Monday, December 31, 2012

NYE Past & our Resolutions for the Future

New Years Eve, here we are again.  The last four decades, I've enjoyed this holiday in many wonderful places, including Barcelona, NYC's Times Square, Boston, DC, and Miami.  Some have been very low key get-togethers, others have been very lavish parties, but I have to admit my favorite ones have always been the more low-key ones with close friends and family.  As many may later sit and look with a twinge of jealousy at a ton of wild pictures on FB or elsewhere that capture the various festivities through the night, let me clue you in to a little secret-- there is no lonlier place on Earth than being in a room full of strangers that are judging you based on superficial crap.  Meanwhile, to be in a comfortable home surrounded by a select few that actually get you and love you just the way you are-- now that is a rare gift.  This NYE, I will bask in the glory of that amazing gift, and I wish the same for all my friends, both new and old, that have helped make 2012 such a wonderful year.   

For those still trying to come up with some NYE resolutions, here are a few of my favorite ones that may come in handy in 2013:

(1) Don't sweat the little stuff.  In order to stay sane, you really need to pick your battles and remember that things happen for a reason.

(2) Find your own fun, and remember that we are responsible for our own happiness.  Many wise people have said that joy comes from connecting to 1) a greater cause; 2) a significant other and 3) yourself.  Make time for these three things.

(3) Be mindful-- we cannot control what others do, but we can control our responses.  Life is about choices, and I choose not to let others drag me down.

(4) Seek balance-- work is not everything in life. 

(5) Stay positive-- life is full of challenges, and there will be both ups and downs, but don't dwell on the negative.  Positive thinking is what spurs positive energy.

(6) Embrace change-- it is a fact of life, and to survive you need to be able to adapt.  As Ben Franklin said, "when you are finished changing, you are finished."

(7) Face your fears-- we all have them, it's okay, but the reality is the only true limits are those we impose upon ourselves.

(8) Choose love-- this one is my favorite.  It seems easy, but to truly let someone in and make yourself vulnerable is a scary proposition.  Many give up, they withdraw, or they build huge barriers all in the interest of protecting themselves-- but these are self-defeating acts.  Only when you find the courage to truly be open will you discover love.

Whatever you decide to do tonight, and whatever your resolutions may be for 2013, I wish you all the best. Happy New Years Eve!!!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

What is a life coach?

Here is the link to my interview with Lorie Falk, an amazing life coach in the DC Area:

Friday, December 28, 2012

Interview with Rob Scuka re relationship skills

Here is the link to last week's show on what makes for a good partnership:

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What Happens When You Veer Off-Course?

The people I see every day are typically between the ages of 35-55, and often times as a result of some major event, such as an unexpected divorce, they find themselves a bit lost in their journey-- they've deviated from the path they had in mind, and they are not sure how to proceed going forward. This can also happen to people that suffer a near-death experience, the death of a family member, a change in their employment status, etc. Whatever the catalyst, many of us will at some point find that life has thrown us a twist, and how we face this challenge can be a defining moment in our lives.

Personally, it was never my intention to run my own law firm, and yet, in order to maintain a good work-life balance that allows me to enjoy a significant role in my son's early years, I have had to leave firm life behind me. The risk of failure is great-- especially as a divorced, single mother-- but the potential for a happier, more fulfilling life drives my desire to try and implement some of my ideas, as unpopular as they may be with some of my older colleagues, who fail to understand why a divorce lawyer would try to promote healthier family relationships. Suffice to say that I've grown tired of watching the detrimental impact litigation can cause during a divorce, and I've learned in the past few years that I am far from being alone. The tide is turning, and many skeptics are now beginning to appreciate alternative methods that can provide for a gentler way to divorce.

Changing gears is never easy, and meanwhile flying blind is incredibly scary. When that moment comes that you find yourself a bit lost, unable to see a clear path, just know that it is a normal part of the adventure, and it is okay to ask for help. There are some great guides out there that can help light a path for you. Life coaches, are a wonderful resource that many more are turning to these days. This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing one for my tv show. Lorie Falk did an excellent job of explaining her role as a life coach and the process to finding greater clarity.

Ultimately, I think we all have an internal compass that will guide us in the right direction. Unfortunately, sometimes external factors tend to cloud our thinking, we lose our vision, and perhaps we allow fear to paralyze us. Don't allow fear to get the best of you-- form whatever team you need to help you get un-stuck, find your focus and go kick some butt!

Monday, December 24, 2012

How Much Can Change in Just 365 days?

Holidays are a great time for people to reflect on the changes that have occurred within a year, and what I love most is being able to look at how much has been accomplished and then look towards what needs to be tackled in the new year. Sometime, however, the holidays can bring some melancoly as you think about loved ones lost, or personal goals that have not yet been met. This is totally normal, and what I really want to emphasize is the importance of not denying your feelings. Sometimes it is precisely that disappointment that will spark a change in our behavior. And just because things may look grim at one moment, does not mean they will always stay that way. Life has a funny way of surprising us, and evening things out in my opinion. So today, let me just share a bit of my own Christmas story to help illustrate this point:

Two years ago, I was not speaking to my mother, and I had not yet reconnected with my father. December 2010, I spent a lot of time reflecting on my family situation. This led me to go in search of my dad and make a Herculian effort to reconnect the family I lost as a result of an erroneous court order issued in the '70s. 365 days later, I was flying down to Miami to spend my first Christmas ever with not just my dad, but my 2 brothers, cousins, my beloved aunt and uncle, and more extended family than I could ever fully comprehend. To be surrounded by a huge family for Christmas was my Christmas dream come true.

My Christmas wish for 2011 was that in the new year Santa would bring me a little more calmness, and thanks to an act of God (hurricane Sandy) I wound up reaching out to my mother and reconciling with her-- something many had written off as a possibility. So here again another 365 days later on Christmas Eve, I sit here chuckling over the surprising twists and turns that life can bring us in just one year.

I don't write much about the sad events in my life-- not because they don't exist, but because I choose not to dwell on them, and yet to be perfectly candid it is from our greatest failures that we often find opportunities to make the greatest changes in our lives. My first failed marriage is the best case in point. I carry than pain with me every day, and yet it is what drives me to do things differently going forward.

I have no idea what lies ahead for 2013, but it is clear that a lot can change in just one year, so if you are not exactly where you want to be this holiday season, it is ok-- things can be different next year. It's all about choices, and never ever allowing yourself to lose hope.

Merry Xmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Birds & The Bees Talk

When I left the hospital nine years ago with my little bundle of joy, he didn't come with a manual. Parenting through trial and error is an ongoing work in progress, which I pretty much expected to be the case, but the insight I've gleaned into my own self was an unexpected twist. With each new milestone that my son hits, I think back to myself at that age, and of course, the beautiful thing is that I can choose to replicate the things I appreciated and change the things that I did not appreciate from my own childhood.

Today, I'm sharing an example of where I've chosen to do things differently: I never got the birds & the bees talk. I learned all about sex from my peers and sex education at school. At home, all I was told was "don't do it." Of course that didn't work-- especially when I went off to boarding school as a teenager! As time wore on, I never felt I could talk about boys or my relationships at home, and this disconnect became quite profound. Now, if there is one thing I know with absolute certainty, it is that I do not wish to have this happen with my child. I want him to be comfortable discussing anything and everything with me-- whether he chooses to or not is a whole other story, but I don't ever want him to feel that there are taboo topics with me. I am pretty sure that he already knows this, but last night we covered all new ground.

Last night, after reading "Where Did I Come From," which is a very no nonsense explanation of the facts of life with cartoon illustrations, here is what my son had to say: (1) "That is disgusting," to which I replied you may think so now, but you will change your mind in 10 years; and (2) "Is that what you do with someone you like?" We both laughed, and after honestly answering his question, I hugged him knowing full well that I'd accomplished my mission. So long as I'm around, I am here to keep it real and teach this child the facts of life-- all aspects of life-- and there is nothing off limits between us. So there you have it-- my birds and the bees story with an explanation of my logic so it may give others some food for thought. Good luck to the rest of you that have yet to savor that moment!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

All You Need Is Love--If Only It Was That Easy!

This week on Making It Last, we will air a segment with Robert Scuka, who is the Executive Director of the National Institute of Relationship Enhancement. It was truly a pleasure to interview Rob, who candidly shared his thoughts on why so many couples wind up having major issues with their relationship. We both have observed over time that love clearly does not conquer all, and that many seem to lack key relationship skills that will help them stay together. Many of his tips seem pretty basic, yet people struggle with the implementation in real life. Maintaining open and honest communications, treating each other with respect, and continuing to make time for one another are all essential points we can probably all agree on-- but there was one point I wasn't expecting him to make, and it really has stuck with me over the last few days. When I asked him what the number one problem is that seems to challenge all couples he said that unfortunately our American culture is antithetical to the institution of marriage. It took me a second to process this one while on air, but he is totally right-- America was founded by people who left their countries and their families to start a new life. Our country's very Constitution promotes the individual right to pursue happiness. This is a very egocentric society, generations in the making, and unfortunately there is a severe downside to this thinking. This "me" mentality not only creates weak family ties and a poor sense of community, but it is literally threatening our bond with our partners. Scuka explains that for a marriage to truly succeed you have to give up the "me" thinking and embrace the "we." You have to stop viewing each disagreement as a win-lose situation, where one will get his/her way and the other will have to concede. By the end of our discussion, he made it quite clear that if you don't learn to collaborate with one another sooner rather than later, your love has ZERO chance of survival.

