Monday, January 31, 2011

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Especially when it hits close to home.  Daughter broke up with her boyfriend this past weekend.  No one did anything heinous to precipitate it, it just wasn't working for her.  It started me thinking and talking to her about the dynamics of break ups.  There is almost always a leaver and a leavee.  The leaver has thought about the break up, has worked out the reasons, and mourned the decision.  The leavee, even if they thought things might not be great, usually does not expect it, and is not prepared for it.  They don't understand the reasons, and can't understand why the leaver is so calm.  Surely, there must be something they haven't been told -right?  Otherwise, the leaver should be as upset as are they.  The problem is that the leavee wasn't part of all the thinking and agonizing that went on in the leaver's head before they made the decision, so it seems like it was such an easy decision for the leaver.  It wasn't, believe me.  It takes time for the leavee to catch up.  Sometimes that doesn't happen, but it usually does.  Surviving until then is the trick  - for both of them.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Another Day, A Better Day

As you might have guessed from reading the last two weeks of posts, sometimes practicing family law is not so great (I know that's a real epiphany for most of you!).  You have opposing counsel who are personally nasty, professionally nasty, taking ridiculous positions, and generally acting in a way that seems determined to prolong the conflict instead of resolving it (another epiphany for most of you).  You also have clients who misbehave, don't think before acting, who act exactly contrary to your advice, and who argue with you over strategy.  Sometimes, all those things happen at once, as they have in the past two weeks, and it's overwhelming.

Just when you think you can't take it any more, however, something happens that renews your faith in how you practice family law.  Your client seems to "get it" and act exactly how you have been wishing and coaching your client to behave, a colleague calls and validates your strategy in a case,  an opposing counsel suggests something that may very well save your collaborative case.  Such little things, but it's enough to get  you motivated and moving forward again....back in the trenches.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Happiness Project

Webster's Dictionary defines "happiness" as a state of well-being and contentment.  In fact, when you Google the definition of happiness, the words "well-being" and "contentment" appear more than any others.  Today, I'd like to talk about my favorite blog, The Happiness Project.  I find Gretchen Rubin's blog absolutely fascinating.  What she explores, on a daily basis, is helping you find your own happiness, by defining what that word and concept mean for herself and for others, so that you can discover what it takes for you to be happy.  I think her blog resonates with me because she's not about telling you how to be happy; rather, she provides the information and helps you learn that for yourself.  Her technique reflects how I like to practice family law.  I try not to resolve my clients' problems for them; what I do is provide them with information and guidance so that they can solve them for themselves.  The result is longer lasting and more satisfying, just like the "happiness" Gretchen Rubin guides her readers toward in her book and in her blog.   "Follow" Gretchen - you won't be sorry.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

When Love Turns to Hate

Let's talk about love and hate.  The two emotions are like two sides of the same coin, as both are al-consuming passions.  According to scientists, there is one important difference.  Love, you see, tends to deactivate the areas of the brain that lead to judgment and reasoning; whereas, hate really does not.  What does that mean, and why is it important to family law?  It means that when we fall in love, we suspend judgment and tend to be less critical of the object of our affections.  The one we love can do no harm, they are perfect.  When that love turns to hate, however, all the flaws we ignored come front and center.  Our calculating selves kick in and we turn that passion toward devising ways to seek revenge, and to assuage our hurt egos. Of course, when love turns to hate instead of simply cooling, family law cases are at their most vicious.  The question is whether it is the job of the family law attorney to be a instrument for that hatred, or rather to be the voice of reason so that the passion can vent and a cooler head can make well thought out decisions.  I vote for the latter; unfortunately, many family law attorneys believe the former.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Happy Monday

Preparing for depositions in a particularly vicious litigation case, and starting a new collaborative case in the same day.   The goal of the former is to discredit, perhaps humiliate, and most importantly, to win.  I prepared all day to prepare an examination to win my client's case.  Juxtapose that activity with my having an initial phone call with my collaborative counsel in a new case, and then going to a meeting where I talked to the two coaches in the same collaborative case.  The purpose of those latter conversations was to make sure that our clients have the supports and understanding in place so they can separate and divorce with dignity, and in a way that allows both of them to move forward with their lives.  Winning and losing were no part of those last conversations - our concentration was on what our clients perceive and what they need from us as professionals to feel safe in the collaborative process.  What a contrast, and what an improvement on the way we do things in litigation.  Respecting people, validating their story and honoring their values is a much better way to bring closure to what had been at some point a loving relationship, and in many cases one that needs to continue through the lives of their children, than slugging it out in a courtroom. 

Friday, January 21, 2011


Still don't understand why holiday weeks are such disasters, but they are.  Is it that we have to jam 5 days into 4?

No, don't think so.

Is it because a long weekend gives people too much time to think?

Gosh, I hope not.  I love my long weekends!
Well, then, what is it?

