Thursday, February 27, 2014

Watch Out for those Ultimatums

It seems so funny to me when people use threats and say things like "take it or leave it."  Really?  Well, with an attitude like that, I'm most likely going to leave it-- and if we have a case together, then the fun will really begin when you get to see me in court act like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill.

Litigators are a modern day version of gladiators, and the court room is our arena.  We know the rules, and we know exactly how far we can go to accomplish the outcome we seek.  Mercy is rarely in our vocabulary, and the annihilation of someone's character is indeed a sport.  We were gamers from an early age, and our minds were trained to identify weaknesses and strengths at warped speed.  Our tongues are sharp, and the weapons we wield have slain many unwitting challengers.  Are you getting a good picture of what it's like to be in court?  I hope so.

Now after many years of witnessing scores of blood baths, some of us can grow weary of the pointless battles.  The enlightened warriors start to pick their battles more carefully, and some of us branch out into other fields of study to find perhaps more peaceful alternatives to resolving conflict.  All my colleagues in the medical and mental health fields have taught me over the last 7 years to become a more peaceful warrior, and I truly have come to enjoy that, but those who for a second think that the feisty fighter in me has died are profoundly mistaken.

Honestly, the main reasons I have spent the last several years lecturing about alternative methods of dispute resolution are: (1) I want to help my younger colleagues understand that going to battle every day is not necessary, and in fact it's healthier for us and our clients to try and avoid court; and (2) the public needs to know that court is not just costly, but it is a very unpredictable place to be, and a lot depends on your opponent and their war chest.  To me, it is simply an issue of being more informed and making smart choices, and obviously the media attention proves there is an increasing demand for options that are not just cheaper, but healthier for our society as a whole.

Sadly, I admit that I still haven't found that magic wand where everyone will want to play nice and keep things amicable.  So, as much as I will continue to promote mediation and settlements out of court, the reality is I will at times still find myself inside the courtroom, where sometimes I'm the one that actually has to give the ultimatums-- either take it or leave it.  Easy for me to say, however, because I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Ultimatums should be used with extreme caution-- don't say it unless you mean it, and make sure you have complete immunity so that it doesn't matter to you which answer you get back.  Without that immunity, only fools or gamblers make threats they can't back up.  Apparently, there are a lot of those out there.  All I can say, is watch out-- once hired guns are involved if you fire, there will be consequences.

For every action, there is a reaction, especially with lethal warriors around.  If you want peace, avoid the threats, name-calling, and games.  If you want war, game on.  It really is that simple, and in the end one thing is for sure: you reap what you sow.  So watch out for those ultimatums, in my world, they really do come back to bite-- with a vengeance.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

4 Key Tips for Those Parting Ways

It is well known that under stress your brain is not thinking clearly, in fact psychologists refer to this as a fused brain.  The connections simply are not working properly-- literally, which definitely helps explain A LOT of what I've witnessed over the past decade in my divorce cases.  Thanks to my friends and colleagues in the medical field, I've come a long way in understanding my clients, so now whenever I find myself saying, "what were you thinking?" I stop and remind myself, they really are not in the right state of mind.

If you are in the process of separating and feel like you are losing control of yourself, don't worry, there are some things you can do to calm yourself down quickly, including taking deep breaths, going for a short walk, and coming up with 3 short safety phrases that will help soothe you.  The more you practice doing this, the easier it will be for you to exert self-control.  Over time, you may even learn to laugh at the absurdities that will undoubtedly continue to occur, but the key is you need to give it all some time.

Because your brain is not operating at 100% you may want to rely on to-do lists, this way you won't forget important tasks and you can make sure you stay focused on top priorities.  These lists will continue to evolve, but there are 3 key points that lots of people brush aside when they shouldn't-- so here they are:

1. Contact Your Financial Institutions.  If you are on joint bank accounts, technically you have equal access to those funds, and so you may look into freezing assets or discuss with your lawyer the option of withdrawing certain amounts so that you alone control your own money.  Same goes with joint credit cards- do you really want that other person racking up debt that you will be liable for? 

