5 Ways to Deal with Divorce

For those of you going through a divorce right now, I know exactly how you’re feeling. Because not all that long ago, I was you. I was exactly where you are, I know exactly what you’re thinking, I know exactly what you’re feeling.

You’re worried. Terrified almost. Your older kids already know, and the younger ones are still trying to figure it out. They’re confused. And that’s to be expected. You have no clue where you’ll end up; physically, emotionally, financially…and you’re terrified.

You’ve all but filed the papers, or you’ve already filed the papers, and begun the process of selling what you had…that is, if the bank hasn’t already taken it. Or one of you has left the home that you once shared. Whatever furniture you had, you’ve split down the middle (naturally, with some disagreements as to who gets what), and you’ve finished “Craigslisting” whatever was left.

Now you’re in a new and unfamiliar place, and you’re broke.

If you’re a woman/mother, you’re living “hand to mouth” with the kids. You’ve been a stay-at-home mom, raising the kids and taking care of the house 24/7. You have no job or income or savings for that matter, to “tide you over”, and you’re shitting bullets with worry. The Christmas Season is fast upon us, and you don’t even know how the fuck you’re going to buy milk and bread, never mind gifts and Christmas dinner.

If you’re a working (outside the house) mom, you’re sweating over how in the hell you’re going to make this shit work on ONE income. You’re sick over the fact that you and your children just might go hungry, and your ‘soon to be ex’ is no help; you’re fighting over child support (he’s holding out), and he’d just as soon let you live you under a bridge somewhere.

But you can’t let that happen. This is where you turn it around.

I know you’re scared. I know that this shit isn’t “fair”. But ‘they’ say that “life’s not fair”. “They” suck.

Sometimes it’s completely unexpected, and for others, it’s a miracle that it took as long as it did to get to this point. But regardless of how it went down, it’s nothing that you can’t handle. You can DO this.

These are the 5 things that helped me through…gave me some semblance of strength and sanity;

1. Make PEACE with “worst case scenario”.

If ‘worst case’ for you is moving into your mother’s place with your kids, make peace with it. Once you do that, it’ll feel like you’ve taken a huge breath of pure, cleansing air. Odds are, that you won’t ever get to ‘worst case’, but if you’re okay with it regardless, you’re bulletproof.

2. Let go of the “stuff”.

The courts aren’t there to take sides….period. They’re kind of like that crowd of people who will stand around watching a fight, but no one will step in to break it up. So many women think “well…we had ‘x’ number of dollars in the bank, so half of it is mine….” Which is great, but unless that money is already in your hands, it’ll be a cold day in hell before you see a dime. You’ll spend eternity in court trying to get back what’s “legally yours”, and my BEST piece of advice here, is “Let it go”. It’ll take you a LOT LESS time to figure out a way to make the money that you’re bound to lose fighting for it in the process; whether you lose it to a lawyer, or to a spouse who ‘insists’ on getting/taking more. Make peace with the fact that it’s gone, take a deep breath, and let it go. I can’t say that enough.

3. Get over the ‘spite’.

Sometimes, in the divorce/breakup process, we do stupid shit purely out of spite. It feels great for all of a split second, but in the short run, it’s unhealthy, and all it does is take precious mental and emotional and financial energy away from where they should be going. Put that energy into managing the stress of the situation.

4. Put your ‘expectations’ aside.

Again…when/if you end up in court, most expect that a judge will simply see that they’re “right” (whether or not that’s the case), make a judgement in their favour, and the whole thing will be wrapped up inside of a couple of hours. It NEVER works that way. Not ever. You can be certain of 3 things in this process, right or wrong; it’s gonna take FOREVER, it’s a crap shoot, and you NEED to go in with no expectations…period.

5. Ask for what you need.

I know that this sounds really ‘hippy dippy’, but I believe in the power of the universe like I know my own name. In my experience, I remember sitting on my bed one night, and completely distraught, I said, “I NEED a lawyer. But I need one who won’t charge me up front for this because I do NOT have the money. Please GIVE me a lawyer who won’t charge me. I also need it to be a tough lawyer, not some pushover…”.  And with that I went to sleep.

