Mind the Piggy Bank

Dominique’ Reese, Financial Adviser and Educator, CEO CommuniTree LLC.

Parents, does your child ask for toys, games, clothes, food, while youre out taking care of business? If your child is like most, your answer is yes! In today’s times, it is becoming ever more important to use these moments as opportunities to teach your child about personal finance. You don’t have to do much or even spend money to teach them, although, there are services available if you did. Businesses such as CommuniTree LLC, where we teach youth and adults about money and deliver one-on-one money management counseling could be an affordable solution for you and your child to learn about money together. However, below, I will share with you four ways to teach your child (ren) about money and how to have fun while doing it!

1) LOANS 101–Before you and the young one(s) head out of the house to run those errands, give them $5, $10, $20, depending on their age, in an envelope. Explain to them that the money you’ve given them is a loan, borrowed money, that they can use to purchase whatever they want while you’re out. Your kid will think you’re the greatest parent ever…until you drop the bomb on them that they have to pay you back in full based on chores or other tasks you give them for a whole week!

2) COIN ID–  If you have a really little one, he/she probably isn’t ready for money management and debt just yet! Instead you may need to start with identifying coins and bills. When teaching kids as young as 6 years old about money, you can have tons of fun and make it a learning experience beyond money. Pull out your pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. Get blank sheets of paper and colored pens. Trace the coins on your paper and instruct your budding money maker to do the same! Now the fun begins! Write the name of the coin and the amounts of the coin below each coin. Lastly, write the president associated with each coin and let the teaching begin! Allow your money maker to color the coins, using their budding imagination!

3) CIRCULAR SHOPPING– So you’ve heard of window shopping, but what about “circular shopping?” As adults, we do it fairly often on Sundays, when the weekly sales papers and coupons are delivered! This is a great way to include your kids in the shopping experience! Pull out your wallet, take out your cash, grab a calculator (or your cell phone!), get the circulars and a blank piece of paper. Create a list of 10 to 20 items you need or want. Give your child $20 to shop with and challenge them to shop for as many of the items as they can without going over! See how well they do and explain to them that budgeting is important for the reason that they just learned. Shopping for what we need can be expensive, but making a list and checking it twice will keep more cents and dollars in your wallet!

4) iSave—In this day and age, it is more important than ever to teach your child (ren) about saving their money! Do you have a savings goal? Have you met that goal? Unfortunately, if you, as an adult, don’t have any savings, chances are your child will not know the value of saving.  A recent study conducted by FINRA Investor Education Foundation in 2009 says that of Americans ages 18-29, only 31% had an emergency fund. The other 69% of this cohort is on their way to be a “lack of savings” generation. They’ve got to have it now! In order to break this cycle, engage your child in saving by opening a student savings account for them NOW! Mostly all banks offer this type of account and for no cost. You’ll need your ID, your child’s ID, a deposit to open the account, and basic demographic information. Be prepared with your Social Security cards as well. Every week or bi-weekly, visit the bank with your child and allow them to deposit a portion of their allowance, birthday/gift monies and offer to match their savings! This will excite them and encourage them to save even more, just to get Mom or Dad’s match!

–Dominique’ Reese, CEO, CommuniTree LLC

For more information about Ms. Reese’s services, visit:


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© 2011 Dominique’ Reese.  All Rights Reserved


CF Who?

Shareeke Edmead-Nesi, Financial Literacy Specialist

Financial advisors are professionals, who provide essential services to every person who strives to achieve financial stability.  Knowing when and how to select a financial advisor can significantly improve the benefit that you receive from having one on your financial team.

I’m often asked, when is the appropriate time to hire a financial advisor? I suggest that before you venture out to find the right financial advisor, make sure that your financial house is in order. The value that a financial advisor provides to a person is maximized when an individual has taken the right steps fiscally.

An initial step is to identify your financial goals. A financial advisor can help lead you on the right path, but you must decide where the road ends. Do you have a budget? Do you stick to your budget? It is helpful to know how much you spend on needs and wants on a periodic basis. A financial advisor may have suggestions to assist you in attaining your goals, but you need to know whether you can realistically adjust your spending habits to meet those goals. How much of your paycheck or earnings is diverted towards your savings? Being a conscious spender will allow you to allocate more of your earnings to your savings or increase your investing capability. A financial advisor can help you devise a plan that enables you to continue to build your savings for your retirement or buy your dream home by helping you to determine how to allocate your resources to accomplish your goals.  A financial advisor can help you to devise a plan to obtain the resources you will need to accomplish your goals if it seems that your current resources are inadequate. But first, you should establish a basic understanding of your financial standing by tracking your spending and savings habits.  Then you should decide what you want to achieve.

Once you have tidied up your financial house, identified your financial standing, begun to become more financially literate and have established goals that you want to achieve, it is time to select an advisor that is right for you. There are a number of important characteristics that differentiate financial advisors in the field. Understanding these differences can be vitally important as you search for the best advisor for you.  The characteristics include the advisor’s professional qualifications, designations (i.e. CFP, PFP, etc.), personality, and investment style, to name a few.

There are several different designations that a financial advisor can attain. CFP is a Certified Financial Planner. This designation informs you that this individual has been in the industry for a few years. A CFP has also completed additional course work and passed an exam to receive that designation. There are other designations that are specific to certain needs like the Certified Long Term Care (CLTC) designation. Someone who is a CLTC may be a good resource if, for example, you are single with no children or have aging parents that depend on you financially in their retirement. Your goal may be to invest more money in the stock market. One way to do that is through mutual funds. If you are looking for a diverse set of mutual funds then a Certified Fund Specialist (CFS) may be your answer.

The main objective in selecting an advisor is doing your homework. Do your due diligence to make sure the individual is qualified. Ask friends and family for recommendations just like you would for a doctor as word of mouth is one of the best ways to find valuable advisors.  You can also check trade organizations or regulatory bodies to see if there have been any violations or other disciplinary actions against an advisor.  See a listing of some places to check.

  • Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc.
    800-487-1497  www.cfp.net
  • North American Securities Administrators Association
    202-737-0900  www.nasaa.org
  • National Association of Insurance Commissioners
    816-783-8500  www.naic.org
  • Financial Industry Regulatory Authority
    800-289-9999  www.finra.org
  • Securities and Exchange Commission
    800-732-0330  www.sec.gov

Lastly, the most important aspect of selecting an advisor is making sure you are comfortable.  An advisor is an integral part of your life plan and you will share intimate details of your financial history and goals.  You need to ensure that you can and are willing to talk to them freely and openly. Good luck in choosing an advisor and congratulations on the steps you’re taking to better financial health.

Mrs.Shareeke Edmead-Nesi is a financial literacy expert, who offers a “life planning” approach to personal finance. She is a conscious spending lifestyle coach, who provides a progressive method of financial education to those interested in improving their current  lifestyles for the better. Shareeke is an engaging speaker, trainer and  blogger at www.theconsciousspender.com

You can contact Mrs. Edmead-Nesi at:



© 2011 Shareeke Edmead-Nesi. All Rights Reserved


Divorcing Your Finances

Bathabile K. S. Mthombeni, J.D.

One of the more shocking experiences that a divorcing couple can face is realizing stark realities of the impact that divorce will have on their budgets.  Navigating the necessary tasks of dividing property and setting the amounts that one or the other spouse will contribute to items like child support and spousal maintenance requires a careful look at a couple’s finances.  Often, this is the first time that a couple has looked at its finances in such detail.  For some, this is the first time that one spouse learns the truth of the family’s financial situation.

The task of sorting through the family’s finances and making plans for the future can be overwhelming.  Help, however, is available.  There are financial advisers who are specially trained to work with couples who are going through a divorce.  A Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDF) can significantly reduce the stress and anxiety of making decisions about post-divorce finances.

I interviewed Lauren Prince, CDFA™, to find out more about what she does and how a CDFA’s services can be invaluable to a couple going through a divorce.

When should a couple consider hiring a CDFA™?

A Certified Divorce Financial Analyst™ [or “analyst”] is especially helpful in situations where a couple is ending a long-term marriage – one that has lasted for 10 years or more – the couple may have many different kinds of assets, and the couple has children.  A divorce dissolves a financial partnership so it is especially important for a couple to know what kinds of financial decisions must be made and how to make them so that they can remain financially stable in the long term.

Too many couples believe that they are saving money by doing the financial analysis and decision-making on their own.  However, that decision could end up costing them a lot more money in the future. Some people are highly organized to begin with and know how to create spreadsheets – know what data needs to go into the spreadsheet, how to calculate the present value of a pension, understand the details of their life insurance policy, and so forth.

Most people, however, will need someone to help them to construct a budget so that they are sure to have a good handle on what they do spend and whether that amount is reasonable and customary.  Doing this can be a real stumbling block for one or the other of the spouses – they can become paralyzed when they realize how much they spend on things – perhaps because they were not involved in it during the marriage or they never thought to ask about it.  This experience can be traumatic.  Those are the people who wind up in financial difficulties.

What special value does a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst™ bring to his or her practice that is different from any other type of financial advisor?

Financial advisers trained as Certified Divorce Financial Analysts™ are different from other financial advisers because they are trained to be especially sensitive to the uniquely difficult process that a divorcing couple is going through.  They understand the special decisions a divorcing couple must make.  An analyst who is trained to work with divorcing couples has the tools to determine maintenance payments, child support, and knows the ins and outs of analyzing a settlement proposal.  An analyst can also recommend a proposal: if a couple’s proposal isn’t working, she or he can make suggestions for improving the settlement. An analyst can come up with creative divisions of assets.  For example, if one spouse is concerned about taxes an analyst can suggest characterizing a certain amount as child support and another amount as maintenance.  Having the right tools and knowledge regarding the financial aspects of divorce is essential.

An analyst who specializes in the divorce context is also sensitive to the emotional turmoil involved and understands the value of being a calming influence.  Having empathy and compassion are important in the practice.

What does a CDFA™ do to help a couple going through a divorce?

Specialized understanding of money and divorce

An analyst can help a divorcing couple to maximize the way that their money works in the context of a divorce.  For example, while an analyst won’t give tax advice, he or she can suggest and recommend ways to take advantage of the tax code to limit tax liabilities and maximize credits.

Without guidance, a party may find herself or himself stuck with the bigger tax bill because she or he didn’t realize that the settlement gave him or her the assets with the higher liabilities – like the capital gains tax on non-primary residence. The analyst can point out the different kinds of tax deductions and tax credits that an attorney or even a CPA can miss.

The analyst can also help the couple to understand the need for insurance such as disability insurance, and should it be term life insurance or permanent life insurance, so that the   spouse and/or children is/are covered if anything happens to the major breadwinner.

For example, I worked with a couple where the husband had a  very adequate life insurance policy.  When I asked to look at the policy I found that it would collapse because no premiums had been paid.  The payments for the premiums had been coming out of the cash value of the policy but the cash value would be depleted in a year.  The couple hadn’t considered that.  They were relying on that insurance policy to cover support payments if anything happened to the husband but I caught the fact that the insurance policy was only going to last for another year.

Sometimes an analyst can also look at a tax return to see if one spouse has hidden assets.

Developing the post divorce budget

Most couples know their current budget as a married couple.  They need to project what their budgets will be as single people – as single parents perhaps.  Now they might have both a mortgage and rent to consider.  Food costs will be different.  Entertainment could be different.  The adviser helps them to develop a post divorce budget.

Developing the budget involves data gathering: collecting all of their tax returns for the last couple years, making a detailed list of their expenses, looking at their insurance policies, retirement plans, liabilities like credit cards, personal debts, student loans, mortgages, home equity [lines of credit], listing out all credit cards and the interest rates that are charged and the minimum balances, getting down to that level of detail.

Creating cash flow statements and financial projections

People going through a divorce generally don’t focus on post divorce economics.  In the moment, their focus is generally on the emotional and legal aspects of the divorce.  It seems that only after the divorce is over do they realize the true impact of the financial aspects of it.  That is when they begin to ask, “How will I survive on this [money] now that the emotional and legal issues are fading away?”  People will sign an agreement and complain they got a lousy settlement.  But they should have figured it out [before it was finalized].

