Sunday, August 21, 2016
When my father died, in a moment of intense emotion (all right, insanity is the more correct word), I announced that I would make quilts for 9 family members from Dad's old ties. There were somewhere in the neighborhood of 180 of them. I dutifully dragged all of them home, washed them, took them apart, ironed them, ironed stabilizer on them, and then burned out. Just recently, I picked them up again and decided to take on quilt at a time. Mom's, of course, is first, and so this weekend, I have been working hard on her quilt. The top is almost finished. I'm glad I took the time off, even if it was over a year. It let me get past the burn out. I've been having fun with the quilt, looking at the ties and remembering Dad wearing them, remembering the ones that held special meaning for him. I also remember my Dad. When I was preparing all of these ties for quilting, I felt overwhelmed and sad. Now, I smile as I work, remembering him and anticipating the pleasure Mom is going to get from the quilt.
Divorce is like a death, just a bit different. Certainly, people are sad at the end of a marriage. They are also angry, hurt, and shamed. Those last emotions can accomnpany a death as well, but they don't usually. Even so, I wish more of my clients would treat their divorce like the death of a family member. Why? Lots of reasons, but here are five:
1. They would accept that they need time to grieve, and that the sense of loss doesn't go away overnight.
2. Even though this is part of #1, they wouldn't jump into a new, serious relationship right away, again, because grief takes time.
3. They would find a support group or a therapist to help them work through the feelings they have about the end of their marriage and analyze what happened, so they don't end up in my office again. Anyone who says they need no support group or a therapist during their divorce is kidding themselves.
4. They wouldn't throw out every reminder of their marriage, especially if they have children. Hear me out on this one. Most marriages have some happy times, and there will be a time when they will be able to smile at them. For those marriages that had no happy times, you need to keep something to remind you of where you've been, at least so you don't go back there again.
5. They wouldn't make major changes in their lives, other than the obvious, for at least a year. I can't tell you the number of people who have bought a new house during or right after their divorce, only to find it doesn't suit a year later.
Sunday, August 14, 2016
Last week, I was visiting family in Ohio. I happened to be in Canton around the time of the Hall of Fame induction. I met a really interesting man who was in town for his buddy's induction. (In case you're wondering, his buddy is Brett Favre). We started talking, and he showed me pictures and videos of his family (aren't smartphones amazing?) - a lovely wife, seven beautiful children and two dogs. Yes, I said seven children - all 13 years old and younger. The pictures he showed me were of a happy and close family group. He told me proudly that they all sit in the front pew at church every Sunday, and they all behave beautifully. He wanted to tell me how that was possible. So, he told me about his dog.
You see, he had a dog from the time he was a junior in college, through the births of a number of his children. When he first got the dog, he worked with a trainer. The trainer told him that even though being strict with his dog would feel hard, providing the dog with rules and boundaries would allow him to feel safe and secure. In point of fact, knowing the boundaries allowed his dog to relax and focus on just being a dog. Positive reinforcement is a wonderful thing, and the dog and owner trained each other. Fast forward to when his first son was two years old. My acquaintance was out in the yard running football patterns with his dog and his son. The football went into the street; the dog and the boy went after it. The acquaintance yelled "stop."; the dog stopped, and the boy did not. Don't worry, a pro football player is faster than a two year old, so his son was fine. It started this young father thinking, however. He decided to work on training his children, and establish firm boundaries and expectations just like he did with his dog. He told me how he worked with them to gently and positively reinforce the behavior he expected. He let them know the structure he and his wife built for them to live in would keep them safe. Obviously, it worked. His children know the boundaries, so they don't have to think about them. They can concentrate instead on daring their father to try to do back flips on camera, and on dreaming the big dreams in life because they have a safe container from which to operate.
One of the hardest things we do here in the Trenches is to build a safe container for our clients. Like my acquaintance, we educate our clients about the boundaries of the process they've chosen to resolve their dispute. We let them know we will help guide them and will keep them moving forward within the process. We build the trust that lets them know they are safe within those boundaries, and that we will support and advise them as they forge ahead. If we do our jobs right, our clients trust that we will protect their process. This frees them up do the hard work of thinking about what they want to do, where they want to go, and how they might get there They have the freedom to dream about what might be in their future and to work toward that goal because they know we have their back. They feel safe - if we've done our job. Here in the Trenches.
