Saturday, November 30, 2019

An Informed Consumer : The Successful DIvorce Client

What kind of car do you own?  Is it a Kia?  Is it a Hyundai?  Maybe a Mercedes?  What about a Tesla?  Why does any of this matter? They're all just cars, right?  Wrong.  You may think you're just buying a car, but you're not.  You're buying a statement of who you are.  You are buying an experience.  It just happens to look like a car.  The people who think Kias are cool cars are not the people who would always buy a Mercedes.  The folks who drive Teslas are not the ones who buy Hyundais. Mercedes screams luxury and wealth.  Tesla says you're cutting edge as well as environmentally friendly.  Kias are cute but utilitarian cars.  Hyundais are for folks who want a little luxury but not the luxury price tag.  Sales people know this.  They sell the image and the experience that goes with it.  Check out the showrooms for the different car brands if you don't believe me.

Lawyers think they sell legal knowledge.  They think they sell legal expertise.  They think they sell their courtroom experience.  They're wrong.  They sell the process itself.

Most clients assume competence.  You heard me, they assume competence.  That means all the things lawyers think clients are looking for, they assume we already have.  They come into our offices assuming that we know how to solve their problem.  They trust that we know the best way to do that. Here’s what they don’t know.

There are 5 possible processes that a client can use to resolve their problems in the Trenches:  kitchen table negotiations, mediation, collaborative practice, lawyer-to-lawyer negotiation and litigation.  As lawyers, we have an ethical duty to make sure our clients exercise informed consent over which process works for them.  That means we have to describe in detail all 5 processes.  The difficulty is that every lawyer has a preference for process.  Just like the Tesla dealer isn’t going to tell the customer that a Prius is also environmentally friendly at a much lower price tag, or a Mercedes dealer won’t talk about how luxurious a Hyundai Genesis is, so a lawyer who likes to litigate is going to skew toward emphasizing litigation over mediation.  Those same lawyers will downplay the value of collaborative practice.  Likewise, lawyers who love collaborative practice will emphasize the benefits of that process over litigation or mediation.  Clients trust us, so they follow our lead about the choice of process and rarely ask questions.  That might be a mistake, because process determines outcome.  Each of these processes has a different result in terms of experience, cost, future relationship, and even outcome.  Just like there is a type of car for every type of person, there is a type of process that is appropriate for every family.

What does all of this mean for clients?  It means that, just as with everything else, clients need to be well-informed consumers.  Lawyers need to be in less of a rush to suggest process, and educate clients of their process options.  Clients need to insist on being fully informed on the choice of process, which includes the pros and the cons in an even-handed way.  Often, lawyers are afraid to spend an entire appointment doing this important education piece because they don’t think a client would find value in a meeting in which they do not come away with “legal advice” about their problem.  To be sure, there are clients who simply want a solution to their problem and aren’t interested in process choice.  Most of those folks don’t read this blog.  Most clients are completely unaware that their choice of process determines their outcome; once they do, once they know they have a choice as to how they move forward, these clients see that a discussion of process choice is the most important discussion they will have in their family law case.  For them, a discussion of process choice is legal advice.  Most clients are thrilled to know they are not forced to fit their experience into one type of process because they want at least some control over their future.

What kinds of questions should the client ask for each process?  Here are a few:

1.  How much control would I have over the outcome?  Who makes the ultimate decisions?
2.  How much would I be required to participate?
3.  What is the lawyer’s role?  Are there differences in confidentiality and information sharing in the processes?
4.  What if I have trouble communicating to the other party?
5.  How do we gather necessary information?  How can we be sure we have it all?
6.  What happens if the other party isn’t being honest?
7.  Why would I choose one process over another?
8.  What might happen after the end of our case?  What is the likelihood of future issues?  What is the likelihood of resolving future issues?
9.  How does this process help me reach my goals for the future?
10.  What is the lawyer’s preferred method of dispute resolution?  Do they practice all of the processes, or just some?  Why is that - what is their philosophy?  How comfortable are they in each method?
11.  How quickly can each process resolve our issues?
12.  What is the range of costs for each process?  What drives the cost for each process?
13.  How are decisions made in each process?

