Sunday, January 13, 2019

Safe House

I love to run.  If I could run all day, every day, I would.  It is my exercise.  It is my therapy.  It is my fun.   I also love Disney.  I love the parks, the hotels, the characters.  It is my happy place.  It is the place I go to with the people I love.  I love combining my two loves, so I RunDisney.  There are a lot of people like me.  They congregate in different places, and one of those places is FaceBook.  I belong to two Disney running Facebook groups.  They couldn't be more different.

Both groups are composed of members who love Disney and love running.  In the one group, all the members also are fans of a specific Disney podcast, and the group is also smaller.  In both groups, members post questions about running in general and Disney races in particular.  In both groups, people post their runs and their times.  Yet, one group feels safe and one does not to me.  In only one group do I post my post-run photos and times.  Why is that?  Why does one group feel safe and one does not?  Here are the difference between the groups.  First, I have never heard a negative or snippy comment from any poster in the "safe" group.  That doesn't mean that they don't discuss the difficult topics.  They just put a more positive and kinder spin on on it.  Second, this group makes it a point to have in person meet ups (and many of them) during each RunDisney weekend.  Probably the second difference is the reason for the first, but I don't know. The "safe" group feels more like friends.

When you end up in the Trenches, you find out that there are a lot of other people who have been there before you.  So many of them want to tell you about their experience, because after all, you have both been in the same place.  Some of these people are wonderfully helpful.  Others are really critical of you and your case.  They tell you how they got screwed in their divorce, or that they got a much better deal than you're getting.  They tell you their attorney was tougher than yours.  They make you question everything that's happening to you, every decision you make  They make you feel terrible about yourself.  Why? Because you ignore your gut. You see, I get it.  I belonged to the the "unsafe" FaceBook group long before I joined the other.  I read all the posts, yet I never posted.  Something in my gut told me not to trust, that it wasn't safe.  I listened to it, but I didn't know I did until I joined the second group and knew what feeling safe felt like.  I bet if you think really hard, you can say whether a friend's or your attorney's advice felt "right."   Does what your attorney advises feel right?  Does what your friends tell you feel right?  If so, which friends?  Think about why you feel that way.  Dig deep.  Think hard.  Trust the feeling. Trust your instincts.  Read Gavin deBecker's The Gift of Fear.  Here in the Trenches.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Wedding Bell Blues?

My cousin is getting married!  I'm so excited for her.  I'm not so excited for her mother, my aunt.  It is tough being the mother of the bride, no matter if you're planning, paying for or just being in the wedding party.  As the mom of one of the guests of honor, a lot of eyes are on you - and a lot of people are judging how you look (admit it, you check out what the mothers are wearing).  My aunt is not your traditional mother of the bride.  She never wears dresses, in fact in almost forty years, I have only seen her in a dress maybe twice, and one of those times was in her own wedding.  Most mothers of the bride wear dresses, and this fact is causing both my aunt and cousin a lot of stress.  My aunt wants to look beautiful for her daughter's big day, but she also wants to be comfortable in her skin.  My cousin also wants mom to look beautiful, but she's concerned that pants may not be formal enough.  My aunt is nothing if not determined to look beautiful her way.  My mom, my aunt and I spent almost an entire day searching online for an appropriate outfit.  Still nothing purchased, but she's getting closer to finding an outfit that pleases both her and her daughter.

I know, I appear to be reaching for a connection to the Trenches, but bear with me.  When clients come into the Trenches, many times they think a divorce is a divorce is a divorce.  If their friend was married 30 years, stayed home for 20 and got a significant alimony award, and they were also married 30 years and stayed home for 20, then they should get at least the same significant alimony award.  Easy, peasy, breezy.  Unfortunately, that's not how it works.  Every divorce, like every wedding, is unique.  No two people and no two marriages are alike.  It follows therefore, that every divorce would also be different.  And so they are. You did your wedding your way, in a manner that speaks to you.  That also how you should handle your divorce.  Here in the Trenches.

Friday, December 28, 2018

My Holiday Wish for You

   Happy Holidays
Every year, I close my practice from the weekend before Christmas until January 2.  I spend that time with my family.  Daughter and I get mani/pedis and sometimes do something special, just the two of us.  Then we head over to Mom’s to help her with the final preparations for the holiday.  Then the hordes of family descend upon us and a kind of orchestrated chaos ensues.  I wouldn’t change it for the world.. It is my time to relax and recharge.  In past years, it has also been my time to hav eat least one freak out because things did not go as planned.  I had a vision in my mind of how things should be, and I held on to it, even in the face of a reality that looked quite different.  It made for a lot of tension for me - and the ones I love.

