Sunday, March 30, 2014

4 Reasons Financial Literacy Is So Key

Next month, I will once again be a volunteer teacher for Junior Achievement, which teaches financial literacy to children in grades 3-12.  Why?  Because hands-down I think this is one of the biggest problems we have in the U.S. that can easily be addressed-- and not only is it important to us as a society, but being financially savvy is the key to success for each and every individual both professionally and personally.

First, the choice we make for our career path will play a large part in our life.  Many of us are defined by our careers, and there is a direct correlation in terms of how happy you are at work and how happy you are in life.  Given that we will spend most of our adult lives working, you better like what you do, and whatever income you derive from that job, you must learn to live within your means.

Second, higher education comes at a hefty price.  If you are borrowing thousands of dollars to earn a degree, you have to be cognizant of the fact that this debt will follow you for some time, and while I personally believe it was worth incurring $100,000 of debt to attend law school 16 years ago, I am not sure I would say the same now given the state that industry is in today.  Digging out of that hole is not easy and while you are paying off that loan you will be limited in your lifestyle-- your ability to borrow for a car, a house, or anything else will all be less because of the mortgage you essentially took out to earn a degree.

Third, once you have settled into life a bit and are ready to find a partner, and you cannot ignore the economic realities of this merger.  Two people that decide to become a family under one roof are going to have a tremendous impact on one another-- socially, emotionally and financially.  If you marry someone with limited education, insufficient income to be self-supporting, and/or poor credit, this is going to add huge stress and create a major power imbalance in the relationship.   At first this may not seem to matter much, but believe me that over time I have seen this wear on people, especially when little ones come into the mix further adding to the financial pressures of a household.

Fourth, for those that fall into the 50% category of couples that wind up getting divorced, there are some harsh economic realities that a person will face if s/he does not have a college degree and an income of at least $80,000 in the DC Area.  An individual that remains economically dependent on the other after a divorce will remain in a vulnerable position until s/he becomes fully self-supporting.  Why? Because if the other person suffers a decrease in income or dies, it will impact the recipient of any support.  Most courts cannot require someone to maintain disability or life insurance, so if the payor has some catastrophic event in his/her life, the other person may well be SOL.

Luckily, most of my divorce clients have college degrees, good paying jobs, and are not about to face  financial ruin as a result of their split-- but the Great Recession definitely took its toll on all of us, and many went back to court to seek a reduction in alimony and/or child support payments.  As a result, I got to see first-hand the precarious situation many put themselves in because they lacked financial literacy, which is such a basic skill we should all be teaching our children now if we want them to thrive as adults.

If you would like to learn more about Junior Achievement, or want to be a volunteer for this great organization, which I featured last year on my tv show, please check out:

Here is the link to the show:

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Til Death Do You Part-- It's True if You Have Kids

No one I know still believes that because someone says, "I do" at the alter, s/he is really stuck with someone forever, especially if things get ugly.  If someone becomes abusive, develops a nasty addiction, or commits  adultery, I think we would agree these are all valid grounds for abandoning ship, but sometimes you do just grow apart and without any major incidents two people can simply come to the unfortunate realization that they just aren't right for each other anymore, as seems to be the case between Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin.  Either way, there is one little complicating factor that will prevent these couples from making a clean break: kids.

If you have a child with someone, whether or not you actually walked down that aisle together, you are going to have a really hard time cutting all ties.  Even if someone doesn't want to be involved on a weekly basis, there are major decisions affecting a child's health, education and financial well being that parents are going to have to discuss.  Gaining sole legal custody or sole physical custody in the 21st century is rare-- and here is why: (1) most dads I know want to be involved in their children's lives, and (2) the fact is most courts want to support father's rights to be involved because all the data we have collected over the years shows that children thrive when they have two involved parents that they can see on a regular basis and count on for their basic needs.

Every week I have to broker deals between parents, and I really do sometimes wonder how these two individuals that now despise each other could have at one point been so in love that they wanted to get busy and have a child together.  The reality that I have to help them face is that you don't get to dictate how the other person should parent.  We each have a right to parent our kids the way we want  (obviously within legal limits) and when you are no longer under the same roof, you cannot micro-manage what goes in another person's household.

When you cease to be a team in one house, you don't cease to be a family.  My job is to reorganize families, reassign duties and create a time-sharing arrangement that works for everyone involved-- especially the kids.  Most families I work with actually work better under the re-structured format because now there is a concrete schedule and financial obligations are clear.  What parents have to realize is that children did not ask to be born into this world, and it is not their fault that their parents couldn't last together, but it is absolutely their right to be loved and cared for by both to the best of each parent's capacity.

Working through a re-org is easy for me, I've lived through it personally and do it every day for my clients.  But what breaks my heart is when someone speaks about the other parent in a very derogatory manner, and often I hope beyond hope that this is just a temporary phase that someone is going through, and that they will eventually gain control of their anger and/or disappointment.  While it is sad that the partnership did not work out, that doesn't mean you throw the baby out with the bath water.  Any decent parent will quickly realize that the child should not suffer for the sins of his/her parents.

We will all die one day, and when that day comes for me I hope that half of me will live on in my child, and I also know that half of his father will also live on through him.  The person that won my heart 20 years ago may no longer be my spouse, but there is a bond that will never be broken because we created a life together, and with each day that has passed since our divorce I respect that gift more and more.  This doesn't mean I want to rekindle the past, it just means that I have come to peace with where we are today.  It's not an overnight process, but it can be done-- I see plenty do it every day.

