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045: Alice Shikina – Money, Divorce, & Mediation

Alice Shikina is an international speaker, negotiation coach, and divorce mediator. She’s the author of the book, Negotiating with Your Kids. Alice is passionate about helping people out of conflict and moving forward with their lives.

Today, Jonathan and Alice talk all about marriage, divorce, and navigating the difficult topic of finances throughout the two. Alice talks about the importance of acknowledgement and communication, and provides insights on how to approach your marriage as a business partnership.

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Key Takeaways

00:48 – Jonathan introduces today’s guest, Alice Shikina, who joins the show to share her unique experience being shielded from money at an early age

08:33 – Alice’s career trajectory, from theatre to divorce mediation

13:01 – Statistics on divorce

17:07 – Why financial literacy is a critical skill to have in a relationship

20:38 – Joint vs. separate accounts

26:39 – How to prepare yourself for the ‘business partnership’ of a marriage

30:52 – Prenups, postnups, and other strategies for cultivating a healthy ‘business partnership’

34:34 – The power of acknowledgement

37:42 – Approaching money as a team

44:54 – Alice’s 8-week negotiating and communication course

48:24 – One piece of financial advice for couples to heed and one thing to completely ignore

51:07 – Alice’s latest course, Design Your Own Divorce

52:51 – The last thing Alice changed her mind about and the most impactful place Alice ever visited

55:08 – Jonathan thanks Alice for joining the show today and lets listeners know where to connect with her

Tweetable Quotes

“For those people who don’t know the difference between arbitration and mediation, arbitration is basically a private trial. So, you don’t go into the public court system. You hire a private judge, who is the arbitrator, and you do everything privately.” (11:53) (Alice)

“It is very interesting to note that if I’m mediating alimony from a husband to a wife, usually they want to be fair and talk about it. Usually when I mediate alimony from a wife to a husband, everyone is bitter.” (15:18) (Alice)

“If there is a partner who is not as financially literate, it would be extremely beneficial for them to get a financial coach so that they can at least feel somewhat comfortable looking at a spreadsheet. And the other thing is budget! So many people do not create a family budget.” (19:37) (Alice)

“I have noticed that when people come from marriages where they only have a joint account and they only had a joint account for several decades, there’s a lot of fear about splitting it up and opening a brand new account. Of course they do it, but I can tell it feels very uncomfortable for people.” (22:17) (Alice)

“Communication is a huge reason why people get divorced. I see it all the time. And they come to me and say, ‘Yeah, we’re getting a divorce because our communication is terrible.’” (34:02) (Alice)

“What happens is that either people aren’t listening to one another or they haven’t learned how to acknowledge what the other person is saying. We’re all humans walking around the planet wishing to be acknowledged, and it doesn’t happen as much as it should. If you can acknowledge what your spouse is saying to you, even if it’s contentious, you will go a long, long way to saving your marriage.” (34:34) (Alice)

“I feel like having that premarital mediation is critical because it’s not about how we’re going to split the assets if we get a divorce. It’s about how do we as a family think about money? Where do our values lie? Are our values in alignment? And then you can talk about that and it will really cement your relationship because you want to make sure that you’re putting yourselves on the same path.” (48:47) (Alice)

“If you have two strong negotiators, you are more likely to get to a ‘win-win’ than if you have two weak negotiators. Strong negotiators understand it is about getting to the ‘win-win.’ It is about getting to a deal that everyone is happy with.” (52:02) (Alice)

Guest Resources

Alice’s LinkedIn

Alice’s Website

Alice’s Facebook

Alice’s YouTube

Design Your Own Divorce

Mindful Money Resources

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Episode Transcription

Jonathan DeYoe: Hello there. Welcome back. On this episode of the Mindful Money Podcast, I’m chatting with Alice Shikina Alice is an international speaker, negotiation coach, and divorce mediator. She’s the author of the book negotiating with your kids, which I have to read for current kind. Alice is passionate about helping people out of conflict and moving forward with their lives. She recently released her online webinar, design your own divorce. And today I wanted to have Alice on the show because hopefully she can give us insights on how to avoid getting to divorce, especially as it reflects on money. So, Alice, welcome to the my Money podcast.

Alice Shikina: Thank you so much for having me, Jonathan. I’m really excited to be here, and I’m excited to talk to know audiences about basically what I see and what not to do so that you can stay in a good place.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah. What to do, what not to do. We’re going to cover both here, so just say, I want to do a little shout out here. Alice and I were introduced by a longtime good friend of mine, Scott Jacobs. And so I appreciate that if anyone else out there has somebody they’d like to hear me interview on the podcast, just say so. It’d be great for me to meet some new people, and I love doing these interviews. So, uh, if you have someone you want me to have on, let me know and make an introduction. Alice, first, where do you call home, and where are you connecting from?

Alice Shikina: So I am connecting from Oakland, California, and I do most of my work online, so I am working out of Oakland as well. However, I am not from here originally. I’m from the Deep south. I’m from Lafayette, Louisiana, what we call Cajun country. And I grew up there, and my parents are actually from Okinawa, Japan. So I have like a nice mix of cultures going on here.

Jonathan DeYoe: Were you born in Louisiana?

Alice Shikina: I actually was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, and we eventually made our way down to the south, and then I went to college in the midwest. So I’ve traveled a little bit.

Jonathan DeYoe: Every culture is represented. I love it. When you were growing up, what did you learn about money and entrepreneurship?

