When I chose family law as my specialty, it was because it was a more focused and high-level way to help families during difficult times of their lives. Originally, I thought I might go into social work but I learned that through law, I could empower and support families in meaningful and long-lasting ways.
My career was inspired by the experiences of my own childhood – as happens with so many people. I grew up without a lot of stability in my family, and I wanted to help both children and parents not have to go through that.
So I became a lawyer, learned the nuances of family law, and recognized that even when a marital relationship breaks down, the family doesn’t have to fall to pieces. That’s the beauty of family law.
While there are many divorce lawyers around, not many focus on helping people. The natural inclination is to get the job done – file for divorce, go through the negotiations, see it through to completion and wish your client well.
However, even when a client must go through the litigation process – which I’ll always say is my very last choice for a divorce because it takes the power away from the couple and puts it in the hands of people who are not impacted by the outcome – we use Collaborative and Insight-based approaches.
Photo by Chris Sabor on Unsplash
Many clients come to us because we specialize in Collaborative Divorce and also because I am trained in the Insight Approach to Conflict Resolution. But not every divorce can be Collaborative. However, we can and do use those principles and ideals to guide our case no matter where it ends up.
If we end up in litigation, don’t litigation clients also deserve a compassionate and insightful attorney that would guide them in the same way that I would guide a client in non-adversarial process? Absolutely! So that’s what we do.
And that’s why I continue to practice family law. Because not only can I help good people through one of the worst times of their lives with grace, dignity and compassion, I can bring a big-picture, insight-based approach to any divorce.
I’ve spent years honing my legal practice and the way I approach family law for a reason: I want to make my client’s divorce experience comfortable and more productive for them; and I want the process that my client invests so much energy in to have a greater purpose and more positive impact than simply getting to the end – dissolving their marriage.
That’s why I embrace the Insight Approach for conflict resolution in my practice and use it in Mediation, Collaborative Divorce and even in Litigation cases. (Well, frankly, I use it in everything I do, personal and professional. Once you are steeped in the Insight Approach, you take it with you everywhere!)
But I sought out this training, and became an expert in Collaborative Divorce, because I believe both of these wise methods pave a path that makes it easier to move forward after a breakup, for all involved.
For parents, the Insight Approach causes them to pause and reflect to consider what they know about themselves, the other parent and their children, and then to make decisions with this knowledge as their north star. It encourages clients to let the other parent lead, if necessary, to achieve a satisfying outcome for both parties. It embraces a learning process driven by what is truly best for the kids and not let ego get in the way – which happens way too often in divorce.
Basically, I want to limit the drama and expand the possibilities for co-parenting with success.
And for clients whose children are adults or who never had children, using my Insight Approach training, my client will also understand what is important to them and what they value at a deeper level to help guide their decision making throughout the process.
As attorneys skilled in the Insight Approach for conflict resolution we facilitate discussions between parties in the direction they want to take their family post-divorce. Thoughtful, productive, respectful and mutually beneficial conversations.
Photo by Afif Ramdhasuma on Unsplash
It’s not without challenge – not by a long shot! Divorce is a breakup. There are emotions, hurt feelings, old wounds and those can certainly create obstacles, but the right process deals with them.
When we set out with a deliberate desire to keep it peaceful and productive, we can and do achieve this! And the Insight Approach is the best way I’ve found to make this happen.
In the end, everyone gets to a good place. With this method, I can bring out the underlying ability everyone has deep within, to respect the other person and bring them to a healthy compromise where they are both happy and ready to move forward.
It’s important to understand why a particular family law attorney practices in the way that they do. When a client meets with me for an introductory meeting, I explain my perspective, my approach, my track record, and why I offer the specific methods for divorce that I do. I hope potential clients ask these questions of ALL lawyers they interview.
I’m sure not everyone does. And that’s why I’m writing about it here. Because the more we know, the more possibilities we have to end up content, empowered and ready to move on.
Introducing Our Family in Two Homes – a divorce resource now offered by Transitions Legal!
If I had a resource like Our Family in Two Homes (OFTH) when I was getting married and raising children, I would have been so supported!
It never occurred to me way back when, nor does it to most people, to think through and articulate my values, my perspectives, and my beliefs on parenting, partnership, finances and more – and if I had, I bet I could have avoided many marital arguments or parenting disconnects.
Most people don’t really think through these things when it comes to the most important relationships of our lives because it’s just not embedded in our culture to do so. Think about all the romantic movies you’ve enjoyed in your life, which painted a picture of relationships as easy, automatic and synergistic. That rarely happens in real life.
Of course, I see couples when things have gone so wrong, they’ve given up hope that they can stay together. Nonetheless, I am excited to offer OFTH as a unique resource to help couples who are contemplating divorce, already decided to split or going through mediation.
They begin by going through pages 1-13 of the workbook, where they’ll find questions to help them get in touch with what is important to them for the divorce process. These pages cover communication, trust, emotions, values, expression tendencies and more.
It goes so much deeper than the kids or the house. What I love about this resource is how it helps clients discover their personal and collective core values and decision-making preferences. There is a lot of work people can do on their own before they come to an attorney, and this work helps them be more efficient with their attorney, which can sometimes reduce overall legal costs and time spent negotiating.
An example of this is when a client comes to me and insists they want to keep the house, but they’re not sure they can afford to do so, I have to dig deep with them to determine first what is important to them about the house. Then we explore the feelings behind it. That can take a lot of time at billable rates! I enjoy doing this kind of work with my clients. I am also aware that some clients are watching their money. This can save them on fees that might be needed further down the road, or better yet for their kids’ college education.
