Wednesday, December 31, 2014

8 Points to Consider In the New Year

Year-end is a perfect time not just for corporations, but for individuals to take a good look at how they spent their time, money and effort.  After taking into account this year's return on our investments, we can then figure out a plan for the coming year.  When going through this analysis, here are 8 points to consider:

1. Health- are you taking good care of yourself?  If not, now is the time to think about making changes that will improve your physical and mental well-being.

2. Work- are you satisfied with your professional performance and compensation?  It is important to take pride in your work and feel properly appreciated for your efforts.  If this is not happening, you need to figure out how to implement a change.

3. Family- are you happy with your existing family ties?  Family dynamics are tricky, but if there is discord within your family, you need to try to find a way to make peace-- a form of peace that you can live with.

4. Money- are you financially solid?  To survive, you need to be able to meet your own basic expenses.  If you don't have a good grasp on your budget, ask for help.

5. Friends- have you created a support network that works for you?  Friends do get married, move away, or get caught up in their own affairs (as do all of us), so it does take a lot of effort to keep up these connections,  but this is something we need to do and cannot neglect.

6. Appearance- are you content with your image? How you present to the world does matter, and you need to be okay with how you look or go make the necessary changes to feel good about yourself.

7. Spirituality- are you being true to your belief/faith, whatever that might be?  We simply can't be happy unless we live a life that is reflective of our real core values.      

8. Love- have you found love?  Hopefully the answer is "yes," but if not then the answer should be "not yet."  We are all worthy of being loved, it just takes time to find the right match.        

While all of these areas in life may require our constant attention, cut yourself some slack and don't try to tackle everything at once.  Prioritize and focus on what it most important to you.

Thank you all for an amazing 2014, and best wishes for the year that lies ahead!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

What's Your Christmas Wish?

As many of us make the journey to visit family and friends for the holidays this week, we are bound  to reflect back on 2014 and think about not just what we have accomplished, but also what we have left undone.  My advice is to cut yourself some slack, and after making your to-do list for 2015, let go of the bad and focus on the good.

We all have our sources of stress and sadness, but this holiday season try to take some time to unplug from everything and put things in perspective-- a better perspective.  No matter how bad you think you have it, someone else has it far worse.  You can't look at the glass as half empty-- instead, you need to train your brain to see that glass as half full.

I cannot explain why I'm naturally wired to have a positive attitude, but I can tell you that positive thinking is an essential survival skill in life.  I've had to overcome some horrific challenges, and it is no secret that the only way most survivors are able to cope is because they believe that everything happens for a reason, and that it will all work out in the end.

So, this Christmas season, while I hope your wishes do come true, here is my wish for you: that you learn to harness the power of positive energy.  Here are three simple tips to help you on this path:  

Peace- find inner peace for yourself by coming to terms with your past and your present, and then allow yourself to dream about your future.

Serenity- learn to accept certain truths while finding the will to change things you don't accept as truths, and pray for the wisdom to know the difference.

Love- believe without a doubt that there is an unlimited ability within you to love and be loved for this is our true legacy-- it will survive us long after we breathe our last breath.

Best wishes to you and yours for a wonderful Christmas!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Can You Stop Enabling Bad Behavior?

Those of us focused on finding solutions to problems will often encounter one big one: we tend to be enablers.  What does that mean exactly?  Well, it basically means that because we keep covering up or fixing the mistakes of those we love, we don't let them suffer the harsh consequences that would normally result from their bad choices.  But eventually, one of two things will happen: either you get tired of mopping up someone else's messes, or they will create a catastrophic situation that finally leaves you with no choice but to walk away.

There are actually many problem accumulators out there, and I unfortunately have to hear about them and their epic failures every day in divorce court.  Sometimes I refer to these people as ten-triers-- these are people that need to get burned at least 10 times before it finally sinks in that fire is actually dangerous.  Ten triers simply cannot play out the consequences of their choices beforehand, and instead just act on impulse.  They often lack insight into their own behaviors, and impulse control.

If you are a loving, caring person, you will find that you in particular are a magnet for these problematic types.  Why?  Well, precisely because they need you to help fix their problems.  But you can't always play the role of a savior, and eventually you will learn that the best way to help this type of person is to actually let him/her fail.  This is particularly hard when it is your own child or spouse, but at some point you will realize that they will only learn their lessons the hard way.

When you finally cease being an enabler, be prepared for some backlash.  Problem accumulators have a tendency to blame everyone but themselves for their problems, and if you change the status quo on them, chances are high that you will be the target of blame.  It sounds ridiculous, but seriously these people will turn everything around, and somehow it is a huge conspiracy that is working against them to have them terminated at work, incarcerated, hospitalized, evicted, involved in collections actions, with suspended licenses and/or divorced.

Ultimately, you have to realize that these people are toxic.  They create no-win situations that will make you feel ill.  If your home ceases to be a safe harbor because of these individuals, you have to find a way to create boundaries to protect yourself from suffering for bad choices made by others.  One great book I read years ago on this topic was "Boundaries in Marriage" by Dr. Cloud.  Another good resource is "It's All Your Fault" by Bill Eddy, who is the founder of the High Conflict Institute.

High conflict personalities make up over 20% of our population according to a recent NIH study.  You have a 1 in 5 chance of meeting up with one of these, and you can't let feelings of guilt trap you in a pattern of behavior where you continue to facilitate their bad behavior.  Get some help, and stop enabling.   It won't be easy, but this too shall pass.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Aren't You Getting Tired of Faking It?

Whether in or out of bed, I really don't get it-- what is the point of faking it?  Either you are truly happy being with someone, or you are not.  If you don't actually feel fulfilled despite the big house full of toys, fancy car and fat bank account, then maybe it's time to take a good look at some of your  life choices and make some changes.  The secret to success is this: you have to define it for yourself.

Growing up poor, I bought into all the commercial hype and after putting myself through law school I pursued all the normal big-ticket items, but with each new acquisition or professional accomplishment I found myself thinking "what's next?"  It's almost like you become a junkie looking for that next big hit.  The problem is that this never ends, and once you realize how meaningless it all is, what you are left with is a deep, undeniable feeling of dissatisfaction.  At that point, what do you do?  Well, let me clue you into something that has been medically proven: dis-ease will eventually lead to disease.  If your mind isn't well, those problems will manifest themselves in your body.

Take a good look at the GenXers around you-- how many of those in the rat race have actually aged well?  Not many.  Why is that?  To me it is clear that the very life is being sucked out of them, and if you don't want to end up the same way, then truly do something about it.  Stop burying your feelings and putting on a happy face, even though deep inside you feel like you are dying.  The fact is you will have to let a part of you die so that a new you, the real you, can live.

Unless you are performing on Broadway, don't feel like you need to put on an act.  Life is too short to go around faking it (especially in bed).  Be true to yourself both on and off the clock, and live a life full of passion.  This my friends is my holiday wish to you all.  Be real, and enjoy the real beauty that life has to offer before it is too late.

Friday, December 5, 2014

What Should You Do When Your Friends Decide to Split?

Holidays are funny-- it's that time of year when a lot of couples decide to get hitched, and it is also common to hear couples have decided to split.  If your friends are in the latter category, you may feel torn trying to figure out what should you do in response.  Here's my advice: try to see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil.

Inevitably, one or both of your friends will want to tell you their version of what led to the breakdown.  What I have learned over the years as a divorce lawyer is that there really is her version, his version, and then the truth is somewhere in the middle.  Each person can only tell you the story from his/her own point of view, but if you can just take a few steps back (rather than getting sucked in or pulled to one side) you may find things are not so black and white, and indeed you may come to appreciate a bit of what I see everyday, which is a splendid spectrum of varying shades of gray.

Unless you are the actual judge that gets to decide the couple's fate, why do you need to see all the evidence and hear all the gory details about the demise of a marriage?  Just accept that it is not pretty, and that these situations will bring out the worst in people.  Fear and anger drive people to do horrible things. Desperate people often take desperate measures, and unless properly guided, their actions often have horrific consequences.  Do you really want to be a witness to all of that?

