Diversity & Equity in Family Law

Diversity & Equity in Family Law

Diversity & Equity in Family Law

Growing up in a landscape defined by systemic racism deeply embedded into American culture, I am particularly sensitive to issues of access and inclusion. And yet, I am too aware that we can have the best of intentions and still not be as inclusive as we’d like.

That’s why I joined the Diversity and Inclusion committee of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP). I wanted to embed into my work as a Collaborative Divorce lawyer a deep and constant alert to whether we are incorporating diversity at every level and fighting racism.

As an organization, IACP is determined to be as inclusive as possible. At the same time, we cannot control who decides to join. There is a deeper issue at play, and one which we may not have nearly as much impact – how many minority audiences choose to become attorneys.

Diversity

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I’ve been aware for some time, and truly bothered by it, that the legal profession in America is heavily white. To be frank, according to the American Bar Association, only 5 percent of attorneys in America are African American. That is inexcusable!

The IACP is an international organization, which expands our view of inclusion and diversity beyond the borders of the United States. And there are so many aspects to diversity. It’s not just about race.

It’s also about gender, sexuality, socioeconomic factors, age and more. We want true inclusion, across defining characteristics to be a truly representative profession and industry.

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When the Equity and Inclusion committee formed three years ago, it was an area that I saw having a real need for diversity. We were all white, middle to upper class attorneys sitting around a pretty homogeneous table. How could we combat racism?

Our clientele was pretty white, too. How were we going to educate people? What strategies would we use to reach out to other communities and bring people in?

I joined this crusade because I saw it as an opportunity to get in at the base line level and really have an impact.

These days, a lot of DEI work feels like it’s the “in” thing to do. When people are marching on cities in the name of Black Lives Matter, it would be natural to take a closer look at areas that lack diversity.

But it’s not that for me. It’s not a trend or a bandwagon to jump on. This is part of who I am.

I believe in all people, and I believe all Americans should have access and entry to the industries and communities they desire.

When I was in elementary school in the 1960s and 1970s, my school principal was African American. I didn’t realize how groundbreaking that was at the time, for I was just a small girl, but looking back I am awestruck by the foresight that my school had in hiring a Black man to lead our school.

Both details – that he was African American and that he was male – are significant. So many educators were women and of course most were white.

Seeing a man of color in a powerful position, guiding children from the youngest, most impressionable ages through to adolescence, leaves an indelible mark on what matters and who should lead.

From my young vantage point, I didn’t see any of this, of course. I just saw a kind man who was nice to me and had a smile for every child in the building. I had no idea what a pioneer he was or that it was a landmark role for my community.

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As I’ve become more educated on systemic racism, I can grow sad about the struggles we still see happening for black and brown people in America. Why does this continue to be? 

Diversity

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

I know all the intellectual and emotional reasons sociologists will cite, but deep down in my soul, I cannot understand it.

I sometimes feel like as an individual, I am so unable to make an impact or truly make lasting, tangible change in this area, at a high level. I’ll admit, sometimes I feel kind of helpless.

Of course, I could just resign myself to my little homogeneous bubble and go on with life. But I won’t. I can’t. I must do what I can to make even the slightest difference, in my profession, in my community, in my life.

It’s not who I am to ignore what is happening around me. This country needs righting, and I’ll do my part to make it happen.

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This Is What It’s Like to Work with a Divorce Lawyer

This Is What It’s Like to Work with a Divorce Lawyer

This Is What It’s Like to Work with a Divorce Lawyer

Some clients might wonder what to expect when working with a divorce lawyer. While your case is on your mind 24/7, your divorce lawyer has other cases simultaneously, so it’s helpful to know how the interactions will flow once you choose the lawyer you want to work with.

Step 1: Introductory Meeting

Here, you will get to know one another and learn about the lawyer’s approach to divorce. A good lawyer should offer a picture of how often and by what methods you’ll be in touch.

What if you feel an urgency arise, or have questions?

Is email the best method of communication?

How quickly will the lawyer respond?

What if it’s over a weekend or holiday?

It’s good to establish parameters up front, so you know what to expect when you work with a divorce lawyer.

Step 2: Gathering Information

It takes time to build a legal case. There will be a lengthy period during which your lawyer will ask for information, paperwork, evidence, and other resources to help build your case.

