Let’s Talk about Mediation!

Let’s Talk about Mediation!

divorce mediation

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Divorce mediation is a true first love of mine, and that love informs all the other approaches to family law.

I have always loved mediating cases, even as I continued to practice in other ways. Litigation. Collaborative Divorce.

Mediation is different from the act of practicing law in that the Mediator is a neutral third party, whose role is to help divorcing couples discuss and resolve their disputes. This happens outside of court.

One method I use for Divorce Mediation is the Insight Approach. It comes pretty naturally to me because I’ve always been more curious when asking questions.

The idea of insight is to not have judgment, to ask questions to get at what really matters to the clients. To help them make decisions and get to a resolution that they’re both happy with.

Let’s say a mother and father are at an impasse, and very angry at each other. I can take them into separate rooms and ask a simple question such as, what do you hope will be different if you are able to engage in an active conversation with the other person. Just asking the question gives them pause to reflect.

Many mediators just want to get the job done. This is true in any profession! But such an approach is at odds with the very nature of mediation.

You can succeed in mediation by telling people what they must do. But you haven’t really mediated their case. You’ve just finished it for them.

What about when you can’t get people to find a way to work things out, and you all agree going to trial is not a good idea?

divorce mediationThat’s why I look at Divorce Mediation as a process that needs to involve the engagement of both parties.

I ask four questions from the Insight Approach, which I keep on my desktop at all times. They are a really good way to start a conversation with clients to get them thinking about what’s important to them.

I’ve used the Insight method during a Collaborative Divorce meeting, too, by asking a question instead of making an assumption.

It’s imperative to not make assumptions. We often ask questions with assumption as part of the question. A lot of us are problem-solvers, especially attorneys, and we come with good intentions. But if we don’t provide all the ideas or feel like it’s our responsibility to solve all the problems, it opens us up to creative solutions that fit that particular situation.

Because I love Mediation so much, the mission and vision of my law firm guide us to provide a different approach when we must litigate. Someone who is not litigious can end up in court, and they need someone who shares their values and understands why we’re doing what we’re doing and can handle it with compassion. A lot of litigation attorneys are missing compassion.

But at Transitions Legal, we are dedicated to bringing compassion, insight, and listening to every case. And that comes from my expertise in Mediation.

Alisa Peskin-Shepherd: Legal Entrepreneur

Alisa Peskin-Shepherd: Legal Entrepreneur

It’s an interesting challenge to be an entrepreneur who owns a business but also a practicing attorney focused on family law.

Nine years ago, I formed Transitions Legal as a law firm that serves family law clients without judgment, and with respect, dignity and compassion. When I hung out my shingle, I was the sole lawyer in the firm, doing everything from human resources to writing briefs to litigating cases.

Since then, I’ve hired staff, including an associate attorney to handle cases, and eventually, I hope to be able to shift from working in my business to a balance between building the business and still serving clients. I want to devote time to professional development and entrepreneurial brainstorming. That said, I don’t think I’ll ever fully shift away from client work because I love being in the thick of things and serving my clients!

Now, I not only do professional development to build my legal skills, but also to become a better entrepreneur. I read articles about business ownership, I follow entrepreneurs on social media, and I think about how to better lead my team and serve my clients from an existential and intellectual perspective.

I ponder what my firm brings to the marketplace. What mission drives us. How we show up each day. How we interact with clients, other attorneys, even employees of the court. The mark we make on the world by how we do our jobs.

It’s a fascinating and challenging role to lead a company. It hasn’t always been easy, but I believe I am better for it – as a person, and as a lawyer.

The word entrepreneur comes from a 13th century French verb, entreprendre, which means “to do something” or “to undertake.” By the 16th century, the noun form of the word – entrepreneur – appeared, and it referred to someone who undertakes a business venture.

Just like the name of my law firm, Transitions Legal, conveys that we view divorce as simply a transition from one phase of life to the next, the word entrepreneur is neither good nor bad. There is no judgment to it. Only fact.

It absolutely applies to me, and I wear it proudly. I undertake to provide a service, a way of practicing law and supporting clients, that I believed was not already existent in the marketplace. I brought a new vision, a new approach, a new view to the practice of family law.

And that is a charge I do not take lightly. I am equal to the task, and renewed by it every single day.

Getting a Get: Jewish Divorce

Getting a Get: Jewish Divorce

Photo by David Holifield on Unsplash

By Alisa Peskin-Shepherd

In honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, I’d like to write about how we’ve helped a number of Jewish clients in their pursuit of a civil divorce. When we work together, many share details of their Jewish divorce, or get.

