Your Children Come Through You But Not From You

I can still envision the look on the face of my 10th grade English teacher when he passed back my excellent grade on The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. It said: “Why wasn’t the quality of your work the same when we had been studying A Tale of Two Cities?”

With all due respect to Charles Dickens, and no matter how compelling his characters, I simply found the psychology & philosophy of Gibran’s prose to be much more interesting than Dicken’s perspective on The French Revolution. I still do.

Much of Kahlil Gibran has stayed with me through the years, and there are times I recall his words when parents begin to discuss or dispute custody or shared parenting. “Your children come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”

Kahlil Gibran- On Children- narrated by Dorna Djenab

We are not our parents and our parents are not us. However the lines are not hard and fast, but rather like a watercolor where the images seep between each other. To enable parents to bring their best selves to bear as they raise their children, it is imperative they gain clarity on their relationships with their own parents, and with one other. This is a difficult task for happily married people. When you layer that task on top of argument and strife it’s easy to understand how quickly tempers can flare and reason can become riddled with emotion.

It is my experience that when parents are reminded of how fleeting time is with their young children, they are better able to gain perspective on co-parenting: What’s worth fighting for, what’s worth fighting against, and what’s not worth a fight at all.

The Stories We Tell…

After seeing Neverland at the American Repertory Theatre, I got to thinking about how we tell stories- to ourselves, to our children, to our families and to our worlds.
What we choose to say, and what we choose not to say.

J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan and the inspiration for Neverland, certainly experienced his share of disappointment and tragedy. Nevertheless, he chose to write the fantastical Peter Pan, a story about hope and hardiness, as much as one about not wanting to ever grow up. Barrie’s first marriage was unsustainable, and the great love he subsequently discovered was cut short by his lover’s early death. From that loss he created opportunity, and made meaning from his sorrow. One hundred and ten years later, we can now read, watch and learn from the power of how he framed that story.

As a society, we often discuss divorce as a failing, and a time of destruction. There is no doubt that it is a sad juncture, a time of regrets and destabilization. However what if we also began to talk about it as a time of rethinking, rebalancing, and restructuring? How would that process change the paradigm? Could it then be seen as a time of opportunity? A time to evaluate not only what went wrong, but how to now make things go right. How different would that story look and feel to those experiencing it? Could that reframing give the children of divorce a construct of resilience?

The only option is not Hook’s threat that the “plank” must be walked alone, and over the jaws of a hungry crocodile. Just as when a sea captain confronts stormy seas, with great skill she can also realign her vessel, cut through the wake and chart a new course. It is our goal at Consilium DC ® to help you navigate your journey through divorce, and to help you optimally rethink, rebalance and restructure your family.

 

Rain and Rainbows

A beach vacation, time away, sunny days and sandy toes.

Those images had been swimming in our minds for a few weeks before actually heading off to North Carolina. However as our flight was landing the pilot’s message confirmed my weather app…a slight drizzle was currently coming down and more rain was expected as we were near, but not directly in the path of Hurricane Bertha. Soon after, the pouring rains began.

On day one it was fairly easy to be in good humor, remain optimistic and catch up on lost sleep.
On day two as the rain continued, disappointment reigned.
Day three left us with two stark options: Doom and gloom, or Agility.

We chose Agility. Think winter snowfall, pancakes and maple syrup, food, good books, board games and movies. It wasn’t what we’d expected for a summer vacation but we were all together and there was still fun to be had.

Day four. It’s not winter, and this really isn’t fun anymore. Two more options. Head home as my weather app tells me the weather is quite nice in Boston, or Iterate?

We chose to Iterate. After all, on days like today we don’t need sunscreen, and it’s just water coming down. We came here for the water so perhaps whether it’s falling on us, or we’re jumping in it doesn’t really matter so much. It’s warm out. We’re waterproof. Let’s go take a walk on the beach. I can still have sandy toes.

To add to my soaked body and my dampened mood was the fact that tonight was the eve before the second anniversary of my mother’s death. We walked up the beach and back down again trying to put context around life, and this particular night. And then just as the sun was about to set, I looked up and saw through the sky a partial rainbow. It was almost as if my Mom was checking in to say in her own inimitable way “tomorrow will be a sunny day”.