Unfortunately, it is part of my professional duty to hear about evil and see evil every day, and then it is my job to avoid a bloodbath by quietly finding legal solutions that preserve a family's right to confidentiality.  Dealing with trauma situations requires a highly specialized skill set.  So, unless you are asked in a professional role to play a part in addressing a family's crisis, don't feel obligated to play any part beyond neutral Switzerland.  No one can suck you into an awkward situation if you just remember to hear no evil, see no evil and above all speak no evil.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

How Do You Cope With 2 Homes, 2 Sets of Rules?

In an ideal world, whether children are being raised in an intact family household or not, the goal would be to keep things simple for them by having them deal with just one set of rules.  Unfortunately, most children of divorced couples will at some point or another experience situations where their parents are not on the same page.  While sometimes parents can work with an expert to get on the same page, sometimes there are just fundamental differences in values or parenting styles that we need to accept (even if you don't respect those choices), and this is where despite our personal preferences we need to teach our children to learn to compartmentalize and live with two homes, two sets of rules.

It is not easy for me to have to explain to my divorce clients that the court cannot force someone to parent a certain way-- if someone is okay with a messy room, letting the child eat junk food and/or play video games all weekend, there is NOTHING we can do about that.  We cannot control what someone does with his/her child during their time together-- unless of course it becomes a true danger to the child, and that is when the authorities will intervene.  Otherwise, we all need to learn to let things go, and I don't say that lightly from a detached point of view, but honestly from a very personal perspective having dealt with the same issue the last nine years post-divorce.

As a parent, I have struggled with the message I want to send to my child, especially when he is getting a different message from someone else that he identifies with more.  I've found it helpful to take a few deep breaths before saying anything in response to news that I may find disturbing.  Before speaking, I choose my words carefully-- the key is to strip out all negative comments and anything that may seem to suggest you are passing judgment.  Stick to "I" statements, for example, "I don't want you watching more than 3 hours of tv today."  Do not get into an argument about what goes on elsewhere-- you govern your house your way, let others govern their house their way.  Sometimes, to be quite honest, I just have to visualize duck tape, and I take that duck tape and smack it across my mouth.  Some things are just better left unsaid.

Remember, language was created so that we could communicate with others in an effective manner.  Before you say anything to a child, ask yourself "how will this information be helpful?"  Be careful with your word choice-- it matters, especially if you want your message to be heard and well received.  Don't attack, call names, or use sarcasm when talking about the other parent-- just think you are talking about that child's other creator, and like it or not one-half of that person is part of your child.

In the end, you don't have to agree with your child's other parent at all.  And if you are put in a no-win situation, try to pick the lesser of two evils.  What do I mean by that?  Well, let's say for example that the other parent does something that you do not approve of and now you have to weigh in on that.  Well, you have 2 options: 1) put on a fake smile and try to appear that you don't have a problem with the situation or 2) be honest, express your disappointment and explain why you would not make that same choice.  Neither choice is a fun one, but to me being honest is the lesser of these two evils, and at least I can live with myself by being true to my own values, so that is why I'd go with #2 each and every time.

Two homes with two sets of rules is not what any of us want for our children, but when it is their reality you have to be able to adapt and help them cope.  Stop wishing things were different and instead teach your kids to filter and compartmentalize.  There's actually a book, "Mom's House, Dad's House" that has more concrete tips for divorced parents on this topic.  Is this ideal?  Of course not, but at least know that you are not alone.  This is a very common problem, and there are work arounds.

I gave up banging my head against the wall long ago, and instead I had to find new ways around it.  You can too-- by remembering that there is a reason your marriage did not work out, and luckily you no longer have to deal with that other person's ways, but your children do, so help them figure out a pathway that let's them build a bridge between mom's house and dad's house.



Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Are Your Emotions Clouding Your Judgment?

Have you ever felt like you were starring in a bad movie, and at some point you could almost hear a little voice in your head saying "how did things get to this point?"  Well, if it is of any consolation, we have all been there.  The key is how quickly can you find the way to gracefully exit Stage Left?  Sometimes the door is right there, but your emotions are clouding your ability to see things clearly, and that is why you either need to learn to detach from your emotions, or find someone driven by logic, who can calmly walk you through an escape plan- to a better place where you can see things more clearly.

As a divorce lawyer, my job is to hatch escape plans every day.  The reason I can do this so easily is precisely because I am emotionally detached from the situation, and I can rely entirely on logic and past patterns to forecast what will play out down the line.   Unfortunately, someone who is experiencing severe pain, distress, or is living in fear (whether brought on as a result of deep-seeded issues or external forces) is not going to be able to think or see clearly, and s/he will therefore not be exercising his/her best judgment.  To make smart choices, you first need to feel safe and find a way to calm down.

Once someone has an established sense of security, it is important to learn to let go of outcomes.  Years of practice have taught me that the more open you are to playing out various possibilities, the more flexible you are with your thinking, and the more you can adapt to changes, the better off you will be in the long run.  By being less focused on a particular end-goal, the more apt you will be to see other factors at play, such that you will be in a better position to appreciate the totality of the circumstances.

Learning to let go is not easy, but it is necessary.  While feelings of anger and disappointment do serve an immensely useful purpose by letting us know that something is not right, continuing to harbor such feelings is never a good thing.  You need to find out the cause of the problem and find a solution, accepting that your preferred solution may not be the one that actually plays out best.

Humility is what teaches us that there is very little we actually control in this world.  And it is precisely that humility that will save us, by allowing us to let go of the emotions that can cloud our judgment.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What Are You Doing on Giving Tuesday?

There are so many hyped-up events that I now refuse to take part in, but Giving Tuesday is actually one that I do enjoy.  It's important to remember those less fortunate then us, especially during the holidays.  If you can't afford to donate money, then at least donate some time.

Many great local causes need volunteers, and last year on MMCTV I tried to feature at least one non-profit each month that was doing something to help families in our area.  One of my favorites was actually the Storybook Project, which helps record mother's reading stories to their children.  It was a very humbling experience to spend a day in prison last year around the holidays, and because I found it so moving, I am doing that again this year.  Stripped of jewelry and my phone, subject to being frisked and then surrounded everywhere by cameras that monitor every move made behind a wired fence in the middle of no where is perhaps a bit extreme, and that is fine-- you don't have to go to such lengths to be reminded of how fortunate we are in our daily lives.  But do something.

Helping Junior Achievement this spring at a local middle school was incredibly rewarding, and all it took was one hour of my time for 5 weeks.  Spending an afternoon connecting with the Fresh Start students at Living Classrooms, which teaches work skills to young adults transitioning out of juvenile detention was another incredible experience that I will always cherish.  Why? Because these kids remind me that the odds of escaping poverty were grossly stacked against me.  I give them hope that it can be done, but they give me something much greater-- humility and gratitude.

Don't ignore Giving Tuesday-- find a cause that resonates with you, and if you can't give any money, give others a piece of your heart.  You never know how much can change with just one act of kindness.  I can try to tell you, but really you should experience it for yourself.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What Are The Financing Options for Divorce Fees?

