Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Thursday, December 20, 2012
It's the end of the year, and that means one of two things. Either the phone rings not at all, or it rings off the hooks. This year, the phone has not stopped ringing. Sure, we've had a few crises. Certainly, there are more than a few disappointments at the way the holiday season is unfolding. That's not why the phones are ringing so much. Two types of people are calling the office. The first are those who are in the beginnings of a separation. They don't want to DO anything at this time of year, but they are worrying about what might happen. Those people need basic information; they need to know what to expect, in what direction they should head. Once they talk to the lawyer, they feel less anxious because there are fewer unknowns. They can now enjoy their holiday. The second type of person calling the office is miserable because they are spending yet another holiday season in an unhappy marriage. The mere idea that another year could go by and they could find themselves still in that marriage next year is more than they can bear. The only way they can enjoy their holiday season is to make plans to spend it differently next year. So, they call the office and make an appointment for just after the beginning of the year. They can now enjoy their holiday. After tomorrow, I'll enjoy mine. Here in the Trenches.
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
My son and I don't share a lot of interests. Yes, we love each other, but there aren't a lot of things we both enjoy together. He was a wrestler in high school. When he started wrestling, I knew nothing about the sport. What I did know was that he loved it. So, I read about wrestling and became the team videographer. I attended every wrestling match and tournament, start to finish, taping every wrestler's match. Obviously, I spent a lot of time at the gym. My son never said how he felt about that, but he never has. Then, he went to college, and I thought my wrestling days were over. We watched some hockey together, but it wasn't the same. Now, he's a high school teacher and .... a wrestling coach. I'm back in the gym, this time as the coach's mom. I'm proud of him; he's a very good coach and he really cares about the kids. I think he's glad to see me there, but who knows? It's a way to connect.
This is, of course, about the Trenches, and as my son and I forge a new relationship as adults, I can't help but think about my clients and their children. When parents and children live in separate homes, even for only a few days every few weeks, their relationship changes. There is now a part of their life that does not involve that parent. They may develop different interests and do things that they've never done before. They may act entirely different at the other house. It doesn't really matter (unless of course, they're in danger). What matters is the connection between the parent and child. What matters is finding something they both can share, even if it's not something the parent would normally do. Parents, your child has no choice but to be part of your world, even when that world means their family breaks apart and is reformed, even when they no longer have two parents in one home, or even one home. You have a choice as to whether to be part of their world. Embrace it; build a new foundation with them. Go where they are; be a part of what they love. Children of divorce need to know that even though their physical world may change, their parents are committed to them and their well-being. What better way than to share what they love? Here in the Trenches.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Two events have occurred in the last week that make me think about victims. First, on Thursday, I was searching for a former client, and as I Googled her, came across an article about how her ex-husband tried to kill her by torching her home. As we spent the next two days trying to get in touch with each other, 27 innocent people were killed in Newtown, Connecticut. Once I caught up with my former client and heard her tale, I started to think some more about victims. You see, my client's ex-husband is severely mentally ill. My client did a delicate two step in order to divorce him and remain safe. Unfortunately, she was also his guidepost, and without her, his mental condition became worse. As he deteriorated, he blamed her for all his woes. He began to write her explicitly threatening letters. She went to the police. He hadn't actually tried to hurt her (yet), so there was nothing they could do. She tried to obtain a domestic violence order of protection. Still, he hadn't tried to hurt her (yet), so she couldn't get one. Then, he set fire to her home. Finally, she obtained that protective order. Finally, he was jailed and then hospitalized. Her nightmare, however, was and is not over. First, there was the competency hearing. Then, once he was found competent, was he criminally responsible? Should he be hospitalized or jailed? Every decision, every step of the way, my former client has had to plead with prosecutors and psychiatrists. She has had to make a pest of herself (her words, not mine), to make sure he doesn't pull the wool over someone's eyes, or they get so tired of the case that they drop the ball and let him off. She spends hours every week on the phone or running to court for hearings, just to make sure he isn't released, that the court doesn't find him both not criminally responsible and also not guilty (because to do so means he's not responsible for restitution for the out of pocket damage to her home, which was tens of thousands of dollars after insurance). She needs to make sure she and her children are safe, which they won't be if he is released, and she doesn't trust that the state would remember to notify her. Her life is consumed by the cost of being a victim. She is the least victim-like victim I know, a proactive lady who doesn't let anyone push her around. Yet, here she is, imprisoned by victimhood, imprisoned as much as the man with the gasoline can and the match. Yet, she views it not as a jail cell ,but as a necessary structure to keep her and her children safe. It is a fortress against feeling like a victim.
