CHAPTER ONE – IT TAKES SO LITTLE TO DO SO MUCH

A friend of mine tells this story about one night when he was working as an assistant manager at a health club.  A young woman came in with a little girl.  She looked harried, probably from working all day, and now she was looking forward to a swim with her daughter.

“I’m sorry, ma’am , the manager said, “but the pool closes at 7:00 pm.”

“Oh,” said the woman, dejectedly, and turned to go.  Ordinarily, that would have been the end of it.  The result would be an unhappy customer.

But, as the mother was walking away, the manager said “Ma’am?”  As she turned, he said to her, “You have a beautiful little girl.”

She lit up with a great big smile and you could almost see the stress of the day melting from her as she squared her shoulders, lifted her head and stood up straight.  An unhappy customer was turned into a happy customer.

It takes so little to do so much.

We are all starved for recognition, acknowledgment and love.  So take two minutes and buy some flowers, pick up the clothes on the floor, empty the dishwasher or fill up your spouse’s car without telling them.  You get the idea.  Keeping Rule No. 1 in mind will reap large dividends for only a little effort.

Joe the Plumber stopped by to see me about his divorce today. “I worked all these years using my own blood, sweat and tears to build up my business. She wants part of it. And Barack Obama wants some of it.”

“Come on, Joe, it’s not that bad. Let’s look at it more carefully,” I say. “Obama’s tax plan provides a $3,000 tax credit for every new job you create, a reduction in taxes if you make less than $250,000 a year, and no capital gains if you sell your business.”

“It doesn’t sound so bad when you put it that way. But what about my wife? She never worked a day during our marriage,” says Joe.

“Your wife gave up her own career to raise your kids and make a home for you so that you were able to work so hard to build up your business. The law provides that the judge has to consider, among other factors, the contributions, monetary and nonmonetary, of each party.”

“So what you’re telling me,” says Joe, “is that I have two silent partners in my business – my lazy Uncle Sam and my wife.”

“That’s one way of looking at it, Joe,” I tell him. “Where are you going?”

As Joe leaves my office, he turns and says, “I’m going to see if my wife wants to buy my plumbing business.”

Words are the tools of a lawyer.  Words can be used to persuade and convince.  Words can be used to build relationships or harm relationships.

Discounting is the label I give to words that harm relationships.  It means you show by your words you do not respect the other person or their opinions and beliefs.  In fact you disrespect them and have contempt for them.

You can listen to, and acknowledge, an opposing point of view without agreeing to it.  Or you can discount it.  Here is an example of discounting in a letter I received from an opposing counsel in a divorce case recently.

“Jim:  This needs to stop. You are doing a disservice to your client. This is beyond ridiculous. If your client would stop this nonsense, sign the agreement I sent last night she would get a check the next day and this would be done.  Instead, you are making changes that make no sense, conflict with each other and costing my client (not to mention yours) unnecessary fees.  I will be tied up all day Monday and will be leaving the office early, out of the office on Tuesday and am leaving at 5:30 today and have deadlines I have to meet before then.”

Divorce lawyers have to develop a fairly thick skin in the heated exchanges of a litigation practice.  But do you really think that a letter like this ever persuades anyone to do what you want them to do?  Our response was to file suit.  Discounting never works.  As the Good Book says, A kind word turneth away wrath.

What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?  A lawyer makes a settlement proposal for a divorce client.  The other side sends back a counterproposal, which the client doesn’t like.

“What do you advise next?” asks the client.

“Send back another proposal with some concessions,” the lawyer says.

“What if I don’t want to make any concessions?”

“Then you are at an impasse.”

There are several ways to break an impasse.

(1)  Litigation. The ultimate way is to have a judge decide.  But this is expensive, time consuming and uncertain in outcome.

(2)  Keep Talking.  Explore other options to meet the needs of each party.  I have been in negotiations where a creative idea just seems to fall out on the table in the conversation that had not been there before.

(3)  Segment the Problem. Break the dispute down into separate smaller pieces and try to get agreements on one piece at a time until you have solved the whole problem.

(4)  Bring in an Expert. You can bring in an expert to help break an impasse such as a therapist for issues involving children or a financial planner for issues involving money.

(5)  Do Nothing. One option is to just do nothing until somebody blinks.  Sometimes I have told the parties, “You are twenty thousand dollars apart and it will cost you each ten thousand dollars to litigate this case.  Does anyone have any ideas?”  Then I sit in silence for a minute, two minutes, sometimes ten minutes, until finally someone says, “Well I’ll split the difference if you will.”

Many clients ask about getting an online divorce.  I have seen a couple of on line agreements that weren’t filled out properly by the clients.  And I have seen one for Washington, DC, where the on line form terminated child support at age 18.  DC law provides for child support until age 21.

Now comes news of the State Attorney General’s Office for Washington State closing down Online Divorce, a Delaware Company.  According to Hector Castro at SeattlePI.Com, the company charged $249 for a divorce and claimed that its staff included “divorce specialists.”

But after complaints from customers that they couldn’t get services or refunds, the state began investigating and found that the company was providing paralegal services without attorney oversight, a violation of state law.  The company ceased doing business in Washington state and at last report is looking for an attorney.

What do you say when someone asks you about your divorce or your former spouse?  Is it an awkward moment?

Miss Conduct, who is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology, answered this question from a reader in the Sunday Boston Globe.

People use stories, Miss Conduct says, to make sense of the world.  If you don’t provide them with one, they will supply their own, and it might not be one of your liking.