The more quickly you can gather materials, the more quickly your case will be built. That said, remember that your attorney has many clients and cases, and yours is in the queue!

A Michigan divorce can take anywhere from six months to years. Nothing happens overnight, especially when the courts are involved, but your lawyer should give you an estimate of the time frame for building your case and how quickly he or she can process the information you provide.

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Photo by Dan Dimmock on Unsplash

If your lawyer has to request documents from the other side, then the flow will depend on how quickly they respond and provide the requested information.

Delays can arise – and they are not always within your control or your attorney’s. Try to be patient, even though the case is always on your mind, with questions about how it will unfold.

Step 3: Negotiation

You may have a series of meetings with your lawyer, your soon-to-be ex and their lawyer. These require scheduling four people’s calendars, which can be cumbersome. Again, be patient as it unfolds.

In the negotiation phase, there may be issues to discuss or debate, and there may be need for further information-gathering or fact-finding. Ask your lawyer for estimates of how much time each phase will take, so you have realistic expectations every step of the way!

Time estimates often change once we dive into the details, as we know more about the type of case it is becoming.

Step 4: Finalizing

Once everything has been laid out and agreed to, finalizing your divorce still takes time. Factors can include preparing a Settlement Agreement and Judgment of Divorce with language agreeable to both sides as well as the judge’s availability to approve the Judgment and make the divorce final.

Every step of the way during your divorce, you may be eager to hear back from your attorney on progress and next steps. Divorce lawyers are as eager as their clients to complete the case to everyone’s satisfaction!

If you’re waiting to hear from your lawyer and there is no email or return call, try to be patient. It’s hard, but sometimes they are waiting for response from the other side, or confirmation from the court, and they don’t want to waste your time with empty information.

The hallmark of a good lawyer is open and flowing communication with clients. Trust that your attorney will get back to you as soon as new information becomes available!

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Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm 

Every divorce client feels a sense of urgency to get their case done and decided. It will happen; waiting is the hardest part.

Michigan divorces take a minimum of 6 months to complete. Knowing that is crucial to taking a deep breath and letting the process happen as it should.

Read more Family Law posts

How to Negotiate in a Divorce

How to Negotiate in a Divorce

How to Negotiate in a Divorce

There is no one outcome or way to negotiate for a divorce case, because every case is as different as the people pursuing the divorce.

With that in mind, we must consider a variety of details when we negotiate the terms of a divorce. Here are some things to think about when you’re negotiating your divorce:

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Identify what is important to you.
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Consider what might be important to your spouse.
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Be willing to give up something to get something else.

I remember a great example in the book How To Get to Yes. People were in a negotiation, arguing over an orange.

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Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash

Once they started talking, they realized one person required the skin and the other person required the pulp, so they reached resolution by hearing what the other person needed and finding a way to make it work for both of them. One person took the outside of the orange, the other took the inside, and they settled their case.

That’s how we negotiate – find ways to satisfy all needs, whenever possible.

Understanding my client’s needs, and listening to determine his or her spouse’s needs, is a key strategy I use when negotiating on behalf of my client.

People can mask hurt and anger in wanting to claim items. Take emotion out of your negotiation and think about what is FAIR.

Recently, I was involved in a negotiation where my client, who was extremely hurt by her husband’s decision to divorce, was steadfast in her desire to retain not only her premarital retirement, but also all of the growth in the account.

Her husband took the opposite position, claiming the growth on the premarital monies was also a marital asset. There were legal arguments that could support both parties.

At the same time, my client had an interest in a business. The business partnership was fraught with its own difficulties, and the husband knew all about it. It was questionable whether the business had any actual value.

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Photo by Darío Martínez-Batlle on Unsplash

I asked my client: is it worth forgoing the growth on your premarital account to avoid digging into the partnership, and keep your business intact?

In a divorce negotiation, if one spouse owns a business, you could go down a very expensive road of business valuation and end up having to give a percentage of profits, revenues or equity to an ex-spouse.

Or, you could discover that the cost of the valuation, emotionally and financially, was not worth it.

What would you give up to avoid such a cumbersome, costly process?

Certain big issues tend to be sticking points, so think about your approach before entering into negotiations.

