Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Importance of Family Role Models

I never had any heroes growing up, and mostly I learned from the mistakes made by those around me. I was not raised in a household with a full cast of characters, so I never got to see how a couple resolves conflict, nor did I ever get to have any fights with any siblings or cousins. It is almost like being raised in a bubble, and perhaps that explains why I was so drawn to family law, where I got to see first-hand the conflicts families encounter.

Many think that my work must be depressing, yet every day I see families making immense sacrifices and working together during a separation in order to minimize the downside for their children. On a daily basis, I see people make some of the toughest decisions-- risking emotional and financial security, in the hopes that by leaving an unhappy or unhealthy situation, they can provide their children with a happier, calmer, safer future. The clients I work with understand that they are role models for their children, and they do not want them to grow up thinking that it is okay to live in a miserable situation or that money can buy happiness, because they have already witnessed for themselves that nothing could be farther from the truth.

Obviously, in an ideal world couples would do their best to resolve conflicts and stay together in one household, but I have learned that conflict resolution is a rare skill. I marvel at the fact that my aunt (who is celebrating her birthday today) has been married for 34 years and raised two beautiful, well-grounded daughters. She is an amazing person, full of wisdom and patience. I wish it had not taken me 38 years to find her, but I am very grateful that Auntie B. is in my life now.

Family role models are truly special because generally only a catastrophic incident will sever that connection, and fortunately for most, those are rare. I will never know what it would have been like to grow up with people that looked like me or thought like me to help me in my early years, I can only imagine that it would have been great. Speaking as the child who always craved a family role model that could help guide me through life's challenges, I think it is critical to foster these family bonds, even when (actually especially when) the family is no longer in an intact household.

We all need some inspiration and assistance navigating life's difficult journey. Having a role model that is part of your family somehow make the challenges less daunting-- we draw strength from within our own clan. Family role models are the best-- they are the rocks that ground us, and even though it took me 38 years to find them, the rocks I found this year are like diamonds to me.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Can Collaborative Save Us?

There once was a time when it was considered an honor to be a lawyer. Those times used to seem long gone to me-- until I was introduced to the Collaborative approach five years ago.

At a recent lecture, Ralph Nader posed the question whether the practice of law has become less of a profession and more of a trade? Indeed, I have heard numerous great thinkers in the legal field lament over the demise of our once noble profession. The problem, as I see it is that somehow in the last 50 years, we have allowed people to use the law as a weapon. Maybe people need to remember the original intent of the law?

Prof. David Hall wrote a thoughtful essay about how the law was created as a safety net for society when all other social norms failed-- it was meant to protect against gross injustice. Obviously, we can always aspire that our clients do more than the bare minimum, but that requires the attorney to embrace the role of a counselor, not just an advocate. Unfortunately, the latter skill has been emphasized in recent years, during which time many have misused the judicial system to gain incredibly unfair advantages by playing games of strategy without care or concern as to the greater social impact. These actions have now tarnished the reputation of so many in my field.

When I was beginning to lose hope, the Collaborative model was introduced to DC. In this practice area, professionals sign an agreement to work together on cases and not play games. We make a pledge to help families preserve their resources as much as possible, and we disqualify ourselves from taking a Collaborative case to court. We essentially take an oath to do no harm-- a revoluntionary way of thinking for some so accustomed to the gladiator model we use in courts.

The results in the Collaborative cases I have seen are not widely different from the settlements reached in a litigation model, it is simply the way the parties got there that is so vastly different. In a few civilized meetings, we work through the same issues that need to be addressed in court, without the posturing, the nasty grams, and threats. It is such a humane way to resolve disputes, and as this model has continued to gain popularity, it has restored my faith not just in the legal profession, but humanity as a whole.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

During Trying Times, Try Words of Affirmation

Many of us thrive on gaining external positive affirmation for our endeavors. We all need positive reinforcement for our efforts at home, work and in our personal relationships, but the key is to not rely too much on others to validate your existence. Sometimes, people are so wrapped up in their own lives and challenges that they won't take the time to recognize the time and energy you have placed in something you thought was quite noteworthy. Maybe there is also some underlying issue of jealousy or envy. It is so hard not to take this personally, but the best advice I ever got was that you should just do something for your own sense of fulfillment without ever expecting anyone else to appreciate what you have done-- if they do, it will be a bonus, but expecting praise from others is a recipe for disaster.

