In re Cody R.

(California Court of Appeal) – Dismissed a mother’s appeal from an order terminating parental rights to her son. Also denied her petition for writ of habeas corpus, concluding that a habeas petition may be filed in dependency cases only in limited circumstances not present here.

Marriage of Martindale and Ochoa

(California Court of Appeal) – Affirmed the denial of a request to renew a three-year domestic violence prevention restraining order. A woman had obtained the restraining order against her former husband.

W.M. v. V.A.

(California Court of Appeal) – Held that a California superior court had jurisdiction over a child custody proceeding, in a case raising questions under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. The mother had previously initiated a child custody proceeding in her home country of Belarus.

In re Marriage of Vaughn

(California Court of Appeal) – In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, held that when the nature of a debt is such that its discharge will directly and adversely impact the finances of the debtor’s spouse or former spouse, it is nondischargeable in bankruptcy, even if it is not directly payable to the spouse. Affirmed the district court.

The first five steps towards getting a divorce

The beginning of January sparks a surge in divorce enquiries so we decided to ask our specialist divorce lawyers, what steps you need to take first if you have decided to get a divorce or separate after a long-term relationship.

The top 5 are below.

Take a step back

First, take a step. Is the marriage irreparable? Have you tried couple counselling? Christmas is a mix of happiness and tension so if emotions have run away over the festive season make sure you take stock and think through your decision. It will affect the rest of your life.

Find your marriage certificate

If you decide  that divorce is the right thing for you then the first step is to find your marriage certificate. You will need this to start divorce proceedings. And it cannot be a photocopy. Don’t panic if you cannot find it. You can order a replacement online here.

Prioritise the children

Put the children first and be mindful of them in every decision you make. Even though the relationship has broken down you will still need to co-parent and work with your partner. This will be so much easier if where possible, you are amicable. Try to not lose sight of this if tensions flare.

Get your finances in order

To work out an equal split of finances and assets you need to have a clear picture of the marital pot. Make a list of assets, liabilities and income (earnings, property values, mortgage, loans, credit and store cards, savings and pensions) as best you and gather together all the relevant paperwork.

You will need all of this information to complete Form E, which requires you to set out a full financial disclosure of all assets and financial resources so it is worth pulling it together now.

Consult a divorce lawyer

Every case is different, so the best advice is to get professional legal advice as soon as you can. It is important that you make the call and make an appointment.

Planning for your meeting will help you feel prepared for that first meeting. You will feel anxious but having a clear idea about what information you need and questions to ask will help you feel more in control.

Think about your journey times, where to park etc so you are not rushing. We always recommend that you do not bring your children. Any paperwork that you can gather and take with you is helpful and will help the case to progress quickly. The work that you undertook in step 4 will ensure you are ahead of the process in your first meeting.

Divorce is never easy and there is no magic solution so make sure you get the support that you need. Counselling and divorce coaching are both great tools to help you manage the anxiety and stress it can cause. Be mindful of your needs and the children’s needs and where possible, prepare and plan. Compromise also goes a long way.

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The year of Stowe: A review of 2018 by Senior Partner, Julian Hawkhead

It’s that time again for the annual review as commentators across the world look at the good, the bad and the unforgettable moments of 2018.

This year brought us a heatwave, a World Cup, political chaos over Brexit by the bucket load and Donald Trump gaslighting America with his fake news and lies. (You can read more in my article here.)

For Stowe, 2018 has been a pivotal year in the growth and development of our business. I have shared the best bits with you below.

We started the new year with a new solicitor Cheryl Grace our Harrogate team.

In February we opened our 14th office in Bristol, welcoming Jemma Slavin, Rachel Fisher and the team to the business. They have certainly hit the ground running, building an impressive reputation in a stunning office (it definitely wins the prize for most beautiful building), developing community ties and Rachel was recognised with her nomination for Junior Lawyer of the Year at the Bristol Legal Awards.