Issues like:

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The house – who keeps it, the value of the house, and how we determine its value (market analysis or appraisal?)
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The children – custody and parenting time
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Child support – In-kind compensation (perks), travel miles as income, uncompensated work, family expenses covered by a business
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Valuations – of a business, a pension
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Spousal support – should it be paid, how much and for how long
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Property division – how to divide property, how to determine what is premarital or separate property
Before you embark on a divorce, have a heart-to-heart with yourself to determine what you’re willing to give up or compromise on, so your negotiations can go more smoothly.

No one gets everything they want; work toward achieving an optimal outcome for yourself and one you can live with that is fair for your spouse.

Read more Family Law posts

Taking Divorce Virtual

Taking Divorce Virtual

Taking Divorce Virtual

How a Jameson Law Manages a Virtual Divorce Case in Colorado

This blog first appeared on the website for the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. Read the original blog here.

In the era of COVID-19, everyone is using virtual meeting software to conduct business. However, my Collaborative Divorce colleagues and I were already doing it. 

A Case Follows Its Clients

This case began in the typical in-person format in Michigan. The husband met with me several times over nine months as he contemplated filing for divorce. Shortly after it became clear that ending the marriage was his next step, he and his wife decided to sell their home and move to another state, where two of their married children live.
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It is not like any case can go virtual; attorneys are bound by the parameters of the State Bar and can only practice in states where they are licensed to do so.

Based on my state’s laws, if my client moved to Colorado and then filed for divorce, I could not represent him.

But he wanted to work with me in a Collaborative fashion on his virtual divorce. Accordingly, we filed in the state of Michigan before they moved, which relegated the case to the state where they had lived during their marriage.

Committed to the Collaborative Process

They agreed to proceed in a Collaborative fashion, and the wife hired Collaborative Divorce attorney, Tucson divorce attorney. We created a team that included divorce financial planner Jacqueline Roessler and divorce coach Judith Margerum. Everyone agreed that this case would be conducted through video conferencing.

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I assumed the professionals would be together in one place, and the parties in another place, but this did not happen. For scheduling convenience, each professional joined from her own office, and our clients were in their home in different rooms.

As the case progressed, I thought it would be better for the team to gather in person, especially for a pre-meeting and a debrief after the client meeting. As it turned out, due to the pandemic, we connected via our own shelter-in-place locations.  

Meeting Virtually

For the most part, the virtual divorce case proceeded beautifully with Zoom as our means for communication and meeting. There were drawbacks of course. For example, it was harder to take side meetings with a client or team member on Zoom. However, it was possible using the Breakout Rooms feature.

On the positive side, the Collaborative tone remained in this virtual format.

Collaborative Focuses on the Family

As usual with Collaborative Divorce, we were able to focus the process to suit the family. This family was in transition, so we created virtual meetings to accommodate their desire to move, rather than having to wait for their divorce to be final in Michigan.

Another plus is that you can see people’s reactions and responses, which is crucial for the mental health professional on our team. While we cannot read the energy as we would in-person, we can still see, really close up, each face.

And, scheduling meetings is a breeze – no need to plan around drive time or calendar conflicts.

Today’s technologies make it easy to expand our Collaborative world while still getting the same great work done.

Here are some tips for making video conferencing work for divorce law cases.

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Pay attention; make sure you are looking at the screen. People often get distracted during a video conference and might look to another screen, thus missing reactions and responses.
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Because everybody is on a computer, the person taking notes can type it on their own device. I could look at the meeting and type while it was going on.
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It is easy to record the meeting for future review. People sometimes forget what they said or agreed to, or perhaps different parties have different interpretations of the proceedings. Having the ability to record the meeting eliminates confusion. Professionals should be aware of the most current privacy standards that apply to them in regards to use of this technology, specifically around recording. In addition, mental health professionals may need to determine whether their technology platform is HIPPA compliant prior to hosting or recording meetings.
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Choose a platform that you’re comfortable with. We use Zoom, but there is also GoToMeeting, AnytimeMeetings, and others. Choose one that offers the option of breakout rooms.
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Be prepared. Learn how to share your screen, know the software, know the technology before the meeting begins.
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Plan your pre-meeting and your after-meeting, especially if professionals are not in the same room. Planning is still very important.