When I read the stories about the Newtown killings, I am struck by how. like my former client, most of the adult victims were not victim-like. The teachers and aides who died were protecting the children in their charge. They were enormously brave people, who made the difficult decision to risk their lives to protect others. They, like the children, died for their efforts. What about the other victims of this tragedy, those that did not die but who lost friends and loved ones? True, unlike my former client, there will be no calling the prosecutor and making sure the perpetrator is safely away. That doesn't mean they aren't victims like my former client. They all have to live with what happened on Friday in Newtown, and will suffer from it. Whether they build something positive from the blocks of tragedy that fell upon them and refuse to play the victim, or instead allow the blocks to fall upon them and weigh them down, is ultimately their choice. Either way, bearing that tragedy is a tremendously difficult, really gargantuan, task, and all of our hearts go out to them as they move ahead into a life which seems not joyful, but rather angry and dangerous. Here in the Trenches.
Friday, December 14, 2012
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Last night, I was on a radio program with my colleagues Steve Stein (a social worker) and Cynthia Zagorski (an accountant. Kudos to Cynthia for getting us this gig!). We are colleagues in the collaborative practice community, and have all worked together on cases. We had thought we were on the program to talk about collaborative practice, but it turns out the host wanted us to talk about divorce in general. That was fine with us, and we managed to mention our collaborative practice group's website when he asked for contact information on the air. Cool. What was even better was the way we interacted on the show. Even the host commented on it. We all took turns talking, we didn't repeat what anyone else said, and if what someone said needed clarifying, we did it quickly and easily. In other words, we worked like a collaborative team even though we weren't involved in a case. How extraordinary is that? After the show, we had an opportunity to talk to the host and his producer, and we talked about why it was we worked so well together, and told them a bit about collaborative divorce. Two more people educated. What was neat about our discussion was that the host was divorced, and as he described his divorce, it became obvious to us that his divorce a number of years ago was collaborative in spirit, if not in process. He and his former wife put their family's needs ahead of the black letter of the law and did what worked for them - and they still work well together today. That's what collaborative is all about: meeting the needs of the family while uncoupling so everyone can move forward respectfully and successfully, and dance at their children's weddings. Here in the Trenches.
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Monday, December 10, 2012
My client and I spent the day at the courthouse. That's it - we spent the day there. The court was short one domestic relations master and two judges, and our case got caught by the shortfall. So, we sat. We tried to settle the case, but the other client (and not his attorney) just wouldn't make up his mind, and then when he did, he kept being less and less reasonable. Our one day trial on temporary access and support didn't happen, nor were we able to settle it. This situation doesn't usually happen. In fact, it's been a long time since I have had a case on the "to be assigned" docket that didn't get assigned. Of all the possible scenarios for today for either my client or me, this wasn't one of them. My client prepared herself for a miserable day at trial, and instead she had a miserable day waiting for trial. Plus, we had to reset the hearing, which means we have to prepare all over again, or at least update and refresh our recollections. Were it any other case, we probably could have settled not only the pendente lite issues, but maybe the entire case. Unfortunately, this was not any other case, and we really needed a judge. Frustrating day for all- Here in the Trenches.
Thursday, December 6, 2012
My puppy boy is sick; he has a urinary tract infection. A number of months back, my puppy girl had a series of them. When puppy girl was sick, puppy boy was all over her. He circled her when she was lying down. He licked her face (and other assorted body parts). He was a nervous wreck the whole time she was sick. He almost worried himself sick. Now that he is sick......she ignores him, except to expect he continue to pay homage to her. She is a most unsympathetic hussy. The puppy pecking order is that she is alpha, and he is her slave. That's how it's always been and always will be. The pack dynamic changes for nothing. Puppy boy doesn't expect puppy girl to treat him any differently, no matter the situation; puppy girl doesn't disappoint.
