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.”

 

 

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

When my kids were growing up, we had an inside joke.  Whenever I corrected their grammar or slang, I told them to speak the King’s English.

In today’s news, I hear of Trump’s lawyer profanely chewing out a reporter, Samantha Bee apologizing for calling the President’s daughter a profane name, and Roseanne Barr sending a racist tweet.

It  recalls to me one of J.W. McElhaney’s columns on trial practice.  When opposing counsel insults you in the courtroom, an inner voice rises inside you.  He called the inner voice Mongo.  It said, “Mongo kill!”

McElhaney would reply back to his inner voice, “Down, Mongo.”   Then he would calmly present his argument to the judge, in the King’s English, of course.

The tall beauty strode into my shabby downtown office like she owned the place.  I wasn’t complaining.  She had booked a half hour consult and my rent was due.

Her voice was sultry with a foreign accent.  “My husband is behaving strangely.  We never talk anymore.  He is always tweeting on his cell phone or watching Fox News.  We lead separate lives.  It’s like we are roommates.  What do you think it could be?”

Divorce lawyers are the repository of cynicism in the world.  I broke it to her gently.  “The French have an idiom.  Cherchez la femme.  It means, ‘Look for the woman’.”

Her eyes started to tear up as I handed her the box of tissues.  A gesture I had repeated hundreds of times in this office.

I read that 42% of Republicans believe President Trump has been faithful to his wife.  I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that none of them were divorce lawyers.

I could see this case calling for stormy weather and a big retainer.

 

 

“You’ve got the facts in each paragraph but nothing is tying them together,” said my boss.  “You are missing the connections.”

My first lesson in legal writing came fast after law school.  The assignment was to write a report for the Federal Communications Commission.  I learned the value of connecting words and phrases that make your writing flow and carry the readers along so they are nodding their heads in agreement by the end.

It was about that time that I read The Magus by John Fowles, in which the protagonist discovers that he has been looking at life as a series of events, like mountaintops.  But his girlfriend sees the relationships between the events.  She sees not only the mountaintops, but the valleys that connect them.

Facts are powerful mountaintops.  We all like to think we weigh the facts and make rational decisions.  But relationships between the facts may be even more powerful.  Our decisions may be based on subconscious connections that we are unaware of.

One of the things I like about our law firm is that we have people who see the mountaintops and people who see the valleys between.  That is some of our lawyers see the facts clearly and others see the relationships.

We joke about it and say we have a Partner in Charge of Feelings.  But when you are dealing with emotionally charged issues like divorce, children, betrayal, and money, feelings can be the driving force.   So by all means, get the facts.  But don’t forget the connections.

 

 

“Your goal is to get through the divorce, not to fight with your spouse.” — Stuart Scott

When I was ready to hire the first employee for my law firm, if you had asked me what I was looking for in an employee, I would have told you “Why, someone just like me.”

What a mistake that would have been.  Can you imagine two headstrong, stubborn attorneys, full iof themselves, arguing and debating all day long?

When I was  younger, and before my enlightenment, I knew I was always right.   People who didn’t think the way I thought were simply wrong.  Now I see the value in having partners who each view things a little differently than me.  For example, in a divorce, I might decide no child custody evaluation is needed.  One of my partners, a litigator, might say we need the evaluation in order to get the child’s preference into evidence at trial.

People make a similar mistake when looking for a spouse.  They look for someone like themselves.  First, no one will be exactly like you.  There will always be different agendas and your thinking will not always sync.  You can try to control the situation and persuade your spouse that your view is the correct one.  I guarantee that will not be a successful relationship strategy.

The enlightened approach is ‘viva la difference”.  Enjoy and embrace the fact that your spouse thinks differently than you.  That is what makes life interesting, richer and joyful.

 

 

 

“Why don’t men want to go to therapy?” my wife asked me as we rode to work together.  Shes works in an office three blocks away from mine.

“John Grey, in Men Are from Mars and Women Are from Venus,” I told her, “says that women solve their problems cooperatively with friends, while men solve their problems alone.  To ask for help would be a sign of weakness in a man.”

“That’s idiotic,” she retorted.  “We are all on the same planet, which is Earth.”

“Yes, but we have evolved differently.”  Rob Becker in Defending the Caveman says that prehistoric women would gather spices, fruits and vegetables, and had to communicate and trade information with one another.  Prehistoric men, on the other hand, had to be silent while stalking the woolly mammoths.

“If women have a better idea,” said my wife, “men ought to try it.”

“Men are not  just women in men’s clothing,” I replied, “They are different.”

When I got to my office, my first appointment was in the waiting room.   I escorted her to my office.  “What seems to be the problem?” I asked.

“My husband doesn’t want to go to therapy.”