By: Brenda L. Storey, Esq.
With the holidays square upon us, it is a time of reflection for me. I take inventory. I assess. And I routinely find myself so thankful. As part of that, I am thankful for the clients who I have had the honor to represent. Clients have so many choices, and the fact that they elect to retain this firm is a privilege we do not take for granted. We offer quality representation, but our clients, themselves, are quality people. We are blessed to attract clients who put their children first, and who are honest and respectful.
These very clients are why I enjoy my career so much. People often ask if it is hard to do what I do. I love what I do, and the main reason is the clients. I am blessed to work as a team with clients who seek to advance their children’s best interests, change what they need to within themselves for the best chance at personal success, and seek realistic and fair resolution. To achieve desired results, our clients have to have trust, and I am so thankful that our clients do just that. This is not an easy process. We work in a flawed system. However, each journey I take with clients is so gratifying, especially to see them grow, heal, and move on so successfully.
I am also thankful for my staff. I could not do what I do without each of them. My paralegal, Ms. Emily Ploch, is truly my right hand. She pays such great attention to detail, must juggle all that is thrown at her, and is the behind the scenes master of deadlines, disclosures, discovery and trial preparation. Pamela Osse, the office manager, is the friendly voice on the phone, the face of the firm, and keeps us up and running with supplies, computer problems, accounting, bookkeeping, billing, and organization. She is the one who deals with crises—be it technical or otherwise – and she does it with class. Jamie Leaver Sawyer, Esq., our associate, is a rising star. She has taken naturally to the practice of family law, its challenges and its delights. She relates so well to clients and has a great courtroom presence. She is definitely a positive addition to the firm. What Ms. Ploch, Ms. Osse and Ms. Sawyer all have in common is their kindness, compassion, desire to excel, and joint mantra with me that it is our clients who come first. I am blessed to have them as my team.
I am thankful, and I hope each client and each member of the team knows that I am thankful for them.
By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.
Too many times in post-decree cases, we see parents fixating on all they pay for their children or do for their children. The focus is, “See what a great parent I am, see what I do!” The majority of those parents, though, are lacking in basic successful parenting qualities, such as fostering their children’s emotional needs. This end result is usually because they see parenting from their perspective – all about the parent – when it should be all about the children.
A parent who puts the child first, emotionally connects with his/her child and focuses on building the child’s self-confidence is the more successful parent indeed. A child who is well adjusted, with good emotional intelligence, is kind, and practices empathy is a walking billboard of “I have a great parent.” That is the child we all hope to have, and such a child does not materialize because of how much a parent pays or brags about him or herself. Our law, although sometimes sterile and cold, recognizes the importance of all of this by specifically including in the best interests factors a parent’s ability to put the child’s needs ahead of his or her own needs.
Usually, the person who has to market their own greatness is the one who is lacking. No child needs a parent to brag about how good of a parent he or she is. No child needs a parent to fixate on how much the parent does for the child. Every child needs to have his and her needs, especially including emotional needs, as the focus, rather than a grandiose parent. Let the child’s success exude and do the talking.
By: Brenda L. Storey, Esq.
Abuse takes many forms– physical, verbal, financial, intimidation, manipulation. There is no justification for any form of it, and I carefully make this next statement: It takes two, so remove yourself. It is easier said than done, but it must be said and it must be done. If you are the victim of any form of abuse, you must get away from it.
In my practice I am seeing more and more borderline personality traits, which include emotional blackmail, manipulation, and crazy making. It is, in essence, an emotional way to exert control over another. Sometimes, this involves convincing the partner that he or she is bad, no one would agree with him or her, and he/she is lucky to be loved by the abuser. It can also include promises to get certain immediate responsive behavior, just to later be told such promises were never made. The victim is left spinning, exhausted, scared. Yet, the victims cannot stop themselves from engaging. It is a trained response, and one that feels most “normal” to them.
