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.
In honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, I’d like to write about how we’ve helped a number of Jewish clients in their pursuit of a civil divorce. When we work together, many share details of their Jewish divorce, or get.
That’s a document that the husband must give to the wife, releasing her from the marriage. It must be witnessed and approved by a beit din, or Jewish court, and the wife must accept it from the husband to complete the process of Jewish divorce
While a civil divorce is legal in the United States, if a client wants to remarry under Jewish law, they must also have a Jewish divorce. In the Orthodox Jewish world, a woman without a get cannot remarry, though a man can.
Our Orthodox Jewish clients have reported that their rabbis instructed them to seek a religious divorce before pursuing the civil one, while Jews from Conservative and Reform traditions prioritize the civil divorce above all else.
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Some men make it hard for women to divorce. There is an ongoing issue regarding agunot, or chained women, in the Orthodox world, when a husband refuses to grant the get. 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 in at least one instance, a husband was permitted to do so.
Historically, a wife’s consent was not required for her husband to divorce her. But about 1,000 years ago, the German scholar Rabbi Gershom, known as “the Light of the Diaspora,” prohibited a man from divorcing his wife without her approval.
Once divorced, according to Jewish Law, it is a special mitzvah if the couple decide to remarry.
Check out this VICE story on how a protest at a husband’s house won a Jewish woman her divorce.
May is Older Americans Month, a term I hate because after all, what is an Older American? It is supposed to refer to the elders of our communities, which I guess I’d be considered, but I certainly don’t feel that I am!
Similarly, Gray Divorce, the growing trend since 1990 of couples past age 50 who call it quits, refers to older adults who decide to break up once they’ve gone gray. Again, not the best term, though it does roll off the tongue.
Regardless of the terminology, though, Gray Divorce is a growing trend that is predicted to explode by 2030! We support more and more Gray Divorce clients, who are by definition older Americans, and I find there are some similarities among these cases.
First, people reach a certain point in their lives, or their relationships, when they feel confident enough to know what they want and buck societal expectations to go for it.
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Maybe they wanted to leave earlier, but worried they’d field criticism, judgment or abandonment by friends or family. Then they get to a point where they realize that no one’s opinion matters other than their own.
Also, there are some couples who enjoyed a respectable marriage – 20 or 30 years, perhaps – and simply outgrew the relationship or each other. There is nothing to lament! It’s OK to move on at midlife.
Especially because we are all living longer these days and may have many careers – why wouldn’t the same evolution happen with our personal pursuits?
Alisa Peskin-Shepherd on FOX 2 Detroit in 2016, talking about Gray Divorce
Finally, many couples wait until their children are grown to call it quits. They may think that it will be easier on their kids once they’re out of the house – but I have news for you. It is NEVER easy on the children when a couple divorces. Sorry to say – even fully grown adults with kids of their own will experience emotions and have opinions if their parents break up.
Regardless of the reasons, Gray Divorce is a fact of the 21st century. Learn more about it here. And check out my interview on FOX 2 Detroit about Gray Divorce.
And if you’d like to discuss how this might apply to you, click here to set up a consultative call.
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.