Divorce, Separation, and Finances
Planning is so important in life and business. It's not just for setting goals, but our budgets and daily planning is a very important part of our lives. Each morning I get up, grab my journal and set the course of my day. Financial planning is part of it.
The plan changes because events change. If I look at my budget it is changing because of inflation and economic changes. I have had to make changes to survive. My fees to my clients have had to increase. I don't like raising my fees, but I have had to do it because the economic landscape has changes and continues to change.
I am at the point that I truly feel that the Federal Reserve as no idea what to do. They are not addressing the inflation of the nation issue. The current Whitehouse does not know how to address inflation, instead their policies drive up inflation. So we have a problem. The Wall-Streeter economy is not our personal economy that affects our income levels. You and I live very differently than Wallstreet, we live in the real world.
Each of us are dealing with inflation and we just have to plan for a weaker economy at our level, prepare for an economic hit that can happen anytime. We don't know. but we have to prepare always.
The question is, what is your planning starting to look like? Or are you just ignoring it hoping it will pass? Be honest with that question because it is important.
In my work as a mediator I have couples that come to me for separation and divorce. The biggest dispute is the financial part of their marriage. Thank goodness I am an accountant and can explain where they are at. Debt gets divided, bills get divided. And usually, the debt outweighs the income coming in. Both parties are fighting over their financial issues because that debt should never have happened. But they wanted more and more stuff.
During the big real estate crises that we had a few years ago, the year before the crises my tax clients were out buying homes on stated income home loans. We called them "lie loans". They thought they were buying real estate investment but what they found out they could not afford the monthly payments. The loan was a bad loan to the banks and their home went into foreclosure. Some clients even declared bankruptcy. Real estate fell, clients lost their homes and bankruptcy courts were busy. The very next year my clients came into my office stating they had filed for divorce. The financial pressure got to them, and the marriage was done. They wanted more real estate, they lied about their income, they couldn't afford it, they lost several homes together, and the pressure was too much.
What is the lesson? Your financial life needs daily planning. If you want a healthy marriage and family, you have to plan your financial life. You both have to sit down together and look at your financial situation and begin planning. Divorce happens when your financial side fails. Plan well my friend.
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It's My Way Or The Highway!
I have heard this statement in some form so many times, "it's my way or the highway, we will just go to court". In fact, I heard it yesterday in a mediation. You can go to the negotiation table with options and get a good fair deal, or you can put up a tantrum to get your way and walk out going to court. Costing you much more in legal retainer fees and court costs, and everyone will know your business. Remember, when you go to court your case is a public record and everyone can see it. Having your business out in public can cost you a great deal in reputation.
My way or the highway never works. It makes the other side say, ok, this guy doesn't want to resolve this, he wants to make the conflict even greater and spend money. I am cheap, and I am the first one to admit it. I don't want to spend money and not knowing which direction it can go because once it gets into court you have no idea what the jury will do, or what a judge will do. I am always, thinking, gosh, I just spent $100,000 in legal fees and I could have had a nice boat to do the Great Loop in. That's just me.
I once had a legal case with a client. Personal story now. The client had promised he was going to pay his invoices but never did. I serviced him for three years which added up to a grand total of over $500,000 in fees. We had done a lot of work, we had represented the client on three years of tax audit work, a review of the pay-per-view contracts, and other issues for the client. Three years’ worth of work that took us away from other clients’ needs and finding new clients. You must think about that aspect when you take on clients. I was just a small firm, and one bad apple would spoil the whole bunch - boy. Sorry, that song came to mind.
The legal team on the other side were ruthless, top entertainment lawyers in Los Angeles. My contract with the client had a clause for mediation and arbitration. The opposing counsel tried to avoid mediation and tried to move it to Federal court. We tried to get it moved back into state superior court, which we succeeded in doing, and then went to arbitration - per my contract. Just to get all that done there was a retainer of $45,000. By the time we had done the movements from court to arbitration, the legal bill came to $250,000. Now if we would had gone straight to arbitration the cost would have been about $16,000. The case was easy, it was just about invoices owed for work done and it needed to be paid. And when we went to the table, we had options to show the other side to resolve the issue. Arbitration took 7 days, and it was done. The point from the other side was to do damage to my firm, not to resolve the case and to be fair, but to do damage. Their view was that it was their way or the highway. The highway ended in mediation and arbitration.
