Alice in Divorce Land: Learning Your Lawyer’s Language

As a divorce lawyer, I am very accustomed to the role on the attorney’s side of the table.  However, I recently sat on the other side of the table on a number of business matters that required me to consult with an attorney.  The view sure is different! I realized that even as an intelligent, professional woman, understanding a new legal process was not just “common sense.”  My lawyer had her own language and I often was left missing a beat that left me feeling a little befuddled.  I realized that this must be how my own clients feel at times.  Sometimes I would just admit that I didn’t understand and I needed more explanation, but then at other times, I would just let her speak her gibberish so I could get off the phone. I mean, she’s the lawyer, right? I don’t have to understand all of it.  Right?


If you’re in the midst of a divorce and you feel this way, don’t be embarrassed.  You’re not alone.  And it doesn’t mean your lawyer is smarter than you! They are speaking a language you don’t understand.  Much like being in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language, you can get by if you know just enough.  Your lawyer also wants you to understand.  They are not speaking gibberish on purpose.  They’ve just been speaking gibberish for so long, they don’t know it’s gibberish!  So what can you do?  Here are a few tips:

(1) Ask for the Cliffs Notes: You don’t need to understand the language, but you do need to understand how it will affect you.  When my lawyer tells me, “Collateral estoppel applies to the laches argument, but res judicata allows you to make an application for summary judgment.”  (Okay, I totally made that up using fancy legal jargon).  If your attorney said that to you, you might think, “Oh boy. I am not even going there,” as you give the obligatory head nod and then leave the office wondering what the hell she was talking about.  Speak up!  You’re never going to understand the intricacies of res judicata, but you can and should understand what it means for you.  When this happens, don’t be afraid to say you don’t understand, but follow it up with, “What do I need to know as a layman?”  And, “how does this affect me? What is the result?” Basically, is this good or bad?  When you give your attorney an indication that she needs to perhaps simplify things or just give you a bottom line, it gives her an opportunity to do so.  Remember, your attorney wants you to understand what she is saying and how it relates to your case.  So don’t be afraid to speak up!

(2) Read the documents your attorney gives you!  Your attorney will likely throw a lot of paper at you.  It can be overwhelming.  And there can be temptation to just ignore it because it’s unpleasant and voluminous. However, this is YOUR life. And you do need to pay attention.  The last thing you want is to ignore all of the papers, and then later when you have the emotional fortitude to read them, realize that there were things on those papers you would have asked about, objected to, etc.  You need to be involved in the process.  It’s very important that you read the papers and ask questions if you don’t understand what they mean.  You don’t need to understand them the way a lawyer would,  but you need to understand how they affect you and how they will impact your life. Don’t be afraid to ask your lawyer questions.  If you’re afraid to talk to your lawyer because he or she is not responsive to you, you have the wrong lawyer.

(3) Sometimes Google is your friend.  Lawyers hate it when clients quote something about the law that they read on the internet.  However, it can be a good source of information.  If you are dying to know what res judicata is, Google it and see what you find.  Just be aware that not all of the information you come across is accurate.  So don’t plan your life based upon something you read on the internet. If you do come across information on the internet, or elsewhere, that makes you question something that is going on in your case, just ask your attorney. But if they give you an answer that you don’t like, accept their answer.  For instance, if you find a source on the internet that says you are entitled to alimony forever just because your husband cheated on you, don’t argue with your lawyer when he or she tells you that is not the law.  You can’t just go with the answer you like the best. You’re paying your lawyer a lot of money to advise you.  If you don’t trust your lawyer’s judgment and advice, you have the wrong lawyer.

(4) Take advantage of support staff.   Very often, the basic questions we have can be easily answered by your lawyer’s paralegal or secretary.  If you feel like you have a “stupid” question and you’re a little shy about asking your lawyer, ask the paralegal.  Chances are they have been doing this a long time and have a great deal of working knowledge to share with you.

(5) Refer to your lawyer’s website.  Many attorneys have resources on their websites about common issues that arise in their practice.  They may even have a FAQ section that could answer a lot of common questions that have come to your mind. Check out those resources before you spend money asking your lawyer.  Just be sure to ask your lawyer if you need more specific information that applies to the circumstances of your case. Not every divorce is the same.

The common thread here is that you take proactive steps to educate yourself. There will be terminology your lawyer uses that is not familiar to you.  The most important thing is that you understand what steps your attorney is taking on your behalf and that you generally know the strategy.  Knowledge is power.  Don’t entrust your lawyer with making major decisions that will affect your life long after your lawyer’s job is done. You are the one who has to live with those decisions.  So be an active part of the legal strategy. You can do this very well as a layman so long as you feel comfortable asking questions and being involved.





When Is It Time to “Lean In” to Your Divorce?