Day four was still overcast. Our options were now bearing down on us.
It was time to Reframe.

We only had three days left at the beach. Bertha was sending huge waves our way, and with the sun chasing off the clouds it was time to surf and swim. And then having reframed and prepared to move on, the sun began to shine, the sunscreen was needed, and the past three days seemed to fade away as quickly as the sun had dried the sand.

And almost like a poem written in the hidden quiet of time, a rainbow appeared. It covered the ocean’s breadth and took our breath away.

The philosophy of Consiium ® DC includes agility, iteration and reframing. To learn more please visit our website at ConsiliumDC.net

Hidden Treasures

Recently as I was looking through my father’s old law office safe, I discovered
a 71 year old letter written from my grandfather to my father. A letter I never knew existed. A letter that held enough value to my father that he had put it in a place for safekeeping. I practiced law with my father for ten years and he had never mentioned it to me. Perhaps he’d forgotten about it. Perhaps during the course of the ensuing years, its impact had lessened.

In any event, when I read it I understood on a deeper level why our practicing law together meant so much to my father. By the time he’d begun practicing law, his own father had very debilitating Parkinson’s disease. Over the years, my dad had told me that although he had been able to rely on his father’s wisdom and counsel, they had never been able to cement their law practice by regularly being in the same office.

I never knew my grandfather as he died before I was born, and the letter he wrote to my Dad preceded my birth by many a year. However, finding it explained to me why I think my father so treasured our having worked together. It was a sort of coming full circle of something he’d wanted and never had before. So much of life seems to be the unwrapping of gifts we never expected to receive.

When I work with clients who are just beginning to journey down a path borne of disappointment, I do so with the knowledge that there will be gifts yet to unwrap. There are events we can predict in life, and many things we cannot. However, when clients are able to structure a path of their own making and restructure their families in thoughtful ways, they can remain alert to the treasures they are likely to discover and know that unlikely gems may happily appear as well.

 

 

Toolbox: Arbitration

 

A private courtroom. A way to resolve a dispute when you can agree that you disagree, and that someone other than yourselves will be better able to bring clarity to your situation.

Arbitrators are experienced practitioners, often times retired judges. They can create a private courtroom setting where clients can set the time schedule, and the parties and their lawyers can present the facts as they see them to be. The arbitrator can then streamline the process by making an Order that the parties agree will be binding (although they can also agree in advance that is does not have to be).

The arbitration process can be used to more speedily overcome a stumbling block, for instance, the division of multiple parcels of real estate, so that the parties can then move on to more amicably reach their remaining agreements.

Arbitrators can timely untangle a dilemma that otherwise left to fester could become a more complicated rift.

 

 

Toolbox: Collaborative Law

I was a skeptic. How could a lawyer agree to give up a major tool in her toolbox? What possible advantage might there be in agreeing not to go to court at the outset of a case?

Collaborative Law did not make a lot of sense to me. Why “lawyer up” if you intend to go to battle without your sword? After holding fast to that perspective for many years, a number of years ago I decided I needed to learn more. I reasoned that by going through the Collaborative Law training, it would affirm my view that Collaborative Law was an unrealistic path to help clients reach successful outcomes. However as is often times the case, something interesting happened. I started to see that alternative, non-litigation based resolutions were possible, and that by agreeing not to go to Court until they’d reached an Agreement, lawyers could actually work hard applying their legal knowledge to craft creative solutions with and for their clients. Although Collaborative Law isn’t always a viable path, when it is appropriate it can prove to be productive, and even healing.

As the Chinese philosopher Lao-Tse said, “What is soft is strong. Water is fluid, soft and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard.”

 

 

Toolbox: Mediation

This article is the second of a four-part “Toolbox” series. Each of these will briefly outline one of the four major approaches to handling a divorce, and how the Consilium process integrates the approach into its model.