Most of my life, I have felt like the little boy in the Kite Runner, chasing that kite and waiting for that glorious day of ultimate praise. If you have read the story, you know how it ends. I cried when I read that book a few years ago, and it really made me reassess things. This past year, I severed all contact with one parent and went in search of the other; I also resigned from my firm this summer and decided to return to solo practice. These were not easy choices to make, and although the gains outweighed the losses, there was a significant amount of loss. Not everyone around me understood or agreed with my choices, but the bottom line is that it no longer mattered to me what others thought, I just needed to be at peace with myself.

Different events may create a trigger that sets a person off on a life-altering journey, but the most important thing to remember is that during these trying times, you will have to rely immensely on your own inner strength. During difficult times, you really do learn who your core group of reliable sources are, but these may not always be available for you, and there will be incredibly lonely times when you have to be able to validate yourself. Every morning I found it helpful to come up with three positive phrases filled with words of affirmation that made me look forward to each new day. Sometimes, we have to find our own hope within ourselves, and if you can find the courage within yourself to face the challenges that lie ahead, what greater affirmation is there than that?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Let's Apply the Golden Rule to Dating

The past several years, I have encountered all types in the dating world.  Here are the top 10 characters that I prefer to avoid:

1. Control Freaks
2. Narcissists
3. Problem Accumulators
4. Commitment Phobes
5. Players
6. Drama Queens
7. Socially Awkward
8. Emotionally Unavailable
9. Incredibly Insecure
10. Psychos

Not all these traits can be screened out right away, so as the saying goes, you may have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince or princess...

Luckily, I have met several perfectly decent guys, and sometimes there just isn't enough chemistry or we ruled each other out as geographically inconvenient. As long as we all had fun while it lasted, were honest with one another and treated each other with respect, I've found it is possible to maintain friendships with past lovers, and yes sometimes these lines may blur, but always there is profound respect because we followed the Golden Rule.

Now we may all disagree about if/when you owe anyone an explanation, and what that needs to look like.  I'm a big fan of an in person discussion with someone that I've been seeing for at least 5 months.  That's just my thing, but if you can't do it in person, then pick up the phone-- do not just send a text or email, a lot gets misconstrued when you cannot hear the tone in someone's voice.  And for the love of God, just keeping it simple.  I stick to either: (1) this can't continue any longer or (2) this isn't working out.  If someone has follow up questions, I may try to be more specific, like "I want something more serious" or sometimes when it's the opposite, "I don't want something so intense right now."  No matter what, there is no point in attacking someone's character or re-hashing past arguments.  You can vent your disappointment to another buddy another day.  If you want to exit gracefully, you need to deliver the message and get the hell out or off the phone fast.

Some of you may be wondering why not go into details, and well let me ask you this- if you are dealing with a narcissist, do you really think that s/he is going to take kindly to the fact that you think they are totally self-absorbed?  Do you really think drama queen will keep it together if you tell them that you can't take the emotional roller coaster ride any more?  I highly doubt a commitment phobe is going to be inspired to commit as I'm breaking up with him, and the only thing a control freak is going to want to do is try to re-assert control of the situation.  Do you get my drift?  Explanations with these folk is pointless, and in fact with those that have anger management issues you really have to think twice about the in-person good-bye because it may just not be safe.