2. Update your will and medical directive.  Do you really want your estranged spouse to inherit anything or be in the position of pulling the plug for you if you are incapacitated?  Find someone you trust to be an emergency contact and update your information with your medical providers asap.

3. Get New Beneficiary Forms- Insurance companies and retirement plans all have named beneficiary forms that need to be reviewed and kept current.  Again, do you really want your soon to be ex to benefit from your death?  I think not, although some plans may require joint signatures to change the forms prior to a divorce.

I've seen a lot of crazy stuff in my line of work, and one thing I can say for sure about being a matrimonial lawyer in DC all these years is this: it is never a dull moment.  Sometimes, when I'm off the clock and don't necessarily want to reveal what I do, I say I am in the business of crisis management or damage control.  Of course, it is very easy for me to do this-- because I'm not the one impacted by the events. 

So, here is final Tip #4 for those of you in the middle of a bad split: find someone with impeccable judgment to help you through the crazy times until you get to a better place where you regain full control of your faculties.  I get paid to help people make the best of a bad situation-- it is my job to see the blind spots, come up with a good strategy for either settling the case or taking it to trial.  When my clients cannot see things clearly, they rely on me to be their eyes and ears, not just a hired mouth piece.  Your best ally is not just someone who will fight the good fight for you while you are down-- it is someone who can tell you which battles are worth letting go.

Hope these tips come in handy, and here's wishing you happier days ahead!


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Use Your Time & Energy Wisely

Aside from money, there are 2 things people always claim to have in short supply: time and energy.  Over time, I've learned to guard these as truly precious commodities, even more so than money.  Why?  Because you can always make more money, but you can't gain back time you've lost or energy that's been wasted. 

This mindset should apply to all areas of life-- at work, at home and with the company you choose to keep.  Over the last few years, I've been very fortunate professionally to get to the point where I can pick the projects that I want to work on, and those are the ones that I find worthy of my time and energy.  Similarly at home, I have carved out huge chunks of time that I want to dedicate to my family because I know these years are precious.  The fact is time is not on our side with respect to our loved ones.  Those of us that are GenX are facing 2 stark realities: (1) our parents are getting up there in age and (2) our kids will soon be teenagers, who will want to spend more time with their friends, and less time with us, especially once they head off to college.

One of my strategies in life that has always served me well is to look forward into the future and then work backwards to plot out the path most likely to help me achieve my goals.  At this juncture, after accepting all the inevitable realities that lie ahead in the next decade, I have made some very conscious choices: (1) make the most of my time with those that I love while I still can and (2) cut out all the negativity that tries to seep into my life.   What I've found is that the stronger I remain in my resolve to guard my time and energy, the more I'm able to stick to these very simple goals.

In the end, those of us that are GenXers have at least another 20 years of work ahead of us, and when our final day comes, no one will remember us for the number of hours we have billed, and few if any will know or care about the financial wealth we amassed, but it is our loved ones, those we touched in our lifetime by giving them our time and energy, that will be our legacy.  Unfortunately, most do not realize this until it is too late.

Here's hoping you will find a way to use your time and energy more wisely!

Friday, February 21, 2014

What Should You Expect in a Divorce Consult?

It seems a lot of people are unclear about the process for setting up a consult with an attorney.  From the attorney's point of view, let me just tell you that I can learn a lot in just a few seconds based on how that first phone call is conducted.  Anyone who just assumes that I can talk to them on the spot or will give them free advice over the phone is not the right client for me.  Those that respect boundaries and the profession understand that you need to set up a time to talk, and you should ask what the consult fee is in advance because there is quite a range, and it is your job as a client to know what you can or cannot afford.