In March and April, we expanded our team in London with solicitor Roz Lidder and in Winchester, with Senior Solicitor Paul Linsdell joining us. We also promoted seven staff internally at the end of another successful financial year.

In May, Emma Newman, the Managing Partner in our Esher office was recognised for her exceptional work with a nomination for the Lawyer of the Year at the SLS Awards.

As the heatwave continued in June, we moved our Wilmslow team into larger premises to accommodate the growing team. It is now in a much more convenient location opposite the station with free parking available to clients. In the capital, we opened our second London office at the prestigious address of 128 Buckingham Palace Road, just a 3-minute walk from Victoria Station and headed up by Phoebe Turner. Back up north, a new solicitor, Camilla Burton-Baddeley joined the team in Altrincham.

In July, our team expansion continued with a new Senior Solicitor, Sarah Hodges joining the team in Esher whilst in Reading, we opened our 15th office and welcomed Naheed Taj who was joined by Mark Chapman, a Partner from our Winchester office. The office is located at One Valpy and overlooks the beautiful Forbury Gardens.

In Leeds, the Stowe team moved offices to the Minerva buildings in the heart of the city due to a growing team. It now has ten lawyers (including myself) and is the largest family team in the city. Down in St Albans, Senior Solicitor Bindu Bansal joined the team whilst over in the new London Victoria office, Solicitor Jonathan Day joined the team.

I also had the pleasure of participating in the Ride London 100-mile bike ride for Beating Bowel cancer. Despite several months of training in glorious sunshine, the big day itself experienced rainfall of biblical proportions. I guess that added to the fun!

At the beginning of August and peak holiday time, we had the great news we had been shortlisted for three Yorkshire Legal Awards (we went on to win two but more about that later. This month also saw two new appointments at the Manchester office with Michelle Ashworth joining us as Senior Solicitor and Gareth Curtis, promoted to Managing Partner.

As the schools went back in September, it was a month of new starters across the firm. Solicitor Rebecca Coates joined our Tunbridge Wells office, Surrogacy specialist and Solicitor Bethan Cleal joined Winchester and Solicitor Rachel Darrell, joined the Manchester office. At the end of the month, Solicitor Hannah Ross joined the team in Leeds.

Not to be outdone, Charles, our Chief Executive entered an endurance event, a mountain marathon, running some 40 miles up, down and all over the Lake District in baking heat.

October brought autumn and some slightly cooler weather. It also saw Matthew Miles; a new Senior Solicitor join the Harrogate team and Senior Solicitor Kaleel Anwar join the Manchester office.  In Nottingham, we opened our first office in The Midlands. Headed up by Sushma Kotecha, the office became our 17th office in the UK.

This month also saw us meet in Birmingham for the Stowe annual conference.  With a year-on-year increase in the company’s lawyer team of 40%, there were lots of new faces to meet. At the conference, we launched our mental health awareness initiative which will see a Mental Health First Aider or Champion trained and in place in each of our offices.  We were also joined by four good friends and highly esteemed barristers from 1 Kings Bench Walk who presented on a wide variety of topical family law subjects including Philip Marshall QC talking about his involvement in the Owens case and James Turner QC talking about the Waggott case. Our afternoon team building event was great fun though somehow, I ended up wrapped like a mummy in loo roll. Though my team also won!

In the middle of October, we celebrated winning two awards at the Yorkshire Legal Awards: Family Law Firm of the Year and The Rising Star Award for Solicitor Charlotte Newman. It was a great pleasure to receive this recognition for the Yorkshire teams and shows the great progress we have made in enhancing our reputation as a team to be reckoned with that delivers excellent service and results for our clients.

I also took great pride in watching Charlotte receive her award having trained her through her training contract. Having been a trainee in the firm myself and seeing so many of our former trainees become managing partners or partners in the firm it’s fantastic that we are building a strong foundation for the future.

