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.

How To Be Happily Divorced

How To Be Happily Divorced

Photo by Yuyang Liu on Unsplash

Americans as a nation are obsessed with happiness. So what does it take to be happily divorced?

After all, the promise of happiness written into our founding documents: From the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The thing is, happiness is subjective and it’s also completely within our control. In fact, that’s the only place it can begin – because if we are dependent upon outside forces to deliver satisfaction to us, we are going to ride a ridiculous emotional roller coaster.

So how can someone be happily divorced?

Simple. Decide to be.

Ok, I know that’s a bit too easy, but the sentiment isn’t far off. Because to be happily divorced, you have to accept your situation, choose to find the opportunity in the misfortune and commit every day to strive for personal growth and acceptance.

People going through divorce face an array of emotions. Disbelief. Sadness. Hurt. Anger. Denial. Depression. Elation. Sometimes all at once!

But at Transitions Legal, we view divorce as neither good nor bad – it’s a transition from one phase of life to another. You were married to a person one day and the next you no longer are. That’s all it is – the judgment is purely fabricated from within.

So once we accept this undeniable truth, we can begin to understand that all emotions are created within our own minds, and we can make choices to lead us toward the emotions we want to embrace – and not the ones we want to shed.

Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash

If you want to be happy, what will it take to make you happy? Even if you’re feeling sadness at the loss of the marriage, this too shall pass. One day, you won’t feel quite so sad. Each person must move through the emotions that come to them, knowing that they are temporary. That’s the only way to get to the other side.

Happiness is hard to define. You’d think it would be obvious, but it’s not!

From the Greater Good at University of California Berkeley: “…to understand the causes and effects of happiness, researchers first need to define it. For most, the term happiness is interchangeable with “subjective well-being,” which is typically measured by asking people about how satisfied they feel with their lives, how much positive and negative emotion they tend to feel and their sense of meaning and purpose.”

The article continues: “In her 2007 book The How of Happiness, researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky describes happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

And finally, “It’s important to note that social and cultural factors also influence how we think about happiness. For example, studies by William Tov and others have found that people from cultures that embrace more collectivist ideals think about happiness more in terms of harmony and contentment, while more individualistic-minded people connect it to feelings of exuberance and joy. Happiness levels are also shaped by social groups, like families; happier people increase the happiness of people around them.”

Simply put, happiness is a choice, and it’s a state of mind. How you define happiness will depend on whether or not you feel happy. So why not work on the definition so it serves your ultimate goal?

In the end, you can be happily divorced if you accept your circumstances and each morning commit anew to doing something that will bring you satisfaction, contentment and connection that day. One day at a time, that’s how happiness is built.

Insight into the Insight Approach in my Practice

Insight into the Insight Approach in my Practice

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.

Remaining Judgment-Free During Divorce

Remaining Judgment-Free During Divorce

Transitions Legal remains judgment-freeThe very name Transitions Legal on my law firm door makes a statement that we remain judgment-free during divorce.

When a client walks in our door or calls on the phone, we don’t form an opinion. We listen. We take notes. We ask questions. We hear what the client wants to have happen. We compile information, do research, ask more questions, form a case.

Judgment never factors into our divorces. We are here to do a job – help a client achieve a desired outcome. We are here to guide people legally through the process of divorce and other family law situations.

We are not here to judge or offer personal opinion on anyone’s relationships. We remain judgment-free.

There used to be an automatic nose-wrinkling judgment in America (and elsewhere) when people admitted to being divorced. We are fortunate to live in a time when divorce is acceptable. And possible.

It wasn’t long ago, though, when you’d say you were divorced, and the automatic response would be, “I’m sorry.”

Well, no! What if the divorce was a good thing? It often is.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Divorce happens when a relationship has run its course or is no longer healthy for the people within it. Divorce is a legal option to end a marriage that isn’t working, or which causes more strife than support.

Divorce is an answer to a situation, a resolution, a way out. Neither good nor bad.

Which is why we insist on remaining judgment-free during divorce, and express this value in the name of the law firm, in our marketing messaging and mission statement, and in the way we discuss cases with clients and team members.

Think about what happens when you judge a situation: you assign your values to what is happening. You like it, you don’t like it, you pity a person, you champion them. You don’t notice and wonder, and you miss the opportunity to learn and offer support in a meaningful way.

Judgment changes from person to person, informed by their own background and belief system.

Which means judgment is subjective, always. And thus, it’s never truth.