Women's Retirement Radio

Tracy Gould Sheinin of Clarity Mediation - Divorce, Mediation, and Retirement for Women - Episode 27

August 16, 2021 Russ Thornton Season 2 Episode 11
Women's Retirement Radio
Tracy Gould Sheinin of Clarity Mediation - Divorce, Mediation, and Retirement for Women - Episode 27
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Women's Retirement Radio, I'm joined by Tracy Gould Sheinin of Clarity Mediation.

I've been looking forward to having Tracy on the podcast to talk about mediation and its role in divorce. 

But she also shares her perspective on things like communication, retirement planning for women, and a little about her personal background...

For instance, I learned that Tracy - growing up in the DC area - has attended 3 Presidential inaugurations. How cool is that!?!

For more on Tracy and Clarity Mediation, please check out these resources:

Get in touch and let me know what you think or if you have any questions.

And thank you for listening.

Visit my website to learn more.

Disclosures

Russ Thornton:
Hey everyone, it's Russ Thornton, and welcome to another episode of Women's Retirement Radio. Today I am really happy to share a conversation with you, with my friend and colleague Tracy Gould Sheinin. Tracy, how you doing today?

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
I am doing great. Thank you Russ. Thank you for having me on. I'm happy to be here.

Russ Thornton:
I'm really glad you could join us and I'm really excited to talk about and share more about who you are and the work you do. With that in mind, why don't you kick things off by just telling us a little bit about that.

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
Sure. I, born and raised in Northern Virginia and then moved to South Carolina to go to college. I lived in Columbia for 19 years. I love South Carolina as a state. Met my husband there. And when he was offered a job here in Atlanta, I jumped on it faster than he did, I thought it would be a great opportunity to live in a vibrant city and raise our kids here. And it has been exactly that, it's been a great experience. We moved here in about 2008 and I was able to transfer my work. 2008, 2009 was a little rough for everybody, so it wasn't a completely smooth transfer, but eventually we got it all figured out. We've had a really great experience here in Atlanta and I'm a mediator and I started that in South Carolina.

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
It was already really ingrained in the court systems here in Georgia really, but particularly Atlanta. It was a great opportunity to explore that work at a different level. And that has been just an amazing experience, mediating court cases onsite, and in court offices it's been very, very valuable experience.

Russ Thornton:
I'm interested in diving more into your work as a mediator and exploring what that is, what it involves, that sort of thing. But before we jump into that, I'm sure some, if not most of the people listening to this aren't going to be as familiar with you as say your family or friends. What's something interesting about you that maybe most people wouldn't be aware, even those that know you pretty well?

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
Growing up in Northern Virginia was a really unique experience. Anybody who lives there will tell you that their next door neighbor might be a diplomat or a newscaster or a Congress person. It's such a globally diverse area. My parents were in politics. My mom was born and raised D.C. and my dad moved there in his 20s. That was a really cool experience, especially now that I look back as an adult, then it was just normal. But I was exposed to all kinds of pretty fascinating experiences and met all walks of life and different government folks. One thing that is pretty neat, but I still really value, is that I have the opportunity to go to three different presidential inaugurations. They are awesome experiences.

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
I mean that word as it's meant. They're big and they're crowded and they're full of energy and excitement and there's all this pomp and circumstance and you just feel so honored and humbled to even be in the crowd. I know politics of have gotten polarized lately. I will say that regardless of where you fall, ideologically going to that important ceremony is huge and impactful and really exciting. I don't know if even all my friends knew that one, but that's pretty great. Those three times are great memories that I have.

Russ Thornton:
Thanks for sharing that. That's really cool. I'm sure that's got to be nice to look back on. I'm curious, do you think your experience both with your mom and dad growing up in the D.C. area, do you think that's carried over or influenced your work today as a mediator at all?