If one spouse is reluctant to agree on a settlement because they’re afraid they won’t be able to meet their needs, an analyst can show whether the settlement will or will not last and can end the negotiations with the facts.  The analyst can create a statement that projects what each person’s finances will look like 5, 10, even 15 years into the future using agreed upon variable such as the inflation rate.

Knowing how much each person can spend after the divorce is important.  The analyst can help the couple to develop a spending plan that factors in regular expenses, major one-time expenses and inflation and demonstrates where the money will come from to satisfy the spending plan.  That is what the cash flow statement is about.  Preparing a balance statement that lists all assets to see where income can be generated to fill any gaps in the cash flow or to even take care of all the expenses – to see how long the money will last.  That is where net worth comes in: can be a real eye opener to see that one spouse will be set for life while the other’s money will only last 10 years.  What looked like a fair settlement has to go back to the drawing board because it won’t work.

Creating the financial agreement

A couple working with a Divorce Mediator can come up with a proposal for how to manage their post-divorce finances.  They can give that proposal to the adviser who will do a reality check to see if the proposed settlement will actually work over the long run.  The adviser can help the couple understand the relative benefits of arranging the settlement one way versus another: should the couple opt for spousal maintenance versus a property settlement?  Or, would it help one spouse with tax liability to characterize payments as alimony versus maintenance or child support?  The tax consequences are different.  For example, child support is neither taxable nor tax deductible but maintenance is tax deductable to the person paying it and taxable to the person receiving it.

If one person has been a homemaker, the budget can include a projection of what that person could earn by going back to work.  The budget can project how one level of income versus another will affect both income and tax liabilities.  The couple can then consider what to do if, for example, childcare expenses and commuting costs exceed the projected salary.  The analyst can also suggest career counseling when it seems that the clients could benefit from that.

How did you get into the field?

I stumbled onto the specialty.  My parents went through a divorce and that is when I discovered that there was training offered.  I became certified in 1994 and I have spent 15 years in the field.

More about Lauren

“Lauren Prince is the owner of Prince Financial Advisory,LLC. She is an independent CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ certificant, a certified mutual fund specialist, a certified divorce financial analyst™ and a certified long term care consultant.  Her business specializes in personal financial planning, investment management, and pre/post divorce financial analysis”

For more information please feel free to contact Ms. Prince at 212-286-1372,



© 2011 Bathabile K. S. Mthombeni, J.D.  All Rights Reserved


We’re Going to the Accountant and We’re . . .

Troy Kirschner, Professional Organizer

Yes it is that time of year again, tax time.  Well let’s get started with organizing your papers.  Your accountant will absolutely love you!  The first thing to do is separate your papers into to main categories; Income & Expenses.  You should have two large envelopes preferably 9” X 12” to separate your income documents in one and your expense receipts in the other.  Once this system is set up for tax year 2010 it will make your life much simpler when you need to go to the accountant next year.  You are setting it up now before your appointment to the accountant.  Get in the habit of keeping all relevant receipts in the expense envelope at the end of the day.  Now that you have gathered up all your receipts, just sort them by categories as listed below.

Income, mostly your day job, other jobs and pay, where you receive a 1099 and other income you want to report if you are self employed. Also included in this category would be interest bearing accounts that you would also receive a 1099.  I would also put all your donations in this category, in an itemized list.

Expenses that are allowable vary depending on how your income is derived.  I will speak to small business owners that are home based.  I suggest that you separate and organize your receipts under these headings:

  • Advertising/Marketing,
  • Office Supplies & Tools,
  • CAR: Gas/Tolls/Parking, Mileage,
  • Association/Professional dues,
  • Telephone,
  • Internet,
  • Education-seminars/webinars &
  • Gifts.

Remember it is important to make it a habit to store all your receipts in the expense envelope consistently, preferably in a 9” X 12” envelope.

By having your tax papers organized before going to your accountant you will surely save time and money that you would be charged if your accountant needs to 1st sort and organize before he/she can begin their job.

For more information about how Troy can help you, contact him at:

Troy Kirschner

Professional Organizer


718 983-6885

© 2011 Troy Kirschner.  All Rights Reserved


This is Your Brain.  This is Your Brain on Romance.

Bathabile K. S. Mthombeni, J.D.

Imagine the scene: a group of women sits around a living room commiserating with one of their own who has just experienced the worst break up ever. Between spoonfuls of ice cream she sobs, “That jerk! How did I get into this mess?” Imagine that one of her friends pats her back and says, “There, there, it’s not your fault. It was the dopamine, oxytocin and vasopressin talking.”

A young man once asked me, “Do you believe that people fall in love?” My answer left the poor lad a little crestfallen. I told him the truth: people experience something that they describe as falling in love. But, really, they are experiencing a series of chemical processes in their brains that are similar to the chemical processes that occur when one takes cocaine. It is temporary, it doesn’t last, and as high as one feels during the chemical rush, that’s how low they feel when it is over.

Before you write me off as a cynic consider this. I’m not saying don’t fall in love. Perhaps it is better to avoid cocaine, but do fall in love. As the anthropologist, Helen Fisher, explains in this TED talk, these chemical processes are vitally important to the survival of the human species. But knowing that the experience – that awesome wave of euphoria that renders everything about the object of your affection golden and glorious – is actually a chemical high can be very important. It can allow you a tiny window of opportunity to insert some objectivity into your headlong rush. All the excuses you make for behavior that you would never tolerate in someone else? It’s the chemicals talking! Be certain that those things will drive you bonkers eventually. So, see whether you can think through the chemical haze and consider: when I am sober, can I live with this for the rest of my life?

Helen Fisher.

Music for Your Heart

Yvonne Quilop, MA, MT-BC

Music Therapy is part of a family of creative arts therapies like drama, dance/movement, art, and poetry therapy.  It was established as an academic field of study at the University of Michigan in 1950.  A trained music therapist uses therapeutic methods that have been proven to be effective to meet the client’s goals in therapy.  Of course, what makes music therapy unique is that music lies at its heart.

Music therapy is different from many other therapies because it its focus is a non-verbal method.  People who resist or dislike other types of therapy – perhaps because they feel reluctant to talk things through – can find satisfaction in music therapy.  Music therapy allows participants to feel safe as they engage and communicate with others and receive the therapeutic benefits of interacting socially without having to talk about themselves.