Sunday, July 24, 2016
My regular Sunday yoga class was joined today by 3 of our local high school football players. My regular Sunday yoga class is comprised of 25 women and 3 or so men. Of those 28 or so regulars, at least half have been attending this class for at least 5 years. What that means for those high school boys is that approximately 14 people old enough (or older than) to be their parents could stretch farther and balance better than they could. It was quite an education for them, huffing, puffing and grunting their way through class. Will they be back? Only time will tell. High school boys, and as I recall, Daughter when she came to class with me, are not too excited about being shown up by a bunch of old folks. Don't worry, we didn't rub it in their faces; in fact, quite the opposite. We went out of our way to show them how we do things to prep for class, and what props to use to help them. Our instructor was as solicitous as could be, and went above and beyond in educating them about the different positions. We helped by showing them modification for poses as well. As we wait until next Sunday to see who comes back, we can ponder whether these boys are interested in learning something new that will help them in their football, or whether they're invested in playing and preparing to play football the way they've always done it and think it ought to be done.
This past week, I had two clients with unrealistic expectations for what was going to happen, not only next, but all the way through the process. (I know, I hear you saying "Only two?" ). With each of them, I drafted a very long email. With each, I checked in to make sure I understood what they were saying and why I thought they were saying it. Then, I went through a detailed explanation of the process from this point, and what they could expect each step of the way. I compared what we were doing to what would happen in other processes. The funny thing is that this is exactly what I do in my initial interview with a client. I know, however, that most initial interviews contain too much information for the clients to retain: they are emotional and nervous, so retention is an issue. Also, until they get into the process they choose, they have no point of comparison.
At any rate, one of those two clients, who was very overwrought, read my email and calmed down immediately. She knew what to expect, and she also knew that if she needed more information, I would give it to her and educate her. She very quickly switched from a nervous novice to a willing student. The other client? Haven't heard from the other client. It makes me a little nervous. We'll have to wait and see if she wants to learn. Kind of like waiting until next Sunday for the football players. Here in the Trenches.
Sunday, June 26, 2016
I have an absolutely awful, no good custody case, filled with bad actors, alienation, child protective services, police, the works. There is definitely a good guy and a bad guy. Yet, if you look at social media alone, you would think that the bad guy and the good guy were reversed. I hear you asking how that can be. It's all in the story and how you tell it. It's in what facts you include, what ones you leave out, and what ones about which you outright lie. It's also in only hearing one side of the story, and in having a personal relationship of any kind with the one telling the story you hear. None of us likes to think we're bad judges of character; it's sort of like Lake Wobegon, where our children are always the ones who are above average. Therefore, if we've decided someone is a good egg, we view everything they do through those glasses, and it takes a long time for us to believe that the "good egg" is really rotten.
I must let you in on a secret - lawyers are people too. As I've always said, for a successful attorney and client relationship, the attorney and client have to have some mutual respect, if not liking. Guess what? Our clients usually only tell us their side of the story. It is an extremely rare client who provides an evenhanded and accurate portrayal of the situation which brings them into the Trenches. In fact, for most of us who have toiled in the Trenches for any length of time, we are so certain we are only getting part of the story that we withhold judgment on the veracity of our client's portrayal until we hear from the other side. Still........, even when we hear the other side of the case, we discount it if we like our client. That's right, even seasoned professionals can be a bit deluded. It happens more often than you might think.
Does it matter in the end? Actually, yes. You pay us for our objectivity, not our emotional enmeshment. Although it feels really good to have your attorney like you, make sure it's not blinding them to the unvarnished truth. You want an attorney who recognizes they might be deluded, who tries like heck to counteract the feeling. You do not want an attorney whose feelings for you get in the way of their impartial judgment on your behalf. You do not want an attorney who cannot see how to help you resolve the issues in your family law matter because they're too concerned with your feelings to be honest with you. You have friends. What you need is a professional who can see all sides of the story, tell you the truth even when it's unpleasant, and be able to help you come up with solutions that meet your needs, but are not necessarily what you want. After all, it's impossible for all of our children to be above average, whether or not we live in Lake Wobegon. Here in the Trenches.
Sunday, June 12, 2016
I sat on my couch last Sunday, desperately trying to figure out how to save all of the photos off my dying cell phone before I traded it in on a new one. As I saved the photos, I came across Daughter's prom photos from her senior year of high school: May 23, 2010. Then, I saw the photos from Daughter's and my big birthday weekend (her 18th and my 50th): October 20, 2010. Featured prominently in both sets of photos was Office T, looking healthy and happy.....and alive. To look at us all then, no one would ever have known that less than two years later, Office T would be dead. Oh, and also in the birthday photos was Dad; who'd have thought he'd outlive Office T by over a year. Certainly not me. Office T had 60 more years to go, by my reckoning, and Dad, maybe 10 if we were lucky. Then one day, they just weren't there.