Wouldn't it be great if human relationships were like my pups'? We'd certainly have less business here in the Trenches. I don't know about you, but in most households, everybody has their role. There's usually one person who's the caretaker. That person makes sure everyone else has what they need. What happens when that person becomes really chronically ill? Loses a job and can't find another? Do the other members of the household change roles with them? Maybe. Does that person expect it? Maybe. What if the dynamic doesn't change? Well, the usual caretaker resents the heck out of having to drag themselves around and make sure everyone else is OK when they're not. What if it does change? Well, after a while the new caretakers resent it, because not only are they not being cared for, they have to do the caretaking. The role reversal takes a toll on the relationship, and sometimes the toll is fatal. Human beings aren't like my pups. Sure, like the pups, we have our expected roles. Unlike them, however, our relationships with each other are fluid and are expected to change with the situation. Just like the pups, however, humans and their expectations of others don't really change. Too bad situations do. That's why huge life changes mean more clients here in the Trenches.
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Daddy has dementia. To me, that's enough to know. I have entered the world of dementia, however, where it is not enough to just know it's dementia. You have to know what kind. Some people have multiple types. Who knew there was more than one kind? Turns out, there are lots. No matter what kind, the overwhelming majority, like Daddy's, are not reversible. So, really, does it matter the type or how many types he has? He's still lost his brain function, his memory, and much of his ability to communicate - that's what's important to me.
That's kind of like life here in the Trenches. When someone finds out you're divorcing, they want to know why. Did you cheat? Did your spouse? Did your spouse just up and leave? Did they abuse you? Di you abuse them? Granted, if you are in a state with grounds for divorce, or you're in a serious relationship with another individual, the answers to all those questions are extremely important. For most friends, acquaintances and co-workers, knowing you're divorced is really all they need to know. It means: 1) you're not married; and 2) you have suffered a legal, financial and emotional loss from which you may or may not have yet recovered. Is the rest of it really all that important to the world at large? I don't think so, yet I'm continually amazed at how many people think the reason is everyone else's business and important to the continuation of life on this planet. Divorced is divorced, just like Dad has dementia. That's the only vital piece of information for most of us. Here in the Trenches.
Monday, December 3, 2012
You might have guessed that I love to read. I admit it; reading is one of my favorite hobbies. I love reading the Sunday paper. I love flying on a Sunday so I can get the Sunday New York Times and read it cover to cover. On a more mundane level, I like the Sunday Washington Post. I especially love the Business Section, so I can read Michelle Singletary's column, "The Color of Money." She has a lot good to say and provides food for thought. Not all of what she writes is easy to read, but it's always useful. This past Sunday, her column was about death. A friend died, and after death, what her friends and family found was....a perfectly organized financial life. Her friend wasn't particularly wealthy, but she had her financial house in order. Her friends and family knew what she had, where it was, and what she wanted done with it. There was nothing extraneous, no extra paper. That took a lot of work. I should know, because looking at my financial house, it would take me quite a long time to have everything scanned, filed and discarded. I guess I'd better stick around a while.
Here in the Trenches, we don't see many people like Michelle Singletary's friend. Very few clients give us perfectly ordered paperwork. Most have their finances in various states of disorganization. We can tell a lot about a client by the way they keep their papers. The ones with papers in shopping bags? We know they probably have finances that reflect their paperwork, and our hearts drop when we see the shopping bags come through the door. Give us a client with perfectly order paperwork, or even better, digitally scanned, any day. (Ooh wait, I'm hyperventilating). We know their finances will be ordered and easy to follow. Life in the Trenches is hard enough without having to organize someone else's bank statements. An organized set of paperwork frees us to think about their case and not about a filing system. We have time to analyze their case creatively. Which is a better use of clients' money? Do you really need me to answer? Here in the Trenches.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
As you might have read, Zig Ziglar died this week. Zig Ziglar was a motivational speaker. He spoke mostly about getting business and making the sale. I enjoyed his books: they were easy reads, with a lot of homespun wisdom. He told a great story. My favorite book of his was Courtship After Marriage: Romance Can Last a Lifetime. Along with getting a glimpse into a long term marriage that worked (his, naturally!), he puts between two covers everything you need to know and do to make your marriage succeed. Now, I warn you, just because all that information is in there doesn't mean that reading it will make your marriage last. Marriage is hard work, and the book is just an instruction manual. How well your marriage does depends on how much effort you put into it. A lot of people say that what Zig wrote was just common sense. If that's so, then the Trenches is testament that lots of people lack it. Do what Zig did and maybe, just maybe, we won't see you - here in the Trenches.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Back again from visiting Mom and Dad. You know that makes me a bit pensive. I didn't have time to ponder anything yesterday because I had trial today, but that's over, so here we are. Dad is not doing very well. He's aged before my eyes, even a lot since I was last down in October. He was such a vital man, so it's really hard to see such a steep decline. I know it's difficult for him too. The hardest thing for him and mom is that very few people come by to see them. With Dad, a fifteen minute visit makes his entire day. Yet people don't come. They think they have to stay longer, they don't know what to say.....What's really going on is that they can't deal with how he has become. He is a reminder to everyone of what it means to get old, to be mortal and to march toward death. They want to pretend it isn't going to happen to them. Unfortunately, it hits them square in the face when they see my dad, so they don't. They stay away in hopes that what he has isn't catching.