The Power of Music Therapy

Most of us innately understand the power of music.  It affects our feelings and our moods in fundamental ways.  We deliberately select certain kinds of music for certain settings.  Music is usually an essential part of our formal rites and ceremonies such as weddings, graduations and funerals.  D.J.s at clubs and private parties can make a very decent living by choosing the right combination of music to pace a party well.  One episode of the television show “Friends” has Chandler Bing attempting to set the mood for a romantic Valentine’s evening with his beloved Monica by playing a mixed-tape that his ex-girlfriend made for him – with hilarious results.  Many people in love will agonize over the soundtrack for their private romantic dinners on Valentine’s Day.  We use music to find peace when we’re in turmoil and comfort when we grieve.  Non-verbal music can often express what words cannot and so cut directly to the emotional heart of the situation.

Music therapists harness music’s power to effectuate change and, as the American Music Therapy Association states in its definition of music therapy, “. . . [use] evidence-based interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.”  Music therapists have studied the research that shows, for example, that rhythm can improve physical functioning for people with physical disabilities, and singing can improve memory and cognition for people who battle dementia/Alzheimers.  Making music in a group, an inherently social activity, can increase group cohesion and build a sense of belonging.  And, of course, music is self-expression.  Communicating musically is not only about the words of the song it is about listening to others when we make music in groups, and it is about being heard.  Many people use music in their spiritual lives to connect with the divine, with each other, and/or to a greater whole.

The Therapeutic Experience at Home

Many people use music therapeutically without really thinking about it.  Individuals and couples can use the principles of music therapy to achieve wellness, to alleviate stress and promote relaxation.  Listening to music and actively making music are two ways to create a therapeutic music experience.

If you choose to listen to music, a few tips can improve your self-directed musical experience:

  • If possible, find a quiet room, hang a “do not disturb” sign on the door, dim the lights, turn off your cell phone, or better yet, leave it in another room, and find a comfortable chair to sit in.  Let the music play and put your attention entirely on the music.
  • Consider using familiar music, which tends to be more relaxing than unfamiliar music.  Avoid music that you may associate with negative experiences and memories.
  • Experiment with different musical genres.  Classical, jazz, new age and music specifically designed for relaxation are all great options.
  • Music with vocals may serve as a distraction.  Try listening to both music with vocals and music that is purely instrumental and note your level of relaxation after listening to each.
  • Research shows that music with speeds of 50-60 beats per minute are most effective in a achieving a relaxed state.  Try to find music with a tempo within that range.

Ultimately, choosing music you enjoy will be most helpful.

Drumming is a popular option for those who choose a more active form of music making.  It is also a therapeutic experience that couples can participate in together.  Drumming has been shown to reduce stress and drum circles are a particularly good way to engage in active music making with others.  Some people gather informally in a drum circle to play hand drums, such as the African djembe, and other percussive instruments.  There may or may not be a formal leader of the drumming.  The goal is not to learn and perform music; no skill or experience is required.  The goal is simply to enjoy the pleasure and release from stress that comes when human beings create rhythms together.

Singing in a group is another way to actively engage in music and be therapeutic at the same time.  Although many of the more formal choruses require some singing ability, many choirs, especially community choirs, welcome anyone wishing to join, regardless of ability.  Incidentally, vocal warm ups, part of all choir rehearsals, incorporate deep breathing.  Deep breathing assists the body in moving into a relaxed state.  Additionally, one can benefit from a sense of mastery that is achieved through the work of learning a musical piece.

Each person can enrich his or her life through these musical experiences but being in music therapy can further enhance the therapeutic benefit.  As with all therapies, having a trained professional to guide you can be immensely helpful.  No musical skill is required.  The therapist will assist you with clarifying goals for therapy, introduce musical interventions that will best help you reach those goals, and support you throughout the process, musically and verbally.


To find a music therapist in your area visit www.musictherapy.org

To find a drum circle near you www.drumcircles.net

To find a choir near you www.choralnet.org

Yvonne Quilop MA, MT-BC is a board certified music therapist with many years of experience working in the mental health field.  She  recently took on the full time job of raising her newborn daughter, and lives in the Washington D.C. area with her husband, daughter and grey tabby, Ollie.

Romancing the Mediator: How to Find The One

Bathabile K. S. Mthombeni, J.D.

In business it is called “The Right Fit”.  In intimate relationships it is called compatibility.  No one is the best candidate for every job and one person might have a fantastic romance with one person and yet completely fail in a relationship with a different person.  Relationships with mediators can be the same.

Mediators have different styles of practice.  Of course each individual mediator brings his or her own unique brand of personality to mediation.  But the mediation profession recognizes broader generalized categories.  It is important to know what these general categories are so that you can explore your own preferences and ask a potential mediator about his or her style before starting your relationship.

There are many ways to describe the various styles in mediation, but a few enjoy significant visibility in the field.  These include evaluative mediation (sometimes called directive mediation), facilitative mediation and transformative mediation.  Other styles of mediation include narrative mediation, and some mediators follow the understanding model.  However, the three that are most recognized are the evaluative, facilitative and transformative styles.

Style Overview


Transformative mediation is the newest of the main styles.  Transformative mediators aim to involve the parties in managing both the process and the content of mediation as much as possible.  They don’t state their opinions or tell the parties what they think they should do.  Transformative mediation is very relationship oriented and can feel like therapy.  Transformative mediators aim beyond helping the parties to settle the issues that brought the parties to mediation.  They also work to help the parties acknowledge each other and understand how the other person sees things, too.  The point is for the parties to understand their power to not only resolve the problem that brought them to mediation – if they choose to resolve it – but to understand how to improve their approaches to conflict in the future.  This might be called the Montessori style of mediation


Facilitative mediation is the oldest of the commonly recognized styles.  It is the style most commonly taught in mediation training.  Facilitative mediators help parties to define their positions, identify and communicate their needs and interests, and collaborate to find resolutions that address those needs and interests.  Like transformative mediators, facilitative mediators don’t state their opinions about the case or tell the parties what they think they should do.  Facilitative mediators often see themselves as responsible for facilitating the process – hence the name – while the parties are responsible for the content.  Like transformative mediators, facilitative mediators are interested in relationships as well and will take time to talk through the parties’ feelings.  However, they are more interested in resolutions and less interested in transformation than a transformative mediator is.  This might be called the conventional style of mediation.


