigation?
Tracy: No, we always go to mediation in an amicable process. Well, first, we would always try to send offers back and forth. It really could be people just need information. Maybe you just need to see how child support is calculated. Maybe you just need to meet with a certified divorce lending professional and they’re going to tell you what your options are, and that sort of takes the negotiation out of it. Sometimes you just need access to the good information. Then if you do need to negotiate, because parties often aren’t on the same plan about that parenting plan or spousal support, and these are some big issues, then you might utilize mediation. If the parties fail at mediation and amicable, we would use arbitration to get the issue resolved so that it’s never accessing the court system, that the parties are resolving it very efficiently and quickly. It’s just so much cheaper, and the time savings, you can’t really quantify it, but it’s just so different.
T.H.: It’s so interesting, because for me, we were required to go to mediation from the second judge. Then they also had a panel of lawyers, first of all, that we met with. Whatever, that was a waste of time. But forced mediation, we had to hire an outside mediator. Of course, it wasn’t going to get resolved, because we were in court. But I’m surprised now thinking about it, that they didn’t just require us to go to arbitration and get us off their calendar. We were four years on their calendar.
Tracy: Yeah. Well, you’ve got a couple of things here, right? So judges, I hate to say a lot of them have egos. They are not going to give up the cases that they are supposed to be judging, right? They’re not going to voluntarily give that authority to somebody. Now attorneys can agree to a binding arbitration order and agree upon that themselves, and there you go. But then you also have attorneys—how do you make more money?—you make the most money in court. You make those billable hours. You’re cashing those checks. In a contested litigation, the more you poke that bear, the more you stoke the fire, the more money you get. Nine times out of 10, they knew the result of your case in your consult. How you get there profits only the system. If you have an attorney that’s recommending mediation to you, that’s recommending arbitration to you, that’s recommending parent coordination to you, these do not benefit them financially. And so that really is in your best interest. Somebody who is only talking about litigation, who is not sending settlement letters, who’s not talking to you about how to reduce costs and conflict is looking out for themselves. And so these are just some red flags to look for.
Jessica: It’s all excellent information. I mean, really just thank you so much. I mean I feel this conversation was so productive and filled with so many valuable nuggets for everybody listening. I really feel we covered a lot of ground. I still have additional questions, so we’re going to have to pick this up another time. But really, honestly, Tracy, thank you so much for all the information. For everyone listening, if you’ve enjoyed this episode of the Divorce etc… podcast with the exEXPERTS today, then please help us out. Because when you subscribe, rate, and review, it helps us get the word out so we can support more people like you going through divorce and beyond. Check our show notes for more info on Tracy and the Amicable Divorce Network. Of course, share this with anyone you know who can benefit from listening. Have a great day.
Tracy: Thanks guys.