This year was different..  I decided that whatever happened. I couldn’t control most things, so I concentrated on what I could control.  I knew what jobs I had for the holiday festivities.  I did all of my holiday “jobs” ahead of time, so on the day our family got together, I could just enjoy my family and friends.  It was wonderful, not just for me, but for all those who came into contact with me.

Isn’t this so like the Trenches? When people decide to divorce, they have a vision in their heads.  It might be a vision of their lives after divorce.  It might be how the divorce process will go.  It might be how their children will react to the divorce.  Some of these visions are based in reality. Some of them are based on how they perceive their best friend’s/ sister’s/brother’s divorece went. Some of them might be based on how they perceive other people’s lives are after divorce, nor how their friends tell them their life is.  Some are based on what they perceive other people’s divorce settlements gave them.

Here’s what I have to say. Your divorce is your divorce.  It’s not the same as anyone else’s, nor is your life.  What’s more, most of those oither people’s lives are not even what they seem.  The passage of time makes the not so successful parts of the divorce process fade.  Some people exaggerate their divorce settlement, their post-divorce lives. Others outright lie about their lives and their settlement.  Why do you care about what someone else has?  I know this is a time where you feel unsure of yourself and your life, but trust yourself.  Figure out your goals, at least short term, and stick to them.  Let go of expectations and stop comparing yourself to others.  All those others aren’t living your life.  You are.  Pick the right people to guide you through the process and take their advice.  Listen to those friends who support you and not to those who try to make themselves feel better by telling you what you’re doing “wrong.”  Think about what you need to do and do it; and most importantly, don’t do something because others did it or because it matches some picture in your head of what your life should look like.  This is your divorce, hopefully your only one, so do it the way that works for you. Here in the Trenches.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Put. Down. That. Phone.

Put. Down. That. Phone.  I have an app on my phone that shows how much time I spent on screen each week.  The first time it posted, I thought it had to be a mistake.  I'm not one of those people who sit on their phone all the time, at meals, in the evening.....My use, unlike everyone else's, is miniscule. Right?  Well, if that's true, then everyone else is on their phone all the time.  When I reflected a bit, I realized that I was checking my screen while I was walking, during breaks in TV shows, as I moved between tasks at work, when I got up and before I went to bed.  In short, I WAS on my smartphone a lot.  Being a not so competitive person (cough, cough), I started to make it a game to see if I could reduce my screen time each week.  I have and I feel virtuous.  What else have I found?  Well, I enjoy my walks much more because I can hear the wind in the trees and the birds singing, and also because I focus more on the world around me.  I have more conversations with my significant other.  I miss less of the action on the TV shows I actually like.  Plus, I'm sleeping better.

Being present and communicating with your spouse or significant other are two of the most important things to do to preserve your relationship.  Article after article stresses the importance of these two actions to the health of a relationship.  Just yesterday, there was an article on solving the problems in your relationship on NBC News Better.  Not surprising, one of the top strategies was better communication and the other was being in tune with your partner's feelings (in other words, being present).  Here in the Trenches, the overwhelming majority of our clients say that their spouse doesn't communicate or pay attention to them.  These folks aren't talking about wine and roses - what they're talking about is listening when they talk and being present in the room.  That doesn't take a lot of time, but it does take effort.  We're so used to the immediate and the now that we forget that those things aren't what's really important.  What's important is building and continuing to build relationships with the people in the room with you, and not the ones on social media.  Leave the phone at home every once in a while.  Park it by the front door when you get home.  I won't make you do it all the time, but just for a few minutes every day.  Your relationship will thank you, and you may avoid being in the Trenches.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Go Heavy or Go Home?

When I travel to see Mom, I don't have access to a gym.  I asked my most fabulous personal trainer (who, coincidentally, is Daughter.  Yes, that's her in the picture) for a travel workout.  She devised a workout for me that uses no weight other than my body weight.  Do I need to tell you it kicked my butt worse than the gym workouts she devises for me (the answer is no if you are my FB friend and saw my post complaining about my sadistic personal trainer)?  What did this teach me?  First, that I am obviously not lifting heavy enough in my gym workouts.  Second, and most importantly, that sometimes less is more.