Often times, the only thing people want is one hour of my time to hear the facts of their case, and then give them an overview of the law and legal process.  Any good attorney should be able to do this within one hour-- highlight the main legal issues you need to address and explain how the legal system works.  These consults should be empowering because knowledge is power-- you should leave knowing exactly what your rights and obligations are in the event of a divorce.  Then, you can plan your next move.

There are 3 key fee arrangements people need to understand:

1. Free consults- These are not the norm for family law cases, unlike in other areas of law, where it might be unclear whether you have a good case, for example with a bankruptcy, personal injury, employment issues or immigration.  The attorneys that handle these types of matters will usually offer a free consult precisely because it is unclear if they will be able to help you until they talk to you a bit more about your situation.  However, free consults are actually rare in the legal world, where the average range for a consult is from $200-600, depending on the attorney's hourly rate.

2. Flat fees- In family law, this only applies when we know there is a certain number of hours it will take to do a specific task, for example drafting a Prenuptial Agreement or a Separation Agreement, or drafting the court documents for an uncontested divorce.  The preparation of these documents is something that can be easily predicted and quantified, however, if you have a contested divorce, there is no real way to predict the costs, the time that will be spent in court, etc.  As a result, flat fees will not apply to contested divorces, and you should ask what the range is for a contested case.  Anyone with 10 years experience should be able to give you a range-- even though you may not like the figure. 

3.   Retainer Agreements- After a consult, I like to send the client a retainer agreement that s/he can review and then return when s/he is ready to proceed.  This is a legally binding contract engaging an attorney's services, and they usually require an upfront deposit that can range from $1,500- $15,000 depending on the complexity and status of a case.  That contract should specify the billing practices and hourly rates of those that will be providing services.  Some contract attorneys just for advice and consult, without the need to enter an appearance in court.  That will definitely cost less because it is the litigated cases that suck up the most resources.  Now some states require those retainers to go into a trust account, most do not give the client any interest, and generally if there is money left in trust at the end of the day, it should be refunded to the client.  Not all attorneys have the same billing and administrative practices, so you really need to review this agreement carefully and ask questions if you have any before you sign and send your check to the lawyer.

Hopefully, these points help clarify things for those out there seeking a consult.  And just 2 more things to remember: 1) time is money, and 2) when you are talking to a lawyer, talk is NOT cheap.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Some Key Pointers with Online Dating

Many wonder how I've become an expert at playing 20 questions-- the answer should be obvious:  every day for the last 15 years, I've talked to complete strangers about their marriages and then guided them through the divorce process.  It is my job to get as much background information as possible, assess the present situation, and then help my clients develop a plan for the future they envision.  My clients come from all walks of life, divorce does not discriminate in terms of socio-economic class or ethnicity.  So, thanks to all my clients, I truly have learned to talk to just about anyone and understand people from diverse backgrounds.

After my own divorce a few years ago, it's really no surprise that some of games we play in the dating world came quite easily to me-- but I'll admit that even after all this time, I've never fully embraced online dating.  However, I do recognize that 1 in 5 couples meet this way, and so for those of you brave enough to take on this endeavor, here are a few tips:

1. Pictures Matter- We are all visual creatures, although they say guys are much more so than women.  Well if that is the case, I truly don't understand what some guys are thinking with the pictures they post.  Seriously- can't you find someone, anyone to take a good picture with your shirt on?  No need to put on a tux or get a professional photographer, but don't underestimate the importance of taking a nice head shot with you smiling.

2. Proof Read Your Bios-  I stop reading after 2 typos, or if it looks like you've written a dissertation.  Now maybe others are not so harsh, but honestly put a little effort into describing who you are and what you seek, without over-sharing.  There are some basic stats we are all screening for and you should be honest with data-- especially about your relationship status, age, job, and position with respect to kids.  If you want kids, or don't want kids, that is totally your prerogative, and if you have 3 kids full-time, or are enjoying your life as an empty nester,  just put it out there so no one wastes any time.