My, my, doesn't this sound like life in the Trenches? One day, you and your spouse have lots of friends, people with whom to socialize and who you thought were your real friends. Then, you're getting a divorce, and suddenly, like my dad, no one comes around. You're not invited out to dinner, to the movies, to the theater. Your friends say they'd love to talk to you, but now's not a good time. You're no longer part of a couple, so you're not invited to couple things. Even your single friends don't check on you anymore. You're alone and you can't figure out why. Like my dad, it's not you, it's them. People are afraid of divorce, and they think it's contagious. If they just don't see you, then they can pretend that divorce isn't close enough to touch their lives. They can delude themselves that it can't happen to them. It still might. With the divorce rate at 50%, that's a good chance. If I can't see you, you don't exist - just like a toddler's game of peek a boo. Children outgrow that game; shouldn't adults? Go see a shut in; visit with a divorced friend. They can use the company. Here in the Trenches.
Monday, November 26, 2012
We all have "difficult" clients. Today's version is the client who gets s second opinion, who reads all the relevant cases, the statutes, and insists on butting in when you're preparing his witnesses. Unlike the clients who do all this and still have no clue what is going on, who try to tell you how to run the case and they're totally wrong, this client understands. He could act like a pain and tell me what to do, and in some ways he does. What he comes across as, however, is someone who cares what happens to his life and wants to have some understanding and control in a situation which is largely out of his control. He wants to work with me to help further his case. He may make what I consider the wrong decision now and again, but that's because I don't agree with his point of view, and not because I think he's reacting instead of thinking things through. He listens to all sides and arguments before making a decision. He makes me want to be even better prepared and better versed in the issues than I am already because I don't want to let him down. After all, he's my teammate - Here in the Trenches.
Friday, November 23, 2012
Thursday, November 22, 2012
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Christmas cookie season is right around the corner. It's two full weekends, one for Frederick County, and one for Montgomery County. 110 dozen cookies in all. Yes, you heard me right - 110 dozen. That's 1320 cookies, more or less. I'll level with you - every year I think about how many cookies I have to make and wonder if I'm up to it, especially as daughter isn't around to help anymore. Luckily, I have friends who pop in here and there to watch a holiday movie, bake a dozen or ten, have some hot cider or cocoa. Once I start, I really love it; the cookies, the movies, the friends, the smells. This year is tough. A year ago, during a cookie weekend, was when Office T came to tell me there was nothing else they could do. It makes me cry just to think of it. So, there I was, sitting on the couch the other night, and I mentioned to my significant other that I really didn't feel up to cookies this year and why. Without missing a beat, he looked at me and said, "I'll bet it would please Office T to know he caused you to cancel cookies...." So, of course we're doing cookies. We owe it to Office T to do them and have fun, and share a laugh as we remember our friend. Here in the Trenches.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
I attended Maryland State Bar Association's Solo and Small Firm Conference on Saturday. One of the programs at this excellent program was the state of Gay and Lesbian marriage in Maryland. Most of us here in the Trenches thought the passage of Amendment 6, legalizing gay marriage, would make the issues surrounding the dissolution of said marriages easier. Boy, were we wrong! The passage of the act does nothing to change the laws of parentage of children born to these unions, so a second parent adoption is still necessary. Then, there's the question of dissolving all of those civil unions these folks entered into before marriage was legal - they need to be dissolved in a different proceeding. Still more, even though Maryland recognizes gay marriage, many states don't, so all those medical powers of attorney and health care agent forms still need to identify the individual as such and not as a spouse. But wait, the federal government still doesn't recognize gay marriage, so no marriage exemption for gay couples - Maryland follows the federal rule, so even though the state recognizes the marriage, it doesn't when the spouses are dead. All of this is just the tip of the iceberg. And you thought legalizing gay marriage just meant gays and lesbians have the same rights to be miserable going through divorce as heterosexuals. Turns out, they still have it worse. What a headache. Here in the Trenches.