As the holidays near, it is quite common to see a spike in separations.  For those that about to embark in the divorce process, it is important to understand the four main types of services generally available to clients with family law matters:
(1) initial consults;
(2) flat-fee services for preparing specific documents;
(3) alternate dispute resolution; or
(4) representation through retainers.
Initial consults are key because they provide clients with an overview of the law, including their rights and obligations, as well as a detailed explanation of the legal process. It is important to obtain this information, together with an expert’s advice on strategy, early on and usually a one-hour consult in the DC Area ranges from $300-$600, depending on the attorney’s reputation and level of experience.
Flat-fee services are typically offered for drafting or reviewing Prenuptial Agreements, Separation/Marital Settlement Agreements and/or uncontested divorce documents simply because the time involved with these services can easily be predicted. Flat-fee arrangements are not available in contested situations.
Alternate dispute resolution is conducted outside of court and includes using an attorney as a mediator or working in a Collaborative Divorce Process, where each party has his/her own attorney and as a team they work to resolve the outstanding issues outside of court. In these arrangements, individuals may be able do a pay-as-you-go plan, without the need for hefty retainers because they are agreeing to avoid litigation and instead focus on an amicable settlement.
Representation through retainers requires clients to pay a deposit towards the legal services requested. Essentially, it gives clients the ability to have a lawyer “on call.” When this full level of service is requested, the process can become quite expensive.  To make the process more affordable, many service providers are starting to use limited engagement retainers that dramatically narrow the scope of an attorney’s representation.
Limited engagement retainers are a bit controversial because there is a concern that people may not fully understand what this means, but as long as the limited scope is clear, this a-la-carte style of purchasing can greatly benefit consumers seeking greater control over their legal expenses. These limited engagement retainers typically exclude representation in court, which is the most costly aspect of the legal services. The attorneys essentially serve as ghost-writers and coaches throughout the legal process, without any commitment to appear in court.
Under any scenario, divorce clients have to be realistic with their own budgets and find ways to work within their limits. Family law cases are civil matters, and the government does not have any responsibility to provide attorneys in these cases, except in very specific actions such as those involving child support or abuse and neglect claims. It is also not the lawyer’s problem to figure out how the client will finance a private action– that is where friends, family, bank loans or credit cards come into play if a person lacks sufficient means to pay for legal representation. Law firms are not intended to be financial institutions, and attorneys need to avoid conflicts of interest that can easily be created once they are put in the position of acting as lenders with their clients.  As a result, there is a rise in divorce financing through private institutions in some areas, depending on the overall assets of the marital estate.
Divorce is rarely a cheap or easy process; therefore, it is each consumer’s responsibility to do his/her own research and to then request the appropriate services taking into account the financial resources s/he has available for the process.  Ultimately, the key to a successful divorce is understanding the options available, having realistic expectations and choosing the process best-suited to the parties’ situation.
Reprinted from Wealth Strategies Journal. (c) 2014 by Regina A. DeMeo

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What's Your Attachment Style?

We all recognize early on that people have different tendencies or preferences than our own, and by the time we get to college, most of us can easily identify which of the 16 personality types out there best describes us based on the Myers Briggs test.  However, rarely do we take the time to explore the why we are wired the way we are, or make the effort to understand or appreciate why others are the way they are, and those that lack this insight will continue to experience major setbacks in their personal relationships, especially in the dating world.

Rarely do we fall in love with our carbon copy, and so we need to appreciate that others may have a different way of deriving energy, processing information, or making decisions, and as a result they may want to pursue a different lifestyle.  This is precisely what makes life (and love) so interesting, and we have to learn to live and let live without passing judgment.  And in the meantime, there is one other little thing we need to keep in mind.... attachment styles: secure, anxious or detached?  Figure out which one you are, and then learn to identify the others.

Someone with a secure attachment style is confident in the bond created, and will not exhibit insecure behaviors.  Those with an anxious attachment style will need constant reinforcement that everything is okay, and they will need to connect on a more regular and frequent basis.  Meanwhile, someone with a detached attachment style may come off as aloof.  They actually need their space and will be repelled by those that come across as needy.

What I learned over time is that I have a very secure attachment style with my friends-- I don't talk to any of them every day or even every week, but I know that we love each other, and in a time of need will be there for one another.  This works for all of us, but it does not work with someone that has an anxious attachment style-- and those with a detached attachment style definitely won't mix well with the anxious type.  When these styles clash, it is my experience (both professionally and personally) that unless one or both parties are able to adjust their behavior and expectations of the other, it simply won't last.

There really is no point in trying to fit a square peg through a round hole.  If you want to find a lasting love, you need to pay attention to attachment styles.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Why Are Prenups a Growing Trend?

As holiday season nears,  many couples will get engaged, and then embark in the typical 6-9 month planning process that will result in a wedding, which on average costs $25,000 in the United States (not including the cost of the engagement ring).  During this process, money talks are an inevitable– not just with respect to the short-term decisions such as the cost of a venue, caterer, invitations, florist, photographer, entertainment, or honeymoon, but also long-term decisions that will impact the household, such as plans for housing and managing combined expenses/savings.  In recent years, trends show that these money talks often include one addition topic: the possibility of formalizing the couple’s financial agreements with a prenuptial contract.
Young professionals, who are already painfully aware of the rate of divorce,  seem to be increasingly aware of the option to redefine joint property, protect separate assets and/or set limits on future alimony claims by entering into a prenuptial agreement with their betrothed.  While previously, these agreements were mainly used by individuals with significant personal or family wealth, and/or those entering into second marriages,  there are now a growing number of  young professional couples without significant resources requesting a prenuptial or post-nupital agreement in order to minimize the financial damage that can be caused in the event of a litigated divorce.
These days, pre-nuptials are considered standard legal contracts that are generally upheld as long as they are (1) not signed under duress, (2) there has been full financial disclosure, and (3) each party had the opportunity to consult independent legal counsel. Unfortunately, some couples wait until the last minute to arrange for a prenuptial agreement, and in the event it cannot be finalized before the wedding, many will opt to convert the contract into a post-nuptial agreement.
While these agreements may not be very romantic, they certainly are a useful tool to promote money talks upfront, alleviate important financial fears, and promote a clear understanding of what will be part of the couple’s “marital pie,” including what should happen with each person’s assets in the unfortunate event of either party’s death or a divorce.
Various corporations are now requesting that their partners/shareholders enter into prenuptial or postnuptial agreements to protect the company from being involved in any litigation between spouses. In addition, many individuals are now using these agreements to protect intellectual property rights or business interests that are not yet developed.

Many pre-nuptials also now address the issue of who will move out if things do not work out and include mechanisms for valuing and selling joint assets quickly if either party requests a separation in order to avoid a “War of the Roses” scenario.  Confidentiality clauses and provisions for mediation or ADR are also common.
In the end, by covering the most common difficult issues and establishing protocols for handling a dissolution in a prenuptial well before any invites go out in the mail,  the goal is to remove as much as uncertainty as possible and reduce the risk of costly litigation in the future.   Those willing to have the tough money talks upfront should be applauded, and in the meantime those die-hard romantics out there may well have to accept the fact that prenups are no longer for just the rich and famous.  It is a viable option that minimizes great risks, and more and more young professionals (as well as those a bit older and wiser) are embracing it.
Here is the link to a recent podcast on prenups:
@2014 by Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.
reprinted from Wealth Strategies Journal

Thursday, November 20, 2014

How Do You Deal With Misdirected Anger?

As a divorce lawyer, I'm used to seeing people at their worst.  Often as the bearer of bad news, I am the one who gets blamed or yelled at, even though I know this situation has nothing to do with me.  Luckily, once I'm off the clock, I don't have to keep dealing with psychological warfare, but many others do, so here are 3 tips for dealing with misdirected anger:

1. Ask Why- If you can understand the source of someone's anger, maybe you can help them problem-solve or at least sympathize with their situation.

2. Identify Patterns- Is there a specific behavior that triggers a visceral reaction?  If so, maybe you can avoid the behavior, that is if you really care to change.

3. Learn to Disengage- Rather than argue, what if you don't react?  If you don't fuel someone's fire, it will burn out that much faster.

With rational people, talking through issues, learning to avoid triggers, and not rewarding bad behavior should work, but with irrational people you may find that nothing works.  It helps to understand that many people suffer from mental health illnesses, and not all of them can be treated with medication.  Now, while you can certainly have compassion for someone that is not well, you are not doing anyone any good (especially yourself or the kids) by just being that person's punching bag.

Unfortunately, toxic people will keep creating toxic situations, which are incredibly unhealthy for everyone involved.   Those that lack the ability or desire to change, won't.  If someone cannot see how their words or behaviors negatively impact those around them, you may be left with no choice but to get out-- and be very careful when planning your escape because it is not likely to go over well.

Remember, those that are angry are actually wounded.  Sometimes, we can talk through our disappointment, fears, concerns, and working together with our partners to address these issues, we can actually form a deeper bond.  Sometimes, things are just beyond repair, and that is when you know it's time to move on.

Calling it quits is not anyone's first choice, and it is going to hurt-- but you have to see it as short-term pain for long-term gain.  

Monday, November 17, 2014

What Are The Odds You'll Find Your Match?

We've all heard that dating is a numbers game, but what does that really mean?  It means that to find that perfect someone, you are going to have to cull through a lot of crap.  Why?  Well, just do the math...