I realize that closure conversations are hard, well except for me, I have to do them every day-- literally, I am often the one sending the "Dear John" letter on behalf of my divorce clients, and many times I've had to plan the escape plans and draft the final good bye messages for spouses.  So maybe this helps you understand why for me it is difficult to comprehend how some people out there can just go radio silent.  The question I keep asking myself when I hear these stories of people going MIA is how would that person feel if roles were reversed?

For those that may feel inclined to go radio silent, I am going to take a wild stab in the dark here, but I'm going to guess that you hate conflict.  Those that want to avoid conflict are the ones that will want to just run away from a difficult conversation, but I have to ask you how do you think it is possible to get through life without learning to confront challenging situations?  Maybe the best way for you to see the problem with just walking out is to ask yourself this: how would you feel if someone treated your mom, sibling or child this way?

We all have very different emotional capacities, just as our IQs can vary greatly.  Some people truly lack emotional agility, so for those of you that may be struggling because someone just left you in the lurch, let me just assure you that the lack of a conversation isn't a reflection on you, but rather on the other person.  S/he may really not be equipped to handle conflict and exit gracefully.  As one of my friends very nicely pointed out- which would you prefer silence or an out of control meltdown?  Having experienced both, I can honestly say that silence is hands down preferable to witnessing a terrifying emotional outburst.

The final point I want to make is that it is a small world, and here in DC it's a very small town, so if you don't behave with your dates, word will get out.  People talk, and they love gossip, so try your best to minimize feeding into that, and when in doubt just stick to the Golden Rule, or perhaps remember it this way: don't do unto others what you would not like done to you.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Paradigm Shift from Litigator to Collaborator

This fall, as I gear up for my new round of lectures, I am really excited to share my views on what we call the "paradigm shift" from litigator to collaborator. As a litigator, I was intially trained to hear my client's story and figure out his/her desired outcome. It was then my job to zealously represent that person and get the best possible result for that one person. But over time, I realized that most people going through a divorce are in an incredibly emotional state; they are going through a tragic phase in their lives, and they cannot always see things clearly or use their best judgment. They can barely comprehend what is going on from their own perspective, let alone try to explain what might be going on from the other person's point of view.

The games of strategy in litigation are endless, and the costs of litigation often fueled by a clients' distorted view of reality and unrealistic expectations driven by their anger can be astronomical. I have seen several cases where the parties each spend $300,000 or more in litigation fees. The only ones who truly win at the end of the day in those cases are the attorneys, not the families.

I went to law school to help people, and in a divorce, I believe it is my duty to promote the family's well being, especially when children are involved. I would like to see people dissolve their unions with dignity and grace. If they can learn to talk in a respectful manner and resolve their differences outside of a public courtroom, without using attorneys as their mouthpieces, I believe couples can salvage a tremendous amount of goodwill, especially for the sake of the kids. Getting people to focus on a win-win as a desired outcome that minimizes the loss for everyone within the family system is a much more humane and socially responsible approach.

My collaborative trainings have broadened my thinking in ways I never could have imagined. I now want to hear everyone's concerns, understand them without passing judgments, and work in a team approach with my colleagues to help families reconfigure their ties and fairly redistribute their obligations. By internalizing these lessons and applying them in my personal life, I wound up going on an completely unintended journey. So many things that I thought mattered before are actually quite insignificant today. While I may not make as much money as my litigation oriented counterparts, I live a far more balanced, healthier life, where my focus is on creating a better future for children of my son's generation.

Many litigators try to claim that collaborators are just scared of the courts, but as a wise colleague once pointed out to me, it is actually the litigators that are afraid to collaborate. They should be afraid-- very afraid, for the more the public becomes aware of this alternative resolution model, the less people will waste their time and money fighting battles in court that are not worth fighting.

Courts make mistakes-- I am living proof of that fact. In 1978 a court decided there was insufficient evidence for a finding of paternity, and so I was left to live a life for 38 years without a father. Only by learning to seek understanding, without passing judgment, was I finally able to approach this man to get answers to my own past. The result of my efforts far surpassed any expectations I could have had in this reunification process. Not only do I finally have my father in my life, but an amazing set of loving and supportive relatives that have proven to be incredibly accepting, patient and kind.