Monday, November 19, 2012
On Saturday, the Washington Post printed a blog entry from Alexandra Petri entitled "How to Have A Secret Affair". It was delicious, especially for those of us here in the Trenches. I know Ms. Petri is a comedian and her posts are supposed to be humorous, but this one really hit the mark. Of course, she was referencing the recent (or not so recent) spate of public figures who seem to think that they can cheat and no one will find out. In this age of technology, how can anyone think they won't get caught? Especially when they use online and electronic technology to conduct their affairs. Truth is, the famous are no different than the rest of us: it's just that their humiliation is far more public. The lessons learned from the Petraeus affair should be instructive to all, and thank you to Ms. Petri for so cogently drawing them to our attention. Here are the rules for having a secret affair:
1. Don't do it, whether you are famous, infamous or just plain ordinary.
2. If you must do it, don't be seen in public. Especially, don't be seen in public holding hands, kissing, snuggling or, heaven forbid, having sex.
3. No place is ever private. The deserted footpath, the mountain trail and your own backyard all provide hiding places for industrious private investigators. You don't need to worry about the guy riding by on his bike as much as the guy you can't see.
4. Don't use cell phones to call each other. Cell phones have logs. Even if the phone company doesn't bill you by the call, they keep records. "Untraceable" throw away phones really aren't.
5. Don't send emails. Again, they can be traced and intercepted, especially if you used your date of birth or your children's names as passwords. Anything witty you might say in an email won't sound so great read aloud by a bored attorney at your divorce trial.
6. Don't send pictures of your body parts (and I don't mean your elbow) or of you scantily clothed. Truly, most of us aren't that attractive fully dressed, let alone naked. If that doesn't deter you, think how you will feel when those pictures are introduced into evidence in a public trial in an open courtroom.
Of course, if everyone followed all of the above rules, we here in the Trenches would have far less work and fewer clients. Life here in the Trenches would also be a lot less interesting. Well, we're not bored and are swamped with work because human nature means most people can't follow "the rules". That's life - here in the Trenches.
Friday, November 16, 2012
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Sometimes, you just have to meet the other side where they are. In the past few weeks, my clients and I have attended mediation in two different cases. In both cases, my client made a settlement proposal structured along one line of reasoning and approach to the family assets, and their spouse's counter-proposal approached the family assets in an entirely different way. In each case, we had two choices: we could have stuck to our guns and insisted that the other spouse approach the settlement from our point of view, or we could regroup slightly and find a way to fit what our client needed into their spouse's framework. In both cases, I chose the latter (oh, you figured that out, didn't you?), but it took a lot of work to convince my client of the wisdom of that path. Here in the Trenches, clients are used to everything being a power play, and it's hard for them to back down. They see it as a sign of weakness. Part of what we do here in the Trenches is help our clients move forward with their lives, and part of that is to help them learn to pick their battles, and decide what's really important. My clients? We revamped our offers so they mirrored the form of their spouse's, while keeping their own substance. I think it will help the cases settle. Keep your fingers crossed - here in the Trenches.