Know what you’re buying and be an informed consumer.  Here in the Trenches.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Heat Adapting Your divorce

I run outside year-round.  I run in the beautiful weather of spring and fall.  I run in the heat of summer.  I run in the cold of winter. I love running in the cold or cooler weather.  When you run in the cold, the pace planned is the pace you run.  There's no humidity to stress your lungs.  Sure, it's cold, but you can warm the air you breathe.  There are no adjustments to pace.  Unfortunately, most of my races are in the Florida heat, because I run Disney. Running in the cold doesn't prepare you for running in the heat.  The humidity makes the air heavy.  It's harder to breathe.  Your legs feel heavier.  In the heat, you have adjust your pace.  You slow down.  Even your speed workouts are slower.  Otherwise, you'd probably end up with heat stroke.  Even though I would much prefer to run in the milder weather, or even the cold, I have to run in the heat in order to prepare for my races.  Otherwise, I could never finish any of my Florida races, let alone being successful in them. My coaches know this and help me heat adapt and adjust.  I couldn't do it without them.

Most people live their lives in the beautiful weather of spring and fall.  Sometimes, things get a little cold, but it always goes back to spring and fall.  Except when it doesn't.  Except when they end up in the Trenches.  Then, it's perpetual summer.  Lots of folks don't take that into account.  They certainly aren't prepared for it.  It requires a whole different set of skills.  They need to pace themselves differently.  They don't know how.  They need help.  Those of us who work in the Trenches, the lawyers, the therapists, the financial professionals, all know how to help people pace themselves while they are in the Trenches.  That's what we do.  It's how our clients successfully move successfully through their divorce and custody case and rebuild their lives in a different way.  Here in the Trenches.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Talking About What Matters - The Wound That Heals

Family comes in all shapes and sizes.  Some family, you're born with; some people become family.  Twelve years ago, I became part of a group of people who joined together to teach Collaborative Practice to other professionals.  We were, and are, an interesting group of people.  These folks are amazing.  They are some of the smartest, deepest thinking people I know.  You should see the amazing trainings these folks create - they take your breath away.  OK, I also had a role in creating one or two trainings, but every group of smart folks needs a worker bee like me.

When we started as a group, we had plenty of growing pains.  It looks us all a while to let down our guards (OK, it took me a while to do that).  We got to know each other gradually, over the course of quarterly meetings over the years and multi-day trainings where we ate breakfast, lunch and dinner together.  We became friends and then a family of sorts.  Unfortunately, as wonderful and supportive family can be, it can also be a little bit dysfunctional.

Here's the deal with family.  Over time, the members stop putting the effort into the relationship like they did in the early days. The members forget to tell each other how they feel.  They forget to tell them how much they appreciate them.  They stop talking about the things that matter.  They say thoughtless things that hurt.  The wounded party doesn't feel they can say how they feel and why.  What happens next is that everyone develops their own internal dialogue about the relationship in which they make assumptions about everyone's motivations.  Those assumptions are almost always wrong, but because no one is talking about what matters, the wound festers. Sometimes, that wound is fatal to the relationship when it isn't debrided, cleaned and exposed to the air.

You would think that when a relationship is important enough, people would do anything to repair it. If you ask most people, that's what they would tell you. The problem is that debriding a wound is uncomfortable, painful even.  It also makes them vulnerable.  People don't love pain and they avoid vulnerability at almost all costs.  They especially don't love experiencing it willingly.  So, they avoid it, even if it means a relationship dies.  We see it all the time in the Trenches.  We've had a little bit of that in our training group.  Even though we're collaborative professionals, we're still people, and sometimes we forget to talk about the things that matter too, and recently we discovered that there were things we should have talked about and feelings we should have acknowledged, but didn't.

Once a family gets to that point, they need help to talk about the things that matter.  Most of the time, when they come into the Trenches, they don't get that help.  Instead, the professionals involved erect more walls, create more distance and reopen old wounds.  The family relationship gets worse and not better.  Of course, the family still has to interact, so that's not helpful.  Or perhaps, they decide to no longer interact, ending the relationship, and that's not helpful either.  What if, when a family came into the Trenches, all of the professionals were committed to helping them communicate, to say what needs to be said, and to find a way through the hurt, misunderstandings and move forward with a better relationship into the future?  What if those professionals guided them to reconnect with their common purpose and goals, instead of focusing on the things that drove them apart?  The family would stay together, probably not in the same house, but they would be able to be there to support each other as they move on their separate paths.  That's Collaborative Practice.  So much better than drawing battle lines and staying in armed camps.  It's what our training group is doing with each other because our relationship matters.  Here in the Trenches.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Sometimes, It's Enough to Just Get Out of Bed