The first step is to get away from the abuser. This means physically as well as any contact. This is, actually, the hardest step, as the abuser, sensing loss of control, ups the antics. It gets worse before it gets better. But if the victim stays true to the boundaries, it is amazing how quickly he or she finds peace, quiet and an opportunity to return to one’s true self. When the chaos is gone, the victim is able to see clearly the manipulation and emotional blackmail they endured that was not apparent when in the thrust of it all. Therapy is so beneficial for the victims at such a juncture, to process their experiences with a clear mind and “undo” the crazy making while working through what got them to that point and how to never be in such a relationship again.
If there are children involved, this is all the more difficult. There must still be some level of communication, so the victim must be vigilant to keep it to only talk about the children and even then the minimum of what is necessary. There are great communication tools, such as TalkingParents, that can be used as to the sole communication avenue between the parents. Every word is cemented, and saved, and cannot be deleted or altered. As such, if the abuser attempts to violate boundaries, there is a record of it. The victim learns to simply not respond to the transgressions, and there is a record of that non-response as well. These communication tools are email-based, so are slower, and eliminates phone calls and texts, that can be rapid fire and all-consuming. The abuser will not simply abide by the boundaries being attempted to be imposed, so a block is sometimes necessary.
The next concern, though, is that the abuser will direct the emotional blackmail, intimidation, and manipulation onto the children, now that the adult victim has stepped out of the role. As difficult as it is for an adult to be the target of this kind of emotional abuse, it is overwhelming and beyond confusing for a child. The key is to go slow with parenting time between the victim and the children, get them in their own therapy with a good therapist who understands this kind of abuse, and see a skilled Parental Responsibilities Evaluator to help a court understand the risks presented and the best limits for the children. I cannot stress enough that family therapy between the children and the abuser should be avoided. The abuser can, outside of sessions, falsely cite to the therapist against the children, inaccurately using the therapist as a third party manipulation of the children.
In addition to protecting the children from being the victims of abuse, a goal needs to be to help them not to develop similar tendencies as the perpetrator. It can be a learned response, making even more crucial that the parent victim get out of the situation, get strong for him or herself, and then be strong for the children.
I have had the pleasure of seeing all of my clients who have been victims of this type of abuse get away from it, come out of the fog, and find themselves again. Each has done the hard work, set the boundaries, and rescued their children. It can be done.
By: Brenda L. Storey, Esq.
It can be so frustrating to get through an entire legal proceeding, finally have orders in place, and then the other side does not comply. Clients, like the court and the lawyers, expect there to be full compliance. Yet, such is not always the case. In those circumstances, the court has no knowledge of the noncompliance unless brought to its attention. There is no case manager assigned, overseeing whether there have been violations. Rather, if a party wishes for the court’s enforcement assistance, the proper filing must be made to the court.
The proper filing depends upon the underlying obligation that has not been met. For example, if the noncompliance is as to parenting time, there is a specific statute that allows for all kinds of relief, ranging from make up parenting time, to fees and costs, to classes being ordered, and much more. If the violation is as to nonpayment of support, a Verified Entry of Support Judgment can be filed and garnishment sought pretty quickly. If the nonpayment is for other financial obligations different from spousal or child support, a Motion for Judgment can be filed, and then collection efforts thereafter. If the non-compliance involves actions or inactions, contempt can be sought. Contempt sanctions can include punishment, punishment until compliance, and/or a fees and costs award.
The best advice I can give is to expect compliance from the get go. Just like raising a two year old, a new former spouse needs consistent expectations. If you give them an inch they might take a mile. So, any noncompliance needs to be addressed immediately. If compliance is not forthcoming , relief from the court needs to be sought quickly. The court does not appreciate anyone violating court orders, and is happy to help set the tone of compliance if simply brought to its attention.
By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.
I have often thought that I could be a good matchmaker for my clients post-divorce. I have seen them at their lowest, and know their personalities, interests, strengths, and dislikes. It would, however, put me in an awkward position, to say the least. So, instead, I think it best to stick with advice to people in general about new relationships post-divorce.
