Aikido vs. Aggressive Representation

By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.

A client recently told me I was like an Aikido Master.   Before getting offended, I thought it best to look up the definition of “Aikido.:  Aikido (Japanese: 合気道 Hepburn: aikidō) (Kyūjitai: 合氣道) [aikiꜜdoː] is a modern Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba as a synthesis of his martial studies, philosophy and religious beliefs. … Aikido is often translated as “the way of unifying (with) life energy” or as “the way of harmonious spirit.”

Now this I took as a compliment.

The belief behind this art is that fighting and endless conflict are never the answer. This is true in all aspects of life, including during a domestic relations legal case.   Many potential new clients ask if our firm offers aggressive representation.   We are quick to say no, and then explain that such representation ultimately will get the client nowhere, their relationship with the future ex-spouse further damaged, and increase the legal fees.   Further, Courts do not like aggressive tactics, causing even more backlash for the client.   Rather, assertive and smart representation, that focuses on the facts rather than making personal attacks on the other party, that limits the engagement and ultimately resolves the conflict, without causing harm, is the greater path.

I like to explain to clients that if opposing counsel is not of like-mind, and instead personally attacks my client with digs, labels and allegations, I will not respond in kind.   Again, if I were to engage it would get the parties, and their case, nowhere.   With my client introducing me to “Aikido,” I have learned that this philosophy of mine in squarely within Aikido techniques—which “are purely defensive, we never meet force with force. Instead, we learn to redirect an aggressor’s attack, leading to a peaceful resolution.”   Yes, that is exactly it!

This martial art thinking is something that can and should be adopted in all parts of our lives.   It is, has been, and will continue to be part of my legal representation of each and every client.   Just breaking down the name even inspires me, and I hope it does you as well.  ‘Ai’ (harmony, love, collaboration) ‘Ki’ (power, energy) ‘Do’ (way or path).

Have You Said Thank You?

By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.

Parenting, as rewarding as it is, is hard.   Being a single parent is even harder.   Being a single parent following divorce has its own level of challenges.   Yet, those parents do not tend to get the much deserved “thank you” for all of their hard work, time commitment, lack of sleep, worry, and missed work for sick kids.

While it is always difficult post-legal filing to compliment the other parent, as such is more earned than any other time.

In addition to such a compliment being well deserved, I have to imagine that such a kind gesture would go a long ways in mending fences.  After all, even after the children have emancipated, the parents are always tied together by their children.   There will be graduations, weddings, births of grandchildren, birthday parties, all requiring presence of, if not interaction from, both.   How much better those would be if, along the way, a thank you was exchanged.

I am pretty private about my personal life.   However, I will tell anyone, even if you do not ask, that I have amazing children.   They are emotionally healthy, successful in school, funny, bright, and a delight.   While I thank God for doing most of the work to get them there, and give the kids a lot of credit for their own hard work and good choices, I do think I should get a bit of kudos. Their dad and I divorced nine years ago, when my son was in first grade and my daughter in fourth.  They have been in my primary care ever since, with my daughter a junior in college and my son a high school senior.   While I have never received a thank you from their father for how amazing they have turned out, the kids, themselves, are gratification enough.   Yet, that thank you would go so very far.   So, as you read this, be the better person…thank the other parent of your children for all he/she has done.   Be that good.

Communication is Key

By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.

I really enjoy attending conferences and seminars.   I always leave invigorated with new creative ideas and excitement for applying what I learned to my cases.  My recent attendance at the seminar “Family Law Through the Developmental Lens:  Assessing and Including the Voice of the Ever-Maturing Child,” was no exception.

During the seminar, it was shared that “There are indications in empirical studies that not listening to what children have to say during divorce process has had unintended negative effects.”   Now, this does NOT mean that children should be placed in the middle, told too much, or asked to decide their own parenting time.  Rather, the goal is to allow the child to share his or her feelings, and feel heard.

Oftentimes, the child will initiate the discussion, such as asking questions about what will happen, or sharing feelings of concern.   Other times, or in addition to the child starting a conversation, the parent can prompt the child, with questions such as “so, how are you feeling with this whole process?”   The talks should not include any promises, nor too many facts, and should never, ever involve negative comments about the other parent.   If a child asks for more information than would be appropriate to share, the parent need only say “I love you too much to involve you with that.”    If the child makes specific requests, such as for certain parenting time, the parent should simply acknowledge the request, thank the child for expressing, and confirm for the child that that will be considered.