After over two years of sinus infections (OK, maybe just the same sinus infection I never overcame), visits to the naturopath, the acupuncturist, the Chinese herbalist, the immunologist,  and the ENT, I finally had sinus surgery 10 days ago.  It was major surgery - general anesthesia and overnight hospital stay.  The blessing and the curse was that I have had no pain. The other interesting thing about may surgery is that it's invisible to the naked eye - no one but me and my surgeon can tell I've had it done, unless I tell you.  Because I have no pain, I think I should be doing better than I am.  Because I can't see a scar, I think the surgery wasn't so serious.  I feel like I should be able to go to work, walk a few miles, do some shopping and housekeeping, and still feel fine.  The reality is I work half a day and need a nap.  I walk a mile or two and lie down for a couple of hours.  I do some housecleaning and have to be careful not to lift anything over 5 pounds, or I feel awful from the strain and I need another nap.  I have to keep reminding myself to cut myself some slack, because, after all, I just had major surgery.  It's hard to remember, but thankfully my body reminds

Grief is a lot like my sinuses.  It's invisible to the naked eye.  Unless the grieving person tells you, or are otherwise aware of the circumstances, you may never know they grieve.  Some days, grief is overwhelming.  Other days, you forget it's there....until it reminds you.  The problem with grief is its invisibility.  Others can't see it either and because they're not experiencing it, they forget it's there too.    After time, you figure you should be feeling better; other people figure you should be feeling better.  Funny thing about "should", all it adds is stress.  Just like my post-op self will feel better when I heal,  you will stop grieving when it's time, and not before.  That may mean never, or that may mean tomorrow.  You can't rush the grieving process.  Here in the Trenches.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Resilience - Not a Dirty Word

Image Credits
Creator:Timothy L. Hale
Credit:U.S. Army Reserve Command

Copyright:Public Domain

Resilience. It can be a good thing.  I know, at least in one of the counties where I try cases, “resilient” is a bad word when it comes to children. I beg to differ.  Resilience is defined by our good friends at Merrimack-Webster as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.”  We, of course, don’t want our children exposed to high conflict situations, but it happens, even in intact families.  Even as we don’t want our children to experience adversity, without it a child doesn’t learn how to deal with it or with change.  Most of us would rather our children are exposed to little disappointments in order to become resilient, but that doesn’t always happen; sometimes big and ugly things are on the horizon.  I think we do children a disservice when we don’t teach them resilience, because then they do not become resilient adults.

Resilient adults make good clients Here in the Trenches.  Their minds have a plasticity that allows them to roll with the punches.  They don’t play the helpless victim; they work on strategies to try to solve their own problems.  They know that their time in the Trenches is finite and that there’s a different tomorrow once they leave us.  Not all of my clients are resilient.

Of course, that raises a whole different question, why is it that some people thrive through adversity (and are resilient), and some do not?  Why do two people exposed to the same situation internalize it differently?  I don’t know.  What do those people who thrive have that others don't?  If you aren't naturally resilient, is there any hope of change?

Luckily, the folks at the Mayo Clinic think you can improve your resilience.  Here are their tips:

Tips to improve your resilience

Working on your mental well-being is just as important as working on your physical health. If you want to strengthen your resilience, try these tips:
  • Get connected. Build strong, positive relationships with family and friends, who provide support and acceptance. Volunteer, get involved in your community, or join a faith or spiritual community.
  • Find meaning. Develop a sense of purpose for your life. Having something meaningful to focus on can help you share emotions, feel gratitude and experience an enhanced sense of well-being.
  • Start laughing. Finding humor in stressful situations doesn't mean you're in denial. Humor is a helpful coping mechanism. If you can't find any humor in a situation, turn to other sources for a laugh, such as a funny book or movie.
  • Learn from experience. Think back on how you've coped with hardships in the past. Build on skills and strategies that helped you through the rough times, and don't repeat those that didn't help.
  • Remain hopeful. You can't change what's happened in the past, but you can always look toward the future. Find something in each day that signals a change for the better. Expect good results.
  • Take care of yourself. Tend to your own needs and feelings, both physically and emotionally. This includes participating in activities and hobbies you enjoy, exercising regularly, getting plenty of sleep and eating well.
  • Keep a journal. Write about your experiences, thoughts and feelings. Journaling can help you experience strong emotions you may otherwise be afraid to unleash. It also can help you see situations in a new way and help you identify patterns in your behavior and reactions.
  • Accept and anticipate change. Expecting changes to occur makes it easier to adapt to them, tolerate them and even welcome them. With practice, you can learn to be more flexible and not view change with as much anxiety.
  • Work toward a goal. Do something every day that gives you a sense of accomplishment. Even small, everyday goals are important. Having goals helps you look toward the future.
  • Take action. Don't just wish your problems would go away or try to ignore them. Instead, figure out what needs to be done, make a plan and take action.
  • Maintain perspective. Look at your situation in the larger context of your own life and of the world. Keep a long-term perspective and know that your situation can improve if you actively work at it.
  • Practice stress management and relaxation techniques.Restore an inner sense of peace and calm by practicing such stress-management and relaxation techniques as yoga, meditation, deep breathing, visualization, imagery, prayer or muscle relaxation.
You can become more resilient, and as you do, you are modeling resilience for your children. Children need that every bit as much as they need you to model appropriate conflict resolution.  Take care of yourself. Take care of children.  If you do, you will spend less time and money with me and be more satisfied moving you life forward.  Here in the Trenches.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Cheater, Cheater?