Evaluative mediation is most common in mediation programs that are part of a court system.  The mediators are often lawyers or retired judges who are experts in the law that governs the issue in dispute.  Evaluative mediators are seen as more settlement driven.  They will bargain with the parties, engage in more shuttle diplomacy, and can give their opinions of what the parties’ chances are in court.  Often they control both the process and the content of the mediation by deciding what to address and what not to address.  Usually the parties’ feelings about the conflict are left out of the picture.  This might be called “boot camp” mediation.

Making the Choice

In practice, most mediators mix these styles. Kate Reed of the new television show “Fairly Legal” seems to combine evaluative mediation with transformative mediation’s aims (although it is more likely for facilitative and transformative mediators to borrow from each other’s styles than for evaluative mediators to borrow from the transformative model).  However, mediators do tend to favor one style.  Knowing this, and choosing your mediator based on the style that works best for you and your situation, can help you to avoid a negative experience in mediation.  Even then, understand that most mediators are very good at modulating their styles to fit the topics discussed and the mood of the participants in mediation.

When you contact a mediator, begin by asking whether the mediator follows a certain style.  Ask the mediator to describe that style for you.  Then decide whether it works for you.  If you are not sure, it is perfectly fine to retain the mediator on a trial basis.  See how it goes.  The beauty of private mediation is that it is entirely voluntary, you can end the relationship at any time.

For more detailed information about the styles, visit these links:




Letting Go of the Bands that Tie

Bathabile K. S. Mthombeni, J.D.

My wedding ring has been in the pocket of a handbag at the back of my closet since my divorce.  It seems to be an unremarkable gold band but, to me, it has Lord of the Rings written all over it.  After nearly three years I still have not decided what to do with it.  Initially I imagined standing at the top of a tall cliff that overlooked an ocean shrouded in early morning mist.  The wind would whip through my hair and the waves would crash below as I hurled the ring into the sea.  Then a friend mentioned the price of gold.

I knew I didn’t want to keep the ring but I was concerned about selling it: would the negativity attached to it transfer to the new buyer?  Would the money be tainted?  To many, the wedding band is a powerful symbol laden with great meaning and valued far beyond the price of purchase.  Relinquishing it is a significant step at the end of a very important relationship.  I was curious about how others approached this part of letting go.  Then I was introduced to Joshua Opperman and his sister Mara Opperman.

In 2007, then 35 year-old Joshua thought he’d found the one.  As many young men do, he took his life savings, purchased that precious and everlasting symbol of his undying devotion, a diamond engagement ring, and presented it to his intended.  Three months later she broke off their engagement.  The break-up was a blow but insult compounded misery when Josh tried to return the ring to the jeweler who sold it to him.  He was offered store credit.  The best offers at other locations were for 35% of the original purchase price.

Josh refused to take this laying down.  Undaunted, he did his research and found that industry mark-ups on jewelry are huge.  He also found that he was not alone in his predicament.

There were other options – Ebay for example.  But Josh had no luck selling the ring there. “People are very nervous about buying higher end items on Ebay,” he explained.  “They want to see things in person – and that can be impractical and very dangerous, especially when [the prospective buyer] lives in another state”.

Josh shared his dilemma with his sister, Mara Opperman, and together they developed an idea, a website where jilted lovers and divorcees could sell their jewels for better than what the stores offered and where buyers could be sure that they were getting what they paid for.  They called it “idonowidont.com”.

Here is how it works.  A prospective seller lists an item on the I Do Now I Don’t website.   An interested buyer agrees to purchase the item.  The seller sends the item to I Do Now I Don’t.  The item is inspected and appraised by I Do Now I Don’t’s independent expert gemologist Mark Yakubov, G.G., who determines whether the item is what the seller says it is and issues a certificate to that effect.  Meanwhile, the buyer sends the money to I Do Now I Don’t where it is held in escrow until the item has been certified.  After subtracting its fee, I Do Now I Don’t forwards the money to the seller and the item to the buyer.  The seller benefits buy receiving a sum that he or she feels is fair and the buyer benefits by knowing that he or she has not been cheated.

Anyone can sell on the site. Some sellers are not divorced or jilted but are upgrading their rings or, sadly, simply selling their jewelry to pay bills.  Josh reports that the most expensive ring to date sold for $75,000.00.  However, the average price is around $3000.00.

Sellers also post other items: wedding dresses, bracelets, watches.  Some sellers tell their stories.  One woman planned to get breast implants, another planned to purchase really expensive cowboy boots.  An otherwise unaffordable vacation is another recurring option as is the choice to donate the proceeds to charity.  For the seller the money can fund a catharsis.  “Letting go of the ring is a final step in letting go of the relationship,” Mara said.  But rather than dwelling on the soured relationship, Mara consistently emphasizes the positive: selling the ring also represents a new beginning.

This idea of a fresh start is important.  I asked Mara about whether sellers or buyers mentioned concerns about negativity being attached to jewelry sold because of a break-up or divorce.  She replied by pointing out that rings purchased in jewelry stores are most likely pre-owned. “The jeweler can pop the diamond out of the setting and re-sell it without the buyer’s knowledge”.  She also noted that people who buy the rings do so for optimistic reasons.

Josh Opperman got his new beginning.  He reports that he is now very happily married.

Check out their website:  www.idonowidont.com

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Copyright © 2011 Bathabile K. S. Mthombeni. All rights reserved.

Don’t Take a Cheap Breath…Take a DEEP Breath

REBECCA L SPATH, CSC, MBP, AHT, Transformational Life & Wellness Specialist, Breathwork Practitioner, Spirit-based Counselor, USANA Associate.

“Most people don’t breathe correctly and don’t know it.” (Dr. Mehmet Oz on Oprah)

This is unfortunately true. They attribute their lack of energy to overwork and lack of sleep, among other reasons. While this is true, the fact is that many of us don’t take full, deep breaths. We don’t breathe properly and don’t think about it because we breathe unconsciously, taking the power of our breath for granted. Breathing is the one physical, bodily function that we can actually control and change consciously.

