Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Hope Springs Eternal

I thought I was trying a case today and tomorrow.  I thought there was no way to settle it.  This case had gone on for 4 years, almost without abatement.  The parents have been caught in a cycle of pain and disappointment.  One is trying their darndest to break the cycle; the other is too hurt to move beyond the pain.  Their child is suffering mightily.  My client thought there was no hope of moving forward and had no choice but to ask the court to make a choice between the two parents.  It wasn't what she wanted, but without cooperation from the other parent, it was what she had to do.  At the last minute, we were able to resolve the dispute.  Is the resolution perfect?  No.  Is it possible everything we put into place to help these parents move forward might fall apart?  Yes. Might they never get out of their cycle?  Possibly.  Sometimes, there is no happily ever after.  Sometimes, you do the best you can and hope for the best.  If they can adhere to the consent order we entered today, there is hope for this family and for their child.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

What I hope for them is that they retain the optimism they had today.  We were fortunate that the judge insisted that even though we had a signed agreement, the parents nonetheless come before him so he could ensure that they understood their undertaking and its importance.  The judge did a masterful job.  He asked each parent questions about their son that made them smile.  He talked to each of them about the struggles their son was enduring; he opined that parental conflict probably made those problems worse. He asked them about the terms of the agreement and made sure they understood their undertaking.  He warned them about what would likely happen if they failed to obey the order they were entering.  He made them smile and he made them tear up.  I hope he caused them to soberly reflect.  They left the courtroom a little lighter and with some hope.  I wish for them that the actions they take justify that hope.  Here in the Trenches.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Trial Tuesday - Watch Your Ps and Qs in Court

There was a time in my life (and I know this is going to make me sound old) when, if you told someone to dress like they were going to church, or like they were going to travel, or they were going to work, you knew they would be dressed appropriately for court.  You knew that the men would be wearing dress slacks and either a button down shirt or a polo, and the women would be wearing nice slacks or a skirt with a blouse.  If you were lucky, the men would come in a tie and the women would wear a dress.  Back in the old days, we knew that the way you dressed when you showed up demonstrated the respect you had for the institution.  Those days are gone.  Mother lives near our local Catholic Church, and I am often running by there as folks are arriving for mass.  The way they dress appalls me:  cutoffs and bikini tops (it is Florida), jean shorts, "distressed" jeans, running clothes., and the like.  When I travel, I see folks dressed in their pajamas.  So now, instead of just telling clients to dress like they're going to church or work, I have to spell it out.  Oh, I know, everyone dresses down these days.  Not in court when you're my client.  Shorts and sandals?  Heavens no, especially not for men.  Momma told me you only get one chance to make a first impression.  If you don't think the judges notice what you wear and decide whether it's appropriate, please think again.  If you don't think that what you look like in the courtroom influences how the judge sees your case, please think again.

While we're on that subject, don't ever think the judge doesn't notice what's going on in their courtroom.  Sure, they may look like they are intent on the witness in the witness box.  That doesn't mean they don't notice you rolling your eyes, or mouthing "liar", or taking and receiving texts (yes, all those things have happened).  Judges are like your momma - they have eyes in the back of their heads, they can see through closed eyelids, they hear that mutter under your breath that you thought no one heard.  One of the reasons that it is so darned difficult to overturn a judge's decision on appeal is that the appellate court defers to the individual who had, not only the opportunity to hear the evidence, but also the ability to observe the witnesses and assess the demeanor of the litigants in their courtroom and on the stand.  Don't believe me?  Read about 100 published appellate opinions and I guarantee you will, because that's what they say.  There are so many ways to win or lose a case.  Why would you let how you look and how you behave, instead of the facts, determine the outcome of your case?  Just my $.02.  Here in the Trenches.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Wednesday Workings - Why Your Financial Statement is Important

One of the first documents I ask clients to prepare here in the Trenches is their financial statement.  "What is a financial statement," you ask?  Simply put, it's a budget.  You know, one of those things we're told every household should prepare and use, but almost none of them do....until you're getting a divorce.  Then, it's one of those documents that you are required to file with the court.  Preparing one of these financial statements is a daunting task, as in most jurisdictions it is 8 or so pages long.   Lots of clients try to half-ass it and guesstimate the dollar figures.  In my office, that doesn't fly.  I've been in the Trenches for almost thirty years, and I've seen hundreds of financial statements.  I know what numbers look reasonable and what don't (just a hint - any financial statement in which all the entries end in zero or five don't pass muster).