A friend of mine reposted the above photo on her FB wall the other day.  It prompted a lively debate. Some people posted that if you were planning a surprise for your partner, you might delete messages. OK, they have a point, but we all know that’s not what the statement in the photo is about.  To me the operative words are “gotta delete.”  I can think of reasons why I might want to delete messages, for example if I said something unflattering about my partner to another person in a fit of pique at them.  Of course that I couldn’t say whatever I wrote to my partner and that I shared our private business with a third party (who is not my therapist) are entirely other issues, but again, not the point of the statement in the picture.

An individual posted that the statement is  “wrong! They can be harmless but ppl get mad over nothing.  Avoiding a fight is not cheating.”  This person is correct that it’s not cheating.  It’s not.  That said, that you feel you “gotta delete” texts is a huge red flag.  When you have to edit what you say to ward off a pointless fight, that’s a sign of an unhealthy relationship and coercive control.  When your partner is “super jealous,” that is an example of a incomplete emotional development, and again, many times an excuse utilized to exercise coercive control.  This person went on to say that “you know how young men are.”  Uh, no.  My son is a young man, and I would be concerned beyond belief if he engaged in this type of behavior.  I’d be asking whether he had a concrete, articulable reason not to trust his partner, and if not, I’d strongly suggest therapy. That type of behavior is not just boys being boys - it is never excusable.  Staying with someone who acts in this way is also a sign of a need for therapeutic intervention.

Let’s look back at the statement in the picture.  I would add to it that if you delete your call history, talk to someone only in the wee hours of the morning or when your partner isn’t around, you’re already there.  Here in the Trenches what we see time and again are physical affairs that occur after long periods of heavy secret communications.  I understand that you are entitled to have private communications with other people.  Heck, we all are and we do.  I don’t condone your partner demanding to see your text messages (I am drawing a distinction between asking to see them because of prior unfaithfulness and demanding to see them, even with adequate cause).  That behavior’s not appropriate either.  The point of the statement in the photo is that if you feel you have to make sure your partner doesn’t know you are communicating with a certain person, have to make sure that your partner doesn’t see the extent of your communication with a certain person, or have to delete the content of your communications with a certain person, you are being unfaithful to the relationship.  Is it adultery? No, not because you’re not being unfaithful, but because adultery is defined by state law and in all states I know of, requires the physical act of sexual intercourse and marriage.

While we’re talking about being unfaithful, are there other areas of your life you hide from your partner?  My grandma used to cut the tags off clothes she would buy and quickly put them in the back of the closet for a week before wearing them, so that when grandpa would ask her if the dress was new, she could honestly say it had been sitting in her closet for some time.  Grandma’s story was part of the family lore, but it was cheating, not by the time we came along, because by then grandpa knew what she was doing and it was a game, but back when she started it when they had no money and that dress could make a huge difference in their daily lives. Financial cheating is not just embezzling money, buying a new car without discussing it, or withdrawing all of your retirement savings; it’s also the little stuff like hiding the credit card statements or lying about how much something cost.  Sure, you could be like that person on FB and say that it’s just to avoid a fight over something little, but we know in our hearts that’s not true.  We know there’d be a fight because what we did was dishonest, and instead of working on the underlying problem, we chose to lie about it.

