How to Achieve Civility in Divorce

How to Achieve Civility in Divorce

How to Achieve Civility in Divorce

Recently, I coordinated a program for collaborative practitioners with the Great Lakes Civility Project. It was a 90-minute virtual Civility Session, where we explored what civility is, why we need it in these trying times for our country, and how each of us can begin to build civility into our existing relationships. (Watch the session here.)Civility Project Logo

I had participated in Civility Sessions before, which is why I felt it was important to bring it to my colleagues in the Collaborative Practice sphere. By definition, collaborative practitioners seek ways to compromise, to find common ground, to create solutions that serve all involved. And yet, even we at times have trouble always being civil.

Frankly, don’t all people?

In the situation of a divorce, emotions run high and vulnerabilities do, too. My clients and their soon-to-be ex-spouses both have things to lose and things to gain as the marriage ends, and sometimes winning feels like redemption if we are sad and feel rejected by the breakup. But winning is not always the best outcome.

What Stephen Henderson and Nolan Finley of the Civility Project teach is that all good people want the same outcomes – they just differ in how they will get there. I believe that’s true in divorce, too. Even when we are hurt by a marriage ending, possibly initiated by the other person, we want happiness, prosperity, security and to know that we are worthy of love. In the temporary fog of divorce, we can forget that the relationship might be over but both people’s lives (and the lives of their children) are ongoing and meaningful.

When people divorce, they can’t possibly agree on everything. Frankly, during the marriage, it’s unlikely that they agreed on everything! We all have different perspectives on everything from money to parenting, and I tell my clients that they didn’t agree while married, after the divorce, they’ll agree even less and have less control over the decisions their spouse is making.

The principles of civil discourse, as presented by Nolan and Stephen, are as follows:

  • A conversation is not a competition. Nor is it intended to convert the other person to your way of thinking.
  • Set honest goals for a conversation.
  • Learn to listen fully – which means not jumping in with a retort when the other person stops speaking. It means, asking follow-up questions and regurgitating what they said after they said it, so you know you’ve truly heard it.
  • See the person behind their politics. In a divorce setting, I’d say, see the person behind the breakup. See them as human if you can. It’s the only way to have fair and easy interactions.

Taking it one step further from just a civil conversation, in a co-parenting situation, you have to be more accepting of your ex-spouse’s different beliefs or values. All people come to their beliefs on the basis of experiences and values and all people make decisions that they think are going to serve them, their family, their community. So when your ex makes a decision for the kids that you wouldn’t, it doesn’t mean they’re evil or out to get you. It means they parent differently from you.

Whether in the professional sphere, or in our relationships, we could all stand to become more civil. If civility were the goal, how different would our lives be?

Is It Possible to Love Your Ex?

Is It Possible to Love Your Ex?

Is It Possible to Love Your Ex?

Ever since I started Transitions Legal in 2013, I have focused February on learning to love your ex.

Some people find that idea odd, or distasteful, but it’s not what you think. Love is not preference or attraction, even. In this context, it’s about understanding and relatability. Seeing the human-ness in your former spouse.

loving your exBecause that is the only way to make your peace with your past and continue to co-parent successfully.

And if you don’t have children together, then “loving your ex” still has meaning. There is no need to communicate necessarily but your memories and experiences will take on more peaceful feeling if, in those moments when you think back, you are able to “love your ex.”

But the first step in loving your ex is being happy with yourself. Yep, you read that right: you must get happy on your own before you can look fondly on anyone else!

It is so important after a relationship ends to spend time coming to terms with your choices and your situation. Get to know yourself again, in this new stage and place. Find new activities and pursuits. Get creative! Make new friends. Join a gym. Participate in a hiking group or find a yoga studio where you can get your meditation on.

This is a focus you may have to take on at different times in your life; it doesn’t happen all at once, or necessarily immediately after the divorce.

This takes time. You won’t fall in love with your new life or your new self overnight! Be patient – it is a getting-to-know-you process, like any worthwhile relationship.

During this time, reflect on your recently-ended relationship in every aspect – what do you appreciate about it? What bothered you? What would you say you contributed to it, positively and negatively? And ask the same question about your spouse.

The things that annoyed you about your ex will never go away – but hopefully through this process of reflection and self-strengthening, you can come to a place of acceptance for what is, rather than resentment for what wasn’t. And when you get there, that’s when you can “love” your ex – rather, see the humanness in them, and have compassion for the good times you shared.

That is the best way to move forward with kindness and understanding. And if you are parenting children from your relationship, you’ll want a healthy dose of both to take you into the future!

Hello! My Name is Alisa Peskin-Shepherd, and I am a Divorce Lawyer

Hello! My Name is Alisa Peskin-Shepherd, and I am a Divorce Lawyer

Hello! My Name is Alisa Peskin-Shepherd, and I am a Divorce Lawyer

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Hey there – you may already have met me on my “About” page or on the bio page of my website listing my experience. If you haven’t, let me introduce myself:

I am Alisa Peskin-Shepherd.