The Collaborative approach has completely altered my way of thinking, and I am eternally grateful to all those that played a part in my transformation. For those that just don't get it, I feel pity. Staying mired in the dark side is such a sad way to live. My senior year quote from Racine's Phedre was that in later years, when I came to know myself, I would be proud of the person I came to know. For the first time in my life, I can honestly say I accomplished that goal-- I wonder how many other lawyers can truly same the same?

Monday, September 19, 2011

With Divorce Lawyers, One Size Does Not Fit All

People going through a divorce have different goals and interests. There are some that are incredibly angry, and they want a "legal shark" to make the other person suffer. Then there are those who are simply sad, but not mad that the marriage did not work out, and they would like to exit as quickly and gracefully as possible. The statistics actually show that 66% fall into the latter category, and those are truly the people I enjoy working with the most, not the former.

After over a decade of experience with family law cases in the nation's capitol, most people are fully aware of the reputation I have established. I volunteer a lot of my time to promoting settlements outside of court, including the use of Collaborative Divorce and mediation as alternatives to resolve family disputes. I have chosen to spend my time dedicating my efforts to helping families preserve as much goodwill as possible, and to focus on the children. I feel I am helping create a better society, and in making that choice I accept that I will never generate the kinds of fees that my litigation colleagues can make for their firms.

The fact is, most Americans, cannot afford a full blown litigated case, and it is my goal to help as many people as possible at reasonable rates. True "high-conflict cases" only comprise about 20% of all divorces, but unfortunately those are the ones people hear about the most. These tend to gravitate towards big firms with 24/7 resources for these cases that often demand immediate attention. For those that feel they need these kinds of services, and are able to pay the huge rates that accompany that type of service, it is still imperative that clients research the reputation of the firm's partners. All divorce lawyers are not created equally, and if you are going to entrust your family's future to someone, you need to make sure you are in good, trustworthy hands.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Dating Basics- For Those In Need of a Refresher

I know for the last 40 years women have been working towards complete equality with men, but many of us remain traditionalist outside the workforce. Recently, a guy was complaining to me about the fact that it is always expected that he will be the one to ask a woman out, and that he should be the one to pay. The conversation went on far longer than necessary, and I learned way more than I ever needed to about this guy's life. I wish I could reclaim the lost time, but maybe that talk was not in vain, if I can use it to help some others out with some basic dating guidelines, so here we go:

1. Most women are going to expect that if a guy is interested, he will ask her out.
If she agrees to drinks, coffee, whatever, and the man likes like her, it is proper manners for the man to pay the bill. Then within 48 hours, the man should follow up with an email, text whatever, saying he had a nice time.

2. If a woman likes a man after the first date, she will respond and will make time to get another date on the calendar within a fairly reasonable time.

3. During the first few dates, look to see if you are taking turns sharing the basic information you need when checking for compatability. It is not just about chemistry, which is key, but also do you connect when you talk about one another's backgrounds- family, education, work experience, interests?

4. After the first two dates, you should try to do an activity together-- not the X-rated kind. For example, try going to a concert, movie, museum, or go for a bike ride or hiking together. We can all be on our best behavior for a few hours, but spending a longer amount of time together is a great way to gauge how well you hang for extended periods of time.

5. Be sensitive to each person's time constraints, other responsiblities, and need for space and time to process his/her emotions and proceed at a comfortable pace. Especially if you are dating a professional, who may have children and other family obligations, you cannot expect to rank as a priority anytime soon in that person's life.