Oh, I hear you saying that it's just a stupid form, so why put any effort into it?  Well, because it's not just a stupid form.  It is perhaps one of the most important documents you'll create.  How can I know how much alimony you'll need, if I don't know your expenses?  How can I know how much alimony you can afford to pay if I don't know your expenses?  You want to keep the house?  Terrific, but can you afford it?  The financial statement lets me know.  Were you and your spouse living beyond your means and we need to talk about more realistic expectations for the future?  Will you be able to add to your retirement, post divorce?  Yup, all things the financial statement tells me - if you put the effort into it to do it right.  Otherwise, you're right, it's just a form.

So, get out your checkbook, your credit card statements, your bank statements.  Take a look at your historic spending.  Think you'll need to move?  Look into housing costs where you might want to live.  Is your car on its last legs?  Look into the cost of car payments for a newer one.  Footnote the heck out of your financial statement.  Be as accurate as possible.  Help me to help you.  Here in the Trenches.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Monday Meditations - I'm Back....Really

I'm back...really this time.  I was getting pretty burned out over this blog, and all of the mishegas over the election and its aftermath was just overwhelming.  I can always count on the Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend to get me back on track.  I'm trying a new format, so we'll see how this works.

This year's Princess was odd.  Daughter's best friend decided that weekend was a great one for her wedding, plus Daughter badly sprained her wrist, so Daughter didn't run.  My Cousin broke out in a full body of hives, so she didn't run either.  That just left me.  Which made for a different kind of race weekend.  You see, as I've told you before, Daughter hates to run.  Disney staggers the starts of their races according to how fast they think you are going to finish.  You let them know your speed by providing a finish time for a comparable race.  The only two races Daughter usually runs in a year are the Princess 10K and the half marathon.  What happens is that she runs all out during the 10k, so she'll have a good starting position for next year.  That means we stop for almost no photo opportunities and we run hard.  Because she doesn't normally run, the next day, she's sore, so we don't stop much during the half marathon because she's worried she won't be able to finish.  We have fun because we're together,  but sometimes I don't feel like we get the full experience.

I always run a race for time during the year, just to see what starting position Disney will give me, and so I can see how well I'm training.  My starting position is usually pretty good (which tells you not how fast I run, but how slow everyone else is).  This year was no different.  I ran easy.  I stopped for lots of photo opportunities.  I chatted with other runners.  I had a different kind of fun.  Because Daughter missed this year, she needs another race during the year for a Disney starting position.  We're going to see if we can push her in that race so she can have the same kind of experience I had this year - and we can have it together.

Oh right, the Trenches.  What does this have to do with the Trenches?  C'mon, it hasn't been THAT long since I've written.  Process determines outcome, both in the Trenches and beyond.  What determines process are your goals.  Daughter runs our races a certain way because of the outcome she needs.  I run my way because I have a different desired outcome.  One client can mediate, while another has to litigate.  A client could mediate but chooses to collaborate.  Each process requires different things from the client and the lawyer, and so some are not suited to given clients or lawyers because of their needs or their goals (or the behavior or needs of the other party).  Each process resolves the dispute, but does it in different ways, and those ways provide very different experiences. The first decision for any client is just like for my Daughter and me - what kind of race/process do you  want or need?  That choice determines the experience.  Here in the Trenches.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Divorces and the Election - The Number of Letters in the Words is Not the Only SImilarity

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."  This quotation by George Santayana has taken many forms throughout the years and been attributed to many.  It feels particularly apropos right now.  No, this is not going to be a political commentary.  That's not what this blog is about.  This blog is about my personal observations and their relation to the Trenches.  I have to tell you that since the election, I've had a difficult time focusing on this blog, not because I didn't have anything to say, but rather because I could not order my thoughts in order to fit them into this blog.