Monday, November 12, 2012
My Dad is a World War II veteran. They're a dying breed, and as they die, their stories die with them. He flew out of Italy as group navigator for 450th Bomb Group, and lead navigator for the wing and for the 15th Air Force. Dad earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses, two weeks apart, one for flying the entire bomb group over their target without instruments, using only a compass and a stopwatch. He was shot down over Anzio Beachhead, landing just inside the Allied line, straddling a latrine trench. He watched his friends die, and narrowly missed blowing up with his crew when the fuel line on their B-24 became blocked. He never talked about the war, until I had children. Even then, he didn't share until my eldest was five years old. I'll never forget that day. We were visiting the Air and Space Museum, and in the World War II room, Dad suddenly began telling my son all about the things they saw there. Soon, Dad had an audience and a tour group. I hung closer than any of them. A few years later, he started talking to their classes about the war, and my daughter interviewed him on tape. It was about that time that his bomb group started having reunions, only 50 or so years after the war. They hadn't have a reunion before then because none of them could talk about the war. What they saw and what they experienced were too painful to recall. His experience isn't unusual among veterans. The men and women who serve our country in the armed forces are ordinary people, doing extraordinary things that are too painful for most of them to discuss. They serve and suffer so we can enjoy our freedoms and our way of life. On this Veterans' Day, take a moment and thank our present and former servicemembers for their sacrifice. I know I will - here in the Trenches.
Friday, November 9, 2012
Thursday, November 8, 2012
Stress is a funny thing. When one of my puppies is getting attention or if she's not feeling well, her boyfriend is the first to let us know. He goes crazy - he circles her, sniffs her behind, licks her nose and her ears, paces the rooms, whines, and starts all over again and then again. He keeps going until she either stops getting attention, or she starts feeling well again. Then, he's calm, cool and collected. Right now, my dogs remind me of one of my clients here in the Trenches. The months leading up to their separation were tense; the anxiety was building. My client was a wreck before she told her husband she was leaving. Then she told him, and all hell broke loose. Lawyers were writing letters, and ultimatums were being issued. Off duty police for both sides were present during the move out. And did I mention that things were tense? A few days passed and we heard from the client. She and her spouse were talking, getting along and making decisions - together. The stress of living under the same roof and of the move was past, and now cooler heads could prevail - Here in the Trenches.
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Some people obsess about the things they understand. Some obsess about the things they can control. My failing is to obsess about the things about which I can do nothing. You know what I mean; I obsess about what the judge is going to do after the trial is over but before the decision is rendered. I obsess about what I could have/should have said in oral argument. I worry about how I could have handled a situation better. Certainly some of this introspection is necessary for me to do things better in the future, but I think sometimes I take it to extremes. It doesn't paralyze me from taking action, but it does cause me to lose a lot of sleep. The funny thing is that I do this only in my professional life. I don't worry nearly as much about the what ifs and the what might have beens in my personal existence. It's not that things don't matter just as much when it's about me. I worry so much at work because what I do and how I do it have an impact on the rest of someone else's life. If I make a mistake at home, I live with it. If I make a mistake at work, my client lives with it. The two feel so different because they are. It's just part of life here in the Trenches.
Monday, November 5, 2012
For the first time ever, I have a "the dog ate my homework" story. Yesterday, we settled our custody trial for today. I arranged to meet my client up the road so she could sign the agreement. Off I went, up Georgia Avenue, to meet her. On my way, the three cars in front of me slowed because there was a dog on the side of the road. Being the puppy lover that I am, I stopped. This gorgeous black pit bull came bounding over to me, jumped in my car, and.... onto the agreement. It made it quite wrinkled (which was the dog ate my homework part of this when I handed the wrinkled agreement to the judge this morning). I called the owner, left a message, and went on my way. Well, this dog had no car manners whatsoever, plus all 60 punds of him thought they could fit in my lap as we drove up the way. I pulled over, put him in the back seat, lifted the cover for the center console and placed my arm between the seats to keep him in back. After he was done licking my arm, he squeezed between.....my arm and the ceiling of the car to get in front. Luckily, I was where I needed to go by then. On the way back, he seemed to understand the drill, and stayed in the passenger seat, licking my hand the entire way. Turns out, he's a rescue. He had been given up when his owner went to jail, and spent the next few months at the pound (that he was still alive tells you everything you need to know about his temperament). Then, he was rescued and is living with his foster mommy until they can find him a good home. There are so many ways this story is like the Trenches. I could talk about how life is not the getting from point A to point B, but all the serendipitous things that happen along the way. I could talk about why I stopped and some people didn't - how we perceive danger, how we view right and wrong, how we feel about animals. What I want to talk about, however, is Nietzsche (that's his name).