By now, you are probably familiar with Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” philosophy.  You don’t have to be a feminist or even a woman to learn something from this philosophy.  Many of us could learn to Lean In with respect to many aspects of our lives.  It is basically the proposition that when it comes time to make decisions and take action to better yourself and your life, you should grab the bull by the horns and just do it!

This can apply to a work opportunity. It can apply to getting fit.  It can also apply to making the excruciating decision to get a divorce.  We so often meet people in our office who have had the foresight to come see us to inquire generally about the divorce process, but sometimes they still leave hesitant and reluctant to make a decision to move forward.  Sometimes they come back a week later.  Sometimes they come back five years later.  Sometimes not at all.  However, sometimes when you don’t make decisions, the decision isn’t simply “on hold” as you may believe. Sometimes the decision is being made without you and you don’t even realize it.

For instance, many people worry that getting a divorce will upset the children.  Sometimes that is true, but you have to consider the impact staying in an unhealthy relationship can have on the children.  Sometimes it can be worse than the pain of staying together.  Kids are most often very aware of the dynamic between their parents.  Staying together is not necessarily helping them. Of course, this is an individual decision for every family and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Sometimes you also need to be a bit selfish.  The best parent a child can have is someone who is happy and healthy.  If you are in a toxic relationship, it is likely you are neither.  If you have come as far as looking at this website, or maybe you have even met with an attorney or two, what are you waiting for?  It is difficult to take that first step.  However, if you have already taken these few steps, you already know what you need to do to secure your future happiness.  Nothing worth having comes easy.  There will be suffering and it will not be a fun experience. However, you will come out the other side.  The only way to get to the other side is to Lean In and go after what is yours.

Still not sure?  It’s okay.  You don’t have to make a life changing decision in one day. If we can be of any assistance to you in understanding this process and understanding what your life may look like on the other side, please contact us for a consultation.

Call 732-529-6937



The Key to Leaving: Finding Your A-ha Moment.

I was recently talking to a close friend about her divorce experience to try to gain a better perspective for the benefit of my coaching clients.  I often have coaching calls with prospective coaching clients that just don’t seem ready to move forward with a divorce. I find this the most perplexing when they are so certain about the misery of their marriage yet won’t do anything to remove themselves from the situation.  I wonder: what holds them back?

I  spoke to my friend about this.  (We’ll call her Ava).  She said that she spent many years unhappy in her marriage and even though she had no hope that it would ever really get better, it was just easier to stay.  Since she is presently divorced, I knew that this must have changed for her at some point.  I asked her what was the magical moment when she finally decided it was time?  She said, “I had just had enough.”

So there is an A-ha Moment?

Yes!  Apparently there is.

Ava had a lot of “reasons” not to get the divorce.  Possibly reasons you can identify with: she had minor children and she was worried about disappointing them, she was not the breadwinner in the family and she was worried about supporting herself, she was worried about disappointing other people, she was afraid she would be ostracized in her social circles.

But didn’t all of those concerns still exist when she finally made the decision to leave?  Surely they didn’t all go away?

Yes, those reasons all still existed.  So what was different?  She had an A-ha moment at which her life became divided in two: there was everything  before and everything after.

What was it?  For Ava, it was sitting in her counselor’s office talking about her unhappiness and the counselor saying very matter of factly, “you saw me 7 years ago and told me all of the same things then that you are telling me now.”

Ava thought, “Oh my God.  She’s right.”

None of the reasons to stay were new.  In fact, they were quite old.  What was new was Ava.  She simply wasn’t going to tolerate it anymore. It was time.  She didn’t want to be talking about the same things 7 years from now.

Ava recognized at that time that she just didn’t want to be unhappy anymore and what she really needed was not to wait for all of these reasons to stay to go away.  She needed a PLAN.  An exit strategy.  And then the real work started.

Ava’s plans involved getting herself into the best possible situation to leave.  She knew that the circumstances of her leaving would never be perfect but she also knew she could take some measures to control the pain.  She adjusted her circumstances just enough so that she had a landing spot.  Here’s what Ava did, which may work for you too:

(1) She made sure she had bank accounts set up in her name. She had joint accounts with her husband but she wanted the security of having an account in her own name that he couldn’t touch.

(2) She moved money around.  She had savings accounts for the children.  She made sure she was the named custodian on those accounts.  She made sure her accounts had money in them that she could access without his interference.

(3) She saved money.  She made sure she had a cushion in the bank accounts in her name.  She was more mindful of spending money on frivolous or unnecessary items or spending money on things they would just fight over later.

(4) She kept a divorce journal.  She started documenting events in the marriage that would give her leverage in a contested custody dispute e.g. when he forgot to pick up the kids at school, when they are argued over discipline of the children, when he neglected their doctor appointments.

