Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Time is Money

According to the ABA, there are about 1 million licensed and actively practicing attorneys in the U.S.  So not only is there true confirmation that we are a rare breed, but it also helps explain why so many people don't fully understand us.  We are trained to see things quite differently, and early on we are taught that time is money.  In some ways, this is great-- in my personal life, I don't waste my time on fruitless efforts.  In the dating world, if I wasn't seeing a return on my investment of time, I got out fast.  When you think of your time as something truly precious, you simply don't waste it.  While I happen to think this is a great strength, I can see how it might be a source of conflict with others.

The fact is most private-sector attorneys are trained early on to track their time for billing.  We bill for emails, calls, letters, document review, drafting agreements, meetings, etc.  This can all add up very quickly, and many of us joke that if we ever got in trouble we could not afford our own services.  Sad thing is that joke is really true.  It is not many that can afford $300/hr or more for someone's legal services.  So here is the truly sad part that I see in the divorce world- the more people want to fight, the more they incur in fees, and those attorneys that care more about themselves than their client's best interest will not do much to promote peace.

Attorneys that have truly embraced their role as counselors will go out of their way to keep things calm.  Those of us that are dedicated to mediation, Collaborative Law and promoting settlements out of court will do everything possible to de-escalate situations and avoid antagonizing the other side.  We realize that regardless of the process we are in, the goal should always be the same: to gather the relevant information, generate options, and find a solution as quickly as possible so that families can move on with their lives, while still having some money for their future. 

Not all of my colleagues share this goal, and I know some fail to understand why I go out of my way to keep things amicable. The fact is I've seen enough anger and vindictiveness to last me a lifetime.  I only want to fight the good fight, and I hope more of my colleagues will see the light soon.  In the meantime, it is up to clients to monitor the situation-- they need to embrace the notion that time is money and spend it wisely.  Not only do you need to pick your battles carefully, but also make sure you pick your allies well.  I think we all can agree that it would be a bad idea to go to war with some trigger-happy fool, especially with your family's future on the line. So, try your best to rein in those emotions (including those of your attorney) and don't lose sight of the fact that time is money.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Coping With an Identity Crisis

My first identity crisis occured when I retired from the world of competitive gymnastics.  From traveling all over and training with some of the best athletes in the world, it was a hard shift to become a "normal" person at 18.  The partying lifestyle of college probably masked a lot of the internal loss I was trying to process, and by my senior year I managed to pull it together.  I landed a job at a big firm in New York and moved in with my boyfriend, who later became my husband, and life kind of just moved on.

The next big identity crisis hit me when I became a mom at age 31.  How was I going to manage the demands of being a downtown lawyer while playing a significant role in my child's life?  I wanted to have my cake and eat it too, but soon realized that wasn't going to happen.  So, I embraced my role as a mother and opened my own firm, taking on a tremendous risk that it may not all pan out.  Fortunately, my career and son both thrived, but it was my marriage that fell threw the cracks. 

At 32, I found myself as a self-employed, divorced, single mom-- that was definitely not what I had in mind for my life, and so here I was now facing identity crisis #3.  I actually loved the role of being a wife, and the singles scene was very weird and foreign to me.  Luckily, I was taken in my 2 camps that helped me through those years: 1) the 20% of our population that will never marry and 2) the 25--33% that marry only once.  These guys were great company and kept me entertained, and for that I will always be grateful, but I always knew I was just a passerby in the single life scene.

So here I am at 40, about to remarry, merge two families & guess what?  No more identity crisis moments.  I've gotten back into entertainment through the various media formats, without the need to do cartwheels.  Meanwhile, I have continued to maintain my law practice while playing a significant role in my child's life, and now I get to return to the cherished role of being a wife.  Personally, I need all these roles to fill complete, and that is just me. However, I get that there is a significant group of about 45% that may never understand that about me.

Those that choose to stay single have a different way of living-- it's not better or worse, but it's just not going to be the same as those that choose to be married and want to do couples things together.  Now I understand why those two camps don't interact much, and I can see just how great the divide is between those that merge and those that don't.  Because I always maintained my friendships with married friends, and always planned to return to that life, it's very easy for me to say good-bye to a life I never fully adopted or wanted, but I just have to say I never would have survived the last seven years without that minority group, which not only made all those years bearable, but actually fun. 