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
For sure. Back in the 70s and 80s and even early 90s, the way government and politics work was much more collaborative than it seems to be now. Party lines weren't as strict. My parents would work on issues and help people run for office. They would work with both sides and all walks of life. It was very inclusive, very collaborative, even if folks disagreed, they found ways to work together. There was a high level of respect. At the time, especially as a kid, I didn't realize how important that was. But I see it now, not only because politics are hard right now, but also it's definitely influenced me as a mediator. I see where just because you disagree with somebody does not mean can't figure it out. You can still solve the problem, come up with a better solution that works for everybody, at least mostly compromise. It's entirely possible. In that way, I think it instilled, I don't know, an expectation that, no, yeah, we can figure this out. It's not impossible.

Russ Thornton:
Thanks for sharing. I think that's super interesting. I think that's actually a nice segue into what I wanted to ask you next, which is around your work as a mediator. I suspect a lot of people out there listening have an idea of what mediation is or what it involves, especially as it relates to relationships, divorce, separation, things of that nature. Could you describe your work as a mediator and do it in really simple terms? Maybe like you were explaining it to a child, just so everyone can digest and get their arms around it.

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
Yeah. Yeah, sure. Essentially it's two people who disagree, two people who are maybe in a fight or an argument, or, let's see, I'm thinking like I'm talking to a kid, right? This is what I used to explain to my kids. We've got two people who are in an argument, who are in a fight and disagree, they see things differently, they want different things and they're having a hard time talking about it. And so what a mediator does, is come in and they don't take sides. They don't say who's right or wrong. They help each person explain themselves in a way that the other person can better understand it, so that they can find something that they might both agree on. And then they can solve the problem and move on without staying in a fight for a long time.

Russ Thornton:
Perfect. I love the fact that the name of your mediation company is Clarity Mediation. I'd love to get your perspective on this, but it seems to me that the way you just described the work that you do is really about helping each of the parties involved get a better clarity or understanding of the other person's perspective. Maybe helping them build a bridge maybe, to be a little bit more empathetic towards each other, even if they're not on the best of terms, even if they disagree. Any thoughts around that and why you chose the word clarity to brand your mediation practice.

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
Yeah. That's definitely one angle of it, is getting clear about the other person's perspective, even if you disagree with it. Once you become more understanding of it, it does build empathy. That helps us when we're in an argument with somebody sort of, release our defenses a little bit, which makes it more likely to resolve the situation. The reason I chose clarity, is it's not just about understanding the other person, but understanding ourselves better. When we're in a conflict and we've got a problem or a challenge, when we can figure out ourselves in terms of why do I really want this? What's important to me? What can I [inaudible 00:09:19] love? What do I absolutely need? What am I willing to do? What am I unwilling? Sort of personal boundaries and priorities and get more clear on that, then you're better able to make some decisions that moving forward.

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
Even in a mediation, if somethings don't get resolved, it's entirely possible to mediate and you don't have a resolution at the table. Side note, usually when you mediate and you don't have resolution at the table, you often come to agreement later, because you marinate on the things and it becomes more clear and it comes to light. So there's this high settlement rate after mediation, particularly for court cases. But even if you don't settle or agree or come to resolution, that's a form of clarity. It may be simply that's where you are right now. I cannot compromise on this and they can't compromise on that. That's just where it puts them. Now it opens up a whole new set of questions. Okay. Well now what? Are you clear on that? And now what's going to happen next?

Russ Thornton:
Interesting. I know earlier, Tracy, you mentioned that you've been working in mediation since back in your South Carolina days prior to coming to Atlanta. How long have you been working as a mediator or in the field of mediation?

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
I say that I started as a professional mediator in August of 1999, because that's when I started getting paid for it. But I had volunteered previously, I guess, probably 1995 if I'm recalling right.

Russ Thornton:
Got it.

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
Maybe 94. I first trained in mediation in 93, 94, but there wasn't anywhere to really do it at the time in Columbia, South Carolina, it wasn't really happening. And then I came on as a volunteer arbitrator for juveniles. There's this very innovative program in Lexington, South Carolina for first time [inaudible 00:11:28] program, they would come to arbitration and it was very community-based, we'd have them parents, the victim, the cop, maybe a teacher or a social worker, all around the table talking about what happened and what might be a good remedy for this kid to help them do right from then on. I was a bad arbitrator because I kept really mediating, I realized. But it was very rewarding. Right around the same time in Columbia, some folks were gathering to create a community mediation center.