I hope people will tune in and listen to the entire interview, especially after it becomes available online next week at, and in the meantime, more info on his non-profit can be found at

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Beware of the Baby News Mania

This month, UK residents were thrilled to learn that their beloved Dutchess of Cambridge is expecting a child, just as the US now gets to rejoice in the news that our former little White House princess, Jenna Bush Hager, is also pregnant. No doubt the media will be bombarding us with weekly updates as we now countdown to their delivery dates, and I'm sure the paparazzi will not let us down with all the glorious photos as these lovely ladies blossom through motherhood. But here I am, of course, seeking to keep it real for the rest of the world. These two women have an incredible amount of financial resources that most of us do not have, and as a result, some of the stress that the rest of us have to bear, will not be part of their reality. They will have other stresses, for sure, such as constantly being in the public eye, and many of us will thankfully never know the pain of what it is like to have our setbacks and failures up for discussion and sometimes mockery all over the worldwide press. For the average person, however, the main problem with all this hype, the glam shots and the happy stories is that they set us up for unrealistic expectations. Many women's jobs will be jeapordized when they announce that they are pregnant, and most families will suffer severe financial strains with medical costs, setting up a nursery, paying for formula, diapers, etc. Furthermore, everyone is going to be sleep deprived for quite some time, and while all of this is going on a woman has to deal with severe changes to her weight, hormones, emotions and overall identity. The joy of having a child comes with great responsibility, and it will require immense sacrifice. Family dynamics will completely shift after a baby arrives, and many couples will crumble under this strain-- the latest case in point being Sarah Palin's son, who just filed for divorce after 16 months of marriage with a 19 month old in the mix. Obviously I am a firm believer that the good outweighs the bad when it comes to my personal choice to being a parent, but it is a personal choice that I don't think is right for everyone. If you can't deal with messiness in your life, with having your best laid plans go to hell at the last minute, with putting someone else's needs before your own, then don't do it. Hollywood glorifies beauty, and there is indeed so much beauty to having a baby-- but let's keep it real. Tasked with an 18 year commitment of getting a child ready for college and/or the real world is not for the faint of heart. For those struggling with parenthood, know that you are not alone. No one is honest enough to tell you how hard this job will be before you have the baby, but then again no one could have ever done justice to explain the joy that parenthood brings to your life. So, congrats to both Jenna and Kate, and to the rest of you in the real world just remember that by trying to be the best we can be will make us awesome in at least our own child's world.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Divorce Anniversaries

This week marks my 7th divorce anniversary, which now means I've been divorced just as long as I was married. There were definitely some pros to being single the last seven years, but I'm fully aware of the pros I left behind when I ended my partnership with my ex. Of course, that insight came with time, but looking back, I'm so glad I didn't do anything stupid like destroy all the wedding pictures or throw some lavish "divorce party." Truth be told, after my hearing, I went home and cried. A part of my life had just died in my opinion, and it was not something to rejoice about.

My husband was my best friend-- I'd met him while I was still in college. He saw me go through law school, start my career, and become a mother. This man believed in me before I ever was really anything, and the fact is no one will ever replicate that in my life. Aside from being one of the smartest people I've ever met, he was patient beyond belief, kind, and loyal to me. Despite all that, we unfortunately failed to keep it together when too much hit us at once.

This year, on tv and radio I got to comment extensively on many celebs who have now join our ranks, including Kenny G (after 20 years of marriage), Stevie Wonder (after 11 years), Heidi Klum and Seal (after 7), Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes (after 5) to name just a few. Unfortunately, these guys are not able to have their divorces fly under the radar like I did, and so it is with all the more reason that I caution these guys not to let their emotions get the best of them.

Time does wonders to help heal wounds, and as the years pass, you will hopefully look at your divorce anniversary as a date that marks the end of one life and the beginning of another. The feeling for me is bitter sweet-- one part of me died in order to allow the new part to begin. Would I have delved into the past and searched for my dad if it was not for my divorce? I doubt it. Would I be who I am today? No way. Will I ever doubt my strength again? Never. So, for all these discoveries (which came at a hefty price) I am indeed grateful to acknowledge my divorce anniversary this week, even if I still shed a few tears for the tremendous love that was lost.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Can You Boost Social IQ?

Sadly, in my professional life, I've seen a lot of brilliant people make very poor personal choices. Over the past decade, it's become clear to me that a person's IQ has NO direct correlation to his/her social IQ-- and some are just beyond hope after a certain age.

Luckily, there is hope for our kids! Cathi Cohen, who wrote "Raise Your Child's Social IQ" was a great guest on Making It Last, and she was gracious enough to share some great tips for parents that may be struggling with kids that just weren't born with that gene that makes some of us naturally inclined to make friends, read social cues, etc. A lot has to do with setting appropriate goals, and checking in regularly with your kids. Something she said really resonated, and that is for parents to try to praise the effort, not necessarily the results.

For some kids that are shy, it simply isn't easy to join in with a group or start up a conversation with a complete stranger. These things can take time. What our kids need more than anything from us is to be loved and accepted, so it really is important to keep up the encouraging words. While we are not trying to force an introvert to become an extrovert, it is our job as parents to teach our kids sufficient social skills to thrive in life. Cathi's book is a great step-by-step guide on how to do this, and there are various group therapy programs that can help parents and children develop a strong social IQ.

Here is the link to the show:

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Silver Lining to the Fiscal Cliff

The last couple of years have been tough on everyone-- believe me, I see everyone from all walks of life coming through my door with really bad stories-- some are just better at hiding the pain than others. People have lost so much in terms of their home values, retirements, job security, etc. The instability around us looms like a dark cloud over everyone, and I know it is hard to find the silver lining here-- but there is one: people are not discarding their vows as easily as they once did, and when they do choose to divorce, they are increasingly opting for out-of-court settlements. Many people now come to me for a consult to understand what the dark side of divorce can look like, but more and more I see people thinking long and hard before actually pulling that trigger. While I am not in favor of having people stay in a loveless marriage to preserve a comfy existence, I do believe in putting forth your best efforts to making marriage work. Keeping a marriage together in the 21st century is full of challenges, but trust me that the grass is not greener on the other side. Rallying together to confront a crisis can be a tremendous bonding experience. If despite your best efforts, you can't resolve your differences, then at least look to minimize the damages by trying to reach a settlement with the assistance of a non-adversarial attorney or opting for mediation or a Collaborative Divorce. It may sound crazy, but most actually do work things out respectfully. I am convinced that the Great Recession is a major driving force in the dramatic rise in the number of people adopting my conciliatory approach in order to avoid wasting limited funds on a nasty court battle is encouraging-- so at least for that I am grateful.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Adoption Process- a great episode on Making It Last

Here is the link to our segment with Jennifer Fairfax on adoptions, where I shared a bit about finding my dad after 38 years:

Monday, December 3, 2012

Tips to those 30 and younger

This week, I will have the honor once again to guest lecture at Georgetown Law Center. It's always a thrill to connect with these bright young minds, but now more than ever I feel the need to warn them about some of the challenges that will lie ahead in the upcoming years. Among the many things I'd wish someone would have explained to me, here are a few:

(1) You probably won't "get" the 75% that never finished college, and they won't necessarily "get" you. It's ok, as long as you don't pass judgment on one another's life choices.

(2) Keep an open mind. Through law school, life came with a clear cut plan-- after you get that degree, many of your plans may well get thrown out the window. You may not get married when you want to, or you may get divorced when you least expect to; you may not get the job you imagined having; your friends may all scatter. The more you can adapt to life's twists and turns, and not try to control everything, the better off you will be.

(3) Not all efforts get rewarded. Some clients are impossible to make happy; some bosses will be terrible about positive affirmation; companies can lose funding and may have to let good people go. So, find ways to validate and reward yourself.

(4) Work is not everything--don't let it consume your whole life. Strive to find a balance between work and a life outside. Don't take significant relationships in your life for granted, if you do, you may wind up very alone.

(5) Be aware that depression and anxiety are common problems among professionals. Many don't cope well with stress and develop bad habits. Find positive ways to decompress and recharge, and remember it is ok to ask for help.

(6) Stay positive and remember you alone are responsible for your happiness. Happiness is not a permanent state of being, it is a feeling that you need to keep finding for yourself through a variety of experiences. Learn what your needs are and develop healthy ways of communicating those with others.

(7) Don't avoid conflict, address it. By that, I don't mean launch World War III and go nuclear. Not all situations have to be adversarial-- in fact, most are not. Try to shut off the litigator mentality outside the courtroom, those around you will appreciate it immensely.

(8) Be kind to yourself. Constantly striving for excellence is exhausting and impossible to achieve. Realizing that 90% is still pretty darn good can be quite liberating-- and it becomes essential once you enter parenthood.

These are just a few of the many tips I'm hoping to share during my lecture on family law. It's funny how obvious they seem, and yet so many struggle to implement them in their daily lives. I imagine that those that at least make a concerted effort to follow these are the ones staying together; the ones that aren't are the ones I see every day in the divorce world...