With the rest of the time you have left on Earth, you have 2 choices upon divorce: (1) regret the day you ever met your spouse, or (2) give thanks for the good times and the children you had together.  The former will drive you crazy, and it's not going to send a good message to your kids.  The latter is a very wise, healthy choice for everyone involved.

Til death to you part is indeed true when you have kids, so choose that partner very carefully-- it's not just about fun and games, but will that person be there for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad? If not for you, then at least for your little ones.  That is the key part of the marriage vows that I still believe have relevance, even today.  So, although my marriage did not last, I am proud of the parents we have become and the child we are raising together.  All was not for nothing, and I hope you will feel the same way too.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

5 Classic Self-Sabatoging Personalities

We have all encountered individuals in our lives that keep acting in a way that brings them so much misery.  I see it every day as a matrimonial attorney, but I also see it a lot in the dating world.  Here are 5 classic types that keep behaving in a way that works contrary to their best interest:

1. Narcissists- These people are so focused on themselves, and their own needs and desires, that they cannot possibly take into account anyone else's needs.  They want what they want, end of story, and taken to an extreme, they completely lack the ability to empathize with others to the point where they wind up alienating everyone around them.

2. The Overly Anxious- As opposed to someone suffering from situational anxiety, these people are constantly anxious, and uncertainty drives them crazy, so they tend to want to control everything and everyone around them.  Of course, that's not how life works, and when these types cross paths with free spirits, that is just not going to end well.  Even if you are not a free spirit, you will be able to pick up on the nervous energy that an anxious person gives off, and that is a huge turnoff.

3. Commitment Phobes- For whatever reason these people are incapable of making a long-term commitment to someone, and what is sad is that those that are worthy of being with a loving partner that will commit are not likely to wait around, so instead they will move on to someone else.  This abandonment of course just further feeds into the fears of a commitment phobe, and so the vicious cycle will continue.

4. The Cheapskates- These are the ones that are penny wise and pound foolish.  They are so focused on saving a buck that they don't see how stingy they may appear to others.  This lack of generosity is so offensive that s/he may well put Mr. Scrooge to shame.  Here is where karma will do its job of ensuring that these types will reap what they sow, unfortunately they won't see that is because of their own miserly ways that they are missing out on the generosity of others.

5. Passive-Aggressive-   Often I believe this is not even conscious, but perhaps these individuals are so afraid of saying "no" and disappointing anyone, that they just agree with someone to their face and then do the opposite later.  Of course the huge problem with this is that no one likes being lied to, and when they get busted (which they inevitably will) they try to paint the other person as being the one at fault.  They'll constantly engage in the blame game, and will definitely test the patience of ones that are not at all passive and have a straight-forward, no nonsense approach.

It's been my observation that people can exhibit multiple issues at once, and these can appear in varying degrees.   If you think about it along the lines of a continuum, at times we can all exhibit  some traits of being a narcissist or penny-pincher, or behave a little bit anxious, noncommittal, or passive-aggressive, but hopefully not on a regular basis, and never at the extremes.   If these behaviors show you an unhealthy pattern that is working contrary to your desired goals, then it's probably time to ask for some help to stop repeating those actions that may well cause you to self-destruct.

The first step to breaking a pattern is realizing that the common denominator is you.  Facing that fact is not easy, but wow once you gain that insight, you are on the right path to getting help.  The next step is finding the right guide that will help you morph by shining a bright light on those underlying assumptions that cause you to act a certain way versus trying a different approach.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapists are trained mental health professionals that help individuals do just that.

Over the last several years in the legal field, I've seen a tremendous change in the way my colleagues and I interact with one another, and our clients, thanks to the influence our esteemed colleagues in the mental health profession.  Together, as part of the Integrative Law movement, we have collaborated on many trainings designed to integrate our various skills in the practice of family law so that we can best serve those going through a divorce, but part of my goal-- and the reason for this blog-- is to hopefully prevent divorce by sharing ideas that might lead people to make better life choices before it is too late.

If someone you know might benefit from this post, please share it, and for more information on Cognitive Behavioral Therapists in your area, you may want to check out:

Saturday, March 22, 2014

How Do You Get Your Sexy Back?

While preparing for my lecture next week on Relationships in the 21st century, I cannot ignore how many have enjoyed past blogs with tips on dealing with break-ups and getting over a broken heart.  I do think this is one human experience that we all share in common, and that is why I am especially grateful to all the amazing singers out there that pour their heart and souls into their love songs, which provide me with so much inspiration.  Right now, I admit it's actually Jason Derulo's "Talk Dirty" that has me going, so just imagine that in the background as you read on...

Those getting back into the game after a hiatus often wonder how do you make the switch after 35 from the role of mother and wife (or father and husband) to sex object in today's world, and I promise you it can be done, you just have to find the right motivation.  Hopefully some of these tips for transitioning back will help you find your mojo:

1. Listen to Music- Why? Because it's soothing, and when you listen to the lyrics out there you won't feel so alone-- we've all loved and lost, it is a part of life.  Not only will you feel in good company, but you should soon start to realize there is great power in how these artists often take their greatest source of pain and turn it into something beautiful.  Personally, I'm a big fan of rap/hip hop because these modern day poets take truly gritty situations and turn them into lyrics that cut right to the core of our hearts.  I bow down to these masters, who have often overcome so much to get to where they are today.