The following day I called my brother, and asked him if he knew a lawyer who fit my description (tough…free…). He told me that he didn’t personally know a lawyer, but that a friend of his used to work for a lawyer who was, in his own words (and I swear this is true), “a pit bull”. Long story short, I got in touch with her, she became my lawyer, and without my mentioning the money ‘thing’, she didn’t charge me a dime. (I’m sorry I can’t give you her name, as she doesn’t generally work for free.)

The key to getting what you need, isn’t asking, and then sitting on your ass waiting for it to fall into your lap. The key to getting what you need, is asking, and then moving in the direction that you’d be moving in if you were going to make this thing happen for yourself. Reach out to anyone you think could help, or might know someone who could help. Once you start asking for what you need, with specificity, everything simply falls into your path. I’m not saying that it won’t be difficult. I AM saying that you’ll be much better at managing this thing.

You. Can. DO. This.

Peace xo

How to Avoid Making Your Lawyer Rich or Damaging Your Children

There is no such thing as too much love.

My mom used to say there is “enough love to go around” for her four children and, of course, the children of her ex-husband’s new wife, who often stayed with us while they travelled, and any other child who happened to be around needing a reassuring hug or a boost of self-confidence. That is the lesson I learned as a child of divorce. In over 20 years of practising primarily divorce litigation, one thing I can state for certain is that there has never been a case where a child has suffered from “too much love.”

The everyday family law issues often include posturing as to who is the better parent, who is entitled to time sharing, when, where and for how long, unfortunately with the curiously absent analysis of the best interests of the minor child. Distress over the “he or she never did that when we were married” regarding bathing, feeding or general everyday care-taking, are all too often looked at with cynical judgement, rather than an acknowledgement that sometimes people rise to the occasion and do what needs to be done. In any event, the “new” interest and involvement, whether perceived or real, most certainly can only result in a happier, healthier child. In a world where the Department of Revenue brings suit over non-support by parents and extraordinary efforts are made by some to avoid the financial

and emotional responsibilities of parenthood, why is there so much fighting between the two people when they both just want to be involved and loving parents? While the answers are never simple, they may be simpler than the lawyers and your well-meaning family and friends would lead you to believe, if people are honest with themselves in response to the following questions:

1. Do I view the children as mine? Often I hear a party to litigation in a family law matter refer to a child as “my son,” “my daughter,” “my child.” It is with this erroneous premise that the games begin. This child is a product of two people. Whether you gave birth to the child, or were the only one to ever feed, bathe, clothe, take him or her to a soccer game or care for the child when sick, does not make them “yours.” Start to say, until you begin to believe it, “our” child. Children are not possessions to be parcelled out by the Court. In many jurisdictions, those without the ability to foster loving relationships between the child and the other parent, have failed to meet a duty mandated by law. It begins with a lesson we learned in kindergarten, you must share the things you love.

2. Do I harbour anger, hurt or resentment at the other parent for the failure of the marriage/relationship? How many decisions, actions/reactions are made from a place of pain or the desire to inflict pain? Are you really acting in the benefit of your child? Are you saying “no” to a request because you want to show control? If you are angry, this is a normal emotion, but it is never the catalyst for good decisions or good health. Get a good therapist, because healthy children come from emotionally healthy parents.

3. Can I articulate at least one positive thing about the other parent? Remember you picked him/her. Presumably, for most people, once upon a time you looked into this person’s eyes and said, “I love you” for some reason, whether he or she was handsome or beautiful, funny or a good provider. Look at this child you love so deeply and recognize you would not have this child without the benefit of the other party. List all the wonderful, quirky and fun things about your child, and give the other parent credit for at least a few.

4. Do I believe I can replace the love of the other parent for the children? Simply put, you can’t. You can be the parent better at organizing school work or coaching football, just like in an intact marriage, but you cannot “replace” the other parent for the child. It is our lack of time, perspective and sometimes ego that leads to disastrous results and very rich lawyers. Each and every individual who enters the life of your child adds something to their world.