Friday, November 30, 2012

Coordinating the Holidays with the Exs...

Here we are now in countdown mode... Chanukah and Christmas are right around the corner. Holidays are always stressful, but especially for those that have been through a separation and/or divorce and now have to coordinate the holidays with an ex for the sake of the children, this can be a particularly unpleasant time of the year. As a divorce lawyer, my suggestion to parents is that they discuss the calendaring issues asap-- don't expect any miracles from the courts if you have waited until the last minute to suddenly create a crisis. For most of us, unless someone is bleeding outside the courthouse steps, it's just not our emergency.

As someone who has shared custody of a child for over 7 years, I will tell you this- do your best to put the child first during the holiday season. Children should not be used as pawns in some ridiculous power-play game between the parents; they are the innocent ones brought into this world by two individuals that at one point loved each other. They are the product of 2 parties, who now need to find a way to share in special moments. I know it is hard, but you have to put your disappointment and pain aside. Remind yourself that the best gift that other person ever gave you was this amazing child. 

I'm not expecting everyone to be able to do what I do-- I exchange gifts with my ex, we've shared Xmas Eve dinner together, and yes I still send his parents a holiday card. To some that may just seem way too weird-- who cares? There are no rules here-- other than to try your best to minimize the losses for your children.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

5 Tips for Staying in Sync

In December's issue of the Washingtonian, the featured stories are all about marriage and making love last. Included in the issue is a list of the top DC divorce lawyers, and I am very grateful to once again be included among such great talent.  When some of my esteemed colleagues were asked to weigh in on what they think makes for a good partnership, Professor Krasnow's advice was definitely my favorite "don't walk down the aisle expecting perpetual bliss-- that's a ticket to divorce." Here are my 5 tips for staying in sync:

1. Have fun together-- Enjoy experiences together that create wonderful memories, not only do they act as a great glue, but they will help get you through tough times.

2. Don't expect your partner to make you happy or complete you-- we are each responsible for finding our own happiness and finding our own fulfillment in life.

3. Maintain open and honest communications-- while doing so show each other empathy, attention and respect.

4. Pick your battles-- Arguments are bound to arise, but fighting about everything is exhausting and will kill the fun in your relationship.  When you do fight (which is normal) avoid going to the dark side.

5. Forgive-- No one is perfect, and we all make mistakes. Keep a score card with the rest of the world, but not your partner. Learn to let it go.

Marriage is hard work that never ends, but the payoff of having a loyal partner by your side is worth every effort. Life is full of challenges, and honestly, flying solo sucks. Even when all is good and you are at the top of your game it sucks-- and I can tell you exactly why-- because what is the point of getting to the top of Kilimanjaro if there is no one there with you to enjoy the view?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Adopting a Child- Not an Insignificant Endeavor

This week, I have the pleasure of airing a segment with Jennifer Fairfax about the adoption process in Maryland. As people wait longer to have children, it seems more adults are experiencing infertility issues, and currently there are about 130,000 adoptions in the USA each year. The process can take about 2 years, and requires adoptive parents to undergo home studies, complete medicals and disclose all their finances. They need to gather testimonials from family and friends, and create albums that can be shared with birth mothers, who want to know where the child will be placed. Those that choose to go overseas, may need to make several trips-- one to meet the child; the second to execute paper work; and the third trip is usually to attend a final hearing and return with the child. Some people assist with the biological mother's medical expenses, in addition to her legal expenses. I've heard of cases where an international adoption can cost as much as $60,000. Needless to say, there is a huge investment of time and money in this whole endeavor.

It is amazing to think that after going through all this effort, it used to be common practice to not tell the child that s/he was adopted. Thankfully, that practice is dying out, and in Jennifer's experience, only about 1 in 70 ask for a closed adoption now. Adoptive parents are now encouraged to share with the children pictures of their birth mothers, and many will facilitate some sort of continued access, even if just an annual call or holiday card. As we continue to expand our definition of family, I am truly heartened to hear that the process for connecting an adopted child with his/her biological parents has become easier-- simply because it is normal to want to know your makers.

Personally, I got such closure last year after finally getting answers to so many questions that had haunted me my whole life about my father. Finding him does not negate the appreciation I have for what my mother did, nor does it erase the profound loss I felt for most of my life, but now that hole in my heart has been filled with love and understanding. I can't gurantee that all adoptive children will have an outcome similar to mine, in fact it's best if they go in with low expectations, so they can only be pleasantly surprised. Hopefully, by sharing with others how involved this process can be for a family, more people (including employers) will keep an open mind and provide support to these families as they navigate a complex sea of emotions.

Monday, November 26, 2012

First Segment of Making It Last

Can't believe we're onto our 21st episode this week! Here is the link to our first, which explains the premise of the show.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Retracing Our Parent's Steps Can Explain Alot

Forty years ago, my parents met on a cruise ship-- and I made a very conscience effort to avoid ships all these years knowing that their tale did not have a happy ending. Of course, as fate would have it, I  finally I had to face this demon that has been haunting me all my life and get over my hang up of cruises.  The Oasis of the Seas was nothing like what I had imagined-- it was like a floating city with almost 5,000 passengers, and full of shops and restaurants, as well as a full spa and gym. 

As I wandered around the ship, quite often by myself, I wound up learning an immense amount about my dad, who worked on these ships for over 15 years. I thought about him a lot and what his life on board must have been like 40 years ago. It's amazing to think that at age 18, he opted to leave his country and entire family to join the cruise lines, where he worked non-stop for years, until he decided it was time to settle down and start a family. Unfortunately, family life never really worked out for him, and it is easy to see why now-- those formative years on the ship made him an extremely outgoing, gregarious, adventure-seeker. He is always on the go, and doesn't know how to take it easy.

I realize the apple doesn't fall far from the tree here, except I have learned to shut it down at home, and although calm is an acquired taste for me, I have come to cherish peace when I'm off the clock. The best part of this whole trip was being able to meet my dad for coffee after the cruise was over, and in just those few brief moments, to be able to tell him how much more I have come to understand him by retracing his steps. In the quest to finding our true selves, our parents hold the key to many mysteries-- grab that key before it is too late.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Behind the Scenes of an Affair

Affairs are part of about 50% of all divorces, so I have over the years gotten a very behind the scenes, in depth view of what happens-- mainly people avoid conflict and simply seek an escape outside their marriage or they are just too afraid to leave an unhappy situation until they have someone else waiting in the wings.  I know it is easy to say just get out if things are bad, but that is easier said than done, especially if you are the economically dependent spouse.

Some adulterers feel guilty in the end, others feel angry and blame the other spouse for pushing them to the point of straying after years of feeling unwanted and abandoned.  Either way, the one betrayed will have a long recovery process, and it certainly doesn't help them to learn that for reasons of privacy, we almost never mention an affair in the final court documents.  Instead, we often encourage people to think through carefully what they want to share in public pleadings.  Do you really want to air your dirty laundry?  Probably not, and, more importantly, what impact do you think it's really going to have in your case?  Just because someone has an affair doesn't mean they will lose custody or get none of the assets.  Divorce court is not criminal court, and it is not our job to punish adulterers, rather the goal is simply to divide the partnership's assets and restructure family ties when children are involved, end of story.

Obviously, the ones I don't see in my role as a divorce lawyer are the ones that choose to stay together and work things through. I don't exactly know how they do that, but I am told by psychologists that it can be done if they sever all ties with the paramour and the parties then work together on rebuilding trust, with the one that strayed showing over time his/her continued remorse and ability to walk the line.

Reconciling after an affair is not something everyone can do, and I think it requires a level of forgiveness that some of us are simply incapable of, and of course it becomes even more challenging to do all this work while in the public eye, and so my heart does go out to all those in politics and Hollywood that so often have their personal pain splashed all over the front page of the press.

Last year on Sirius XM, I got to comment on the Petraeus scandal, and it was clear that not everyone understood why that case in particular was such a big deal. The fact is in many states adultery is still a crime, usually punishable by just a small fine, and while this may seem silly, it can be used strategically in court to plea the Fifth Amendment because we all have a Constitutional right not to incriminate ourselves.  However, for all military personnel, adultery is a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which views affairs as a huge security breach for intelligence officers that could become vulnerable to blackmail in order to keep the affair quiet. This is why Petraeus had to resign his position, and sadly why this affair will probably ruin his career and seriously jeopardize his 38 year marriage.

When an affair is discovered, the person betrayed has 2 choices: (1) see this as the final straw and end the marriage, or 2) work on the issues they've probably been ignoring for years. Neither choice is an easy one, but I wish all those facing this dilemma all the best and hope they have a good support system in place to help them through this difficult time.

Monday, November 12, 2012

All is Not Fair In Love & War

I hate the phrase "all is fair in love and war," as well as the stupid notion that you should not get mad, just get even.  Studying International Relations as an undergraduate at Georgetown, I learned early on that there are actually strict rules of engagement, even in wartime, and the goal should always be to try and maintain peace among our nations. Whether all governments choose to follow these rules is a whole other story, but guess what? Same thing applies in love-- there are actually rules of engagement, and there are very clear guidelines on how we should argue and address conflict, and if you cannot maintain peace at home, everything will go to hell in a hand basket.