Alice Shikina: So it’s really interesting because I go to a lot of networking groups, and we talk a lot about money mindset. We talk a lot about how the way you grew up and the messages that you got from your parents really impact how much money you can make. Because if you have a fetched mindset where you feel like, I don’t deserve this much money or having a lot of money is bad, then it does limit you. And so I’m very well aware of that. So, Jonathan, what’s really interesting about my background is that I started off when I was five years old and I wanted to become an actress. And so, as you can probably imagine, become an actress. Unless you make it to the big leagues and you’re like Jennifer Aniston type, you’re not going to make much money. And particularly if you’re in theater, theater is like nothing. So I actually grew, uh, up being okay, following my passion and not really thinking about money. I was like, okay, whatever. If I don’t make money, I don’t really care because I’m doing what I love. And so from myself, I didn’t really think about money. But what’s more important is that, and it’s a good thing and it’s a bad thing. My parents kind of shielded us from the conversation of money. So on the negative side, I didn’t really learn about how to balance a checkbook, or I didn’t really learn about investing in the stock market or purchasing real estate. Right, all of that stuff, because they didn’t really talk about it. But on the flip side, I was shielded from the, we’re struggling financially, we don’t have enough money. Like, you can’t do this because we don’t have enough money. They shielded me from all of that. So really, the only way that I knew that we didn’t have a lot of money and that we were poor is because we grew up in a trailer park. And so it was really obvious when I’m comparing my lifestyle with my friends lifestyles, that was really obvious. But aside from that, my parents did a fantastic job shielding me from the struggles that they were having financially. And they always put on a game face and they’re always like, okay, let’s do it, whatever. And so they really did a good job shielding me from the negative. Like, it’s a struggle, it’s difficult. No matter how hard we work, we can’t make money. So that actually didn’t go into my psyche. And I didn’t even find out until I was, like, in my mid 40s that my mom told me, oh, yeah, we were totally on food stamps the whole time you were growing up. And I was shocked. I had no idea at all. None. So, uh, it’s interesting because I feel like I’m learning a lot of things about money late in life because of the fact that for the first half of my life, I was focused on going into theater and acting and then later on directing. And it wasn’t until my mid 40s that I started becoming interested in becoming an entrepreneur. And so at that time, I really had to catch up. I had a lot of catching up to do. I had to study a lot about money, how to make money, how to invest it, how to get investors, that sort of thing. So I’m a little late, and I’m trying to play catch up, but interestingly enough, I do not feel like I’ve got the limited beliefs that many people may have picked up in their childhood.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah. Is there an experience, though? I mean, you couldn’t have been completely opaque to it. You had to have some kind of a sense. Did you ever have an experience growing up that sort of made you realize, hey, I have a different situation than other kids?

Alice Shikina: Uh, no, I knew that, but they weren’t sending messages. It was more like reality. And so I was not happy about reality. So I remember very clearly, I was, I believe in kindergarten or first grade, and they had a box where you’re like, drop off your old winter coats. We’re going to donate the winter coats to the less fortunate kids or whatever. And I was the one who, my mom was like, let’s go get a coat for you from that box. And I’m thinking to myself, oh, my gosh, I’m going to go get a coat that one of my classmates donated. So that means that when I’m wearing it, they’re going to know that I’m wearing their coat.

Jonathan DeYoe: That’s harm.

Alice Shikina: That kind of stuff was happening to me. So I was always like, uh, I don’t like this. And I lost friends when they would come and visit me, and it was a trailer park, and they’re like, oh, she’s poor, we don’t want to be friends with her. And they never said it explicitly, but after visiting me, they stopped hanging out with me. So I kept having these. It was real obvious to me. But I guess my point is, my parents didn’t feed me the negative vibes or messages, but I was picking up on it for sure because I’m going to the salvation army. We’re buying clothes. And I’m like, I don’t want to buy clothes here. So it did affect me in that to this day, I’m like, I’m not going to buy my clothes at the thrift store. And I know it’s back in vogue, and people are buying clothes and super cool. Like, the teenagers these days are like, let’s go to the thrift store, and let’s go buy some really cool clothing. But because of my upbringing, or, uh, I shouldn’t say upbringing, because of my experience as a young child, those have informed how I am. It’s not so much that I’m snobby, and I’m like, oh, I’m too good. It’s more like it brings some bad memories, and I’m trying to avoid those.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah. So my daughter is a teenager, and she went thrifting yesterday with a bunch of friends. But I remember going to the bread store when I was a kid, and there’s the fresh bread, and there’s the day old bread, and then there’s the stuff there’s going to throw away. And my parents would walk away with the stuff they’re going to throw away. And I remember vividly that there’s this pile of. It’s dry, it’s crusty, it’s old, and that’s the stuff that we took home. You put it, not a microwave, but there’s a way you could actually soften it up again. I don’t remember what that way was, but that was what was done. But later in life, I now go to a thrift store, and I buy a pair of Colhan shoes that are $200 regular for $30. So I’m all for it. I’m all for it. It makes tons of sense to me now. I’m over that part.

Alice Shikina: That’s good.

Jonathan DeYoe: Before we get into sort of today’s topic, give us a sense of your path, like leading up to mediation, arbitration, and your expertise in divorce. Specifically, how did you get here?

Alice Shikina: Sure. So it’s a little bit of a windy path, and some people might say it’s interesting. So, as I mentioned, I started off as an actress. I went all the way through high school and college. I have a bfa in acting, so I studied it very deeply, and I went on to do some master’s work in directing. And so when I moved to the Bay area, initially, I was a director. I became the artistic director for a local theater company called Three Wise Monkeys Theater company. And so what I was doing is I was directing as well as producing Bay Area playwright shows, brand new shows that, uh, never been seen before on the stage. And so that’s what I did. And then once I moved here, I was also working as a graphic designer in order to subsidize my passion for theater. I always knew that theater was not going to pay the bill, and, ah, I didn’t care. I was like, I love it. I will do it for free. I don’t care. So I was working full time as a graphic designer, most of that time at home, and I was subsidizing my work in the theater. And so some people might say, well, what happened to your theater? Well, what happened is I had two children. And once you have got kids, like the time that you spend with your children was the time that you’re spending in rehearsals. Rehearsals are typically six to 10:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. And so once you have little kids, that puts an end to your career. And so that’s where that stopped. And then in 2013, I got a, uh, part time job. I still have this part time job where part of that job is mediating between host families and opairs. And for your listeners who are not aware, an opair is a live in caregiver who comes from a different country and takes care of your children in exchange for the american experience. Right? And so part of that job for me was mediating between the host families and the opairs whenever there was some kind of issue. And as you can imagine, not only is there a language difference, there’s also a cultural barrier. So if you put those two together and you’re having people living in the same place, you can imagine what kinds of conflict might arise. And so I began mediating for that company, and that was the first time I ever started mediating. And I had to tell you, I didn’t get any training at that time. And I jumped in, and I was terrified. I was like, what am I doing? I have no idea what I’m doing. And they would just tell you to go to their home. So now I am mediating a conflict in the place of conflict, which, for those of you who don’t know, it’s not the best idea to be mediating in a place where it’s not neutral. The conflict is taking place there. So I was going in there, and I recognized, after doing it for a while, like, oh, I’m actually pretty good at this. I’m able to get people to resolution. And so in 2016, I was laid off from a full time tech startup job. And at the time I was thinking like, oh, what do I want to do? Because I didn’t want to continue doing what I was doing then. And so my boyfriend said, well, why don’t you just become a mediator? And I said, well, but don’t you have to be a lawyer? And he said, no, you don’t. I researched it, found out you have to get a certification. Went and got not just the mediation certification, but I got the arbitration certification. So I’m an arbitrator as well. And for those people who don’t know the difference, or they’re like, what is arbitration versus mediation? Arbitration is basically a private trial. So you don’t go into the public court system. You hire a private judge who is the arbitrator, and you do everything privately. So you pay them money and you get it done. It’s done much more quickly than if you go to the court system, the public court system. And so I am, um, an arbitrator. I’m able to arbitrate cases, and I’m also a mediator. And so that’s sort of how I got here. People began finding me online, because more than finding mediators through word of mouth, most people are looking silently online. So you can imagine if you’re going through divorce, you don’t want to, ah, advertise to everyone, all your friends, especially if they don’t know yet. Usually you want to tell your friends last, so you don’t really go around saying, hey, by the way, Jonathan, I’m looking for a divorce mediator. Do you know anybody good? It doesn’t usually happen, so they find me online. And so that’s sort of how I began doing that. So I do a lot of different types of mediation, but divorce is definitely one of the ones that I do the most of.

