Monday, October 12, 2009

Choosing Happiness Over Divorce Doom

Going through a divorce is one of the most difficult things you will ever face. It is rare that both people are “in the same place” emotionally about the divorce itself, which makes it even more challenging. Emotions can be overwhelming. This is especially true if you were the one that was blind-sided by the other’s mention of the d-word, or startled to learn of your spouse’s infidelity, or shocked that your once loving spouse is now claiming he/she “just isn’t happy in your marriage anymore.” Even if you are the one that “wants the divorce,” the emotions that you experience during the divorce process can be all-consuming. I am not here to convince you that divorce is a happy, wonderful thing. I guess there are circumstances (very rare ones) wherein words like “happy” and “wonderful” can be used in the divorce context. But much more often than not, words associated with divorce are: misery, loneliness, failure, emptiness, sadness, pain, disaster, horrible, etc.

We’ve all heard the old saying, “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” I think there is some truth to that. Challenges in life do make us stronger in some respects. Here’s another common one (for those a bit more spiritual or religious): “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” How many times have you thought to yourself, “Wow...God must think I’m the strongest person on earth!” Emotions are powerful. But there really is hope. I’m not a psychiatrist, or a therapist of any kind---in fact, I have no training in this regard whatsoever. I’m a divorce lawyer, so I see people at their worst every day. My clients are experiencing raw emotions...they often feel miserable, defeated, lost, and sad. Sometimes they feel guilty, angry, bitter, resentful, remorse and desperation. Those feeling are valid and they usually have good reasons to feel the way they do. But no matter what your spouse did to you, or how badly you have been treated, the beauty of emotions is that you are in control of them! JUST DECIDE that you are going to be happy. Easy for me to say, right?...stay with me. You only feel emotions that you allow yourself to feel. Is it natural to feel all of those negative emotions when you are going through a divorce (or any difficult time for that matter)? Of course it is normal. No one would blame you for feeling those negative feelings....but if you are in control of your emotions, why would you choose to feel negative emotions when you can choose to feel positive ones? I am not saying it is easy. But in a time when you feel completely out of control of your life...your emotions are among the few things that you CAN control. You cannot control what your spouse is feeling. You cannot control what your friends and family think about your situation. You cannot control these things because others are involved....these things are out of your hands. You can only control yourself...and specifically your thoughts. If you decide that you are going to focus on positive feelings, you will be in a much better place in your life. Of course you are going to experience grief and sadness as a result of your divorce. But it isn’t necessary to put yourself through all of the additional suffering. You are in control! You just have to decide to be happy. Those negative emotions are exhausting. You deserve to be happy...and you are in complete control of your own happiness.

“The decision to be happy is actually the decision to stop being unhappy.”
---Barry Neil Kaufman

Deciding to be happy might take some “trickery” at first. Your natural response to the divorce is to feel sad...but when you start to feel sad, try to stop yourself. Do something that makes you feel happy. Make a list of the things for which you are thankful. Don’t focus on what you wish you had...focus on the great things you have, and are thankful for, right now. Maybe you have wonderful friends and/or supportive family members. Maybe you have a special talent. Perhaps you have a great job---or maybe you are just grateful to be employed in a tough economy. Maybe it is your favorite season. List anything and everything that you are thankful for. Gratitude is a positive feeling and creates more positive thoughts. In addition to making your “gratitude list” consider doing other things you enjoy...listen to happy music, go for a walk, workout, call a (positive) friend, go shopping (maybe just window shopping), learn a new hobby, or rededicate yourself to an old one. It could be as simple as simply taking a few moments, closing your eyes, and going to your “happy place.”

We all have a “happy place.” Evoke yours. I will never forget the first time I rode the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyworld. For one reason or another, I was completely captivated by it. My poor mother was forced to ride that silly ride over and over...and to this day, I still have such vivid happy memories of the little dolls dancing and smiling as our boat traveled between the countries. I loved that ride. Thirty years later, it is still my happy place. No matter what is going on in my life, I sing that little song and smile. Think about your own happy place and go there. Even if it is just for a moment, you will smile. Suddenly, you are tricking your mind. You are feeling happy thoughts instead of sad ones.

