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Are You Insane?

Albert Einstein (a fairly smart fellow) said that the definition of insanity was “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  In that respect, it’s fairly simple to self-diagnose!  If you’ve been doing the same things over and over and still expect to see different results, you might be insane … or, you might be giving a conditioned response. Insanity needs attention from someone trained in psychiatry.  (Not my gig.) Conditioned responses need attention from you, because the only cure for the conditioned response is awareness and a willingness to change.  So what does this have to do with family law?  As it turns out, quite a lot.  You see, if you are repeatedly responding in an unhealthy way to conflicts or issues with your co-parent, expecting THEM to change, you’re probably going to be disappointed (at the very least). Here’s an example of conditioned responses (CR): You:  I’ll be there at 6 to pick up Andrew and Emily. Them (Pushing Your Button):  I told you that I needed to leave at 6.  Be here at 5:30 or not at all. You (CR):  You didn’t tell me that.  Besides, the orders say 6 and that’s when I’ll be there. Them (CR):  You heard me.  5:30 or don’t bother. You (CR):  I have to work for a living, so I’ll be there at 6. Them (CR):  Don’t bother because we won’t be here. You (CR):  Fine. I just won’t bother following court orders, but I’ll be calling my lawyer in the morning. Them (CR):  Fine.  Go ahead. But you still won’t see the kids tonight. You (CR):  Screw you!...

Are You Above Average?

Are you Above Average?  You might think so, but you’re probably not when it comes to divorce. Becoming Above Average is not nearly as hard as it sounds.  When it comes to family law matters, you don’t have to have a low percent of body fat, high IQ, big bank account or a lot of letters behind your name to be Above Average.  All you need is a little bit of knowledge and the will to use it.  In this blog series, I’ve introduced you to Tim and Kathy, a fictional couple who represent the Average Divorce.  They spent more than half their net worth and two and a half years of their lives litigating their divorce.  They depleted their savings, their available credit, and their health.  Their kids went through a traumatic custody evaluation and the family business is facing bankruptcy.  They are the poster couple for the Average Divorce.  If you don’t believe me, just ask around! So how do you avoid falling into the Average Divorce trap?  How do you become Above Average?  Here are a few ideas: Know Yourself:  Investing in some therapy will help you know yourself better, learn what your weaknesses are, and understand how to  communicate with your spouse around issues of co-parenting and finances. Know Your Money:  Engaging an independent divorce financial planner can save you and your spouse hundreds (even thousands) of dollars in legal fees, lost opportunity, and taxes. Know Your Kids:  Hiring a child specialist to help you understand your children’s developmental needs is less expensive and invasive than a custody evaluation, but can provide valuable insight into what’s best for the...

Create a new tradition!

Create a New Tradition for Your New Family Dynamic This may be your first holiday season wearing your New Family suit, and it might  not feel as comfortable as you would like, so here are some ideas to help you find the joy in the season: New Family. You, your children, your coparent, and extended family on both sides are now part of a New Family. Treat each other with the care and compassion that you would treat your own family members (would you be snippy or sarcastic to your favorite aunt or beloved sibling?). Try to remember to approach all of your interactions while silently saying the words Compassion, Gratitude, and Harmony. It will help you focus on what’s important. Kids first. If you and your co-parent (notice, we don’t use the word “ex”) are focused on what will make the holidays best for the children, you will almost certainly do the right thing. That doesn’t mean competing to see who can out-spend or one-up the other. In fact, the best way to show your love may be to discuss and agree with your co-parent on what gifts the children will receive and then present them from both of you. You can also agree to alternate favorite activities, or attend together. For example, if a “sparkle tour” is a favorite Christmas Eve activity, rent a van and take along another family. It creates a sense of adventure for the children and gives you, as co-parents, a buffer zone of other people to interact with just in case things are tense. New Traditions. Memories of Christmas (or Thanksgiving, Hanukkah,...

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...

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...

Are You Average?

How much is your case expected to contribute to a firm’s cash flow?  In a previous blog, Financial Bedlam, I introduced you to Tim and Kathy, an average couple with ordinary problems, who got an ordinary divorce.  It was just “average.” It wasn’t the best divorce or the worst, not the cheapest nor most expensive, not the longest or shortest — just average.  And that “average” divorce cost them over half of their net worth.  They were “average” consumers of legal services.  They went blindly into a lawyer’s office, wearing their emotional divorce on their sleeve and with no financial strategy in mind. Tim prided himself on being a good business man, but his impatience got the better of him and he hired his attorney based on the advice of a friend of a friend.  Tim didn’t find out until later that the attorney had no actual business experience and he failed to provide her with incentives to resolve the divorce quickly.  Tim’s attorney provided a list of the recent trials she had participated in, but didn’t give Tim any information about alternative dispute resolution.  The attorney proudly walked Tim around the law firm, pointing out original works of art, beautifully decorated offices and conference rooms with “million dollar views” of the city, state of the art technology, staff lounge, and an army of legal assistants.  The question Tim might have well asked is, “How much of this overhead cost do you want from me?” Kathy was an emotional wreck when she first met with her attorney, a man reputed to be a real “junk yard dog”  who could bring Tim into line.   They didn’t discuss fees except in abstract terms, but...