Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Happy New Year

I have decided to take a vacation from posting until after the new year.  See you all in January 2013.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Happy Holidays?

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

Half Nelson, Ball and Chain, Cradle...Pin

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


Christmas Cookies + Montgomery County =
80 - 90 dozen
Enough Said


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Radio Star?

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

What Should I Do?

Life here in the Trenches is full of choices.  Some are little choices, and some are life altering.   The choices that are made are the client's.  What we do in the Trenches is make sure the client has all the information necessary to make the choice, reality test the options, and advise on the advantages and disadvantages of any course of action.  For us to really help the client, however, we need as much information as possible.  Some of that information is what we gathering the discovery process.  Some of it, however, is known only to our client.  For example, in a recent case, the largest asset of the marriage was the spouse's deferred compensation plan, which plan paid out only once the spouse actually retired.  That's not an unusual situation.  My client wasn't interested; my client wanted monthly payments starting today and ending at social security retirement age, which after taxes would equal her share of that deferred compensation plan.  Each spouse was adamant on the form of their payout: the spouse, because there was no need for him to come up with any cash; my client, because she wanted the income now.  My client and I discussed and discussed this issue, and I was at a loss to understand why she was willing to give up that retirement income in lieu of monthly payments in the form of alimony now.  That is, until she told me that she has a long family history of a serious disease, and that because of this disease, it is extremely unlikely she will survive until her spouse decides to retire (and he would probably not retire early because he knew of this disease).  For her, it was more important that she have the money to live on now, rather than an expectancy that she might never realize.  She knew herself and her family history, and with that piece of information, I was able to meet her where she was and advise her with full knowledge of what would be in her best interest.  Without that information, my helpfulness would have been limited, or I might have advised her to take a different path.  It's vital that those of us in the Trenches really get to know our clients; not just the case and the problem before us, but the client himself or herself.  That knowledge makes the difference between our being effective and ineffective.  No piece of knowledge is too small if it helps us understand what makes the client tick and makes us more effective advocates.  Here in the Trenches.

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

The Pecking Order

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

The What and Why

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

Would You Like it Dewey Decimal or Alphabetical?

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.