5. Do I feel threatened by the thought of someone else loving my child? Imagine your child without love. No kiss or hug goodnight. No hug when they have a bad day. Does that feel right? Think seriously about the alternative to allowing your child to be loved. (See 4 above, you will not be replaced).

6. Do I feel a need to win? Am I trying to show that I am right, that I am the better parent or even that I am a good parent? It is better to believe we are the best parent we can be and really believe it without needing to be better than anyone else. There are no winners in this particular senseless fight, and the losers will be your children.

7. Have I made an honest assessment of what is in my child’s best interest rather than what is in my own? Often children are used as the last apparent bastion of control over the other parent. Ask yourself if this person is so horrible why did I marry him or her, have children with him or her, leave him or her alone with the children when you were together. Make sure you are really not using your child for your agenda.

8. Do I hold the other parent to unreasonable expectations? If you are expecting anyone to be a “perfect” parent, you will be disappointed, whether that expectation is of yourself or your ex-spouse. Recognize people’s limitations. People are a product of all of their life experiences. That means no two people think exactly alike. The other party will not parent just like you. Balance is a good thing. Glass half-full, here people because perception is reality). Choose battles very carefully. Focus on the positive. It may not be easy in the face of hurt, but it will go a long way to a happier childhood.

9. Am I willing to feel pain, hurt and loneliness to spare my child from the same? People like to tell me they would do “anything” for their child. (Well, as long as “anything” doesn’t mean giving up “my” night so my ex can take “my” child to a football game.) This is the big one because no one has children expecting to have them half the time, not tuck them in every night or allow someone else in as another parent. It hurts, physically hurts, to be separated from your child. It is not fair, not what you signed up for, and an understandable lament. However, in most situations, the only truly faultless party is the child. Our job is to spare the child from any more unnecessary pain; so lay down people, your train is coming

Your child is only yours for an instant. You will blink and they will be grown and gone and hopefully out into the world as well-adjusted adults. Every minute is precious. Let go of anger. You and your former beloved are on the same team, your child’s. Spend your money on a therapist or coffee with a friend, not on your lawyer! (And yes, I recognize a new attitude could put me out of business. For the sake of the children, let’s hope so.)

10 Ways to Get the Hell Out of My Office As Fast As You Can

In a perfect world you would have read the article 10 Ways to Stay the Hell Out of My Office, and you would not need me (oh, and I would win the lottery, travel the world and run my charitable foundation, but I digress). Alas, this is a wonderful, but less than perfect world and divorce lawyers are a necessary evil. Some marriages cannot and should not be saved. Some were never right to begin with, some are broken beyond repair, and some marriages have only one person holding its shattered pieces together with duct tape and chewing gum.

The ending of your marriage is a beginning of a life full of love, but you have to get to the end first. Hopefully you will do it with the least amount of collateral damage possible. If not, you risk trading your child’s hard-earned college funds or your retirement accounts for outrageous legal bills. I can tell you for certain, if I had to hire myself, I would be in big financial trouble. Long ago, when going through my own divorce even paying for incoming and outgoing faxes at $1.00 per page set me back $90, and I thought I was going to be sick, with a small child to care for it might as well been $900. An hourly rate of $400 translates to over $6.50 a minute and those hours and minutes add up quickly. Even the simplest divorces can easily add up to tens of thousands of dollars better spent just about anywhere else. A nice sabbatical in Paris will do more for your soul than getting the china, I assure you. Pay for your child’s education or pay for your attorney’s child. Many times the choice is yours.

So if you can’t stay the hell out of my office, here are a few ways to get out as quickly, economically, and as painlessly as possible for the sake of your wallet and your sanity.

1. Hire a good therapist.

If you want me to be your lawyer this is not a suggestion, it is a requirement. You will be faced with difficult issues throughout your divorce and long after. These decisions will have lasting financial and emotional consequences for you and your children. The dynamic of the marriage is likely the dynamic in the divorce. There is often one party with more power, one party who is more prepared to move on, and numerous issues of communication and trust (or you might not be here to begin with). All of these issues play an important part in how effectively and quickly this process works. Your motivations and expectations need to be examined by someone who is not your best friend or your Mom. Most of us generally operate under the premise that we don’t have the luxury of a nervous breakdown. We are too busy with kids, parenting, work and just trying to remain effective or at least moderately functioning. Never underestimate the power of losing your crap once in a while. Therapist offices are perfect for that with comfortable furniture and plenty of tissues. Healthy people make good decisions because they have worked to understand how they got to this place. Getting help to get past the pain will allow you to make decisions for the right reasons. You will also benefit from being less likely to need a lawyer the next time around.