The more you care about looks, smarts, and/or someone's character, the harder it will be to find a person that meets your criteria.  For example, if only 15% of the US population has a graduate degree and that is important to you, that is fine, but you have to realize that you are eliminating 85% of the population in your search.  The same logic applies if you are looking for someone that earns over six figures-- they are out there, but you are now working with a much smaller percentage of the overall population and so to overcome the odds, you will need to put yourself out there more.

Even once you click with a candidate that happens to be smart, cute and nice enough, there remain many hurdles to face-- and you can only figure it out over time.  Some key considerations are:

- Is it easy to spend time together?
- Do you trust each other?
- Do you respect this person and the life choices s/he has made?
- Do you enjoy each other's friends and families?
- Are you sexually compatible?
- Do you resolve conflict well?
- Do you share the same dreams and aspirations?

It is not easy to find someone that you want to spend the rest of your life with, but I think it has to be that way so that when you do find that person you will appreciate him/her that much more-- for you know deep within your heart that the odds were highly stacked against you, and yet despite all the odds you found one another.

Don't let the odds get you down, and don't give up on finding love. You just need to get out there and be prepared to sort through a lot of hay until you find that needle in a haystack.  Once you do, you will feel like the luckiest person in the world, as well you should because it is like winning the lotto-- but you have to be willing to play in order to win.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Why Are Transitions So Scary?

Change is scary for a lot of people, especially sudden, unexpected or unwanted changes that impact our core needs. Unfortunately, those going through a divorce will experience great uncertainty in various aspects of their lives all at once, which explains the dramatic rise in situational depression or anxiety among those dealing with a separation. Here are 5 key areas of concern that need to be addressed as soon as possible to reduce the stress caused by this major life transition:
1. Financial Security- For anyone to feel safe, s/he must be sure that his/her basic financial obligations such as shelter, food, clothing, and transportation will be met. Being financially dependent on the other spouse is a terrible position to be in, and becoming financially literate and independent is an important part to a successful future post-divorce.
2. Identity- Everyone needs to feel secure in who they are as a person. Unfortunately, many during a marriage tie their identity to being a good spouse and/or involved parent, and these roles will change upon divorce. Returning to single life and not seeing the kids each day are huge adjustments that people have to make during the separation process, and it will take time to develop a new identity outside the former nuclear family unit.
3. Socialization- Many people have their entire social life revolve around family. Without a spouse or kids to come home to each night, divorced individuals need to develop a whole new social network. For many, it will require some effort to form new connections and rebuild a close circle of friends.
4. Purpose- We all need something to make us feel like life is worth living, and that we have a reason for being here. Often during a divorce, people will question their past choices, the path taken thus far, and what their real purpose should be going forward. The questions are all great, but not having all the answers readily available can be a little unsettling at first.
5. Structure & Time Management- To some extent, we are all creatures of habit, who derive some comfort in knowing how our days or weeks will be structured. However, in the divorce process, schedules often get altered and new demands are made on parents’ time with their children. Until some new norms and a regular schedule can be established, many will feel very unsettled.
It is critical to understand all the upheaval created during a divorce, and to remember that while some may adapt easily to change, many do not, especially those that never saw the end of the marriage coming.
While the legal process itself may be rather straight-forward, the financial, emotional and social devastation caused by a divorce cannot be overstated, particularly for those in an economically vulnerable position. To start over after such an immense setback is indeed going to be scary– but it will be far less daunting for those receiving sound financial advice and strong emotional support or guidance.
By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.
Here is the link to the journal this was published in today:

Monday, November 3, 2014

Beauty Is In The Eye of The Beholder

Have you ever found yourself wondering what you could do differently to make someone like you more?  Or have you thought to yourself how great someone would be if you could just help them change a few things?  Hmm, we've all stupidly thought these things at some point or another, but when it comes to finding a life partner, we cannot allow ourselves to think this way.   Instead, we need to focus on finding someone that appreciates us just the way we are.

Now, everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion, just don't let that phase you too much.  Here is why: according to my son, I am (1) too neat; (2) care too much about what other's think; (3) study too much and (4) don't know how to chill.  While all of these may be true from his perspective, there are plenty of others who appreciate these very same qualities that drive him (and his dad) nuts.  So who is right?  They all are-- because beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and this is exactly why one man's trash is another man's treasure.  I'm not saying any of us are trash,  but I am saying we've all been rejected by someone for certain attributes only to later find another that finds those very same qualities absolutely endearing.  The key then is to find those that love you and all your quirks, not despite those quirks.

If you try to change for someone, then you are not being your true self, and you are bound to grow resentful.  Meanwhile if you try to change someone else, you are probably going to wind up grossly disappointed because that never works not in the long run.  Just remember the lyrics from Billy Joel's song "Just the Way You Are."  The very first lines say "don't go changing to try and please me."  Wise advice, just easier said then done.

It is hard to not try and change others, and others will always try to change us to fit their needs.  Now maybe for my son's sake, I'll tone down my neatness standards, or how much I care about what other's think, maybe I'll even be more goofy and try to chill more-- but that is because he is a child who had no choice in getting paired up with me, and it is my job as a parent to try to understand him and make his life a little bit easier.  But with a life partner, I think we should all hold out for that one that finds us beautiful, just the way we are.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Is Your Volcano Ready to Blow?

These days we have been hearing a lot about volcanos-- in far away places like Italy, Iceland and Hawaii scientists are carefully monitoring lava flows, but what about doing the same a little bit closer to home?  All of us have the ability to blow-- whether at work or home, and I believe there really is only one reason, which is quite simple: someone has violated our sense of fairness.

Usually it is those closest to us that really push our buttons, and that is because we expect much more of our loved ones than we do from complete strangers or casual acquaintances.  When it seems that those we care about are not being considerate of us, we often feel betrayed, and that betrayal often leads to outrage.  So how do you stop yourself from blowing up?  Well, try to remember this fact: if a volcano blows, everyone winds up covered in ash.

Whenever we feel our sense of fairness is being violated, we need to speak up and not just suffer in silence.  We need to air our grievances, explain our feelings, and then we have to wait and see-- how does that other person react?  Do they get defensive or aggressive?  Do they shut down or shut you out?  Are they dismissive of your concerns?  If so, just recognize that NONE of that is constructive, but do not continue to engage, instead just gracefully walk away.

Those with healthy relationship skills will listen to their partners' concerns-- they are open to having difficult conversations and coming up with some possible solutions.  Conflict is inevitable in life, but for a relationship to survive (and hopefully thrive), you have to feel like you are working together to resolve these issues.

 If you feel like a volcano that is getting ready to blow, don't dismiss your feelings.  Instead, spend some time asking yourself why you feel this way.  Figuring out the why is the key.  Then you can start to explore options for an appropriate solution-- and here is where you need to be open to all possibilities because the less tied you are to a particular outcome, the more likely you are to find the right solution.

So, let's leave real explosions to real volcanoes, and admire them from a far.  I think we can all agree that the last thing any of us want is to have all our loved ones covered in ash.  

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Are You Experiencing a Mid-Life Crisis?

It is not a "crisis" if you find yourself in your 40's or 50's reevaluating your career or life choices-- this is normal, and should be seen as an opportunity to make some improvements.  Here is a recent article that explains this phenomenon:

Here is the link to an interview with a life coach that explains the importance of working with a guide through this process:

There are many great books out there that are also helpful, including The Road Less Traveled by Dr. Peck, and Butterflies are Free to Fly by Stephen Davis.

It is good to question.  Enjoy the journey.  Just know that all the answers you need are already within you.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Gottman Relationship Blog: Relationship Alphabet: V is for Violence

The Gottman Relationship Blog: Relationship Alphabet: V is for Violence: V is for Violence By Zach Brittle, LMHC In case you missed it, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I’m not really sure ho...

Friday, October 24, 2014

Should You Postpone Having a Family?

Many stories have been written about the challenges of parenting in the 21st century, and how expensive kids are to raise, but what people really need to hear is how much we can learn from our children, how much they help us grow, and how much they provide to us.  In teaching them, we learn a lot about ourselves, our values and what really matters in life.  In raising them, we too expand our understanding of the world and what it takes to build healthy, enduring relationships.  And in loving them, they expand our ability to love more than we ever thought humanly possible.