Gosh, for that $250,000 I could have had a really nice boat.
Don't be foolish with the highway business. If you are serious about finding a fair way to work things out you will hire a mediator, listen, develop options, negotiate, respond fairly, and come to an agreement. But if you are going to be the highwayman, it never works out well.
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Those Darn Swear Words and Conflict
Many years back I took on a shipping and container company as a client. The owner had bought up several container companies and put them into one and they hired me to consolidate many different operations throughout the world. I loved doing consolidated financials for international companies, there was always a daily challenge and that is what I love. When I first formed my company in Los Angeles in 1984, I took on projects that no one else wanted to do, that is how I built up my firm. The firm later branched out into taxation, healthcare, real estate. But I loved working with international companies. And today I love mediating business disputes with an international issue. It's great fun.
When I took on this new client, they hired a CFO that loved to swear. The F word was in every single sentence. But with the swear words there were berating of people in front of other people. Now this guy was good at what he did, he knew his financial operations of a shipping company. However, he did not know how to deal with people in a professional way. I know, I got many a berating from him in front of other people. Now, I could have sued the company because of his way of dealing with me. You in Human Resources know that this type of hostile workplace environment creates more conflict in your department. People don't know what to do. Where to turn. Who is with them or against them? Productivity slows down, they are afraid to work so they start calling in sick. The conflict spills over into other departments and then you have a situation that if you do not resolve this conflict the company will start losing money and respect. Bad news travels fast, this is a very small world with big ears.
This CFO created conflict. However, the rest of the staff banded together and created a workplace where they supported each other, got things done together. The CFO, was left behind. He was no longer relevant to their jobs. He was in the corner office by himself.
Politics in offices has also started to create conflict in the workplace. Many months ago, I received a request to do a workplace mediation up in Oakland, CA. There were two employees who believed one political belief, and another employee who believed the other way. The two wanted to have the one employee fired. The manager liked all three employee and wanted to have a workplace mediation to resolve the situation. In this situation, I would ask, what is the company's policy on politics in the workplace? What is the policy on disputes and how to handle disputes? But his is a society now that want to scorn other people for not believing the way they think. Names are called, swear words are tossed out at the other person, and then we have a conflict. I read a recent poll on LinkedIn that someone ran that asked a question if politics should be on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a wonderful place to build business relationships and to learn. The poll came back that said the majority said no to politics on Linked in, I think 10% said it was ok. You see politics is not an ethical venue, it never has been, and when it gets mixed into a business it creates conflicts. I digress from the swearing lecture.
Words create conflict, swearing creates conflict, and if we do not think about the ethics of our words, we will create conflict. We have got to think about our words and how we lead. I have noticed that a lot of people talk about civility until someone disagrees with them. One of the quotes that I like is from Davis, "If you're guided by a spirit of transparency, it forces you to operate with a spirit of ethics. Success comes from simplifying complex issues, address problems head on, be truthful and transparent. If you open yourself up to scrutiny, it forces you to be a higher standard. I believe you should deliver on your promise. Promise responsibly." I like the quote because it should apply to our words, how we form them, how we think about them, and to remain free of conflict by using good words that lead.
Swearing most often times creates a string of words that create conflict. Now I know that Mark Twain said, "Let us swear while we may, for in heaven it will not be allowed." Well, if you know swearing will create conflict, start practicing good words before you get to heaven. Conflicts pay a toll and can be resolved through our own actions and worlds. Just my own thoughts.
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Learn and Apply
Before I moved to Florida, I had lived half time in Los Angeles and in Greenville, S.C. I had inherited my mom's home in Pickens, South Carolina. The house was old and needed to be repaired and brought up to standards, it needed a lot of work. New wood floors, electrical work, over grown plants on two acres of land. Two full years of work to get the house ready to sell.
