Some of My Favorite Family Law Cases

Family law work is not easy, and the cases aren’t exactly fun, but over several decades of working as a divorce and family law attorney, I do have a few favorite cases – mostly because of how the cases unfolded or the outcomes we were able to achieve.

My primary goal above all else in divorce and family law cases is to see a client go through a transformation and be better off at the end than they were when they walked into my office.

I facilitated a mediation once where I had both clients in the same room, and we were talking about parenting time. It’s not a popular move to have both clients in the same room. Most mediators go from room to room to talk to each client separately. But I prefer to keep the clients together, and the wife was sharing her concerns with the husband about how to divvy up the parenting time.

The husband listened to her concerns, and actually understood. By having them talk to each other in a respectful way about their concerns and what was underlying any resistance, I was able to see a shift in the husband as he developed understanding for the wife. This happened because they were talking directly to one another, and not through attorneys.

When you can see people changing in front of you, and opening up their minds, it’s very satisfying.

Another favorite case was with an older couple who’d chosen to end their marriage through Collaborative Divorce. It was a very difficult situation because one spouse came out as gay and the other spouse felt deep betrayal for so many years of not knowing the partner’s true identity.

But they’d been married for so long, and he truly cared about her, which is why he stayed in the marriage for so long and denied his own identity. When he finally came out, the care that he felt for her didn’t change. However, her trust did because she felt blindsided by so many years of hiding.

Why I consider that case successful is that there were issues not just between them, but which affected the whole family. They were grandparents already, and they worked hard to develop renewed mutual respect for the sake of their family.

He said, “I know I have to give her time, and allow her to be angry,” and the team was able to help her process and resolve her anger. Collaborative Divorce features a team approach, which includes a therapist who can help clients move through emotions during the divorce process. In this case, the team could allow her to be angry in the room without judgment, and maintain mutual respect.

This was so helpful when issues arose that related to relationships with their children and grandchildren. A lot of people mistakenly think Collaborative Divorce means there’s peace and harmony during the divorce process—they couldn’t be more wrong!

Collaborative Divorce is my favorite way to practice family law because it’s just a more humane approach. And when you have a good team, like we did in that case, you can work well together to achieve the best outcome for all involved.

Divorce and family law is hard work. But I still enjoy doing it because I love helping people. I want people to feel good about their decisions, and every day I remember that I’m helping people move forward.

Even when a case is particularly difficult, I hope that at least the experience my client had was good and satisfactory and they know I did my best to give them the information they needed. That’s the first step toward making choices they can feel good about.

It’s when we go to court and the sides are just too far apart, that a case is disappointing. In those instances, I know it’s going to cost a lot of money, and nobody is going to be happy. My favorite cases are thoughtful, client-focused and thorough. Difficult divorce cases are stressful for every person involved, me included. So let’s celebrate the good ones and work hard to make sure they far outnumber the bad ones!

A Compassionate Approach to Family Law

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

I read an interesting blog on LinkedIn recently quoting an entrepreneur named Bruce Kasanoff who said he believes compassion and boldness can coordinate.

Of course they can!! This is one reason I practice family law, and one reason I am known for being different than other divorce attorneys.

It never occurred to me that I couldn’t be both compassionate and an achiever – and I’ve always believed that divorce can be a compassionate process! Most people don’t, I know, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try to show up with both capacities and weave it into my work with clients.

One of the ways an entrepreneur can stand out from the competition is by listening to her instincts and living out her values. That’s what I try to do every day. And it’s not easy, believe me.

That post by Bruce, whom I don’t know but would like to meet, said, “Compassion creates meaning in our lives. Combine that with a drive to achieve big things and you will make the world a much better place.”

True, true.

I chose to build a career in family law because I wanted to help people. Particularly, families.

People come to me at a difficult time in their lives, wrapped up in emotions but with real needs to make a change and move forward productively. It’s imperative for a family law attorney to recognize the emotional state of their clients even as they proceed in a professional manner.

The truth is that any professional should bring compassion to their work. I don’t believe in separating personal and professional entirely. Of course, we don’t need to blur lines or take things personally when they’re really just business. But we don’t stop being human when we get to the office.