Finally, the best advice I can give anyone is to just have fun playing 20 questions. Think of dating as a social experiment-- you are learning about others, and in the process about yourself, including the things you like and don't like in a partner. Each date hopefully brings you that much closer to finding the right one. And for the guys who think they have to do all the tough work, let me just say this-- I wish I could just pay $20 for a haircut. I wish all I had to do was take a shower before a date, without having to worry about makeup and finding that perfect outfit with the perfect shoes and handbag to match. I wish my drycleaning bill was just $2 per shirt, and not $15 per dress. So if you would rather pick up the tab for all those other expenses, I will gladly pay the $20 for a round of drinks, otherwise stop complaining and just be a man.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Why Do Boys Just Hang, While Girls Talk?

Recently, my son asked me, "why do you girls always get together and talk?" I laughed, for I have been observing over time thay boys really do spend time together much differently than girls. Men tend to do an activity together-- watch sports, play a game, get a beer and watch t.v., and that is just fine with them. Meanwhile, women get together and we talk. We might share a meal together, go shopping, head to the spa, go watch a movie or work out together, but the time we spend together is filled with the stories we share with one another-- we do not just hang. Having seen this over time and read various theories on this, I had my answer ready for my son: Back in the day, when men were hunters, they had to spend time together, but quietly. It is a skill they learned over time, to just be in each other's company, know that they can rely on one another, but not have to say much. Meanwhile, women used to stay home taking care of the babies, cleaning and cooking meals together, and as they spent time with one another and helped each other out, they talked. Even though our roles are different now, I think some of these traits continue to be passed down throughout the generations.

So many women complain that their partners don't talk enough, and many men complain that their female partners want to talk too much. Perhaps as we have come to view each other more than ever as equals over the last 40 years, we have somehow come to expect that we should socialize the same way? The problem is we are not in fact built the same way, and perhaps some distinct personality traits are simply innate. No where is this more apparent to me than within my own family-- I laugh when I look at the men in my clan-- my uncle, father, brother and son all seem to just sit and take it all in while the women in the room dominate the conversation. Then just when you think they are not listening, they chime in with some of the funniest or most insightful one-liners. I guess the men I love are men of few words, but full of wisdom and patience.

In order to co-exist peacefully, we need to be sensitive to one another's needs and more tolerant of our differences. I try to respect my son's need for quiet time, and he has come to accept that when we are with family or friends, there will be a lot of talking. I try not to take it personally that he doesn't want to talk at times, and he tries his best to share parts about his day during dinner time so I don't feel totally shut out from his life. He's teaching me to hang, while I am teaching him how to talk. It is a work in progress to try and balance our very different styles, but I think we are building skills that will serve us both well in life-- not just with each other, but with any other relationship either of us may encounter in the future with someone of the opposite sex.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Perfect Divorce Client

We each have our own set of ideals, and what I consider to be the perfect client may not be true for another attorney, but generally here are some qualities that most of my clients tend to possess, which makes for a good working relationship:

1. Respectful of boundaries- these clients understand that there are other cases that also require my attention, and they do not expect a return phone call within 10 minutes. They do not leave 10 messages in one day or bombard me with 20 emails at a time. They understand that a true emergency requires one to call 911, and they are not trying to reach me between the hours of 6pm and 8am.

2. Timely payments- none of us like to work for free, and having to help people through stressful/traumatic events in their lives is not easy. Financing a person's divorce is not the responsibility of a divorce attorney.

3. Follows advice- nothing is more frustrating for me than giving a client excellent advice and watching them completely ignore it. I would be a very rich person if I would have just collected $10 from each client that later told me, "you were right, I should not have done that."

4. Seeks appropriate help- some clients are so overwhelmed with emotions that they cannot focus on the crisis at hand. When clients don't return my calls, don't respond to emails, and don't do what they are supposed to in a timely manner, I am very limited in my ability to help them. When clients cannot control their anger and blow up at me, I politely hang up. These people need to get professional help so that I can help them, otherwise it may be necessary to terminate the attorney-client relationship.

5. Sees the bigger picture- I often tell people they need to pick their battles and learn to let go of some things. A client that wants to turn every argument into World War III and cannot see beyond his/her own needs or desires is not going to appreciate my philosophy. Luckily at this point in my career, it has become mostly a self-selective process, such that clients seek me out because of my reputation for promoting amicable settlements either through mediation, Collaborative Divorce or a respectfully negotiated agreement.