The choice of whether to delay parenthood is a very personal one, and I commend companies like Facebook and Apple willing to financially support this option, and we should all respect each person's right to make the decision best suited to his/her situation, but I will say this: (1) You will always worry about money (no matter how much you think you have or don't have) so don't get too hung up on this fact and (2) Parenting is hard work, and I mean literally-- it takes a physical toll on you that is just easier to bear in your late 20's or 30's than in your 40's.  Your energy level is not likely to increase with age, meanwhile there are greater health risks the longer you delay having a child. 

Personally, 31 was the perfect age for me to become a mother.  Physically, I was able to recover quickly, and professionally I was able to work out a flexible schedule that met my needs for work/life balance.  Now, I may not have hit it big financially over the past decade, but I was able to provide a decent life for us, and in the process I got to enjoy a whole second childhood full of rewards that far exceeded all my dreams.

Life is full of choices, and I love that-- just make sure you make an informed decision and don't delay too long one of the greatest joys that life has to offer.  If you still need a little more convincing, here's a list of my top 5 reasons kids make us better people, which was published today in KidzEdge:

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Top 4 Reasons Second Marriages Fail

After working with families in the DC Area for over 16 years and observing their dynamics, here are the 4 key reasons that explain why over 70% of second marriages don't last:

1. Not Enough Time to Reflect;
2. Rushing Into Things;
3. Money; and
4. Kids.

Here is a recent article explaining this further:

Here is a video that discusses the challenges parents face post-divorce:

For those contemplating a second marriage, I highly recommend you talk about your estate planning before the nuptials, and consider having a prenuptial agreement drafted by an attorney.  Also, look into attending a couple's counseling seminar,  or you can order the workbook "Focus of Forever" by AAML at

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.

Friday, October 17, 2014

What Legal Services Can You Afford?

For those about to embark in the divorce process, it is important to understand the four main types of services that we generally provide for clients with family law matters:

(1) initial consults;
(2) flat-fee services for preparing specific documents;
(3) alternate dispute resolution; or
(4) representation through retainers.

Initial consults are key because they provide clients with an overview of the law, including their rights and obligations, as well as a detailed explanation of the legal process.  It is important to obtain this information, together with an expert's advice on strategy, early on and usually a one-hour consult in the DC Area ranges from $300-$600, depending on the attorney's reputation and level of experience.

Flat-fee services are typically offered for drafting or reviewing Separation Agreements and/or uncontested divorce documents simply because the time involved with these services can easily be predicted.  Flat-fee arrangements are not available in contested situations.

Alternate dispute resolution is conducted outside of court and includes using an attorney as a mediator or working in a Collaborative Divorce Process.  In these arrangements, you may be able to pay as you go for these services, without the need for hefty retainers because you are agreeing to avoid litigation and instead focus on an amicable settlement.

Representation through retainers requires clients to pay a deposit towards the legal services requested. Essentially, it gives clients the ability to have a lawyer "on call."  When we are on retainer, we provide on-going advice and consultation, negotiate with the opposing counsel, draft all necessary documents, and attend court appearances as needed.  This full-level of service is not something that many can afford, which is why in a post-recession world we have seen a dramatic rise in limited engagement retainers that dramatically narrow the scope of an attorney's representation.

Limited engagement retainers are a bit controversial because there is a concern that people may not fully understand what this means, but I believe this a-la-carte style of purchasing can be easily explained to customers, who will then have greater control over their expenses.  These limited engagement retainers typically exclude representation in court, which is the most costly aspect of our legal services.  The point is that we get to coach our clients through the process, helping them file the appropriate legal documents and advising them on strategy, without any commitment to appear in court.  Of course if that client's case does not settle, s/he must be prepared to go to court on his/her own.

Ultimately, divorce clients have to be realistic with their own budgets and find ways to work within their limits.  Family law cases are civil matters, and the government does not have any responsibility to provide attorneys in these cases, except in very specific actions such as those involving child support or abuse and neglect claims.  It is also not the lawyer's problem to figure out how the client will finance a private action-- that is where friends, family, bank loans or credit cards come into play if a person lacks sufficient means to pay for legal representation.  Law firms are not intended to be financial institutions, and attorneys need to avoid conflicts of interest that can easily be created once they are put in the position of acting as lenders with their clients.

Hopefully this helps clarify the options available, and more will make an informed choice that is appropriate to that person's budget.  

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Lots of couples will ask themselves this question as the holidays approach: should I stay or should I go?  If you are really on the fence, you may want to check out Gottman's book, "What Makes Love Last?"  Personally, I feel that if you are asking this question, you probably already know the answer.  Below is the link to a short article that covers the legal points you should consider in a divorce:

Here's a Youtube video with one of my MD colleagues explaining the dark side of divorce:

If you want to set up a personal consult in MD or DC, please feel free to email me at

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Gottman Relationship Blog: The 6 Things That Predict Divorce

The Gottman Relationship Blog: The 6 Things That Predict Divorce: The 6 Things that Predict Divorce By Michael Fulwiler  The first step toward improving or enhancing your marriage is to understand w...

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

VA, MD and DC Finally in Sync With Gay Marriages

Here's this weeks Love & Money column explaining the significance of having all 3 jurisdictions in sync re gay marriages:

Friday, October 3, 2014

9 Steps to Self-Awareness

The past few years, I have been on an interesting journey, which involved finding my father, questioning my career choice, and revamping several of my personal relationships.  Talk about pursuing the road less traveled-- let's be real I went well way off course from the cookie-cutter path I was expected to follow.   And yet, I know without a doubt that I did exactly what I needed to do to get to where I need to be today, and I am so glad I questioned everything and anything I was ever taught.  Now, I'm betting more GenXers will do the same as we become increasingly aware that life is actually full of options and alternate realities.

After I finished my television project for "Making It Last" this spring, I went on an equestrian retreat to learn more about connecting and leading from your core.  Then, I unplugged from the Matrix this summer and went to Iceland. When I came back, I decided to celebrate my birthday by going on a challenging obstacle course that involved climbing various ladders high up into trees and zip lining through Rock Creek Park. Why?  Because I have found that I really dig challenging my reality.  But before you start testing your outer limits, I suggest digging deep within first, and the best way to do this is to follow these simple tips from "The Soul of Leadership" by Deepak Chopra:

1. Stop struggling.
2. Keep listening to your inner voice.
3. Meditate to reach your core.
4. Test your boundaries.
5. Remain centered.
6. Look beyond your personal beliefs.
7. Gather information from every source.
8.  Learn to have clear intentions.
9. Value inner peace.

I have to admit, I was originally afraid of turning 40-- I thought that meant it would be all downhill from there. But instead I have discovered that life really becomes much more interesting after 40- it is totally what you make of it.  And going forward, I will remember this quote from Italo Magni, "if you talk with your head, you will speak to others' heads.  If you talk with your heart, you will reach others' hearts.  If you talk with your life, you are going to reach others' lives." It has been an amazing journey connecting with so many brilliant minds and caring hearts all these years, but now with whatever time remains, I want to focus on shaping lives.
For more information on Deepak Chopra you can visit:

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Do You Know What You Want?

If you are a GenXer questioning a lot these days, don't worry-- you are in good company.  As we all hit the "mid-life" point we are bound to question whether life has worked out the way we wanted it to, and if not, we are painfully aware that there is no time like the present to make a change.  For some that may mean re-evaluating work, for others it's a time to rethink our personal relationships, and it could even be we need to tweak a little bit in both areas.  Questioning is a good thing, but to do so properly you need to make an effort at doing these three things:

1. Unplug- you need to disconnect from the Matrix.  Seriously, you need to realize that the social media distractions are just a way to avoid time alone.  But time alone is good.  If you need to, try this in baby steps. First unplug for a few hours a day, then ramp up to a weekend, then maybe a whole week while on vacation. If you miss it, then you don't need to give it all up cold turkey, but who knows? You may discover, as I did this summer, that you really don't miss all the updates, and after reaching this conclusion you may even decide to delete the Facebook app from your phone, as I did recently-- and I have not missed it since.

2. Find Silence- go for a daily walk, try meditating a few minutes each day, or just enjoy sitting in silence without any electronics and let your mind wander.  It may not be easy at first, but if you stick with it, you will find that silence is golden.  It helps center you and allows you to re-engage in tasks with a greater, clearer purpose.