Again, my only thought is: 

You guessed it - The Full Moon.
Thank goodness it's on the wane and this week is over.
Begone mix ups, screw ups and other insanity!
Happy Friday.  Enjoy the weekend.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Given the last few days, you might expect today's post to be about the full moon.  You'd be wrong.  Not that the past few days haven't been crazy busy, and not in a good way.  They have also brought serious health concerns to close friends and family.  Which brings me to today's thought - Resilience. Why do some people thrive through adversity, and some do not?  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.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Full Moon

Tomorrow is a full moon.  That means that today is a full moon rising.  When I was a kid, my uncle the cop and my aunt the emergency room nurse, used to talk about how much crazier people became at this time of the month, and how much busier they were with some really strange occurrences.  I thought they were exaggerating.  Once I started practicing family law, I realized that not only were they not exaggerating, but also that they were underplaying the full moon's effect.  I can fairly accurately predict when there will be a full moon based on the actions of my clients and their spouses.  Today is no exception.  Beware.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Not a Good Day

A few days ago, I said "give me a good collaborative case any day."  I still mean that.  Unfortunately, right now, I have a bad collaborative case.  What exactly does that mean?  It means that despite all the supports provided by the collaborative process, one party has been unable and unwilling to reach a solution that is acceptable to both of them.  It's frustrating for the clients, for the lawyers, the coaches, and the neutrals.  The professionals have tried every intervention of which we can think, to no avail.  Neither client is making any movement in the direction either of them wants, and it feels like one of them is deliberately moving away from the positive.  Is there anything else we can do, or are these folks destined for court?  It's a terrible shame, because I don't see court turning out better than collaborative, even on its best day.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Why Family Law?

I had lunch with a friend and colleague yesterday, and as luck would have it, we started talking about what we like and don't like about the practice of family law.  Funny thing, neither one of us could think of any other type of law we'd like to practice.  Why is that?  Well, it could be the stories; heaven knows, divorcing couples do the strangest things.  Except it isn't.  It could be that the practice of family law presents new and interesting legal arguments.  Except it doesn't.
So, what is it that keeps us engaged and interested?  It's the people.  Not in the way you might think, however.  It's really no fun dealing with nice people behaving badly.  If it came to that, criminal law, where bad people are on their best behavior, would be what we'd do.  We practice family law because we like people, and I mean really like people.  We love interacting with people, and hearing their stories.  Most of all, we like helping people.  I know it's true for me.  At the end of the day, nothing warms my soul more than knowing I helped one of my clients work through the issues, financial, custodial and emotional, and develop the tools necessary to move forward with their lives productively and happily.  That's what keeps me looking forward to work in the morning.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wouldn't it be great

....if we could see ourselves as others see us?  Probably not, because then we would have to take responsibility for who we are and what we do. (See prior posts on this blog).  Round one of depositions was yesterday in my 3.5 year old case.  It was my deposition of the husband.  I joked to the court reporter after that it would be really easy to transcribe this deposition because you could list all of my questions in one column and in the next, simply put "I don't recall" opposite each question.  After 25 years of marriage and 5 children, he can think of nothing good to say about his wife or the marriage.  He couldn't even recall why he married her, plus the breakup of the marriage is all her fault (of course).  The truly sad part of this is that he will act exactly the same way in court.

    For all those people divorcing, is there really nothing positive you can remember about life with your spouse?  Was there really never a time where you thought life was good with them?  If the answer to these questions is "yes," then think about what that means.  It means you wasted a good portion of your life (in this case, half of it), being completely miserable.  Unless you have some mental disorder that makes you masochistic, no one is going to believe that you were so miserable for so long and did nothing about it.  It is simply not a credible position and you look like a fool, and coincidentally kill your case.   If you really do agree with the first two sentences of this paragraph, then I hope you think again, and be kinder to your memories and your current or former spouse. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Some people...

25 years of marriage, 5 children....and going into our fourth year of litigation.  You don't even want to know how much money this couple has spent on lawyers.  So, what are they arguing about?  Everything.  We had a custody evaluation; the husband didn't agree with the conclusions, so even after spending all that time and money, we litigated.  He lost.  Now, it's about money.  There's plenty to go around, but the husband is bound and determined that the wife will get nothing.  He'd rather spend it all on lawyers than give her one red cent.  Seems foolish, but anger and extreme emotion will do that to some people.  Tomorrow, a complete day of depositions, then a day's break, then another day of depositions.  Give me a good collaborative case any day.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Can We Talk....