And in this line of work, you see good people at bad moments. There must be not only room for compassion, but a concerted effort to lead from your values and get your clients to do the same.

That’s one reason we use a fantastic tool called Our Family in Two Homes with every client who comes to Transitions Legal. It’s a resource that guides clients to articulate their values before they go deeper into their divorce process, preparing them for the decisions they will need to make and for the work they will do with us. That way, they can proceed from a place of values and clarity and minimize the number of mistakes or hurdles along the way.

Think about where you might be able to infuse your work with compassion – and what the impact might be on the success of your work, and also your connection with your clients.

The Future of Divorce Is Not in Court

The Future of Divorce Is Not in Court

If the Covid pandemic taught us anything, it’s that the way we always thought we had to do things may not be the only way. In fact, when it comes to the legal system, and in particular, family law, the old way of divorcing may not be the best way at all. The future of divorce will look very different from the past.

I believe the future of divorce is not in court. We’ve already seen a shift to Zoom hearings, and while at the start of the pandemic, it felt difficult and strange and not ideal, this necessary switch taught us that we can, in fact, find better ways to serve couples seeking to dissolve their marriages.

The future of divorce will happen outside the court room – photo by Headway on Unsplash

I don’t want to say that I’ve known this for a long time, but I have. Since I started practicing Collaborative Divorce, and as long as I’ve been a Mediator, I’ve seen firsthand that when a couple breaks up, the court system can’t look out for what’s best for them or their families.

By definition, a system needs to move people through quickly, and not necessarily efficiently or with an eye toward individual needs and circumstances. But a good attorney or legal team can.

Driven by the Insight Approach to Conflict Resolution, I approach Mediation with curiosity. This approach makes me more effective when there is conflict between divorcing parties. But instead of giving direction, I have learned to ask questions.

The Insight Approach helps me educate and empower clients to help them evolve through the course of their divorce. It’s a more holistic approach, which might sound touchy-feely and hard to understand, but now I have tools to make it way more concrete.

The more I get involved in this approach, the more I see how different it is from how typical family law practitioners do divorce. From the beginning with a client, I talk to them from a place of curiosity, so their experience is going to be different from the start all the way through the completion of their divorce.

Another tool that my Transitions Legal team employs with our clients is the Our Family in Two Homes workbook, which we give to every client before they begin their divorce to help them articulate their values and goals.

If you start with their values and concerns and ask questions that help reflect on their partner’s values and concerns, you can help divorcing clients change the narrative of their past, skip the arguing part and move on to their future. Doing the work beforehand helps me guide clients to the outcome they’re happy with.

Once you know how to do divorce with these thoughtful approaches, you can’t help but use it everywhere. It’s already built into Collaborative Divorce, which by definition seeks to divorce through a team approach that brings not only the spouses to the table with their attorneys, but also with the support of a team that includes mental health professionals, certified divorce financial advisors and more when needed.

I approach each divorce case with curiosity – photo by Hasse Lossius on Unsplash

The idea of Insight is not to tell people what to do. In the moment, when they’re going through their divorce, they might want to be told, but ultimately, it’s up to the client. I know how overwhelming and futile it can feel to be going through the end of a marriage you didn’t expect to end. No one does! But that doesn’t mean it’s OK for a lawyer to make decisions for their clients.

I can make suggestions or recommendations, but if the ideas come from the clients themselves, then they’re more likely to be happy with the outcome.

There are so many stories of court-based divorces where a client agrees to settle and then comes back to the lawyer months or even years later, unhappy with the settlement. The lawyers say, “But you agreed to this.” And that may be true. Or maybe they felt exhausted and pressured to just finish the darn thing or agree in the moment, but ultimately it never aligned with what they’re most concerned about and what they value.

A court is designed to make decisions for people. To put people in positions of power to apply the law as objectively as possible.

But a divorce is anything but objective. Which is why I don’t see the future of divorce remaining in the courts.

If we want families and individuals to thrive, we must approach each divorce with curiosity and questions to guide the people involved to their ultimate best destination. Every single client is unique, with their own interests, desires and challenges. A court can’t see that, but you we can. And that’s the only way to achieve the dissolution of a marriage with concern, care and compassion for the people most affected by it.

