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Professional Recognitions

10.0Brenda Storey

What Happened to Family Time?

By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.

During one of my recent commutes to the office, I heard a radio advertisement for unlimited data for up to four lines, celebrating that each family member could watch a different show on a separate phone.   Why in the world would this be celebrated?

There should be no doubt that actual family time together is good for children, as well as the parents.  It is best if this time is not screen time at all, such as a sit-down family dinner, with all technology put away and actual talking with one another.   If screen time is involved, it should be shared screen time, all together.  I have wonderful memories of my family choosing a t.v. series that we were going to watch together each week.  Look at the family bonding:  We chose the series together; we all looked forward to a shared event; we enjoyed watching it together; we discussed what we had all watched before the next installment.  We even had discussions about moral issues, what could have been done differently, and life lessons.

Children, and adults, are already on their social media and technology devices way too much.   Not only are they losing personal social opportunities, such as verbal communication and face-to-face interactions with real humans, they are losing a special bond with their siblings and parents, as well as losing opportunities to build memories.   I see no special memories from binging on a series watched all alone.

And really, why do we have children, if not to spend some special time with them, influence them directly, teach them real-world social skills, and share love?   If the goal is to ignore each other, and live separate lives, a potted plant is much cheaper than raising a child, and you don’t have to pay for the latest I-phone or unlimited data.

Quite simply, you only have time with your children a brief number of years.   Make the best of it.   Enjoy it.  Let them feel loved.  Feel their love.  Time is fleeting.

Stand Up For Yourself

By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.

I am starting a new series within the blog about parenting.   This first installment, though, focuses not on the children, but the parent.

The most successful parents put their children first, they sacrifice for the betterment of their children, and they tend to be the best at not speaking negatively about the other parent.    This obviously gives their children the greatest chance at success in all areas of their lives.  Good parents strive for all of this, but sometimes they do this to their own detriment, treading so lightly not to cross an inappropriate line.   This often arises when the other parent speaks ill of that parent to the child, involved the child in  a disagreement between the parents, or even flat out misrepresents facts to the child.   Those excellent parents’ first response is to protect the child, know that it would be wrong to engage in similar behavior, avoid putting the child in the middle, and, as a result, vow to not respond.  However, a therapist shared with me that that is  not fair to the child or the parent.

The child is left with an uneasy feeling and questions, and the parent is hurt and possibly angry by the lies about him or her.   It is okay for the parent to reassure the child, and at the same time stand up for him or herself.    It is always good to thank the child for sharing, and the child should be encouraged to release such confusing feelings and experiences.   It is likewise okay for the parent to apologize to the child for what he or she heard, and to say  that it is not appropriate for a child to be involved in such a discussion.   The child should hear that they are loved too much to further involve him or  her in a discussion that should just be for parents.   The parent can still teach the child right and wrong,, and this approach does not sink to the level of the other parent.

The final step in all this, though cannot be skipped.   The parent needs to stick up for him or herself.   It is not improperly  involving the child to simply state that what the child heard about the parent is just not true.   It is okay for the parent to make clear to the child, and role model in the process, that the parent has self-respect and will not tolerate misrepresentations about him or her.   That is all that needs to be said.   The child is left comforted and with enough clarity to move on, and the parent has said just enough for self-worth and inspiring the child to respect that as well.

Be Realistic (and Reasonable), But Don’t Cross Your Line In the Sand

By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.

The best advice I can give anyone approaching mediation is to be realistic, which includes being reasonable, but not give just for the sake of settling.   I recently completed a case that spanned close to seven months, and ended in a lengthy and expensive trial.   The ruling, achieved thousands of dollars later, was almost exactly what my client offered at the mediation that occurred within the first month.  The offer she made was not her ideal.  It included compromise on her end, but realistic compromise and it was realistic in that she would not get everything she wanted exactly as she wanted it.  The ruling was affirmation that she was on the right track, not being unreasonable in her positions throughout the case.    Unfortunately, the other side required a Court to rule, rather than accept what ended up proving to be a very fair offer.

The question is always, do you give more and more, in order to reach resolution?   By knowing what your line in the sand is as you approach mediation, this becomes pretty easy to navigate during mediation.   Saving money in the short run just to settle and not litigate now, can lead to even more future protracted litigation and expense as a result of a bad agreement.   As such, looking at what is realistic and reasonable requires a “big picture” overview.  If you truly do not believe parenting time outside of certain parameters will be in your children’s best interests, set that as your line in the sand and stand true to it.  If you have a dollar amount in mind that is justified by the facts and arguments, and you have thought through how to afford it, know that you can go up to that line.   The thinking and preparation in advance can keep you from caving at a tired, weak moment during mediation, and then having buyer’s remorse.

This is where a skilled attorney can be of greatest assistance to a client.  The attorney can advise the client as to the soundness as to current positions, as well as potential risks attendant to the current litigation and also to future, potential issues.  In the case I reference above, the opposing side’s final offer was likely the worst-case scenario for my client, and in fact maybe worse.   Accepting that offer would have been guaranteed at least, and litigation emotion and cost would have been saved in the present case.  However, accepting that offer would not provide much-needed peace to the children or my client.  Nothing would get better and, in fact, the risk was that things would actually deteriorate further.  That advice helped the client set her line in the sand, make her final offer at mediation without going past her line and, in the end, get a good ruling in line with her offer.   The current result was good, but the future looks bright as well, as real change was achieved sooner rather than later.