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
They wanted to have mediation as an option in the community for anybody who wanted to solve their problems peacefully, privately, amicably, outside of court, free or low cost. And so I got in on that effort and we worked for a number of years pulling it all together and making it formal, board of directors, the whole thing. And back to the point of hiring an executive director, by then I was already working on my master's in peace studies and I was in love with mediation. So I just asked, hey, can I have that job? I put my name in the hat and applied with the other applicants and they picked me gratefully. I was pretty young. I was more like 27. I really didn't know what I was doing to lead an organization, but we had a lot of great successes and that was an incredible experience. That was the August of 99, where I became a full time executive director, but as a mediator. What's that? 22 years, I guess

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. Yeah. It sounds like you've got a pretty diverse and rich background and history that's gotten you to the point where you are today. You mentioned something about that juvenile program, about arbitration. I don't want to get too far off on a tangent here, but could you speak just for a moment, what is arbitration and how is that different than mediation?

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
Yeah, sure. Good question. Because they get mixed up a lot understandably. Basically the difference is, the arbitrator is going to make the decisions for the parties. They're going to hear everybody and help them try to come to some compromises. But ultimately they're going to say, here's the solution, here's the resolution. Here's what you're going to do. Here's outcome. Sort of like a judge would. And then mediation, we don't tell people what to do as mediators. We don't make the decisions for them. We lead them to the place where they make the decision for themselves.

Russ Thornton:
Perfect. I agree. I think a lot of people maybe confuse those terms or think they're one and the same and clearly they're not. In your 20 plus years of doing this work, what would you say is the biggest challenge that you help people address or solve through mediation?

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
I think it's helping them or guiding them, really to let go of what they probably need to, to move forward. So it's, any these complex are emotionally laden and we get really wrapped up in other people's actions and impact it's had on us. Some of it is factual, some of it is perception. Some of it we might blow out a portion because it triggers us from other experiences we've had and it can feel extraordinarily overwhelming and it makes it really hard to get past the conflict at hand. And so with mediation, it's a very patient process. We give people the time to work through, like I said before, what is important to them and ultimately what really isn't that important anymore. What can you let go of, so that you can resolve this problem in front of you and then get on with the rest of your life and move forward. So it's not weighing you down anymore. That's a real intangible piece of work that is most important.

Russ Thornton:
How do you get hired, I guess? Is it a person realizes that they're having a conflict or they need some help making some decisions in their relationship and one of them reaches out to you? Are you brought in by a divorce attorney, for example? How do you typically get involved in a mediation?

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
Both those of those. Sometimes divorce attorneys have been working with their clients for a while. They've made a lot of progress and got a lot of work done. They're at the point where they want to settle the case outside of court usually, meaning not leaving it up to the judge. And so they bring in a mediator. Sometimes I'm contacted by the attorneys. And then other times folks who have not hired attorneys yet contact me, either they're not ready to talk to attorneys, they're trying to keep it simple. They're trying to keep the costs down. They're worried that if they hire attorneys it will escalate, not only in cost, but in the conflict and intensity, and they want to do it privately and quietly. And so they reach out to see if they can, for example, I do a lot of divorce mediation to see if they can work through their divorce and the issues related to that privately and with just me, not a whole circus of people.

Russ Thornton:
Would you say that's accurate, people's perspective that mediation is typically going to be less costly? Hopefully involve less conflict, and I would imagine based on my limited experience, it's probably going to take a lot less time than say a litigated divorce.

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
Absolutely. Definitely. All that.

Russ Thornton:
Am I, maybe I'm off base here, but it's my understanding that, I don't know if it's just in Metro Atlanta or maybe the entire state of Georgia, but once a divorce is filed, isn't mediation mandated as an attempt to settle or dissolve the marriage prior to going to any other links?