Even if the parenting time that is ultimately implemented differs from what the child requested, acknowledgement that the child was heard will assist the child in successfully adapting to the schedule.   When the child is told of the schedule that will be put in place, a reminder should be given that the child’s statements were heard and considered, and that the parent believes that the schedule that will be used will be best for the child at this time.   The parent should encourage the child to share what he or she thinks and experiences with the time sharing, and to continue to express him or herself.

“When children are actively involved in problem solving and given recognition that their ideas are important and are being heard, they are empowered, and their confidence and self esteem grow….”   This is actually quite a simple concept, and the results can be huge.   Communication is key, including key to children’s success despite their parents’ divorce.

The Difference

By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.

I recently attended a Continuing Legal Education class about Family Law Through the Developmental Lens.   It resonated with me for several reasons, one of which surprised me.  It highlighted for me why our firm differs from other family law practitioners.

The seminar pointed out that part of the job of a lawyer in an allocation of parental responsibilities action is to be the caregiver of caregivers.  This is where our firm thrives.   We are a team with the clients, preparing them for each step of the process.   As part of this, we offer suggested reading materials, calls and in-person meetings in advance of any event, regular and frequent updates about the case, and constant guidance and advice.

Beyond the updating and preparation, we get in tune with the client.  Sometimes, that suggests that the client needs to pursue therapy in order to get to his or her best emotional and mental health.   Other times, a flower delivery seems needed.  Bluntly, there are times that the client needs a “come to Jesus” talk.   The end result of any of these paths, though, is that the client is better, their case is positioned for a good outcome, and the children benefit as well.

One of the most stressful parts of a case involving disputed allocation of parental responsibilities is the investigation of a Child and Family Investigator or evaluation of a Parental Responsibilities Evaluator.   Our firm basically holds the client’s hand throughout this process.   We prepare the client for what to expect from the specific investigator or evaluator, and support them at each step.   When the Report is issued, each time I am able to say to the client “Thank you for trusting me.”

And trust is really the key to a successful client-attorney relationship.  This could be the most important phase of any client’s life, and the present and future success of their children are at stake.   Our firm earns the clients’ trust by truly partnering with them and guiding them successfully.

If you read the reviews that are posted about us, you will see this theme throughout.  Clients see us as a team, working side-by-side with them, to get them to achieve their goals.   This is us caring for the caregivers.  And we do care for them.   We want them to be successful in their cases.   We want them to be successful for their children after we leave their lives.   We want their children to be successful despite the breakup of their parents.   We care.   That is what makes us different from other firms.

It’s Not About Quantity of Time

By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.

My college girl was recently home for winter break.  As she attends an out-of-state school, I only get to see her on breaks, or when I go see her.   We have always been quite close, so I really looked forward to a full month of her being home over the Winter Break.

She is 19.  So, I knew she would try to work some over break to earn a little spending money, and I also anticipated she would want to see local friends.  I was excited when she asked if we could host some of her college friends for part of the break, and again when she asked if we could host even more of her college friends over a different part of the break.   Soon the reality hit me that the full month to which I had looked so forward, was being whittled down to very little time for her and me.   I could have had one of those, “what about me” moments.   I really, really could have.

However, what I did instead was cherish what time I did have with her.  We had an awesome day of mother-daughter skiing (me) and boarding (her), with the accompanying long drive to and from the slopes for sharing, laughter, and her ever-present great music.   Another morning, she and I went back-to-school shopping and had brunch, with more time to talk (and learn she really likes coffee now).  Those two times, that was the extent of our one-on-one time through the whole month.  It was precious, and it was awesome, and probably even more appreciated because it was so little.

However, I also got to see the responsible girl work so hard to help defray some of her college costs.  I enjoyed seeing her maturity in friend choices, as her guests came in and out of our home (and were gracious enough to spend time with her family).   I appreciated seeing first-hand how kind she is to others, including making two separate special trips to see each set of grandparents.  I was blown away with how much she helped with the big family gatherings we hosted for Christmas Eve and again Christmas Day.  My heart melted as she made time for her younger brother, still in high school and admiring her so much.  All this time that she spent with others instead of me, or that I had to share her with others, was my amazing “parenting time” too – as this now young lady, in all of her wonder, is all I ever wanted in a daughter.

