Divorce strategies, or how we approach divorce, develop from listening to the client, understanding their needs and desires, and looking at the law. Once we know the needs of the family, we can decide in which direction to move.
When it comes to divorce strategy, at Transitions Legal, we consider whether Mediation, Litigation or Collaborative Divorce will best serve the client. I prefer to leave Litigation for last, as it offers the least control to the attorneys and the clients.
Sometimes the strategy depends on factors outside my control, like which attorney my client’s spouse chooses. If it’s a difficult, litigious lawyer, then we are likely to land in court before a judge and have a pretty acrimonious and costly path.
That affects my strategies in terms of cooperation and communication. I might be more guarded if I know the other attorney makes everything difficult or won’t easily share information. That’s a strategic decision.
Nonetheless, I prefer to have control over how we will go forward. I like to have choices to present to my clients, let them decide which way best serves their needs and goals.
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I love when the other attorney is cooperative, and we know and trust each other. Then, we’re going to be more open and collegial, not question every move and tactic.
If having the kids more time is important to a client, then I think strategically about how to frame everything in terms of Parenting Time and Custody so that it serves the children through this transition.
Even in the Collaborative context, a process strategy might be, ok well I think I’m going to guide you more to talk with the divorce coach about your needs and desires.
Strategy depends on a lot of factors – the client’s needs and values, the opposing counsel, the type of case, the law, and more.
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Even background, details-while-married, factor into the divorce strategies. For instance, if you suspect your spouse is having an affair, that will likely drive the case. Once I have a full picture, I can recommend the strategy that will best serve a client. Then, we have options.
We can strategize where to put a client’s money – investigator or therapy? For instance, if your spouse spent a lot of time away from the family, leaving you alone to manage your children and the household – were they having an affair?
Investigating an affair is usually only important if the spouse spent time away from family, lying, when they were needed to help with the children, or were with the other person while also being with their children or they spent marital funds on this other person.
Divorce strategies weigh and measure what to spend our time, and resources, on. So perhaps my client is better off spending money on individual therapy rather than a PI so they can get stronger and healthier by dealing with their own emotions as they transition to their new phase of life. All of these details inform how we will move forward. And this is just one example of many!
And it really does differ from client to client. At Transitions Legal, we focus on serving our clients’ needs toward their best outcome. We do not believe in a one-size-fits-all approach to practicing family law. We innovate based on listening to our clients, understanding their values, and applying information to inform our divorce strategy.
Later this month (August 14), it’s National Financial Awareness Day, which is a good time to discuss why it’s so important to know your financial situation before you divorce. (This awareness is so important that the state of Michigan passed a new graduation requirement in June, becoming the 14th state to mandate personal financial education for high schoolers.)
It’s not just understanding the numbers, but also understanding your values around money. People view money differently, and there are some great resources shared at the bottom of this blog.
Everybody has a different experience with money in their childhood that informs how we view our finances as adults.
Do you value the big gift or the gift of time? An experiential gift or material items? Is saving for retirement, even in your 30s, always a priority, or do you want to live more in the moment?
All of these stances come from how we are raised to relate to money!
A lot of divorce clients ask how much they’re likely to get in spousal support or child support, and I can’t answer until we know the details on the marital finances and assets. If you don’t know these going into your divorce, you’d be wise to brush up quickly, because the answers come from concrete knowledge.
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Curious as to what your financial situation will look like after divorce? I can’t give you that information if you don’t come to me knowing your assets, at least the basics, and where the accounts are.
We can start with a bank balance or statement. Starting with some information will help lead to understanding and outcomes.
If you don’t have a lot of information, then we will get it. But we can’t develop your case, know the strategy we’re going to need, until we know what you have and understand your values.
If savings and retirement are the highest values, in a settlement you might have to shift desires, and not keep the marital home in order to satisfy your savings and retirement values. That’s just one example. There are many!
It’s very common that one partner is better versed in the finances than the other. And it’s not usually along a gender divide.
When you’re married, it makes sense to have the partner who is more adept with finances handle everything. Plus, hopefully you trust your spouse to handle it for the family.
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But when you split, you need to have financial awareness of your situation. And really, while you’re married, even if the other person manages the money, you should still know what’s going on. It is always a team effort – and the team takes the hit when something goes awry.