Jonathan DeYoe: And that’s what we’re going to talk about today a little bit. So just get us up to speed. I haven’t looked at these numbers for a long time. 50%, 60%. Can you give us the percentage of first and second marriages that end in divorce or update those numbers for us?

Alice Shikina: Yeah, I believe it’s around 50%. And here’s the thing. I don’t know if a lot of people are aware, but what they call silver divorces are becoming increasingly popular. And a, uh, silver divorce are people who are in their fifty s, sixty s and seventy s getting divorces. And I mediate people who are coming in saying, we’ve been married for 30 years. We have grown children, we have grandchildren, and they’re getting a divorce. So it’s becoming more frequent that older people are. I think partially because we’re living longer. Right. Like before, people might have been dying at 70, 75. Now it’s like 85, 90. So you’re adding on a decent chunk of your life.

Jonathan DeYoe: 15 more years with the same person.

Alice Shikina: Exactly. You’re like, you know what? I think I’m ready to move on. Right. So a lot of times people will come to me and get a mediator to mediate the divorce at age 60.

Jonathan DeYoe: Do you have a sense culturally what might be causing the number of divorces? I mean, maybe it’s the length of time, but are there, like, initiating factors, money being one of them? What are the two biggest causes, and how many divorces can be attributed to those two biggest causes?

Alice Shikina: I would say money and communication. And so I’m happy to chat about both of those things. But definitely communication causes a lot of marriages to deteriorate over time. So there’s a certain amount of time you can stay together having dysfunctional communication, but ultimately, it degrades the relationship because there’s so many bad communication habits that know, constantly use and also money. I mean, I’ve had people come and tell me, hey, Alice, I’m getting a divorce because my wife refuses to get a job, right? Like they say, hey, I want you to pull your weight. Please pull your weight. And one side says, no, I don’t want to work. I married you so I can stop working. And then the other person is like, yeah. They’re like, uh, that’s not what I had in mind. And it happens on both sides. Sometimes there are men who are not working, and they’re living off of their wives, like income. And the wives are like, I’m not really happy about that. Although it is interesting to note. This is very, very interesting. If I’m mediating alimony from a husband to a wife, usually they’re like, I want to be fair. Let’s talk about this. Usually when I mediate alimony from a wife to a husband, everyone is bitter. They’re like, why do I need to pay you alimony? You’re a dude. You’re quite capable of going out and getting a job. I should not have to pay any of my money to you for alimony.

Jonathan DeYoe: It is almost, well, I mean, are those the individuals that you’re meeting between, or do you think that’s more of a cultural thing? Like, if it’s a woman deserves the alimony. A man should get a job.

Alice Shikina: I feel like there’s that sort of cultural indoctrination that’s happened 50 years, and even though we’re now like, oh, women, equality, what have you, I feel like there’s, like, some little teeny, tiny remnants in the backs of everyone’s minds. It’s kind of like the dust balls underneath the sofa that no one looks at or thinks about. And it’s sort of, like, pervasive, but no one talks about it. I don’t even know that people necessarily talk about it to their friends. I don’t hear about it. I don’t really read a ton of articles about it. But I’ve noticed if a woman is a higher earner and she has to pay alimony, she’s typically very bitter. She does not have the type of attitude like, let me make sure it’s fair. I want to make sure you’re taken care of. I want to make sure that you have enough money. No, typically, they’re like, you’re just as capable as I am. Why do I have to pay you all the money? You can go get a job. And that is like a, uh, very. So I do feel like there’s that sexism that’s still lingering, but it’s a teeny, tiny bit of it that’s sort of, like, in the backs of everyone’s minds. And it might be unconscious. It may not be conscious. They may not even realize it. It is literally just a feeling that they have.

Jonathan DeYoe: How does different levels of money smarts play into the conversation? Some people have, like, I’m in the financial industry. My wife is not. I manage most of the money we report. We have family meetings, but she’s really not engaged in it that much. When you have a divorce or how do you avoid in that situation? How do you avoid couples ending up in a divorce if there’s that drastic difference?

Alice Shikina: There’s a couple of things, right? So on the one hand, it’s always good if everyone had at least the same amount or similar amount of some basic financial literacy, because what happens, there’ll be a couple, and one side is significantly more financially literate than the other, and then they continue on for, let’s say, decades. That way, then what happens at the time of divorce is that there’s an incredible amount of fear that comes up for the spouse who is less financially literate.

Jonathan DeYoe: Right.