Many psychologists have written extensively about how couples should communicate while navigating life's challenges together.  Some of my favorite authors are Dr. Hendrix (Keeping the Love You Find), Dr. Gottman (Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work) and Dr. Cloud (Boundaries in Marriage).  Sadly, many wait too long to get help with addressing conflict, by which point too much damage has been done, and that is when I get involved-- hopefully to coordinate a peaceful parting of ways vs. going to war in court.

Given the choice of litigating or mediating an amicable settlement, it may surprise many to hear that over 90% of family disputes are actually settled out of court before a trial.  When acting as a mediator or in my Collaborative Divorce cases, I actually get to see the dynamics of a couple unfold in our sessions, and it is so sad to see how these two individuals once so connected are now a million miles apart.  If I could turn back the clock for them, I'd recommend that upfront, when they first merge households they work on a list of house rules with a goal towards keeping the peace and minimizing arguments.

I realize we are all wired differently, and we all have different triggers and tolerance levels for conflict, but here are some suggested guidelines I think most of us can agree on:

1. No threats of leaving/ending things;
2. No saying “you are wrong” to each other, which tends to make someone feel dismissed/not understood;
3. Avoid name-calling, yelling, foul language;
4. Be honest with each other;
5. Check in regularly to make sure you are both on the same page re division of labor;
6. No major household purchases without consultation;
7. Try to do no harm;
8. Don't take each other for granted;
9. Always love and respect the other. 

Love is a garden that will always need tending-- always. The goal should always be to make each other's lives as peaceful and easy as possible.  While inevitably conflict is a normal part of life, it would be a mistake to think all is fair in love and war. If you are at war with a loved one, see if you can work out a peace treaty versus just throwing in the towel. A good life partners is really hard to find-- and very hard to replace, trust me on that one.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Magical Moments- They Can Happen

Tonight I get to play toothfairy once again, and next month we will enjoy our traditional Breakfast with Santa at Georgetown University,, where I can finally get the 411 on what Santa needs to bring this year to score big with my son. I know the time is going to quickly come when my 9 year old will realize that the Easter Bunny, Santa and Tooth Fairy are actually all played by the same person who has been by his side since he was first a little peanut inside by belly, but I will always be grateful for the opportunity to play a magical role in the life of a child. Other moments are perhaps not as obvious, but will continue to be magical to me for quite some time. Today is the perfect example-- we ran into my ex-husband on our way to church. Afterwards, we had plans to go to lunch and so we invited him to join us. The three of us had a lovely meal, and I ran an errand while my son continued to play at nearby playground with his dad. To see how seemless our interactions can be is amazing, and I realize not everyone can do this, but the point I make with my clients is that it is quite possible to get past the anger and disappointment and restructure your family in a way that children can seemlessly flow from one loving household to another. It is not easy to let the past go sometimes, but when you focus on your kids, somehow I find that most of my clients are able to find a way out of the darkness and into the light. We all have choices to make-- those that can stay positive, upbeat and visualize good things ahead tend to make the best choices in life. I envision a world full of possiblities, especially for my generation and the ones ahead. Hopefully I am not alone, and there are many magical moments ahead for all of us.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Fifty Shades of Clarity

I admit that I wanted to understand what all the buzz was about, so I finally downloaded Fifty Shades of Grey onto my Kindle and zipped through it, even though I totally couldn't relate. The Grey character (the dom) I totally got, but the Ana character (the sub) not at all. Nonetheless, there are a couple of great take-aways that came from this book:

1. Explore your limits-  I do think that you need to test your limitations, and as you mature you do need to own up to which way you have a tendency to lean.  It's about finding your own comfort zone through trial and error.

2. Own It.  Don't try to be someone you are not, and make no apologies for who you are.  It's particularly important to recognize if you have a dominant and competitive personality-- because the fact is you will clash with your own kind when trying to form an intimate personal relationship.

Trying to date my own species was a complete fail that I never fully understood until I read this book, but now I do. The power struggles would never end, and my inability to fully relinquish control would never sit well with someone similarly wired like me. To find balance, which I have been striving for a lot in the last few years, I think you need the ying and yang forces in play. Of course, that comes with a whole other set of challenges-- because you need to appreciate the virtues of someone that is a different breed. I'll save that for another blog, but gaining 50 shades of clarity while enjoying some good recreational visuals is 50 shades of fantastic as far as I'm concerned.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Politics & Love

On Election Day, I guess it is only fitting that I cover something I try to avoid discussing on this blog-- politics. The fact is that over the years I have really become disenchanted with our political system, and as I've focused more on my own causes-- being a good mother, lawyer and educator, I've spent a lot less time paying attention to all the ads, debates and campaigns. Because politics is not one of my priorities, I have been able to date people with vastly different political views.

Sadly, a lot of people seem out of sorts this year with very impassioned arguments about why others should vote their way. Try to remember this-- the beautiful thing about America is that we are all entitled to form our own opinions and express them as much as we want. It is not my job to try and convert people to see everything my way, and in a partner, I just want someone that loves me and respects me. You can simply agree to disagree!

Now that I have cast my votes, I'm looking forward to putting all these political discussions behind us, but I am glad that we had them. Election years are a really good test for people to internally examine just how important certain topics are to them, and how much they can tolerate alternate views. There is no right or wrong answer on this-- it is just what works for you-- but if you can't stand listening to the alternate view, then you really should bring up politics early on in your dates.

In the dating world I became exposed to a much broader world than what I was used to in my Ivy League towers. I have learned that we don't all cherish the same causes, and also that as we mature, these causes can change-- which is how some couples married for many years now find themselves on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Plenty of my married friends have essentially agreed not to discuss politics in order to preserve marital bliss, and I honestly commend them for setting up this boundary. Let's be real- it is so hard to find a decent human being that you can connect with and trust. Am I going to dump someone because they lean more to the right and I'm more to the left??? I don't think so, but hey, that's just me. Live and let live is my message for today.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Step Families-- they deserve some real kudos!

Apparently there are about 80 Million step families in the US.   These families deserve some major props. It is hard enough taking two adults that are very different and having them find compromise ground-- learning each other's love languages and how to communicate and resolve conflict; understanding each other's past and forgiving one another's mistakes; detaching from negative influences and taking a chance on a completely new life are all major first steps-- now add to all these challenges a few little people with their own set of concerns and already established patterns.

Finding a compromise house that fits everyone's criteria can be very difficul, and once that home is identified you still face commuting issues for kids, re-arranging schedules, having to discuss new rules for a new house, and you need to address the household budget, taking into account differences that may result from one child being in the house only half the time, while someone else may have multiple kids that are around more often.

Going through furniture and art that will not survive the merger can be very emotional, but that is nothing compared to the work it wil take teaching kids to share their parents' time with others.  This is precisely why experts suggest that you take your time blending families, and it explains why the odds are so stacked against blended families in terms of success-- they have about a 30% chance of survival.   Finding a good support network and asking for help when you get overwhelmed, are key.  I have blended families are very open in sharing their stories of trials and tribulations.  You guys are  amazing!!!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Magical Boiling Point

Too often I think we let things go, and we let more things go, until one day, magically, we hit this boiling point, and it all comes spilling out. At that point, you can't go on ignoring issues and you need to focus, because now it is decision time-- what are you going to do about this problem?

In the past, whenever I hit this boiling point, my M.O. was to walk away. Filled with immense disappointment and void of any hope, I would leave and go set for a new course. I've done it since I was 8-- learned to cut people out and relied on my extroverted nature to find some new and interesting connections. This is exactly why I became so good so fast at being the handmaiden of death in the divorce world. But something really funny happened a few years ago, I realized that others did not actually share my view of the boiling point. Mediators, psychologist, and Collaborative Professionals see a crisis moment as an opportunity for families to address unresolved issues- rather than run from conflict, they embrace it. They took me under their tutelage, and I discovered a whole new way of thinking-- at least when it comes to family ties.

For the last few years, I've embraced the crisis moment in a whole new way with my clients, and in the last few years this approach has spilled over into my family life. I have to admit, the boiling point still sucks when it happens, but when you appreciate the ties that bind you, and you realize that walking away is not an option, then amazingly really can find a way to work things out. Maybe not overnight, and maybe not at all the way anyone thought it would play out, but I have to say, I'm enjoying having a lot less blood on my hands these days. Don't get me wrong, the handmaiden of death is not at all retired, but her softer side is shining more brightly these days.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Help Kids Understand the Impact of a College Degree

It's amazing to think that in this affluent country we live in only about 25% of the US population obtain a Bachelor's Degree. Those that do will make about 75% more than their counterparts without a degree; they are also more likely to get married and far more likely to stay together. The economic and social advantages just continue to increase exponentially for those with higher education degrees, so really it is a no-brainer that as responsible parents we have to help our kids navigate the complex application process and set aside money for college as soon as possible.

According to Nancy Leopold of College Tracks (who will be my tv guest this week), the number of available college seats has not drastically changed in the last 20 years, meanwhile the number of applicants have skyrocketed. Many in-state schools now cost as much as $30,000 per year, and the FAFSA guidelines presume that parents will contribute towards college. The last thing you want to do is have a child go into tremendous debt as they start off life, but sadly for some there is no other option. Nancy's organization is a local non-profit that helps kids apply for college and works with families so they understand the financial packages being offered by various schools.