For those of you who don't know, I live and work in the state of Maryland. That's the state whose appellate court recently announced that a pit bull is an inherently dangerous animal. Pit bulls don't get one free bite like other dogs. Oh no, if they bite you, you are assumed to have known they were dangerous. I wonder if the cars in front of me didn't stop because Nietzsche was obviously a pit bull. Probably. Truth is, he was less dangerous than my poodle. I can't tell you how often people here in the Trenches appear to be different than they really are. The client who appears a wee bit crazy (OK, a lot crazy), is just reacting to their spouse's crazy-making behavior. The one who is accused of being abusive is sometimes the victim. The poor defenseless spouse was actually the one calling the shots during the marriage. The big hulk of a man has low testosterone. The stud is actually impotent. The woman with the great body has had more plastic surgery than Joan Rivers. A lot of the time, what the client presents when they first walk in our door is fueled by fear and uncertainty; they seem one way, but as they feel safer and calm down, they are entirely different. It makes for an interesting life; there are always surprises for us. It's part of our jobs to look past the pit bull and see the Nietzsche. That's probably something we should all do, and not just - Here in the Trenches.
Friday, November 2, 2012
Thursday, November 1, 2012
Our own Little Miss Sunshine, a.k.a. Erin Shine, suggested that we write about divorce insurance. Yes, you heard me right, divorce insurance. It seems there's a company in North Carolina that is selling divorce insurance. Each unit costs $16 per month and provides $1,250 of reimbursement for legal fees. All you have to do is send in your divorce decree to be reimbursed. My first reaction was "Ewwww." Then, I stopped and thought some more. Sure, divorce insurance is unromantic; then again, so is a prenuptial agreement. I just purchased long term care insurance, and my choices were 1,2, 4, 5 years or indefinite coverage. In other words, I'm betting on how long I'm going to live after I need in home nursing care. It sounds morbid to bet that a marriage will end, but is it really any different than purchasing long term care insurance? Probably not. I can't see that divorce insurance would have a big market in first time marriages, but given that most second marriages fail, maybe it's not such a bad idea. I guess other people don't feel the same as I, because their website is down. Interesting concept though - Here in the Trenches.
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Today, I give credit to my friend in the Trenches, Lorraine Prete, for sharing this gem from the IACP Forum. Go get a piece of paper. No, really. Go get a piece of paper. Got it? Good. Look at the paper. It represents what you know about yourself. Fold it in half; that's what your best friend knows about you. Fold it in half again; that's what your spouse/significant other knows about you. Fold it again; that's what people who know you know about you. Fold it again; that's what you tell your lawyer about yourself. Fold it again; that's what your lawyer tells the judge. Fold it one last time; that's the information about you on which the judge makes a decision. Sobering, isn't it? Here in the Trenches.
Monday, October 29, 2012
As you all heard a week or so ago, we're having trouble with the original electricians we hired to wire our new home, here in the Trenches. Unfortunately, things have taken a rather ugly turn, and now lawyers are involved. I have been a client now twice in my life, and in both cases, the first lawyer I consulted was not the one who took me to the finish line. Why was that? Well, in the first case, the first lawyer I hired didn't listen to me. Not only that, the first lawyer gave me wrong advice. That's right, not just bad, but wrong. Hey, it was my Trenches moment, and the last person you can bluff about the law is.......someone who works there. The second lawyer? Well, for starters, he didn't lie to me and he understood the law. He also made me feel like what I had to say about my life and my case mattered to him. We worked as a team. That made all the difference in the world. Now, here we are with my electrician problem. The first lawyer with whom I spoke is a very good lawyer, very sharp. The problem is, it wasn't a good fit. I didn't feel like he understood my problem. He understood the issues and the law just fine; he just didn't understand me. I felt adrift, like I still didn't know what to do. I called a second lawyer, also a good lawyer, very sharp. I explained the situation, and he understood, not just the situation, but my problem. He made me feel understood, and so I feel moored. He knows what I need to feel that the case is settled satisfactorily. I'm in good hands. I would have been in good hands with the other lawyer as well, but it just didn't feel right. When I tell clients that the fit between attorney and client is one of the most important factors to a successful case in the Trenches, I know what I'm talking about. After all, I've been there. Clients need to pay attention to how the relationship with their attorney feels down deep in their gut. Do they feel heard? Understood? Does the attorney focus on the issues important to them? They're vital questions to answer - here in the Trenches.