It is helpful if, while you are married, you and your spouse are able to sit down with a financial advisor or sit down together and look at everything, at least once or twice a year, to determine how things are spent. It’s just good teamwork. And if things do fall apart, well at least you have a basis to draw on. Good for the relationship, and good for the individuals, too.
Resources on Personal Finances recommended by financial professional colleagues:
From Ken Bernard, President of Bernard Wealth Management:
I’m not saying divorced parents should throw out the parameters they established for co-parenting. I’m saying that when kids are out of school, some attending camp, others at home during the day, it’s important to be “giving” with your ex so that Parenting Time can flow with your children’s schedule changes.
If we look at Parenting Time as “the kids’ time” and are not possessive of our children’s time, it can be easier to just let it flow with their schedules.
Think about if you were still married – you would take into account that your kids go to camp, or have a job, or have another out-of-the-ordinary schedule and you would try to balance the time that they’re home so that you can enjoy them as their schedules allow.
Summer is also a good time to try a different schedule. For instance, if you’re thinking of moving toward a more equal parenting time schedule, it’s better for your children if you and their co-parent can try it out during the summer months to see how your children adjust rather than doing so for the first time at the beginning of the school year.
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Just letting it flow in the summer means parents can plan some good down time when the kids are not bound by school and extracurricular demands. That doesn’t mean they have to go away on a vacation; it’s an opportunity to spend more time with them, if you can arrange it with work schedules, doing fun things, creating memories.
As a working mom, I found summers stressful because I had to find activities for my daughters when they were young, schedule camps they would enjoy and find caregivers. There were hours during the day I needed to be at work and my husband’s schedule was not flexible, so it was important to plan ahead and to be organized because my job doesn’t take a summer vacation!
Imagine how much harder that can be when you’re divorced!
A good child therapist or family law attorney might have ideas and resources to help you through this. In my role as a divorce attorney, I don’t limit myself to the law. If I can help parents with ideas for summer camps based on my own experiences, I do so! Sometimes working parents don’t have resources to help them navigate the summer months, and we as attorneys and professionals can be that resource because we’ve had experiences, both professionally and personally.
Either way, if you can be looser in the summer to allow some flexibility for your children, do it. You won’t be sorry!
When I started Transitions Legal in 2013, I created a tagline that has served us well: dignified divorce driven by compassionate expertise.
Those were the words and concepts I felt were important to convey about my approach to family law. In fact, I named my firm Transitions Legal because I wanted to emphasize that I see divorce as a transition from one stage of life to another – neither good nor bad.
Over the years, I’ve built a name for this firm, and for my approach to family law. After nearly 10 years in business, I felt it was time to change our tagline to represent how we’ve evolved and changed, to embrace insight and innovation in our approach to conflict resolution.
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So my marketing guru, Lynne Golodner, and I embarked on a quest to fashion a new tagline, that better represents where we are today.
I was surprised to realize that I could not come up with anything better than what we already have!! A tagline is supposed to serve as a quippy, memorable phrase that explains what we do and how we do it. What matters to us. What values this firm is built on.
Dignified divorce driven by compassionate expertise really says it all. The one thing I could change would be the word divorce – though I won’t, because I like the alliteration – only because we do so much more than divorce. Family Law is a far-reaching category of law that addresses any legal quandary or need in a family situation.
So why did I seek this change, then?
Because I wanted to make sure that key concepts were in our marketing messaging. Ideas like curiosity, innovation and insight.
But when I looked at my Guiding Principles, I saw that these concepts were already embedded in Transitions Legal language. My Guiding Principles emphasize how I talk to every client, ask questions and use insight to guide how we approach client cases.
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I reviewed my Mission Statement, too, and was thrilled to see that these ideas were already there, too!
I consistently operate with insight to learn my clients’ needs and guide them based on what they want to achieve. One key question on my intake form is, what are your goals.
The Our Family in Two Homes workbook, a resource which I encourage all my clients to use, helps people more clearly define their goals. It’s easy to say my goal is to make sure my kids are taken care of. Or make sure I have financial security. But what does that mean?
What does it look like for your kids to be feeling safe and secure? What does it look like to have financial security?
Such questions are not as easy to answer once you start digging into specifics. I’ve asked those questions, and the resources I’m using now are consistent with what I’ve always been doing.