2. Have realistic expectations your divorce and of the process.

It is hard for people to understand this will take some time. The timeline and deadlines are prescribed by law and our Courts are packed. This will not happen overnight. Disclosure takes time. No matter if you have Clarence Darrow as your lawyer, anyone who tells you that you will “win this thing” is short sighted at best. You will not get everything you want in this process. Divorce starts with simple math, and divide by two. No matter how much (or little) you have to begin with, you will have less. With this divorce will come two mortgages, two cable bills, and so on.

There are no guarantees in Court. I have “won” cases I thought I would surely lose and had terrible outcomes in cases I thought were as clear as can be. The idea that you will just leave this process to the judge who will determine what is “fair” is a dangerous game. I assure you, the Court’s idea of fair is significantly different from yours. But fair is the place you get funnel cake not anything you will see in divorce. This is true no matter who your lawyer is or how much money you spend. There is a big difference between what is right and fair from a moral standpoint and the law. Often the Court, although well intentioned, has its hands tied by a little thing called the law. The law always wins out over everything else.

Reasonable expectations and positions lead to less fighting and therefore less fees. The sooner you understand that this situation is rarely “fair”, the faster and cheaper you will get the hell out of my office. Fights over principal are expensive and really never change anything in the end. I would rather hold onto a few more dollars than prove that I’m right on just about any issue.

3. Treat Your Divorce as if it is a job.

Be aware of your deadlines. I know it’s easy to try and ignore the situation, but this will not make it go away. Get those documents to us before they are due. Extensions cost time and money. Don’t dump documents on us in a disorganized fashion as it will take us additional time and money to put them together. Return our calls promptly and keep us informed of changes in finances or other situations. The more you do, the less I have to do. Even paralegal time can be $100 per hour or more. Think of how hard you work to make $50,000 a year at your job. You work 40 hours a week or more for 50 weeks out of the year. The work you do and the focus you give to this divorce can make you thousands of dollars better off in your result. No one knows your life better than you do, including relevant details about your spouse, or about that account in the islands. It may be easier to “just let the attorneys handle it,” but the more you stay involved, the less you will spend.

4. Choose your battles and how you fight them.

There is no reason to pay an attorney to fight over your personal property, but people do it every day. I am sure your stuff is fabulous. Your couch is one of a kind and no other couch will do. You are Goldilocks and this particular couch is “just right”. For $400 an hour for each side and add another $400 an hour for your mediator, you can buy some really nice new stuff. The cost benefit analysis is crucial. Sometimes the motivation for decisions has nothing to do with the issue in front of you. It is really never about the couch. (See number 1- Hire a good therapist).

Letting the other side know you care too much about the outcome of any one issue can be counter productive to getting what you want. Act ambivalent, or better yet, actually be open to compromise as much as you can. You will often find it easier to end up with the house or more importantly Christmas morning with the kids. Most of the things you are fighting for are just things. The rest tend to work out in time after the heat of the emotions dies down. Timesharing cases often settle into one of two scenarios. The person fighting so hard but never stepping up before does not take the time sharing arrangement they fight so hard for, or they really step up to the plate and your kids are better off for it.

You will not get everything you want, and you will have to give up things that are important to you. That really great one of a kind couch, your house and even a few friends may be casualties of this divorce. There is no good outcome when you have to spend even one night away from your young child or when you have to sell a home you have lovingly created over many years. We say in this business a good result is one where both parties are unhappy. You get less than you believe you are entitled to and the other party gives up more than they wanted.

