Monday, November 23, 2009

Gay and Lesbian Couples - Splitting Up

What options are available to gay and lesbian couples who are splitting up?  If they've been legally married but live in a state that doesn't recognize same-sex marriage, getting divorced may not be an option.  If they are not legally married but have kids, they may have to go to civil court to divide up their property, and to family court to get an order about their children.

It is much easier to do collaborative process or mediation, where the couple themselves can make decisions.  I've done both for same-sex couples, and they both work well, because you can be very creative in making agreements, and come up with decisions that fit your real needs.

The New York Times ran two good articles about this topic last week:

'Traditional' Divorce isn't always an Option for Gay Couples

7 Tips for Dissolving gay unions 

Saturday, November 21, 2009

How to Pick a Divorce Lawyer

The New York Times has been running a fantastic series about Divorce and Money.
 Tonight they asked people to comment on the best way to pick a divorce lawyer.  Here is my answer:
The best way to pick a divorce lawyer is to find someone who will try to optimize the situation for everyone involved (particularly the kids), not just for you. Think about the emotional and psychic costs as well as the financial costs.
I am an attorney who only does divorce mediation and collaborative law for this very reason. Lawyers are taught that they have to provide their clients with "zealous advocacy." That may work fine in business deals, but it doesn't work when it comes to families.
Mediation and collaborative process work for most families, even if you're furious at each other. They allow you and your spouse to make decisions specifically tailored to the needs of your family, they're usually cheaper and faster than litigation. Whose kids do you want to send to college - yours or your lawyer's?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The 6 Relationships ...

I just returned from the ACR (Association for Conflict Resolution) annual conference, which really opened my eyes in a lot of ways.

But one thing I wanted to share tonight was a concept from Stephen Reynolds, a mediator in Santa Cruz, CA with Common Ground Mediation Services. He comes from a business background, and had an interesting, analytical view of committed relationships. His view is that each committed relationship really has 6 relationships going on at once.

In no particular order ...

  • Physical & Romantic (sex, affection, physical space, division of household chores)
  • Emotional & Spiritual (connectedness, communication, individual development, religion, values, ethics)
  • Social Activities (how the couple relates to friends, family, community)
  • Parental (relationships with children, decision-making, discipline, activities)
  • Financial (managing income and debt, planning for the future)
  • Legal (marital status, views of the law, legal relationships with others)
Therapists tend to focus on the first two, lawyers & mediators tend to focus on the last two or three.

You can picture what things would look like if they were going well -- or not well -- in any of these areas. And then you really get an idea of how complex each relationship is, how we relate to each other on so many different levels. So you see why relationships take so much work.

And most especially, so much communication.

Where is your relationship? Which areas are your strengths? Which are your weaknesses? What is still going well that you can build upon? What needs more work?

I have spoken before about the stages of divorce. But I think this framework actually says it better, and lets us think about it within relationships that are still in progress, not just those that are reorganizing, or coming apart.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I and Thou

My favorite book is I and Thou by Martin Buber. It is the defining book of my life, I think.

It is based upon a simple, but profound, premise: that each relationship we have is either I:It or I:Thou. I:It relationships with things - I:Thou (I:You) relationships are those with beings. It is contained, inanimate, what you can experience. Thou is spirit, limitless. "If I face a human being as my Thou," Buber says, "and say the primary word I-Thou to him, he is not a thing among things, and does not consist of things."
This is what we do when we get married. We vow to always see the spirit in the other person, to understand and to relate to that person with your whole self.
And by the time couples get divorced they are relating to each other as Its - as things, as obstacles.

But when we treat someone else as an It we dehumanize ourselves.

In mediation, we ask parties to consider the whole person again, to treat that person as I:Thou, if only for the small time they are in the room. And it is by seeing that person's spirit, by treating them at their highest, that you honor your own spirit. For only the whole can relate to the whole.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Good for Your Health!

The New York Times published an article in the Well Column of the Science Section last week, entitled, "Divorce, It Seems, Can Make You Ill." Similar news stories came out as well, based upon a study done by sociologists at the University of Chicago and at Johns Hopkins, that followed over 8,600 people, about 40% of whom had gotten divorced. The researchers found that divorce and widowhood are extremely stressful, physically as well as mentally, and that even getting remarried does not help one fully recover.