So we are keeping our tagline! With almost 10 years in business, I am encouraged that the marketing messaging I initially created serves us still as we’ve grown and expanded. We are steeped in our values and approach. We are consistent. We know who we are.
This has made me sensitive to curiosity and the importance of asking questions, followed by focused listening. Many family law attorneys and mediators take a directive approach, working through the case to get it done.
But that’s not how we operate at Transitions Legal.
I embraced Collaborative Divorce long before it was a common approach in Family Law circles in Michigan. Even Collaborative Practice has changed!
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Since the Collaborative Movement started in 1990, and has been in Michigan approximately 18 years, we’ve learned that we can expand and evolve the model to better support our clients. Which should be our focus in the practice of law no matter what.
My marketing coach, Lynne Golodner, has always taught me that a tagline should be a pithy statement that is memorable, so that when a potential client learns of our firm, they know immediately what we are about.
We are about gaining insight so that we can innovate in the way we approach family law. Insight is a step deeper than knowledge. I help clients know themselves, their values, their intentions, based on a variety of factors – lifestyle, social affiliations, culture and background and more. From there, they can move forward with clarity.
When you’re thinking “should I get divorced,” you’re sitting in an uncomfortable place. Choosing a firm that will allow you to be dignified, where you will be led with compassion by experts in the field of family law, should be a comfort.
Dignified Divorce Driven by Compassionate Expertise. That’s what Transitions Legal stands for. That’s what we do.
It’s like a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other, and I hope to eventually see it settle in some middle ground with the focus solely on what is best for the children.
This change began when I started my career in family law in the early 1990s. I cannot remember a case where it was an automatic win for the mom. Yes, moms were still favored, but it wasn’t automatic.
Over the last 20 years, it’s really intensified, as newly-elected judges brought their perspectives on the idea of parenting time to the bench. Sometimes it feels like it doesn’t matter what the law says.
You can walk into one judge’s courtroom and know that they are a “50/50 judge,” which means they start from an assumption of equal parenting time and if you want it to be something different, you better show a good reason why. It is really difficult to get them to move.
Litigation in such a courtroom is quite challenging when you know there is a good reason to skew the amount of time children spend with one parent or another, or even just where they will lay their heads at night. Sometimes it’s as simple as the roles parents played while they were married. You can’t draw a sharp line in the sand when you split, making everything change immediately.
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When one parent has been the primary caregiver, it’s uncomfortable not only for the parent but for the children, to suddenly be ousted from their job or role and the whole family thrown into a very different routine.
It’s challenging, too, for the non-primary caregiver, who may have no idea about a lot of what goes into taking care of a toddler or school schedules or carpooling and they’re forced to step into a very different role without guidance or transition. They may be too proud to ask for help.
A divorce is often not the most collegial of processes, which means parents on both sides may feel uncomfortable asking the other for guidance in their new role. Which is exactly what they need.
When you get into court, you’re positioned against each other so instead of recognizing these natural human elements, it becomes a fight, where they won’t talk about or look at options.
If we want to move towards promoting more equal parenting time, then depending on the real life situation, it may be best to move toward that point in stages.
That way, it’s less disruptive for the children, while giving time for both parents to transition into new roles.
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Depending on the ages of the kids, I recommend giving six months or a year to make a change, giving both parents space to learn about their new role. The kids also can gradually transition into the changes.
In the divorce world, most attorneys fail to and some even refuse to talk about the impact of all of this. The focus is instead on the outcome . I wish we recognized how kids bear the brunt of adult decisions. For instance, they’re the ones shuffling back and forth between two homes – not the adults who initiated the divorce!
I yearn for a time when divorcing parents can put their hurt and anger aside in exchange for a focus on their children, who didn’t ask for any of this. This means not just talking the talk, but showing it by the compromises and agreements they make. Parenting time must be about the children – not about the parents!!
I prefer to look at parenting time as the parent’s opportunity to spend time with that child, on the child’s schedule. Whether you’re a mom or a dad, you can and should be more involved in school, spend more time with your children doing things of interest to them, and cherish this time, even if it’s not an overnight.
It takes humility on both parents’ parts to recognize their strengths and weaknesses, and cooperation to work together, but in this model the focus is completely on the children. Which is how it should be.