(5) She got important papers together.  She had primary control over the finances,  but she made sure she downloaded all of their bank account statements so she would have them handy.   She took an inventory of the items in the safe.

(6) She turned the “we” into “me” wherever possible.  She determined what assets were in their joint names.  She checked all of the insurance policies, titles to the cars, and bank accounts to determine a “to do” list so she knew what she would have to do later.  She made sure she had online access to anything that was held jointly so she could keep track of things.  Anything she could remove his name from, she did.

(7) She accepted that life would be different.  She knew there would be casualties in their social life and she was ready to accept that.  She knew some people would be supportive, some people would not and some people would just abandon her or avoid her.  And she was okay with that.

(8) She owned her decision.  Once she made a real decision to leave, she executed her plan and there was nothing that was going to change her mind.  She didn’t waffle.  She wasn’t wishy-washy.  She made up her mind and the train had left the depot.  There was no turning back.

To this day, I am happy to report that Ava is very happily on her own.  Her divorce was painful but it is now referred to in the past tense.  She said, “I could never have imagined my life back then the way it is now,  but I am so happy to have my life now.”

That could be YOU.  You have to make a decision.  A REAL decision.  Not just a thought or a wish.  A decision.  Once you do, that will be your A-ha moment.  The moment at which there is everything you are moving toward and everything else is in the past.

When you are really ready to make a change, I can help you with your plan.  But I can’t want it for you.

When you’re ready: 732-529-6937




Why We Want to Get Found Out

We all have a public self that we show the world.   We often have several of them that we show in different settings.  Sometimes the self we show at work is a bit different from the self we show our friends.  Sometimes we even have different personas we share with different friends.  This is not to say that we aren’t being ourselves at any given time, but let’s face it.  We show a different side of ourselves depending on who is in our company.

When we are not allowing ourselves to be authentic, there is a certain level of stress associated with that. This is particularly true if we are keeping secrets. Have you ever observed how careless people get when they are doing something they are trying to keep a secret?  For instance, an affair?  It’s like they are screaming to  get caught!  It’s because they are.  No one can carry on a secret forever and no one can be something they are not forever.

The same is true if you’re staying in a bad marriage.  Trying to put on a happy face, whether it’s for your spouse, your kids, your friends, your relatives.  This kind of front can become exhausting.  Chances are good, you’re not fooling anyone anyway.  We are our best self when we are being authentic.

So what can you do to be more authentic?

(1) Be direct and say what you want. So many of us are afraid to say what we want.  Sometimes this is because we simply don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or we just don’t want to engage in the conversation that we think will come next.  However, when we don’t say what we want, we don’t get what we want as a result.  The only way to be sure you’re communicating what you want is to just say it.  Don’t think that hints will be received.  This may seem difficult at first, but once you start doing it, you will start to feel more comfortable with it.

(2) Be clear about your expectations.  Similar to being direct, you must be clear about what you expect from a person or a situation.  When we are not clear about what we expect from people, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and everyone else involved.  Be direct.  It’s okay to say, “This is what I expect from you.”  No guessing, no hoping someone picks up on hints.

(3) Don’t make assumptions. When we are not direct and when we don’t express our expectations, we are making assumptions.  This is true of the other person involved.  If you haven’t told them what you want, then how can you be assured that they know?  Likewise, if someone hasn’t told you what they want, aren’t you just guessing?  What if you’re wrong? I am sure we can all think of many examples of this over the course of our lives.  For instance, often when we are sensing trouble in a relationship, our partner feels it too.  You are not keeping it a secret by not taking about it.

(4) Don’t worry about what other people think.  You can’t please everyone.  Don’t try.  Part of this is not worrying about what everyone else thinks.  If you’re worrying or caring about what they think, then on some level you are seeking their approval.  It would be nice if we could always have everyone’s approval, but it’s just not realistic.  No matter what you do, there will always be someone who has criticism or judgment.  It can be difficult, but focus on what you want and not what everyone else wants.

(5) Don’t compare yourself to other people.  The surest way to feel like a failure is to compare yourself to everyone else.  Keep in mind, most people aren’t showing you their authentic self.  You are usually seeing the best of them.  Or you’re not hearing about everything, even if you think you are.  It’s easy to think that because someone seems like they have a great life, an expensive car, a big house, that they have really mastered life.  Just focus on you. You know what you really need in your life to feel complete.  Work on what you need to do to further your own desires.  Don’t worry if it doesn’t follow someone else’s script.

We all have moments when we are really inside ourselves and feel like we are being our authentic selves.  Those moments are something we can have all the time. If are committed to being your true self all the time by being  direct, saying what you want, not worrying about having other people’s approval and not comparing yourself to others, you are paving the way to having what you need and what you want solely for yourself.  That’s a powerhouse!