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
Yes. Yup. Exactly. If the divorce is contested in any way, on any point, the judge in Georgia is going to order mediation at some point. You might have a hearing here or there ahead of time, but at some point the judges will order mediation. I recommend that folks, A, do as much as they can on their own, if they're amicable enough. And then, ultimately mediate before they file for court. It's totally fine to bring in attorneys and financial folks that can be, we can build a great team of people to help these divorcing people settle their matters privately, but if you do it all ahead of time before you file, then you file an uncontested divorce and it sales through the court system a lot easier than if it goes in as a contested. Ultimately you're going to have to mediate anyway, you might as well choose when you do it and who you do it with.

Russ Thornton:
I think that's an interesting point. I think there's a lot to be said for being proactive, as opposed to just waiting and being told, all right, well, now you need to go to mediation or now you need to do this or that or the other. I think it's worth doing some research and due diligence, reaching out to folks like Tracy and being proactive and trying to find as conflict free a solution as possible. Tracy you've been doing this a while. You've worked with, I can't even imagine how many clients or couples. What's a favorite client success story or outcome that comes to mind for you?

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
It's when they move from being really mad at each other, they don't even want to be in the same room. If it's on video, they don't want to be in the video room. They are having a hard time even coming up with proposals because they're just so mad from history with this other person and the resentments are there and they're scared of course, they're not sure what the future holds. Instead of feeling vulnerable, their trust is low. I'm going back, carrying these information pieces and trying to help them get to a place where they can make some smart decisions for themselves. And then something clicks. Sometimes it just takes time. Sometimes somebody makes a concession. Sometimes it's outside information, they get some financial or legal information that changes the game and their whole demeanor changes. They become almost a different person, and they get to a place where they're able to say, all right, let's just figure this out.

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
It's like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I can't give you a specific person because it's confidential. But when that happens with clients, it's beautiful. I love it. I had a case last year that that happened. It just got tougher and tougher and tougher, and I was worried it was going to become this protracted positional bargaining, just back and forth without any real progress being made. And then I took a break. I just slowed the whole thing down and put things off for a little bit. And it worked. That doesn't always work, but it worked, they just needed to take a break and let their emotions rest. [inaudible 00:22:15] When we got back together, they were, like, you have, that's wonderful.

Russ Thornton:
Thanks for sharing that. From your perspective, I got to think it's very rewarding and feels good to see the proverbial light bulb go off above someone's head and see their shoulders relax. And they can maybe start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
Yeah. Yeah, exactly. It's great. It's really great.

Russ Thornton:
What's something that's surprised you most about your work over the years?

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
One of the surprises I love is, we all have our prejudices and our judgments and our assumptions about certain types of people, even if we don't want to admit it, or we don't think we do. We do, whether it's a class issue or what county you live in or in town or out of town, or what part of town, what school you went to, those kinds of things. When my assumptions get busted, I love it. There have been several, many, many times in courts, what happens in the court cases, let's say we're in normal times, we're all in human, in-person together. We'll be in the courtroom with the judge and all of the staff and all the people, the lawyers. It's a huge thing, crowded room. There's a lot of tension, because most people don't know what the heck is going on.

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
The judge calls the case and then says, you guys have mediated yet? I say no. He says, go to mediation right now. And then he says, Tracy, the mediator go with them. And so the three of us stand up, walk through the courtroom and we go into this tiny little conference room. In my brain, I take one look at folks and I make some judgements. I can't help it. I'm like, you look like you might be highly educated. You look like you just got out of prison. Your brain goes to these places automatically. And then the ones that I have these negative assumptions about blow my mind with their wisdom and their intelligence or their kindness. And I slapped myself mentally for having, you're awful for thinking these things. And then I'm so grateful that my assumptions got challenged, and it's just a wonderful experience to be reminded, not to judge people. Do not judge a book by its cover, because you just really don't know until you get to know them.

Russ Thornton:
Interesting. Maybe a somewhat related question, or maybe the other side of the coin. I ask this question a lot of my guests and I'm always interested, because I find psychology and decision-making, I just find it fascinating. What would you say prevents people from following your advice? I'm not sure you're giving advice in the classic sense. I think you're more facilitating a conversation. I think you've already touched on some of them, but what's the sticking point? What prevents people from being able to meet the other party in the middle or to be able to find middle ground, make decisions and move forward, make progress?