3. Geography is Key- While some guys seem to really be okay traveling quite the distance for a POA, most girls are not.  I am making a huge generalization here, and so of course I realize some will take issue with this statement, but the point I want to make is this: don't take it personally if someone eliminates you from the running simply because you are geographically inconvenient.  Personally, if you are 20 miles outside my radius, you will just not be on my radar-- and I know I'm not alone on this one.

4. Communication- No one who is doing online dating is looking for a new pen pal.  Don't give away your whole life story in the first few emails or phone calls.  Seriously, you need to meet someone in person before you really disclose anything major.  The point of those initial emails or a call is simply to set up a date.  If you have managed to stay alive past the screening of your picture, bio and geographic location, then close the deal with a live meeting.  Just pick a date, time and place that works for all- end of story.  Afterwards, if all goes well, just pace yourself-- you do not need to chat every day, nor should you wait a week to follow up with someone you like. 

5. Chemistry- There is no way to predict whether this will exist or not until you meet, and it may take a few dates before you can see if you enjoy each other's company and have a good banter.  If you find yourself on the fence after 3 dates, ask yourself truly whether this is about you and some issues you still need to work out, or is it about the other person and something s/he said or did that has made you unsure?  All I can say is that every time I have tried to let my brain over-ride my gut, I have regretted doing so.  You should not have to convince yourself that someone is decent enough for you.  What that really indicates is that you are perhaps tired of the games and thinking about settling.  While we may be able to settle on a lot of other things in life, love is not one of them.

Online dating is hard-- it's especially tough because everyone is not playing by the same rules.  Some people lie about their age, job, relationship status, and even feelings about family and kids.  Unlike when you meet someone through friends, in school, or as part of your natural environment, people online may have nothing in common with you.  They come from all walks of life, with all sorts of baggage, and they have zero accountability to anyone, except themselves.  This is why you have to be careful, and you need to take your time letting your guard down.

In the end, I want you to have fun, but just keep this in mind; Remember how your parents warned you as a kid never to talk to strangers???  Well, please try to take that advice to heart when you are out there on the web.  While there are plenty of fish in the sea, don't forget that some may be piranhas.

If there is one rule you need to follow it is this: avoid those piranhas!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Shifting Down is Never Easy

Not all break-ups are bad, some are actually quite civil and mutual.  The same is true with divorces, but the tricky thing is that if you have kids, you can't just walk away and cease having any further contact.  In fact for the rest of your lives, you will have to stay in contact, and you have to do your best to keep things amicable for the sake of the children.  The problem a lot of my divorce clients face is accepting that they have lost their ranking in the other person's life, and that's because it isn't easy to shift down in a relationship, but it can be done.  Here are 4 simple tips:

1. New Rules of Communication- One of the main reasons a relationship fails is because the couple failed to communicate effectively, and many developed some really bad habits in the end.  Well, your new roles require new rules.  Here are 4 simple ones: 1) no name calling; 2) no blame games-- don't re-hash the past, focus on the future; 3) take turns listening to each other's concerns without interruption; and 4) no threats.  If someone starts to violate these rules, you hang up or walk away.  Eventually if the other person wants to be heard, s/he will learn to play by the new rules.

2. Learn to Enjoy the Quiet- Going from seeing someone every day to maybe just once a week is an adjustment-- even if your interactions were unpleasant, overtime you'd gotten used to daily exchanges with another human being, and it is going to take some time to get used to days where there is pure, blissful silence.  The sooner you come to enjoy your peace and quiet, the sooner you will find yourself at peace with your new situation.

3. Stop Engaging Every Day- There is no need to email, call or text your estranged spouse every day.  In fact, the goal should be to only communicate when necessary about the kids.  If you can get this down to once a week, that is fantastic.  Even if the other person tries to engage you every day, you just need to set your limit and only respond once a week.  If you stay the course, the other person should eventually learn to respect your new boundaries.