However, I can't just do things simply, do the repairs and sell. As I looked at the home it needed a touch of the south. I sat down with a piece of paper and drafted a southern front porch. It ran from one end of the house to the other. I wanted a tin roof so when the rain came down, I could hear it hit the roof. Everyone, if they live in the house needs a front porch. A front porch is used a lot for visiting with people that just drop by. You have coffee on the front porch in the cool mornings and watch your dog’s get agitated by the squalls that ran up and down the trees. I love a front southern porch. The design was complete and ready to go.
The next step was to hire a contractor to build it, while I had to head back to my office in Los Angeles. I was in the process of closing down my Los Angeles office and move everything out east. All these projects were being done at the same time. Shutting down, packing and moving, and building a southern porch. I have done multiple projects at the same time, so I kept going.
I put out bids to local contractors and no one responded. Not even one returned phone call or email. Luckily, my step brother was out and about and saw a sign on a truck that identified him as a contractor. We me up at the house, got a price and the building begun. Now there is a bad part of the story, the contractor did not know what he was doing, and he built it so bad it could never pass inspection, it was worthless. you would walk across the porch, and it would move. I had to fire him with it half done, the good part is he left all of his tools.
Quickly I studied how to build a porch. Thank goodness for YouTube. I also read Southern Porch on Instagram to get inspired. The whole porch had to be torn down and restarted again. I purchased an auger and started drilling holes into the round, cut rebar, mixed cement by hand, cut wood beams and the rebuild began. I decided to do it myself, with the help of my step brother. Every construction job has problems that you become creative with solutions. We had to get timbers up in the air but had no Crain to do it. We build a device with pullies, and it worked, we got those big timbers up in the air and attached. It worked, and thank goodness my step brother helped me. Two heads are better than one, especially since I am a business guy and not a contractor. Every night I would be on YouTube studying how to build the roof beams to put the tin roof on, then how to attach the tin roof. What kind of paint and stain to use for outdoor weather? Home Depot became my friend, first time I had a contractors account with a store.
It took about two years to get it all done. It is hard to build when you are half in Los Angeles and South Carolina. But it got done and I started to enjoy a southern porch. My lesson with this is that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. I have never built anything myself on a home. I had never worked outside in 100 degree heat with lightning storms and rain. I had never drilled holes into the ground to start a solid foundation for the porch. But I worked the process through and got it done. Which applies to everything, especially in mediation, you work the process through, face the challenges, and get the job done. Same with everything in life. I never knew I could build a southern porch and yet I got it done. Stay focused, address the challenges and find solutions, and just get it done.
You can do whatever you set your mind to. Simple as that.
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Everyday I get up early and start to create the posts that I want to spread out over social media several times a day. I get up, blurry eyed, trying to get my eyes open, and begin writing content, or finding content that I can use. We are always told we have to work on our branding on a daily basis. Get the name out so people know who we are. But to do that we have to develop content that matters to a lot of people. Something meaningful they will remember us by. Now that is a very tough job. Especially at 5:00 a.m. in the morning. It has to be done. To me content is the most important aspect of self promotion and branding, but it has got to be good stuff. Otherwise we swipe.
I have read so many articles on content and how long people stay on your content when scrolling through social media. Now on Instagram I am a fast scroller. I zoom with my thumb swishing through the pictures. Same on Facebook, I zoom They say a person stays on an image for 6 seconds or less before the swipe and go to the next. That means your content has got to be something special. That is a lot of pressure. I am not creative, I am a numbers guy. I mediate business disputes, so my content ends up more of a good feel learning experience and I am hoping you will remember my logo and name. It is a daily process that has to be done. They call it consistency. Everyone has to do it, the baker, the shoe sales person, the cosmetic, the accountant, the attorney, me the mediator. We have to do it because it is called branding
Now I read an article that said, if your web site or content does not attract a reader in the first 15 seconds you have lost them. It is called the "15 second rule". That is more pressure on me every day to get some type of blog, vlog, podcast or post out there several times a day with a different message on it. It is the same process of making that impression in real life meetings in that first few seconds of meeting. Thank goodness in real life people can't swipe us away in person, well some do. I have noticed that when I am on Instagram or twitter, I am a rapid swiper. I don't even think on some posts I am there longer then 3 second. Swipe.