Shall we talk parenting?  Of course we shall, because that’s my favorite topic.  How many sitcoms have revolved around something a parent did wrong with the children, which they made worse by lying about it to the other parent?  Here in the Trenches, co-parenting is hard.  it’s hard because we might not have agreed with our partner’s parenting decisions while we were together.  It’s hard because maybe our child was conceived when we didn’t really have a relationship with the other parent, and we ended up having a child with someone with whom we do not share values. It’s hard to say to the other parent that you’re not going to do it their way, explain why, and attempt to come to a compromise, so some people cheat.  They lie about the children’s bedtimes, what they had for dinner, how well they supervised them, whether they checked their homework.  They lie because they know the other parent won’t agree with them or because they have previously agreed not do the very thing they have done.  (Sort of like investing your intimate self with a person who is not your partner when you’ve promised to invest those very things in your partner.).  When you lie like this to the other parent, you are eroding the foundation of a strong co-parenting relationship rather than investing in the hard work necessary to provide your children with the parenting structure they need to thrive.

The lie, the deleting the text, erasing the call history, and cutting off the price tags are not what makes you unfaithful - the realization that you HAVE to do those things means that you know you are doing something that is wrong.  It may not be what I think is wrong or the person next to you thinks is wrong, but it is wrong for you, your relationship or your family.  It is wrong for the continuation of a relationship of trust.  It deprives you of the ability to build a stronger, more effective relationship.  It is cheating.  It is being unfaithful.  Even if you never have a physical affair.  Here in the Trenches.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Value of Coaching

Yesterday, I ran the Tampa Bay Whiskey Run 10k.  I really trained for this race.  I joined a coaching program and followed it religiously.  Sure, there were bumps along the way:  I had twinges in my hips here and there that caused me to take a few days off; I ran some workouts too fast or too hard and needed more recovery.  Even with the bumps, I felt really prepared for the race.  Then, the unexpected happened:  Daughter decided she shouldn’t run because of her lack of training; the weather was much warmer than planned, with no breeze.  I wanted to run the race in under one hour. That didn’t happen. I ran it in 1:00:50.  So close, yet so far.  Still, I’m really pleased.  Why?

I could have been unhappy that I didn’t meet the goal I set for myself.  I could have felt that because I  didn’t meet my goal, all that training was for nothing. Sure, I’m disappointed that I missed my goal by less than a minute.  Let’s look at the positives.  I set a new personal record for that race distance, by six minutes, which is huge.  That means I ran each mile a minute faster than I ever have.  I ran a race under less than ideal conditions, by myself, with no one to talk to and nothing to listen to, and finished strong. I look great in my post race picture (why is it I look better in my workout photos than I do in the ones for which I preen?).  I see the value of the coaching, I didn’t die doing speed and distance work, so I was fit enough to race under adverse weather conditions.  All good things.  I’ll break that one hour mark in the next race.

Here in the Trenches, it’s disappointing when a relationship doesn’t work out. Especially when children are involved, there are a lot of life adjustments that need to be made.  No one thinks it’s ideal to have their children with them less than all the time.  It’s hard to share children with someone with whom you no longer share a life and with whom your values may differ.  There are so many things outside your control, especially what happens at the other parent’s house.  It’s anxiety producing, and heaven knows no one needs more anxiety.  What are parents to do?

Take steps to reduce the anxiety, of course.  In the Trenches, like with my running coaching, that means hard work.  It means thinking about the variables in your children’s lives.  It means having discussions with the other parent.  It means working through your anger and disappointment enough to co-parent with the person with whom you share a child.  It means developing a framework and a process to do that.  Helping you find solutions, coaching you through the process, teaching you to regroup when things don’t go according to plan - that’s our job in the Trenches.

Even though we can all parent, just like we can all run, sometimes you need a professional to help you do it better and more effectively, and to handle life’s curve balls.  Professionals don’t let you take the easy way, when it is not the better way.  They hold you accountable to your higher self, because we all know there are days when we’d rather do what’s easy.  They give you the tools to keep yourself doing what you ought to do, and to be able to regroup when things don’t go as they ought.  They cheer you on when things don’t go well and when things do.  The right professionals are an investment in your children’s healthy future.  Sure, you can do it yourself - for years I ran without a coach.  It was so much better and effective with one, and didn’t cost as much as I thought.  Just a thought.  Here in the Trenches.