2. Clean Those Closets-  If you are going to get back out there, go through your closet and throw out those granny panties or boxers from college. Seriously, you can revamp your wardrobe without going broke, but splurge a little and pick out a few things that will make you feel good.

3. Hit the Gym- This is not just a great way to stay in shape and reduce stress, it's that amazing release of chemicals in our brain that I want you to enjoy.  Working out gives you a great natural high, will boost your self-esteem and it's far safer than the artificial crap out there.

4. Find a Good Lover- This is not meant to be a soulmate-- no I was very precise with my word choice.  I highly recommend first finding someone that will totally adore you-- nothing boosts your ego faster than having someone that will put you on a pedestal.  Sure this will grow old after a while, and then maybe you should move onto a PYT (Pretty Young Thing).  Again, this arrangement will lift your spirits like nobody's business, but the shelf life may not be very long.  Then moving right along, go find that skilled lover, this one knows what s/he is doing and has mastered the art of making love.  I'm not saying fall in love with him/her, just enjoy a little hedonism for a while.

Bottom line is that it is all a mind-game.  To find your sexy, you need to master your own thoughts and believe in yourself-- that you are worth all that & a bag of chips.  Just think of the lyrics from "I'm Too Sexy" by Right Said Fred and go work it.  Like they say, flaunt it while you've got it-- that is how you get your sexy back!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Do You Talk to the Dead? Maybe You Should...

I know this may sound crazy, and what does talking to dead people have to do with love?  Just hear me out for a second.  Part of the problem I keep seeing in today's world, is that everyone keeps comparing themselves to those around them, and while I suppose that is one way to check and see if you are on track, it may not be the best way to measure success for yourself. 

Until you are happy with yourself, I hate to tell you this but you are going to suck at love.  Your partner is not someone you should look to as one that completes you, but rather someone that compliments you.  Only when you are totally okay with yourself will you search for someone that is a good companion versus looking for someone out of necessity to some fill some void, and that is why they say that before love can find you, you have to first love yourself.

Lots of people struggle to find happiness within themselves, and while there are many different ways we can all go about doing this, today I want to share one of my secret ways to find peace within myself-- I talk to the dead.  I have whole conversations with my dead relatives sometimes, and let me explain why...

I was named after my great grandmother, who lived on a farm in Ecuador over a century ago.  Regina had 9 live children, and a couple of miscarriages, and she died in her 40's.  My grandmother then had to leave elementary school to help her father raise her younger siblings, which I believe were 6 total.  Let me stop right here and say that there is no way I could have had 9 children, and no way would I have quit school to raise someone else's kids.  But these women were not given the same opportunities or choices that I've been afforded in my life.  Can you see now where I am heading with this?

If my great grandmother and grandmother were still alive today, I have no doubt they would be proud of the woman I have become, but there is also no way they could relate to the life I have created for myself here in our nation's capital.  It humbles me each and every day to think of the sacrifices those earlier generations of women in my family made to get me to where I am today.

I am a first generation born American, who did not know English until I went to grade school.  Through the generosity of so many, I was given amazing athletic and academic opportunities at an early age, so that against all odds I was actually able to pursue some of my wildest dreams, and every day I am reminded of the fact that if I'd been born 100 or even 50 years ago, none of this would have been possible.

We all will have pain and sorrow, and many of us have endured great misfortunes during the Great Recession, but let's put it all in perspective by thinking back to what our own ancestors endured.  Can you imagine having to kill for your own food?  I can't sew to save my life, and there is no way I would be hand-washing laundry for a family of 10, and yet my own grandmother had to do all of this and so much more because that is simply what was expected of her back in her time.

This weekend would have been my grandmother's 99th birthday, and it is totally fitting that her special day always coincides with the coming of spring.  That woman lived 97 years and up until the very end she was always cheerful-- no matter what, she always greeted everyone with a smile and warm hug.  She was the light in my life, and I miss her more than mere words could ever convey, and so how do I cope?  Well, because I talk to her, and even in my darkest hours, she is able to shine a bright light that cheers me and fills me with hope.

Do you talk to the dead?  Well, maybe now you see why I think you should.  :)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

10 Best & Worst Dating Tips Ever

The best advice I ever got soon after my divorce came from a friend, who point blank told me "dating is a skill, and it is a skill you don't currently possess."  Now that may seem harsh, but she was right-- I knew how to be a mom and wife, but I'd been out of the game for over a decade, and her point was it would take a while to get back in the groove.  Luckily, I'm a voracious reader and quick learner, so it did not take long to get up to speed on Dating in the 21st century, which I will lecture about next week.  Here are some other helpful tips I plan to share:

1. Be prepared to go on 20 bad dates.  When I first heard this, I thought WTF?  But actually, this is smart to set low expectations, then you can only be pleasantly surprised.  The point is to just think of dating as a journey, and don't worry about the final destination.

2. Trust your gut.  If something doesn't feel right, don't force yourself to stick with it.  Dating should be easy.

3. Know your deal breakers and stick with them.  Don't let someone try to negotiate with you to accept something you don't want in your life.

4. Find your own happiness first, then love will eventually find you.  First, if you are still angry about the past, you will repel others.  Second, in moments of desperation we may try to convince ourselves to make certain compromises, and as we all know it's never good to negotiate from a point of weakness. So get to a good place personally, then you will accept the love you really deserve.