Perhaps one of the most important things you can do for yourself is to surround yourself with positive people. Sometimes our closest friends and family members---the people who love us most---can do more harm than good during the “happy transformation.” It’s hard for your loved ones to see you in pain, so bare with them. They mean well. Often times, however, loved ones, not knowing what to say, encourage negativity. “I can’t believe that slime ball did this to you,” or “She is such a tramp...she will get what she deserves.” Regardless of the validity of such statements, the negativity is not productive in your happy transformation. Let your friends and family know that you want to focus on happy things and are exhausted by all of the feelings of negativity. If they cannot nip the negativity, put some distance between you and your chicken-little-loved one. Your sky is not falling. Surround yourself with positive people until the time when you aren’t “working so hard” at happiness. You are in complete control of your emotions.
Choose happiness over divorce doom. You deserve it!

Monday, September 28, 2009

How to Handle Your Divorce: Top 5 Dos & Donts

Divorce is unquestionably one of the most difficult challenges people ever face. Because divorce affects every aspect of your life, it can be overwhelming. Here are 5 steps you can take to protect and prepare yourself for a divorce so you do not make the common mistakes.

1. Find a Good Attorney. It is never too soon to seek the advice of a good attorney who can arm you with the knowledge of how to protect yourself (and your children, if applicable) in the event that the relationship ultimately ends in divorce. Finding the right attorney takes some work. Find an attorney who primarily practices family law, has a good reputation, and has handled cases like yours before. Most importantly, you must feel comfortable with your attorney. Ask a lot of questions and share your concerns. It is your attorney’s job to put you at ease and ensure you understand the process and know what to expect. This is your life! So, even after you have retained counsel, if he/she is not responsive or seems unwilling to address your concerns, find a new attorney.

2. Protect & Prepare Yourself Emotionally. It is natural to experience a grieving process during and, even after, your divorce. During this difficult time, take care of yourself! You cannot control the behavior and feelings of anyone else, so focus on what you can control---you! Get plenty of sleep; eat healthy and exercise. In addition to being good for your body, exercise is a great outlet for anger and frustration. Focus on the positive things in your life rather than the negative aspects of the divorce, and surround yourself with a support group of positive people. There are countless books and other reading materials that can be helpful; or you might want to consider joining a local support group. Finally, do not be reluctant to seek the professional help of a counselor/therapist.

3. Protect & Prepare Yourself Financially. First and foremost, know what you have (assets and liabilities). This can be overwhelming for people who have not been responsible for the finances during the marriage. Empower yourself with knowledge. Make copies of all financial documents indicating what you own and what you owe. Do this right away. You might be surprised how such documents “disappear” after the divorce process starts. Monitor the bank accounts to be sure that all deposits are being made and bills are being paid. Check credit card statements for suspicious charges. Review all accounts for suspicious withdrawals, charges or transactions. If you or your spouse have any collection items (e.g., coins), take photographs and research their unique value. Consider taking a room by room inventory of personal property in the event a dispute arises later.

4. If You Have Children… If you and your spouse have children, your divorce will be even more challenging. No matter how angry you may be with your spouse, he/she is the parent of your child(ren). Respect that and keep your children’s best interests as your top priority at all times. Do not, under any circumstances, speak negatively about your spouse in front of your children. It is hurtful to them, it puts them in the middle, and it will ultimately backfire on you. Consult books or therapists concerning age-appropriate ways to explain the situation. Remind them that they are loved by both parents and that your divorce is not their fault. Consider counseling if it appears they are struggling. Be sure to advise their teachers/caregivers of the situation, so that they will be more aware of their mood/behavior and, hopefully, more understanding of misbehavior. Finally, if you believe that custody will be contested, start keeping a journal of the children’s involvement with your spouse. Above all, remember that your spouse will be in your life, long after the divorce is over, and even after your kids are grown.

