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!!!