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.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

What is the big deal with turning 40?

Throughout the years, a recurring theme with my clients has been this mid-life crisis moment that one partner has had, and next thing is the whole family's world is being turned upside down. Meanwhile, as some of my friends started to approach 40, I witnessed them get all weird, sometimes a bit melancholy. Many guys that I have met have described women experiencing complete meltdowns around their 40th birthdays, and all the while that I was taking in all these stories, I never really understood why-- until now. Turns out 40 is the common "ah-ha" moment for many, and although it should be a time to celebrate, it really depends on whether you are ready for it. As my own 40th birthday approaches at rapid speed, I find myself in an amazing state of calm-- but many factors have played into that, most of which truly occurred not by design, but rather pure serendipity. Many see 40 as the half-way point in life, but I never saw it that way so I have packed a lot in during my four decades: I loved being an athlete and scholar in my early years-- both gifts that were discovered, not intentionally sought out. I was able to travel significantly and live abroad prior to getting married and establishing my legal career, and although my marriage did not work out, we did have a wonderful child as a result of that union, and he has brought me more joy than I could ever imagine. Despite the divorce, I did not lose hope on love and have managed to maintain a good co-parenting relationship with my ex. My divorce led me to face many buried issues from the past, and by pure luck, I managed to track down my father last year, and in the process this whole amazingly warm and caring family that is now a part of my regular life. Finally, through the intervention of friends, I was introduced to a man that has been incredibly kind to me ever since we met. Together, we can see a future together and have suspended all judgments about our pasts. And so it is, that through no particular plan of my own, I can face my 40th birthday with absolute peace in my heart-- I have no regrets; I have lived life to its fullest; I have experienced many great joys, and not allowed the disappointments to crush my spirit. I have loved and lost, but mostly I see it all as one big lesson, without which I would not be where I am today. To those with a milestone coming up, let me say this-- 40 is a big deal, and if you have regrets, you need to address them as quickly as possible. If you are not at peace with who you are and where you are, you need to come up with a plan to change things while there is still time to fix things. If you don't like the way you look, get a fashion consultant, personal trainer or go on a diet. If you don't like your career, change it. If you are unhappy with your love life, go figure out a way to attract a different kind of person. For every problem, there is a solution. Don't ignore issues and let problems accumulate and drag you down. I've seen too many people spiral downward, and it is the last place on Earth you want to be right before a milestone. 40 should be a celebration of your life-- but you have to make sure you give yourself good reasons to celebrate. Through the divine intervention of friends and destiny, I have plenty to rejoice, so 40- here I come, watch me roar!