4. Find Something to Fill the Void- You are definitely going to miss having someone (especially your kids) in your daily life, and it may take a while before you find a new love interest, so find something to fill that void.  Sign up for a class, join a gym, recruit friends to go out with you, or take up a hobby.  There are tons of things to do to occupy your time, stimulate your brain, and get you engaged with others.

Eventually, things should calm down.  It may take 1-2 years for everyone to get used to their new roles and living separate lives, but if you both stay the course and follow these tips, you should be fine.  More importantly, your kids will have learned a valuable life lesson: some relationships just won't work out, but it doesn't have to be nasty in the end.  You can disengage with dignity and grace-- and while not easy,  I believe where there is a will you find a way.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Don't Ignore the Money Talks

Just as a company without a viable operating budget will not last long, the same I believe is true for couples.  In fact, the stats show that over 50% of businesses fail within their first 5 years, and over 50% of marriages fail within their first 7 years-- coincidence?  I think not.

If you don't have sufficient income to meet your expenses, this is a huge problem, and it will undoubtedly cause a ton of stress in your life.  If you are part of a real partnership, there is no need to feel like you have to take this all on yourself.  Be honest and communicate your concerns with each other.  For your relationship to work, you have to be able to play off each other's strengths and feel like you are a team with each challenge that arises, and money is a huge one for most families.

Ignoring difficult money talks and/or borrowing from credit are simply delay tactics, not real solutions.  Sadly, every day in my divorce cases I have to re-train people to balance their own budgets and live within their means, and often their problems are compounded by years of accumulating debt without any real financial plan in place.   Sometimes, bankruptcy (which is the option of last resort) is really is the only option-- and the more I have witnessed these financial train wrecks in the last few years, the more adamant I've become about trying to change people's mindsets about money, before it is too late.

When I'm "off the clock," I try to do my part by teaching my son, and his peers through Junior Achievement, about financial literacy and being fiscally responsible.  Hopefully, by learning these key concepts at an early age, they will be more apt to have honest discussions with their life partners about money and maintaining a realistic household budget.  As for the grown-ups, I believe it's never too late to start trying to kick some bad habits.    Here's a helpful link to my recent interview with Peter Kenny of Merrill Lynch about the importance of financial planning for couples:

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Make the Most of Your Own Valentine's Day

Twenty years ago, a dozen long stemmed roses arrived in my college dorm-- half a dozen white for friendship, half a dozen red for love.  That night, my date arrived from New York and took me to Sequoia's for dinner on the Georgetown waterfront.  I still have the note that came with those roses, and a picture of what the bouquet looked like when it first arrived, along with many cherished memories of our romance that lasted over a decade.

Although our marriage did not last, we have a child that we continue to raise together, and ever since the divorce, I have fortunately had my son each year as my special Valentine.   With him, I've learned the importance of just acknowledging the day without going over-board.  So, regardless of whether there has been a love interest in my life around Valentine's Day, I have always made sure that we have a special meal, flowers, and of course, chocolates.   And once he ceases to want to spend his Valentine's Day with me, which is an imminent reality that I am well aware of, I'm going to continue with this new tradition of treating myself on V-Day because the fact is I've found it to be rather empowering to be able to reward myself on special occasions without relying on anyone else to make my day.

Let's be honest, who knows you better than you know yourself?  No one.  You know what flowers you like, which sweets you prefer, and what your favorite meal is.  You know what movie you are really dying to watch or the book you can't wait to read.  You know your own style and what outfit is going to make you feel sexy.  So, unless you are super clear about what you want, others will always fall somewhat short of your expectations because they cannot get inside your head.  As a result, I suggest you give people an A for effort, but if you want to fool-proof a special moment, plan it yourself.

Truly, V-Day is what you make of it, along with every other day of the year. Hopefully, we all tell our  friends and family how much we love them not just once a year, but on a regular basis.  In the meantime, don't set yourself up for disappointment by holding out hope that any one particular person may or may not acknowledge the day the way you want-- do it yourself!  Any unexpected gifts should just be a bonus, but you alone can guarantee your own happiness.  Do not rely on anyone else to make your day.