Friday, October 26, 2012
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
I was at the courthouse from 10:00am until 6:00pm yesterday, with no lunch, trying to settle a case. It settled, which was good, but I missed one of our last Indian Summer days. I was too tired when I got home to do more than write yesterday's blog. Today was another of those Indian Summer days, so I made sure to come home early and take the puppies for a nice long walk. It seems I wasn't the only one appreciating the weather, because my old girl (she's 12.5) practically raced around the lake. I brought them home and went for a run. It's great to be able to run again. I'm using Jeff Galloway's system for running, which is a run/walk method. You run for a few minutes, then walk for a minute, all through the run. I first tried it when I ran the Marine Corps Marathon, and it's amazing how easy something is when you only have to do it for five minutes at a time. That first hill on my run (tell me again why I live at the bottom of a hill?) doesn't seem nearly so bad when I know I get to walk soon. The funny thing is that my running times are faster when I run and walk than when I only run. That's kind of how it is here in the Trenches. The divorce process is a marathon. There are some folks who can run the whole thing and do so quickly, but the vast majority can't. They have to work hard to finish. Some of the finishes are better than others; and the bad ones are usually due to a lack of training or starting out too fast. Pacing yourself, running some and walking some, until you can run more than you walk and do it more swiftly, gets you to the end, and you cross that finish line looking and feeling a whole lot better than those folks who didn't pace themselves. Those of us in the Trenches know who they are. They're the ones who panic about everything, obsess about things before their time, and generally over think. If those folks don't slow down, they look and feel exhausted and overwhelmed by the time we really need them to focus and obsess. Then, they're no help to anyone. They need to walk a little during their race so they can come out better in the end. Here in the Trenches.
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Over the weekend, I attended an all day seminar on how to talk about support (also known as alimony and child support). It was put on by my fabulous co-trainers at the Collaborative Practice Training Institute. I had never seen it before, so I was excited when they asked me to role play the divorcing wife and get to attend at the same time. It was a great seminar. At one point, they asked us to talk to someone at our table about when you talk about the law of support, why, and what effect it has. I think the purpose was to get us to consider how and when we talk about support affects our clients at the collaborative table. The way it's discussed can influence client expectations and also affect how clients feel about their agreements surrounding support. Clients feel a lot of pressure and a lot of uncertainty in this area, largely because the law of spousal support is so amorphous. They want to know what could happen if they go to court, so they have parameters for their discussions of amount and duration. The law creates an artificial pressure on clients which subtly influences their agreements, even if what they think is right and fair runs counter to the law. What was actually very surprising to me was how much pressure the law also places on their attorneys. In Maryland, where I practice, if you don't ask for alimony/spousal support at the time of the divorce, you can't get it later. A reservation of the right to alimony is very difficult to get in this state, so the stakes at time of divorce are very high, and the client who thinks they may not need alimony now or the client who foregoes alimony for a property transfer, may find that they either need alimony or the property they receive instead of it isn't enough. In Maryland, that's too bad. That creates a lot of pressure on the attorney advising the client to make sure enough is enough. In Virginia, a reservation of alimony is a matter of course (at least that's what the person at my table told me), so you'd think the pressure is off of them. But wait, adultery is an absolute bar to alimony, so the attorney in the case needs to be careful if their client has committed adultery. This is especially true in a collaborative case, where an affair is something material that should be revealed. Wow, what a tension that creates for the lawyer - the adultery needs to come out, but if the case falls out thereafter, their client can't receive any alimony. What's a lawyer to do, and how do they advocate effectively for their client if the law is contrary to what is best for this family?
What it comes down to, in the collaborative world and in the Trenches in general, is that the law is not just another piece of information to help our clients make decisions, as much as that is what we want it to be. It is also the elephant in the room about which the attorneys don't wish to talk. We tell ourselves it's because we're afraid the information will cause our clients to take positions and forget to focus on what everyone needs. That's true, but what is also true, and unacknowledged, is the pressure the law exerts on us as advocates in the collaborative process. How do we help our clients create a solution that is acceptable to them within a world of laws and rules that doesn't take into account their families and their particular needs? How do we help them make decisions in the collaborative process that may be at odds with what might happen in court? Helping the client negotiate for their needs, while keeping in mind the limits of the legal system, that's the pressure exerted on the lawyers in the collaborative process. It's what we navigate every day, and that we do it seemingly seamlessly is part of the tension and the art or what we do - here in the Trenches.