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When we were boys, my pal, Jerry, and I built a motorcycle one night. Somehow Jerry had gotten his hands on a motorcycle.  But it was in pieces scattered on the floor of his room. There were no instructions. Only a frame, a motor, gears, cables and hundreds of nuts and bolts. We had screwdrivers and wrenches. And we were young and insane with the possibilities of where that motorcycle could take us if we got it working.

We worked all night on that machine. We built it wrong, tore it down, bolt by bolt, and started over many times that night. We probably built a dozen motorcycles before we got it right.

By morning, we had a motorcycle. It didn’t look like much, but to us it was worth its weight in gold. We took it out for a test drive. That’s when we discovered a major design flaw. At the first stop sign, you had to disengage the clutch with one foot, and press the brake with the other foot at the same time, so there was no foot to put on the ground and hold the contraption upright.

That motorcycle taught me a lot about problem solving.  You have to keep working on it, all night long, if necessary.  This requires patience and persistence, focus and concentration.  You may have to tear down the solution and rebuild it several times to get it right.  Even then you may have to go back to the drawing board in the morning.  I’ve lost many night’s sleep solving chemical engineering problems, briefing cases in law school, and studying tax law. And now I’m solving problems in marriages, divorces and separations.  It’s as complicated as building a motorcycle.

by James J. Gross

One thing I learned in cub scouts and boy scouts was always leave the woodpile a little higher.  Sometimes we camped out at campsites that had a woodpile.  If you used some of the wood for your fire, you were supposed to replace it and add a little more than you took for the next camper.  By extrapolation, it also meant leave your campsite cleaner than you found it.

I thought of this as I was picking up my teenage sons’ clothes off the floor of their rooms, turning off the lights they left on, and putting their dishes in the dishwasher.  No matter which one of them I ask, it is always the other one that did it.  My comeback to them is going to be – leave the woodpile a little higher.

As I start work this morning, my thoughts turn to the clients I’m helping as they struggle through their divorces.  It occurs to me that each of us, as we pass through life, whether helping others through our work or raising kids, can leave the woodpile a little higher.

 

by James J. Gross

Valentine’s Day is coming up.  Some couples pick that day to get married.  It may seem like a good idea.  But you may want to rethink it.

Economists at the University of Melbourne tracked a million couples.  They found that 11% of the people who got married on Valentine’s Day were divorced after five years and 21% were divorced after nine years.  This compared unfavorably to couples who were married on ordinary dates.

Other holidays and special number dates like January 2nd, 2003 (1/2/03) also resulted in higher divorce rates.

Google searches for “Should I get divorced” hit their highest for the year during Christmas week.

Searches for “Should I break up with my boyfriend” hit their highest for 2016 worldwide.

But trends for “Should I break up with my girlfriend” remained around average.

However, it was not all bad news.  Searches for “Should I quit my job” dipped to their lowest for 2016 over the festive period.

I heard a new term today on Morning Joe.  They were talking about Donald Trump’s refusal to change his position even when confronted with the evidence that he was wrong.

This is known to psychologists as the backfire effect.  It is human nature to try to hang onto beliefs when they are threatened, even if they are wrong.

This is true in divorces as well.  That’s why a head-on attack on your spouse’s view is rarely successful.  It only cause people to dig in their heels and defend their position.  The way around this involves empathy, listening, questioning and patience.

by Michael F. Callahan

A Will directs the passage of property after the death of the maker of the Will and names the testator’s personal representative.  Wills are revocable – they can be modified or revoked by the testator so long as he or she is alive and has testamentary capacity.  Most of our divorce clients arrive in one of two situations – they have not made a Will or they have made a Will that leaves all their property to their spouse and names their spouse personal representative of their estate.  Most of our divorce clients have a lot going on – it’s not the best time for calm thoughtful reflection on how they want to take care of those they love in the event of their death.

If you are separated and contemplating or pursuing divorce, circumstances have certainly changed since you decided to leave all your property to your spouse and name him or her as your personal representative.  Divorce is a process, it takes time.  Unless there is an early settlement it can be years from separation to date of final divorce.  We recommend clients in this situation consider amending or revoking their Will.

What about those persons who are separated from their spouse and have not made a Will? If you die without a valid Will, the state has rules governing who gets your property and who has priority for appointment as your personal representative.  In most circumstances in the Washington, DC area, the state’s rules put the surviving spouse in charge of your estate.  If you have no children, your surviving spouse will receive all of your probate estate.  If you have children, his or her share will be one-third in DC and one-third in Virginia if your children are not the surviving spouse’s children, one-half in Maryland, or all in Virginia if all of your children are the surviving spouse’s children.  We recommend clients in this situation consider making a Will to avoid these outcomes.  Note, however, that statutory spousal protections usually make it impossible to ensure that your estranged spouse takes nothing from your estate.

 

 

“Let miracles replace all grievances.” — A Course in Miracles

In a survey of 1,000 married women, the Daily Mail found that half of them have a “fall-back” partner in case their marriage doesn’t work out.

Backups included ex-boyfriends, ex-husbands, colleagues and friends from the gym. Ten percent said the backup already confessed their love and twenty percent said the backup would drop everything if required. The most common backup was a man the wife had known for around seven years.

No word on whether married men should have a backup wife.

We went to a birthday party for one of our neighbors last night. Sooner or later at parties, people around me start telling me their divorce trainwreck stories.

One woman told me about how she and her ex fought over who would get the two kayaks.

“Why didn’t you take one and let your ex take one?” I asked.
“They were a matched pair.”
“ So,” I said, “Just buy another matched pair.”
“They were hand-made and unique.”

It ended up that the husband bought the wife’s kayak for $750.

More divorce trainwreck stories.

Eva Mendes says the number one reason for divorce is sweatpants.  That got a lot of pushback on social media but I think I know what she meant.  Sweatpants is just a symbol for a way of life.

In the sixties, some men grew their hair long.  Others objected to that.  But it wasn’t really the long hair they were objecting to.  They were really objecting to the hippie lifestyle and liberal belief system that long hair represented.

Think of a complicated set of beliefs as a suitcase.  Then use another word as a handle to carry that suitcase around.  For example, lawyers use the handle res ipsa loquitur meaning “the thing speaks for itself”.  This is a presumption that helps prove something by circumstantial evidence.  An example is if you see a broken flower pot on the sidewalk and a ledge above with flower pots, you can presume the flower pot fell off the ledge even though you didn’t see it happen.  But that’s too complicated to explain to the judge every time, so a lawyer might just say “res ipsa” and the judge knows what the lawyer means.

I think that Ms. Mendes was using sweatpants as a shortcut to say that you have to work at a marriage.  She meant you can’t just have an I-don’t-care sweatpants attitude about your relationship.  You have to bring a yoga pants attitude to your marriage.  That means you need to care about your spouse and your marriage.   And that means doing things like saying “I love you”, showing affection, talking, and being interested in their life.