With that, I'm sending you all lots of XOXO for Valentines Day!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Alcoholism & Its Impact on Families

DC is a very stressful area, and not many have good coping skills for stress, anxiety or depression.  Many, who are not from this area, and lack sufficient family support, will self medicate or attempt to numb their pain by abusing alcohol, which is cheap and readily available.  Most that I see in my divorce cases, will not get caught because they are able to show up for work, and they drink "responsibly" by not driving and either take cabs, metro, or pass out at home while avoiding any arrests for a DUI.

High-functioning alcoholics are everywhere, at every level of our society.  Sadly, most refuse to acknowledge that they have a problem, even when their families are begging them to face their addiction issues.  By the time I get involved, one spouse has finally hit his/her limit, and is no longer willing to try and see if the addict can work things out.  I realize, however, there are those that stay, and if they do, they need to learn to stop being enablers.  More importantly, kids-- either in an intact marriage or with parents that are separated must have their own support network and learn to set boundaries with their alcoholic parents, and this is where they can benefit immensely from Alateen (for kids 9-19).

There are over 250 Al-Anon sponsored meetings per week in DC for a reason.  This is a serious illness that we need to address together.  We can learn so much from sharing our stories with one another, and as human beings, we need to know that we are not alone. 

If any of this rings true with you, please watch this tv segment that I recently aired on MMCTV featuring Al-Anon:

Friday, February 7, 2014

Stop Worrying About Rejection- Just Go Out on a Limb

Are you holding back from pursuing something you want?  Don't let the fear of rejection stop you from going after your goals.  Rejection sucks, I know, but it is not going to kill you, and honestly it's just a normal part of life.  No one I have ever met has been immune to the feeling of rejection.  Let me repeat NO ONE. 

I'll give you 3 clear examples we can all relate to:

1. In high school, plenty of us from all walks of life, despite great grades, did not get into our first choice for college.

2. In our job searches, everyone I know has had to go through a series of interviews with various employers, and again despite impeccable credentials, we don't always get our dream job in a nano second, especially in this job market.

3.  In the dating world, none of us get the guy or girl we want 100% of the time.  Looks, smarts, and a great attitude can all be there and yet a lot has to do with timing.  Sometimes, the timing just sucks.

The secret to finding the courage to put yourself out there is this: learn not to take things so personally.  If you still think I'm full of crap, I'll give you a very personal example that proves my point:  22 years ago, I went in search of my dad after I discovered he was actually alive, contrary to what I'd been led to believe.  Unfortunately, when I reached out to him, he was not at a point in his life where he could deal with the situation.  Deep down inside, I knew this was not about me, and then for years, I tried to not think about it or talk about it-- until finally in January 2011, I decided enough was enough, and that I needed to give it one more shot to try to make peace with my maker.

That journey from 2011 was all captured in this blog, and this week will be the 3-year anniversary of when I reconnected with my dad and discovered my half-brother in London.   Since then, we've all made such huge efforts to see each other, share holidays and talk on a regular basis that now it just seems like we've been in each other's lives forever.   Over the last few years, this "lost family" has taught me so much about myself and filled my heart with joy.  They have given me a sense of belonging that somehow was missing the first 38 years of my life, and honestly, looking back I don't know how I managed so long without them.

My story is no doubt a bit extreme, but sometimes you need an extreme example to prove a point.  No one could have predicted 3 years ago how things would turn out with my dad, and yet I knew one thing for sure- if I made zero effort, there was no chance of achieving anything.  As it turns out, only by going out on the biggest limb of my life did I finally reap the greatest reward: by making peace with him, I found peace within myself, and this then enabled me to tackle other major challenges in other areas of my life.

So, whatever it is you seek in life,  you have to find a way to go for it.  As they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.  And especially when it comes to love, at some point, you are going to have to go out on a limb and show your vulnerable side.  If someone is unable to accept what you are offering, just know that this is more often than not a reflection of their limited capacity.  Don't let others limitations hinder you or bring you down.