And finally, at the end of October, we launched our specialist domestic and international surrogacy law service whilst attending the National Fertility Show. Family law has so many facets to it. Divorce and relationship breakdown is upsetting and disruptive though we try our best to help people look towards a brighter future, however our adoption and surrogacy work are also incredibly rewarding for our lawyers as well as life-changing for our clients.

November brought another award win as we successfully won the Law Firm of the Year at the Elite Business Awards in Leeds. We welcomed Solicitor Maria Coster to the new team in Nottingham and in Birmingham, we opened our 18th office, our second in The Midlands this year. Headed up by Rebecca Calden-Storr and joined by Shelley De’Worringham shortly afterwards, the team is already making inroads into the market and establishing a name for itself.

And now, before we know it, we are nearing the end of December. Having the time to sit back and take stock makes us all realise what we have achieved and what a remarkable year it has been for us.

What I am particularly proud of is that we have a strong team spirit with no egos. Everybody in the firm is valued for the role they play and contributes to the success of the business. We are all committed to helping our clients and each other.

As the largest family law firm in the UK, we will continue to push the boundaries of excellent service and results for our clients across the whole country. As we continue to grow in 2019, we will be supported by the significant resources of a national firm but delivered at a local level.

But it is not just about us. Throughout the year we have worked hard to give something back to the communities where we have offices. We have sponsored youth cricket clubs, the Ilkley Literary Festival, Wetherby Stage Stars, The Winchester Hat Festival, St Albans Film Festival and the Reading Santa walk.

Our people have run half-marathons, walked 10K’s, ridden 100 miles, collected Christmas gifts, baby clothes and travelled to Kenya, all to raise money for charities including St Michael’s Hospice, The Sick Children’s Trust, make a Will month, Little Bundles, Save the Children and the Alzheimer’s Society.

So, what will 2019 bring us, well that would be telling so keep watching this space.

Lastly, may I thank you as readers of this blog for your loyal following and wishing you all a peaceful, healthy and prosperous New Year.

Julian

 

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2018: The year we looked to the future by John Bolch

This year I will keep my review of the year mercifully short. Not only will I limit it to one post, I am only going to mention my top five stories of the year, stories that will all make a difference to families and family justice in the future, one way or another. In fact, as I put this together I realised that I am not so much looking back, as looking forward. Accordingly, I decided that the best way to review 2018 was to peer into my trusty crystal ball to look at 2019…

Story 1: I see a future in which couples can divorce without animosity.

I will begin with the obvious one, and the one that I suspect most commentators would agree is the most significant family law story of the year: reform of the law on divorce.

The mists are clearing. I see a 69 year-old woman. She looks very sad and frustrated. She is desperate to rid herself of an unhappy marriage. However, she still has to wait another year before she can at last divorce her husband, on the basis that they have now been separated for five years. She had tried previously to divorce her husband on the basis of his ‘unreasonable behaviour’, but he defended her petition, and the law said she could not have her divorce, thereby trapping her in a loveless marriage.

The mists are returning. The woman fades, and then returns. This time she looks happy. The law has changed! She no longer has to blame her husband for the breakdown of the marriage! She just has to file a statement with the court saying that the marriage has broken down, and there is no longer any such thing as a defended divorce. She can finally get on with her life.

The woman’s name, of course, is Tini Owens.

Story 2: I see a future in which all are treated equally.

Civil partnership for opposite-sex couples.

Somewhere in the cloudy depths of my crystal ball I spy a young couple. They are a very principled couple. They want to enter into a legal relationship, but they consider the institution of marriage to be patriarchal and sexist. Ideally, they would like to enter into a civil partnership, but until now that option has only been open to same-sex couples.

But what is this I see? The couple are undergoing a ceremony at a Register Office. Surely, they have not disregarded their principles and decided to marry after all?

I listen to what the Registrar says. This is not a marriage, but a civil partnership! The happy couple beam at one another as the ceremony ends.

Their names, of course, are Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan.

Story 3: Do I see a new course being plotted?

A new President of the Family Division.

As I peer deeply into my crystal ball I see the fog clearing. I am at some sort of conference. The next speaker is being announced – it is the President of the Family Division!