My best clients trust me, respect my judgment, and appreciate the hard work and honest advice that I provide to them. It is a very intimate relationship, where I learn all about a person's life-- how they grew up, why they fell in love, the issues in the marriage, how they fell out of love, all issues of addiction, mental health problems, phobias, etc. Unlike most of my peers, I am quite open about the fact that I have been through the divorce process myself and that I share joint custody of my son. I understand the pain my clients are going through because I have lived it, and this helps me normalize the process for them.

The perfect divorce client understands that the divorce is an unpleasant setback in life, but finds a way to keep things in perspective and persevere. So many of my clients have told me that they are so glad they met me, they just regret the circumstances under which we met. I too believe it is unfortunate that they have to come to me in a time of such great loss, but I also feel quite privileged. Their confidence in my abilities is an amazing compliment, and it is an honor to see their human spirit triumph at the end of our journey together.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Remembering My Classmate on September 11

I cannot believe we are approaching the 10 year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which will forever be a vivid memory in my mind. I was working in DC, 2 blocks from the White House. When I entered the reception area of my law firm, several people were gathered in the main conference room watching t.v. I vaguely heard someone mention a plane accident involving one of the Twin Towers as I continued towards my office. While reviewing phone messages and logging into my computer, I heard the news that a second plane had crashed into the other Twin Tower. Eventually, we got word that the White House might be the next target, and all the local garages went into shut down mode. It became impossible to make any phone calls, and the streets were in absolute gridlock. I went to the roof to get a better view, and the snippers in the next building told me to stay back inside. I never felt so helpless in my life.

Eventually, I was able to meet up with my husband, and together we walked home almost in absolutely silence. That evening, we were glued to the t.v. watching the same images in complete disbelief. I wondered if I might know anyone that had not survived, and as soon as they allowed people to visit Ground Zero, I made the journey to see the site with my own eyes. It was horrific-- pictures of so many people posted on walls or along the church fences, notes from loved ones asking for any information as to missing person. I started to shake and found myself in tears, simply overwhelmed by the loss of so many lives.

It was not until a few months later that I learned that one of my classmates from Phillips Academy Andover had died in the attacks: Todd Isaac. We were both originally from New York City, and we were among a few fortunate ones who won scholarships to attend this elite boarding school that took us out of the "hood" and gave us the best of every possible opportunity an academy of that caliber could offer a young aspiring mind. We both made a ton of friends at Andover and loved sports. Todd went on to attend Holy Cross, where he was a member of the Crusaders' storied basketball team, and then at a very young age achieved the position of partner at Cantor Fitzgerald until his life was tragically cut short. Somehow, the plane heading to DC was diverted and my life was spared.

In honor of Todd's memory, several of my classmates have created a scholarship in his name, in order to provide other talented young minds with the opportunities that we were so fortunate to have based on the generosity of others. This is a great testament to Todd's legacy, and I encourage anyone that wants to contribute to this fund to contact Jenn Schraut in Andover's Annual Giving office at

Monday, September 5, 2011

Cohabitating With Your Opposite

We have all heard the phrase that "opposites attract, but they don't last," and maybe that is true-- but it doesn't have to be. If we could accept each other's differences and appreciate our varying strengths, I think couples that can compensate for one another's deficits may be the strongest pairs ever. In many of the healthy relationships that I have observed over time the women tend to be the ones that dominate at home-- making sure the kids' needs are met, that all social plans are confirmed, that the family sticks to a schedule, and that there is some order to family's overall life. Meanwhile, their partners are much more laid back-- having sometimes no sense of time, no preference as to having a plan or just staying home, and no apparent care as to whether the laundry is properly folded or not. It seems crazy, but maybe that is what provides balance to the overall family life?