Truly, the only way to realize your full potential is to put yourself out there.  Is it scary?  No doubt, but then again the greatest rushes in life come from conquering our fears, not by bowing down to them. 


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Top 5 Common Parenting Mistakes

Being a parent in today's world is not easy, especially when there is so much uncertainty in life.  And yet, I've found that the greatest reward for me has been working with kids, both in my divorce cases and at home with my son.  These children are filled with such promise, and they've given me a great purpose in life.  They force us to focus on what our true values are, as we really have to think hard about the lessons we want to impart on them, for ultimately they will be our true legacy.   
Now of course each child has his/her own little personality, and so what works with one won't necessarily work with another.  Since they don't come with manuals, a lot of parenting is really trial and error, so relax none of us are going to be perfect 100% of the time.  But there are some big mistakes that I've repeatedly seen parents make that we should all try to avoid.  Here's my list of top 5:
1. Avoid being overly protective (aka the "helicopter parent,") who is always hovering over them.  Of course as parents it is our job to protect our kids, but we also need to let them learn some things on their own.  You don't want to create such an unhealthy level of dependency that they will never be able to spread their own wings.

2. Don't create the bubble child.  Parents sometimes want to shield kids from the harsh realities of life, but the fact is there are some bad people in this world & bad things happen every day. Setbacks and disappointments are a normal part of life, and they need to learn to cope with these things sooner rather than later.  We cannot always protect them or save them from their mistakes, and if the goal is to prepare a young adult to be a productive member of our society, then we need to let them see the real world- both in its glory and at its worst. 

3. Just Don't Do It.  That cannot be all you say about drugs or sex.  I grew up in a home where these things were not discussed, and it led to a lot of secrecy.  I learned to do my own research & confide in friends instead of family.  With my own son, I've decided to do things differently by opening up the lines of communication, so there are no taboo subjects.  As things come up in the news about drugs, alcoholism, sex scandals or homosexuality, I let him no any question is up for discussion, and then I just filter by answers based on his age.

4. Overcompensating for a Divorce- lots of parents feel guilty because their children are now growing up in a “broken home.”  I don’t see it that way—the family has simply been re-structured, and obviously it had to be reorganized because things weren’t working when everyone was under one roof.  The research shows that kids are resilient, they just need for their parents to be stable.  So, the sooner people get over their guilt and return to a healthy parenting style, where they set limits, the better.

5. The Revolving Door.  Mainly psychologists caution against this with divorced parents that start dating, but I would say this really applies to all of us and our significant relationships.  If a child continues to see that people come and go, in and out of your life, then what lesson will s/he learn?  How will this child feel it is safe to form any bonds with others if people come into your life one day and are gone the next?  Too many people these days treat others like disposable tissues-- they are around when you need them, then get dumped when you're done.  We need to put a little more effort into our relationships and model good behavior if we want our kids to form healthy relationships in their own lives.

If you can relate to any of these, don't sweat it- it just means that indeed you are human.  We've all been there, and all we can do is acknowledge that there is a behavior we want to change, then try our best to do things differently.  Luckily, kids are very forgiving-- they are wired to want to love their makers, and that is their greatest gift to us.

Parenting is truly the toughest job you'll ever have, and in the end, just remember even the best athletes do not perform at their best all the time.  The most glaring recent example of this: Broncos at Superbowl 2014.  WTF???



Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Top 10 Things to Ask Before You Say "I Do"...