5. Always Do The Next Right Thing. Whether you have children or not, it is imperative that you make good decisions throughout the process. Regardless of how justified you may feel in such things as contacting his/her employer, friends and family to inform them of his/her wrongdoings—don’t! Act as if the judge who will decide your case will know everything that you do and say. Do not attempt to retaliate or seek revenge. As hard as it seems, take the high road. Matching your spouse’s bad behavior will continue the conflict, result in far more attorney fees, and will prolong the time until you can find emotional peace. Finally, remember that emails are permanent, voicemails and text messages can be saved, and comments or photos on social networking sites can be retrieved. Be smart. A bad decision today can significantly impact your future.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

How to Find the Right Family Law Attorney

You have decided it is time to talk to a family law attorney. Sometimes that is the toughest decision to make. But now that you know you need or want legal advice, who do you hire? It is common to feel desperate to find an attorney immediately after coming to the conclusion that you need or want a lawyer, but do not make the mistake that so many others have made in hiring your attorney based solely on timing and convenience. You need to find the right attorney----which is not necessarily the one whose office is conveniently located on your way home from work; the first one you see in the phonebook; the first one who actually speaks with you on the phone; or, the only one that agrees to meet with you today! You might get lucky using some of these methods, but it is much more likely that you will find yourself frustrated and dissatisfied with the outcome. Much of that frustration can be avoided by finding the right family law attorney to assist you from the beginning. The following are things to keep in mind (and some good questions to ask) when you are selecting a family law attorney:

1. It is personal! The attorney-client relationship is a personal relationship---maybe more so in family law than in any other area of the law. Family law cases involve life’s most sensitive and delicate issues. The issues you will be discussing with your attorney are probably the most personal and sensitive you will ever experience. Your case deals with your marriage, family and/or children---of course it is personal! If you do not feel comfortable talking with the attorney, keep looking! Be selective. This is important! Your attorney should listen to you and to your needs. Every case is different, so an attorney that you feel is not listening to you, but rather makes you feel like you are just “walking through the motions" of any “typical" divorce, is probably not the right attorney for you. Your attorney needs to listen and make you feel confident that he/she is competent and capable or representing you; reassured that your questions and concerns have been addressed; and secure in your “game plan" as to how and when (and even if) the case is going to be handled from the time of initiation until the final resolution. You should feel comfortable talking to your attorney and asking questions of your attorney. If your attorney makes you feel like the questions you ask are “stupid questions," keep looking! There are no stupid questions…you should have lots of questions for your attorney. The only way questions can be stupid is if you choose not to ask them.

2. Concentration on Family Law: If you needed a heart transplant, you would not go to an optometrist…and you wouldn’t go to a general practitioner or “family doctor," either. You would go to a specialist---a cardiologist. The same is true with lawyers. Any attorney can claim to be competent to handle your divorce or help you with a custody case, etc., but you need someone whose practice is concentrated in family law. Find out the attorney’s level of concentration on family law by asking the following questions:
· What percentage of your practice is dedicated to family law?
· How many cases have you had like mine? With my specific issues?
· Are you a member of the local (city or state) family law section of the bar association?
· Have you practiced in this particular county/court in the past?

3. Does your attorney have time for you? In your first meeting, if the attorney seems “too busy" to give you 100% of his/her attention, does not take time to answer all of your questions, or just does not seem to be listening to you--- keep looking! If you are still unsure of what the attorney’s commitment to your case will be at the end of your initial consultation, ask the following questions:
· How many cases are you actively working right now?
· How many cases would you take at any given time? How many cases would you consider to be a “full workload?"
· Do you have a policy on returning phone calls/emails?
· How often will you communicate with me?
· Is it your policy to send me copies of all correspondence and/or documents you receive from the opposing counsel and/or the court?