Alice Shikina: And they feel like, look, you have 15, 2025, 30 years more experience than I do with finances. I feel like you’re going to make it unfair you’re going to make high script. And so it makes the friction in the conversation is palpable if the financial literacy is not somewhat equal. And so I really do feel like everyone needs to have that financial literacy. However, here’s my second point. Sometimes that fear is so strong, it prevents that second spouse from learning everything they need to. It’s kind of like thinking, oh, I suck at math, so don’t even show me anything because I’m really bad at it. I’m not going to understand it. And, uh, that fear is like repelling any sort of knowledge. And so I do notice, because people say, well, I don’t understand, Alice. I’ve been giving all the account passwords to my wife. I said, here are the spreadsheets. I did a whole bunch of spreadsheets. I’ve shared it with her, and she’s not looking at anything. And then come for the divorce. She’s like, well, I think you’re going to take a lot more from me because you understand everything I don’t understand. And the conversation is very unequal because one side is saying, I’ve tried to make it transparent to you all these years. You haven’t taken any interest. And now that we’re divorcing, you’re screaming and saying, like, oh, it’s going to be unfair. Oh, I don’t understand what we have. Oh, you’re probably hiding assets, right? And so I think it does help if couples, if there is a partner who is not as financially literate, it would be, like, extremely beneficial for them to get a financial coach so that they can at least feel somewhat comfortable looking at a spreadsheet. What am I looking at? Right. And what do I need to be concerned about? And the other thing is budget. So many people do not create a family budget either because one person is blocking it from happening. They might say, okay, we’ll do it, we’ll do it. And then they kick the can down the road. So for years, somebody will say, oh, yeah, we’ve been trying to come up with a budget for years, and it’s never happened, or neither side is really good at creating a budget. And so they’ve sort of gotten away with it, and now at the time of divorce, they have to start creating a budget, and they’re just like, oh, my gosh, we don’t know what we’re doing, and now we have to do it. And this is actually the reason why we’re getting a divorce. So a lot of these things come up during a, uh, divorce. All of the issues around money come, um, right to the surface?

Jonathan DeYoe: I’m curious, do you see more divorces from people that keep their accounts separate or more from people that put things together? Or is there any advice? Because that’s one of the first questions I get from new couples as to, hey, do we blend our finances or do we keep them separate?

Alice Shikina: Based on what I have seen, my suggestion, and maybe Jonthi have a different suggestion, but I always feel like they should have a joint and each should have their own separate, because what happens is when they combine everything and they have nothing separate, then they stay together for, uh, say, 2030 years. It suddenly feels extremely scary, emotionally scary, to go and open your own account when you’ve always been comfortable for the past several decades having a joint account. And so people get anxiety just trying to open up an account so that they can start to split their finances apart. So I feel like at least having a little bit of independence is helpful, because if we’re talking about 50% of people are getting a divorce, you might as well just keep a separate account. Not in case you get a divorce, but have it so that you have that amount of independence in your life, in your emotional psyche. Right. So that the divorce itself is not going to be as traumatizing. You’re not, like, getting kicked out from the nest, and you’re like, oh, my gosh, I don’t know how to fly. Oh, my goodness. I haven’t been practicing. Right, so at least you can practice flying all the time by yourself with a solo account, and you can have your joint account. Maybe your solo account is just for your, I don’t know, discretionary spending or whatever, and it doesn’t have to be a lot, but at least you have that, because I have noticed that when people come from marriages where they only have a joint account and they’ve only had a joint account for several decades, there’s a lot of fear about splitting it up and opening up a brand new account. And of course they do it, but I can tell it feels very uncomfortable for people.

Jonathan DeYoe: Do you think that the partner who is sort of more dominant with the financial knowledge and the financial management in the case where there might be joint accounts, might use that as a lever to, like, you can’t possibly do this on your own. You need me for this? Is that something that becomes, like, not a wedge issue, but a sort of golden handcuffs issue?

Alice Shikina: You mean like during the marriage?

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah, we’re married. You can’t possibly do this without me. Yeah, I’m just going to let you have access and I’m going to control you with.

Alice Shikina: Absolutely. That does happen. And I think it’s fair. Depending on the marriage and depending the amount of trust, I think it’s fine to say, okay, we’ll have transparency into each other’s account so that, uh, uh, let’s say, if I say, well, I don’t know, I feel like you might take a lot of the money that you earn and spend it all on your own or what have you. You can still have transparency into each other’s accounts if you would like that, but at least to have it so that you are constantly flexing that independent muscle. So that also, if you do get a divorce, it doesn’t feel quite as, uh, scary. You just sort of, like, funnel things separately and then go on from there. And then there’s some people who are like, oh, I got married just out of college. I have never had my own account ever. Can you imagine, if you are 55 years old and you’re being asked to create your own individual account for the first time in your adult life, how scary that might feel? So I feel like it’s not the best idea just to say, oh, we’re getting married, we’re going to make joint accounts, and that’s it. We’re going to have nothing by ourselves. Because later on there is an emotional price to pay.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah, uh, money is definitely emotional, no question about it. And I want to get to spending in just a second. But there is this. In our case, I’m just going to use myself an example. I’m sure other people are like this since I’m engaged in the finances and I pay the bills and all that kind of stuff all the time. I don’t have a separate account, but my wife does. She has her own account, and so we kind of resolved it with a middle path. Since I pay the bills, I don’t really need a separate account. I just use the joint account. She has access to that. I actually don’t have access to her account, and I don’t even know what goes on in there. But it’s her money. It’s her account. So have you seen people find creative ways to get around the issue of joint versus separate?

Alice Shikina: Yes. I mean, I think that’s totally fine. Your example is perfectly fine. If it works for both of you, great. And yes, absolutely. There are people, like, I recently had someone, a couple, who decided we’re a little bit on shaky ground. Let’s draft a postnup, and let’s just say that everything going forward is separate property. Even though they’re married. Uh, right. And so they wanted to just agree, and so then they felt better because they could control their own money, that it wasn’t just a pile of money, that in California, they’ll say a 50 50 split. So they just felt like, okay, we each feel emotionally more comfortable if we at least say, like, this pile of money is actually just separate property. Let’s just agree to that. So they did something like that. So you absolutely can, in a prenup or a postnup, get creative with the way that you’d like to do things. I always tell people, if you’re going to get married, please get a prenup. And I feel like a lot of times people might say, oh, well, I don’t have a lot of money, so why do I need a prenup? And for me, it’s not about how many assets you have. Um, it’s about the fact that if you ever buy anything, you’re automatically, under the law, considered business partners. So the prenup or the postnup is basically a business contract between two business partners. You’re not just romantic partners, you’re also business partners. So, uh, I’m a very strong believer in that, because it will make your life a lot easier in the event that things get dissolved. And even if they don’t get dissolved, at least you’ve got a nice contract with each other.