The study found that divorced or widowed people had a 20% greater incidence of chronic health conditions like diabetes or cancer, and 23% more difficulty getting around.

Another study they cited in the Times article found that wounds took up to two or three times as long to heal after marital conflict with high levels of hostility.

There is no question that divorce and widowhood is stressful, and that stress is related to health. So now I'd like to see a study that compares people who had mediated or collaborative divorces with those that underwent litigation. I imagine that there is much less stress in the former processes, and that therefore, people who use mediation or collaborative process end up with healthier outcomes.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Elders

I'm so excited!

This week I learned about a whole new way to use mediation - to help families make decisions together when an elderly parent can no longer take care of herself, or drive, or live alone. Or when the siblings are trying to decide what to do with the summer house, or how to divide up the stuff Dad left ...

The training was taught by Arline Kardasis and Blair Tripp from Elder Decisions/Agreement Resources in Massachusetts. They are very compassionate - particularly towards the needs of the elder. (In this way, it is not a completely neutral process.)

How do you manage to keep your independence and your dignity when you can't do what you used to? You depend on your daughter, but she is always arguing with your son....

How often do adult siblings argue when Mom needs more care, or Dad needs to go into a nursing home? And yet, this is when they need each other the most.

There is so much to do! Not only take care of Mom or Dad's day to day needs, but to find out what resources are available, how much it all costs, whether insurance will pay, where s/he'll get the best care ... And then, how do you deal with the emotions of it all - to see that your own parent can't do it all as s/he used to, that you have kind of a role reversal, having to take care of him/her more, or, attending to your own grief which may come all at once or in the little details of having someone slowly slip away for you.

And this is when all of the old sibling stuff from your childhood may come up! (Remember the Smothers Brothers? Mom always loved you best!)

Mediation is a great way to start the dialog, to do problem solving together, to build back those important family relationships, to begin to work together as a team ...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

We are all made of Sound

Mediating a few weeks ago, a client said, "We are all made of sound."  

She meant that we are all influenced by others, shaped by others.  What a poetic way of putting it.  I have commented before on the "ghosts in the room," in mediation - the parents, girlfriends, best friends, etc. who influence our thinking.  These people, who are not actually sitting around the table, can have a deep effect on mediation.  How do we address their thoughts -- their voices in our conscience, giving their opinions?  

One thing we can do is acknowledge their existence.  Simply admit that they exist and allow them to be there. they serve a purpose.  Most often, they have good intentions.  Listen to those voices and decide how much you will listen to them - how loud they will be to your ears.  But then realize that what those well-intentioned people want for you might not be exactly what you want for yourself.  Do those voices harmonize with your own?  Do they augment it?   Or is there discord?

And then we must listen to our own inner voices, too.  For we are writing the story of our life - we are each writing our own personal symphony.  


Saturday, March 21, 2009

secrecy in collaborative law

Two people, a man and a woman, came to me separately in the past week to explore the possibility of doing collaborative law.  Both were people in short term marriages with no kids.   The real estate wasn't really the issue.   And so it seemed that their situations were relatively simple, and that the collaborative process would be relatively simple.  But scratching the surface made me see nuances that would not make the case appropriate.  

The man asked me for my legal opinion of doing something that appeared to be somewhat morally questionable.  Assuming that it was legal, it was not, as I told him, collaborative, and would not be a good way to start off the collaborative process.

The woman told me that both her husband had recently taken money from their joint bank account, which she assumed he had invested in his own name in a foreign stock market.  Again, not illegal, but it wasn't clear that he would be transparent, either.

While couples obviously do not need to agree, I do believe that there is a certain level of trust that each must have for the other, perhaps not when it comes to emotional issues, but certainly when it comes to the financial. 

The collaborative process is, unfortunately, not for everyone.  Sometimes the best thing you can do is do an honest assessment of you and your spouse, and find a lawyer who is a good negotiator, and work to get as fair a result all around as possible.  There is no reason why the tenets of collaborative process - a commitment to fairness, to self-determination, to resolving conflict with dignity - cannot be applied to negotiation.

You can't change your circumstances.  All you can do is work toward the best possible result.