But what is this? This is not the familiar face we know and love. This is a new face. It is, of course, the face of Sir Andrew McFarlane.

What will Sir Andrew say? Will he announce some new initiative to reform family justice? Will he plot a new course for those involved in the family justice system? Will he, indeed, be as ‘hands on’ as his predecessor? The audience eagerly await what he has to say.

Unfortunately, the fog returns as he begins to speak. We will just have to wait to hear what he says.

Story 4: I see a better way of dealing with financial disputes.

Financial remedy courts.

As I look into my crystal ball all is murky. I can barely make out what is taking place. It seems to be some sort of arcane ritual, with those present unsure what is going to happen to them.

Ah, then I realise what has happened. My crystal ball is stuck in the present, watching a financial remedies case being heard in a family court in 2018. I give the crystal a clean, and it moves forward a year.

That’s much better. The court is now run by specialists, who help most of the couples settle their cases by agreement. And those cases that don’t settle are decided in a far more predictable way, consistent with other such courts around the country.

Both lawyers and litigants in person have a better idea what to expect when they go to court to sort out financial remedy claims!

Story 5: I see a brave new paperless world.

Digital divorce.

The view in my crystal ball is hazy, but the haze is clearing. I see a lawyer sitting at her desk, her eyes fixed on the computer screen in front of her.

I can now make out the words on the screen. The lawyer is filing a divorce petition on behalf of her client.

I watch as she submits the petition. I look on jealously as it is accepted, remembering how long it used to take me to issue a divorce petition by post, and how the court would so often come up with some trivial reason to reject it, causing further delay.

The lawyer quickly turns to another client’s file on her computer (I can’t see any paper files anywhere). This time she is applying for a decree absolute. The application is gone in moments…

____________

OK, I realise that I may be somewhat optimistic as far as the timing of some of these changes goes. We may, of course, have to wait until beyond 2019 for no-fault divorce, civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples, country-wide financial remedy courts and a fully digitised divorce system. Still, at least we can dream…

 

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A week in family law: Caseloads, mediation and grandparents’ rights

A week in family law

The latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for November 2018, have been published by Cafcass. In that month the service received a total of 1,214 new care applications, 1.2 per cent less than November 2017. The total number of new public law cases during the current year (since April 2018) is running at just under 2 per cent lower than last year. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 4,111 new private law cases, which is 9.1% higher than November 2017. The total number of new private law cases during the current year (since April 2018) is running at nearly 3 per cent higher than last year. So the pattern seems to be becoming clearer: modest decreases in public law cases, but modest increases in private law cases.

Still on the subject of statistics, the latest ones for legal aid, for the quarter July to September 2018, have been published by the Ministry of Justice and the Legal Aid Agency. Amongst other things, the statistics showed that Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (‘MIAM’) volumes were 5% lower than in the same quarter of 2017, and that mediation starts decreased by 3%, and are now running at just under half the levels they were at prior to legal aid being abolished for most private law family matters in 2013. A stunning success for the government’s policy to fill the void left by abolishing legal aid with more cases being settled by mediation. Of course, as has been pointed out many times, the main reason for fewer mediations is that solicitors used to ‘direct’ many cases into mediation, but were taken ‘out of the loop’ by the abolition of legal aid. Perhaps that fact might encourage the government to restore legal aid for early advice, when it finally gets round to finishing its legal aid review in the New Year.

Perhaps the most notable thing shown by the legal aid statistics with regard to family matters, however, is the ‘bottom line’, i.e. the total expenditure during the period. The statistics show that the total family law legal aid expenditure during the quarter was some £138 million, with public law work accounting for some £116 million, and private law work some £22 million. These figures demonstrate just how little (comparatively) is now spent on legal aid for private law family matters. More importantly, however, they show just how costly public law legal aid is, an indication of the scale of the problem of children needing protection in this country.