Stop right now, stand in front of a mirror and take a full breath. What part of you moved and in what direction? Often, only the upper chest will move and will move in a vertical direction with shoulders rising in an almost constricted manner. When you take a breath, it should be through the nose and down into the base of your lungs. You’ll know you’re doing this correctly if you see your belly extend out, like you’re filling up a balloon. When you exhale, the belly will be pulled in, pushing out the breath. By breathing properly you activate a gas known as nitric oxide which acts as a neurotransmitter, oxygenating the blood and moving it up into the brain, creating energy, clarity and focus. For those that are chest breathers, this exchange doesn’t happen and you’ll find yourself tired, unfocused, foggy and frustrated. More coffee please! Nope, that’s not the answer.

So, now, knowing this information, stand in front of that mirror and take 5 full, deep breaths…inhaling through your nose, filling up the belly and then exhaling, this time through soft pursed lips (as if you were blowing out a candle), pulling your belly all the way to your spine. Exaggerated breaths like this help train the body to automatically breathe properly. So, I encourage you to add “Breath Breaks” to your day. Try by taking 5 deep breaths before and after you transition. For example, right before you leave the house to go to work, then, once you get to the office, then before a meeting, another 5 breaths after the meeting (or during, if it’s a stressful meeting). This is a wonderful thing to do before and after a conversation with someone that might be anxiety producing. It will help balance out your energy and your emotions. Breath Breaks take SECONDS to do this and you will find you have more focus and more energy. The more you breathe, the better you will feel. Oxygen is the only source of nourishment you cannot live without for more than a few minutes…and it is the most powerful tool you have to survive and thrive.

One way to remember to breathe is to place small “post-it” notes around you that say BREATHE. Put them on your cell phone/telephone/blackberry, appointment book, computer monitor, bathroom mirror, DVD player/cable box, refrigerator, back of your front door, on your clocks, on your closet door, your kitchen cupboards, on your wallet. Find places at work to place them. Use brightly colored post-its and after a week, change the color so you still see them – we get used to what’s in front of us and stop “seeing” things, so it’s important to move these breathe signs around and change what they look like so you still see them and respond.

Pay attention to your breathing for seven days, taking Breath Breaks, practicing taking proper breaths. See if you don’t notice a difference in your energy levels, your ability to focus, your level of clarity and any other benefits you notice.

Breath Works!  It’s an Inside Job TM

© 2007, 2010 Rebecca Spath, Breathing Room Therapies. All Rights Reserved.

Contact Rebecca: www.breathingroomtherapies.blogspot.com

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Relationship Mediation: Releasing the Bowtied Knot.

Bathabile K. S. Mthombeni, J.D.

Is relationship mediation only for married couples?  When a married couple decides to separate, a pre-choreographed dance of legal formalities begins.  The law dictates what a separation agreement must cover before a court will grant a divorce.  The basic issues include dividing the assets, spousal support, if any, and child support and plans for parenting when there are children.  This legal process is not available to people who are part of domestic partnerships (which deal mainly with rights to health insurance coverage and hospital visitation) and couples who are in what I call undocumented domestic relationships (otherwise known as “living together”). Understanding the divorce mediation process for married couples can help shed light on what non-married (or “bow-tied”) couples can do.

In its plainest sense, marriage is a contractual relationship.  The vows taken during civil and religious ceremonies are the basic promises that married couples make to each other.  Matrimonial law fills in the rest.  A divorce means that the couple dissolves one contract and negotiates a new one.  Matrimonial law dictates the minimum of what must be covered in the new contract.  However, to a large extent, the law does not dictate how the decisions must be made or what the results must be.  As John M. Haynes, author of The Fundamentals of Family Mediation, puts it, “[o]ne of the hallmarks of a free society is the right to enter into contract. . . . Spouses have the right to enter into a contract, even though the contract may not provide the same terms that a local judge would incorporate into his award”. (p93).  So, unless the agreement is unconscionable (meaning overwhelmingly unfair) or otherwise legally unenforceable, as long as the basic issues are addressed, divorcing couples are free to decide what the content of their agreement will be.

Bow-tied couples share many of the issues that married couples do.  They may have moved in together and both signed the lease.  They may share children in common or a pet who is like a child.  They may own property together or be in business together.  In other words, while they themselves are not legally bound, they might share legal obligations that bind them still.  Yet they do not have the protections of matrimonial law that, for example, allow a judge to order assets to be redistributed to achieve equity. Mediation is especially helpful to bow-tied couples.

Both married and bow-tied couples can benefit from mediation.  The mediation process recognizes that the couple, not a judge, has the best information about what a good settlement is for them.  A mediator will guide the couple through a process of addressing each of the issues that exist.  These basically will be dividing property and caring for children if there are any.  For couples that have been together for many years, if one person has come to depend on the other financially, there is also room to discuss a plan for maintenance.  A maintenance plan can provide for the dependent partner to find ways to become independent.  This process allows couples to discuss and negotiate each detail themselves.

This process differs significantly from litigation.  For one, in mediation, disclosure happens simultaneously.  Rather than sending demands for information to each other through third parties who are in fight mode themselves, the couple will generally sit in the same room with a mediator who helps the couple to stay in negotiation mode.  This allows the couple time and space to think rationally and create the best deal possible.

Another difference is the potential for maximizing benefits.  When the partners are not in fight mode, their perspectives change from a winner-takes-all position to one of maximizing benefits.  Being the winner can be a tantalizing goal.  But the costs of waging a winner-takes-all war might so deplete the resources available that even the “winner” ends up with nothing.  Some sources estimate that the average contested divorce costs $40,000 – $180,000 in legal fees.  Mediation averages $4,000.00 to $6,000.00.  If a couple splits the bill, the whole process can be done for as little as $2000.00 per person.  Just think of what a couple can do with the $174,000.00 they have saved in mediation.  That is an excellent example of what maximizing benefits means.

A third difference is time.  A contested divorce may take two to six years (and more) to litigate.  A mediated divorce is generally finalized within three to six months. This can make a significant difference for everyone’s well-being.  If time is money, add that chunk of change to the cash savings.

Whether you are legally married, or part of a formalized or undocumented domestic partnership, mediation can help you to focus on negotiating an agreement that really works for you.

