Friday, November 21, 2014

Is It the Destination Or The Journey?

I talk a lot about process and helping clients identify and reach their goals.  You would be forgiven if you thought that I just meant that on one level.  Certainly, I want to help clients decide what financial and parenting goals are important to them.  Those are the macro goals.  What I don't talk about much are process goals, yet they are equally important.  How will the client and their spouse resolve any future disputes?  How will the parents reconcile expenses for the children?  How will they determine how to calculate what each of them gets from the settlement?  How will they decide who to do their taxes?  Who to sell their house?  How will they decide?  It's not as easy as it sounds.

Some people need a detailed process with lots of steps, checks and balances, and details.  Some folks need something a little less formal, just a general sketch of what to do.  Still others need no process at all.  Here in the Trenches, we talk to our clients about how they made decisions in the past, what worked and what didn't work.  We ask them what makes them comfortable.  We ask them about their spouse and how they make decisions.  We explore the level of trust between them.  We discuss it and assess.  You see, the terms of an agreement are only as good as the process used within it.  A durable agreement with an acceptable outcome means all of the terms, both substantive and procedural, are acceptable.  The process is something most clients overlook.  Not us.  Here in the Trenches.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Life Is What You Make It

Daughter's and my trip to Italy was a Groupon.  We flew on the plane with four other couples who had bought the same Groupon.  Technically, we were on the same trip.  Yet, our trips were anything but the same.  One couple decided to use our hotel in Montecatini as their base to explore Italy's major cities:  Rome, Florence, Venice.  Another couple took advantage of Monetcatini's spas, and left Montecatini a day early so they could see more of Milan.  We explored the Tuscan countryside and cities near us.  Yet, it was all the same trip.

Saturday, I ran a half marathon.  I needed a good time in order to secure a better starting position at the Disney Princess Half Marathon (so Daughter and I could enjoy some photo ops with the characters), and I wanted to post a personal record (I did).  As I milled around waiting for the start, I talked to a number of other runners.  One was running their first half marathon, and just wanted to finish.  Another ran it every year just because they love it.  Lots of folks were trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon.     Same basic course, up and back for 6.55 miles on the C & O canal path, yet, each person was running a different race.

Life in the Trenches is much the same.  Everyone goes through the same basic process.  It's their goals that make the difference in the experience and the result.  It starts with a state of mind.  Part our job here in the Trenches is to help our clients explore where they are and where they want to be.  We have to listen to what is important to them, not in terms of things, but what they represent.   Then we help them translate what is important to them into long and short terms goals.  Their goals sometimes determine the process, but goals always determine how they act during the process.  Everyone is different, and so the process, although basically the same for everyone, is individual.  Here in the Trenches.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes

My fabulous yoga instructor also believes that everything is connected.  We start every class by working on our feet.  Why?  Because the health of the feet controls the rest of the body.  I certainly found that out when my knee problem cleared up once my sore toe resolved itself.  My yoga instructor believes that misaligned feet create a domino effect on the rest of the body, just as healthy, well-aligned feet are the building block for a healthy body.  It's like dominoes, one piece affecting the next.  I know, my yoga instructor should meet my dentist.  Anyway, from our feet, we work our way up to the hips, the low back and then the shoulders.  Everything is interrelated.

That's how it is here in the Trenches.  Everything is interrelated.  Certainly, in a purely mechanical sense of things,  you never settle property without also settling support, because the property a party possesses is a factor in determining support.  The amount of time a parent has with their child may affect child support.  Those things are not about which I speak.

The interrelation I'm talking about is far more subtle. I firmly believe that how well and how quickly people recover from divorce has to do with how involved they are in the process itself.  I don't think it matters whether a client wanted the divorce or not.  What matters is how connected they are with the process.  How do they work with their attorney?  Are they involved?  Are they interested in what is going on?  Now, there's a fine line between being interested and involved and being controlling.  Being controlling is not being involved; it is being separate and apart from the process and manipulating it to an end which was predetermined before becoming involved in it.  Not the same, and not healthy.  Interest equals curiosity and investment.  It's knowing what you know and what you don't, and working with a professional or two or three to learn.  Involvement is doing the hard work of focusing on future goals, asking the hard questions, gathering the information and thinking about solutions that work for them and their family.  If this sounds like the collaborative process, that's because it is.  It is also mediation, litigation, and negotiation.  They call the stages something different in each process, but in their somewhat different forms, they are all present.  Why?  Because it works.  Believe it or not, it is the process that helps the healing.  Huh?  The pain of the divorce process is connected to getting past the process?  Of course it is. Why else would all the stages be the same?  Here in the Trenches.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