The Inspiration to Create Transitions Legal 10 Years Ago

my legal career has grown over the years

Alisa Peskin-Shepherd, at the beginning of Transitions Legal

When I embarked on entrepreneurship a decade ago, it seemed the next logical step in my legal career. I created Transitions Legal because I wanted to practice family law in my own way, according to my own perspective.

But I had no idea at the time that I’d build a growing, thriving firm with a talented team that continues to evolve as we receive more interest from potential clients!

It’s been a great and steady ten years. Sure, I’ve had some difficult moments and there were more instances than I’d like where I felt like I was faking it until I made it. But make it I did!

Looking back, I realize that I was inspired to hang my shingle and create my own company because I saw so many original, inspiring attorneys do the same when I was coming up. Talented lawyers who wanted to escape the protocols and bureaucracy of big firms could create a law firm that represented their approach to legal practice and map out my unique legal career.

While the law is pretty straightforward, how we interpret it varies from person to person and situation to situation. And in family law, no two divorces look exactly alike.

In the same way, no two law firms are identical. They differ according to the approaches, perspectives and experiences of the lawyers.

Transitions Legal grew out of one woman’s desire to practice on my own terms, in my own way, with a set of beliefs and values, and a perspective that I bring to family law that may not be like anyone else.

my legal career has grown as my firm has grown

A more recent picture of Alisa Peskin-Shepherd

In fact, when I branded the firm as Transitions Legal, I went my own way, with an original firm name because I wanted to communicate my values in the name of the firm. Simply put, I see divorce as a transition between one stage of life and another – not good, not bad, no judgment. So, we help clients legally transition from married to divorced.

At the time, I described my approach as “mediative” – a word I created to convey the idea of bringing my Mediation expertise and training to every family law case. Now, In Mediation, and in every one of my cases, using what I’ve learned through my study of the Insight Approach to dispute resolution, I listen carefully to the people or person in front of me, and we determine a course of action and the details of a separation or divorce that reflects their values.

When I look back at my legal journey, it makes me smile. I am inspired by the freedom I’ve had to put my mark on the practice of family law and offer clients in Michigan an unprecedented approach to divorce!

Understanding the Increasing Rates of Divorce after Age 50

Gray Divorce, the phenomenon of ending a marriage after age 50, is on the rise and has been for some years now. It’s also one of the specialties of our law firm.

But what’s behind this trend of splitting at midlife or later?

Gray Divorce is the trend of couples older than age 50 splitting up

Photo by Esther Ann on Unsplash

A year ago, the American Bar Association wrote about how “70s are the new 50s,” distinguishing the differences between Gray Divorce and a split involving younger couples.

The article offers these statistics: 25 percent of all divorces today involve people age 50 or older, with those featuring couples 65 and up counting for one in ten divorces. What, exactly, is going on?

First, it’s understandable if, after a few decades together, a couple has grown apart or no longer connects in the way they did when they were younger. We change throughout our lives and sometimes, we change so much that we are no longer compatible with our spouses.

No harm, no foul, right?

By age 50, many couples have been together for several decades or longer, and it’s often the time when children are leaving for college and living adult lives of their own – pitting a couple in close proximity to focus only on each other. It’s easy to fall into a rut when you’re chasing after your children and only realize there’s a rift in the relationship once those children are gone.

after age 50, Divorce isn't necessarily a failure - it's just that the marriage has run its course

Photo by jurien huggins on Unsplash

Another reason for the spike in Gray Divorce is that people are living longer, and if you’re looking down the road to another 20, 30, 40 years of life, and you haven’t created the partnership you want or need with your spouse, you might want to go it alone or see what else is out there.

Whatever the reason, divorce at any age has its issues, and the older couples get, and the more assets and resources they amass, the more complicated a divorce might be. Especially if they’ve already retired!

Regardless of the situation, though, the best way to proceed with a marital breakup is to articulate your individual values, identify what’s important to you today and for the future, and let this information guide your split. You won’t get everything you want – no one does – but it will be easier to compromise and to divorce with dignity when you know what matters most.