By Emily Ploch
Throughout your case, you will be working with your attorney’s paralegal. Paralegals bill at a lower hourly rate than attorneys and assist with the “legwork,” but that shouldn’t deter you from using a paralegal efficiently. Here are some tips on how to best work with a paralegal:
by Pamela Osse
As we grow and mature, our expectations of what our life is, solidify. We have expectations of our life, our career and what our marriage will be. The expectation of maybe a perfectly clean house all the time, the expectation that our significant other will help with the dishes, or the expectation that the love that you have for one another will never end.
Unfortunately, those expectations are oftentimes unrealistic. A spouse may have the expectation that dinner will be on the table each and every night when he arrives home, the kids are smiling and the house is completely clean. The reality is that his spouse has also worked all day, the kids are cranky, homework is being struggled through…and they are beat tired. No dinner is on the table and no groceries in the cupboard because there weren’t enough hours in the day to get to the market. This is an extreme example but those expectations we have for marriage and family can be very unrealistic. As someone’s reality begins and continues to fall short of their expectations is when problems occur. Instead of thinking “okay, well, dinner’s not started, so let’s order pizza, son feed the dog and we’ll finish homework later!” and coming to grips with the expectation being busted, anger at the failed expectation starts to simmer. This can lead to arguments and insults being tossed about. As expectations continue to fail in a marriage, you just stop caring. You’ve been let down by your spouse – it’s all their fault that our marriage is ending and they haven’t held up their end of the bargain! But it’s YOUR expectation of what the marriage should be that’s ended.
How do you deal with failed expectations in a marriage? Change your expectations. Understand that we all go into marriage with unrealistic expectations because it’s ingrained in us that it’s going to be “so perfect!” Well, life isn’t perfect. As your marriage changes, so should your expectations of what that marriage is. If you can’t do this, the failure of your marriage could be the result.
By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.
I just co-presented at the Family Law Institute regarding Shared Parenting Time and Very Young Children. Child psychology and human development research establish that children through the age of three are at a crucial developmental stage, and the wrong parenting plan can have lifelong negative impact on them. More specifically, too aggressive parenting time changes can harm them in the short term and the long term.
It seems pretty obvious that a 50-50 parenting schedule for a new born, infant and toddler will not be in the child’s best interests. But, the same risks still present when there is less drastic parenting time splits. A young child is still developing its attachments, as well as finding self-soothing and needing consistency in care and routine. If this is interrupted, the child’s development can be delayed. The child can start to show regression, fail to form healthy attachments, and become emotionally impacted.
What this means when looking at parenting plans is that what the child has been used to as far as care should be the starting point. Changes that result in more time away from the child’s primary caregiver need to be introduced gradually. Ideally, the parents should monitor and communicate about how the child does with a change, and pull back if it seems like too much. When that is not possible, for whatever reason, slower steps should be used. No child is harmed by going slow.
I cannot understand how a parent, seeking parenting time, would want anything but the best for his or her child. While the parent may desire more time with the child than is developmentally appropriate, putting the child’s needs first is key. Not only will it lay a strong foundation for the child’s overall future success, it will also bode well for the parent-child relationship going forward. Too much too soon can actually damage the relationship and the child’s trust in and attachment to the parent having too advanced time. Parenting is not about time spent, or overnights achieved, but about putting your child first, and cherishing the healthy time that can be had with the child.
By Jamie Leaver Sawyer, Esq.
It is not uncommon for children whose parents are in the middle of a custody dispute to make comments about their fears or wishes. It is also not uncommon for parents of those children to ask that we relay those comments to the court, or have their children tell the Judge directly how they feel.
Parents are frequently frustrated when they learn that they cannot communicate this information to the court. Common follow-up questions include “How will the Judge know what my child wants?” or “Why doesn’t my child have a say in the outcome?”
The answer is not that the Court does not care about what a child wants. To the contrary, one of the factors that the Court must consider in determining what is in the best interests of the child is the wishes of the child as relates to parenting time if the child is of adequate age to make that decision. But, having a child testify or having a parent communicate that information to the court is not an appropriate method for conveying those statements. First, your child’s statements are hearsay and inadmissible in court. Second, it is inappropriate to place a child in the middle of a dispute by having him or her testify in court with both parents present.