If you are not writing your own content, you should from time to time. Just so you know how important content is. How we write our emails and letter. How we prepare are content for meetings. Our phone conversations. And what we write on social media, all has to be paid attention to. And if you don't understand the process and the importance, then you may be wasting a lot of money paying someone else to do it. Otherwise, swipers like me will just go past you and never engage.
Content has got to lead to some form of engagement. Engagement is the hard part because the content has got to be of interest to the swiper before he swipes. Social media has created the results of a fast society of people who want to get everything right now. The content we are writing and delivering has to deal with this type of thinking. Pictures and sounds have become the donuts to us who swipe. By the way, if there is a picture of a doughnut, I will say a little bit longer before I swipe. I pause for doughnuts. Maybe too much information there. But I think you know what I am getting at, we need to focus on our content more as businesses and professionals. It is hard to do, so let's all post doughnuts for our content and leave it at that.
I use to hate the word "content". In fact I think I did a podcast on it about three years ago on how much I hate the word "content". It was becoming the in-word to say. Everything you read it was about content. However, once I started to produce content I found out, it is hard work to be creative every single day and product quality content that may reach people - or not. All we can do - keep working at it.
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The Meaning Of "Scrub"
When I was consulting in corporate finance and preparing the consolidated financial reports for international companies, I had a practice, at the end of each month I conducted what is called, "The Scrub".
After I had collected all of the financial statements from the world wide locations, sent back questions to the various financial controllers, waited for adjustments, I would then pre-finalize and consolidate the financial reports. Before it went out to management, I would bring in the CFO, Cost Accountant, corporate controller, financial analyst, and we would scrub. Which meant, we went line by line down the financial report. We asked questions, marked up the reports, identifying accruals, and looking at issues and risk. We scrubbed the numbers and the message to put with the numbers.
To this day I still scrub the numbers and documents presented to me in mediation. I scrub the intake forms and their opening statements, the documents provided me to review, and then I form my questions. The better the questions the better the end result for mediation.
The only issue that gets in the way are human emotions. In my re-interview of the parties, I have seen tears, frustration, and great paid. These people have been hurt. If I have scrubbed well, I can have questions directed at the core issues that need to be resolved. Guidance is much easier. Emotions are temporarily put to the side for a short time to reach an agreement. The better prepared you are as the mediator, those in mediation feel they can trust you and feel more relaxed.
When we get to a written agreement I and the parties scrub the agreement one last time together. Based on my experience, I will continue to use the scrub method, because it works for me.
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How To Prepare For Mediation
So you feel you need to mediate a dispute, or maybe a Judge has told you to go to mediation. Now you have to prepare, and it is good to know what to prepare for. Litigation is expensive and can last for a long time. Mediation is a faster way to resolve issues in business and family disputes. Let's talk about what happens in mediation and what you should be prepared for.
Mediation begins by both parties agreeing to mediate. To sit down in joint session, face to face, or now zoom to zoom, and hear each others story and position. The mediator usually gives each side about fifteen minutes, sometimes longer, to give an opening statement. It usually begins with the individual who requested the mediation. The Mediator will take notes, hopefully all parties are taking notes with questions they would like to ask. After you have given your opening statement, the mediator will begin restating what you have said so that everyone understands your opening statement. Then the mediator begins asking questions of both parties and and writing down the most important positions that need to be discussed and negotiated. If you need to talk to the Mediator privately, you may ask to do so, and the discussion will be confidential and only what you ask the mediator to say can be said to the other party. Everything in mediation is confidential, nothing said in mediation can be used in court. After an agreement has been reached, the Mediator will write a Memorandum of Understanding that has everything that was agreed to. You will sign this agreement and it will be given to your attorneys or the court. You now have an agreement that you both have to live by.
How do you prepare for mediation?
1. Focus Only On the Facts Of Your Mediation - stay focused on the issue, do not go off into blaming or pointing of finger, focus on the meat of your issues. Present the issues that are important to you, you may even have a strategy to resolve the issue that you can put on the table for discussion. Take each issue at a time,. Know your facts
2. Be Ready To Put An Offer On the Table - It has been proven that the first individual that puts an offer on the table tends to be happier with the final settlement reached in mediation with the other party. So as you are preparing your opening statements, list on paper your options you would like to present.