5. Don't take rejection personally.  You never know what is going on inside another's head-- whether they are busy with work, still getting over an ex, unable to commit to anything, or simply still processing their own past baggage, so "no" may not have anything to do with you, and all it does mean is that this wasn't meant to be.

Now the worst advice I ever got ironically came from someone claiming to be a dating expert, who suggested that I may want to get my intellectual stimulation elsewhere.  While I am painfully aware that only about 15% of the U.S. population has a graduate degree, how can anyone possibly expect a professional woman to dumb-it-down on a date?  It's not going to happen.  Here are some more useless tips:

1. Give it 3 dates.  Why?  What is the point?  If I don't feel a spark after the first date, why should I waste any more of someone's time, money or energy?

2. Maybe you are being too picky.  Okay so maybe I am choosy, but shouldn't you be when you are contemplating letting someone into your life?

3. Let the guy lead.  Well if we were at a dance, I would, but if we are playing  20 questions, it's a game and we are supposed to each take turns, and I am not going to respect someone who launches into a monologue or cannot hold his own around me.

4. Stop holding out for fireworks.  How is this possible, aren't you supposed to be wowed by the person you choose as your partner?  I have tried to ride things out-- 5 months, 10 months, 15 months, whatever at some point if the fireworks are not there it is just game over.

5. Don't focus on the outside packaging so much.  Really? Easy for others to say when they're not the ones going to bed or waking up next to that other person with a lovely personality.  Don't get me wrong, character counts for a lot, but we are all visual creatures, and if you cannot get past the visual, then just stay friends.

Seriously, this really isn't rocket science-- boy and girl just need to meet (not online but actually live) for a real date.  If they click, they'll eventually shag, and if that works out, they should have fun for at least a few months.  Eventually, inevitably someone is going to want more of a commitment, and either it will work or it won't between two consenting adults that will lose their minds for some time while experiencing a crack-cocaine high stemming from their lust, and while they may be oblivious to the world around them, the rest of us will gaze half with envy, half with laughter thinking oh boy, here we go again with that crazy, stupid love.   :)

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Challenges of Dating after 35

Most of us who grew up after the 60's free love era grew up as part of the "Hook up Culture," which basically assumes that if you have two consenting adults that want to hook up, they will, and then that relationship will last for as long as it remains fun, otherwise one or the other will move on to the next until one day by some stroke of good fortune s/he may find "the one"that inspires him/her to give up the game and settle down.

A funny thing happens, however, after 35-- and to be honest I wasn't prepared for some of the challenges of dating once we hit this age.  Sure, I knew I'd continue to come across players, who have zero interest in settling down-- ever, or ones who just want something casual because they have just come out of a bad break-up/divorce.  The problem, however, is that even if that is all you want, while there may be countless opportunities for booty calls or friends with benefits after 35, sadly not everyone has aged so well or taken care of themselves, so that one of the biggest challenges is not that there's a lack of quantity, but rather a lack of quality people.  You've surely heard the term that all the good ones are taken?  Well, they are not all taken, but Flannery O'Connor had it right when she said a good man is hard to find...

Now, be prepared for a great divide between those that just want to have some fun first, and those that are dating on a mission.  Lots of guys complain about girls that are on a tight timeframe because their biological clocks are ticking, and I myself have experienced similar pressures from guys that want out of the game, so it does go both ways.  Those that are dating with a purpose have these checklists, and it is no fun to play 20 questions with them because you feel like you are on a job interview.  Honestly, that is not the best way to win someone over, but to each his own.  If you find yourselves in these two different camps, just live and let live.

Out there you will also find lots of people that clearly want to be cared for-- again this applies to both guys and girls, and it applies at all ages.  Believe it or not, not only are there female "gold diggers," but there are plenty of younger guys that want to be "kept men" and also older guys (watch out for that over 50 crowd) that are looking for a nurse with a purse.  

I suppose since the beginning of time there have always been those that tried to marry up, but never before has this become more attainable than in the digital age.  As opposed to just meeting people organically through work or in your community, where you are most likely to be from the same socio-economic class, online dating has expanded the pool of suitors, and sometimes this may be good, but sometimes, maybe not so much so be careful.  The fact is there is a lot to be said for dating your equal-- someone who shares the same values, has a similar education and background, etc.  These people are simply more likely to "get" you intellectually and emotionally.  

Sadly, more and more, I feel like Elaine in that classic Seinfeld episode, where they are discontinuing her preferred form of birth control-- the sponge.  For those of you that haven't seen it or don't remember it, I highly recommend tracking this one down-- it brings tears of laughter to my eyes every time I watch it, especially after she has bought up the entire remaining supply of the sponge, and then she interviews each and every potential male suitor-- but now she is much, much more discriminatory because there is a limited supply of sponges, so these men must prove that they are indeed sponge-worthy.  As funny as this was in my 20s, it is now in my 40s that I truly feel her pain.

Having said all of this, I have to say that despite all the challenges of dating after age 35, it can be a lot of fun if you proceed with caution and have patience.  By this point, you should know who you are and what you need in life to be happy.  At this point it should be clear what matters to you, and where you are not willing to make compromises.    It's also much easier to assess what someone else has done with their life and where they are likely to be heading in the future.  We are much more able to detect b.s. quickly, and as we become older and wiser, we should become less tolerant of fools and the ridiculous situations that they create.