In the end, as far as having an identity crisis goes, I really just want to make sure everyone knows that it is a normal part of life.  So many of my colleagues and clients have also gone through these moments, and we have all worked through them.  It just takes time to adjust to a new role, and it is okay to be sad or scared at times-- just don't let yourself get stuck.  Reach out to others-- the world is full of people that can and want to help others in a time of need.  Remember, a crisis is just a passing episode, and if it doesn't kill you, it will only make you stronger.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Dismantling The Bachelor Pad

11 miles may not seem like a huge distance, but when it is 11 miles in the opposite direction of where you want to be, it can seem like a trek across the continent.  So how did I wind up doing it for almost a year?  Because the more I got to know this man my friends introduced me to last December, the more I realized he had some key qualities I simply wasn't finding in the small pond I'd been fishing in all these past years.  Since my "type" wasn't panning out for me, I decided I'd give this different kind of guy a shot-- but knowing my disdain for commuting, I also set a limited time span for us to see how things played out. 

Dating someone who is geographically inconvenient or undesirable can be tricky, but here was my thinking on that matter: you can always change someone's location, but not their foundation.  This kind of became my mantra that calmed me down every time I found myself seething while sitting in massive rush hour traffic on 270 while heading out to his house-- the bachelor pad in the burbs.  Once I got there, I'd joke that I needed an epi-pen to prevent myself from breaking into hives, but the fact is he was my epi-pen, along with his kids who I've grown quite fond of over the past year.

The first time I met his kids, I brought over cupcakes.  That's how I wound up with the nickname "the cupcake lady."  There are far worse names I could've been given, so cupcake lady worked for me!  Soon thereafter, I was given my own toothbrush and an empty drawer for my things.  He bought me a blow dryer, put up pictures of us on our travels, and stocked up on my favorite tea, so that slowly but surely I felt quite comfortable in this home away from home.  Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, he started shopping for rings and began a massive purging process.  Without any input or prompting from me, he started dismantling the bachelor pad he'd built over the last 10 years and began focusing instead on the new home we might build together.

Yesterday, we took the last remnants of his unwanted things to the dumpster, and now the staging of his house is next.  The best lesson I've gleaned from this whole experience is that you have to stay true to yourself, but at the same time give some things time to play out.  A truly secure and happy bachelor isn't going to change his ways and his life overnight because someone demands it to happen-- but if he believes he has found the right person and truly loves you, he will want to join you in life's journey, and he can and will move the heavens and Earth to make things work out when he is ready.   

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Cost of Freedom

Across the globe we hear the common refrain that "freedom is priceless," and yet in my world there really is a price attached to gaining freedom-- a fairly hefty price at that for those who choose to litigate.  The national average is that a litigated divorce/custody trial will cost each side about $20,000.  Now let's think about that-- if the median household income is about $55,000 how can the average family afford a contested trial?  The answer is quite obvious-- most will not be able to financially endure a full blown trial.  In fact, the normal, average, every day citizen cannot even afford having an attorney on retainer, which normally starts at $3,000.  So what options are available to most people?

First, before doing anything drastic, most people are able to afford an initial consult.  In that first hour, you should be able to share a summary of your story, and get an explanation of the law in your area, plus some advice on what options are available to you within your budget.

Second, most courts have a lot of forms available online and volunteers on staff at the courthouse to help you navigate the system.  There are Self Help Centers and classes that are given on a regular basis to teach individuals the basics with respect to the court process.

Third, attorneys that are not part of a big firm may be willing to ghost write documents for you.  What this means is that we will charge you only to draft the agreements or pleadings you need, without entering an appearance in court or negotitating on your behalf.  Some of this work may be done on a flat-fee basis, which further reduces the anxiety for a client, for truly there is nothing worse than not knowing how much something will utimately cost you.

The fact is the more work you do for yourself, the less you need to pay an attorney.  People seem to forget that back in the day it was only the truly rich and wealthy that had attorneys on retainer.  Well, try to keep that in mind if you are embarking on a divorce/separation, for really it is a very small percentage that can afford to go to war with heavy-hitting attorneys at their side.  While in most other aspects of life I would agree that freedom is priceless, I think when contemplating a split up, both from an economic and emotional perspective, you really have to take into account what is that freedom really going to cost you & what can you realistically afford? 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Ostrich Syndrome

Over the years, I've seen so many people suffer from this problem-- they try to hide from reality by digging their heads in the sand.  Do they honestly think that if they ignore an issue it will just go away?  Well sadly, it never seems to work that way-- in fact the opposite is more likely to occur.  By trying to avoid dealing with an uncomfortable situation, it blows up into something so much greater.  There are so many times where I think with great regret how easy it would have been to solve a client's problem if they had just come in right away, before things got really bad.  Little problems are usually easy to fix, but big problems are sometimes ignored far too long and become issues beyond repair.

This ostrich syndrome is quite common, and often times it will take outside intervention to help a person recognize what is going on and find the strength to face things head on.  As a divorce professional, it is precisely my job to tackle issues on behalf of those that simply can't defend themselves.  It is also my duty to keep people on task, and brainstorm solutions as soon as issues arise.  Unfortunately, I am only dealing with one part of someone's life, and often times, they are perpetuating this pattern of behavior in other areas of life, such that they create a perfect storm scenario.  It is incredibly sad to watch a seemingly strong individual spiral downward as they get hit with a series of unfortunate events that send them to a very dark place.