Those of us with control tendencies may try to go too far if left unchecked-- so maybe what actually makes the most sense is to fall for the easy-going, carefree types (obviously without going to an extreme). My son, my brother, and my father are all carefree spirits that can just roll with whatever happens-- 3 generations of men with the same character, which is completely contrary to mine. You would think they drive me crazy, and yet they have actually taught me to calm down and laugh at myself. I realize I cannot change them, just as they probably are not going to change me much, so we accept each other as we are, enjoy our time together as much as possible, and permit one another space as needed.

The trick to peacefully cohabitating with your opposite is being able to communicate effectively in order to understand one another and resolve conflict. Dominant personalities that explode are never going to achieve the result they want with their opposites-- the passive types will simply shutdown and avoid confrontation. This creates a vicious cycle that cannot last forever-- eventually one will tire of this and take actions to make a change. To salvage a relationship at this point, the best option is to get professional help from a couple's counselor before it is too late.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Estate Planning, for the Sake of Your Loved Ones

Death is not something that most people want to think about, and yet we all know it is inevitable. Unfortunately, nothing seems to tear families apart more than battles over money. Having a simple will and/or setting up a trust does not have to be a very involved process for most people and can be done rather inexpensively these days. The main things to cover with an attorney are as follows:

1) Who will be your personal representative or executor of the will?
2) Who will be the trustee that manages the assets in a trust?
3) Who will be the back-up executor and/or trustee?
4) What specific bequests (gifts) would you like to make to certain individuals?
4) What happens to your entire estate after all debts are paid?
5) Are there any charities you wish to remember in your will?

Many of my clients cannot focus on estate planning issues while dealing with the divorce, but I definitely encourage them to do this as soon as possible, especially if they have minor children, who will need to have assets managed by a trusted individual. When people re-marry, it is important that they realize that a prenuptial agreement does not act as a substitute for a will, and they should get legal advice as to how local state laws probate an estate absent a will. Furthermore, as blended-family situations continue to increase in our society, it is critical that parents take appropriate measures to protect their children's interests and well-being. Without a will in place, a step-parent may be able to assert control over a substantial amount of the assets and the step-child may be left in a very precarious financial situation.

Relationships will continue to evolve over our lifetime, however, we should not use this as an excuse to postpone estate planning, rather we should view estate planning as something that needs to be revisited periodically. Ultimately, our heirs are the legacies we leave behind after we leave this Earth, and providing them with peace of mind that they are not inheriting a financial and/or legal nightmare should be our parting gift to those we love.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Deep-Seeded Issues

We all have our issues, maybe some more than others, but not everyone has self-awareness. Sometimes, unfortunately, it takes a catastrophic event to trigger a journey inward, such as a divorce or death in the family. Even then, not everyone will want to do the hard work to delve into the past and figure out their feelings. Most people in fact are wired to avoid conflict, and they would prefer to forget the past, just enjoy the present and try to not stress about the future. Then there are those of us who are just gluttons for punishment...

Over the past few months, I have immensely enjoyed finding my family after all these years-- especially my baby brother, who I was never sure I would find. Yet, the journey to find him was filled with peril-- the risk of being rejected, or accepted at first only to be later abandoned, the possibility that no one in the family would understand me or love me, or that perhaps in some way I have disappointed them all by not meeting their expectations. These are all normal fears-- perhaps completely not rational, but emotionally quite real. Thankfully, I understand where these fears stem from and know how to cope with them, and so it is that now more than ever I believe that if something does not kill you, it truly only makes you stronger.

Hopefully after a divorce, most people will find a second chance at love. Before diving head-first into a significant new relationship, however, I urge people to find the courage and time to delve a bit into their pasts. Until they can understand the past and come to peace with the loss suffered, they will not be in the best position to open themselves up to another person. With any new relationship, sooner or later our issues of trust, attachment and abandonment will rise to the surface, and we need to be aware of our issues and how they may impact others if we want to form healthy loving relationships based on honesty and mutual respect.