Monday, February 23, 2015

One Door Closes, And Another Opens

As you all are aware, Puppy Girl isn't getting any younger.  In fact, she's just over 15 years old and has arthritis and a little dementia.  Two weeks ago, we made the difficult decision to move her puppy bed out of our bedroom and down to the main floor of the house.  We were afraid that she would fall down the stairs on one of her many trips to the back door and water and food bowls during the night. We also started taking up her food and water bowls after a certain time of night, so she could sleep through the night (and so could we).  Puppy Girl was fine with the bed; in fact, she likes having it in the living room.  As for the food, so long as we fed her immediately before we took up the bowl, she was fine with that too.  The absence of the water bowl infuriated her.  Trust me, she gets plenty of water during the day and evening, so dehydration is not a concern.  She also does not have diabetes.  She just likes something to do at night.  In the 14 years that Puppy Girl has been a member of our family, she has never taken a drink from the toilet.  Heck, I didn't think she knew it contained water.  Until this week.  I woke up to water on the toilet seat, water on the floor, water trailing from the bathroom, ....and an accident by the back door.  When the water bowl goes away, the toilet beckoned.  We now close the toilet seat as well.

Funny thing is that I see Puppy Girl's behavior in the Trenches all the time.  Just last month, a client came to see me because her spouse had filed a complaint against her with child protective services.  The complaint was dismissed, and before she could catch her breath, he filed a motion for protective order on behalf of the child.  You can be sure if that is dismissed, which it likely will, he will find some other avenue to make her miserable and punish her for leaving him.  I've seen it time and time again.  When a spouse is determined to punish the other, they will succeed, and shutting off an opportunity for that to occur just means they look for another way in.

Luckily, the converse is also true.  Clients and attorneys who are determined to settle their differences out of court in a way that works for everyone involved usually find a way to do so.  If one attempt doesn't work, they keep looking for another.  It's why collaborative process works.  I have had numerous cases in collaboration where spouses have reached agreements that were final and non-modifiable, and yet, have come back to the table to renegotiate those "final" agreements because circumstances caused the agreement not to work for one of them.  They just keep brainstorming options until they are successful.  Kind of like Puppy Girl discovering the toilet, don't you think?  Here in the Trenches.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Disney Princess Guide to the Trenches - 10 Things Run Disney Can Teach Us

As I head down for my third running of the Disney Princess Half Marathon, 10 things that running Disney teach about life here in the Trenches:

1.  It's not the destination; it's the journey.  Sure, you can run a personal best at Disney, but you'd miss all the great photo opportunities.  You can win your litigated case, but miss out on an opportunity to grow by handling it collaboratively.

2.  As a corollary to number 1, sometimes you have to put relationships before results.  For the second year in a row, Daughter has not trained past the 10k, which means I either stay with her and urge her to the finish of the half marathon, or leave her in the dust.  You know which one I choose.  Again, you can win your case at any cost, or you can preserve that relationship with your stepchild, in law, or even your spouse.

3.  It helps to have people who are in your corner no matter what.  Certainly, I roll my eyes as my lovely Aunt wants me to stop for a photo opportunity in the middle of the race's biggest traffic jam, but knowing she's there, waving her sign and jumping up and down, means the world.  In the Trenches, we all need people who are just there for us, not to give advice, but just to be there.

4.  "Family" means adjusting to accommodate all of its members.  Mom, who doesn't run, would much rather eat dinner at the civilized hour of 7:30pm, but because the runners have to get up at 4:00am, eats at 5:30pm instead.  Splitting holidays means that Thanksgiving is sometimes on a Friday, and Christmas is a week late.  As long as everybody's there, you'll get over it.

5.  Being picked up by the bus isn't so bad. (You know who you are ;))  We all would like to run the race to the finish line; sometimes, that's not in cards.  There's a certain comaraderie among the folks picked up by the Disney bus.  No, you didn't want to get divorce, but others in your shoes might become your best friends.  After all, you have something in common.

6.   Patience (Yes, this is hardest for me).  We have 7 people staying in one resort.  4 are running the 5k on Friday, 2 are running the 10k on Saturday and the half marathon on Sunday.  Some are in their 20s; others are almost 80.  We're all doing different things at different times, and things do not always go as planned.  It's still fun.  The biggest disasters are some of our best memories, both before the Trenches and after.

7.   The element of surprise isn't always so great.  I'd much rather have a runner ahead of me signal that they're going to walk beforehand, rather than running them over.  Surprise depositions, bank withdrawals, affairs and the like, make the road in the Trenches much bumpier than just owning up and coming clean.

8.    The end of the race is the measure of the runner.  The end of the half marathon takes place over two or three exit ramps.  That means big hills.  Those runners who went all out at the beginning or never trained on hills, slow to a very slow walk on them.  Those runners who paced themselves and trained on hills, keep running.  Life in the Trenches is a half marathon, not a sprint.  You have to pace yourself so you and your case don't fall apart before you reach the home stretch.