The last 15 years as a matrimonial attorney, I've really enjoyed working with couples on their prenuptial agreements, which now works out to be almost 25% of my consults.  Yet I realize many continue to see this as unappealing or perhaps unromantic, so I'm willing to cut you some slack, especially if you are young and lacking in assets, but at least have some money talks before you tie the knot and make sure you are on the same page with respect to finances.  Here are my top 10 questions to ask: 

1. What is your credit score?
2. What are your outstanding debts?
3. What is your annual income?
4. What do you enjoy spending money on?
5.  What are your current assets?
6. What do you envision as shared household expenses, and how will we pay those?
7. What do you envision as separate expenses, and how will we pay those?
8. How many kids do you want- and how will we pay for their upbringing?
9.  What assets do you want to create together during the marriage?
10. How important is it for you to save for an emergency fund, retirement, kids' college?

Before you legally and financially bind yourself to another person, you have to know the answers to all these questions.  How can you plan for a future when you don't know what you are starting with today?  If compromises need to be made, better to know now versus later, after you've said "I do."  No one in life starts playing a game and starts asking about the ground rules half way through it-- we all need to establish agreed-upon rules before entering into anything, and this is especially true in married life. 

If you want marital bliss, get the money talks over before you walk down that aisle, and if you really want to be sure about the ground rules, get it down on paper by investing in that prenup!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Are We Asking for Too Much?

Guys seem to clearly be at a loss with women these days, and the fact is we've changed the game at warped speed, so you can't blame them for being a bit confused.  Ever since World War II when the guys went off to war, and women in the U.S. got their first real opportunity to prove their worth working outside the home, we have slowly but surely destroyed the old notion of gender roles and annihilated the "traditional marriage" as a real model to aspire to in this lifetime.  So where does that leave us today?

Well, I think we really have to analyze what we want in a partnership, and once we form that union, we have to be okay with the pact we've made.  According to the authors of "The Good Marriage," there are 4 typical marriage structures:

(1) The traditional marriage- where the husband is the breadwinner and wife takes care of the home and kids;

(2) Love at first sight- where this couple truly believes their meeting was some magical occurrence created by fate, and this is the glue that binds them;

(3)  The savior role- where one party comes to the rescue of the other, and they both continue to enjoy this dynamic where one is the other's caretaker;

(4) The marriage of equals- these are typically friends, with similar educational backgrounds that fall in love overtime, and they continue to believe in an equal division of tasks and responsibilities for everything.

 Well, over the last 15 years as a divorce lawyer, I've seen all 4 of these marriage types fall apart, and here is why:

(1) In the traditional marriage, there is simply too much pressure placed on the man to provide, and meanwhile the parties leading two completely different lives will force them to drift apart.  Resentment kicks in for both if they don't value the other's contributions, and eventually one or the other is highly likely to "step out" to seek fulfillment elsewhere.

(2) With love at first sight, too many people have gotten burned in the past by falling for someone way too fast.  Thankfully, with the rise of the internet and people routinely getting busted for falsifying information, few are willing to put their guards down so quickly, and meanwhile it's been drilled into us that there are plenty of fish in the sea.

(3) It gets really old to always have to save someone.  We all need help every now and then, but it is incredibly taxing to routinely have to play the role of savior.  More people are starting to realize that their role as an enabler in this co-dependent relationship is unhealthy (thanks in large part to groups like Al-Anon) and so it's not surprising that one day the savior will often choose to walk away.

(4) The egalitarian marriage is usually stable for many years-- until kids come into the mix.  When struggling to share the child-rearing responsibilities while also managing your careers, if you disturb that wonderful balance, you run into some serious risks.  If you don't quickly try to restore that balance in your division of labor, you will probably find yourself with one pretty pissed off feminist, and as the saying goes... hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

So, is there really such a thing as a good marriage?  I do believe there is, but it hinges on the parties being fully cognizant of the pact they have entered into and appreciating each other's contributions.  Both partners have to have a realistic expectation of their arrangement, and they need to keep checking in with one another to make sure things continue to run smoothly.  Too often I'm afraid women marry men expecting they can change them, and men marry women thinking they won't change.  Nothing could be farther from reality.

On a lighter note, here's a short, funny video that a friend sent to me this weekend.  This comedian totally nails the answer to the question about whether women today are asking for too much: