Country road

The red pickup truck raised a cloud of dust as it hurtled down the dirt road toward us. “When he gets here, yell, ‘Howdy Neighbor’ as loud as you can.” said my friend.  We were two boys camping out on Jerry’s grandfather’s farm in rural Missouri.

I thought this was crazy but I got ready to yell as the pickup reached us.  But before I could, an arm waived out the window and yelled, “Howdy Neighbor!” I yelled the same back as it zoomed past.

Having grown up in a small town in the Midwest where everyone is your neighbor, it was cultural shock to move to Washington. DC. As I walked to my first day of work as a lawyer for the FCC, I naively said hello to everyone I passed on the sidewalk. Most of them looked at me like I was crazy or going to rob them. There are just too many people in a big city and life is too fast-paced to make small-town small talk to every passerby.

My law firm eventually moved to the suburbs and I walk to work at 7:00 am so there are not as many people on the sidewalks at that hour. I passed four of them this morning. I made sure to give them a smile and a warm Midwestern “hello” as I passed by. All of them reciprocated.

You also try this at home. Greet your spouse with an enthusiastic and energetic “hello” when you come home.

Small gestures have big consequences. You may not save the universe but you may just make it a better place. We can all use a “Howdy Neighbor.”

 

 

 

 

A review of acquiescence in divorce appeals

Here’s a look at the acquiescence defense in divorce appeals.

Say you’ve done everything right on your appeal from a divorce order that didn’t go your way.

  • You filed the notice of appeal on time and in the right court.
  • You ordered the transcript.
  • You filed the index.
  • You wrote the brief, kept it within the word limit, formatted it correctly, cited the right standard of review, used the right font, had it printed with a cover page in the right color, and filed it by the deadline.

Then your spouse deposits $100,000 in your bank account, which is the amount of the monetary award. You need the money so you keep it. You may have just waived your right to appeal.

Exceptions to Acquiescence Defense in Divorce Appeals

There are exceptions.  In Dietz vs Dietz, 241 Md. 683 (1998), Mrs. Dietz accepted and deposited a check for a portion of the martial award after she filed an appeal. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals held that was not inconsistent because she was seeking an increase in the marital award on appeal and the husband had not appealed. So the only issue on appeal was an increase in the martial award.

The Court of Special Appeals held otherwise in Chimes v. Michaels, 131 Md. App. 271 (2000), cert denied, 359 Md. 334 (2000). There the appellant accepted the entire monetary award and filed a statement of satisfaction with the court.

Another exception to the acquiescence defense in divorce appeals is waiver. In a recent case we argued, the husband waived the right to raise acquiescence on appeal, then filed a motion to dismiss the wife’s appeal based on acquiescence. We presented the waiver as  Exhibit Number 1 and the husband’s motion was denied. Abdullahi vs Zanini, Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, No. 2390, September Term 2017.

a journal can help with the feelings of divorce

We are always happy to hear stories of people turning divorce into a positive experience and helping others along the way. In this case, an interesting divorce journal is the result.

A Journal for the Divorce Experience

Alisha Strattman says she created Life Goes On Journals when she realized her marriage was over. “I was feeling all these emotions and needed help and really couldn’t find what I needed. I realized I needed to create something for the next person going through that same experience,” she said.

So she created Life Goes On Journals with the goal of moving forward with a happy life after divorce. The journal includes a daily guide with self-care tips, prompts for journaling, a rating for the day, a place to name your emotions for the day, and a space to list daily gratitudes and victories.

“Divorce can seem really shameful and make a person feel guilty,” Strattman says.  “You’re not a failure. You aren’t worth less because you’ve experienced it.”

Next, she’s working on a journal for men.

A Caution from Your Divorce Lawyer

Just a caution from your friendly neighborhood divorce lawyer.  Until your divorce is over, don’t write anything in your journal that could become Exhibit Number 1 at your divorce trial.

There is strength in small gestures

Our law, for the most part, comes from England.  England has rather complex rules and pleadings which we have inherited.  Courts have published Rules of Procedure.  Each state has different rules and the federal courts and the DC courts have the Federal Rules of Procedure.  There is even a class in law school called Rules of Procedure.

Motions?

Motions are like a letter to the judge.  Only a Motion is more formal than a conversation.  Maryland Rule 2-311 is the rule that governs Motions.   It provides that if you want to ask the court for an order, you have to do so in writing by way of a Motion.

Say you file a Motion in a divorce.  Then your spouse may file a Response to your Motion.  You may want to reply to the Response.  The Rules do not provide for anything further than a Motion and a Response.

But in actual practice I have seen a Reply to the Response to the Motion, and then a Sur-Reply to the Reply.  A judge once told me “In my court we have Motions and Responses.  There is no such thing as a Reply or Sur-Reply.”

Why Not Reply to a Response?

You have already said what you need to say in the Motion.  So a Reply would just be repetition and repetition is not persuasion.   Saying something twice doesn’t make an argument stronger.  In fact, it may work against you.  The judge will think you’re an amateur and give less weight to your argument.

The One Time You Will Want to Reply

There is one time you will want to file a Reply.  That is when the Response raises a new issue that you forgot to address in your Motion.

Hate to drive to therapy?  Hate to tell your secrets to a stranger?  Hate paying for therapy?  Just download the LifeCouple app and you will have couples therapy on your cell phone available 24/7.

The app will first ask you to rate satisfaction in different areas of your relationship.  If your partner and you report levels that are different, then this is an area that needs work.  The app will lead you through exercises designed to improve that area of the relationship. LifeCouple has other features like an emotional bank account where you can earn points set by your partner.

Eventually, you’ll have to pay for a subscription, but for now, the app is free.

In a divorce, what you call something can make all the difference in the world. It’s like the wall being discussed by the President. It turns out that the wall may not be a wall after all.

Our President says he will build a wall between Mexico and the U.S., or a fence or metal slats, or a barrier.  Maybe he just means a better security system. Maybe it’s just a symbol or metaphor for an anti-immigration philosophy.  Maybe it’s an imaginary wall.

The President is following the advice of Lewis Carol’s Humpty Dumpty.  “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

It reminds me of the Mark Twain story where Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn were digging a tunnel under a cabin wall to get inside.  Huck wanted to use the shovel that was leaning against the cabin but Tom insisted they use his Bowie knife like the Indians did.

After much digging and little progress, Tom turned to Huck and asked him to hand him the other Bowie knife.

“What other Bowie knife?” Huck asked.

“The one leaning up against the cabin,” Tom replied.

Words make all the difference in a divorce, too. Visitation is more palatable if it is called access or time-sharing or parenting time.  Alimony may be more agreeable if it is called transition payments.

 

 

Getting divorced? We're all human and we'll help you get through it.

A client missed a hearing in his divorce. Fortunately, it did not affect the outcome of his case.  He said he just forgot to put the divorce hearing date on his calendar.  He was profoundly apologetic.

I could have criticized him and added to his misery or said nothing.  But I knew exactly what to say. I used the magic words that Judge Cline said to me 50 years ago when he was the county public defender and I was his law clerk.

Cullen Cline was the best boss I ever had and my picture of the ideal lawyer.  He looked like Steve Dallas in Bloom County.  He was smart, funny, and charismatic.  He was a pilot and wore a leather jacket and aviator glasses.

The magic words he used when someone made a mistake in his office were profound.  They were forgiving and healing.  I’ve never forgotten them and have used them many times.

I said to my client who missed his divorce hearing, “It’s ok.  You just proved you’re human.”

 

 

Wrong Ways to Respond to a Divorce Settlement Offer

Settling your divorce case out of court is almost always better than a divorce trial.  Knowing how to respond to a divorce settlement offer is important.

Many people don’t know how to use principled negotiation techniques to reach a divorce settlement. Here are some examples of the wrong way to respond to an offer:

Give an Ultimatum.

I received a response to a divorce settlement offer last week that was dead on arrival.  It said its terms were “non-negotiable”.  I have never seen that work.  Instead it closes down the settlement discussions.  The same can be said for deadlines pulling the offer, like “You have one week to say yes to this counteroffer or it is revoked forever.”  A lawyer I know expressed a better attitude when he said, “Everything I’ve got is negotiable.”

Respond Indirectly.

If you receive an offer that numbers the issues, like (1) child custody, (2) child support, and so on, don’t start your response by telling me that your spouse won’t agree to a visitation schedule. Respond in the same order, using the same numbers, and propose a visitation schedule that you want.  Save the blame for court.

Throw Out Everything.

I have received more than one letter from opposing counsel that my client‘s offer is ridiculous or unreasonable or unacceptable.   What am I supposed to do with that?  It would be more helpful for them to say which items are unacceptable and propose a counteroffer.

Go Backwards.

The purpose of negotiation to is reduce difference between offer and counteroffer until you reach a settlement.  If you are increasing the difference, you are not going anywhere.  Once you have offered alimony of $2,000 a year, it will be impossible to get your spouse to accept $1,000 a month in the next round of negotiations.

The right way to respond to an offer of settlement is through principled negotiations.  That means you respond specifically and directly only to the items in dispute, state your objections clearly, and propose compromises.

Kline, a well-known family lawyer, couldn’t sleep past 5 am.  So he was the first one in his law office Monday morning.  He flipped on the lights and started checking email.  Among the dozens of pitches from salespeople and scam artists, one from a young lady named Kerry caught his attention.  “My husband left me on Friday,” she said.  “He called me today and said he would like to get back together but his parents ae against it and they want him to divorce me.  Can he do that legally?”

Kline leaned back in this chair and looked at the ceiling.  “No,” he said.  “You have to state your grounds for divorce in your complaint.  Grounds are reasons for divorce.  They are listed in the law.  Parents don’t like me is not on the list.”

“What’s on the list?” Kerry asked.

“For Maryland?”

“Yes.”

Kline recited the list:

  • One Year Separation
  • Adultery
  • Desertion
  • Conviction of a Felony or Misdemeanor
  • Insanity
  • Cruelty
  • Excessively Vicious Conduct
  • Mutual Consent

“Wow.  Thanks,” said Kerry.  “Now I’ll be able to sleep.”  Kline was wide awake as he filed her email under “Prospective Clients”.

Damage

by Rachel Wammack

I’m a bartender
Best friend pretender
I make drinks to help forget and help remember
Beautiful humans
I am a student
And I’ve seen it from all sides winning and losing

Oh, love can do
Love can do
Love can do some damage

She was his first wife
She was his whole life
He whispers through the whiskey that I’ve got her eyes
And then the others
The cancer, the mother
And the prodigal just trying to find some shelter

Oh, love can do
Love can do
Love can do some damage
Oh, love can do
Love can do
Love can do some damage

I listen and I smile
The breaking up to making up to walking down the aisle
We try to manage
From the cradle to the grave
Getting lost and getting saved
Love’s always been the same in any language

I’m a bartender
If you came in here
I’d pretend that I’ve forgotten to remember
All of the beauty
Beautiful ruins
And tonight I’ll make a toast to me and you and

And all that love can do
Love can do
Love can do some damage
Oh, all that love can do
I still love you
And love can do some damage
Oh, some damage