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.
Since same-sex marriage first became legal in Massachusetts in 2004, I’ve been watching to see if marriage trends and divorce trends mirror what we see in the heterosexual world. Because just as anyone can fall in love, anyone can fall out of love, too.
Not all marriages are meant to last forever!
Since 2015, same-sex couples have been allowed to legally marry in all 50 states, but the effort began way back in the 1970s, as part of the Civil Rights movement to extend the rights of a democratic nation to all of its citizens. I believe strongly that all couples who want to marry should be allowed to do so.
A 2011 study initially reported that same-sex couples divorced at a slightly lower rate than their opposite-sex couple counterparts. According to a 2021 article by Pride Legal, lesbian marriage has a high divorce rate. The article cites a 16% divorce rate for gay marriages compared with a 34% divorce rate for lesbian couples – against a 19% divorce rate for heterosexual couples.
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(Check out this 2013 New York Magazine article about same-sex splits.)
In the LGBTQ community, there is not always consensus on the formal institution of marriage. Some eagerly march to the altar, excited to finally have the option to be equal under the laws of our nation.
Other couples, however, won’t marry on principle, seeing it as a backwards, archaic institution foisted upon people as a way of locking in property and control.
With legal recognition comes legal quandaries, and a legally-married same-sex couple who wants to split must go through the same processes as a heterosexual couple seeking to divorce. The tricky part comes when they have children.
Six states have attempted to deny same-sex couples full adoption rights when one partner (or both) is not the biological parent of the child. Not having both parents’ names on a child’s birth certificate can cause immense problems if a couple parts ways.
In 2017, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Pavan v. Smith that same-sex couples must be treated equally to opposite-sex couples in the issuance of birth certificates.
Divorce occurs according to state specifications, which dictate child support, child custody, division of assets and spousal support. If an LGBTQ couple married before 2015, a local judge may split assets unfairly or not be open to shared custody or parental rights.
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If the couple can create a harmonious parenting plan on their own, it will serve them well when they go to court. If they leave it up to the court, they may find that the non-biological parent, if they have not adopted the child legally, may be out in the cold.
If a spouse was never considered the child’s parent in the eyes of the law, the court may not grant visitation, custody, or parental rights. How devastating for both the child and the non-custodial parent!
After the Supreme Court leak highlighting the forthcoming overturning of Roe v. Wade, many of us in the law are concerned that this will spark a trend of overturning long-fought-for laws affecting other American rights, including same-sex marriage. We’ve fought so hard for so long to give all our citizens equal representation under the law.
While relationships have the same ups and downs no matter who or where you are, religion, race or socioeconomic situation can lead to major differences in how a divorce plays out.
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In Oakland and Wayne counties, Michigan, I see a variety of clients, but most who choose a private attorney must have some access to monetary means. That means that by definition, a person with lower socioeconomic access may be limited in who they might choose to represent them, or how far they can take certain claims in court.
Divorce According to Religion
Likewise, religion can affect how a divorce unfolds. I’ve had a fair number of Orthodox Jewish clients, and their religious observances dictate many parts of their divorces.
For example, many Orthodox Jews seek a religious divorce before pursuing the civil one, while Jews from Conservative and Reform traditions prioritize the civil divorce above all else.
A religious divorce occurs before a beit din, or religious court of rabbis, and in the religious world, a get, or Jewish divorce, is required if a woman wants to marry again.
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In some communities, men make it hard for women to divorce. There is an ongoing issue regarding agunot, or chained women, in the Orthodox Jewish world, when husbands refuse to grant the get, releasing them from the marriage.
A Chained Woman
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 her husband was permitted to do so.
Aside from religion, economic disparity can dictate the terms of a divorce, too. People with less money often bring more debt to a divorce, which can make it difficult to reach a settlement because both partners want to release the debt to the other.
But in all situations of divorce, expectations, emotions and desires are pretty much the same, and every person deserves to be well-represented.
When Divorce Bears a Stigma
Some communities stigmatize divorce more than others, especially more conservative or religious communities, and some with a high population of people from a part of the world where divorce is not common. In such communities, not only might it be difficult to obtain a divorce – divorcees (especially women) can lose friends or no longer feel like they belong.
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I’ve talked to Catholic people who have stayed together longer than they wanted to or should have because of their religion and fears of not fitting in or being penalized by the church due to divorce. I’ve known some who have chosen to divorce and ended up finding another church where they felt more accepted.
Staying the Course
Ultimately, a person can face pressures from a variety of directions if they decide to divorce. It’s a reality of going against the grain of what our society considers appropriate and acceptable.
But divorce is not indicative of something wrong with a person or even with their relationship. It may have just run its course. With people living longer, many are finding that a relationship that served them early in life may not as they age.
At Transitions Legal, we emphasize that divorce is a transition from one phase of life to another. We don’t judge, and we believe every person deserves attention, support and the best representation they can find.
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.
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 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.
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
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
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.