Staffed with over 40 volunteers, College Tracks begins by helping high school students identify appropriate target schools, complete their essays, schedule the SATs, etc. For those whose parents have never been through the process, this is an invaluable service. As I did the interview, I had lots of flashbacks of my own college application process, and I truly appreciated more than ever all that my scholarship program did for me. The Scholars Program in New York took us on a college tour the summer before our senior year, and that is how I became acquainted with Georgetown. The Program also helped match me with internships each summer that I was in high school, so by the time I was writing my essays for college, I had a pretty nice resume and outstanding recommendation letters.

Between the Program's coordinators and the advisors I had in boarding school, I was given an incredible fighting chance at a bright future-- the only thing no one warned me about was the debt. Back then the philosophy was get into the best schools you can get into and don't worry about the debt. Well, times have drastically changed. This is a world of few haves, and lots of have-nots. If there is one thing that Nancy makes clear is that you have to be mindful of the debt you take on-- education is an amazing gift, but it comes with a huge price tag these days. If we want our kids to start the game of life off right, we need to help them prep for the application process way before their senior year, and financially plan so that they don't start off too deep in the hole because of debt.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Time to Choose: Split Up Before or After the Holidays?

As Thanksgiving approaches, the question I get most often from clients is whether to split now or after the holidays? It's a tough call to make, and very personal. In typical lawyer fashion, I tell everyone it depends on you-- if you are the type of person that can keep it together and will enjoy the time with your spouse and kids, then it might be best for everyone if you could grin and bear it until Dec. 31st so that the holidays in the future will not be associated with any negative connotations. However, if you can't stand to be in the same house a day longer and/or there is a lot of bickering going on already, then it might be a relief to everyone if the split occured prior to the holidays. If the kids are so little that they won't recall anything, then the timing may not matter as much, but when you have older children that are going to remember certain events like when mommy or daddy left the house, you have to be super sensitive to their emotional safety. The other big factor to consider is money. Can you afford to move out and still help support your kids' expenses or contribute to the mortgage? You need to run your monthly expenses and determine if you can rent another place, or else you may need to crash with your parents or friends. I cannot tell you how many people in this economy have had to move back in with their parents or another relative-- a harsh reality for anyone over 25. Keep in mind, you will also have new expenses like attorney's fees and perhaps child support. Someone may even request temporary alimony during the split, which could really create havoc on your budget. To better understand the consequences of moving out, and review the pros and cons of a split, wise people go and get a consult before making any major decisions. It is so much easier to help someone plan properly in order to avoid a disaster versus having to clean up a mess that has already been created. Remember, divorce is like an amputation- we are cutting out a part of your life, and you can either do it methodically with a surgeon or do it yourself with a butcher's knife. I'd like to see people avoid a blood bath and enjoy the holidays, so make sure you weigh your options carefully with an expert.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Friend or Frenemy? True Colors Emerge When You Fall in Love

A true friend is someone that supports you, and while they may not agree with all your choices, they will respect that it is your life to live as you see fit. Over the years, my friends have dated people that I may not have necessarily been thrilled with, or vice a versa, and of course, we have all voiced some concerns along the way, but we've also always known when to shut up and let someone figure certain things out on their own. There is a line that you cannot cross-- those that do enter into dangerous territory that could get themselves ex-communicated.

It is always sad when a friend becomes less available because s/he has found a partner, but the joy you have for them should outweigh your own sadness if you are a true friend.  If instead you put up a fuss, make ultimateums and generally become a thorn on someone's side, you will soon find yourself out in the cold, completely. 

The lesson for all of us here is this: you need to go with your heart, and accept that not everyone will be happy with your choices in life. If someone doesn't respect your choices, you need to set clear boundaries early on, and if those boundaries are not respected, you need to cut all ties. Sometimes, especially with frenemies, you need to act like the Moussad-- there is no room for negotiation with terrorists. Take no prisoners, just take them down and out.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dishing About Dating in the 21st Century

Tonight on my show, Making It Last, I get to dish about one of my favorite topics-- dating in the 21st century. Keep in mind that it is only in the last 10 years that modern technology has really changed the game around. Online dating is how 25% of all couples meet; the rest usually meet organically either through friends, work or in school. Regardless of how people meet, in order to maintain a relationship in today's modern world, they need to become super apt at communicating via email, text, FB and phone. Expectations are so high that you'll be instantly available, and I think the rate of crashing and burning is increasing exponentially. People-- this is not a race. Dating should be a fun social experiment. You learn what you like, what you don't, you figure out where you have room to compromise, and no one should take it personally if there are some things you just cannot negotiate. The people that go the extra mile of hiring a dating coach are serious about finding a life partner. These are people on a mission, but some of us are just not motivated in that way. Many may not be clear about what they want in a partner, meanwhile others are crystal clear about the traits they are seeking in a spouse. Ultimately, the more you go in with an open mind, and an open heart, the better off you will be-- and for your own sanity, just try your best to avoid one thing: setting ultimateums. No one likes to be forced to make a choice, even though there are certain ones that are inevitable. After a few months of casually dating you do need to assess where you are heading. If there is a commute involved, eventually someone needs to pose the question of whether there is any intention of ending that situation by finding compromise ground. If there is a toxic person that is hovering over the couple like a dark cloud, either you both move to a sunnier location, or you need to part ways. If one person wants a family and the other doesn't share that vision, or one person wants to stay home and raise kids, while the other person wants to be part of a double income family, where both spouses share equally in all responsibilities, you just need to be honest with yourselves that your long-term vision is not in sync. Play out the movie in your head, and work backwards from the end you seek, that is my best advice. Envision yourself like a director going through cast calls and just have fun trying to find the character that is going to play that lead role in your life!

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Importance of Closure Conversations

Over the last 14 years as a divorce lawyer, I've seen a lot of crap. The worst, however, is when someone is blind-sided by the divorce. They had no idea that anything was wrong, and to add insult to injury the other spouse leaves without ever giving an explanation. Perhaps the goal is to not say anything further to hurt the other, but the fact is that if you leave a person in the dark as to what went wrong, you leave that person always wondering, always doubting, and perhaps preventing them from ever being able to move forward. How can you learn from your mistakes if no one ever tells you what you are doing wrong? Whether it is a friend, relative or lover that I have walked away from, I have always tried to give some insight as to why the relationship is being terminated. There are ways to have these discussions without obliterating the other person's ego. No doubt these talks are hard, but there is no crueler punishment in my opinion that to end a long-term relationship without explanation. Perhaps you may not be ready to have it right away, we all need time to calm down sometimes and gain perspective, but at some point, it is the humane thing to do.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Importance of Having a Good Life Panel

In the legal world, you can't have one person act as prosecutor, judge and jury. The whole American system in fact is set up on the premise that we need checks and balances to avoid an abuse of power. So how about applying the same concepts in your personal life? When I get mad, I know my judgment is clouded-- that is why I have a panel. My go-to people who can weigh in and help me see things from a different perspective. Some people rely on just a BFF-- there are so many problems with that, but here are just a few: 1) friends come & go from your life, you can't have all your eggs in one basket; 2) you marry your best friend, and your spouse is bound to piss you off-- so you need someone else to peel you back off the ledge every now and then; 3) sometimes people have their own agenda or their perspective may be tainted by their own past. There are of course times when you won't have time to convene a panel, and a decision must be made on the spot. When that happens, you need to go with your gut. As Malcolm Gladwell said in Blink, sometimes what seem like snap decisions are actually a reflection of our cumulative life experiences. That said, sometimes our judgment is tainted by biases we may not be aware of, so this is why whenever I have the luxury of time, and I'm not sure that I am seeing something from all the different angles, I rely on my panel-- just like I would in a divorce case involving a variety of experts. This week, my panel shined and helped me see some blind spots that I was overlooking because I was simply way too focused on the end in mind. I am eternally grateful to have learned the importance of having a panel early on, and I hope others will think carefully about applying the same strategy in their own lives.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Are Your Areas of LIfe in Sync?

Lately there has been a surge in the use of life coaches. I'm excited to have one as my guest in an upcoming segment in December. Turns out my dating expert, Amy Schoen, who will be the guest on this week's show is also a certified life coach, and her view is that first she needs to help her clients gain insight into their values and life goals by going through an analysis of the "areas of life." Only after they've worked through this can she help them identify traits they will want to look for in a life partner. It makes perfect sense that you would want someone that shares your vision of what would make for a good life. Sadly, I'm not sure most of us go into the dating world with a clear vision of what we really want in a partner. I think generally we go out in order to have fun, and we hope to find someone who will join us in enjoyable experiences. The point Amy is making, however, is a good one-- is that enough in the long run? The critical areas of life we are supposed to reflect on are (1) career; (2) family; (3) money; (4) social/friends; (5) physical; (6) spiritual and (7) personal development. Finding the right balance with all these is not easy, and part of having realistic expectations is that you are not going to be scoring 100% in all areas at once. So, we need to accept that we will constantly be re-prioritizing these-- the key then with a life partner, is finding someone that shares your same priorities. For those on a mission to find the right match and not waste time, Amy's advice is to love with your heart, but lead with your head. The partner you choose will impact all areas of your life, so she is right, you need to choose wisely.

Monday, October 15, 2012

An Engagement Contract?