Moving on, it has been reported that grandparents (and aunts and uncles) may get more ‘access’ rights, under plans being considered by the government. Leaving aside the fact that the term ’access’ was replaced by the term ‘contact’ nearly thirty years ago, the story is that Justice Minister Lucy Frazer QC has agreed to look at the rules allowing grandchildren to maintain contact with grandparents after parental separation, following pressure from MPs and campaigning groups. Specifically, campaigners seem to want two changes: a presumption in favour of contact between the child and its close relatives, and the removal of the requirement for such relatives to have to obtain the leave of the court before they can apply for a child arrangements (i.e. contact) order. As to the former, a presumption didn’t make any real difference when it was introduced in relation to parents (it was never going to), and it won’t make any real difference in relation the grandparents/aunts/uncles. As to the latter, is this even news? I seem to recall this being raised a while back. Whatever, the ‘leave’ stage is really little more than a formality in most grandparent contact cases, so again I can’t see that removing it will make much difference.

And finally, yet more statistics for your delectation. Or perhaps not. Experimental statistics on cases processed under the 2012 statutory child maintenance scheme administered by the Child Maintenance Service, between August 2013 and September 2018, have been published, courtesy of the Department for Work and Pensions. I was going to make some pithy comment upon the statistics, but the bacchanalian delights of the holiday season beckon, so I will leave it to you to read them yourself if you so wish, here.

Have a great Xmas and New Year break.

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What does EastEnders tell us about divorce and Christmas?

Let’s be honest, there is no such thing as a merry Christmas in EastEnders with the Christmas Day episode now famous for its dramatic events from tragic deaths to murders to illicit affairs.

But when a recent poll placed the Max and Stacey’s affair reveal from 2007 as the most shocking soap Christmas moment it highlighted that most of them are based on family and relationships dramas.

The Den & Angie divorce

Back in 1986, approximately 30.1 million viewers tuned in on Christmas Day to watch Den serve Angie divorce papers, sealing its position as one of the most popular and shocking soap moments.

Taking place next to the crisp boxes in the Queen Vic, Den informs Angie that he has a letter from his solicitor saying he has filed a petition for divorce and that she needs to get one herself, quickly. Well, at least he gave some good advice.

Possibly served on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour, Angie had feigned a terminal illness to keep the marriage going but had revealed all in a drunken conversation on the Orient Express that Den overheard.

So, can you file for a divorce using this as a reason? Specialist family lawyer, Sarah Jane Lenihan from our London Victoria office explains:

In order to file for a divorce in England you need to prove to the court that the marriage has irretrievably broken down which has to be based on one of five facts:

Adultery
Behaviour of such a nature that you cannot be expected to live with them
Desertion
2 years separation with consent
5 years separation

If Den had been my client I would have advised him that we could file a divorce based on her behaviour if he felt he could no longer live with her. If not, he would need to wait for two years and even then, it would require Angie’s consent

I would draft a petition for Den including how Angie’s behaviour has impacted him. I often see dishonesty  as a key factor in behaviour petitions whether it is like Angie being dishonest about health/debts/where or who they are spending their time with or dishonesty around addiction whether it be drugs/alcohol or sex.

The Max & Stacey affair

Another memorable Christmas Day moment was in 2007 when the affair between Max and Stacey, who was rather awkwardly married to Max’s son Bradley at the time, was revealed.

Having been caught on camera a few months earlier, the scene somehow made it onto the wedding video which was shown to the whole family in the living room after the presents opening. By July 2009, Stacey was shown signing her divorce papers, albeit reluctantly.

Fast forward to early 2018 and Stacey has been thrown out of her home and in a custody battle with her husband Martin over their three children after she has another short affair with Max on Christmas Eve.

This Christmas, Stacey has been reunited with Martin, but the marriage is struggling with Martin recently declaring “I want a divorce…”

Sarah Jane explains:

It is likely that Bradley issued his divorce based on Stacey’s adultery. However, this would have required Stacey’s to admit the adultery or Bradley to be able to prove it. Without either of these, Bradley would have had to consider issuing a petition on her unreasonable behaviour.