I have practiced family law for more than 30 years, and I love my work.

Why would Alisa Peskin-Shepherd enjoy helping people end marriages, you may ask?

It’s not the ending of marriages that I love; it’s the opportunity to work with different kinds of people and to help people understand themselves and their emotions better. I love making people feel better. And working in family law as Alisa Peskin-Shepherd, attorney and counselor at law, I can do that. The other day, I mentioned to a client that I was thinking about inviting co-counsel into our case who had an expertise that would help. The client said she didn’t want that person joining our team because “she was very cold and she didn’t feel a connection with her” the way she feels a connection with me.

I get it, says Alisa Peskin-Shepherd.

I am the kind of lawyer who wants my clients to feel a connection with me. That makes us a good team in the divorce process.

Some things you might want to know about me:

I’m not very tall, so when I was a new attorney, I made sure to dress conservatively (and wear heels), so judges and other attorneys took me seriously. It was how I stepped into confidence as a lawyer. I looked younger than my age, but I dressed the part! (I still do. And I love to wear bright colors.)
I still get butterflies in my stomach before a court appearance. The adrenaline helps me prepare.
I do a TON of research and preparation. For trial, I use a Trial Notebook to go through the steps and stay organized, so I don’t forget any detail.
I love being outside – even more since this pandemic hit! Some days, I’ll leave the office in the middle of the day to take a walk, and my favorite kind of time off is time spent in nature – hiking, kayaking, anywhere beautiful (these days, in Michigan).
The best part of my work is my clients. I love the one-on-one, hearing their hopes and dreams, and doing what I can to make them come to life.

Read more about Family Law

True Marriage Equality

True Marriage Equality

True Marriage Equality

When same-sex marriage became legal, partners finally achieved the right to marry under the law.

With this advancement in marriage in our country comes the right to dissolve marriages, too, and all the ugliness that can accompany it. According to this article, a Tucson mom tried to deny parenting time to her former partner, insisting that since they weren’t both biological parents, the other parent had no legal rights.

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Well, be careful what you ask for, right? You can’t have it both ways! The right to marry means the same rights come when a marriage ends, and that includes dividing parenting time and responsibilities among the child’s parents – biological or otherwise.

Frankly, this flies in the face of everything people have been fighting for in the area of same-sex marriage. You can’t pick and choose. All rights, or no rights, right?

Here is an example of a parent trying to manipulate the law to suit her emotions, rather than advocating for full and equal coverage in all realms.

How often do we manipulate the law or a situation to our benefit and ultimately hurt our children in the process?

I wish people would realize that it really does take a village to raise children. Can a child ever have too many people who love and care about him or her?

In this case, the mom wasn’t alleging that the other mom was a bad mom, a drug addict, or in any way irresponsible. The battled has raged for five years, and it’s really a result of selfishness and hurt, not logic or law.

Of course, we don’t know the underlying details, but I do know that every day people try to manipulate the law to make it work for their own benefit. And yet, when we are equally advocating to change the law to give equal access to all people, we can’t then argue out of the other side of our mouths, trying to shut down the same laws because our feelings were hurt.

Equality is equality.

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The Power of the 11th Hour in Last Minute Divorce Negotiation

The Power of the 11th Hour in Last Minute Divorce Negotiation

The Power of the 11th Hour in Last Minute Divorce Negotiation

Sometimes finding creative ways to reframe divorce settlements can ease tensions.

For example, a client’s husband found it more palatable to pay attorney fees directly to his wife’s attorney rather than to pay his wife money as property settlement which she would then use for her attorney fees. It’s all the same amount of money; creative redistributing can make an easier outcome for all.

Small shifts can make a big difference when feelings of anger, sadness or uncertainty are involved. Although I was prepared to improve my client’s settlement, she and her husband agreed on our bottom-line offer.

If you’re caught up in a last-minute divorce settlement, remember to step back and take a deep breath.

As divorce trials approach, the hours before a court appearance can be filled with last-minute negotiations and rounds of offers and counter-offers.

Emotions between the divorcing couple run high, and it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture, the context and the greater good.

There’s a fine balance between taking on the other person’s perspective to get closer to settlement and making sure you maintain enough of your own perspective that you don’t settle for too little. The offer on the table must be weighed against the cost of extensive attorney fees for trial and the possibility that a mediated or trial settlement could be better or worse.

There is no sure settlement in court, even though the current offer may fall short of your expectations. Weigh in on the costs of continued litigation with the financial reality of the result you seek – and the emotional impact on family members who are directly involved in the restructuring of your family, especially your children.

Read more Legal Process posts