9.    The planning is half the fun.  I love planning the trip; the costumes, the dinners, the transportation.  I love running the race, but that's only a few hours.  The planning takes months of smiles and anticipation.  I don't mean to say that being in the Trenches is fun, but preparation means you get what you need to move forward, and have a better opportunity for happiness after you leave us.

10.  Every life needs a little silly.  We don't have to run in costume, but we do.  Disney gives us permission to make fools of ourselves.  I give you permission too; you need it after being in the Trenches.  Silly is liberating.

See you next week!

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Crooked Bookshelf

Last week, I was visiting with a friend here in the Trenches.  She and her assistant were busy putting together a new bookshelf, one of those lovely particleboard, assemble yourself, ones.  I was content to loll around on her couch, answering emails, and heckle cheer them on.  As they finished the box and prepared to attach the backing to the unit, it appeared that the darn factory had given them a crooked backing.  Undaunted, they attached it as best they could, then stood the unit up.  You know what's coming next, don't you?  The backing wasn't crooked; the unit was.  I decided to put that lovely associates degree in interior design to work, and got off the couch.  The assistant went to the gym.  We took the unit apart.  Putting it back together, we checked the corners for plumbness.  We put pieces together a bit differently, at a different angle.  Amazingly, the second time through, the backing was straight.  We attached it, and Voila, straight bookcase.  My friend dared me to make this experience a Trenches post.  Here you go.

Putting together the bookshelf is so like the Trenches, it's almost painful.  The manufacturer gave my friend all the pieces necessary to put together a lovely bookshelf.  The box included all of the structural pieces and the hardware.  It came with directions.  My friend and her assistant followed them; it didn't work.  The bookshelf was wrong.  Some marriages are like that.  People come together with all of the right parts to make a marriage work.  They approach it methodically, and with enthusiasm.  Sometimes, it just doesn't come together, and the marriage fails.  If those same people look at their marriage, think about what went wrong and what didn't.  If they decide what parts need to change, and what can stay in place, then the next time they embark on making a marriage work, they have a good chance of succeeding.  Kind of like the second time we put the bookshelf together.  The problem with the bookshelf and with some marriages is that crooked is good enough for some people. For others, crooked isn't acceptable, but they're unwilling or unable to put forth the effort and the insight necessary to make it straight, with the result that the next bookcase or marriage is just as crooked as the first.  If clients learned enough from their experience in the Trenches to not make the same mistakes again, I'd be thrilled.  It's what I try to help them to do.  Sometimes, I'm successful, and sometimes not.  It's all up to them.  Here in the Trenches.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

10 Ways to Save Money on Your Divorce

1.  When asked to provide documents, provide them all, and organize them by date and type. If you can, scan them (in order, please - otherwise, we have to print them all out, organize and scan them again).  If you can't, please make two copies, one for your lawyer and one for the other side.  If you are not  providing something, tell your attorney what you couldn't provide, why and when you expect to have it.
2.  When faced with responding to interrogatories, answer the questions fully and provide them to your attorney electronically.
3.  If your lawyer asks for something by a given time, they mean they need it in time to review it, edit it, make sure it is complete, and provide it to the other side in the time limit provided.  When you don't give us what we ask in the time requested, we have to spend time (and your money) nagging you for it, and responding to the other side's demands for the items, orally, in letters and more formally in court pleadings.   In the meantime, resolving your case takes the back seat.
4.  We like you, but we are not your friends and not your therapists.  Your friends will listen to you for hours for free - they may not help make it better, but you know someone is listening.  Your therapist charges less than we do per hour, and is trained to help you work out your emotional issues.   Your lawyer needs to know the emotional background of your legal dispute so they can understand the barriers to your resolving the dispute, what you need to move forward, and the underlying emotions and interactions that created the dispute in the first place.  Don't call us just to chat while your case is still active. Oh, and by the way, your friends are not lawyers.  Police officers are not lawyers.  Your therapist is not a lawyer.  Don't take legal advice from them.  When you do, it takes us time to undo their damage.
5.  Keep a list of your questions.  When you think you have enough questions to fill a billing increment, ask them.  Don't call or email every time you have a question - each answer is a minimum billing increment.  The list of 5 questions takes the same amount of time to answer as your one question during five separate communications.
6.  Do your homework.  If your attorney does all the work and the thinking in mediation and before trial, it will cost you more.  It's your life; think deeply about what you need to move forward in it.
7.  Avoid all or nothing thinking.  Very few things in life are black and white. There are a lot of shades of gray.  Determine how much grey you find acceptable.  In other words, figure out what you can compromise and what is non-negotiable.  Then communicate it to your lawyer.
8.  Read all legal documents thoroughly.  That includes the letters your lawyer sends you.   Then read them two more times.  If you still don't understand them, call your lawyer and ask for help.  If you still don't agree with parts of them, tell your lawyer what you don't agree with, why, and what would be more acceptable.   You'd be amazed at how much lawyer time you can save by just reading the documents.
9.  Do your research.  If your attorney asks you to look into a specific issue like housing, school districts or budgetary items, there is a reason for the request.  Do it when we ask and do it like your future life depends on it, because it does.  If you don't do it, we have to.
10.  If you are giving us witnesses, for heaven's sake, talk to the people whose names you give us before we call them.  Ask them if they will talk to us.  Ask them if they will testify.  Tell them we will be calling.  Giving us a list of people who don't want to be involved and don't want to talk to us simply wastes everyone's time and costs you money because we will call all the people on the list.
11.  I know, I said there were 10, but here's number 11.  Don't lie to us.  Hiding the truth or lying is kind of like throwing the second punch:  the one who throws it usually is the one who gets caught.  It takes an amazing amount of time and effort to undo the damage caused by one little lie.  You'll know how much when you get our bill.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