But if the same client worked through this on their own with the workbook, they would save time spent with me, their attorney, and get moving on the actions required to facilitate their breakup.
I use OFTH in Collaborative Divorce cases and also in Mediation. Individuals can purchase the workbook directly from Transitions Legal, and in doing so, they also get three consulting hours with me as they work through it.
The goal is for people to understand themselves better and understand the divorce process more. Also, they gain insights in how they interact and communicate, which helps an attorney know what they are dealing with in the case. They can draw out an introverted spouse or respectfully ask an extroverted spouse to give the other person some time to speak.
There are, of course, instances where using this workbook might help a couple to identify some of their nagging problems and decide to work on resolving them in an effort to stay together. That’s a lovely outcome when it happens!!
Regardless of the situation, anyone who uses this resource will gain clarity. They’ll understand elements of divorce like parenting time and custody, and know how these are established in the state of Michigan, where I practice. They’ll also know the background of the law to help them reach their decisions.
People often say, “I don’t know what I don’t know.” This resource gives you what you want to know.
To learn more about Our Family in Two Homes or to purchase the workbook-consulting package, click here.
Recently, I facilitated a workshop on conflict resolution for youth leaders through BBYO, a Jewish youth group. We spent an hour and a half at the offices of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, learning from mediation skills how to resolve conflict in everyday life, whether at work or amongst teens in their BBYO chapters.
It was a fun and productive workshop. I love presenting and empowering people to create effective communication and diminish conflict whenever possible. And, it was fun to present alongside Barrie Seigle, a social worker who works with BBYO.
When we began, I asked the group what they hoped to get out of the workshop.
Learn not to react to conflict with emotion
When a hard topic needs to be brought up that is confrontational, learn how to work it out
Different conflict resolution strategies
If I’m a sensitive soul – hoping this will help ease anxiety when entering conflict
Not jumping to conclusions
Get better results
How to deal with multiple egos (2 strong personalities)
Barrie Seigle and Alisa Peskin-Shepherd
Stories Make It Relatable
I always begin by sharing stories that people can relate to. I shared one about a couple where the husband didn’t want to pay spousal support/alimony because the wife initiated the divorce. I reframed the issue of spousal support by asking the husband what the most important thing was to him. His answer: consistency and stability for his children.
Because the wife initiated the divorce, the husband felt she could work full-time and he shouldn’t have to pay her any money.
He was defensive.
He was hurt.
I steered the conversation away from the emotional and focused in on their shared values: the children.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Then, I asked questions: What period of time do you feel is appropriate for this transition for your kids? What contributes to their stability and consistency?
When you frame the issue in a way that is likely to lead to resolution by incorporating the other side’s perspective, you can create a better outcome. By reframing spousal support in terms both parties agreed on – stability and consistency for the children – the husband was able to see that paying some amount to his soon-to-be ex-wife would be ok. In order to give the children stability and consistency, the parents made changes over time as everyone acclimated to the new situation.
Even facilitators can be emotional. Did you ever see the movie, Life of the Party, where Melissa McCarthy plays a mom who returns to college amid a divorce, and ends up a student alongside her daughter at the same college? There is a mediation scene where the facilitator says to direct all comments to her. They get pretty vicious, but all comments are directed to the mediator – even when they’re cursing at one another and insulting each other.
Yeah, there are times when it can be really hard to be the mediator amid all the conflict!! You have to know your emotions in order to identify issues and neutralize emotions.
When I lead a mediation, I ask participants to lay ground rules. They buy into it more if they have some skin in the game.
Some other tips from the workshop:
Listen. Listen to each other. Facilitators need to find commonalities and learn what is underlying the stated positions. What interests, needs or desires must be addressed?
Use I-messages. “I” instead of “You.” Take ownership by beginning a statement with “I believe, I feel, I think…” Beginning with “You…” puts the other party on the defensive.
Reflect back emotions. Begin sentences with “So, what I am hearing you say is…” Let them know they are heard.
Listen to each other…what interests, needs or desires must be addressed?
Mirroring. Act with respect to gain respect. How you treat your co-advisor affects how teens behave. If you use a calm voice, they will mirror you. Attorneys can’t personalize issues with other lawyers. If both attorneys remain neutral and calm, the parties will be calm during proceedings.
There are times you won’t come up with a solution or resolve the conflict. But don’t worry about it. You have not failed. It may be time for a break or a time-out. Or the issue may go deeper than you realize.
To reduce tensions, always consider the other side’s perspective. Brainstorm ideas on how to resolve the conflict. Write down all ideas – good AND bad. Look at which ones are agreed upon, which ones need further discussion, which ones are workable. The conversation goes much better when everybody’s ideas are on the table without judgment.
Location-location-location. It makes a difference where you resolve conflict. Choose the right time and place to talk about difficult matters. Sitting at a round table makes the conversation easier than if you’re at opposite ends of a long table. During mediation, I use a round table so each person is seen and can feel heard.
As a “facilitator,” you are not a direct party to the conflict or dialogue. You are there to ensure that every party understands each other, with the ultimate goal of finding a mutually-agreeable resolution to conflict.
Facilitators may serve to simply ensure a group of individuals engages in fruitful discussion. Sometimes, full resolution is not the goal.
Make your primary goal creating a safe, respectful, and friendly atmosphere.
Make sure everyone around you feels comfortable speaking up.
Role-Playing for Real Life
The workshop ended with break-out groups role-playing, and participants said they gained new skills that they felt they could incorporate into their own real-life situations. They said they were leaving the workshop feeling more confident in how to handle such situations going forward.
Alisa leading a group discussion with BBYO youth leaders.