Then how does the Court know what the child wants? The best way to ensure that your child’s voice is heard is to involve an expert, such as a Child and Family Investigator (“CFI”) or Parental Responsibilities Evaluator (“PRE”). CFI’s and PRE’s will prepare an expert report, which includes an analysis of the best interests of the child. Assuming that the child is of adequate age, the child’s wishes will be included in that report as part of that analysis. The PRE or CFI can also testify at the hearing about his or her investigation and conclusions.
So, while you cannot tell the court directly what your child says, nor can your child testify as to his or wishes, your child’s wishes will not be ignored. As long as you utilize the proper method to relay this information, his or her voice will be heard.
By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.
An excellent question by a potential new client is “Why should I hire your firm?” In response, we can talk about the diligence of our firm, our philosophies, experience, how we prepare clients each step of the way, keeping our client updated, et cetera. Famed constitutional lawyer Alan Dershowitz recently summed it up beautifully though.
In an article he authored, Mr. Dershowitz stated “To be a great lawyer requires the exercise of judgment, subtlety, nuance, and an ability to predict what the courts will do.” He truly nailed it, and the applicability of this statement to great family law practitioners is astonishing. No other area of law involves such personal matters that impact a person to the core, and the process itself, as well as the outcome, have lifelong ramifications.
With the high level of emotion a party to a divorce rightfully feels, his or her judgment is likely impaired to some degree. As a result, actions and decisions made during this time may not be the best and can actually be detrimental to the case as a whole. Some lawyers simply accept their client as found, and allow further damage to be done. Great lawyers build trust with the client, so that they can work as a team, with the client asking before acting. Further, that same type of lawyer uses sound judgment in developing the case, in messaging to all players involved, and in presenting the issues in trial. Less skilled lawyers can get caught up in the emotions, not see the forest for the trees, take a piecemeal approach, and present a helter-skelter case with more emphasis on wrong-doing than the overall goal.
This is where subtlety and nuance are imperative. These skills cannot be taught. They are developed. A great lawyer not only masters these, but continues to improve on them. The best judgment in the world means nothing if not put into action properly. Over-the-top/in-your-face filings and trial dramatics usually backfire. As much as clients may want the lawyer to stick it to the other side, an effective pleading or cross examination can be done subtly with more success. However, that is more a rarity than the norm for lawyers practicing family law. It is, therefore, part of how a client can decide between a great lawyer for his or her case, and an average or even sub-par counsel of record.
As to the last ingredient that Mr. Dershowitz identified for a lawyer to be great—an ability to predict what the courts will do—this is where a familiarity with case law, statutes, and judicial officers is key. Now, no one can guarantee what a court is likely to do. But, the strongest lawyer for your case will be able to advise as to what the statute requires, and how case law has applied that law to facts similar to yours. They can also take into consideration what the propensities of specific judicial officers. With this foundation, a great lawyer can advise as to positions that will likely be successful for the specific client.
This, then, is a long way of saying that our firm should be hired because we embody Mr. Dershowitz’s definition of what makes a great lawyer. We diligently work with the client to gather relevant facts that, when applied to applicable law, offer the greatest chance of obtaining successful results. As part of that, we earn the trust of our clients and work as a team from the outset, to develop realistic big picture goals and incremental steps to achieve them. We have sound judgment, that has been developed over decades, that focuses on what facts will help, and which will not; what issues are worth fighting for and which should be dropped; and how to approach every facet of the case. We use subtlety and nuance in dealing with opposing counsel, other persons involved in the case such as witnesses and experts, and ultimately in trial if needed. Clients whose cases end up in trial consistently recognize the difference in representation at that stage the most, as the trial preparation is second to none. The presentation is professional, organized, efficient, and only on point. The big picture developed with the client step-by- step unfolds before the court (and the client). All of this, together, gives the client the best chance at a successful resolution of the case itself, while also helping them to move on in their lives in a healthy manner post-divorce.