In the end, if you are going to date after age 35, you may want to think of yourself as a Bentley dealership.  Why?  Well, because they are not in the business of selling 50 cars a day, nor are they about to lower their prices to appeal to the masses.  No-- they are holding out for the right customers, and so should you.   You may have to exercise a lot of patience while sorting through a ton of users, losers and posers, but don't negotiate on your price of admission for letting someone into your life.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Key to a Woman's Heart

To me, it seems rather obvious how you win a girl over, and it is equally clear why so many guys fail. Too many men continue to bank on being cute, smart, and decent providers.  While this may be a good start, there is one requirement many seem to overlook: you have to prove that you are a decent human being.  How do you do that?  Hmm, let me count the ways...

1. Trust- Are you a man of your word?  Can you be loyal? Do you follow through with your promises? Do your actions match your words? If you say what you mean, and mean what you say, that is how you build trust.  Sadly,  if you betray someone's trust, I don't see how there is any way to remedy that.

2. Respect- This is not something you can command, it's something you earn over time.  Do you exhibit good manners?  Are you wise, yet gracious?  Have you demonstrated good judgment in your life decisions?  Many have lost my respect by showing poor manners, arrogance and/or poor judgment, and the biggest problem with that is once you lose someone's respect, it is nearly impossible to gain it back.

3. Safety- The importance of creating a safe environment cannot be understated.  Generally speaking we have to accept that men are physically stronger that women, and as a result we need to feel secure in order to show men our most vulnerable side.  Emotionally, women need to feel that they can count on their partners to be supportive, helpful and caring.  Aside from avoiding threats and preventing outside chaos from bleeding into the relationship, we need to know that our male partners will follow up on a regular basis and demonstrate concern for our well being.  If a guy fails to provide us with that feeling of safety, it's game over.

Let's be honest, women in the 20th century had huge social and economic pressures to marry, and back then guys got away with a lot-- just think of JFK as the perfect example.  Although today, the median income for a woman remains incredibly low (it's about $37,000 as of 2012) the fact is more and more of us are earning advanced degrees and outperforming our male colleagues, and in the process we have raised the bar considerably as to what we expect from our male partners-- so the way you conduct yourself and the choices you make in life are far more important now than ever before.

The bottom line is this: it is a man's character, not his wallet, that will win over the educated, self-sufficient, modern women of the 21st century. So, plain and simple-- the key to our hearts is attainable, if you can prove that you are trustworthy, deserve respect and can make us feel safe.  Many will try and few will succeed, and maybe now you can understand why.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Divorce is Like An Amputation-- Without Anesthesia

A while back I read that divorce is like an amputation because a part of your life is being cut out, and as I read that I thought to myself, "yeah, except I don't have any anesthesia to help others numb the pain."  I also have no idea how long it is going to take each person to heal-- some mend at warped speed, while others may never fully recover from this devastating blow.

Very much like a doctor, my clients come to me in pain.  They are often anxious, depressed, scared, humiliated and filled with dread.  All these feelings are normal, and everyone has one thing in common-- they are terrified of the unknown.  At least after our first meeting they have a better sense of the landscape that lies ahead.  I teach them about the law, we go over their options, and I give them my best advice on how to proceed given the facts they've presented to me.  Once they make a choice on how to move forward, there are a lot of variables that can play out, and unfortunately much will depend on how the other person reacts.

Have you heard the song "It Takes Two" by DJ EZ Rock & Rob Base?  Well, my favorite lyrics are "it takes two to make a thing go right... it takes two to make it out of sight."  Truer words have never been spoken-- and not only does it apply to maintaining a good partnership, it also applies to break-ups.  Every day I see people rally for their kids-- they put their own anger or sadness aside to end things peacefully and create a smooth transition for their children.  Indeed, this was the case in my own divorce many years ago, and I have no doubt that my clients come to me because they want me to help them replicate a similar situation for them.

Litigating for over a decade now, I've seen a lot of blood baths in my time, and I believe it is my duty to find the tourniquet to stop the hemorrhaging as quickly as possible-- not only because I don't want my client to flat line on me, but I actually prefer to avoid being covered in blood.   But not all lawyers feel the same way, and many try to sugarcoat the harsh realities of litigation, which I believe is a huge disservice to everyone involved.

Divorce is going to hurt, plain and simple.  It impacts you financially, emotionally and socially.  In the process you will learn exactly how much pain you can tolerate, and when it's all over some will actually pull out ten times stronger-- these are the ones with a good education and solid support system; the ones willing to put in the hard work to minimize the damages for all those involved won't just survive, I've seen them thrive. Now, finding a lawyer that shares this goal is critical-- so do your homework.

Avoid going to a butcher for this delicate amputation, and in the meantime, I'll keep searching for that anesthesia... :)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What Do You Really Want?

Some days, I find myself feeling a bit like a Spice Girl about to break into the song, "Wannabe."  Sadly, I cannot sing to save my life, but seriously if I had to pick one line that bears repeating over and over again it is this: tell me what you want, what you really really want.

It would be so much easier, both professionally and personally, if people would just be more honest about their goals, but I'm not sure that people are always blatantly dishonest-- instead, I think the problem is that often we may not be fully aware or honest with ourselves about our true capacities or what will make us happy.