Jonathan DeYoe: It’s an interesting idea, the fact that everyone that’s married is also in business together, like your debts or each other’s debts, it becomes a partnership, literally a partnership. From a legal perspective, however, many, many people get married, and not many people have business experience. So how does somebody listen to the podcast? They’re thinking about getting married. They’re talking to their future spouse. Maybe they’re already engaged. How do they prepare each other? Or how can one person prepare themselves for the idea that they are going into business with this other person and having a legal arrangement where they’re going to be responsible for the other person’s spending debt, all the kind of stuff that they accrue post marriage?

Alice Shikina: Well, I think what’s really interesting is that people, you’re entirely correct, they don’t have a prenup or a postnup, and they go through the marriage. But what happens is, if they end up getting a divorce, that will be the first time that they start thinking about how should we be dividing things up. So it’s a very belated conversation, and when I say belated, it means that there isn’t a paper trail. So if someone says, well, I used my mom’s inheritance to pay for the down payment of the house, and then you paid for the mortgage over 20 years, and then you paid for remodels, fixes, any repairs, et cetera. And then I, as the mediator, will come and say, great, that’s fantastic. You each want your money back out. Where’s the paper trail? And what do you think happened? There’s no paper trail, right? And then they’re very upset. So what’s going on is that people are going into a business relationship unknowingly, right? Uh, they don’t really realize it because they’re in love.

Jonathan DeYoe: They’re in love.

Alice Shikina: Uh, but I mean, you can be in love and still go in together, but to be able to, at least when you’re in love, think about how do we want to structure our business together, right? Am I going to be the one putting most of the money in? Because sometimes that’s the case. Are we going to put in the money together 50 50? Are we just going to say, sometimes people say, I’ll pay the mortgage and you pay for the food, and then later on, do you think that the food costs are calculated when they’re trying to split the house? No, never. That is never calculated. So somebody comes in and says, well, I put in this much money because I paid the mortgage all these years. And the other person says, yeah, but like the agreement is I was going to be paying for the groceries. And they’re like, oh, I don’t care about that. I just want my money. You see what I’m saying? So you want to be able to structure that in a contract to say, I’m going to pay x number of dollars for mortgage per month. You’re going to be paying x number of dollars for groceries. These things are considered equivalent. And over the course of year, over year, this is the amount that we will be putting in together. So that at the end of this business arrangement, this is how we get out of it. Right? So you really have to consider a lot of things that people never consider while they’re doing it. And afterward, it is a nightmare to try to unravel and try to get something fair for everyone. So I really think that regardless, uh, let’s say you go into a marriage and neither one of you has any assets, you’re like, we’re just out of college, we’re getting married, we don’t have anything. It does not matter. It’s okay. Just go in, talk about what you’re going to do if you buy a house, if you buy two or three houses, if you buy a car, if you have 401, if you invest in the stock market, talk about how you want to divide that up. If you don’t want just the California law to say 50 50 split, that’s the end, right? Because any kind of agreement that you come up with and sign trumps what the law says. So if you don’t want what the law says, which is 50 50 split from the time of the marriage till the time of the divorce, you want something else, you need to sit down and draft a prenup or a postnup, particularly with a mediator, hopefully with a mediator, because the mediator can help you have conversations. And like you said, anytime money comes up, it is highly emotionally charged. Highly. Like, I can go through every part of a, uh, divorce mediation, like, talking about the different things. And when we get to the money, it’s really emotional. And I pull people into different rooms because they cannot stay in the same room and think straight.

Jonathan DeYoe: Right. You are the only person that I’ve ever heard focused so much on get a prenup, uh, have an agreement, treat it as a business. And everyone I’ve ever spoken to that’s gone a literal business partnership. We’re going to open a store, we’re going to do something online, whatever they’ve always been taught or, uh, they’ve always talked about the idea of having an exit strategy, what happens when the partnership fails, why? That seems to be completely missing in the loving, potential relationship, lifelong thing. But it seems like it’s kind of important. It affects. I mean, I’m going through. I’ve got two or three clients right now going through divorces, and they’re incredibly contentious, and none of it’s written down, and all the things you’re talking about. One person is more knowledgeable than the other. And so that creates all this kind of I don’t trust you. You’re going to try to take advantage of me kind of stuff, and if it’s all written down, you don’t really have to think about it. So that’s one huge thing, is get it written down and talk about it. What are some of the other things that people can do to actually protect themselves during a marriage or before they get married so that if it unravels, they’re okay?

Alice Shikina: Well, I want to just touch upon the fact that, uh, none of these people are getting exit strategies. And I think it’s because in our society, everyone has bought into, hook, line, and sinker, the whole dream, and fantasy of happily ever after. Right? Like, you read prince and princesses, like, stories of them when you’re growing up in Disney books and Disney movies, it’s like happily ever after. Happily ever after. And so it doesn’t matter how many people get a divorce, it doesn’t matter when people actually go through it. They go get married again because they’re like, I’m still chasing the happily ever after dream. And I think that is, like, a deep part of our psyche, which is why these prenups and postnbs don’t exist as much as they should. Because people really believe, like, this is it. This is, like, for my lifetime. And I really, really encourage people to think more deeply. And instead of saying, let’s get a prenup drafted because we might divorce to say, let’s get a prenup together so that we can function as a healthy business partnership as well as a relationship. Right? Like a personal romantic relationship. So people really need to think about their spouse as a romantic partner and a business partner. The minute you buy anything or the minute you accrue wealth, you’re suddenly business partners. So I want everyone to shift their mindset, first of all, into thinking that, hey, I’m getting married, or I am married. We are now in a business partnership, and I don’t feel like I want people to think like, so here’s Jonathan. Why? I think a lot of people don’t get it done because they’re like, oh, that means that we’re planning for a divorce. No, you’re not planning for a divorce. You’re just trying to plan for a healthy business partnership. Right? So that’s number one. So your question was, what can people do to prevent themselves from crashing and landing at my doorstep, basically, right?

Jonathan DeYoe: Yes.

Alice Shikina: So I think that it’s really important to learn good communication skills before your relationship is eroded, before people are tired, before people feel like, oh, my self worth is, like, out the window because I’ve been treated badly for the past three or four years. I think communication is a huge reason why people get divorced. I see it all the time, and they come to me and they’re like, yeah, we’re getting a divorce because our communication has been terrible. Right?

Jonathan DeYoe: They don’t say because their communication is terrible. They actually self identify that way. Seriously.

Alice Shikina: Some of them do.

Jonathan DeYoe: Interesting.

Alice Shikina: They will say, we can’t communicate. And by the time they get to me, even if I could help them, they have eroded the love for each other, so much so that it’s unrepairable. Right. And so what happens is that either people aren’t listening to one another, they haven’t learned how to acknowledge what the other person is saying. I would say most of the world, they just want acknowledgment. We are all humans walking around the planet wishing to be acknowledged, and it doesn’t happen as much as it should. And so if you can acknowledge what your spouse is saying to you, even if it’s contentious, you will go a long, long way into saving your marriage.

Jonathan DeYoe: I have to say that right now. This resonates very much for me. I’m just noticing some things that I have done that were sort of anti acknowledging, something that I should be acknowledging. So thank you for that little. Say that again. I think that’s probably the most important thing you’ve said.

Alice Shikina: It is, uh, it’s very important. So it’s super important to acknowledge what the other person said. So in my communication classes, this is what I teach. I say person a says something, and normally person b responds. But everyone is missing the second step. The second step is to acknowledge what you heard. Don’t even respond until you’ve acknowledged what you’ve heard and you have verified that that is correct. Right.

Jonathan DeYoe: It’s like you say, what I hear you saying is, do I have that right?

Alice Shikina: Yeah, correct. Exactly right. So even if you said to me, let’s say you said something very inflammatory, you said, alice, you’re completely manipulating everything, and you’re lying to me. Now, I might get defensive, and I say, how dare you say that? Like, I’m absolutely not right. So that would be my normal reaction. But the correct response is, let me make sure I understand what you’re saying. You are saying that I am manipulating the situation and I’m lying to you. Is that correct? That is step two. Because once I do that, uh, you’re going to say yes, and then all of a sudden, the heat is going to go down, and then I can respond, and you’re going to be able to hear it because you’re in a place where you can hear it. If I respond, you can’t hear it because I never acknowledged you. The door is closed. So now we are communicating at, uh, closed doors. Your door is closed, my door is closed, and we’re just spouting at each other. Even if we take turns, it’s not going into our brains. And I have seen it happen, like, time and time again in very contentious mediations. I will force you. I will say, jonathan, can you please repeat back what the other person said? And I can’t tell you how many times the other person has said, I don’t know. I don’t remember what they just said. Like, literally after it was spoken, like a second later. And then the person who was speaking is shocked. They’re like, what? You didn’t hear anything? Because they’re nodding their head, they’re not talking, they’re making eye contact. And then when you say, what was just said, they’re like, I can’t say. I don’t know.

Jonathan DeYoe: Wow, that’s huge. And they’re just preparing. Yes, you said one word that was a trigger word. I’m going to respond, right?

Alice Shikina: Yes, they’re responding. Or they’re in their heads about, like, what a jerk. I can’t believe they’re saying this. It’s ridiculous. This is the same thing, that they’re spinning stories and thoughts in their mind, and so it’s blocking any kind of hearing and understanding.

Jonathan DeYoe: So we talked about different levels of intelligence around money or not intelligence is the wrong word. Experience with money. We’ve talked about his and hers or his and his are separate versus together. We’ve talked about prenup. What about spending? So many couples have different ideas about spending. I save every penny, someone else spends every penny. How do people manage that?

Alice Shikina: Well, so one of the things when we talk about a prenup or a post up, it’s not just about like, okay, how are we splitting the assets? It’s that conversation. It’s the conversation about money. It’s saying, hey, Jonathan, what are your thoughts about putting a budget together? And you might say, I don’t know. I’ve never done one before. And I might say, well, I would like to, as a family, create a budget. Would you be open to creating a budget with me? And if the answer is yes, you better put in a deadline, because, uh, without a deadline, it just goes on and on, right? And then talk about stuff like, Jonathan, what are your thoughts on spending? Do you feel like every bit of money you have is you to go take trips and movies and spend it on yourself? Or do you feel like the extra money should go towards the savings? Should it go towards a joint savings so that we can plan together? Or do you feel like you save your money and you get to do with it what you want? And I save my money. So a, uh, prenup, in a lot of ways, encompasses these conversations that people don’t have and they don’t have it, and it just becomes like a constant conflict, right? Because one side is like, oh, my gosh, my spouse is like, overspending. We’re never going to save for retirement. And the other person is like, oh, God, that person is such a nag. This is my money. I’m earning my money. Like, leave me alone. Why do they keep bothering me? And so this is the kind of conflict that arises in a relationship where you did not have a prenuptial conversation about how do you want to approach money as a team? So it’s not just about dividing up assets, it’s about, uh, talking about what are the habits that we would like to create? What is our value system? Like, what do you value? I value travel. Right? I think travel is really educational. I think it’s fantastic. And I’m with someone who says, yeah, traveling is a waste of money. You need to be investing all of your money so that you save it for retirement. And I’m like, okay, but what if I die before that, right? And so, uh, our value systems are different, but you at least need to surface that so that you can get to a place of understanding. You don’t want to go into a relationship or a marriage where you don’t discuss those. And instead of a discussion, a hard discussion, it ends up being like a, uh, years long conflict every time it’s brought up. And then it becomes a hotter and hotter and hotter topic. So that now we can’t talk about money because the minute somebody talks about money, it explodes. Because it’s like repetitive, right? Repetitive. Like you’re spending too much or spending too much, you’re spending too much. And the other person is like, want to talk about it? It’s my money. And then that is going to erode the marriage. So in the prenuptial conversation, you want to have the discussion of how are we going to do this together?

Jonathan DeYoe: So I don’t know if this actually happens anymore. Like, Kate and I have been married for 20 years almost. But for both of my marriages, I had to start a marriage that lasted five years. But for both of my marriages, we took a class. And the class sort of daylighted financial questions. It, uh, daylighted sex. It daylighted all kids. And what do you think about raising kids and corporal punishment? We talked about all these things, but we didn’t write them all down and then sign our names at the bottom of it. How important, first, do people still go through that class? Second, how important is just going through the class? Or is it really important to sign something? Sign the dotted line so that we have a formal document that sort of reflects and represents everything we discussed in that class.

Alice Shikina: So I don’t know how many people are going through that class any longer because I haven’t really heard much about it. I think it’s really valuable. So if your listeners know about a class, they better go take it. Or even just going through a mediation where you discuss it. I think it’s important, right? Uh, like, you don’t need a class necessarily, but you should have a safe space with a guide, like a facilitator, mediator to talk about it. And I think it is tremendously important to sign on the dotted line. And why? Because the memory is infallible, right? You don’t remember everything. And most of the time, people are like, I don’t remember saying that. That’s usually what happens during divorce mediation. It happens a lot where people say, okay, we’re going to send our kid to this private school, and then eigth grade, we will renegotiate it. Let’s say it’s a verbal agreement. Eigth grade comes along, and then the one who is wanting to renegotiate says, okay, well, let’s renegotiate. And the other parent is like, what are you talking about? We’re going to continue on the same trajectory, the same private school. And then the other side says, well, wait a minute, we talked about this. And then the first parent says, I don’t remember that. Right? So in order to decrease the amount of conflicts that you have, if you have those really important life agreements, do not expect the either party’s memory is going to serve you well, because it will not. I can tell you right now, people don’t even remember having those conversations. And especially if it behooves them, they really won’t remember having those conversations. And so it’s better to pull it out so that you can say, okay, fine, great. All right, my bad. I didn’t realize I said that. And so it will immediately get rid of those arguments where you’re going to argue about like, yes, you did. Because can you imagine how it feels if you, Jonathan, remember very clearly that I said something? And then I tell you, I don’t remember that. It’s infuriating. Uh, you’re going to try to defend as hard as you can. And now we’re in a very strong conflict. And so in order to avoid that, it’s better to get that all in writing, put it away somewhere safe. And then here’s another really good tip for your listeners, that my CDFA was like, on the date that you get married, get all your financial statements of all your net worth, put it in an envelope, mail it to yourself with postmarked on that day, and write, do not open on there, and put it away so that if you ever have to get a divorce, you know what your net worth was when you got married.

Jonathan DeYoe: That’s genius, right? I mean, that is the most complex piece of the whole puzzle when people go through divorces. I don’t know what I was worth when I married 20 years ago. No idea what my investments were.

Alice Shikina: Can you imagine if you had all those statements and just mailed it to yourself back then and now it’s like a 20 year old little envelope. You open it up and you’re like, oh, this is what I was worth. And everything else is community property.

Jonathan DeYoe: The company I worked at, uh, went under ten years ago. I deposited money over there 20 years ago. There’s no record of it. It’s just gone.

Alice Shikina: And banks easily close. Banks are gone. And you’re like, I can’t get a bank statement because that bank doesn’t exist anymore. So it’s a really good practice to do that, because then in the event that it does get contested, you can just say, here’s the paper trail. Here’s my information. I mailed it to myself when I got married.

Jonathan DeYoe: So the next thing you’re working on. I’m just curious, before I get to that, do you ever go down the process? Somebody hires you to mediate their divorce, and then they’re working with you? And by working with you because of your communications training and because you’re mediating things, do they go, you know what? Maybe we don’t want to get divorced. We just need to learn how to communicate better. And so that’s the first question, how often does that happen? And then the second part of that question is, do you have a course coming out at some point in the future that’s all about communications that lead to prenup? Like, how do you have these communications before you’re married?

Alice Shikina: So I haven’t quite had anyone decide that they’re not going to get a divorce. And my guess is, because the damage is so deep that you can’t come back up from that. Right. They’ve already drowned their love for each other. Doesn’t exist anymore.

Jonathan DeYoe: Right.

Alice Shikina: Uh, however, I’ve had people go through the whole divorce mediation with me. They had adult children, and they still came back one more time for communication session because they knew that they had to communicate with one another about their adult daughters, and they knew that they couldn’t do it without my help. So they said, please give us, um, some ground rules so that we can engage with each other, because right now we can’t even talk. Right. So they did that. And I’ve had other people come through and they said, okay, we don’t want to get a divorce. We want to have a mediation to try to repair the marriage. And also, in addition to that, we would like to get communication training so we can continue in a more positive manner. I mean, literally all, uh, I have to do is set up all the ground rule, the framework, and as long as you follow that, you’ll have a much better time of, like, imagine, Jonathan, if you got acknowledged every single time you said something that you’re upset about. If your wife was like, let me make sure I understand you, you’d be like, wow, she gets me. It feels great. Right? It’s going to give you a lot of joy. And so if people do that, it will definitely help improve their relationships. And I currently offer an eight week course. That’s for people, it’s a negotiation and communication. But believe me when I say, even though it’s negotiation. And people might say, well, I don’t negotiate. Oh, you negotiate with your spouse on the daily, and if you have children, you negotiate multiple times with your children on the daily. And I had somebody recently come through as an executive coach, and she said, oh, I’m taking the class because I want to be able to serve my clients better by learning some negotiation skills. And what she said in the middle of the class was, this is helping my marriage. She’s like, I never realized that these communication skills would help. She goes, they are literally helping my marriage.

Jonathan DeYoe: So I just want you to highlight those two things. It sounds like you talked about a communication session. You also talked about a negotiation course. Just highlight those two things for us.

Alice Shikina: Yes. So I’ve got an eight week course. It meets every single week for an hour and 15 minutes. And it’s a small group, like four to six people. And every single month, I start a new group, and we go in and we practice negotiating and communication skills, and we practice those so that when you go back out to your spouse or your job or you want to go negotiate another job, whatever you want to do, you’re going to come through with a lot more confidence. And if you’re going into it to help your marriage, your marriage will be a lot stronger by going through that course, for sure. And then I also do individual coaching sessions. Sometimes people will say, uh oh, well, my husband decided not to use you as a mediator, but can I hire you to help me negotiate my divorce. And so I am there for that as well.

Jonathan DeYoe: That’s multifaceted. So there’s an enormous amount of noise out there. I just want to ask every guest that comes on to really simplify it for us. So if you had a chance to chat with a couple before they were married, or even it sounds like after they’re married, but let’s stick with before they were married, what is the one thing you would tell them to do specifically about money that would help them successfully stay married, not seek divorce 15 years, 20 years later?