That’s a document that the husband must give to the wife, releasing her from the marriage. It must be witnessed and approved by a beit din, or Jewish court, and the wife must accept it from the husband to complete the process of Jewish divorce

While a civil divorce is legal in the United States, if a client wants to remarry under Jewish law, they must also have a Jewish divorce. In the Orthodox Jewish world, a woman without a get cannot remarry, though a man can.

Our Orthodox Jewish clients have reported that their rabbis instructed them to seek a religious divorce before pursuing the civil one, while Jews from Conservative and Reform traditions prioritize the civil divorce above all else.

Photo by Vitamina Poleznova on Unsplash

Some men make it hard for women to divorce. There is an ongoing issue regarding agunot, or chained women, in the Orthodox world, when a husband refuses to grant the get. Recently, I’ve had some female clients tell me that they were not allowed to retain a civil attorney until after they’ve gone before the religious court – even though in at least one instance, a husband was permitted to do so.

Historically, a wife’s consent was not required for her husband to divorce her. But about 1,000 years ago, the German scholar Rabbi Gershom, known as “the Light of the Diaspora,” prohibited a man from divorcing his wife without her approval.

Once divorced, according to Jewish Law, it is a special mitzvah if the couple decide to remarry.

Check out this VICE story on how a protest at a husband’s house won a Jewish woman her divorce.

Older Americans & Gray Divorce: a Growing Trend

Older Americans & Gray Divorce: a Growing Trend

Photo by Leon Ell’ on Unsplash

May is Older Americans Month, a term I hate because after all, what is an Older American? It is supposed to refer to the elders of our communities, which I guess I’d be considered, but I certainly don’t feel that I am!

Similarly, Gray Divorce, the growing trend since 1990 of couples past age 50 who call it quits, refers to older adults who decide to break up once they’ve gone gray. Again, not the best term, though it does roll off the tongue.

Regardless of the terminology, though, Gray Divorce is a growing trend that is predicted to explode by 2030! We support more and more Gray Divorce clients, who are by definition older Americans, and I find there are some similarities among these cases.

First, people reach a certain point in their lives, or their relationships, when they feel confident enough to know what they want and buck societal expectations to go for it.

Photo by Al Elmes on Unsplash

Maybe they wanted to leave earlier, but worried they’d field criticism, judgment or abandonment by friends or family. Then they get to a point where they realize that no one’s opinion matters other than their own.

Also, there are some couples who enjoyed a respectable marriage – 20 or 30 years, perhaps – and simply outgrew the relationship or each other. There is nothing to lament! It’s OK to move on at midlife.

Especially because we are all living longer these days and may have many careers – why wouldn’t the same evolution happen with our personal pursuits?

Alisa Peskin-Shepherd on FOX 2 Detroit in 2016, talking about Gray Divorce

Finally, many couples wait until their children are grown to call it quits. They may think that it will be easier on their kids once they’re out of the house – but I have news for you. It is NEVER easy on the children when a couple divorces. Sorry to say – even fully grown adults with kids of their own will experience emotions and have opinions if their parents break up.

Regardless of the reasons, Gray Divorce is a fact of the 21st century. Learn more about it here. And check out my interview on FOX 2 Detroit about Gray Divorce.

And if you’d like to discuss how this might apply to you, click here to set up a consultative call.

Transitions Legal as a female-led family law firm – meet my team!

Transitions Legal as a female-led family law firm – meet my team!

Today, Transitions Legal includes a core team of three (soon to grow bigger!) – and all of us are women. In honor of Women’s History Month and the recently celebrated International Women’s Day, I’ll introduce the team below, but first, let me share a bit about our culture.

When I founded Transitions Legal in 2013, it was just me and an office manager. I was new to leading a law firm, and at the beginning of defining my corporate values.

Over the years, I’ve hired associate attorneys and legal assistants, and they’ve always been women. I didn’t set out to only hire women. I just happened to get a majority of female applicants, who were talented, experienced, and eager to work for a law firm led by a strong woman lawyer.

We are definitely different from a traditional law firm.

First is our branding – we see divorce and family law as a step on a person’s life journey, not an ending nor a beginning. This perspective is compassionate and understanding as well as nuanced. We bring that complex perspective to our cases, and to caring for our clients.

But it’s more than that. My colleague, Sara Gorman Rajan, worked at an all-male-led law firm before she joined the Transitions Legal team. She’s mentioned how working for a firm founded by and operated by a woman promotes a markedly different work culture and environment.