3. Listen to Your Heart- do something because you really want to do it, not because you think you have to or feel pressured to do so for another person's sake.  The truer you are to yourself, the more authentic you will feel, and others will notice and appreciate that you are being genuine.

These 3 simple steps helped me over the last few years confirm that I enjoy my work, but I also enjoy  volunteering so I made more time for that in my life; meanwhile there were various relationships that I needed to readjust, and once I was clear about what I really wanted, I was able to align myself more with those closer to my true values.

Many books out there can give you inspiration along the way, and some of my favorites are (1) The Road Less Traveled, (2) The Four Agreements; (3) The Way of the Peaceful Warrior; (4) Butterflies are Free to Fly; and (5) The Soul of Leadership.  There are also plenty of life coaches that can guide you through your journey.  Here is a link to an interview I did with one last year:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Top 6 Reasons Most Avoid Divorce Court

Splitting up is never easy, but luckily over 70% of people will either experience an amicable or civil divorce, with less than 10% ever going to trial.  Is this proof that "conscious uncoupling" is really the  new trend?  I highly doubt it, but rather what this demonstrates is that most of us are rational people willing to set aside our emotions in order to reach a pragmatic solution to our legal problems.

Here are the main reasons most divorcing clients will opt to avoid a trial:

  1. Minimize legal costs and instead preserve the family's wealth;
  2. Maintain confidentiality-- very few actually want to air their family's dirty laundry in public;
  3. Lessen the emotional toll a trial would have on the family and close friends/business partners;
  4. Preserve goodwill and foster an easy co-parenting relationship for the sake of the kids;
  5. To set their own pace in the divorce process (you can go as fast or slow as you need to when not under court-imposed deadlines); and
  6. Having the parties own the outcome by not allowing a judge or arbitrator to randomly decide the family’s fate.
It is unfortunate that some will not be able to reach a resolution outside of court, but at least they are definitely in the minority, and while there are still plenty of gladiators out there that thrive on those court battles, many of my colleagues are learning to appreciate the wisdom of promoting alternative dispute resolution methods.

Whether it is for personal reasons, finances, or the kids' sake that you choose to end things civilly, just know that you are in really good company.  Hopefully you will find a wonderful guide that can help you put the past behind you and embrace serenity, so you can easily move on to the next exciting chapter of your new life.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Is it Lust or Is It Love? | Terri Orbuch | TEDxOaklandUniversity

Which Box Do You Find Yourself In Most?

According to Dr. Gottman, who is the author of "What Makes Love Lasts?" and is by all accounts one of the leading relationship experts, there are 3 boxes we can find ourselves in while interacting with our partners:

(1) the Nice Box; (2) the Neutral Box; or (3) the Nasty Box.

I'm sure we all wish we could only stay in the Nice Box, but the reality is that about 70% of the time we'll be in the Neutral Box, and the great take-away here is that this is perfectly okay-- what you want to avoid is the Nasty Box.

Research shows that to maintain a healthy, loving relationship you need 5 good encounters to every 1 bad interaction.  A 5:1 ratio is easy to keep up when you trust and respect one another, turn towards each other during sliding glass door moments, and work together on solving problems as they arise.  If this is an issue, it's definitely one to ignore.

There are lots of great resources out there for those that want to work on enhancing their relationships.  In Bethesda, we have the National Institute for Relationship Enhancement, and they have weekend workshops for couples.  Their site is

Dr. Gottman offers some great tips through his blog, and the website is:

There are also plenty of experts you can find by going to

Here is a link to an interview I did with a local relationship expert, Dr. Mary Atwater, who offers tips to help couples improve their relationship:

Here's hoping you avoid the nasty box, and find a way to make your love last!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Are You Arguing About Money?

Finding love is the hard part, figuring out finances should be easy.  If you find yourself arguing about money, sit down and map out your options.  It's actually not that difficult to address 3 main points:

1. Joint Expenses- Most modern couples that I know or have worked with have a joint account to pay joint bills, but then each party maintains a separate account for his/her own discretionary spending.  Each couple may define joint expenses differently, but generally most people agree that the cost of food, housing and entertainment are joint expenses, and either you contribute to them equally or on a pro-rata basis given your respective incomes.  The bottom line is to come up with a plan that both feel is fair.

2. Debt- If you are uncomfortable with how much someone spends, then maybe you should each maintain separate credit cards and each person is then responsible for his/her own charges?  If you are going to use a joint credit card for expenses, maybe you need to establish a cap so that for example no one will charge more than $250 without the other party's approval?  If you don't agree with someone's choice to take on more debt, then don't co-sign on the loan.  The main point to glean from any debt situation is that we each have a right to limit what we are willing to take on.

3. Legal Responsibilities- When you live with someone, you tend to take on joint obligations, but not enough people take the time to actually legally acknowledge their rights and responsibilities to one another.  If you want to be sure that you are not left in a vulnerable financial position, then perhaps it is worth investing in a formal agreement to memorialize your understanding of who is entitled to what.  For non-married couples, cohabitation agreements can address major issues regarding paying expenses and rights to joint assets.  For couples considering marriage, a prenuptial agreement can set forth what will remain separate versus joint, and if there will be any exposure to spousal support in the event of divorce.  For those already married, a post-nuptial agreement can deal with all these issues.  The goal of all three documents is to clarify everyone's understanding of how the partnership will function financially so that all parties involved can go on to live happily ever after.

Here is the link to one of my favorite tv interviews about Love & Money:

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Taking the Stand: Time to Retire the 'R' Reference?

This football season, why not just refer to our local team as the "DC Football Team" instead of using a name that offends innocent people?  Various courts and media outlets are taking the stand, and this article gives a great explanation of why as individuals we should consider ditching the term:  "Taking the Stand: Time to Retire the 'R' Reference?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Friday, September 12, 2014

Are You Delivering the Right Message?

Have you found that your message just isn't getting through to someone you love?  Well, that happens a lot but luckily there are only 2 possible issues, either (1) they are choosing not to listen or (2) the way you are conveying your thoughts needs improvement.  I can't do anything about the first problem, but with the latter you have to keep this in mind: your message might be great, but if your delivery sucks it won't be effective.

Most people have a hard time receiving any form of criticism, especially off the clock.  A lot of people either get defensive or shut down when faced with anything resembling a critique of their behaviors, choices or character so the key to getting through is to (1) choose your words carefully, (2) focus on how things make you feel or affect you, and (3) above all avoid name-calling or passing judgment.

When things break down it's usually because at least one person feels they are "right" and the other is "wrong."  If someone believes their choices are appropriate and the other's are not, they are never going to be able to communicate effectively.  What's worse is that when you start to take on the role of a nagging parent, the other is going to lose interest fast in the bedroom.  It's simply not a turn on to shag with a nag.

If you are committed to working things out with someone, then you have to be able to work on delivering the right message-- that means discussing things in a respectful manner and with an open mind.  Your job is not to crucify or punish your partner, but rather to listen to his/her concerns and work together towards a mutual solution.  So, here's a phrase that captures that spirit: I love you, and I need your help addressing this issue that I have.  I think we can all agree this will be much better received than something like "I'm pissed and you need to fix this now."

Word choice is key to navigating difficult talks, so choose your words wisely.  Remember, you may have the right message, but if your delivery sucks you will be SOL.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

What Is The Real Issue?

After 20 years in the legal industry, I have been privy to some of the nastiest fights imaginable, but in family disputes it really boils down to three main issues: (1) division of labor, (2) money and (3) time. These are limited resources for all of us, and when arguments erupt at home, I find it helpful to take a step back and ask yourself this before launching into World War III: what is the real issue?

The issue people often think they are fighting about isn't the actual issue at all.  Let me give you some examples:

1 Chores- Do you find yourself arguing about chores?  That's normal, but too often couples focus on who did or didn't do what and really this rarely gets anyone to a better place. The real issue is that someone feels unappreciated, overburdened, and/or that the division of labor is unfair.  Now since you can't undo the past, you need to let that go. Instead, why not center the discussion on what could be done differently going forward?  Everyone should be able to agree on what needs to get done, and that no one should be burdened with 100% of all the chores.  After establishing some common ground, a couple should be able to divide up all the household tasks or decide to source out some of the work to another.