When you are a bit fuzzy, they say process of elimination is a good tactic to implement, and indeed I have often found that it is much easier to figure out what I don't want versus what I do want.  So for example, I can say for sure that I'm not really looking for a booty call, friends with benefit, spouse within the next 18 months, or a romantic partner that wants to keep his options open.  I guess that is a good start, but it still doesn't answer the million dollar question I keep getting asked, which is :what do you want?

Professionally and personally the last few years I have questioned a lot of preconceived notions, and it turns out a lot of my assumptions were false.  I don't actually need to be a partner at a big firm to feel successful, and the big house with a spouse is rather meaningless if it's not full of happiness.  I have learned that there is a lot that I really don't need, although 10 years ago I felt completely differently.

The person I was a decade ago is long dead, and to be honest I am still learning a lot about this new and improved version that has risen from those ashes.  If any of this resonates with you, which it might if you've just recovered from a divorce or other traumatic/life-altering event, cut yourself some slack.  It is okay to question everything, and to test out your true limits.  You need to explore your options without the blinders that you once had on as you were sleep walking through life.

I say take your time figuring out what will make you truly happy, and remember that you alone get to define your own happiness.  My version of happiness maybe very different from yours, and that is okay.  Meanwhile, no one should be imposing any deadlines on you-- you alone control your internal clock.  Who says you have to be married by 30? Have kids by 35? Be partner or have $1Mn net worth by 40?  Those that want to follow the cookie-cutter path set up for us rat-racers are more than welcome to do so, but it's also okay to be a non-conformist, in fact these days many even think that is way cooler.

We each were born with freewill, and the best part of that is that we can exercise that however we want with whomever we choose to love and let into our lives.  So, enjoy the journey, and try to keep an open-mind on your quest to figuring out what do you really want? 

Monday, March 10, 2014

2 Key Travel Tips for Single Parents

Spring is almost here, and summer is finally right around the corner.  Now while most parents are busy making sure the kids have a nice home with all the basic necessities, great schools and fun summer camp plans, way too often they either overlook the importance of their own travel plans or they avoid trips with the kids because they think it's just too complicated.  This is a big mistake.  My two key points for single parents are: (1) with little kids, keep it simple and just have a good time; and (2) make some fun trip plans just for yourself, you not only deserve a break, you need it to maintain your own sanity!

My son was only 2 when I got divorced, and so to avoid a lot of complications, over the last 8 years I mainly traveled with him to destinations that were no more than 4 hours away either by plane, train or car.  Wherever we went, I tried to either meet up with friends or family for at least part of the trip so that it would not be so lonely-- but I have to warn you that whenever you go to a family-friendly destination like Disney or the beach, there will inevitably be a little bit of a sting when you see yourself surrounded by intact families.  Don't try to ignore the sting, just acknowledge that there is a loss as a result of your separation/divorce, but don't dwell on it.  Whatever sadness you may feel won't last long if instead you stay present and focus on having fun with your kids.

When you are on vacation with your kids, let your inner child come out and play.  Seriously, let some of the house rules slide, and don't be such a party pooper.  Think of this as a second chance at childhood.  Personally, I've had no problem letting my inner child come out simply because there is so much that I've experienced for the first-time with my son.  Together with him over the last decade, I have had the best time, which has not only been good for my soul, but more importantly has allowed me to teach him some important life lessons, including the importance of (1) planning ahead, (2) saving for special trips, and (3) making time to relax and enjoy life.   

Now seriously, what is the point of studying so much, working so hard, and being so responsible all the time if there isn't some great prize at the end?  If as parents we can utilize a reward system for our kids, why on Earth can't we implement one for ourselves as well?  Let's be honest, parenting is hard work-- in fact it is the hardest job I've ever had in my life, and as a result I feel absolutely zero guilt in taking some time for myself.  Sometimes I have traveled by myself to go visit my family or married friends, other times I have gone off on an adventure with a beau or single girlfriend, but no matter what each and every year I have gone on at least one trip purely for me.  It's simply not possible to stay sane while playing parent 100% of the time, always putting everyone else's needs before your own, and denying yourself a little R&R.
So, if you want some serenity as a parent, you need to (1) make some time for yourself and (2) keep it simple when you are traveling with little ones.  As they get older, you can become even more adventurous, and hopefully you will teach them that there is a whole world full of beauty out there.  How else will they know how far they can fly?  We need to lead the way for them, and one day soon way before we are ready, they will start to soar before our very own eyes.

For those of you that are still struggling with your new-found identity as a single parent, I know this can be a very trying time, but with time things do get easier, and in the meantime keep this quote from The Prophet in mind: 

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so he loves also the bow that is stable.

Hope these travel tips can help my fellow single parents become stable bows, and one day may we all enjoy seeing our beautiful young arrows fly!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best

If there is one thing we all have drilled into us in law school it is this: plan for the worst, hope for the best.  Obviously those of us that finish law school are armed with something extra that non-lawyers lack: the ability to build into legal contracts provisions to minimize the damage in the event things do not work out.  It's not that we are hoping there will be any issues, it's just that we've seen (or read about) too many situations that fall apart, and when that happens, we would prefer to reduce the uncertainty of how to handle a bad break-up, either in the business world or in someone's personal life.