However, I often find that adultery may not have been the root cause of the marriage breaking down, adulterous relationships don’t usually begin within happy marriages. When I first meet a client, I take details of their breakup and the reasons why to assist me in providing the most appropriate approach for that individual, considering all the circumstances of the case.

I am frequently asked by clients, does adultery have any impact on your settlement or spending time with the children?

The answer to this is specific to each case however generally an act of adultery itself would not legally have an impact on either the financial outcome or the individual spending time with their children.

It can have an impact emotionally on the other party which can in turn make negotiation difficult as they feel that the other party should be ‘punished’ for their behaviour.

Relationship worries at Christmas

Christmas can easily put pressure on relationships and marriages. Dubbed Divorce Day, the first Monday in January is apparently the most popular day to start legal procedures for a divorce as marriages meltdown over the festive season.

Well, they certainly do in EastEnders….

If your relationship is struggling to survive Christmas season, the best advice is to seek early legal advice, so you know your rights from the beginning.

You can contact Sarah Jane Lenihan at the contact details below.

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6 Ways to Feel Better About Your Money in 2019

6 Ways to Feel Better About Your Money in 2019

By Charlotte Cowles

@charlottecowles

The Cut’s financial advice columnist Charlotte Cowles answers readers’ personal questions about personal finance. Email your money conundrums to mytwocents@nymag.com

Photo: Mirrorpix via Getty Images

It’s time to throw in the towel on 2018. We tried our best, right? I, for one, got nowhere near the bar I set in 2017, when I socked away a baffling 30 percent of my income. This year, however, I was not quite so thrifty. On the upside, I’m satisfied with where my money went: I took a long trip to South America last spring, donated to great political candidates last fall, and paid some annoying but necessary medical bills last summer. But still. I’d like to get back on the wagon, or at least more disciplined.

Where to start? I know all the things I’m supposed to do — be better about automating my savings, stick to a budget, etc. — but I’m not feeling particularly inspired or motivated. Many people take a rip-off-the-Band-Aid approach to January, but I’d rather ease my way in. Plus, that’s what research says you should do: Make small, manageable behavior changes rather than a punitive overhaul. So I asked a bunch of my favorite money experts — financial planners, psychologists, investment advisers — to send me their best, most painless advice for starting fresh in the new year, regardless of how your bank account currently looks. Here’s what they said.

  1. Break up your habits, even just for a little while.

“If you normally put everything on a card, try going cash-only for a week to see how it affects your behavior,” says Amanda Clayman, an L.A.-based financial therapist. “Or, if you hate talking about money, challenge yourself to haggle down a price for something.” The point is to try something new in a playful, low-stakes way so that you can shake up your routine (or get out of your rut).

Personally, I’m toying with the idea of attempting the “envelope method”: instituting a weekly spending limit, and then dividing that amount — in cash — between envelopes labeled with the days of the week. If I want to spend more on any particular day, I have to “save up” cash from other days to cover it. I’ve already labeled the envelopes, which are sitting on my desk. Baby steps.

  1. Make yourself an inspiration board — no, really.

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This sounds so cheesy, but that’s why I love it. Dr. Brad Klontz, the co-founder of the Financial Psychology Institute and a professor at the Creighton University Heider College of Business, recommends the following steps: 1) Identify three top financial goals; 2) Get some poster board, glue, scissors, and art supplies, and make a visual representation of those goals; 3) Put the poster someplace where you’ll see it every day, like your desk or your kitchen, and/or take a photo of it and make it the wallpaper on your phone. “Last year, we studied people in five different cities who did this, and their savings rates increased by 73 percent — no joke,” says Dr. Klontz.

And even if it doesn’t work, it does sound sort of fun, right?