This was a reminder to me that the same is true in divorce.  Although each parent wants  as much time as possible with their children, quantity is not the most important component of that.  Whatever parenting time we have, quality is very, very important.  The importance is as to the moment, and is for the child and is for the parent, but is also as to the future success of that child.  When parenting time has to be shared, with friends, or family members, or activities, or homework, or just life, it is still parenting time nonetheless, and it is all part of what parenting entails.   When the child is with the other parent for parenting time, it could be one of those “what about me” moments as well.  But, it all, all of the time, is part of parenting, and it is all about the child, and it is what we make of it for ourselves, and what we make of it for the child.

A Fresh Start

By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.

As I sat down to write an inspirational message for the new year, with “a fresh start” seeming so applicable to divorce as well as this time of year, I found a poem on-line written by Seema Chowdhury.  It says it all, ever so eloquently.   So, I share it with you:

There is no suffering without happiness
No struggle without any peace
No defeat without joy of victory
And no loss without gain’s lease

No Autumn without sparkling Spring
No winter without splendid Summer
No coldness without a touch of warmth
And no bitterness without sweet hummer

There is no wrong without a right
No tears without a tender smile
No reality without an emerging dream
And no weakness without strength’s pile

So hang in there my dear friend
And never plan to ever quit
We all know at time life is difficult
And also harsh, bleak and a misfit

But remember that you have an option
To pick and color your life’s cart
And win this race of running time
By awakening Spring in your heart

And surround yourself completely
With inspiration, motivation and care
To fill life’s empty and hollow space
With countless and tender prayers

So you can learn life’s valuable lessons
Those can warm up your weaken heart
And help you to always choose happiness
That will give you a clean and a fresh start.

Wishing you all a happy new year, and a fresh start!

The F Word

By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.

I am reposting a blog, written by me a while back, that sadly rings true this week more than ever:

Yes, I am writing about THE F-Word. When in our society did common use of this word become acceptable? At the opening day of the Rockies, a man seated in the row in front of my family used the word in almost every sentence he spoke, and as an adjective, adverb, verb and noun. It was beyond offensive, and he gave it no thought at all. Just listening to him, he came off as just plain ignorant, or as my children suspected, drunk and ignorant. Not sure why he would choose that persona.

Similarly, a person in a car seems to have no problem at all flipping off a total stranger, while muttering “F-You.” A stranger should not evoke such a strong emotional response. Yet, now, the gesture and phrase are used without a second thought. Society seems to be reaching all time rude and crude lows.

Of greatest concern, more and more I see it used in correspondence between parents going through a divorce. These two people who loved each other enough to marry and have children, have sunk to the lowest of lows in telling each other to F-off, or FU. It is abhorrent to speak in such a way, especially to the other parent of your child. Any judge who gets ahold of that kind of correspondence is going to view the parent negatively, to say the least. And what kind of a role model is that for the children? Will it be any surprise when the children use that word freely, probably using it directed squarely at mom or dad? And those same children will use it freely at ballfields, aimed at a stranger while frustrated in a car, to his/her spouse, and one day around his/her children. Parents are role models for their children, and I still believe they need to be positive role models. That starts with how parents treat each other and speak to each other.

So, challenge yourself to not use the F-Word, and expect those around you to abstain as well. Notice how much more positive you feel! Notice how those around you easily rise as well.

Thankful

By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.

I just want to take this opportunity to thank each and every client, former and current, for entrusting your case to us. Being involved in a legal proceeding is one of the most difficult times through which people will go. We are honored to assist our clients through the process, and help them to move forward. We have been blessed by such wonderful clients over the years, and do not take them for granted.

I also want to thank our staff. Office Manager Pamela Osse was clutch during our move, making it seamless. She is also a key player behind the scenes, keeping the office running. My paralegal, Emily Ploch, is the first professional that has been able to keep up with me. Additionally, her organization and attention to detail are part of why our cases run so smoothly.

We wish you a very happy Thanksgiving, and hope you all know we appreciate you.

Tis the Season

By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.