4. Piranha or Peacemaker? Ok, so piranha is a bit extreme…but the idea is very important.
Many clients are very angry when they first meet with family law attorneys, and they might believe that they “need a real fighter" on their side who will promise to legally “punish" the opposing party. If that is what you believe you need or want, you can certainly find a “piranha-type attorney" who will infuse more conflict into your case and will refuse to resolve even the simplest of issues without a battle. If you think that is the type of attorney you want to represent you, consider the following:
· The only people who win in high-conflict cases are the attorneys…the more you fight with your spouse, the more money the attorneys make.
· Even though you might have to compromise to reach an agreement, you are in control of your future. You can determine what circumstances you can “live with." Do you really want your future (and the future of your family and your children) to be determined by a judge who only has a few minutes to hear your life story before making a ruling?
· The negativity that is created during family law cases will make it extremely difficult to have any future dealings and involvement with the other party after the case is over. Civility cannot be underrated.
· If you have children, you have no excuse! Minimize the conflict in all ways possible for their benefit.

5. Let’s talk fees: Even though it might be an uncomfortable topic, it is absolutely necessary that you talk to the attorney about fees. You should have a fee agreement in writing from your attorney explaining in detail how the representation is going to work, how you will be billed, etc. If you do not understand something about the fee agreement, ask! Remember, this is your money! You have every right to understand completely how you are agreeing to spend it! If you have concerns about the written fee agreement or find that it is not specific or clear, be sure to ask the following questions, at a minimum:
· What is your hourly rate?
· What is the minimum time increment for recording your time?
· Will there be any other people in the firm that will be billing time on my case?
· What are the billable rates of any others that could potentially be working on my case?
· How often will I receive an invoice?
· If I have a question about an invoice, to whom should I direct my question?
· What methods of payment do you accept (i.e., credit cards, etc.)?
· What can I do to help keep my fees to a minimum?
· How much is my retainer? And, when my retainer is gone, what is your policy for additional payments after the retainer is gone?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Decision to Pursue Divorce

Deciding to pursue divorce is arguably one of the most difficult decisions you will ever face. In many cases, divorce involves the management of powerful feelings. The process can be additionally complicated by the necessity of making determinations regarding child custody, visitation and the separation of marital assets. At a time like this, an Indiana attorney for divorce can provide you with the advice you need to make decisions that will have a lasting impact on your life. Whether you are sure about your decision to pursue divorce, your spouse has already filed for divorce, or you simply want to gather information, understand your rights and weigh your options, it is imperative to be well-informed. Knowledge really is power.

Divorce law varies from state to state, so it is important to focus on Indiana-specific laws and procedures. Through these laws individuals may seek a divorce under a variety of grounds. In general, Indiana is a no fault divorce state. This means that individuals seeking a divorce can do so without establishing any reasons for cause. In some instances a no fault divorce is referred to as dissolution of marriage.

The information in our divorce section at will provide you with some very basic information and help answer some frequently asked questions, but the information on this website is not legal advice and is not meant to be a substitution for seeking the advice of competent legal counsel. Your issues are different from the issues of other divorces. Your case is unique and you need legal advice that is specifically tailored to fit your needs.

In the event that either spouse has requested temporary custody, child support or spousal support a preliminary hearing may be set by the court. This can be a particularly important part of the divorce proceeding. Spouses would be well advised to use the preliminary hearing as a forum to position arguments that will be made at the final hearing. Following the preliminary hearing, the Judge will issue a provisional order that will typically remain in effect until a final hearing can be held.

In Indiana, spouses are usually required to mediate the issues of child custody, child support, visitation and property division. The purpose of mediation is to seek a resolution of these issues without a final hearing on the merits. Mediation is conducted by a neutral third party referred to as a mediator who attempts to forge a settlement of the various issues that the parties are unable to agree upon. Mediation can be very helpful in settling divorce disputes. If you are considering a divorce or are currently facing a divorce, it is a good idea to discuss your situation with an Indiana attorney for divorce.