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
It could be a couple of different things or a number of different things. Sometimes the resentment from leftover from the relationship as it was, is just still so intense for that person. They haven't been able to work through it. They're still living in it. They're not able to give a kindness to the other person or to compromise, because they're just still so hurt and mad at them. They're not there yet, maybe another month or eight or another year or two, they might get there. Sometimes it's, again, a fear based thing. They don't know what impact their decision is going to have. And so they're scared to compromise, scared to agree to anything. That keeps them from saying yes to anything, except, yes, I don't want immediate anymore. Yes, I don't want to talk anymore.

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
And then some of it could be maturity levels, people get stuck in fights and they aren't seeing the bigger picture of life, that this is just one relationship in all the relationships in your life. And this is one snapshot of time in your entire lifetime. They are so in the moment in a negative way that they can't get out of it. And that might be a youth thing. It might just be a maturity thing. And then you've got your more serious mental health issues and personality disorders. I've seen my handful of pretty clear, either psychologically impaired folks or straight up personality disorder folks at court where they're just not nice people or their mental health makes it, they don't know how to be nice people. It could be any number of those.

Russ Thornton:
Interesting. Again, I find the whole process of communicating with, and trying to help people make decisions that are in their own best interest, but sometimes they have resistance for all of the reasons or all the explanations you just covered and more. But I find it just fascinating how we can unintentionally be our own worst enemies in a lot of situations.

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
Some people are really stuck with revenge. They want to get back at that person that hurt them. And so they're not going to give anything.

Russ Thornton:
In my experience working with women, going through the divorce process, I've experienced the same thing, where they're more focused on how can I inflict pain on my soon to be X, rather than what can I do to protect myself, my children and make a life for myself. That can be really costly, because if that's your attitude and you're sticking with it, that typically means you're going to have to lawyer up and go to court. That can really go the other way quickly. But you could probably speak more to that than I can.

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
It costs more. And then the psychological toll on not only the spouse that you're trying to punish or the person you're trying to punish, but it beats your own self up to. It's hard work. Water gating is really draining. You don't know when your hearings are going to be, you don't know how long the hearings are going to be. You don't know what's going to happen at the hearings. There are so many unknowns and every minute with your attorney, the dollar is going up. That's another unknown. You might think you're there for the battle and you're going to win and you don't even care if you do win, you just want to make them be there for the battle, but you're really damaging yourself too.

Russ Thornton:
And kids as well, even if kids are grown and out of the house, and even if they have their own families, I mean, they're still your children and your spouse is still their parent. And so I think it can have long lasting impacts on relationships with your kids as well, for better or worse.

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
Yeah, for sure. I just finished certification training to be a parent coordinator, which is where a high conflict couple gets through their divorce, but they're still so contentious, that the court orders them to work with a parent coordinator to help them transition from being a married, air quotes, romantic style couple, to a business type couple, because you got kids to raise and you're fighting is hurting the kids and it needs to stop. And so your co-parenting now needs to transition into how do we do this neutrally and well, so that the kids don't see any more conflict. And I'm hoping that more judges can use people like us. Because it's so important.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. I'm glad you mentioned that. We might have to have you back on a future episode and you can tell us a bit more about your work in that area, because-

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
Okay. Cool.

Russ Thornton:
... I think that's going to be equally interesting and challenging as well. Tracy, let's say a college student or maybe a senior in high school, let's say they listen to this and they're thinking, you know what, I'd like to be involved in the legal field, but maybe I don't want to go to law school or maybe I don't want to be a paralegal. Maybe mediation sounds interesting. What advice or guidance would you give to them if they're interested in learning more or potentially pursuing a career in the field of mediation?