Copyright © 2011 Bathabile K. S. Mthombeni. All rights reserved.

Letting Go with Guidance

Gina R. Foster, MA, MFA, ABD

It’s January 7. You’re looking at your list of well-intentioned resolutions for 2011. How in the world did you think you were going to make these happen? Will power is one answer. Common sense another. Have you thought about a life coach?

Life coaches are here to help. Life coaches work with you to increase and develop the life skills you need to succeed in creating the life you want to have. If you want to start a long-term process of positive change, this may be one of the best choices you can make.

What is a life coach? A life coach is a professional guide, mentor, teacher, trainer, facilitator, and organizer who works one-on-one with clients who are ready to make major (and minor) life changes. Life coaches vary in specialties and qualifications—some may be social workers or therapists in their other professional lives, while others may be more business and organizationally connected. The key thing to know about a life coach is that he or she has training and experience relevant to the kinds of changes YOU want to make.

A great life coach will help you explore why you want to make changes as well as what changes you want to make and how to make them. Life coaches may assign homework and creative or organizational activities as part of helping you develop and improve the life skills you need to succeed in your new life. A great life coach will work with you to make plans for each step in your transition from the old to the new.

What should you look for in a life coach? Look for education or training and experience relevant to the changes you want to make. If you are changing jobs, a life coach who has worked with job searches and has a network to help you find more options is a good match. If you are reorganizing your life after building up cluttered schedules and closets, a life coach with professional organizing experience is right for you.

Here are some cautions: Life coaches are not mental health or medical professionals and should be ready to refer you to these professionals if you have health or emotional challenges. Life coaches are also not accountants or lawyers. Even though your life coach may be qualified in these areas, that is not the purpose of your relationship. Make sure your life coach can and will refer you to other experts when you both agree you need other resources.

Another caution is about expectations. When you work with a life coach, you are asking to be mentored and guided. You are honest about your needs to learn and to make changes. This can be a rocky process. Expect to do the homework, to negotiate about what does and doesn’t work for you, and above all, expect to be responsible to the commitments you are making to yourself. Your life coach will be there to remind you and support you in keeping your promises.

Fees vary from coach to coach. $50-$200 per hour is reasonable depending on the coach’s experience, services, and location. Be sure that you are clear about fees, late payments, and schedule changes in your first meeting, and discuss with your coach the number of meetings and months she/he estimates for your work together.

Life coaching can be an amazing partnership that moves you from feeling stuck and too small in your life to feeling energetic and bright. Take a look at your resolutions: are you ready to make them real?

Copyright © 2010 Gina R. Foster. All rights reserved.


Family Relationships on Holiday

A Facebook analysis found that in the United States, relationship statuses change most during two times of the year.  The first is the period between Thanksgiving and New Years.  The second is during the month of February – just after Valentine’s day.  Knowing this, we have dedicated this edition of Untangled Resolution’s newsletter to the issue of relationship stress during the holidays.

The Facebook analysis demonstrates that the holidays can be an especially stressful time for relationships.  High expectations coupled with longer than usual periods of time together can result in new conflicts developing and can make whatever conflicts already exist seem even worse.

Most families weather the stresses of the holidays quite well and enter the New Year feeling thankful for the time that they have shared with their loved ones.  However, for many families, the holidays are a time when old wounds re-surface and new fights are begun.  Still, for various reasons, family members feel it is important spend time with family and at least try to make peace for the holidays.

For difficult situations, being prepared by having a family conflict management plan in place can significantly reduce the level of stress that everyone experiences and the amount of precious time the family devotes to dealing with conflict.

For example, having key family members trained in the arts of active listening and group facilitation means that disputes can be dealt with the moment they begin to interfere with the family’s time together.  Knowing who the designated facilitators are means that disputes can be addressed without first having a fight over who addresses the conflict.  Also, having designated family dispute resolvers increases the likelihood that those involved in the dispute will sit back and allow themselves to be coached through resolving the dispute because they already know that the designated dispute resolve is not just a meddlesome know-it-all but really has the family duty to help them to address their concerns.

Many communities have mediation centers where you can ask about training in conflict resolution for families.  Resources like Mediate.com (http://www.mediate.com/mediator/search.cfm) can provide information and contacts for mediators who can help.  We at Untangled Resolutions offer family conflict management plans. http://123untangle.com/services/conflict-management-system-design.

What ever resource you choose, do know that with the right plan in place, your family can enjoy a peaceful and joyous time together during the holidays.

Copyright © 2010 Bathabile K. S. Mthombeni.  All rights reserved.

Time to De-Stress . . . Get a Massage!

“Self love is not so great a sin, as self neglect

- William Shakespeare’s Henry V

One of the world’s oldest healing traditions may be exactly what’s needed to help you unwind…

Receiving Western or Swedish massage can be an effective way to practice self-care, especially during the holidays when the pressures of the season can place strain on your relationships. Safe, nurturing, professional touch delivered by a skilled practitioner with therapeutic intentions can have significant positive physiological and emotional benefits that require no tools beyond human hands.

The manual techniques in Swedish massage include effleurage and petrissage, and tapotement.  I’m going to go out on a limb (may my MT family forgive me for the pun) and say that effleurage’s long gliding strokes of varying depth and the squeezing involved in petrissage are the best known techniques in Western massage for increasing relaxation in a receiver’s body.  Tapotement, which involves rhythmic, striking of the body is interesting in that it can be both sedating and stimulating depending upon how long it’s used.  When used for 20 minutes or more, it’s a wonderful tool to melt away the stress.

Your relaxation response may occur when the muscles in the back of your neck, shoulders, upper and lower back are massaged.  However, many people also report that they hold stress in their facial muscles, glutes, hands, hips and feet.  Your Massage Therapist (“MT”) should allow for individual variation and adjust your massage to meet your specific needs.

Your MT will inquire about your preferences regarding the temperature of the room and will ask you about any medical concerns that might be relevant to your work together in order to ensure your comfort and see to your well-being

Believe me when I say that your MT will appreciate it if you arrive ten minutes early to allow time to talk about health concerns that he or she should know about or to make special preparations if necessary – especially if you are a new client.