They say opposites attract, but can they last??? I guess that depends on whether they share enough core values and have a common vision of what life will be like together. We've all heard about realists falling for dreamers. It is quite common for extroverts to attract introverts. The one who sees the glass as half-empty is usually drawn to the one that sees the glass as half full. The city chick, who partied like a rockstar can fall for the low-key guy that loves the burbs. But, the million dollar question is will it work in the long-run?

 If you can continue to respect each other's differences, while making a commitment to always work on finding common ground, I think it can last. Rather than just winging it or waiting until the big wedding day to make certain promises, I'm in favor of an engagement contract. If we are talking about walking down that aisle, let's seriously negotiate the rules of engagement going forward. Here would be my top 10:

1. Listen to each other’s concerns and try to provide positive feedback, realizing negative comments are not helpful;
2. Be compassionate and support one another;
3. Appreciate the efforts each has made towards building the relationship (you can never say thank you too much);
4. Be respectful of the other, refraining as much as possible from derogatory or sarcastic comments; 5. Continue to enjoy a monogamous, intimate relationship—striving for that perfect frequency that you can both enjoy-- at least 3 times a week;
6. Promote a team spirit, relinquishing a solitary approach to life;
7. Continue building trust and demonstrate a willingness to make it all work out;
8. Never go to sleep mad, and always hug and kiss both in the morning and evening;
9. Check-in daily and maintain the positive established patterns;
10. Clear calendars, and don't make a social commitment for the other without a discussion.

Remember, the goal is to enjoy each other’s company for the rest of your lives. Unfortunatly, the engagment period can be stressful, and it is important not to lose sight of the big picture. We all want to live, love and laugh to fullest extent possible, but the journey ahead is always going to be full of challenges. While perhaps the terms of your relationship may not be legally binding, having something to refer back to should be a source of comfort. These rules should ground you, and help you get back on track if you veer off course. Take the contract idea seriously-- the choice in a life partner is one of the most important decisions that will define your life.

Friday, October 12, 2012

My Favorite Oxymoron: Common Sense

This week, my son was learning about oxymorons. When asked what my favorite one is, I kind of chuckled as I replied "common sense." Why is it called that when in fact it isn't at all common?

I suppose I should not complain too much because I realize it is people's failure to use proper judgment that keeps me in business as a divorce lawyer. I also realize that unlike most, I have had the benefit of many trainings, seminars, and countless psychology books that have helped me understand the importance of communicating emotions and applying appropriate conflict resolution skills. When you are mad, you need to ask yourself why you are mad and try your best not to lash back. How is pouring fuel on a fire going to help the situation? It's not-- it will only make things worse.

In the heat of an argument, people resort to either fight or flee mode. Just picture a wounded animal-- either it will retreat or attack; humans are the same way. Sadly, two great people may just not make a great team-- especially if they can't fight well. The rules of engagement are simple, but many seem to lose sight of the big picture when they get caught up in squabbles and the daily stresses of life.

In the end, it should be obvious that you shouldn't have to put up with non-sense in a healthy relationship.  Indeed, there is a simple line in a song that sums up what I consider to be common sense in love: try not to hurt another person's heart, and don't put up with those that do.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

How Long Should You Wait to Start Dating Again?

I get this question all the time from my clients going through the divorce process. Obviously, I am not allowed to give legal advice in a blog, and anyway by now it should be clear that this really isn't a legal blog. So, from a non-legal perspective, here are my thoughts-- after your divorce is finalized, what is the point in waiting? The sooner you get back out there, the better. It is not going to be easy at first-- just accept that it is a skill that you need to work on. You will make mistakes in the beginning, and that is totally normal.

Keeping up with dating in the 21st century after you've been out of the loop for a while is going to take some time. If you chose to do internet dating, navigating the various websites, creating an online profile, and communicating with strangers, is all weird when you first start the process. Even if you rely on set-ups, blind dates are hard at first. Eventually, however, you will get the hang of it, and soon you will find yourself being able to share stories with other friends that will make everyone laugh. Have fun with it, and never view it as a waste of time. It is a learning process-- and it will morph over time, as will you. The one thing to really keep in mind is that you don't want to lose sight of the point in this social experiment. Ultimately, the goal is to find a suitable life partner, and it is simply a very competitive market out there.

Often I hear divorced parents say they'd rather wait until the kids are off to college before they seriously start to date, and I can certainly understand that the thought of trying to date around a custody schedule is a logistical challenge many might be inclinded to avoid, or the idea of trying to blend two families is something so complicated, that it may seem easier to just not deal with this at all. But as I see it, there are huge opportunity losses to putting off dating-- if I thought it was challenging to find a good person in my 30's, I can't imagine how much harder it would be in my 40's or 50's. The sad reality is that the older you get, the less marketable you become-- kind of like cars with too many miles on them. So, if you want to maximize your chances of finding someone else, I think you need to get back out there sooner rather than later. As long as you use good judgments, the kids will be fine, and you will be too.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

It's a Good Thing If You Don't Suffer Fools Well in Dating

This week, I get to interview Amy Schoen, author of "Get It Right This Time." She is a dating coach in the DC Area, who helps people navigate the various phases of dating. Both of us spent time after our first divorces analyzing the things that went wrong, and a lot of her tips focus on the need for an individual to really be self-aware. To get it right in dating, I truly agree with her that you have to understand what you really need, and what you can live without. There will always be trade-offs, but you have to know your non-negotiables from the start in order to protect your heart. The last thing you want to do is get super deep into a relationship only to realize that this one issue that you shelved is in fact an insurmountable one. Being honest with yourself and others does not always come easy-- but I have certainly found that the more you don't suffer fools well, the more apt you are to cut to the chase. Maybe it is because I was trained as a lawyer to view time as an expensive commodity, but I really don't like misleading people, and I get really irritated fast if it seems someone is wasting my time. That attitude has definitely bled over into my personal life. Perhaps if more people could embrace this approach, they'd find their dating lives more productive and enjoyable. We should all be looking for a good return on our investment, and it starts with doing some homework to gain insight into ourselves. Once you do that, you too will find that you don't suffer fools well.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Renewable Marriage Contracts?

There has been a lot of talk for some time now about the continued viability of the notion that we are entering into marriage "until death due us part" knowing full well that there's about a 50% it may not in fact last. The idea of renewable contracts with a built-in review term, however, is not the solution to this problem. In my opinion, what we need to address as a society is the notion that marriage is indeed a partnership, and in some ways we need to apply business philosophies to this union in order to ensure its sustainability. I am not alone in this thinking, and in fact the late Dr. Stephen Covey wrote a book "Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families." In that book, he applies corporate techniques to build a better family structure. Think about it-- successful companies tend to have 5 year plans, 10 year plans, and they do annual retreats. They review budgets regularly and make sure that they are sticking to their missions and accomplishing their goals. Employees are routinely sent to trainings to update their skills, and periodic reviews are conducted to ensure everyone is happy and sticking on task. Why should families be any different? Perhaps people have forgotten that Hollywood movies were originally made to help people forget about the harsh realities of war. Movies often provide an escape from reality, and they help inspire us, but real life is full of challenges and having the right ally by your side is key. Maintaining a home, raising kids, dealing with finances and health issues are all part of normal life, and you shouldn't take for granted the importance of having a partner to help you deal with these issues. It is way too easy these days for couples to grow apart and lead separate lives. Too many people get caught up on external pressures, and they ignore their marriages until it is too late-- and the reason I know this is because half the time I am dealing with someone in complete shock. Over half the people I meet have no clue that there was a problem in the marriage. This is why I strongly encourage people to check-in with each other regularly. You need to have date nights and plan fun outings, even long after those wedding bells have stopped ringing. One of my friends said, "love is like a plant. If you don't water it and give it sunlight, it will die." Another person once told me that marriage is like a garden-- you have to keep weeding if you want it to stay beautiful. Their points are all well taken-- the key to having a more realistic expectation on marriage is NOT to give up on the notion of it lasting forever, but rather to embrace the reality that it takes hard work to successfully make a partnership last.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Bridging Two Worlds

As internet dating has taken off and our society has become more fluid, there is now more than ever an increased probability that you might pair up with someone that is not part of your world. Now more than ever, the ability to compromise is going to be key. For example, everyone knows I'm a city girl. Born and raised in New York, until I went away to boarding school. I've always been addicted to stimulus. I moved to DC for college because it reminded me of Paris, where I spent part of my senior year in high school as part of a student exchange. Short trips outside the city I can deal with, but I've always joked with my friends about needing a passport and an epi-pen the further away I get from city life. So, I am very cognizant of my limitations and where I won't be able to bridge the gap.

The more different you are from your potential partner, the more you need to question whether it is likely that you can create a bridge between two different worlds.  Remember, for some, change is very scary, and so I think after the first few months of fun are over, you need to consider whether you can envision making some changes in your life to be with that other person. Can you see yourself actually working together to build a bridge that connects the gaps in your lives? If you can't, it is not a reflection of how little you care about the other, it is simply an indication that you are stepping way beyond your comfort zone.