The reason the opening quotation to this post is so apt is because the words are so subjective.  What is the past to which we refer?  Is it the past of slavery, segregation, Japanese internment camps, and concentration camps?  Is it the past where the only people with votes were white landowning males?  Is it the the past of abolition and of women's rights?  Is it the past of integration and civil rights?  Is it the past of non-partisan politics?  Is it the past of the forces which led to the Great Depression?  Is it the past of the creation of Social Security and Medicare/ Medicaid?  Is it the past of the nuclear family; or the demise of it?  Is it the rise of corporate farming and genetically engineered food; or the lack of sufficient food for all?  Is it the past of global inclusion or the past of isolationism?  Is it the conditions that led to climate change?  Is it the denial of global climate change?  Go out on the street corner and ask any ten people to define the "past" in the Santayana quotation, and I'll bet you'll get at least 5 different answers.

Here in the Trenches, everyone has their own version of the past.  Was the past when he cheated?  Or was the past when she criticized everything he did for years?  Was the past when she ran up the credit cards?  Or was it when he stopped putting enough money in the bank to pay for household expenses? Was the past when they agreed one of them would stay home to raise the kids?  Or was the past when the stay at home parent refused to go back to work?  In the end of any marriage, the spouses almost never agree on the defining moment for the beginning of that end.

This presidential election has caused a lot of people to question everything they thought they knew about America.  Those people are confused that the country in which they thought they were living isn't the country that the election results indicated.  The same kinds of feelings come with the end of a marriage.  Sure, there are some divorces in which both parties agree that they need to part and why.  With most, however, the behavior of one spouse leading up to their separation leaves the other wondering how they could have known their spouse so little.  I can't tell you how many times a client tells me that their marriage was great and the divorce came out of the blue.  I wish I had a nickel for every time a client told me that they didn't understand how their spouse could do "x", because it wasn't like them.

That other people in my society have different views than I about from which past we need to learn, which in turn leads to actions that are not in keeping with my belief about the tolerance and inclusion of the American people, is causing me a lot of stress.  The same is true of our clients who discover that the marriage that they thought they had and the spouse they thought they married are not in keeping with objective facts.  What I am describing is cognitive dissonance.  Humans don't like cognitive dissonance; it's stressful.  Our entire country in general and my clients in particular suffer from this stress.

What to do to reduce that stress? You can do any one of four things. You could change your cognition.  In my case, it would be to see America as it is and not how I thought it to be.  You could justify the cognition by changing the conflict.  In my case, again, it would be that people like me live in the America I see, and those who don't agree with me are simply not as educated.  You could justify the belief by adding new pieces to it.  Again, in my case, it would be to acknowledge that America isn't as I thought it to be, but come up with ways I could make it the way I thought it was.  Finally, you could ignore any information that conflicts with your belief.  I find that last one is really unhelpful, yet it seems to be the one many Americans and my clients choose.  Kind of like an ostrich sticking their head in the sand; the problem is still there when you emerge.  Which stress reduction method would you choose?  Here in the Trenches.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Regaining Control

I moved into the Frederick office three years ago.  My contractor set up the office so I could install rope lighting in the soffit area of all the rooms in the office except the copy room and bathroom.  Then, he didn't install it.  A year ago, I installed the lighting in the conference room.  It looked great.  I ran the rope lighting in my office, but didn't finish it up.  So, for the last two years, the view from my desk was two coils of rope lighting and cords in my bookcase.  It annoyed me every day.  Today, we had office cleanup day. We closed and destroyed files, and installed the rope lighting in my office and the other office.  I am ridiculously happy.  I mean it - ridiculously happy.  Such a little thing, just an hour of work, and I am thrilled.  Now, about the hood emblem that was taken off my car.....

Life is all about what you will tolerate and what you won't.  Most people tolerate a lot of things in their marriage.  That's part of living with another person.  When the marriage is going well, it's no big deal to tolerate imperfections or different ways of doing things.  When a marriage is ending, all those little things are major annoyances.  Then, when a couple separates, things are usually not just as perfect as either of them wants - more tolerations.  

This is what I want you to do. Make a list of all the things that aren't as you want, but that you're tolerating.  It will be a very long list, trust me.  Some of them will be big and others will be small.  Now, get to work getting rid of them, one at a time.  When you're here in the Trenches, you have no control over whether you're getting a divorce, you may be in a process which gives you no control, and your life is changing in unexpected ways.  Here's a place you can exercise some control.  It will make you feel better, and make all the rest of the things you can't control tolerable.  Trust me.  Give it a try.  Here in the Trenches.