A huge part of a parenting plan is division of the holidays.  In addition to their general significance, certain holidays can have a very personal, sentimental importance to a parent.   As such, much thought should be given to how the holidays are addressed at the time of divorce.

A good starting point is looking at the intact family’s traditions.  Was Christmas Eve always celebrated with one spouse’s extended family?   Is one parent Christian and one Jewish?  Was Thanksgiving out of town, and over four days in order to see long distance family?   Was the Fourth of July a huge celebration, with taking days off of work and camping?  Was Memorial Day really even acknowledged, or just a day off of work and school?

There is no specific way to handle holidays.  It is more an ala carte.  Each and every holiday can be identified and simply alternated every year.   Some holidays can be excluded, and simply fall as they do under the regular parenting schedule.   One parent can always get a specific holiday every year, while the other parent gets something else.   Non-typical holidays, like Boxing Day, can be included.

Additional key considerations are specific definitions as well as impact on the regular schedule.   Dates and times for start and end of the holiday should be included in plan.   For example, will Father’s Day be the whole weekend, just the day, or one overnight?  For any holiday that falls on a weekend day, duration consideration should look at the impact on the regular parenting plan weekend rotation.   By defining a holiday as the entire weekend, the children may go three weekends in a row with the same parent, meaning three weekends in a row away for the other parent.  If the full weekend holiday definition is still preferred, additional language should be considered, such as adjusting the weekends before or after the holiday weekend, so as to prevent too many weekends away from one.   It can be very illuminating to plot on a calendar the regular parenting plan and the proposed holiday sharing.   A snap shot of at least two years gives the most accurate picture.   Then the focus should be if it is too much back/forth for the children, takes away a disproportionate share of regular parenting time, or evens out just by letting the holidays fall with the regular parenting schedule.

Holidays are to be a special time.   Although it is difficult to be away from children for any period of a holiday, a personalized schedule that is based upon the specifics of your family helps to continue the traditions previously enjoyed.   With very detailed definitions, the focus can be enjoying the holiday and celebrating one another.

The Details

By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.

As parties settle their action, or the court issues its ruling, “little” details should not be ignored.   This is, in my opinion, the greatest weakness in using state forms to capture the terms of resolution.   General terms are good, but the specifics to address enforcement is better.

As one example, the parties agree that a spouse will receive the marital home as part of the property division.   If the mortgage is in joint names, specific terms need to be included as to whether refinance will be required, with a deadline, and what happens if the refinance is not accomplished by then.  One avenue is to have the house listed for sale, but all the terms of the future potential sale need to be addressed at the time of the initial action.  As such, selection of the realtor and listing price should be included.   Specifics as to when to drop the listing price and whether to accept an offer less than listing price, similarly, should be defined.   Absent these details, the parties could be in litigation again in the future just to enforce what was previously thought to be resolved.

Security for maintenance and child support is also one that requires specifics.    If God forbid the payor/former spouse dies before child support and/or maintenance responsibility has terminated,  the payee needs to be protected.   Therefore, as the judge issues its support orders, life insurance should also be sought.   The terms need to include specific amount, beneficiary designation, proof and timing of proof, and whether the security amount can be reduced at specific intervals.

The more specifics the parenting plan has, the less likely there will be room for disagreement.   For example, the specific days, times, and locations for all exchanges should be included.  The potential decisions covered by shared decision-making should be defined, such as whether tattoos and body piercings are within  that category.  Phone calls from the children to the parent who does not have parenting time, and ones initiated by that parent to the children, should be addressed, to insure whether that contact can occur.  If the parties reach an impasse as to a decision, the means to resolve that impasse should be specified.

Orders, or agreements, are only binding upon the parties, and not third parties.   As such, terms need to be included to best address situations in which third parties are involved.   For example, credit card companies are not bound by orders between parties for responsibility.  So, indemnification and hold harmless language is good to include.   Schools are not subject to court orders between parents; therefore, access to records, participation terms, and limitations on contact need to be addressed with the onus on the parents.

These kinds of details are but one reason to have solid representation in a divorce.  Even judges, tasked with making final rulings and approving submitted agreements, do not alone catch all the details that are needed to best move the parties forward post-action.   The missed details are often what causes disagreement, and future litigation.