Most of my law school friends actually went the corporate route, which is far more lucrative than family law.  But I've always enjoyed working with individuals on a personal level, and ever since I was a child I craved to understand family dynamics-- how they are formed, how they fall apart, and how we can restructure them.  As people have told me their stories throughout the years, I've formed  visuals in my head, which I'm able to fast-forward to the end and play out different scenarios-- some with happy endings, some with not so happy endings, then I'm able to work backwards from those and try to find ways to prevent the really bad outcomes.

Now, since June weddings are around the corner, and my prenup consults are on the rise, let me just point out 3 things to consider if you are about to tie the knot:

1.  How much are you willing to leave open-ended?  While I realize that those planning a wedding are not thinking they'll ever be part of the 50% that won't work out, I'm not a fan of those odds. At least when I'm drafting a prenup, I can cap the risk of paying extended and outrageous sums of alimony, remove some of the potential fights over property division, including what do we do with the martial home, and I even ask for mediation or Collaborative meetings prior to having anyone file anything publicly with the courts.  Isn't that peace of mind worth considering for far less than what you will spend on flowers for the big day?

2. What happens upon your death? No one really wants to think about death, but we all know that is inevitable, so why not set up estate documents and life insurance policies that will spell out exactly who will get what when your expiration day comes along?  Prenups can include provisions that require you to set up these documents so later on you shouldn't have any fights about these things.

3. If you later on write a book, invent something or open a business with someone else, don't you think others would like to know that in the event that your marriage goes south they won't have to worry about some pissed off spouse trying to get a piece of the action?  You can be as stupid as you want to be when you're in love, but it's not fair to jeopardize the financial stability and privacy of other business partners-- and this is precisely why so many partnerships and family trusts now have clauses that require partners to have either prenups or post-nups (that latter is for those of you who procrastinate too much and therefore wind up doing the agreement after the wedding).

Love & money don't have to clash, but one is quite irrational, the other is just so much more logical.  My job is to try and make sure the two don't collide but rather have a peaceful coexistence.  I just fail to see any downside to putting something in writing that spells out who will do what, who will get what, and how things will be handled in the event either party decides to call it quits.   It's far easier to do this when everyone is getting along and wishing for nothing but happy days ahead then later when all is not love and roses.

Prenups used to be for the rich and famous, but that is really no longer the case, although it still only appeals to a specific part of society, and I'll tell you exactly who that is-- it is those that are risk averse and like having their ducks all lined up in a row.  The average American will never even listen to what I have to say about a prenup, and that's not surprising given that less than 33% of Americans have an emergency fund and only about 25% will complete college with a Bachelors Degree.  Those that do are the ones that will take the time to prepare a Prenuptial Agreement, set money aside for a rainy day, and they will meet with professionals to do their estate and financial planning way before a crisis situation ever arises.  As a result, when that perfect storm hits (and I promise in life we will all get hit by a perfect storm at least once), they are far more likely to weather the storm just fine and be okay versus those that opted not to plan ahead.

To all of you about to exchange your vows, the romantic in me is wishing you nothing but the best, but the pragmatic lawyer in me is hoping this blog gives you a little better understanding of why you need to think a bit more like my kind and plan for the worst while hoping for the best.


Monday, March 3, 2014

Stressed Out? Find Your Serenity Now.

I used to think it was just my job that kept me around stressed out individuals, but alas, maybe it's this city.  Everyone in DC seems incredibly burdened with projects, deadlines, a million different commitments and not enough time to do it all.  But as an outsider looking into people's lives every day, I cannot avoid asking this simple question: is it all worth it?  Seriously, is killing yourself really worth the prize you are being promised?

Stress causes disease, plain and simple.  When you are not at ease, it will physically impact you.  Some signs your psychological stress is wearing on you include: hair loss, migraines, skin disorders, compromised immune systems, heart conditions, stomach problems, panic attacks, ulcers, eating disorders, and oh yes, even cancer.  It is not a coincidence that my divorce clients are often also battling serious illnesses, and that is why I encourage them to avoid litigation if possible-- for their own well-being, not just to save them money.

The fact is that you can always make more money, but you cannot buy another life.  According to a recent Money Magazine article 43% of the working population either want to switch careers or find a new job.  Well, I sincerely hope these people work on that goal right away because work consumes a huge part of our lives, and if you don't like what you do during 50% of your waking hours it is inevitable that this will affect you negatively in other areas of your life, especially your relationships with loved ones.

Now, a lot of people focus on finding coping mechanisms, some good ones like exercise, some not so good ones like daily drinking, but either way they aren't really getting to the root of the problem.   You have to address the source of your stress if you truly want to find peace and live a healthier life, and sometimes that does mean making difficult choices.  For example a less stressful job may not pay as much, and you may have to cut back on spending to live within your means, but how can you possibly put a price tag on the freedom you gain by removing all the extra pressures you will leave behind?

With respect to those that feel trapped in a bad marriage, often the main concern is that the economics won't justify splitting into two homes. Indeed, during the Great Recession, I did a lot of consults with people who opted to stay in a miserable situation to avoid what they considered financial suicide.  This is a very personal choice that each individual must make for him/herself, but personally I feel like you only have one life to live (as far as we know for sure) and I'd like to maximize my enjoyment while minimizing my discontent during the remainder of my time on Earth.  So, if people choose to stay in a broken marriage, I just hope they at least make an effort with some professional assistance to try and fix things, which is why I often recommend seeing marriage counselors and/or reading books by gurus like Drs. Gottman and Chapman.