3. Do A Reality Check On Your Agenda - I would suggest you consult with an attorney, what would happen if you went to court in litigation? Are your options better in mediation. When you get to mediation factor in the legal advice you got from your attorney into your decisions on the settlement process that you will be discussing.
4. Review The Costs of Litigation - Get a cost estimate of what litigation is going to cost you and then compare it to the cost of mediation.
5. Communicate Clearly In Mediation - Many times parties will let their attorneys, if they decide to use one in mediation, do the opening statement and speak for the client. I as a mediator really like to hear from the party in their own voice. Many times the voice of the party is more powerful then the attorney. Don't be afraid to speak.
6. Know Your Finances - If you are going to commit to an agreement in mediation, and you know you will have to make a payment, make sure you know your finances, be honest about your finances so that the mediation can consider other options. If you can fund it, go to the mediation with proof that you can fund it yourself. Also, make sure you have the authority to make a settlement agreement.
7. Face to Face - remember, you will be face to face with your counterpart in the mediation. Do not be afraid, do not be uncomfortable, just prepare yourself and you will be ok. If you feel you are being intermediated, the Mediator can place you in another room and they can talk you through the process and you tell the mediator what you would like to say.
8. Your Position - As you are preparing for mediation, sit down and write down how you want to present your position. Know your story, know your facts, and do not stray from that. Stay on point. Be prepared.
9. Confidentiality Of The Mediator - All of your discussions with the Mediator will be completely confidential. No conversation can be reveled to the other side. You can confide in your Mediator and you can use the Mediator as a sounding board for your ideas about how to find a settlement.
10. The Mediator - This should have been number one, but find a mediator that has the experience in the issues you may be going into mediation. There are mediators out there that are attorneys, accountants, business owners, engineers, etc. Find a mediator that has the professional background in your area of need. Contractors should find people with construction background, etc. Also remember, Attorneys are not allowed to practice law in mediation. In other words they can't provide you with legal advice in mediation, they can point you in the right direction, but they are not representing either side, they are an impartial individual. If you need legal advice, consult with an attorney.
I hope that helps you understand the process and the needs of mediation. Mediation has a very high success rate of getting parties to the table and resolving conflicts and disputes. Work with a mediator.
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We Have Options
This week I will have been in Florida for two full years. From Los Angeles to South Carolina, and finally to Florida. South Carolina was a short stint to finish a home rehab project that I inherited. Florida has been an interesting place to live, even during the shutdown of Covid. Can you imagine moving to a new place and then being locked down and putting life on hold.
This past week I was looking at my mediation cases for the past two years. I have only had one business mediation in Florida. The other mediation session have been from California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, Washington D.C., Texas, New Mexico, Connecticut, Iowa, Colorado, and a couple of other states. But only one in the state that I live in, which also included Brazil as the other party.
Which means, I could live anywhere and still do what I love to do. I could live on a boat and do the great loop. I could live in the Cayman Islands tax free. Live on Vashon Island in the Pacific Northwest. In other words, if I have a good internet connection I am in business and I am able to conduct a virtual mediation anywhere in the world? How about the coast of France? Just thinking out loud.
However, I do miss being in the office and working with people face to face. On the other hand I have options. Before covid the option was only to be in the office, now my profession is open and moveable. I believe that virtual mediation has made the mediation process better, more organized by all parties. Zoom meetings are great when trying to mediate, even in business. I love the process of a zoom mediation session. We have the technology to be anywhere in the world and still do our work.
Maybe the great loop is an option? Just thinking out loud. Everyone have a great day and know you have options. - Michael Lodge, NCPM, Certified Mediator
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Grandparents And The Missed Cookies
When I was a child, I loved my grandparents. When the family got together there were laughs and a lot of pranks. I could always make my Grandmother laugh. The time spent with my Grandparents was a blessing, we all fought for the time to be with them. I will always remember the good and the bad times spent with them.
Several times in 2020, and into 2021, I have been asked to mediate reconciliations of grandparents with their Grandchildren. Their children had cut them off from seeing their children, Grandchildren. Parents using their children as a game piece to hurt their parents. This cut in relationships is usually from something done in the past that should have been taken care of through just talking it through. Resolving the issue. But egos get involved, words and actions go out of control, and a response to cut off relationships start. A mediator is asked for. However, hearts have become so hard by this time that mediation can't even begin.
When a dispute or conflict begins, mediate it quickly before it grows and gets out of hand. Often families need mediation to resolve these differences, misunderstandings, or other issue that may have started the dispute. But cutting ties with a Grandchild to hurt someone else is just mean. If abuse has happened, that is another story. However, most of the time the dispute started from something small that could have been resolved. Sometimes, we humans just never grow up, do we?
I love this quote, "What children need most are the essentials that Grandparents provide abundance. They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humor, comfort, lessons in life. And most importantly, cookies." - Rudolph Giuliani
Don't miss out on the cookies. If you have a dispute with your child that has blocked you seeing your Grandchildren. Hire a mediator and resolve the issues before time passes by and all the cookies are gone.
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It's About Faith!
There I said it. I claim it. Over the past few days I have been really thinking about my faith. This morning in my personal meditation time I focused and prayed for guidance on my faith. I found this quote that I want to share with you, it says:
"You're designed to be heard by God. Don't believe the lie that he's not listening when you speak."
When you are on your own, sometimes creepy doubt roles in. Faith weakens. In my personal life I handle all of my personal problems on my own. I live single. I work single. My problems are my own to work on. However, as a human, I tend to forget to look up and have a conversation. My faith gets misplaced with the human side of life. I hen have these conversations with myself, but they are about doubt instead of faith. Then I get a message - where is your faith? I use this question a lot when counseling people on their lives, but there is that time when I have to ask myself the same question. Where is my faith? Then I have to find the answer by looking up.
I find that in business, faith is vital to get you through the up and downs. Tough times are just an event that does end. But faith gives you that extra kick of wisdom that you need. Faith gives you the energy to make it through anything. Faith is not ignorant of our daily needs and the ability to work it through. Faith is needed and he is listening to you speak.
Journal your life, journal your faith. Journal your blessings.
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Every Business Has Risk - Identify It
Conflict comes when you do not even think it could ever happen. When I had my firm (business tax and advisory firm) in Los Angeles, conflict came with bad clients. My staff wanted me to take on a high-profile sports figure, I said no. I did not want to take on a risky client that had a reputation of bad people that surrounded him. Some awfully bad people. The staff wanted me to take him on even without a client agreement. I lost it, they wanted me to take on the risk just so they would have the status of this client. I only saw risk, no profit, and later I was right.
I told them no contact – no service. I wrote a detailed client contract to protect my firm. Funny thing, the client signed the contract, and the ink was not even dry, and the conflicts and disputes started. His team that surrounds him began threatening my firm. One evening I took a member of the Press from the country he was from to dinner. I left my car at the hotel and when I got back – every single window of the car had been smashed out. A clear warning from member of his team. Do not mess with their tax and money they were getting from my client. I saw that those around him were taking money away from my client on their own projects. The people that surrounded him smelled money and they wanted it, no matter what or who they had to harm. Dirty business.
The more we worked with the client the larger the risk became. The threats grew. During this three-year contract he never once paid. I had enough and I have to litigate through arbitration to collect the fees owed. If I had not had a strong client contract in place, identified there was risk, we probably would have lost everything. We were able to settle through arbitration. Identify risk in every client and protect yourself.
When you have a business, you will have risk. Protect your business, know there is risk and make sure your operations have strong legal contracts, operating procedures, review process, and you document everything. Mediate and arbitrate your disputes and conflicts. Based on my experience, the mediation and arbitration language saved my business. Look at risk with every client you take on and hire a mediator to help resolve the disputes before they become very costly. The longer you let a dispute grow the more expensive it becomes. Identify risk. Protect your business. - Michael Lodge, NCPM
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Michael Lodge is a Nationally Certified Professional Mediator specializing in business disputes, as well as family conflicts. He has written three books and hosts an international podcast on IHeartRadio and other podcast media stations.