Archive for March, 2011


Let’s Talk About You

It’s been said that people who are going through divorce are nothing like their usual selves; they are showing the worst part of their nature.  It’s worth asking the question: why is that?  And further: how can we fix it?

My personal belief is that people show the worst side of their nature because they feel out of control.  The loss of control can come from a lot of places.  Mostly it is the fact that each of the people feels misunderstood and hurt by the other’s actions and now the formality of the divorce brings all that into focus.  Most legal systems favor a no fault approach to divorce which means that a lot of the stuff about the emotions of the marriage become irrelevant in the legal context.  This makes people even more angry because they cannot use the court system to get justice for their emotions so they feel powerless.

How I think this can be fixed is by taking control of everything.  The steps start small and then grow from there.  First, you must allow yourself to feel how you do but then look at whether those feelings are leading to anything positive.  Anger, for instance, can spur us to action.  Sometimes that action is good, other times it is very bad.  Ask yourself: is this thing I am doing going to lead to any positive outcome or will it make things worse for me?

Many people feel anxious about dealing with the legal system.  One way to deal with that anxiety is to partner with your lawyer in preparing all the information that will be needed for your court papers or hearings.  The more you do the less your attorney will have to do, especially when it comes to the facts of your situation.  When it comes to the law itself, it is best to leave that work to the lawyer because there are things about the way the law works that may not make sense to a person who doesn’t work with it all the time.  Also different people within the court system do things differently and your lawyer may know how your court personnel will handle various things.

Many people feel sad and worry about the future.  One way to handle that sadness and worry is to start imagining your future now.  Ask yourself:  where am I today and where am I going?  The mistake people make often is they keep replaying the past so they never move on.  You can see the future in increments.  Where am I going might be for this afternoon, it might be for next week, it might be in five or ten years but it has to be forward.  If you start thinking ahead you will start moving forward, and once you get going you will develop momentum.

Finally, be kind to yourself.  Find some time for something enjoyable and be sure to really pay attention to your enjoyment of it.  Realize that although things are changing for you there is good in every day and you can find it.  Also, if you are impatient or difficult with others because of all the stress you are under, ask for their understanding and don’t be afraid to ask for their help.  It may be that you just need a shoulder to cry on or another point of view, or it may be for something more tangible but get the help you need.  If you feel you might need further professional help with your emotions, seek it out.  There are many possible ways to get it, not all are expensive.

If everyone could agree on everything, then we wouldn’t need lawyers at all.  Most people see lawyers coming in to fight out conflicts, but the other thing lawyers do is work to prevent conflicts down the road.  Those people who choose to go to court without the assistance of a lawyer may find that they are returning to court very often because new conflicts keep coming up.  An experienced lawyer who focuses in family law can write agreements that lay out how conflicts will be handled.  Such a lawyer can also anticipate the needs of the entire family 5 or ten years down the road, and can figure out what will be needed.

I see my role as far more than just that of a hired gun.  I advise my clients on how to approach difficult situations, how to have an agreement as to how things will be handled, and how to accept that some change is inevitable.  While I am prepared to mount an assault on behalf of my weary clients, I live for all the times I save them that aggravation.  Every day my clients have peace in their lives is a victory for me.

There are some family lawyers who believe in fighting everything out in court.  Their beliefs are grounded in their experience which makes them believe that such an approach benefits their clients.  These lawyers mean well and care about their clients, but all that conflict can and does take a toll on the clients, the judicial system and the family.  On the other hand, there are some lawyers who do not believe in fighting for anything in court, and believe that the only approach is to settle.  Often that approach may lead to missed opportunities for more favorable outcomes, and also may lead the other side to think that it can get one to give in.

I believe that the best approach is to be tactical in approaching a situation.  Realize that with every move you are laying the groundwork for the future.  Be strong but flexible.  Keep your eyes always ahead a few steps as well as focused on the ground beneath your feet.  Then your path will be even and you will forge ahead without stumbling.

The Law is Constantly Changing

The law changes all the time.  I practice in two jurisdictions, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  Within the past 12 months, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has enacted legislation in support and child custody law.  Both of these laws are true “game changers,” especially the custody law which represents a complete overhaul of how these cases are handled.

Changes in the law happen in two ways, one is by legislative action, as I discussed above.  The other way the law changes is when a court decides a case and interprets the law in a new way.  What most people do not realize is that the way the courts get to decide things in a new way is that lawyers and litigants present the case asking for a new interpretation based on their particular situation.  A good lawyer helps every court understand how new laws might be applied, when they have not had the opportunity to think about those new laws on many occasions.  This in turn helps clients get what they can in the way of help from the legal system.

 

Divorce and family problems drain us emotionally.   We go from grief, to anger, to love; from nostalgia over the past to anxiety about the future.  We worry about our finances, our children, our love lives.  We try to plan but keep getting caught up in the same cycle of emotional and not practical energy.

The truth is that the law doesn’t care about your emotions.  Family law has evolved to deal with only the practical considerations that come from dividing a family.  Those practical considerations deal mainly with money and how children are cared for.  You won’t get paid for the emotional harm that was done to you.  You can receive money to help you establish yourself financially if you were previously dependent on your spouse, but at some point you will be expected to earn what you are able to.  You also can protect what you worked hard to earn from being taken from you, although  you will be expected to share some of that with your spouse if that spouse provided support to you while you were earning it.  I understand all the ramifications of financial issues in divorce and I work with my clients to satisfy their immediate needs as well as those they will have on the future.

When it comes to raising children, the rule should be that each parent should do whatever he or she can to assist in the raising of children.  The courts used to almost insist that both parents be involved but that thinking has relaxed a little lately.  Both parents should recognize that they have a responsibility to their children but that doesn’t always happen.  It is also true that if the relationship ended because the parents could not get along, continued contact between them over the children can lead to more stress for all involved.  I assist people all the time in learning how to work together, and I favor as much involvement as possible from both parents.  Through my experience I have learned how to write agreements that are easy to understand and that promote good experiences for both parents and children.

A good family lawyer will help guide you across the minefield of your emotions and into the real heat of battle over your money and your kids.  The first battle you’ll have to fight is with yourself as you move away from any sense of revenge or anger and towards the planning of your future.  Then you are ready to face the reality of seeing where you are now and where the law will help you go.  The law can help you, but you will soon understand that most of what you will accomplish you will do on your own.  My job as your lawyer is to point you in the right direction and help you on your way.

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