We're All Connected.... so many ways.  I have fairly severe temporal mandibular joint disorder.  It is so bad that as a teenager, my jaw would pop out of joint and freeze in the open position (OK, no cracks about me and my big mouth!).  Needless to say, it was painful.  My head tied in knots; I lived with daily headaches.   My sinus headaches were more severe than at any other point in my life.  I went to dentist after dentist. A couple of them thought it was all in my head (really?).  One thought daily injections of painkillers in my mouth would solve the problem - that killed a few nerves and created a decades long fear of novacaine needles.  Finally, I found a dentist who understood what was going on.  My teeth didn't mesh properly and the resulting misalignment threw all the muscles in my head off.  He rebuilt my mouth - no mean feat, as my bite is like the proverbial princess and the pea.  I now have a different dentist, who I adore, and thank heaven's he's patient and painstaking, because the princess and the pea is back because crowns don't last forever and have to be replaced.  It will be fine, because he gets the interrelationship between my bite and the muscles and joints in my head.   In fact, he just worked with a dentist who believes he can utilize the alignment of the bite to correct a misalignment in the hips.  Wow.  Way more complicated than simply taking care of the health of the mouth, which is what he was initially trained to do.

Anyway, during one of my many trips to the dentist this past week and a half, my dentist mentioned that he had just attended a training on domestic violence.  Yes, you heard me correctly, my dentist attended a continuing education on domestic violence and how to identify it.  My poor dentist.  Not only does he have to pay attention to the health of the teeth and gums, he also has to study the anatomy of the rest of the body starting with the mouth, and be cognizant of the signs of domestic violence as it relates to dentistry.  It keeps him on his toes for sure, and guarantees he will never be bored in his work.

Here in the Trenches, life is much the same as for my dentist.  I, and most of my colleagues who toil here, are not amused when lawyers say they thought they'd try family law because "how hard can it be?"  Plenty hard.  Family law is not just about obtaining a divorce.  It's not only about divvying up possessions.  In order to practice family law and do it well, we have to know tax law, bankruptcy, and psychology.  We have to understand the latest theories about children and attachment to parents.  We need to be able to identify and work with people who are emotionally overwrought or mentally ill.  We have to understand retirement plans, military regulations, how to value a business or a house.  We need to understand how a mental health professional performs an evaluation, how to assess research in different substantive areas.  We need to know basic accounting, how to trace money, and of course, how to spot domestic violence and assess lethality. All of that changes and we have to keep up with those changes.  That is all in addition to knowing how to do all the other things a lawyer does, like try a case, negotiate and get that pesky divorce.  It's not easy; in fact it is one of the more difficult areas in which to practice because of all the types of things we need to know what to do, as well as the stress of having and managing emotional clients.  Everything affects everything else.  It's all connected.  .Just ask my dentist.  Here in the Trenches.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

I'm Leaving On A Jet Plane

Are you tired of hearing about my trip to Italy?  Sorry, I still have more to say,......but not today.  Today, I want to tell you the story of a mediation.  Here in the Trenches, the hardest, most heart wrenching cases are move aways.  That's when one parent is moving out of the area and wants the child to go with them.  Some parents can discuss and agree what will happen to their child in that case, but many more cannot.  It is torture to think one parent or the other will not be a daily or even weekly part of their child's life.  When parents can't agree on where the child will live and when they  will see the other parent, they usually end up in court.  When that happens, the cases hardly ever settle; a judge usually makes that decision.

I am in the midst of a move away case now.  Both parents are fit and loving parents.  For the last three years, their child has spent relatively equal time with both of them.  Now, however, one parent has to move across the country.  The parent has no choice.  We are headed to court.  What I suggested, and the other attorney agreed, was that we head to mediation.  Wait, didn't I say these cases rarely settle?  Yes, I did.  We are headed to mediation to determine the access schedule for each parent with the child.  We simply aren't going to decide which parent gets which schedule.  We'll let the judge to that.  Why are we doing this?  If you think about it,  it makes sense to do this.  Both parents have an incentive to make sure both parents' access schedules are acceptable because they don't know which of them will get which schedule.  They also retain some control in a system which removes their control.  As an added bonus, they are using their lawyers and paying attorney's fees toward a constructive and positive result.