Alice Shikina: I mean, I feel like having that, uh, prenuptial mediation, premarital mediation is critical because, again, as I mentioned, it’s not about how we’re going to split the assets if we get a divorce. It’s about how do we as a family, think about money, right? Where do our values lie? Are our values in alignment? Uh, right. And then you can talk about that and you’re going all about the money, and it will really cement your relationship because you want to make sure that you’re putting yourself on the same path. It doesn’t help if you go into a marriage and don’t realize that your partner, a, has a different value system when it comes to money and two, has a different goal, because then you’re going to struggle. And also, your marriage might end up only having a shelf life of, like, five or ten years because you weren’t in alignment and didn’t realize it until later on.

Jonathan DeYoe: I thought that that might be the answer, but I wanted to ask the question very specifically anyways. But there’s a second half. Right. So what is the one thing that you would tell them to avoid doing?

Alice Shikina: I would say that they really should avoid spending money on things like buying houses or whatever and having no paper tray that leads to a very ugly car crash at the end of the relationship. Right. So don’t buy a house or pay for the mortgage or whatever it is that you’re doing. Or, uh, let’s say you agree that I’m going to be buying groceries and furniture and you’re paying for mortgage. Don’t not have a paper trail. Even if it’s a spreadsheet, put it in a spreadsheet that you’re, like, spending this, uh, whatever the agreement is, have a spreadsheet. Because if you’re trying to unwind 20 years of marriage and there’s been no spreadsheet and no accounting, can you imagine trying to do bookkeeping 20 years in the past when there’s like, a bunch of stuff that you don’t know what happened, but you’re determined to get what you put into it. It’s nightmarish, and it’s going to be nightmarish for you, not for me, the mediator, for you, the person getting a divorce. So I would say, do not go into a business relationship with your spouse and not keep. Right.

Jonathan DeYoe: Uh, I was going to say something to the fact that you use the negative to establish another positive, but I like how you phrased it there at the end to sort of take it all, put it all together. So we’ve talked a long time about avoiding divorce, but I’m assuming that because, as you said, people find this online, someone’s going to Google divorce. They’re going to come across this, they’re not going to be a regular listener, but there’s going to be people that find this conversation that are just seeking information about divorce because they’re thinking about it. So if they haven’t already filed, what should they do to prepare themselves for the process just in case somebody finds this that know leaning towards divorce.

Alice Shikina: I love that you asked that, Jonathan, because I just rolled out a webinar called design your own divorce, and it’s a couple hours long, and it’s for people who are thinking about divorcing. It goes over all the things you sort of have to wrap your brain around. You need to start thinking about. And I have a few modules in there that talk about negotiating. So how to negotiate. So then you get what you want. And it’s not about like, oh, let me get one over on my spouse because I’m going to take this course on negotiation. If you have two strong negotiators, you are more likely to get to a win win than if you have two weak negotiators. Because strong negotiators understand it is about getting to the win win. It is about getting a deal that everyone is happy with. And some people, when they talk about a lot of the teachers of mediation, say, oh, yeah, like a, uh, mediated agreement is one where both sides feel like it’s a lose lose, but you’re able to stomach the lose lose. I am not that kind of a mediator. I am the type who believes that there is a win win. If you believe in it, you just have to dig really hard to find. Right?

Jonathan DeYoe: I’m assuming. I’m hoping that we put all those things hoping. I don’t have to hope. I run this thing. So we’ll put all those links inside the show notes so everyone has access to that. Thank you for that. Just a couple more personal things. What was the last thing you changed your mind about?

Alice Shikina: The last thing that I changed my mind. That’s a good question.

Jonathan DeYoe: People have quite a bit, but I always have to ask it.

Alice Shikina: I know. I’m trying to think what that would be. Wow. I have to think a bit about that. The last thing I changed my mind about. Okay, this goes back a few years, but I’m going to say that the last thing that I changed my mind about was the fact that I went into mediation and started my solo practice. Prior to that, I was really into working at tech startups. I really liked the environment and learning everything, and it was wonderful. It was a really wonderful journey, and I wanted that. And then I got to a point where it wasn’t so much that I didn’t want it, I still wanted it, but my opportunities disappeared. And so that’s when I changed my mind and decided, like, let’s try being an entrepreneur. And it has been a very difficult, yet very rewarding journey for me to get myself to where I am today, where I’m m mediating full time and negotiating and coaching negotiations as well.

Jonathan DeYoe: That’s awesome. I’ve heard answers, like, this morning I was pouring my cereal and I put in blueberries instead of strawberries. I heard answers as simple as that. Or like you’d have shared, like, three years ago, I made a huge decision about my career direction. And so I love it. The second one is not an easier question, so prepare yourself. Can you name a place that you visited that had an impact on who you are today and what was the impact?

Alice Shikina: Yes. So right after college, I moved to what was called Czechoslovakia at the time. So it was a long time ago, and I stayed there for three years. That experience pretty much changed my life. I became fluent in Czech. I began thinking like a czech person, and my entire life view changed in that time. It was a very different time. It was just after communism had fallen and nothing had changed. Like, nothing. It was the same there. And so when I lived there, it felt like I was living in a communist country. And so because of that experience, I’m able to see the world sort of multifaceted because I’m not just looking from one angle. Right. I’m looking from multiple angles. And, yeah. So I do feel like that experience really changed my life and I cherish. Yeah.

Jonathan DeYoe: So tell us how people can connect with you.

Alice Shikina: So they can connect with me either through my website on shakinamediation.com. S-H-I-K-I-N-A is how my name is spelled and okinawan last name. Or they can connect with me on LinkedIn. They can just find me at Alice Shikina And if they need to make an appointment with me, there is a link at my website where they can have a free consult. So I do free consults for people who are wanting mediation. So any, uh, one of your listeners can connect with me and have a phone call with me and I’ll be happy to help them.

Jonathan DeYoe: Sounds good. Alice, I want to say thank you for coming on. This may be, for some audience members, the most important podcast we have recorded. Appreciate the time you’ve spent with us, and I think it’s very valuable content. So just a note to everybody. Make sure that if you’re about to get married to consider and maybe get a prenuptial agreement, we’re going to make sure everything’s in the show notes thank you so much for being our guest.

Alice Shikina: Thank you so much for having me. It was my pleasure, Jonathan.

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