New Beginnings…

By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.

As 2017 comes to a close, and 2018 is just around the corner, it is a time for new beginnings.   With the right perspective, a divorce can be seen like a new year.  It is a chance to look back at what has been accomplished, where improvement can be made, and to count blessings, and then look forward.

Do not shortchange yourself with looking back.   Allow yourself to see the good you did and what you enjoyed.   Too often, we only see the bad, or what we could have done better.   Every single relationship has successes, and those should be remembered.     Also, give any feelings of loss the respect they deserve.    Each of us grieves in a different way, but grieve you must.   It is not healthy to push these feelings down.

The best way to move on successfully is to not repeat the same mistakes.  So, identify where improvement is needed.  Make a list of on what you wish to focus, what steps are needed, and a time-frame for each.  Too much all at once will never be completed.

Then, focus on new beginnings—fresh starts.    Will you move?  Will you change jobs?  Will you date?   Will you create new traditions?  You have the opportunity to start fresh and pursue what you want.   Your goals can be limitless.  Some goals will be short term, some will take a lifetime.   But, see this change as an opportunity and take advantage of it!

Divorced During Christmas

By: Hanna Storey

To an outsider, divorced children simply get to celebrate Christmas multiple times, enjoy multiple dinners, and get double the presents. But, as a child of divorce, this is not the case. Christmas traditions when my parents were married included celebrating with my Mom’s side of the family on Christmas Eve, and celebrating with my Dad’s side of the family on Christmas Day. Thankfully, we were able to keep these traditions through the divorce as we still celebrate Christmas Eve with my Mom and Christmas Day with my Dad. But, the house that Santa would visit switched every other year following the divorce, allowing for each parent to get to partake in this Christmas tradition. As a child this was extremely hard to embrace. Santa was one of our household’s most memorable Christmas traditions. My parents pulled up all the stops: writing a letter to us, leaving just one cookie with bite marks in it, and drink marks on the glass of milk. As Santa moved from house to house when my parents divorced, the tradition and spirit seemed as if it was no longer there.

However, as time went on and my parents remarried, we suddenly had new traditions as well as new family. Celebrating with this new family became hard to do as a parenting schedule dictates at what specific time we go from one house to another. This meant that many times my brother and I would miss out on the Christmas Eve party at my Dad’s house that all of our friends were attending and would then hear about. Or, that we would miss out on Christmas celebration with our stepdad’s family and the funny white elephant gifts that were exchanged. We were only told what happened at these functions after the fact. Children of divorce during the holidays may celebrate multiple times but do not get to be a part of everything as children with married parents do.

Now, as an eighteen year old I am able to choose what I would like to do for the first time in my life. This freedom is difficult as I do not wish for any feelings to be hurt, nor do I wish to spend any time apart from my brother as we have gone through this process together. But, this is the first Christmas I may be able to partake in all that is going on for just a short amount of time and possibly not have to be told what all occurred and instead be a part of the memories.

As I look to the future, I wonder what being an adult with divorced parents around the holidays will be like. While my parents were married they separated the holiday into Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but there will be some difficulty in order to see both sides of my family as well as my future husband’s family. This is not something I blame my parents for, it is just something that I never thought growing up that I would have to figure out. Christmas is still such a joyous time during the year with or without parents being divorced, and I am sure my future family will enjoy all the extra food and celebrations.

Wishing y’all a Merry Christmas!

Five Quick Tips for Surviving the Holidays

By Natalie Gentry

The holiday season can be a challenging time of year. With so much work on our plates, parties to attend, gifts to buy, travel plans to make, guests to prepare for, and our own emotional needs to tend to it’s no wonder many of us feel stressed and overwhelmed during this time of year.

I want your holiday to be as enjoyable as possible, so here are a few tips that might make your holiday a little less stressful and a lot more festive.

1) Take a moment to meditate.

Find time during your day to create a moment of stillness. Just 10 minutes a day can give you more energy, inspiration and openness to tackle your many responsibilities with ease. Meditation is great in the morning before you start your day, during your lunch break or before going to bed.

2) Decide what YOU want your holiday season to look like.

Many of us were raised to celebrate the holidays in ways that our parents, grandparents, neighbors, and communities have. This is YOUR season, so celebrate it in ways that make you feel good.

3) Know that it’s okay to say, “No.”

If you don’t enjoy attending various holiday gatherings, buying a tree, putting out decorations, cooking lots of food, and the whole 9 yards, give yourself permission to scale back or disregard the things that feel onerous. The purpose of the holidays is to relax and enjoy the spirit of the season — not to stress you out.

4) Give yourself a break and rest.

Make time to take that long bath. Take time on the weekend to sleep in or to simply chill. Do that reorganization project you’ve been needing to do and do it easefully. Do the things that will help to support your nervous system at this time because we are actually built to slow down and regroup during the winter months.

5) Book a massage.

Sometimes we need to feel supported and massage does just that. It can help to calm your nervous system, soften muscles you didn’t know were tight, and it can even help to reconnect with your center. Massage isn’t a luxury — it’s a necessity.

Take care! I wish you the best this Holiday season has to offer!

 

Check out Natalie’s Website at: https://www.nataliegentry.com/

 

 

Thankful

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.

It is Not Who Brags the Most About Being a Good Parent

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.

Emotional Manipulators ARE Abusers

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.

 

 

An Order is Just a Piece of Paper

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.