5. Listen to your Attorney.

I was not my own divorce attorney. I hired someone who could be objective when I could not be. You are paying your lawyer a ton of money and presumably, they are seasoned in what they do. Listen to them. You will save yourself a considerable amount of money and aggravation in the end. They have been down this road a time or two. When they tell you not to do something, don’t do it. Sometimes you may not understand the big picture the way your lawyer does or the serious implications of acting a certain way or taking a certain position. If you don’t want to take your attorney’s advice and are hell-bent on doing it your own way, save your money and do it yourself.

6. Remember this is not your friend’s Divorce.

Here in Florida, I call it the PGA pool syndrome. Everyone talks to their friends about how much alimony and/or child support they are receiving and thinks their result should be exactly the same. No two results are ever the same as there are no two identical sets of facts. Your friend may be receiving permanent alimony but they were married 25 years and you were married 10. They may be receiving $15,000 per month but their spouse earns twice as much as yours. There are numerous factors in play and comparisons to anyone else are likely to set unreasonable expectations from the outset. Your divorce will be based on your factors, not anyone else’s. Comparison to anyone else is just a poor idea in your divorce and generally in life. Don’t ask why you can’t get more, ask if you will have enough.

7. Let your attorney hire the experts needed.

There are many times when outside experts are needed to properly evaluate and present your case. Forensic accountants are often crucial to the proper and efficient presentation of the evidence. While the initial expense may be intimidating, hiring an expert can often save money in the end. Remember you get what you pay for. Things will move more quickly if you hire someone who has the proper expertise. Let your lawyer present the best case possible.

8. Tell the truth.

Beware of anyone who encourages you to do otherwise. Credibility is everything, in Court and in life. It does not matter what you fail to tell the truth about, big or small. My job and the job of opposing counsel is to catch you in your lie (and most of the time, we do). A lie then colors all you say to the other side making settlement more difficult or worse in Court where to the trier of fact will give a little weight to your testimony. Be transparent. Provide the documents the other side is requesting because if you don’t, you will spend a ton of money and more than likely have to turn the documents over in the end. If you don’t tell your lawyer the truth, they can’t help you. Tell the truth because it is the right thing to do. Tell the truth because you are required under the law and because if you don’t, you will likely have to find a new lawyer.

9. Be cooperative with each other.

Get informed about your finances and collect all the documents you can together with your spouse to avoid duplicative efforts. Help each other when you can. Watch the children so your soon to be ex-spouse can work. Be on time. Talk to each other about schedules, activities and finances. Send the kids with clean laundry, share clothes and toys. The more you cooperate with each other, the less the lawyers need to be involved in the micromanagement of your life.

10. Get perspective.

Divorce sucks, I get it, I have been there. However, in the scheme of life there are worse things, much worse. Health issues, a sick child or the loss of a loved one are things you really need to worry about. This divorce stuff will pass, it really will. This divorce will bring you a new life, which is hard to see when it feels like you have been punched in the stomach. You need to get some perspective. When my daughter was a baby, there had been an accident and she was significantly delayed with her speech. When she qualified for special services, I was devastated, literally sick and felt like my life was so horrible. Why did this happen to me? As I was walking out of the facility, feeling quite sorry for myself (when it was my daughter that was struggling), I noticed there was a row of neatly lined up tiny wheelchairs. I was quickly brought back to reality that my issues paled in comparison to the struggles of so many others. It could have been worse. Instead of feeling sorry for myself that my daughter had issues, I was reminded to be grateful there were services to help her. I am quite sure that was a turning point for me. Perspective is something I try to remember whenever things feel overwhelming. Keeping your divorce in perspective makes it easier. Perspective is powerful; it gives us the ability to control our outcomes even when we feel out of control. Opportunities to get a little perspective are all around you, you just have to look outside your own issues. Spend a little time helping others when you are hurting, it just feels good. Perspective helps you heal, and the faster you heal, the faster the process and the sooner you get the hell out of my office.

The divorce process will be hard and often painful but you will get to the other side and be happy again. This I can promise. You will love and be loved again. You will laugh a million times. It will be a part of your story, but not the most important story of your life. You can handle anything this life hands you. You have done it every day of your life so far. So, as much as I enjoy helping people through this difficult time, I would rather get you out of here as quickly as possible, maybe you will send me your best friend, unless, of course, she makes the Choice to Stay.