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The High Conflict Person and Their Crazy-Making Ways

In family law, we often see good people at their worst.  Sometimes, though, we see a level of conflict that is disproportionate to the situation and it may seem (if you’re in the relationship) like you are being beaten down at every turn.  The High Conflict Person can make a big fight over nothing and, worse still, they seem to enjoy it. In a recent case, Spouse A filed for divorce, told Spouse B to leave the house, and both parties hired attorneys.  We would expect Spouse A to be – if not happy, exactly – satisfied when Spouse B complied and became actively engaged in the divorce proceedings.  Not so in this case.  The more that Spouse B met Spouse A’s demands, the worse they became.  The bar was constantly moving and no one, not even Spouse A’s attorney, could stabilize the situation.  The case took almost a year to resolve, but only because Spouse A created drama, made up fights, and fueled the fire of conflict at every turn. I was going to write a blog post about how High Conflict People can derail your best efforts in settlement, and then I ran across this article by Bill Eddy, the go-to guy for high conflict situations.  Bill knows all about Spouse A – read his article here. What I particularly like about Bill’s advice is that he gives us a clear definition of the HCP: An Observable High Conflict Pattern High-conflict people (HCPs) have a pattern of high-conflict behavior that increases conflict rather than reducing or resolving it. This pattern usually happens over and over again in...

Free Consults! (Not really.)

With everyone seemingly in a panic over the state of their finances, it’s not a surprise that we’ve received a few calls asking for a “free consult.”  I find it particularly amusing when a person calls and insists that they should receive an hour of my time “for free” because “other lawyers do it.”  I think my mother would say, “and if Johnny jumps off the bridge, will you jump too?” Several years ago, I worked for a small civil litigation firm who offered case consults at no charge; however, the screening was rigorous and very few client cases were accepted.  In those cases, the retainer was usually $50,000 or more, so the idea of spending an hour or two to evaluate the case at no charge to the client was good customer service and made financial sense.   A few years later, I went to work for a family law litigation firm and the owner was clear that we did not (and would never) offer free consultations because it would end up being all we ever did.  She was right, of course, because there is a seemingly endless river of family law problems out there in the world and we have a finite number of work hours in which to address them. So, when the question was posed to me recently by a potential client about whether I would offer her a free consult, I wanted to give a complete answer.  If she reads this, then she’ll know the philosophy behind my policy of always charging for consultations. First, there is the basic tenet of exchanging value.  I will...

Miss Picky Stickler

Okay, I admit it.  I’m a stickler for details and am very picky about how legal documents are prepared.  So go ahead, call me Miss Picky Stickler if you must.  In my previous career, I was a journalist and acquisitions editor for a major publishing house.  I actually liked grammar classes in school (yes, Virginia, they once taught such a thing) so you can pull out your best nerd jokes now. This obsession came up recently when I told a client that I “preferred” to be the intial drafter of his Decree and other documents, which was a white lie because it’s much more than a preference.  I have been appalled at the work product that I’ve seen from some law offices and can now amuse you with these cautionary tales: Putting the wrong names on the documents. Yes, we all use word processing and sometimes we use an old document to create a new one (a practice I cannot recommend), but really, there is no excuse for not having the correct client names on a document.  And when it happens at my office, I cringe and correct the error immediately. Spelling the correct client names incorrectly. Again, our clients pay us good money to do things accurately, so it is very important that at least their names (and those of their children) be spelled correctly.  Of course, I have had a couple of occasions where the parent I represented didn’t know how to spell his own child’s names nor did he know their birthdays, so it wasn’t exactly our fault that those things were inaccurate in the draft of...

How Does Brainstorming Work to Resolve Issues?

The brainstorming aspect is an important element of Collaborative Practice and mediation, where all ideas (even the wacky ones!) are carefully documented. The brainstorming process is intentionally conducted (and conducted with intention) to create real buy-in from both spouses. To illustrate, here is an example of what a “who gets the house” brainstorm might look like, assuming in this instance that the Wife is keen on keeping the house. First, all the possible solutions are documented. Allocation of House Husband Wife Wife takes house and buys out Husband Husband takes house and buys out Wife Wife takes house with no buyout, but less retirement funds Husband takes house with no buyout, but less retirement funds Sell house Create LLC to hold house and Wife rents Create LLC to hold house and rent to 3rd parties Renovate house to duplex and both live there Once all the ideas are recorded, the facilitator surveys the spouses to find out if they agree, disagree, need more information, or might consider each of the options. Allocation of House Husband Wife Wife takes house and buys out Husband Yes Yes Husband takes house and buys out Wife Yes No Wife takes house with no buyout, but less retirement funds Need more info Yes Husband takes house with no buyout, but less retirement funds Need more info No Sell house Yes No Create LLC to hold house and Wife rents No Yes Create LLC to hold house and rent to 3rd parties No Yes Renovate house to duplex and both live there No Maybe Now that the first round is done, those options lacking consensus...

What I learned on Summer Vacation

Summer is almost over, at least on the calendar.  Here in Arizona, we have several weeks of hot weather ahead, and I hope you have a chance to escape the heat for a little vacation.  Some people went on vacation under less-than-optimal conditions, and the lesson – both from Judge Ryan and from my own three-week road trip through the American West – is that trying to control the “little stuff” will drive you crazy and detract from your ability to appreciate the “big stuff.”   From all of us at Donison Law Firm, we salute Judge Rayn and appreciate his wit and humor in handling a crazy mess of “little stuff.”   From an actual Minute Entry, June 6, 2013, Maricopa County Superior Court In Re Marriage of McCXXXX The Hon. Timothy J. Ryan “The Court is in receipt of Mother’s Motion for Permission to Travel Out-of-State with children. It is sad that such a motion has to be written, let alone ruled upon. The motion does not indicate how long Mother intends to remain outside the state of Arizona on her vacation. The motion does not indicate why Father has any objection to the children having fun at the Happiest Place on Earth, the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California. The court cannot think of any good reason why any parent would refuse to agree in writing for his or her children to go to Disneyland. Had Father timely consented, Maternal Great Grandmother would have been able to purchase the tickets at a cheaper price. The Court takes judicial notice of the fact that, as a result of...

Mediation: Two Views

This month I worked with two very different couples in two very different mediations, and it occurred to me that if you are in the divorce process, you know nothing of other clients’ experiences, which might be helpful in making a decision about mediation. Here’s the back story:  Couple A (let’s call them Anne and Arturo) and Couple B (Ben and Barb) have more than a few things in common.  They are all working professionals, but at different levels of pay.  Both couples have one young child (Abby and Boris).  They both have moderate debt and assets.  They are all smart and capable, and they all want a divorce that preserves their sanity, resources, and relationship as co-parents of their children.  And both couples chose mediation as the vehicle for settling their divorce. Anne and Arturo have a very communicative relationship, even now, in the midst of divorce.  They share equal time with Abby and talk about her to each other all the time.  Anne tends to be more outgoing and decisive, while Arturo is more quiet and contemplative.  They have been working through their issues in mediation two hours at a time for several months.  We are almost at resolution, with only a few details left to hammer out, and Anne and Arturo both needed this time to fully process and absorb the agreements they were making.  They have thoroughly reviewed their settlement documents at least three times, and are giving them a final review before signing.  Anne and Arturo have repeatedly told me how much they appreciate the fact that we never rush or pressure them to agree to anything they don’t understand or...