2. Money- Does it seem like someone is either being too controlling or a bit reckless about spending?  Well, money is always a sore subject in families, and we often partner with someone that values money differently. Without passing judgment, try to dig a bit and learn how someone grew up-- did someone's family struggle financially?  If so, then there might be a deep-seeded fear about being poor that cannot be glossed over.  If someone was not taught money management skills early on, then efforts simply must be made to help that person understand the financial implications of certain life choices.  Don't just agree to disagree about money. Financial responsibility is critical to maintaining a healthy family because nothing creates more stress than financial woes. If your basic needs cannot be met, how can you enjoy life together?

3. Time- Do you keep arguing about how much time is spent outside the home or on someone's electronic devices?  This is a clear indication that someone feels neglected, or that s/he is not a priority to the other partner.  The fact is we all have demands on our time that require us to spend significant amounts of time outside the home- work, kids activities, community outreach, along with our individual interests that may involve exercising and socializing with friends.  This is all normal, but you still need to make time for some alone, quality time with your partner, and only together can you realistically set expectations of one another and what an appropriate allocation of time will look like to maintain a happy partnership.

Of course there are far more complicated issues that can arise in a marriage, including problems that surface when there is infidelity, abuse, addictions, personality disorders or other severe mental health conditions, and dealing with those kinds of issues definitely requires the assistance of a mental health professional.  But absent these kinds of stressors, I truly believe issues about time, money and labor can easily be addressed if couples could just honestly talk about their feelings associated with these limited resources, and instead of trying to win each individual argument, they should switch the focus to finding solutions for the deep-seeded, underlying issues. That is really the only way to succeed in love-- by creating the win-win for everyone involved.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Are You Caught in a Downward Spiral?

We've all been in situations where you can see that things are starting to go south, and yet you are not really sure what to do to stop the downward spiral.  Well, really it is very simple, because you only have 3 choices:

1. Do Nothing.  Not a great option if you want things to improve.  If you want the relationship to last, you can't just stand there hoping beyond hope that a miracle or act of God will just make things better.  That rarely happens, and instead the outcome that is pretty much guaranteed is that things will just get worse.

2. Get Out.  This is relatively easy to do in business relationships and with acquaintances, but not so easy when you are talking about a close family member or a life partner.  If you don't live with that individual you can unilaterally decide to build up your boundaries and change the closeness of the relationship without completely severing ties, but this is much harder to do when you are in the same house and have joint obligations.  Establishing a separate residence and/or divorcing has severe financial and emotional consequences that need to be carefully considered before pursuing this option.

3. Repair Work.  I know it is not easy, and it does require effort on both sides to want to fix things, but there is so much to be gained by maintaining a loving relationship that withstands the test of time.  Although this is not my area of expertise, I do actually spend a lot of time reading the research in this field, and it is no secret that Dr. Gottman is my favorite relatinship expert.  In addition to his famous book "Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work," I encourage everyone to read "What Makes Love Last?"  While it would be impossible to do justice to his work in just one blog, I will tell you that the greatest piece of advice I have gleaned from all his writing is this: you need to avoid the nasty box.  He calls it the roach motel-- once you check in, you can't check out.

We have all been in the roach motel at some point in our lives-- and we can all agree that it is a horrible, dark place to be that should be avoided like the plague.  But the fact is, no one ever winds up in the roach motel overnight.  We are all guilty of allowing the downward spiral to occur, and the key message here is that when we realize what is happening, we have to be honest about the choices before us as stated above.

When faced with what Gottman calls "sliding glass door moments" the choices we make truly define the path our love will take. Hopefully you can turn toward your partner, not away from him/her, and by fostering compassion and empathy together you can avoid checking into that dreaded roach motel.


Friday, September 5, 2014

Top 5 Lessons Sports Teach Kids

It's been over 20 years since I gave up the crazy life that involved training every day and competing in tournaments across the country, but there are many lessons that have stayed with me all these years and helped me in my adult life.  Here are my top 5:

1. Respect Your Body- As an athlete you are trained to exercise regularly, eat well and sleep at least 7 hours a day.  If you want your body to last, you have to maintain in properly.  It is no accident that my  size has not varied greatly all these years, and it has everything to do with discipline.  You have to take care of yourself, even long after you retire from sports.

2. Embrace Delayed Gratification- No one is an overnight success in the world of sports.  It takes a lot of discipline and training to become an elite competitor.  Especially in an age where everyone expects instant gratification, I believe it is key to develop this life-skill because the fact is any major accomplishment has to be earned over time.

3. Criticism Isn't A Bad Thing- Any decent coach is always going to point out areas where you can  improve.  Over the years, I learned to appreciate that only those that really care about my success are willing to provide feedback, both good and bad.  I also developed the ability to voice my own constructive criticism, and little did any of us know back then how well this would serve me years later in attempting to revamp the field of family law.

4.  Play- We definitely work hard in sports, but we also play a lot.  After all, none of the athletes I ever encountered pursued a sport they did not enjoy.  We are a passionate bunch-- it is about doing something you love, and doing it well while having fun.  If you cannot find time to play, then what is the point???

5. Life Goes On-   We all know that you win some, you lose some, and this lesson is very apparent in sports.  You can taste sweet victory one day, and suffer a crushing defeat the next.  You can be at the top of your game one week, and next thing you know you get injured.  We are all taught to work through the pain, and that without pain there is no gain.  And should you choose to opt out, life does go on without you because there will always be more players to take part in the games.

In then end, I am eternally grateful for all the lessons I learned as a gymnast, and I can see how they continue to come in handy every day, even though I am not a professional athlete.  Through sports you learn about the unpredictable nature of life, the fragility of the human condition, and the importance of perseverance.  Hopefully by encouraging our kids to pursue sports, the same will be true for future generations.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Have You Lost That Loving Feeling?

Disenchantment doesn't usually happen overnight.  It is a slow steady decline in satisfaction until one day you realize things either need to shape up or you need to ship out.  Now, I'm all for trying to work things out, but when you can't, I completely believe in exercising our freewill to move on because staying in a dysfunctional situation-- either at work or home-- is simply not healthy for anyone.

Lately, I must confess that my disenchantment is primarily centered on our over-use of technology.  As I look around me everywhere I go, everyone seems glued to their smartphones.  On the metro, very few of us actually read the paper or have conversations with real human beings anymore.  At work, most of my daily interactions with clients are via email instead of the face-to-face meetings that I so enjoy.  By the time I go home, I rarely watch television and instead prefer to read or listen to music.  Indeed from 8pm until 8 am I turn off my phone, unless I'm expecting a call from a loved one.  And lately I've found true bliss by unplugging on the weekends or on vacation for even longer periods of time, yet sadly I am painfully aware that I am in the real minority among fellow GenXers and the Millenials.

To truly connect with those you love, you have to spend real time with them and fully immerse yourself in the moment.  Many seem to be losing the essential skill of staying present, but how will you ever develop meaningful bonds and nurture the love you already have if you cannot spend uninterrupted quality time with one another free of all other distractions?

For two entire weeks this month I completely unplugged, and let me tell you it was pure joy.  The already strong attachment to my immediate loved ones just grew exponentially, and so did my disdain for modern technology, which in the past provided me with so much entertainment.  Don't you find it interesting that as the real bonds grew stronger the artificial connections evaporated?  I am convinced it is not a coincidence, and I encourage others to set higher limits on themselves-- avoid the mind-numbing entertainment at your fingertips, and go challenge your mind, body and soul in other ways.

