Divorce mediation is a true first love of mine, and that love informs all the other approaches to family law.
I have always loved mediating cases, even as I continued to practice in other ways. Litigation. Collaborative Divorce.
Mediation is different from the act of practicing law in that the Mediator is a neutral third party, whose role is to help divorcing couples discuss and resolve their disputes. This happens outside of court.
One method I use for Divorce Mediation is the Insight Approach. It comes pretty naturally to me because I’ve always been more curious when asking questions.
The idea of insight is to not have judgment, to ask questions to get at what really matters to the clients. To help them make decisions and get to a resolution that they’re both happy with.
Let’s say a mother and father are at an impasse, and very angry at each other. I can take them into separate rooms and ask a simple question such as, what do you hope will be different if you are able to engage in an active conversation with the other person. Just asking the question gives them pause to reflect.
Many mediators just want to get the job done. This is true in any profession! But such an approach is at odds with the very nature of mediation.
You can succeed in mediation by telling people what they must do. But you haven’t really mediated their case. You’ve just finished it for them.
What about when you can’t get people to find a way to work things out, and you all agree going to trial is not a good idea?
That’s why I look at Divorce Mediation as a process that needs to involve the engagement of both parties.
I ask four questions from the Insight Approach, which I keep on my desktop at all times. They are a really good way to start a conversation with clients to get them thinking about what’s important to them.
I’ve used the Insight method during a Collaborative Divorce meeting, too, by asking a question instead of making an assumption.
It’s imperative to not make assumptions. We often ask questions with assumption as part of the question. A lot of us are problem-solvers, especially attorneys, and we come with good intentions. But if we don’t provide all the ideas or feel like it’s our responsibility to solve all the problems, it opens us up to creative solutions that fit that particular situation.
Because I love Mediation so much, the mission and vision of my law firm guide us to provide a different approach when we must litigate. Someone who is not litigious can end up in court, and they need someone who shares their values and understands why we’re doing what we’re doing and can handle it with compassion. A lot of litigation attorneys are missing compassion.
But at Transitions Legal, we are dedicated to bringing compassion, insight, and listening to every case. And that comes from my expertise in Mediation.
It’s an interesting challenge to be an entrepreneur who owns a business but also a practicing attorney focused on family law.
Nine years ago, I formed Transitions Legal as a law firm that serves family law clients without judgment, and with respect, dignity and compassion. When I hung out my shingle, I was the sole lawyer in the firm, doing everything from human resources to writing briefs to litigating cases.
Since then, I’ve hired staff, including an associate attorney to handle cases, and eventually, I hope to be able to shift from working in my business to a balance between building the business and still serving clients. I want to devote time to professional development and entrepreneurial brainstorming. That said, I don’t think I’ll ever fully shift away from client work because I love being in the thick of things and serving my clients!
Now, I not only do professional development to build my legal skills, but also to become a better entrepreneur. I read articles about business ownership, I follow entrepreneurs on social media, and I think about how to better lead my team and serve my clients from an existential and intellectual perspective.
I ponder what my firm brings to the marketplace. What mission drives us. How we show up each day. How we interact with clients, other attorneys, even employees of the court. The mark we make on the world by how we do our jobs.
It’s a fascinating and challenging role to lead a company. It hasn’t always been easy, but I believe I am better for it – as a person, and as a lawyer.
The word entrepreneur comes from a 13th century French verb, entreprendre, which means “to do something” or “to undertake.” By the 16th century, the noun form of the word – entrepreneur – appeared, and it referred to someone who undertakes a business venture.
Just like the name of my law firm, Transitions Legal, conveys that we view divorce as simply a transition from one phase of life to the next, the word entrepreneur is neither good nor bad. There is no judgment to it. Only fact.
It absolutely applies to me, and I wear it proudly. I undertake to provide a service, a way of practicing law and supporting clients, that I believed was not already existent in the marketplace. I brought a new vision, a new approach, a new view to the practice of family law.
And that is a charge I do not take lightly. I am equal to the task, and renewed by it every single day.
Divorce strategies, or how we approach divorce, develop from listening to the client, understanding their needs and desires, and looking at the law. Once we know the needs of the family, we can decide in which direction to move.
When it comes to divorce strategy, at Transitions Legal, we consider whether Mediation, Litigation or Collaborative Divorce will best serve the client. I prefer to leave Litigation for last, as it offers the least control to the attorneys and the clients.
Sometimes the strategy depends on factors outside my control, like which attorney my client’s spouse chooses. If it’s a difficult, litigious lawyer, then we are likely to land in court before a judge and have a pretty acrimonious and costly path.
That affects my strategies in terms of cooperation and communication. I might be more guarded if I know the other attorney makes everything difficult or won’t easily share information. That’s a strategic decision.
Nonetheless, I prefer to have control over how we will go forward. I like to have choices to present to my clients, let them decide which way best serves their needs and goals.
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I love when the other attorney is cooperative, and we know and trust each other. Then, we’re going to be more open and collegial, not question every move and tactic.
If having the kids more time is important to a client, then I think strategically about how to frame everything in terms of Parenting Time and Custody so that it serves the children through this transition.
Even in the Collaborative context, a process strategy might be, ok well I think I’m going to guide you more to talk with the divorce coach about your needs and desires.
Strategy depends on a lot of factors – the client’s needs and values, the opposing counsel, the type of case, the law, and more.
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Even background, details-while-married, factor into the divorce strategies. For instance, if you suspect your spouse is having an affair, that will likely drive the case. Once I have a full picture, I can recommend the strategy that will best serve a client. Then, we have options.
We can strategize where to put a client’s money – investigator or therapy? For instance, if your spouse spent a lot of time away from the family, leaving you alone to manage your children and the household – were they having an affair?
Investigating an affair is usually only important if the spouse spent time away from family, lying, when they were needed to help with the children, or were with the other person while also being with their children or they spent marital funds on this other person.
Divorce strategies weigh and measure what to spend our time, and resources, on. So perhaps my client is better off spending money on individual therapy rather than a PI so they can get stronger and healthier by dealing with their own emotions as they transition to their new phase of life. All of these details inform how we will move forward. And this is just one example of many!
And it really does differ from client to client. At Transitions Legal, we focus on serving our clients’ needs toward their best outcome. We do not believe in a one-size-fits-all approach to practicing family law. We innovate based on listening to our clients, understanding their values, and applying information to inform our divorce strategy.
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.