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
I'd say good for you. We need more peacemakers. If they're interested in law, they don't have to go to become a lawyer. They can get a master's in law or they can go to paralegal school. It's helpful to have legal information under your belt. But there's some, of course it's not required. Folks come to mediation from social work or counseling also, or education, or just anywhere. It's not required. That's one myth that I think is important to know you don't have to be a lawyer. But legal information helps as well as mental health information. Any opportunities to learn in those areas is a good primer to get into mediation. And also that you can mediate in so many different fields, not just family, but even within family, you've got senior care, adolescent, divorce, but then there's business, real estate and then global, there's diplomatic work.

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
To connect with somebody who's been meeting for a while and get their experience would be a great way for a young person or more than one, to get stories from them about how they got where they did, what they do and how they get their work, because it's, I don't know what the right word is, but unlike becoming a teacher or a lawyer, there's not a clear path, which I think I just demonstrated in saying, why you might get different information if learned. Crystal clear path. There are now masters degrees in conflict resolution that weren't around 20 years ago so much. That is a way to go if you're looking for higher level of education. And then, yeah, see if you can hook on with some mentors to gain experience through them or with them.

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
My court experience was just invaluable. They don't let anybody in. You have to have a good amount of experience under your belt before they let you go to court. But if you could shadow somebody, that'll be very illuminating. And then to be honest, it takes a good bit of self promotion. Learn some marketing skills, brush up on your competence, get yourself out there to network. Because most, if not all of my referrals now are word of mouth. There's a lot of self promotion that's needed to get the work.

Russ Thornton:
Well, thanks for sharing that. This podcast is Women's Retirement Radio. The bulk of my focus is women and their families, as they're looking ahead to retirement or to the next chapter of their lives, and a big part of my audience's life is their kids. And so I'm always interested to hear what advice you'd have for young adults as they're maybe looking ahead and thinking about what they want to do with their lives or career wise or things like that. I appreciate you sharing all that. With, again, kind of under the theme of Women's Retirement Radio, I think you and I, Tracy, initially met because I was doing a lot of work with women that were going through the divorce process, and I still continue to do some of that. But I'm curious, when you think about the word retirement, what comes to mind for you personally?

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
I can't wait. Can I do that now? No, I do love my work, but I also look forward to having some easy days in the future. With that, I know it takes smart planning and years of it to retire well. For me personally that's something that's been on my radar for a while and having watched family and friends do it well or not so well has been impactful. And then it has influenced my work too, because folks come out of divorce and sometimes it can cost them some money, because together you can make more and if you have to divide your retirement or if you haven't worked and you haven't contributed and the other person has, then that's a whole conversation and making it safe and secure for both parties is paramount of course.

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
I feel like, you do such important work, because it's an area that is really lacking particularly for women. It's just not, I don't know, it's not really made a priority in the way it should be. I feel like for all of us, but particularly women, people don't realize how important it is to start, as soon as you leave the nest, start putting some money away and keep doing it and then get good advice so that you're doing it well and right. It's a real under not focused on area that, personally we've got plans, but until I see it, I'm going to always be nervous about it. Because I think it's something that isn't talked about enough and we're undereducated on the importance of it.

Russ Thornton:
Maybe you don't know, but do you think of retirement in the more traditional sense of, I'm going to work up until a certain point in time, and then I'm going to basically quit work and just pursue things that I've always wanted to do or didn't have time to do when I was working full time? Or because of the fact that you own and operate your own mediation practice, which I assume gives you the flexibility to maybe continue to work, but maybe at a reduced capacity, do you think you would always continue to work even into what we might otherwise call, and I'm saying, air quotes, retirement?

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
I'm not sure. I could see still doing some work in later years which are getting not so far away, more of the days to come. I could see doing still some work, but I could also see more traditional sense and doing no work, and just reading, doing yoga, going for a walk, maybe kayaking, cooking, I could do fine without working. But I say that now, I might find that I need more purpose and constructive, important things to do with my time than just reading books. I'm not quite sure. We'll see.

Russ Thornton:
That's a perfect answer, because retirement, and the reason I ask the question is retirement means or hold a different place for virtually everyone I've talked to. I'm always just interested to explore and get a little bit more context around what it looks in your mind. Thanks for sharing that. I think you touched on this a little bit when we were talking a minute ago around retirement, but specifically for women. But when you're thinking about women generally in retirement, what do you think is the biggest challenge that they face?