Have I lost that loving feeling?  Towards technology, for sure, but not with those that matter most.  If you want to make your real love last, I urge you to unplug and spend more quality time with those that actually matter most to you, otherwise don't be surprised if they lose that loving feeling towards you.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

3 Top Reasons to Get Married

People are motivated to marry for different reasons, and if there is one thing I have learned over the years is that there is no point in passing judgment on others.  While ideally, we may all wish people would only marry because they believe they have found their soulmate, the fact is that as the years go on many get tired of the dating games or being alone, and the ticking of biological clocks or perhaps certain economic pressures often cause people to make compromises.  Half of these unions will last, and half won't-- it's a bit of a crap shoot, but hey you're never going to win unless you play.  Just be honest with yourself about what is at stake and which of these 3 reasons is motivating you to go on:

1.   Financial Security- Since the beginning of time, marriage has been a way for families to establish financial security, and in today's society there are many financial benefits to being married, such as reduced insurance rates and shared living expenses.   The problem of course is that financial situations fluctuate, and as we saw during the Great Recession (i) no one has a guaranteed salary, and (ii) investments, including real estate can become worthless.  This begs the question of whether you will be able to stay with someone in good times and in bad times, and that will greatly depend on a person's character, not their wallet.

2.  Having Children- Even though 40% of children in the U.S. are now being born out of wedlock, the majority still clearly prefers bringing kids into the world with an intact family.  It makes perfect sense that we would want our children to live in one house with both parents, assuming those two can happily co-exist under one roof, but again in order to ensure that it's not just about screening someone's genes to see if s/he would breed good babies, but is that person a loving and decent human being that will join the child-rearing responsibilities, even when times get tough?

3. Love- Hopefully we can agree that there are different types or degrees of love, and that you can love someone without being "in love" with them.   The difference in my opinion is that when you are in love with someone, you don't see any of their faults and then find ways to overlook them.  Instead you simply see endearing quirks that make the person that much more adorable.  But regardless of the type of love you feel for someone at a certain point in time, the fact is feelings are fluid, and your perception may change overtime, just as people evolve over the years through the various experiences they encounter.  People can and do fall out of love all the time, especially when they take their marital  status for granted.  The key question is can you continue to grow together and nurture the love you have for one another?  Only time will tell.

All three of these are legit reasons to get married, and the fact is you should not feel like you have to justify your logic to anyone else.  You just need to be honest with yourself about the main motivation, and understand the pitfalls as outlined above.

After all these years of helping people either structure their marriages on the front-end, or unravel them in the back-end, one thing is very clear: marriage is hard work, and satisfaction is not guaranteed.  That said, the rewards are amazing, and even after all these years of being divorced and helping others through their heartbreak, I have not forgotten or become blind to the benefits of being in a happy union.  Thankfully, I know I am not alone.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Have You Budgeted for Those Extra-ordinary Kid-Related Expenses?

Lots of parents mistakenly assume that once their kids are out of diapers and eligible for public school the child-related expenses will decrease substantially, but here are some of the surprise expenses that I have found many do not properly budget for, and not just in a divorce scenario:

1. Medical Expenses- Kids get exposed to a lot of germs and as a result are often sick, we know that, but unfortunately they also sometimes start to exhibit issues overtime that may not be as apparent at an early age, such as ADHD, dyslexia, anxiety or depression.  Not all of these expenses will be covered by insurance. Also, braces is a big ticket item often costing about $3,000 per round, with many children now needing 2 rounds.

2. School Fees- Private school in the DC Area typically runs about $25,000 per child or more.  Even if you opt for public school there are regular fees for field trips, prom, and extra-curricular activities that can add up to $400 a month or more. Many kids will also need tutoring or take a weekly music class, which can easily cost $50  per session.  And if you want your kids to go to college, they probably will need an SAT prep class and each application to a school is at least $55.

3. Transportation- Eventually, we would all like to stop being personal chauffeurs for our children, and that means ponying up for drivers' education, permit fees, and eventually access to a car with car insurance.  This is a very expensive necessity that is often overlooked and comes with a huge sticker shock for most parents.

It is no wonder that the national average for raising a child in the first 18 years is over $125,000.  Intact families will struggle together to address these issues, but sadly those in separate households often engage in huge feuds over these unanticipated expenses.  Unfortunately, there is a lot the courts cannot order parents to do and either you will rise above your differences to address your children's needs or not.  Here's hoping you do your best to plan for these "extra-ordinary" expenses, which actually are quite ordinary.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Have You Tied Up Those Loose Ends?

Once the final divorce decree gets entered my job is essentially done-- unless later on people need to revisit support issues or modify their time-sharing arrangements with kids, and these two things do happen all the time as families continue to experience changes in life.  Some people are great about working together post-divorce and addressing these issues themselves, others not so much... but I'll save that for another day.  Today I want to highlight a few things that many forget to do after they separate and/or divorce, such as:

1. Wills & Powers of Attorney- You need to find a trusted person to act as the executor to your Last Will and Testament and/or trustee for any money you will leave in a Trust to your children.  Also, if something happens to you, who will make medical decisions for you and/or manage your money?  Health care power of attorney designations need to be updated and you may want to consider having a Springing Power of Attorney, which essentially springs into effect if you are incapacitated and allows someone to pay your bills, etc.

2. Beneficiary Forms-- You need to contact your life insurance provider and retirement plan administrators and update the forms so that money doesn't accidentally/unintentionally go to your ex-spouse.  If you haven't set up either of these things previously, now is the perfect time to contact a financial planner that can help you determine the appropriate amount of insurance you will need to protect your loved ones and a target amount of contributions you need to start making to provide for yourself when you retire.

3.  Health Insurance- If you are dropping someone from your health insurance plan due to a divorce, you need to let the company know, and if that person is entitled to COBRA, they need to get the right forms asap.  If you need to get your own policy or add a child, don't delay in getting all the information necessary.  There are some very unforgiving deadlines that must be met and ignorance of the law is no excuse.

4. Banking- Have you updated all your contact information and closed out all joint liabilities?  If you have any doubt that your spouse may have opened accounts in your name without your knowledge, then get a credit report and make sure all the information is correct.  Unless you have agreed to maintain a joint account for some reason, it really isn't smart to leave these open beyond the agreed upon date.  And finally, if you are expecting a transfer from a retirement account, it really is up to you to follow up.  Once lawyers get the signed court orders and submit it to the plan providers, we thens to close out our files.  Clients have to be on the ball about notifying the right point of contact if a transfer is not made in a timely fashion.

The bottom line is that long after the divorce case ends, there are lingering issues outside the divorce process that need to be addressed, and people need to be proactive about taking care of these loose ends.  No one else is going to nag you or follow up with you about these things, but they are important and should not be ignored.  It may be a pain to go through, but once you are done, I promise you will feel an incredible sense of accomplishment-- and complete freedom.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Have You Taken A Real Vacation Lately?

Europeans have the right attitude taking full advantage of their 20-30 days of paid vacation a year. Meanwhile, here in the U.S. it seems the only paid time off people respect anymore is when you are at a funeral or on your honeymoon.  What is up with that?

I do admit the last time I took a month off of work (other than maternity leave) was 20 years ago after I graduated college.  Ever since then, it's been go, go, go and sadly the American culture over the last 10 years has really taken a turn for the worse when it comes to respecting the need for people to unplug and take a break.  This observation was fully validated yesterday in the Express article that pointed out that every year there are approximately 577 million days of unused vacation days by U.S. workers that just get lost.  Now, how sad is that?

While many of us do know how to enjoy our weekends and do short getaways, it is becoming rarer and rarer for people to truly unplug-- and by that I mean no emails, calls or social media.  Can you do that for a full week?  I urge you to try.

Last week when I took my son on his first trip abroad, I got to fully unplug, and let me just tell you that it was awesome.  To truly decompress, you have to totally disconnect from work.  You may think you are a critical person, but let me clue you in on a harsh reality: everyone is replaceable, and life will go on without you.

It makes no sense to work like a dog all the time if you cannot take a few days off to enjoy life with your loved ones.  Corporate America can only offer you financial rewards, but at what cost to your overall well being?  And what is the price you are paying with your personal relationships?  If you don't make time for others, don't be surprised when they don't make time for you.

Now if money is an issue, you just need to get creative.  There are so many package deals available at all price points, including through services like Priceline, Groupon or Living Social.  Use points on your credit card if you can or airline miles, and you can always reach out to friends to see if they have a place you can use to crash at night while you do day excursions near their homes.

If you have not yet taken a true vacation this year, stop making excuses and go plan something fun for yourself!  Break away from the daily grind, change up the monotony and go explore a new place.  You build memories doing special things, something out of the ordinary.  Doing something extra-ordinary will do wonders-- and not just for you, but those around you, well at least for those that really matter. :)