It is that second lesson that reminds me of all of you in the Trenches.  A lot of people think that when they find themselves in the Trenches, they need an attorney with lots of extra firepower.  By "extra firepower," I mean a firm with an impressive name, with lots of attorneys, and in which their attorney has associate attorneys helping them along with a fleet of paralegals and assistants.  Some folks think bigger and impressive is better than a solo attorney or someone in a small firm.  It's kind of like how impressive it looks when Daughter lifts those big heavy weights on her website (and she is really impressive - the picture at the top of this post is her squatting @135lbs), versus how I look doing the same exercise without added weight.  Does it mean that Daughter is getting a better workout than me?  Not any more than it means that the folks who hire those big impressive firms are getting better representation.

As we head into the holidays, some folks will decide that this holiday will be their last one with their spouse.  Those folks will start to look for an attorney to help them.  That makes the message of this post extremely timely.  When looking for a family law attorney, fit and philosophy are more important than anything else (except, of course, competence, which is not always a given).  When you are in the Trenches, your life is laid bare before your attorney.  You want to feel comfortable sharing your deepest, darkest secrets with that person.  You want to feel confident that they have your back.  You want to know they will give you advice you can live with.  You want to know that they will approach your case in a way that is comfortable for you. You want to feel comfortable raising concerns and asking questions.  You want to be confident in their answers.  This is your life, and you will have to live it long after the attorney has moved on to other clients.  Bigger is not necessarily better. More is not always more. One size does not fit all.  Here in the Trenches.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Choosing a family law attorney is kind of like buying skincare products.  I was reminded of this fact when I recently replenished the products for my own skincare regimen.  I really don't like spending a lot on skincare.  I read the magazines where they rate products and they say this or that certain drugstore product is really good.  I think to myself that if those products are so good, maybe I should use them instead of my normal regiment.  Periodically, I try that.  Here's what happens. 

I open the jar of the drugstore brand, which is less than half the cost of my normal cream.  The cream smells good.  It feels creamy.  I put it on my face.  I put more of it on my face. It seems to take more cream to make my skin feel hydrated.  Over time, my skin doesn't look equally hydrated (and rejuvenated - let's not kid ourselves if we are of a certain age).  I end up with skin that doesn't look as good, and because I am using more product, I don't think I'm actually saving money.  In fact, horror of horrors, I think I'm spending more, just not all at once.

I'll never forget the first time I bought more expensive skincare.  The salesperson gave me one of those little sample packets with purchase, you know, the ones that are about the same size as a sweetener packet.  I thought that packet would last one application, there was so little in it.  It lasted three.  My jars of expensive cream?  They last three times as long as the drugstore brand, plus my skin looks better.  Really, I end up saving money (especially as I get older and need the creams more.).  When I was younger, probably not so much because my skin had fewer issues.  Have there been times when I just couldn't afford my more expensive skincare?  Sure, and on those occasions, I picked the best less expensive version I could find. 

How is that like choosing a family law attorney?  Well, people call my office all the time asking if I do a free consultation.  They hear my fee for an initial meeting ($600 for up to two hours) and my hourly rate ($375 in Frederick and $400 in Montgomery) and gasp.  Some of them sputter that Attorney X down the street gives a free consultation and only charges $150 an hour.  Some of those people go down the street.  I have cases against those attorneys.  Those cases end up costing Attorney X's clients significantly more than mine, on average.  Why?  They are not as knowledgeable.  They are not as efficient at doing what needs to be done as I.

Just so we're clear, the more expensive attorney is not necessarily better.  There are a number of attorneys in town who charge as much or more than I who are nevertheless terrible attorneys.  Then again, I have bought an expensive face cream or two in my life that did not do what it said it would do, and that left my skin worse than the drugstore cream.  I'm not saying to choose an attorney on cost alone - there are a LOT of really good attorneys who have lower rates than mine, perhaps because they haven't been in practice long, or because they chose for whatever reason to keep their rate low.  Price alone doesn't determine quality, but it can.