Read more about Collaborative Divorce

Taking Divorce Virtual: How a Michigan Collaborative Team Manages a Case in Colorado

Taking Divorce Virtual: How a Michigan Collaborative Team Manages a Case in Colorado

Taking Divorce Virtual: How a Michigan Collaborative Team Manages a Case in Colorado

This blog first appeared on the website for the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.

It’s ironic that in the era of COVID-19, everyone is clamoring to use Zoom and other virtual meeting software to conduct business, because I and my colleagues in Collaborative Divorce were already doing it.

This case began in the typical in-person format in the state of Michigan, with the husband meeting with me several times over the course of nine months, as he contemplated filing for divorce. 

virtual divorce

When it became clear that ending the marriage was, indeed, his next step, he and his wife had already decided to sell their home and move to Colorado, where two of their married children live. 

It’s not like just any case can go virtual; attorneys are bound by the parameters of the State Bar and can only practice in states where they are licensed to do so. That means if my client had moved to Colorado and then decided to file for divorce, I could not represent him, even from afar, with so many great technological tools. 

But because we had built a relationship, and he wanted to work with me in a Collaborative fashion on his divorce, we strategically filed in the state of Michigan before they made their move, which relegated the case to the state in which they’d lived the duration of their marriage. 

They agreed to proceed in a Collaborative fashion, and the wife hired a Collaborative Divorce attorney, Symantha Heath, and we pulled together a team that includes divorce financial planner Jacqueline Roessler and divorce coach Judith Margerum. Everyone agreed up front that this case would be conducted through video conferencing.

virtual divorce

I assumed the professionals would be together in one place and the parties would be together in another place, but this did not happen at first. For scheduling convenience, each professional has been in her own office and our clients are in their home, in different rooms.

My feeling as the case progressed was that it would be better for the team to gather in person, especially to guarantee we have a pre-meeting and a debrief after the client meeting ends. As it turns out, due to public health parameters, we must connect via our own shelter-in-place locations.

For the most part, the case is proceeding beautifully with Zoom video conferencing as our means for communication and meeting.

There are drawbacks of course – for one, it’s harder to ask to take side meetings with your client or another team member when we are on Zoom but possible using the Breakout Rooms feature which I only recently learned about during an IACP call (“A Candid Conversation About Collaborative in Trying Times”). 

Prior to advancing my Zoom knowledge base, participants were asked to leave the main meeting and then texted or emailed when we were ready for the group to reconvene. There is definitely a learning curve as with all new technology. 

On the positive side, the collaborative tone stays the same in this virtual format. We can bring in professionals from anywhere – there is a mental health professional who moved to California that I used to work with all the time, and Zoom allows me to pull her in if I deem it necessary.

Also, we were able to fashion the process to suit the family. This family was in transition, so we were able to create virtual meetings to accommodate their desire to move when they wanted to move, not having to wait for their divorce to be final in Michigan before they moved. That could’ve delayed their move a year or longer.

Another plus is that you can still see people’s reactions and responses, which is crucial for the mental health professional on our team. We can’t read the energy as we would in-person, but we can still see, really close up, each face. And, scheduling meetings is a breeze – no need to plan around drive time or calendar conflicts, especially during these times.

Today’s technologies make it so easy to expand our Collaborative world while still getting the same great work done. 

virtual divorce

Here are some tips for making video conferencing work for your cases.

Z
Pay attention; make sure you are looking at the screen. People often get distracted during a video conference and might look to another screen, thus missing reactions and responses.
Z
Because everybody is on a computer, the person taking notes can type it on their own device. I could look at the meeting and type while it was going on.
Z
It’s easy to record the meeting for future review. People sometimes forget what they said or agreed to, or perhaps different parties have different interpretations of the proceedings. Having the ability to record the meeting eliminates any confusion.
Z
Choose a platform that you’re comfortable with. We use Zoom, but there is also GoToMeeting, AnytimeMeetings, and others. Choose one that offers the option of breakout rooms.
Z
Be prepared. Learn how to share your screen, know the software, know the technology before the meeting begins.
Z
Plan your pre-meeting and your after-meeting, especially if professionals are not in the same room. Planning is still very important.

Read more about Collaborative Divorce