Those of you who have been hiding in a cave without TV, radio, internet or newspapers, have missed the story of Brian Williams.  He's the newscaster who embellished the story of his helicopter ride through Hezbollah gun fire in 2003.  His original story, which was the truth, was that he was flying in a convoy, and another of the helicopters in the convoy was hit by rocket fire.  Sometime later, in 2006, he started telling an alternate story, one in which his helicopter was struck by the rocket fire.  Recently, his deception came to light.  What result?  The public began to question his coverage of other big stories.  Was he telling the truth when he reported during Hurricane Katrina?  Wait....that story was 10 years ago.  Wouldn't people just question his veracity going forward?  Nope.  Everything he has ever said is now suspect.

I can't think of a better way to describe what I call the "liar, liar, pants on fire" syndrome.  One of the most important things I tell clients is that it is important to tell the truth.  Don't embellish.  Don't omit.  Don't fudge.  Most importantly, don't tell a big lie.  I don't care the reason.  Don't lie.  Chances are really excellent the lie, omission, exaggeration, or white lie will be discovered.  Once it is, nothing that comes out of that person's mouth will ever be trusted again.  The teller of a little white lie is the same as a big fat liar in an judge's court room.  Don't believe me?  Ask Brian Williams and the court of public opinion.  Here in the Trenches.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Let's Award the Gold Medal

It was the third session of mediation.  It was the second session with attorneys present.  All told, we spent 11 hours mediating the custody of a one year old.  We settled the case.  We agreed on a schedule through the start of school at age 6.  Was it easy?  No?  Were both parents reasonable, rational people, who were uncrippled by emotion?  No.  One of them, however, was.  Let's talk about that parent.

Was that parent older, more mature?  Nope.  Did that parent have other children or younger siblings to parent?  Nope.  So, what made that client so good?  First, the client did the research.  This client read articles and studies about bonding and attachment in children.  Coming into mediation, this client  knew how often the child had to have access with both parents in those first 5 years of life to form secure attachments.  That was most important.  Second, this client knew the other parent.  The client knew the other parent's fears and needs.  The client thought about them before coming into mediation, and decided how to address them.  Was the client 100% correct in his assessment?  Of course not, but the fact that the client made a real effort caused the other parent to try to clarify and to meet the other parent half way.  Third, the client knew their own limitations.  This is all important because these three things helped the client clarify what was a necessary part of the custody agreement, and knew everything else was negotiable or expendable.  The client also knew what the other parent's concerns would be and knew how to address them.  In short, this client was about as prepared to mediate as anyone I've ever seen.  The client also knew how to use me in the mediation:  to reality test, provide detail and help create acceptable solutions.  The client utilized all the resources at hand to their best and highest use to reach an acceptable agreement.  It's how I like it.  Here in the Trenches.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

10 Favorite Sayings from the Trenches

I promised my Trenches friends that I would post our favorite sayings.  Here are the top ten:

1.  I didn't have children with him/her - you did.  What were you thinking?
2.  Tens don't marry Ones.  Prince Charming does not marry Godzilla
3.  I didn't choose to marry him/her.  What happened after the "I do" is not my fault.
4.  Don't expect me to care about your life more than you do.
5.  If you couldn't make them change while you were married and happy, don't expect me to do it when you're divorcing and angry.
6.  I'd rather you pay your mortgage than mine, but you just won't listen.
7.  I don't love your children.  The judge doesn't love your children.  Why would you want us to decide what happens to them?
8.   No, there is nothing I can do.  I left my magic wand at home.
9.  Attorneys and their clients are like dogs and their owners.  Why are you surprised by your spouse's choice of counsel?
10.  If everyone were reasonable, rational and smart, we'd be out of work.

I've been told I can probably do another 10.  So colleagues, any suggestions?  Here in the Trenches.