What I am saying is that when you choose a family law attorney, don't do it on hourly rate or cost alone because sometimes more expensive is cheaper and sometimes cheaper is more expensive.  I know you don't have a lot of money.  Here's what I also know:  an experienced family law attorney knows how much a case will probably cost (within a range), what you will need to invest in and what you won't, and they can help you budget your funds.  They've probably developed systems to streamline the process of the case so they're more efficient.  They've seen it before and developed a strategy for your problem.  They have a good or great relationship and reputation with other attorneys and the court. Maybe they can help you find the funds for the representation.  If they don't think you can afford them, they'll tell you and usually can recommend someone who can help you at a lower price whose ability they trust (I've gotten some of my favorite clients that way and I hope I've done the same for others).  My point is not to tell you to hire the most expensive attorney.  My point is to understand that sometimes cheaper is more expensive.  Do not let cost be your only guide.  Assess for yourself whether that cheaper attorney is really going to a) advise you well; b)be able to represent you competently and c)save you money.  Do the same for the more expensive one.  Don't shop on cost alone.  Here in the Trenches.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Fashion Sense = Divorce Sense?

I enjoy fashion.  I like to look good and make sure my look doesn't become dated.  As I've gotten older, I've had more trouble keeping up with trends and also looking age appropriate (Hey, it's not so easy, look around you at how many people either don't try to do it or who fail miserably at it).  Sure, I read fashion magazines and blogs, but that doesn't always help me translate into looks for me.  Plus, like everyone else, I get comfortable with what I have and am hesitant even to try something new.  I also become overwhelmed by the number of items of clothing out there and have less and less patience to cull through them to find something a bit different.  What to do?  Well, I do two things.  First, I subscribe to an online styling company.  In my case, it's StitchFix.  They deliver to me every quarter.  My first stylist didn't get me, but my second, Sarah, sure did.  She sent me things I loved, but which I would never have found or never have picked to try.  Second, I shop once or twice a year with Daughter.  She has a good eye, attends to trends, and has a vested interest in my not looking ridiculous (would you want to be seen with your mother wearing the too tight, too short skirt?  Didn't think so).  Yes, I go shopping on occasion with friends, but I let none of their opinions override my internal gauge of what I would wear and what I wouldn't.  Only Daughter and Sarah get the honor of my trusting them enough to try things outside my comfort zone. 

I realize that when you're in the Trenches, you have far more important things on which to concentrate than your fashion sense.  There is, however, a lot we can learn about the Trenches while shopping.  If I had to categorize most people in the Trenches in terms of shopping and style, I would put them in two categories.  In the first category are the people who never update their look.  It doesn't matter the look, they will continue to buy the same types of clothing.  You've seen those folks: the woman who's gained significant weight yet still wears skin tight pants or who's lost weight and continues to wear the clothes that fit her when she was heavy; the man who still dresses like he's in college even though he's 60; the people who dye their hair and their facial hair to the same color they had 30 years ago.  In the second category are the people who constantly change their style depending on what other people tell them to do.  They have no internal compass for determining whose opinion to trust and whose to discard, so they listen to everybody.  These are the folks who wear every trend in the world at the same time, whose look is not always age-appropriate, and whose clothes, although updated, don't flatter them.  We see plenty of both groups in the Trenches.

The first group suffers from a fear of change.  They are often the folks whose spouses leave them and they can't understand why.  For them, their marriage was the same as it always was until the day their spouse announced they were leaving.  Now that change is thrust upon them, they have a hard time dealing with it.  For these folks, it's like taking them into a mall and telling them they can't buy the clothes they've always bought; they panic or at least suffer severe anxiety.

The second group suffers from information overload.  They are the folks who ask all of their friends for advice and read everything about divorce on the internet, and then not asking themselves whether the advice makes sense.  Many times, they think it all makes sense, and that confuses them even more.  This group has as many leavers as leavees.  Either way, they are overwhelmed by the decisions they have to make and as a result, many of their decisions change frequently as they hear from more people during the course of their divorce.

Both groups need a Daughter and a Sarah to help them as they progress through the Trenches.  Who are those when we talk about the Trenches?  They are a professional with expertise in family law to guide and advise them; for most people, that professional is a family law attorney.  They are also a friend or family member (or therapist) whose opinion they trust and who can tell them the hard truths.  It's still OK to talk about divorce or the end of their marriage with other friends or family, but they need to be confident enough of the advice of their professional and their one trusted person to assess what other people tell them against what they're told by their two trusted advisors.  If they find they trust their friends and family more than their trusted advisors, then they have the wrong advisors.  If they have the right advisors and can't assess what the chorus of thousands is telling them, then they need to check in with their advisors - just like I do when I'm thinking about trying a new trend.  Here in the Trenches.