Sometimes, despite Herculean efforts, I'm not able to make miracles happen, and this is particularly true in the very unforgiving process known as litigation.  The wins can be great, but the losses can be devastating, and that is my biggest warning to people that want to head down that path.  Especially for those with a tendency to go MIA or flee when things get tough, the last place on Earth you want to find yourself is in the ring with a bunch of gladiators.  Someone with ostrich tendencies is like a sacrifical lamb just asking to be slaughtered before the true games begin.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Are you a watcher or exhibitionist?

No, I'm not talking about sex today-- instead, I'm referring to how you use Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Lately, there seem to be two distinct camps: 1) those that snoop, but rarely post; and 2) those that post often and rarely snoop.  I understand that many want to preserve their privacy, and those will normally fall into the first camp.  For those seeking to understand those that post often, I will confess that the nature of my business actually requires me to stay on people's radar so that they realize the work I'm doing and causes I'm promoting.  Since I don't have a firm that manages all my marketing needs, I have to take it  upon myself to spread the word whenever something is being aired on tv, published in magazines, etc.  Facebook, Twitter, Linked In and Blogger have all done an excellent job at helping me reach others, and for that, I am eternally grateful.  But of course, there is always a downside to everything, and for me (and my family) it's actually been a bitter pill to swallow that so much of me is out there in the media and cyberspace. While there isn't much that I can do about that now, there are 3 bits of wisdom, I'd like to share with others.

(1) Keep in mind that you alone control what you share.  There's enough bad news out there already, and you want to avoid over-sharing, so try to focus on the good stuff, and before you upload, just ask yourself if this is something you might regret later.

(2) Don't ever let yourself get down about what others are up to.  The divide between haves and have nots is increasingly more glaring on FB, but don't let envy penitrate your soul.  Everyone has their struggles.  Those that are young, pretty, rich or popular have their own sets of demons to conquer-- especially the fear of losing it all.  The fall from grace is a hard one, trust me I know.

(3) Try to review old posts and clean up your past crap every 6-12 months.  There are some things we may say and post at one moment that may not be very flattering or appropriate later.  You never know who is looking at your digital history, and the last thing you want to have to do (just as an example) is have to clean up 3 years worth of photos, posts, etc. because you just got engaged, hit the one-year anniversary with someone, or are in the midst of moving in with someone.  If you think no one wants to hear about past flings, you better believe no one wants to see a series of photos showing your past conquests! 

Whether you are an exhibitionist or watcher, I hope you continue to have fun.  The digital age has definintely made life more interesting in the past decade, and I have no doubt it will continue to evolve beyond my expectations, but just be careful & keep my 3 tips in mind.  :)


The Emotional Ups & Downs of a Divorce

Here is the link to this week's tv segment with Jill Ladd on the emotions a family will experience during & post divorce:

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Don't Underestimate the Importance of Date-Night

There are many people who refuse to buy into the whole Valentine's Day mark-up with flowers, cards, chocolates, and dinner specials that can leave a hefty hole in most wallets, and I don't blame them.  For years, I stayed home with my first husband, and we cooked a special meal together rather than dealing with the restaurant madness.  Now with this year's Valentine, we've actually picked a different night of the week to go out, and he's opted for tulips (which are my favorite) instead of roses.  The heart-shaped chocolate boxes I got this year are actually for the kids, and everyone else got one of the value-pack cards I bought on sale.  Whatever you choose to do, the point is to acknowledge your love this week, and you can do it without blowing your budget.

A far more important point that needs to be made is that having one day a year to recognize your special love is not enough.  For many, once a month isn't going to cut it either.  To keep a relationship alive and healthy, you need regular and frequent date nights.  I like weekly, but things happen that sometimes force us to go every other week.  Now, a lot of my married friends with kids will say that I am lucky because I have a built-in babysitter, aka my ex-husband.  That is true-- I am very fortunate that I don't get hit with a babysitting surcharge when I want my date night.  So maybe others need to get creative and take turns with other friends hosting playdates, or they need to beg the grandparents to step up a bit more and lend a helping hand.  Whatever you need to do, just do it.  We all need a break from the responsiblities of work and home life, and we all need to feel special.  Without date night, it's easy to feel taken for granted-- and when this happens, your marriage becomes that much more susceptible to outside threats.