I woke up this morning to the news of 50 people dying in a nightclub shooting, with another 50 wounded. Last month, a man shot his estranged wife outside Son's school and then killed two random people the next day. They were there, and then they weren't. At the end of the day, does the reason really matter? All of those people, who others loved and cared about, are dead. THeir loved ones will never be able to tell them they love them, will never be able to make amends for wrongs they inflicted, will never be able to tell them they forgive them for the wrongs they suffered. Every day, then week, then month, then birthday and holiday will go by and their loved ones will miss them and cry for what they've lost. Yes, they will also remember the good times, the love and special moments they shared, but humans being humans, the anger, pain and the regret they feel first and longest.
Which is probably why some folks fight so hard here in the Trenches. Divorce is the death of a marriage. It is the death of a family structure. It hits people hard. They feel pain and regret. The problem is that their spouse is still there, serving as a constant living reminder of what they have lost. Some people overcome the pain and anger of the loss and can remember the good times and love. Others never do. Let's turn this around for a minute. If you were Office T, Dad, the people in the Orlando nightclub or the folks shot by that woman's estranged husband, would you want your last day or moment on earth to be consumed by anger and pain? Would you rather give others the benefit of the doubt, let go of your anger and count your blessings? I know which choice I make (sometimes with difficulty, but I make it every day), here in the Trenches.
Sunday, June 5, 2016
Here in the Trenches, when we talk to clients about the cost of going to trial, they think dollars and cents. Certainly, going to trial is very expensive, and the financial savings realized by settling a case is not insignificant. I tell clients there are other costs to going to trial and they need to be prepared to pay them. Some understand and internalize what I mean, and others, well, they just don't. Let me give you some examples of costs that are not financial.
1. Having family and friends come to court to testify, because everyone wants everyone they love to be inconvenienced and know their dirty laundry.
2. Having family and friends forced by the other attorney to appear for a deposition, because if there's anything better than #1, it's being questioned by the other attorney about things that may only be related tangentially to your case.
3. Subjecting yourself to cross examination by the other attorney (If you don't believe that is a cost, you've never been cross examined).
4. Having the negative emotions from your divorce, that you thought you had dealt with and from which you believed you had healed, come rushing back to the surface and overwhelming you.
5. Having to deal with the uncertainty of waiting for the judge's decision, weeks or months from the day(s) of trial.
6. Having someone who doesn't know you or care about you or your family decide your future, because by definition that's a judge.
7. Having no control over what happens because that's what it means to ask a judge to decide.
8. Frustration that the rules of court don't allow everything you know to be true to come into evidence, so there will be things the judge won't know.
9. Having you and your life placed under a microscope.
Sometimes, you have to go to trial. Sometimes, for a lot of reasons, a judge needs to make a decision. Most times, however, a reasonable settlement is possible. In deciding whether to accept it, the offer itself is not the only consideration; the costs of going to trial have to play a part in your deliberations. Here in the Trenches.
Monday, May 23, 2016
Yesterday after yoga class, I stopped by the grocery store to pick up a few things for my lunches this week. As I was checking out, I saw a woman in the next line. When she turned around, I saw that this woman was someone who had been my very good friend before my divorce. My divorce changed all of that. Not only did this woman cut me out of her life, she also told my former spouse some very personal things that I had shared with her while my marriage was dissolving. Those things were nothing that would create any sort of legal issue during my divorce, they were simply not things I wanted shared - they were intensely personal, and my former spouse used the fact that he knew about them to demonstrate to me how isolated my divorce was going to make me. It's funny, I can't remember what I told her, other than the effect of the disclosure. What I do remember, and what came flooding back to me in a rush at the grocery store yesterday, was the feeling of betrayal. I understand that when people divorce, friends fall away for a lot of reasons. Very few of them, especially those who you hold closest, affirmatively act to hurt you. The details fall away, but the pain remains.
But only the pain remains, and only when I was exposed to a direct stimulus. I think that makes me healthy. It means I've moved on. I wish I could say the same for all my clients. Some of them never move on. They relive the hurts of their marriage every day in great detail. They weigh the injury. They remember all the details. They can't forget. No, I take that back: they won't forget. These folks either don't go to therapy or they don't invest in their therapy. Their lives are given meaning by the pain they've endured. Their self worth is tied to how much they were wronged. The pain I felt in the five minutes in the grocery store? They feel it all the time. I don't know how they stand it. I can't help them make the pain go away and move on, because they don't want to. Truth be told, having these clients is the hardest part of what I do. Here in the Trenches.