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
That still even with the changes in roles women play in the family, I still have a lot of cases where the traditional setup, where the man has worked at a company that has helped with retirement and the woman has not, maybe not at all or maybe here or there, but no 401(k), certainly no pension. They're behind the eight ball. They don't even know what these things are. It's a difficult conversation to try to equalize these things. It is not uncommon for the person with the retirement plan through their job, usually the male, but not always, feels like it's his, and he doesn't really want to share it. And then she's over here freaking out, because she's like, well, I thought we were in this together.

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
And while you are off working hard at your job, I was doing these a hundred million things at home with the kids in the house. And so I expected we would share in that. That conversation still happens and it's a hard one. Women still do these roles and are sometimes left out. I think it's very important that both people in a marriage, either have a prenup or both contribute in some way, just do it all along the way. You're probably better advisor on that than I am, but it makes me nervous when I see these lopsided numbers and these seemingly antiquated attitudes towards whose money is whose, but they're not gone, these are still how people think.

Russ Thornton:
I think it hearkens back to a comment you made earlier about mediation and how people can be stuck and not be able to move forward because they don't really have clarity or understanding of what their financial picture may look like. Maybe more often than not that's the wife or the woman in the relationship, maybe not, but I've certainly experienced that where even if both spouses have worked just through natural division of labor in a relationship, one spouse typically takes the financial lead in the family. And traditionally it's been the husband, but that's not always the case. And so even for women that have worked their entire lives and have accumulated their own retirement or pension or savings, they still might not have a sense of what they've accumulated how that relates in context to their overall family finances.

Russ Thornton:
I agree, I think there's a real opportunity there to get more involved and on the same page, even if one spouse continues to be the, quote, financial lead in the family, I think it certainly warrants, both people having regular discussions and just being on the same page as much as possible.

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
Yes. Yes. I agree. That's the kind of marriage where the communication is open like that. I've always wanted folks to include in that regular discussions around money. What do we have? What do we owe? What are our plans? What are our visions and goals? Where do they match up? Where do they differ? It really needs to be an ongoing conversation that some of the status cases, where one person gets to the courthouse literally and they have no idea what the finances are or at. And it's a real shock. In addition to the relationship dissolving, now they've got all these financial things to figure out and it's really, really hard. That's one of the first things I have folks do when they come to me, is financial work. There's, figure out, what do you spend and what do you earn? What do you owe? What accounts, what assets do you have?

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
Most of the time people, once they get on the other side of it, because it's a bit of a chore if they haven't done it in a while or ever, they're glad to have that information. Like, I didn't realize I spent that much on takeout. Wow, that's a lot. Or no, I didn't know our house was maybe valued at that or that's what our equity is. Any of those sorts of pieces that are important. It's necessary information to have when you're divorcing, but it's good information to have all along the way. And the more transparency you can have in your marriage about it, the better off you're going to be.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. Amen to that. I think we've a dancing around this topic with our last couple of questions and things we've been talking about, but from your perspective, Tracy, how would you say that your work impacts women as they plan for transition into retirement?

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
Because money is a big part of the discussion in divorce, it forces that conversation. If either person has a retirement account or accounts, it has to be discussed and dealt with in divorce. The woman in particular, I said before, often, not always, not even these days, I mean, usually, I don't make assumptions about that anymore, but it is not uncommon that she has nothing in her name under the retirement umbrella. It's a lot of education for her. I encourage my folks to get financial advice and to hook up with an advisor during and post divorce process. When particularly the woman just hasn't been the money person in the family. She's learning all kinds of new things on the fly and included in that is, what does my retirement look like?