Looking back at her previous experience, now Sara is noticing the benefit of being able to have an open dialogue with the leadership of the firm and of being included in and a part of firm development. Additionally, in the past, her case load, schedule and availability were shaped by client and partner requests; whereas now Sara appreciates the encouragement and understanding that being an attorney is not a 24 hour a day job.

My daughter Leah and me

Me with my daughter Hope and son-in-law Andrew

I made sure to create a more understanding and balanced tone for Transitions Legal. After all, I am a mother who juggled family life with my legal practice while I was raising my daughters.

We can’t always be serving clients. We must have downtime, family time, quiet time. I understand this personally, and so I make sure my team has ample balance between the demands of our work and the fresh air of their personal lives.

While money is important – we bring valuable talents and expertise to our clients for which we should be properly paid – it’s not everything. We have a process and procedures, so we can serve our clients and act from our values – which guide us to stick to knowing and understanding the law, advising in accordance with the law, having empathy and the compassion to understand a particular situation.

We believe every person deserves legal representation no matter how big or small their case. We let people be human while also being professionals. We have understanding and compassion and respect – for each other, and for our clients.

So, meet my team:

Photo by Lynne Golodner

Alisa Peskin-Shepherd

Hi! I’m Alisa, founder of Transitions Legal. I’ve been practicing family law for more than three decades. I am a strong and compassionate leader with an open mind, and I teach others to cultivate strength to endure difficult times.

I am specially trained, through experience and continuing education, as a divorce lawyer and a family law mediator as well as a collaborative divorce attorney. I serve on the equity and inclusion committee of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. I’ve also completed special training in domestic violence through the State Bar of Michigan Open Justice Commission.

I like to make change and to see change – and one of the ways I am hoping to accomplish both in my area of practice is to mentor newer attorneys and to bring insight to attorneys and clients alike about the benefits of alternative processes to dissolve a marriage and to resolve conflict.

I live with my cat, Sunny, (and my Peloton bike), and am the mother to two strong, independent and beautiful daughters and a wonderful son-in-law.

Photo by Lynne Golodner

Sara Gorman Rajan

Sara joined Transitions Legal in 2021 as an associate attorney, bringing 17 years of experience in family law. A resident of Shelby Township, Mich., Sara has worked at law firms throughout metro Detroit, served as a Judicial Law Clerk to the Hon. Helene J. White at the Michigan Court of Appeals, and, in law school, interned with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office under the tutelage of Nancy J. Diehl.

A graduate of Wayne State University Law School, Sara also earned a Master’s in Political Science and a Graduate Certificate in Peace and Security Studies from Wayne State University. Her undergraduate political science degree (with a minor in sociology) came from Oakland University. Sara was recognized by Super Lawyers as a Rising Star 2012-2015 and named by Michigan Lawyers Weekly in 2009 as an Up and Coming Lawyer.

Sara is passionately committed to ensuring that people experiencing family law issues have proper access to the legal system.  She understands that this area of practice is all too often where people need attorneys the most and can afford them the least.  As such, Sara makes sure that all of her clients are aware of alternatives to transitional divorce proceedings and helps them make the best choice for their particular situation.

The mother of three boys, and with a grandchild on the way, Sara spends her free time reading and with family and friends.

Photo by Lynne Golodner

Zoe Fields

As Legal Assistant and Office Manager, Zoe brings five years of experience in family law and a lifelong fascination with the legal system. She earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Wayne State University in 2016 and will finish law school in 2023.

Zoe considers herself a “legal geek;” she loves watching the Michigan Supreme Court oral arguments on YouTube and claims she hasn’t missed one since Justice Richard Bernstein assumed his position on the bench. Zoe is passionate about serving less privileged individuals and hopes to pursue a career focusing on appellate work defending wrongfully accused indigent clients.

Zoe lives with her boyfriend, two cats, and a rabbit, and spends her free time cross-stitching, reading post-modern American fiction and legal opinions, doing puzzles, and, of course, watching Supreme Court oral arguments on YouTube.

Photo by Melanie Reyes

Lynne Golodner

Although Lynne doesn’t work in my office, she is definitely part of my team!

Understanding that engaging a publicist for marketing was a monumental leap for me to take professionally, when we began our work together, Lynne told me to think of her as one of my “employees,” she was there to do the work for me that needed to be done to grow my solo practice into a thriving, boutique family law firm.

Lynne continues to be my right-hand at maintaining the public image of Transitions Legal! After creating our branding and helping to establish the story for my law firm, Lynne has managed all marketing for Transitions Legal since 2013. She’s also become one of my best friends.

Lynne is founder of Your People LLC, a marketing company that grew out of her experience as a nationally-known journalist. She is the author of eight books, a revered writing coach, and the mother of four.