Unfortunately, many Americans are unfamiliar with some of the great French authors.  A lot gets lost in translation sometimes, but one of my all time favorite plays is "No Exit" written by Jean Paul Sartre.  Without ruining the play, he basically defines hell as a horrible place where you are tortured daily by that which you hate the most and no matter how hard you try, there is no exit.  This is exactly how I would define hell-- and as a result, I refuse to believe there is no way out of a bad situation.  Either you work to fix things or you find an escape, but living in hell is not an option, at least not in this lifetime.

So, given the choice of living in perpetual torture or addressing the source of your stress to find serenity, the answer should be obvious.  Hopefully you will find the strength and courage to make the right choice.


Sunday, March 2, 2014

March Madness = Good Times

March Madness is finally here, and a good time should be had by all.  As a Georgetown alumna this is a particularly fun place to be when the Hoyas are doing well, but seriously all single girls should embrace this season for one main reason: normal, decent guys flock to bars during March Madness to watch the games. The ratios for women are INSANE during tournament season. As men like to say, "it is like shooting fish in a barrel."

While enjoying the games and meeting new people, there are 3 key things to keep in mind:

1. Be Curious- Ask about where someone grew up, what they are doing now, and their interests/hobbies.  This is truly a great opportunity to just meet people from all walks of life and learn from different perspectives.

2. Stay Positive- Talk about fun things like an interesting activity or recent trip, a good movie you just saw or great book you just read.  Keep it light-- the point here is to see whether you can keep each other engaged and entertained.

3. Respect Boundaries- Don't pry too much into someone's past relationships, their family dynamics, or other sensitive subjects in your first encounter.  Plenty of time to delve into that after you have built up some trust in one another.

You should feel like a kid in a candy store during March Madness season.  Make the most of all the game watching opportunities presented to meet people in a natural setting. While I understand that 20% of all relationships now begin online, many are either leery of dating sites, or they suck at the game.  This is why you need to find fun activities that normal, well-adjusted singles are into and go have some fun!

March Madness= good times, so here's hoping you have a blast.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Guys v. Gals- We Are Not In Fact Equal

Those of us that are GenX all grew up under Title IX, so we were raised believing that girls can do anything a guy can do, except maybe write our names in the snow.  We all played the same sports, took on the same roles in school, and went off to graduate at the same rate from the institutions of higher learning of our choice.  Now, we all get to marry whomever we want, in the event that we choose that lifestyle, and even then we get to control if and when we will create a new family and whether we choose to stay home or not.  If you just take a moment to think about this, that is an amazing amount of power that we women have amassed in the last 41 years ever since Title IX went into effect, and it really has upset the apple cart in a lot ways between the way men and women interact.

Helping families restructure during a divorce, I have gotten a first-hand view of the clash between the sexes, and it is impossible to ignore how differently the two sexes behave and think, which is why I have delved into a lot of medical research on the differences between men and women.  One fascinating read is The Female Brain by Dr. Louann Brizendine, which truly explains a lot about the role our different hormones play in the way our brains function.  Perhaps if more people could appreciate these differences early on, we might have a lot less conflict between couples.

Speaking from my own personal experience, I spent the first half of my life living only with women.  After college, I spent the next 20 years living only with men-- and thanks to my son and former husband,  I have been able to observe first-hand how differently men are wired:

1. Talking- Women talk twice as much, and twice as fast as men.  In fact, the medical research supports these findings, and emphasizes that women actually have this need for social interaction.  Hmm, do you see how this may be an issue with guys, who may actually be wired to prefer some peace and quiet???

2. Socialization- Men were originally primed to be hunters, which often requires focus and patience.  They were not bred to multi-task or build consensus.  Even today we reward those hunters that prove to be strong and independent.  Meanwhile, until World War II, women  primarily stayed home and took care of the kids, interacted with other moms in the community, and were trained to be far more social primarily as part of their survival.  Although today's woman is able to exhibit far more independence and strength than ever before, there remains a lingering need to be socially connected, which simply put men tend to lack.  Generally speaking, men are okay being alone, we women are not. 

3. Appearances- Women, either through nature or nurture, have a tendency to seek out external validation.   In particular, after puberty hits, we seem to have a great need for approval in our appearances.  Just look at how much we spend on clothes, accessories, make-up, getting mani/pedis, waxing, and haircuts with elaborate treatments.  On the low end, I'll estimate $300 per month for all of this nonsense versus $20 per month for a guy's haircut.  If all they really need is just to shower and shave and then they are good to go, it is easy to see why they don't understand a woman's need for such a production before a night out on the town.

4.  Sex Drives- It isn't just a saying that guys think about sex significantly more per day than women, it's actually medically proven.  Guys are visual, sexual beings, and women that ignore that fact are making a huge mistake.  If we expect guys to entertain us with compliments about our appearance, talk, and our need for socialization, which may fulfill us a lot, then the least we can do is accommodate this one male need.  With a few exceptions in my lifetime, most normal men with sufficient levels of testosterone are generally simple-- they need to eat, sleep and get laid.  2 out of 3 they can do alone, so I don't think they are asking for much from their partners.

Hope this helps those out there that may be struggling to understand the vast differences between the sexes.  It should not be a battle of Guys vs. Gals-- but first, you have to accept the fact that contrary to what we may have been taught as children, we are indeed NOT all created equal.