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
Will I be able to retire, at what age and on how much? What do I need to make up any gaps at this point? What is an IRA versus a 401(k), versus a pension? There's a lot of learning that often needs to happen. And it is particularly with women. And again, that's where, I'm like, let's slow down and take a pause while you go find somebody to talk to. So they can give you some expert professional advice on this, because it's a very critical time for making retirement decisions, divorces.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah, yeah, no kidding. And some of those decisions can have long lasting impacts for the rest of their lives. I agree, it certainly is worth the time and effort to make sure you understand the choices before you just do what your friend said, here's what I did or whatever the case may be, because everybody's situations can be a little bit different.

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
Yup. Yup.

Russ Thornton:
Tracy, this has been so fun. I think you and I could easily talk for another hour or more without breaking a sweat. But as we start to wrap up, I always to ask my guests just to get to know and share a bit more about you personally. I think you've touched on a couple of these things when we were talking about what retirement looks like for you. When you've got an hour or two to yourself, if you have an hour or two to yourself, from time to time, how do you most enjoy spending your time?

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
Fortunately I have two amazing kids, they're older teens now, so I do have time to myself sometimes, unlike 10 years ago or so. When I do, it might be a walk, it might be other exercise like yoga. It might be some gardening or reading or it very likely might be a nap. I really love the afternoon nap, so I think it might be a nap in a former life. I'm not sure. So don't tell anyone, but around three o'clock, I might be catching some Z's for about 20, 30 minutes and then I'm back at it.

Russ Thornton:
Your secret is safe with me and anyone who happens to listen to this, but I agree, I think naps are way underrated. I think everybody could do with a little bit more napping from time to time. That's great. Yeah. Thanks for sharing. How old are you kids now?

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
18 and 15.

Russ Thornton:
Oh, wow. You're about to have one heading out of the house.

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
Yeah. Yes. And he just graduated and making some decisions on the fall. It's been such a weird year for seniors.

Russ Thornton:
I can imagine. I feel bad for how this has ended up in everyone's lives. Especially not getting graduations and just the normal rites of passage of leaving high school and things like that. It's just been thrown out the window, unfortunately.

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
It is. It's like, there are no rules anymore. What do you want to do? I don't care. What's going to make you happy at this point and help you thrive? Let's figure that out.

Russ Thornton:
Well, good luck. Sounds like some big decisions ahead in your household in the coming weeks and months. Tracy, if there were one thing that our listeners can take away from our conversation today, we've covered a lot and like I said, I've really enjoyed the conversation. But if there were one thing they could take away from our discussion, what would you want that one thing to be?

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
I want folks to know mediation is always an option. It's very friendly. It's very amicable. We're nice people. It's a great way to get problems with other people and differences with other people resolved privately at low cost and you get to maintain the control. It's still your decision. No one telling you what to do, just helping you get there.

Russ Thornton:
Like I am, you're based in the Atlanta area. I'm assuming you're primarily working with people in the Metro Atlanta area.

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
Yes. That's right.

Russ Thornton:
Let's say there's someone listening to this and they're thinking of this, I love everything that Tracy said. I don't know if I need mediation, but I'd certainly to talk to her and learn more. What's the best way for people to get in touch, learn more about you and the work you do?

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
The best way is for someone to schedule a chat with me, they can do that at my website at www.claritymediation.net. There's a scheduling tab there and just pick the consultation and that way it's a time that works for you, a time that works for me. We just hop on a call and I'm happy to answer any questions.

Russ Thornton:
Perfect. I'll be sure to include a link to your website and your LinkedIn profile in the show notes for this episode as well. So people can find you and reach out if they've got questions or want to discuss things further.

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
Great.

Russ Thornton:
As we're wrapping up, anything else you want to add or anything we didn't touch on, that you wanted to make sure we share with our listeners today, Tracy?

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
I think we've covered it for mediation. I just want to thank you again for having me on here. I love spreading the word and your work and mine really intersect importantly. I appreciate your having me on.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah, well, this has been fun. Like I said, we'll have to have you on again down the road to continue the conversation.

Tracy Gould Sheinin:
That'd be great.

Russ Thornton:
Everyone out there, thanks again for listening. This is Russ Thornton. This has been another episode of Women's Retirement Radio, and I look forward to catching up with you on the next one.