The older we get, the more cemented we get in our ways, and although I've been trying to chisel away at some of that cement lately, I accept that for many who were not exposed to a million different view points, moves, and changes early on in life, their capacity for flexibility is now much more limited. Bridging two worlds is really hard work, especially in our later years, and requires having an open mind and heart. Know your limitations and be honest, that's the best advice I can give to those in today's dating world.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Love, The Second Time Around

The first time I got married, I was in my 20's, still in law school, no kids, and not much baggage. When we got engaged in 1996, we were in Key Biscayne watching the sunset, and just at the moment that he asked me to marry him, a mosquito landed on his cheek. I was so focused on the mosquito that I actually missed the question and wound up slapping him. That is just one of many hilarious moments we shared throughout our 12 years together, and I truly think that it is because I can remember our good times so fondly that we are on such good terms today, despite having been divorced for over 7 years now. 

In my post-divorce years, I've admittedly focused a tremendous amount on work and my son.   But, I've also tried to work through a lot of the emotional baggage and self doubt that resulted from my failed marriage.  In the process of facing my past, I could not ignore the one glaring unresolved issue of having an absentee father.  It is only in finding him, and my family, that I could finally be in a position to possible finding love again, the second time around.

My father's best gift to me, whether he realizes it or not, has been to restore my faith in love. My family has shown me the power of forgiveness-- in our case, it has completely transformed our lives, and through their acceptance, I've found redemption. They restored my capacity to love and laugh at life's many twists and turns, and with them by my side, I see many bright days ahead-- and perhaps a second chance at falling in love one day. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Goodbye 30's, Hello 40!

As my countdown begins with only a few days left before my 40th birthday, I cannot help but look back at the past decade in awe at how much changed in my life during the last ten years. Among the many things I learned, here are some of the most important ones:

(1) Don't make work your entire focus in life. I did for many years, but law firm life is not all that I imagined it would be at my level-- each attorney needs to be prepared to understand the business of law, marketing, and find a way to make it rain. Rarely do firms care about the individual human being, they are mostly focused on the bottom line. Competition is tougher than ever, and the pressures are immense. It is no doubt a survival of the fittest mentality out there in the shark tank. Harsh realities, but true, and I now understand why over 40% will leave private practice. So here is my bottom line- take care of yourself. Do not pour your heart and soul into one single endeavor. Enjoy other aspects of life, which will yield you a far greater return on your investment of time.

(2) Becoming a parent can completely transform someone. I finally learned through my son about unconditional love. The gift of parenthood has taught me more than any other experience in life. Taking on the task of being someone's protector and teacher is an amazing responsibility, but when you see your efforts payoff it is the greatest reward you will ever have in life.

(3) Don't lose sight of what really matters. There are many fun things to entertain us out there-- and I definitely enjoyed many wonderful trips, shows, restaurants, etc. But at the end of the day, I don't think anyone that truly cares about me cares about the car I drive, the clothes I wear, or where I live. These material things do not define me-- not at all. Furthermore, it is impossible to please everyone, so just make sure you are happy with your own choices. That has truly been the most liberating ephiphany ever.

(4) Things will not always work according to my plans, but sometimes you have to let your plans go to live the life you are destined to have. I never wanted to be a divorced, single mother, but I have learned so much as a result and found an inner strength I never would have otherwise discovered. I also was not planning to become a blogger or social media star, yet somehow I fell into this specialty, and as a result now have my own tv show and frequently get to comment on radio and other media sources. The ability to share ideas and influence others is an incredible honor that I never anticipated having at this stage of the game. Finally, I never intended to reunite with my father and his entire side of my family, but miraculously it has happened, and the joy of being with them is beyond anything I can describe.

(5) Friends will come and go. Some will just enter your life for a season; some will cross paths with you for a specific reasons, but very, very few will ever be life long friends. Those that can't deal with disappointment or have unrealistic expectations will fade out fast-- don't take it personally. We have such limited time, and we all have to focus on our priorities. In our 30's and 40's most of us are focused on our careers and kids, which consume an incredible amount of time, leaving little room for much else. We need to be secure in our relationships, even if we may not see our loved ones often-- and this further emphasizes why I believe you need to marry your best friend. If you are going to live and die with one person by your side, make sure you have chosen that person wisely.

Ultimately, the things I did not get to do in my 20's, I more than made up for in my 30's. It has been quite a ride, and I want to thank everyone that played a part in it-- particularly those who stuck around through BOTH the highs and lows. Not sure what the next decade will bring, but at least the blinders are off, and I'm going in with a clearer and more open mind, together with a heart with an expanded capacity to forgive and love.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

$7.4 Million on Legal Fees- for a Divorce????

According to DMagazine, a Texas couple spent almost $7.4 million in legal fees as part of their divorce. Ed Bailey, who was married for over 30 years, acquired various McDonald restaurants throughout the marriage. After he sold his 63 restaurants, the couple's estate was worth about $100 million. The case was about to be heard by a jury, when through some legal manuvering a mistrial was declared. Bottom line is that after spending $7.4 Mn the couple still wasn't divorced! So, they switched gears, and hired all new attorneys-- this time to work things out in a Collaborative Divorce process. They reached a deal outside of court-- and for just about $80,000 total they finally got their divorce with the assets being split pretty evenly.

No surprise, Ed Bailey now wants some of that $7.4 Million back, and he has sued his former attorney, alleging a conspiracy between the first set of divorce attorneys. I guess we'll see how that all plays out in court, but the point I want to make here is that this is a prime example of how people can get carried away in a divorce battle and lose track of the legal fees. Litigation, which is a very costly process, is fueled by anger, and we all know that emotional people do not make the best business decisions. This is exactly why the Collaborative Process encourages people to use divorce coaches that will help them rein in their emotions, and good Collaborative professionals go out of their way to preserve their client's financial assets. Perhaps the Baileys could spend $7.4Mn before realizing they let things get too out of control, but most of us don't have that kind of money to burn, and in this economy I hope more lawyers will learn to work within their client's budget and set realistic expectations. Ultimately, however, this is a client-driven issue, and it requires consumers to be savier about the choices they make-- if you hire a shark, there is a price tag associated with that, and there will be lots of blood. I prefer being a dolphin these days, and thankfully I think more and more people are starting to appreciate my point of view.

Monday, September 17, 2012

How Does a BIA, PC and/or CPA Help Families in Court?

In most jurisdictions, the standard for determining custody is what is in the child's best interest? When parents cannot agree on this basic question, the court will often defer to experts. There are mental health professionals that can conduct custody evaluations. After meeting with the children, their parents, and other key figures in the children's life, the custody evaluator will make a recommendation as to the best custodial arrangement for the kids. These recommendations are not binding, although they carry substantial weight, and then each side still gets to present his/her case.  Here are some other players in the courtroom:

BIA= best interest attorney
PC= Parent Coordinator
CPA= Child Privilege Attorney

A "BIA," is an attorney, who is usually appointed by the court to represent the kids, and presumably give them a voice in the court proceedings. When therapists are involved, a Child Privilege Attorney ("CPA") may be assigned to the kids in order to determine if their patient-therapist privilege should be waived. Obviously, when we are talking about BIAs and CPAs, we are discussing the most contentious, high-conflict cases out there. High conflict cases make up about 20% of the court's docket, but they are the most time-consuming and the ones most likely to wind up going to trial, where normally there is only a 5% chance of a trial. Afterwards, these families are usually encouraged to work out future issues with a Parent Coordinator ("PC"). A PC may be an attorney or mental health professional. They essentially act as arbitrators that can break an impasse when parents cannot agree on an issue, thereby sparing the family the need to return to court. Because of the complicated nature of these roles, only experienced professionals are assigned these cases, and thankfully we all know each other and can assist families in these situations.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Before Those Wedding Bells Ring...

Weddings are such a great cause for celebration-- two people have found each other and fallen in love, then gone a step further in deciding they want to try and spend the rest of their lives together. From the outside, it seems like pure joy-- but from the insider's perspective I can tell you first-hand that the logistics can be overwhelming!

Picking a venue, then the menu, the florist, the entertainment, the photographer, etc. are all major decisions, and typically not everyone is on the same page as to the size of the wedding, the budget, or other random details. My recollection was that it was a very stressful time leading up to the final moment. In fact, I was so stressed that the night before my wedding, I lost my voice.

Thankfully, it doesn't have to be this way-- there are experts out there that are able to help de-code this whole process and can facilitate with narrowing down some options and setting realistic expectations within a couple's budget.  I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Jodi Moraru of Evoke, who is a professional wedding planner in DC. Our segment airs this week, and I have to admit it was a lot of fun learning about her work and looking at the various pictures from past events she has put together! Her design team has put together some of the classiest events in DC, and with over 20 years of experience in the industry, I have no doubt she's learned to smooth over the most stressful situations.

Bottom line is that it's not a wedding without some drama, and at the end of the day you just have to remember that you are celebrating the union of two people. It is not an easy process for two individuals to merge-- especially with a number of family members weighing in with their opinions (whether solicited or not), so just remember that it is all part of the right of passage, and if you think you need a buffer or find the details are too much to deal with on your own, ask for help. Experts exist for a reason-- and in this case, it is so you and your guests can enjoy your special celebration.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11- A Day of Reflection for Many

I rarely remember what the weather was like on a particular day-- especially over a decade later, but I will never forget the clear blue skies and the perfect morning on that fateful day of 9/11. From such a glorious beginning, it is amazing how quickly all hell broke loose. When I got to work, one tower had already been hit-- soon after the other was hit, and we got word that the Pentagon had also been struck. One block from the White House, our block went into lockdown mode and snipers appeared on nearby rooftops. With no ability to call, and traffic jams everywhere, it was impossible to figure out what to do right away. I never felt so helpless in my life.

