A Compassionate Approach to Family Law

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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.

Determining Parenting Time

Determining Parenting Time

Parenting Time is about the children, not the parents

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There is no right way to determine parenting time in a divorce. Even the amount of time each parent gets with their children varies from case to case. Though it is based on statute, parenting time in divorce is still subjectively decided, negotiated and specific to the family in question.

And just when we think we know how it’s going to go, new details and circumstances introduce curve balls.

For instance, many divorce agreements stipulate that the mother always enjoys parenting time with the children on Mother’s Day and the father always has the children on Father’s Day, but what happens when it’s a same-sex couple splitting up?

Likewise, some parents want their children with them on their birthday, while others could care less. Same goes for the children’s birthdays. Many couples let the birthdays fall where they may on the calendar and celebrate with their children on the closest day to the child’s birthday.

When it comes to holidays, every family has their own traditions. Some divide Christmas Eve and Christmas Day or alternate year to year, while others pick the one that resonates most with their traditions.

using this resource can help divorcing couples figure out parenting time that works for their familyAt Transitions Legal, we advise clients to articulate their priorities and values in advance of filing for divorce, so that information can guide the details and outcomes of their split. We rely on the Our Family in Two Homes resource to guide clients in outlining what matters to them before divorcing – which can help determine parenting time, too. In the same way, we recommend that divorcing parents think long and hard about what is reasonable and realistic in the way they’ll map out their parenting time.

And, we remind them that parenting time is about the children – not about the parents — what’s best for the kids, not a competition between the parents for more time or to be the favorite.

Children – all people, really – crave routine and structure, so changing up the schedule too often can be unsettling for everyone. It’s important to mark special times in unique ways but not at the expense of your children’s comfort.

We often tell clients to let go of the way things used to be and create new rituals, practices and routines post-divorce. Doing so can help the children ease into their new normal, and also help parents be OK with a different kind of family life than they might have imagined.

Make the goal of parenting time a meaningful connection with your children – no matter what you’re doing or what day it is or how many days you have together. They’ll remember that you spent time together more than how many hours they had with you.

Do You Know the Transitions Legal Tagline?

Do You Know the Transitions Legal Tagline?

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.

What I do is different from other attorneys. I am really good at Mediation, and I’ve been studying the Insight Approach to Conflict Resolution in a year-long course, called “The Curious Mediator,” with educator, Jacinta Gallant.

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.

Introducing Our Family in Two Homes – a divorce resource now offered by Transitions Legal!

Introducing Our Family in Two Homes – a divorce resource now offered by Transitions Legal!

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.

The Over-Emphasis of Valentine’s Day

The Over-Emphasis of Valentine’s Day

The Over-Emphasis of Valentine’s Day

In the world of divorce, Valentine’s Day is a dreaded occurrence.

Some of my clients feel sad or angry or just very alone when this day rolls around. It’s marketed as a time to celebrate love and romance, and I’m in the business of ending relationships in very final and lasting ways.

Over the years, I’ve done media interviews about how it is possible to “love” your ex and why you might want to. In my work as a Collaborative Divorce attorney, I focus on finding peaceful and harmonious resolution to an ending marriage, especially when children are present.

valentine's day

Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

But at the end of the day, I can’t stop this holiday coming and I can’t change how our society reveres passionate romantic love and scowls on splitting up. There is so much judgment about how a failed relationship is a personal failure, and how being alone is something to lament.

I prefer to look at it so differently.

First, I’ve been taught by scholars and philosophers that the way we define love in the western world is flawed. We see it as preferential attachment as opposed to universal understanding.

That’s step one. See love as a relational thing. I see the humanity in you, and you see it in me. I don’t cling to you, and I don’t need you. I can relate to you. I can share space and time, I can live alongside you, but with or without you, I am complete, whole, wonderful.

Step two is to embrace the notion that there is nothing wrong with being alone. When we can be intimate in knowing ourselves, and really appreciate how special and unique we are at the core, we can find true happiness.

Happiness and success and a life well-lived should not depend on who walks beside us, or who tumbles in the bed next to us at night. I rise in the morning to greet myself in the mirror and that is as good a start to the day as any.

valentine's day

Recently, I became a representative of Our Family in Two Homes, a resource to guide divorcing families to a seamless, compatible carrying-on beyond their split. It aligns with my preference for Collaborative Divorce as a humane way to end a relationship.

It’s a workbook that clients can use to get themselves on solid ground before proceeding with divorce. So much of this resource guides clients to self-reflection and discovery, to communication styles and the values they want for their family and their life.

We could all benefit from such a deep dive!

All of this is to say that I refuse to be sidelined by mistaken notions of what it means to be whole and full of love.

We’re beyond Valentine’s Day for this year, and before it comes around again, I pledge to help my clients move to a place of clarity and wholeness regardless of where their relationships take them. It’s really the best place to be.

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