When this advice was first given to me over a decade ago in my first marriage, I wish we'd taken it far more seriously.  Instead, we both got tied up with work and child-rearing responsibilities, and we let other things take precedence over our own relationship, and look at where we ended up.  Lesson learned: all work and no play makes for a very boring/unhappy marriage.  So, my advice is to talk to your partner about his/her desired frequency in date nights and find a compromise you can both live with, then do your best to stick to that.  Spice things up a bit on a regular basis with your loved one, not just on V-day. 


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Emotional Rollercoasters

The first seven years of my career as a divorce lawyer, I focused on the business-side of the break ups-- then I went through my own divorce, and I got to experience first-hand the emotional rollercoaster that so many of my clients experience when they come to see me.  The grief cycle takes its toll on the entire family, and the fact is not everyone will be in sync as they go through the series of emotions.  So, to put it bluntly, it is normal for everyone to feel out of whack in different ways at different times.

Thanks to my increased involvment in mediation and the Collaborative Process, I've had the privilege of working with some of the most brilliant mental health professionals in the DC Area.   These experts have helped me understand the emotional side of the divorce, and helped normalize a lot of crazy behavior that previously made no sense to me.  This week, I get to share some of those insights during my interview with Jill Ladd, who was among those recently named by the Washingtonian as a top therapist in our area.

Families going through a divorce are highly likely to experience depression, anxiety, and/or anger while dealing with this situation.  Parents need to keep their emotions in check, and try as best they can to keep things stable for their kids.  It is not easy, but we need to remember that children are the innocent ones, and they are far more vulnerable and fragile.  Fear of the unknown is quite common, and little ones that haven't experienced much change should be spared as much trauma as possible.

Life post-divorce continues to bring new challenges for these families, and Jill did a great job providing tips for parents as they begin to date and/or blend families.  One key point is that just as Rome was not built in a day, you can't expect a family to restructure itself overnight.  We need to give things time, and proceed with caution.  Remember, not everyone loves rollercoasters.  Some of us have a highly developed built-up tolerance to the ups and downs of life, but many (especially children) prefer a calm ride along a lazy river.

Keeping all this in mind, we can all do our part to better society by encouraging families in transition to be aware of emotions that may be clouding sound judgment.  Rather than fuel the fire when a friend, colleague or relative is going through a divorce, we can all try our best to calm things down and encourage the use of external resources as needed.  This will also do a great service to the family's pocket book.  As one of my friends pointed out with great dismay in his own nasty divorce, there is a huge transfer of wealth going on-- not from one spouse to another, but from his children's college funds to that of the attorneys' children.  It would be funny if it wasn't true, but that is the sad reality of many divorce rollercoaster rides when left unattended.  Passengers need to beware.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Trips Down Memory Lane

We all get nostalgic every now and then, but nothing forces us to take a trip down memory lane like a move.  After my divorce, I lived in the same condo for seven years, and I hate to admit it, but there are some boxes that never got opened during all that time.  Meanwhile, I did not realize how much more I managed to accumulate over the last several years until this past month when I had to pack everything up for my move.  Thankfully, I was not alone in this venture, and the new place is something my son and I are looking forward to enjoying.

The past few weeks have been exhausting, not just physically, but mentally.  I actually remember the source of most gifts, and so with each item that gets unwrapped, a whole flurry of memories and emotions wash over me as I think about that connection when it was first made, how it developed, and where it is in its present state.  I have been so fortunate to have generous friends throughout my life, not all of which are still in contact with me, but nonetheless the memories remain.  That saying continues to ring true-- some came into my life for a season, some for a reason, and very few became life-long friends.  No matter what role they all played, however, I am eternally grateful for the love that they all showed me at some point along life's journey.

Years ago, Dr. Robert Emery mentioned in a lecture that you know your client is done with the grief cycle when s/he can hold all three emotions (anger, sadness and love) simultaneously.  At the time, I was not quite sure how that could be possible, and yet that is exactly where I find myself today.  With all the past loves that are now gone, I can honestly say I am disappointed they did not work out, sad about the lost contact, and yet happy that we shared those moments, because I would not be who I am today, nor where I am today, without all those lessons.  Each failed relationship has indeed taught me volumes-- not just about my wants and needs, but honestly about my own shortcomings.  The fact is until recently I was not a very forgiving or patient person.  When something ceased to be fun, that was my cue that it was time to move on, and yet, it is that precise attitude that kept me from letting anyone into my life the last seven years.  Only once I recognized the flaw in my own logic was I able to switch the course of my path towards self destruction.

As much as I wasn't planning on taking a trip down memory lane this past month, it's been good for me-- it's a great reminder of where I came from and a good source to then measure if at 40, I really am where I want to be in life.  Even though I may not know what lies ahead, one thing is for sure-- I will not miss being single.  While single life certainly had its perks, it pales in comparison to the benefits and joy of being part of a team.  To all those that have helped impart that lesson on me throughout the years, I quite humbly want to say thank you.