Eventually, I walked home, along with many, many others whose cars were simply inaccessible. Later I would learn that one of my high school classmates, Todd Isaac, was a victim trapped in one of the NYC towers when it collapsed. Life for those of us that survived has gone on, but it has not been the same. It will never be the same again. Americans one oblivious to the dangers out there now are painfully aware that we have many enemies, not all easily identifiable. And yet, amazingly the human spirit continues to triumph over tragedy.

Many of my former classmates have gone on to have children of their own, and as we struggle to achieve a work-life balance, we are trying to raise children with sufficient skills to help them survive, and more importantly with hope that they will have promising futures. In the meantime, a group of Todd's friends created a scholarship in his name, and thus far have raised over $500,000 to help underprivileged children secure a stellar education.

This weekend, there will be a basketball tournament in his name, and many of his friends will be there to celebrate his life. It is stories like Todd's that continue to provide me with hope for humanity. His friends rose above the tragedy and turned it into an opportunity to honor his legacy. In our individual way, we should all aspire to do the same. Life is full of crosses that we have to bear, but it is how you choose to bear that cross that defines you.

Todd and I both went to Andover on scholarships, and it was not easy being surrounded by ultra wealthy kids 9 months out of the year, and then returning to the hood during the summer. It was not easy knowing that those around us had this awesome safety net, yet for us failure was not an option. It sucked to realize that we could not just pursue whatever we wanted-- because money was a real concern. But rather than sit and pout about our poor beginnings, Todd and I both appreciated the opportunities presented to us and decided to make the best of it. Todd was an amazing inspiration to all those that met him, and it speaks volumes to his character that even long after his death, he continues to inspire us.

Rest in peace my friend.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

When Blending Families- Proceed with Caution

After going through a divorce, it is such an incredible feeling to find love again-- but if you have kids from your first marriage, you have to rein in some of your enthusiasm and make sure you do not move things along too quickly. Children are fragile, and if they have already had to live through one major disruption to their household structure, they may not really share your enthusiasm about all of the sudden combining households with some strangers. If you have an only child, that little person probably has no clue what it is like to share mommy or daddy's time, or toys, or space with anyone else. How do you prep a child for this rude awakening of real life? Very slowly and gently.

How can a child possibly imagine how much fun it may soon be to have a step parent or step-sibling, unless you explain the benefits? Focus on the positives and find work-arounds for some of the problematic issues. For example, you may not be able to force a child to share his toys, in which case, you need to set up a rule that if you don't want to share, they need to stay in your room. How do you avoid turf wars? The easiest way to do this if at all possible is to not have one person move in with the other, but rather, you get a whole new place together. New house, new rules. This way no one gets blamed as the "meanie" that has now ruined things as they once were.

Change is scary to kids-- even to some adults. I embrace change, but that is because I developed a high tolerance for this early on. As adults, we need to minimize the anxiety for our kids by providing reassurance. Let them know it is okay to voice concerns. Help them learn that change is a normal part of life, and many changes are actually exciting and can be quite good. Giving kids a heads up and realistic time-frame will help, but be prepared for some tears. For them, this might well be the final realization that any hope of a reconciliation between their parents is gone.

It is a simple fact of life--our joy is not always shared by others, so don't expect a child to do cartwheels when you announce that you've fallen in love with someone else and are getting remarried. When the shock wears off, they are going to ponder for quite some time "what does this mean for me?" To us adults, it may seem so obvious that this is a good thing, but you are going to have to prove it to your kids. Over 70% of remarried couples fail-- and it mainly stems from issues with the kids-- so don't rush things. We owe it to everyone involved to make this a success story, and I share these thoughts with the sincere hope that we will drastically improve the stats for blended families going forward.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Setting Clear Boundaries-- especially with FUBARs

There are a lot of manipulative people out there, and although it is human nature to want to get your way, there are some that don't know where to draw the line. They are incapable of compromising and want their way at any expense to others. Any sense of remorse or the ability to apologize just isn't within their capacity.

 Throughout the years, I have had to help people extricate themselves from incredibly unhealthy relationships. There is an overwhelming percentage of the adult population that seems to lack coping skills when dealing with stress, and as a result they use others as their punching bags (verbally, physcially, or both). I can't tell you how many cases of addiction I have encountered throughout my years as a divorce lawyer, and thankfully as part of the additional trainings I pursued post-law school, I learned a great deal about various disorders, including high conflict personalities aka HCPs.

Bill Eddy has written many books about these personality disorders, and there is even a High Conflict Institute that disseminates information on how to deal with HCPs, which may be about 20% of our population according to some NIH studies. Of course these experts are way nicer than I am going to be here-- these people are toxic, and as soon as your gut starts to tell you something is off, trust your instincts. We all have demons to conquer, but let me be blunt-- some people have simply suffered too much trauma and may well be f--d up beyond all recognition. There is a reason "FUBAR" exists as a term, and we need to accept that not everyone can be saved.

While it is my job during the day to save people, off the clock I enjoy being around friends and loved ones that have their s--t together. Sure, we all have problems that come up, but some individuals are just constant problem accumulators. In my personal life, I no longer have any room left for FUBARs. Unfortunately, not everyone can avoid dealing with these difficult people, in which case you need to start setting clear boundaries, which are meant to protect you. True FUBARs are going to interpret these boundaries as personal attacks. They may throw out ultimatiums and create no-win siutations, part of their classic routine. Ultimately, breaking away may be the only choice you are left with, and it will probably not be easy. But this is about you remaining sane and healthy-- don't let someone else control you. We all get to choose how to live our own lives, and setting boundaries is just part of making smart choices, especially with FUBARs.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Planning for Major Life Events

Most of us are aware of the need to plan for major events-- like a birth, a wedding, buying a house, etc. Yet so few people actually plan for death-- and many try to avoid the subject all together. What is up with that? If you don't deal with certain issues ahead of time, you are going to find yourself dealing with a crisis. Today's guest on my t.v. show, which will air next week, wrote a book "The Ulimtate To Do List When Your Loved One Dies." Donna Vincent Roa did an incredible job of covering the entire process of dealing with someone's death-- and sadly her inspiration for writing the book stemmed from the sudden passing of her own mother. There are very few comprehensive resources out there that explain what you need to do, and as I read through her book it struck me that it is in many ways like planning a wedding, only you have 3 days to find the venue, caterer, florist, musicians, etc. There is an incredible amount of work that goes into the celebration of one's life, which is essentially how we should view a funeral. We all know it is inevitable, and if we care about making life easier for those we love, we can't avoid this discussion. Her checklists are very helpful, but what fascinated me the most I have to say was this growing trend for a green funeral. Did you know there is even a Green Burial Council, and on their site they have a planning guide you can download to help plan a more environmentally-friendly exit. Fortunately, I have not had to plan a funeral yet, but this book has given me a lot of food for thought, and I'm looking forward to when our segment airs next week. So many people want to avoid tough discussions, but if you love someone, you need to have these candid talks sooner rather than later. We never know when death will come knocking on our door, but we can be prepared, and hopefully we will choose not to shift burdens onto others with things in absolute chaos versus leaving here peacefully, with dignity and grace.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Nine Months-- or more

Normally, it takes nine months to make a baby; it then takes that child nine months to complete a grade level; and similarly, it is generally advisable that you wait nine months before making a major commitment in a relationship, i.e. an engagement. It takes time to get to know someone. Everyone is on their best behavior in the beginning, and very few open up right away about their buried issues.

Only over the course of several months do you get to meet each other's family and friends, learn to resolve conflict, build trust and gain understanding of one another. To get to the point where you are fully committed, and can see yourself being with someone for the rest of your life, you need to experience both momentous occassions and every day occurences. As one of my friends jokingly says, until you've been together a full year-- how do you know that on Halloween that guy doesn't turn into a werewolf and howl at the moon? Another one likes to say that until you've had a knock-down drag out fight, you truly don't know each other.

Of course, once you have gathered all your information, there does come a point in every relationship where you need to decide where you are heading. No one likes to live out of a suitcase, and commuting in traffic does get quite taxing, but these alone are insufficient reasons to move in with someone, although they can be factors that drive a conversation about the status of the relationship. Remembering that no one likes to feel pressured to make a decision is key-- also it is important to note that depending on the baggage someone brings to the situation, it may be necessary to wait longer before delving into a deep discussion about the future.

Ultimately, it takes two willing participants to decide they want to move to the next level, and if one lacks that motiviation the other either needs to be patient or consider moving on. Things definitely seem to move faster as people get older-- but try not to rush things. Buying a house, moving in together, merging finances, etc. are all incredibly stressful things, and you have to build the right foundation before you can merge your lives. Nine months will fly by before you know it--it has for me several times, without ever getting to the next level.

Even after a year, don't expect it's all going to be smooth sailing.  One of my favorite quotes is that "smooth sailing does not make skilled sailors." As a result of the rough patches you hit along the way, I think you truly get to know the good, the bad, and the ugly, and going forward with your eyes wide open makes it that much easier when the moment comes to take a leap of faith.