The overwhelming majority of family law cases settle.  Yes, you heard me right; they settle.  Sometimes it's because the spouses are engaged in a dispute resolution mechanism that encourages it; mediation or collaborative divorce.  Sometimes, it's at court-ordered alternative dispute resolution (mediation with lawyers), sometimes through attorney negotiations, and sometimes on the courthouse steps.  Having just settled a difficult case at ADR today, I have some thoughts on why ADR is successful.
  1. The clients realize that the court is limited in what it can and can't do; there is no such limitation with a mutual agreement.
  2. The clients are able to tell their story to a third party in a safe environment and know they are heard.
  3. The clients realize that when you come right down to it, spending $5 to get $1 isn't worth it.
  4. There is a value to reaching resolution and moving forward that exceeds the dollar amount of the disagreement.
  5. An acceptable agreement reached together is more durable than one that is judicially imposed.
  6. It makes more sense to spend the extra $20,000 or more that a trial would cost sending their own children to college, rather than use it for sending the lawyer's children
So, if reaching agreement is so much better, why do some cases, even with creative, settlement-minded lawyers, not settle?  Those cases also share some traits.
  1. One or both of the clients suffer from a mental illness that precludes their ability to see the same reality as the normal population.
  2. One or both of the clients is so invested in being "right," that they are unable to see the big picture.
  3. One or both clients have an overpowering need for revenge (see also, number 1above).
  4. The emotions of the conflict and the relationship overcome rational thought.  
I do not, for one minute, downplay the incredible strength it takes to settle with someone of whom you have no trust.  It's darned difficult, almost impossible, in fact.  That's why I so admire my clients who are able to analyze an offer, see the options, know their needs and make a deal in the face of so much pressure and strong emotion.  To all my clients who have done so -  GOOD JOB!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

In the Name of the Child

A few years ago, the American Bar Association Family Law Section and the American Psychological Association co-sponsored a continuing education conference.  Each session had both a lawyer and a psychologist as presenters.  What was interesting about the conference, aside from the content, was what each profession emphasized.  The lawyers talked about practicalities, about how the topic related to the practice of family law; the psychologists talked statistics.

In the psychological world, I understand it helps psychologists to know what works and what doesn't by measuring statistics.  As a lawyer, I think it's strange.  A psychologist will tell you that children subjected to high conflict divorces and continuing custody battles have a high probability of developing serious, continuing mental health and relational issues, with a corresponding low percentage of those children recovering from the childhood trauma as adults.  Any attorney who has worked with these cases and these families will tell you the same story, but in different terms.  I have been involved in one such case for 7 years, and will probably continue to be involved for 3 more - this is my story.

All of the articles and books you read about high conflict custody cases talk about how bad they are for children and counsel the parents to avoid them at all cost.  Nice words, but for those folks who fuel the high conflict fire, they fall on deaf ears.  Why?  Because the high conflict, continuing, parental alienating cases are not at all about the children, but are all about at least one parent and the interaction between both parents.  The children are either secondary or are completely unimportant to the fight.  The problem is that the children don't know that; they think it's about them.  Children, being children, then bend themselves into all kinds of pretzels to change whatever it is about them or about what they are doing to stop the conflict.  The problem is that this doesn't work, because it's (wait for it) not about them.  If they are subjected to one (and sometimes two) angry parents, they hear horrible things about the other parent on a daily basis, things that contradict their own experience and their own impressions.  So they begin to doubt that what they experience is real.  They also learn how to interact with others by watching their parents, who in high conflict cases, are interacting really poorly.  If these children are lucky (or maybe not so lucky), as they mature, they begin to see that what they believed as small children really isn't so.   Crazy making?  You bet.  I can't even begin to talk about the damage caused by an alienating parent who says they love the children, tells them the other parent hates them and will harm them, and then turns against them when the children begin to understand the truth.  It breaks my heart to see these children desperate for the love and attention of the alienating parent who has now turned his/her wrath on them.

So what happens next?  The now teenage and adult children have no clue what is true and what is not.  They have learned not to trust their feelings; and probably not learned how to moderate their emotions.  Many of them have few, if any, social awareness and ability to interact with others appropriately.  They end up, to put it mildly, pretty screwed up.  It takes years, if not decades, of dedicated work by the children, a good therapist and a loving family to undo the damage so these children can live normal lives.

I pray for the child in my highest conflict case.  I hope she finds peace and understanding.  I know she has a judge and social worker working hard for her, a fantastic therapist, and at least part of a family that supports her unconditionally.  She is bright and funny, and most of all, strong.  She may beat the odds, but she has a long way to go.  I hope she makes it.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Cooking with Gas

It's winter break from college, so that means our entirely female office has a touch of testosterone, in the form of my daughter's boyfriend.  He comes in and does all the jobs we need to do, but for which we never have the time.  Plus, he does all those boring jobs with enthusiasm and energy, and then stupidly asks if there's anything else we need. He also comes up with better ways to do his job.  His energy is really contagious and provides a much needed breath of fresh air for the office.  I'll be sad to see him go back to school.  How long until spring break?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Back in the Trenches

A new year, a new day - same old, same old.  Mountains of documents just to prove no one hid anything.  Otherwise, it's only the last statement with the ending balance that's important.  Thank heaven for computers and electronic discovery, so that trees don't have to continue to die for nothing.
While we're on the subject of discovery, why do people charge stupid things on their credit and debit cards in the midst of their divorce?  Do they think no one will discover their porn habits, alcohol abuse and trips with the significant other?  Maybe they just figure their soon to be ex won't care that's how they're using the family money.  Really?