Massage professionals are always grateful for clients that have recently bathed.  If you know that you’ve been sweating all day and you absolutely cannot stop at home or at the gym to bathe, consider stopping at the corner store or pharmacy for some baby wipes to freshen up any areas of concern.  You’ll be more comfortable and your massage therapist will be appreciative, as well.  Please do not attempt to cover up body odor with perfume or cologne.  It makes for an unpleasant distraction for your therapist.  This would probably be an appropriate place to discuss the uncomfortable topic of flatulence (passing gas or “farting”). Why might this happen during a massage? Intestinal gas is present and depending upon the areas addressed in your session and the depth of your relaxation you may feel the need to expel gas.  Your massage therapist is well aware that you are human and it’s okay to let it go. It’s preferable to keeping your glutes clenched for the rest of your massage.  You want to relax, right?

Please do not be alarmed if your massage therapist discusses draping (covering your body with towels or a sheet, for warmth and for modesty, as well as to define the boundaries of what areas will receive massage) and emphasizes the non-sexual nature of his or her work. There’s a historical connection between massage and the sex trade that wise professionals acknowledge.  Maintaining professional boundaries and ethics is necessary for your protection and your MT’s protection, as well.  This is, in part, the reason that trained, professional massage practitioners sit for certification and/or licensing and are not referred to as “masseuses or masseurs.”. These individuals are considered sex trade workers.  They provide sexual services and typically do not have the professional training or adhere to the ethical standards of care that inform the practices of trained, certified or state licensed massage and bodywork practitioners.

Swedish Massage is one of many forms of bodywork that have positively contributed to the health and well-being of stressed out people for centuries.  If you or your loved ones would like more information on the benefits of massage therapy or would like to find a massage professional to rub out your stress, please visit:




Here’s to your health!

Dennis P. Owens

Copyright © 2010 Dennis P. Owens.  All rights reserved

Before You Touch The Money

Let’s say that you have decided to file for divorce and one of your main issues has been the household finances.  You might be concerned that when your spouse knows you want a divorce, he or she will be angry and seek revenge or take advantage of you by emptying the bank account or going on a crazy spending spree with your joint credit card.  The sensible thing to do would be to close or freeze the accounts.  However, think before you act.  If you decide to close the accounts, and you want to avoid legal trouble down the road, timing may be vitally important.

For example, in the State of New York once an action for divorce has been filed, it is against the law for the parties to the divorce to make major changes to their joint accounts without a court order or the written permission of the other party to the divorce.  You can use the accounts for “usual and customary” household expenses and to pay “reasonable” attorney’s fees.  However, unilaterally selling major assets and making significant changes to health insurance, life insurance and retirement accounts is forbidden (the actual text of the law can be found here: http://123untangle.com/resources/selected-laws/).

The law becomes binding on the person who files for divorce as soon as the petition for a divorce is filed.  The law becomes binding on the person who is being divorced as soon as that person is served with the divorce papers.  What you do before you file for divorce is mostly likely up to you.  However, once you have filed, you might be legally bound not to touch the money.

You can check the website of the county court in the area where you plan to file for divorce to see whether there is such a law in that area.  Many courts provide information packets for people who chose to file for divorce on their own.  Better yet, consult an attorney or divorce mediator who practices in the area where you plan to file for divorce.  He or she can tell you what the rules are in that area.

Bathabile K. S. Mthombeni, J.D.

This post provides legal information and does not constitute legal advice.  If you need legal advice, please consult an attorney.

Copyright © 2010 Bathabile K. S. Mthombeni.  All rights reserved.

Divorced Connections on Holiday

The holidays can be an especially difficult time when there is a break-up, separation, or divorce to deal with.  In this article, DivorcedConnections.com founders Sandra T. and Sherry K. talk about how their need for connection when their relationships ended led them to start a website for people experiencing similar challenges.

1) Why did you start DC?

Sandra:  I felt lost after separating from my husband.  We were together for nine years.   During one of my lunches with Sherry, we wondered what people do once they are thrown back into the status of single after being with someone for so long.  It was a life with which I was no longer familiar.  Initially, we talked about making a dating website for divorcees.  The concept later evolved into a social networking site to support people going through a divorce, as I discovered that support was one of the fundamental needs that I searched for during my separation and divorce.

Sherry: We started the website for different yet similar reasons. I had recently ended a 7 year relationship and was interested in rejoining the dating scene.

2) Does divorce or a break-up impact the holidays? Friends, family, relatives.

Sandra: Definitely.  Many times, especially in the beginning, it becomes awkward during the holidays.  In some cultures, marriage is marriage with the respective families as well.  Without a good support system, the holidays can be lonely and stressful.  It’s hard for the families of the divorcing couple not to make judgments and take sides.  There are always two sides to a story.  When kids are involved, it takes effort on both sides to try not divorcing the families of the ex-spouses.

Sherry: Yes I believe it does, often times the holidays make people feel sad, which does not have to be the case!

3) How can DC be helpful during the holidays?

Sandra: We are trying to generate a community for divorcees, a place people can go and not feel so alone.  Often times we feel alone because we feel like others don’t understand the situation we are going through or we cannot find people who are compassionate since they have never experienced it themselves.  At Divorced Connections, there will be someone who understands.  We are still looking for ways to make better connections possible and to provide a more interactive site.

Sherry: DC can help people interact with others who know what they are going through and who are ready to start again.

4) How do you provide support to those recently going through a divorce?

Sandra: Divorced Connections is there to listen to your story, connect you with others who are going through similar emotional and financial experiences, and in many cases, help divorcees from falling into a depressed or hopeless state.  In America today, divorce is widely accepted and the stigma from our parents’ generation has generally worn off, but it still does exist, and Divorced Connections can allow people to get support anonymously if they choose.

Sherry: The biggest thing we offer others is a sympathetic ear to listen. The worst way to feel is that you are alone.

5) Is there anything you would like us to know?

Sandra: Our site is constantly evolving to make it better.  Suggestions are welcome; please send all inquiries and suggestions to contact@divorcedconnections.com.

Sherry: That this is just the beginning, I truly believe that when one door closes another door opens. Just open your minds to the endless possibilities out there.

Copyright © 2010 Sherry K. and Sandra T.  All Rights Reserved.