So what do you say when someone asks you about your divorce? Respond in the form of a story. You have the chance to provide a story that you want them to repeat to others.

Miss Conduct suggests one like this:

“Who can ever explain why these things happen? We realized we wanted different things out of life [or a similarly elevated but basically accurate summary], and it just didn’t seem possible to go on as a couple. We’re still on good terms, though, and I’m doing OK.”

She says this story tells them there were causes for the divorce but even you don’t know them all, your ex is not a villain, and you are not devastated and don’t need a lot of emotional support.

What is your divorce story?

Fear is a prevalent emotion during a divorce.  And there are a lot of things to be afraid of, like:

  • An uncertain future
  • Financial hardships
  • Loneliness
  • Unhappiness

“I have many great fears of my pending divorce. I’m afraid of my kids looking at another man as a second dad. Though we have agreed on joint custody of our 4-year-old boy and unborn child, that still means they will be with her next husband the same amount of time I am. I’m afraid that I will never be as happy with anyone else as I have been with my wife. I know I will get jealous of her being with another man – being intimate with him, telling him she loves him. It tears me apart inside.” Andy’s Dad at Divorce360.com

Andy says his wife was his one true love.  But let me tell you one of the Secrets of the Universe.  True loves are like street cars.  There’s another one coming along every five minutes.

Here’s another Secret of the Universe.  You only meet your one true love after you have lost your one true love.  Just ask my clients who have remarried.

Andy’s Dad’s fears are reasonable, but given time, they will become less and less important to him.  His life will become complicated with new relationships.  Eventually his fears will fade, and his feelings will become peace, tranquility, serenity and happiness.

What are your divorce fears?  Feel free to leave them in the comments section.

?Which strategies do people and their lawyers employ during divorces? There are only two social strategies that human beings use, according to Herb Guggenheim writing for CapitalM, the local Mensa newsletter. Those strategies are:

1. Reciprocal Altruism.

This approach is based on the idea that if you do kind things for other people, they will do kind things for you. It is the psychological equivalent of the Golden Rule, that is do unto others that which you would have them do unto you. It is the American cliche, “You pat my back and I’ll pat yours.” It is the French saying, “You send the elevator up to me and I’ll send it back down to you.”

2. I’m Only in It for Myself.

These people see the world as a hostile place. It is dog eat dog. Only the strong survive. These social Darwinist believe that while the inferior, weak people are busy being nice to each other, they will swoop down and take what they want, when they want, no matter what the consequences may be.

If both parties use Reciprocal Altruism, the divorce can be settled rather handily. If both are using I’m Only in It for Myself, then it seems they are destined to have a long and costly litigation. What happens if they are each using a different strategy? It seems to me, the I’m Only in It for Myself strategist will walk all over the Reciprocal Altruism strategist and end up with the better part of the marital estate. Guggenheim says, that while he can sleep better at night as a Reciprocal Altruist, it is his observation that people who take what they want seldom suffer for it.

Perhaps the best strategy is a blend of both. Focus on what you want and ask for it. Be polite but firm in the asking — an iron fist in a velvet glove. Like the Eagle on the Quarter, hold out the olive branch in one hand (settlement) and the arrows in the other (litigation). Then your spouse can decide which strategy it is going to be.

Divorce is difficult and costly. Avoid it if possible.

Sometimes you have no choice. It takes two people to get married, but only one to get divorced. If your spouse wants a divorce, then you can slow it down, but you cannot prevent it altogether. Someone determined to get a divorce is allowed by law to get one even if one of the parties does not want a divorce. Or maybe you just made a mistake in marrying the person you did, and you need to correct it and get on with your life.

If you do have a choice in the matter, then the first question you have to ask yourself is do you really want a divorce. The answer may not be clear to you right now. The decision to stay in your marriage or leave it is a significant one. It frequently takes time, sometimes years, to make this decision. So it is alright to stay in the inquiry stage for a while. Here are some of the things you need to think about before you decide to get a divorce.

Sometimes the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know. Although you may not get along with your spouse, you may dislike being alone even more. Eating by yourself, watching television alone and sleeping by yourself can be difficult.

If you have been away from the singles scene for awhile during your marriage, you may find it to be an uncomfortable situation. You are older now. You may have children to deal with.

Two may be able to live as cheaply as one when they are married. But in a divorce you are trying to pay for two separate households with the same money that previously supported one. This usually means there is not enough blanket to cover the cot. Sacrifices must be made and your standard of living might go down.

Divorces involving custody fights over children are the worst of all. The stakes are the highest they can be. The children are right in the middle of conflict between their parents. Children usually bounce back from divorce with time. But that does not mean the bounce does not hurt. Children experience regret, blame, depression, anxiety, guilt and anger during a divorce. Their lives will change forever. The family is breaking up. The family home may be sold. Visitation and child support have to be established.

The decision to obtain a divorce is a difficult one. There are more decisions to make as you move through the process. Some will be hard to make. While these decisions are important, you will survive your divorce and move on with your life.

A Chicago divorce attorney decided to review our father’s rights book. It did not go as she had planned.

“Thus, it was with a smirk that I picked up the book titled Father’s Rights by James J. Gross. I intended to flip through it, roll my eyes and pity the poor father who would take such a BS book seriously.”

That’s from Chicago divorce lawyer, Marie Fahnert, at JustDivorceBlog.Com.

But, after reading the book, she says in her three part review, “To my surprise the book is very good!”