So, we were mediating this case today.  Both parents are at the table, working hard.  We start discussing how often the child will fly back and forth in the first six month period.  No surprise, the parents don't agree.  One parent wants the child to fly back and forth every month. The other?  Only once at three months and then again at six.  Why such a difference?  Well, the parent who wants the monthly travel thinks they will miss the child too much if they don't see him every month, at least at first, and wants to see him often.  The other parent is concerned about how that much travel will affect the child.  Will it be too disruptive for him?  Will it be too confusing?  Which parent is looking out for the child's best interest?  Can you tell?    I know, that's just one fact the court is going to look at to decide this child's access schedule.  Still, do you look more positively at a parent feeling that more frequent contact more often with a parent is in the child's best interest, or do you view with more favor a parent who wants stability in the child's daily life?  So glad I'm not a judge.  Here in the Trenches.

Monday, November 3, 2014

But Wait, There's More

      So many lessons from Italy.   Today's deals with priorities.  Nowhere is the difference in priorities between the USA and Italy more evident than at the airport.   In Italy, service in restaurants is slow.  Permitting for building is slow.  Lines at airports  That's right; they're fast and efficient.  In the USA, service in restaurants is fast. Permitting for building is fast.  Lines at airports are interminable.  The difference is one of attitude.  In Italy, meals are meant to be savored leisurely, and really, what is the rush to finish a building?  Waiting to board public transportation is simply a waste of time.  People could be having a latte or cappuccino instead of waiting in line.  They could have a glass of wine and laugh with friends.  They need to get us through something that is a nuisance, necessary as it is, so we can enjoy the things that make life worth living.
       The Italians, are remarkably efficient with their airport security.  Follow me on this.  Daughter and I show up at the airport.  We check in at the desk and show our passports.  We walk to the security line, which was REALLY long, and show our passports.  We're nervous.  There are only two lines open at security.  There are only three, that's right, three people working at each line, one checking passports and tickets, one ushering folks through the scanner, and one reading the xray of bags.  We sigh and resign ourselves to a super long wait.   We thought it was a good thing we had to be at the airport 3 hours ahead of time.  10 minutes later, we were completely through security.  Did I mention the line was really long?  It wasn't that they asked us to do any less than the TSA here in the USA.  In fact, we had to take more things out of our bags, although we could keep our shoes on our feet.  It wasn't that their scanners were any different than ours.  The Italians were simply really efficient.  Oh, and coming into the country,  passport control moved like lightening, whether you were a European resident or not.    
       Then, Daughter and I reached the USA.  What a cluster.....  Getting through passport control wasn't too bad.  Then, we had to get our bags and go through another check before our bags went on to their final destination.  That line was REALLY long.  There were three people at the desk, so we weren't too worried.  Until we saw only one of them was actually working.  That's right, 3 full flights arrived, at least 100 people are waiting in line, and of three people, only one of them was working.  That line took half an hour to get through, and all they had to do was check our passports (again) and ask us if we had anything to declare to customs.  Then, even though we had gone through security in Europe, they made us go through security again.  There was only one line open at security to check tickets and identification.  Then there were two lines open at the security check.  I counted 5 people working on each line.  I don't know what they were all doing, and neither did they.  The line wasn't that long, maybe 20 people, a small fraction of the people in Italy.  It took almost another half an hour to get through.  No one had any clue what they were doing.  Daughter almost missed her connecting flight.  We were both frustrated.  Obviously, American priorities at airports are not on getting passengers through the line. That's not part of their value system.  They just don't care.
       Just as Italians and Americans have different priorities, so do clients here in the Trenches.  For some clients, keeping the children in their same environment is critical.  Or maybe it's safeguarding their retirement.  Perhaps, it's spending more time with the children, or spending less on child or spousal support.  For some, the priority is getting through the process as fast as possible  Maybe the priority is to finish as cheaply as they can.  Some want to take it slowly and thoughtfully.  At times, it seems like the difference between Italian airport security and American.  Part of our jobs here in the Trenches is to help our clients decide what is most important, both in life and in process.  Another part is to find a way to meld the priorities of both spouses in order to choose the process that works for everyone and to help them both meet at least their most important priorities.  Sometimes we can, and sometimes, one client demands everyone march to the beat of their drummer.  Everyone is not the same, nor are their priorities; unfortunately, when clients don't realize that, the process kind of feels like an Italian suffering through American airport security, or an American trying to obtain an Italian building permit - painful and frustrating.  Again, there are reasons people are divorcing, and differing priorities are usually a big part of that.  Simply realizing that one fact and accounting for it in what you do and say can make a huge difference.  Here in the Trenches.