  1. Pair up with someone who’s equally interested in getting their act together.

I know, every annoying “How to Stick to Your New Year’s Resolutions” article always recommends a “buddy” to “hold you accountable.” The thing is, they’re right — especially when it comes to finances. You don’t need to enlist someone to check your bank statements and nag you about that shirt you just bought; instead, just finding a person to talk to helps destigmatize the subject more generally. And it works: According to a 2016 survey by LearnVest, 74 percent of respondents were more likely to stick to a financial resolution if they discussed it with others, says Alexa von Tobel, the CEO and founder of LearnVest and chief digital officer at Northwestern Mutual. Her recommendation: “Find a ‘money buddy’ who you’re around often — your partner, a family member, or a friend — and check-in with each other as you both move toward your goals.” Even better, find more than one. It takes a village, I say.

Also of note: You don’t need to partner up with someone who’s better with money than you. In fact, a recent study found that people with low financial skills tended to learn more and improve their money decisions if they sought advice from peers with similar levels of financial knowledge. This backs up my personal theory that it’s better to get financial advice from someone you can relate to (and is already in your life) rather than a whiz who’s ten steps ahead.

  1. Think about who else might get your money someday, and put it on paper.

It’s Thursday. Do you know where your beneficiaries are? If you’re anything like most people, you probably aren’t sure. (A beneficiary is whoever receives your retirement savings and/or life insurance policies if you die.) It’s a morbid subject, yes, but don’t underestimate how on-top-of-it you’ll sound when you call up your brother and say, “Hey, just letting you know, I’ve put down your name as my secondary 401(K) beneficiary.” It’ll also make you feel generous, in a weird way, and remind you that your money management — good or bad — always affects your loved ones.

Best of all, this process takes about two minutes (or maybe a little more if you need to track down your login information — but look, you’ve been meaning to do that too). “I always remind my clients to take the time to make sure their provider has things set up how they want,” says Pari Hashemi, a Philadelphia-based financial adviser. “Too many people forget to update that information after they get divorced, have a child, or lose a family member” — and inadvertently leave their money to an ex-spouse or no one at all.

  1. Cut out unnecessary clutter — extra credit cards, and subscriptions or memberships that you don’t use often.

“Close down any store credit cards and cut them up,” says Manisha Thakor, the VP of financial education at Brighton Jones. Yes, this may temporarily ding your credit score (closing a credit card does that, for counterintuitive reasons explained here), but it’s like cleaning out your closet — making a mess is part of the process. And the result will be worth it: “It’s best to keep your financial life simple,” explains Thakor. “Store cards in particular tend to have very high penalty interest rates if you’re the tiniest bit late on a payment. Don’t be enticed by the 10 percent off your purchases.” She recommends having one primary credit card and one as a backup — chop the rest. “Unless you are right about to buy a home or a car, it’s fine for your credit score to take a temporary dip while you clear your credit-card clutter,” she says.

While you’re at it, look at your other recurring charges — Hulu, magazines, the Tidal subscription you signed up for just to get Beyoncé’s new album — and do some weeding. You can even use online tools like Trim and ClarityMoney to ferret out “gray charges” (like those mentioned above, or that mysterious $2.99 that shows up on your bill every month for reasons you can’t remember) and help you get rid of them. There may be a cancellation fee, but like the credit-score penalty, it’s a temporary annoyance that’ll pay off in the future.

  1. Do the “Three Things” exercise to become more aware of your spending habits.

Psychologist Sarah Asebedo, who is also the president of the Financial Therapy Association, recommends the following: “For at least one week, identify three good things that happen in your life every day. Write them down, along with how you felt about them and what led to them happening.” Research has shown that this exercise boosts your overall psychological health and decreases symptoms of depression (which we can always use in the dead of winter). Then, to layer on a financial component, Asebedo advises adding three good financial things to your list as well. “We often focus too much on the negative, especially with money. Recognizing the good things, even if they’re very small — like resisting an impulse buy — matters a lot for habit development over the long-run,” she says. The objective is to train yourself to pay more attention to links between spending money and your general well-being. Touchy-feely stuff, I know, but hey — it costs nothing to try.