I first learned to mediate while in I was in law school. I was trained with The Children’s Hearing Project in Cambridge, Massachusetts by a man named Patrick Phear, who had emigrated to the U.S. from South Africa and developed and was then teaching a new style of co-mediation. All mediations occurred with two mediators present, which provided a fabulous way for me, as a young mediator, to learn. Therefore, while in school I was learning the rules of the Courtroom, at the Children’s Hearing Project (CHP) I was simultaneously learning the art of negotiation.

AT CHP our clients were primarily teenagers and their parents, and many of their issues involved cultural differences between immigrant parents and first generation American children. The typical tensions between adolescents and their parents were laced with cultural misunderstandings and language dependencies of parents upon their children. I found myself being young enough to understand the adolescents and old enough to understand the parents. I liked being the fulcrum in the sea-saw of the conflict, and I found it gratifying to help them find common ground.

When I began practicing family law, mediation seemed like a natural fit for the inter-familial discord that was so often a part of that terrain. The model that is most often used by divorcing partners is that in which the two partners, along with the mediator, a neutral third party whose job is to guide them both toward a mutual understanding, work to achieve a Settlement Agreement. Mediation can be effective so long as both partners willingly disclose all of their financial holdings, neither party feels controlled or diminished by the other, and they are able to discuss the issues necessary to restructure their family. For some people, a confidential mediation can feel more comfortable than a public courtroom where grievances can sometimes be aired in such a way that the environment can feel hostile, and even escalate underlying points of discontent.

However despite its promise, there are times when mediation simply isn’t possible. If substance abuse, mental illness, emotional issues (rage or depression for instance), a history of physical abuse, or anything else makes one or both parties feel unsafe being in the room together, mediation is not an appropriate choice.

Consilium ® is built upon the foundation of understanding yourself and the other people in your family, so that if mediation is appropriate it can be incorporated into the restructuring of your family. It does not have to be an either/or alternative. For example, you may begin with traditional litigation, and then mediate all of the issues revolving around your children’s care and upbringing.

It is important to remember that even when people choose to mediate all or a part of their divorce, having legal counsel “in the wings” is important. It is inadvisable to attempt to resolve your family’s legal rights and responsibilities without a clear understanding of the law. Doing so can create future regrets and misunderstandings.

 

 

 

Toolbox: Traditional Litigation

This article is the first of a four-part “Toolbox” series. Each of these will briefly outline one of the four major approaches to handling a divorce, and how the Consilium process integrates the approach into its model.

Let’s start with traditional litigation. This is the kind of law that you’re probably most familiar with—where lawyers file suits, go to court, and carry out other standard legal processes.

Contrary to what you may believe, this is not the only way that people handle a divorce. Today, there are several other ways to divorce and restructure a family, but many people assume that ALL divorces involve a courtroom battle and flashy arguments about how their marriage has fallen apart.

That being said, there are times when traditional litigation is the best—or only—choice. I recall handling cases where out of the country removal of a child was contested, where mental illness of a parent precluded her ability to parent her daughter and precluded her ability to recognize that fact, where I was appointed by a Judge to represent at child as the Judge felt the parents were so self absorbed in their own issues that neither of them were adequately attending to their son’s needs, and where a woman thought her husband was having an affair, knew he was abusing her mentally and physically and was certain he was mishandling the family finances. In each of those instances, discussion, mediation, and collaboration were not possible avenues. In situations like those, there is no choice but to use the structure of the court system.

Despite the need for traditional litigation, things can get difficult when lawyers treat a divorce case like a property dispute, arguing over custody or alimony as though they are haggling for a sale rather than playing with the lives of two people and their children. With the Consilium process, we stress the importance of the people involved, so that when traditional litigation is the best path to tread, it can still be handled in a way that will honor and be favorable to all the people affected by it.

 

Knowing the Tools in Your Toolbox

When most people think of hiring a lawyer, they approach it like a straightforward transaction: you meet them and tell them what you need, and they figure out how to do it for you.

This is an overly simplistic understanding of what lawyers do, informed by movies and popular stereotypes. The ‘lawyer stuff’ that you see on TV and in the movies is part of a lawyer’s job, but it’s not as simple as all that.

In reality, practicing law—especially divorce law, which deals with people’s lives rather than just property or points of debate—is a lot more complex. There are four major approaches to handling a divorce:

  1. Traditional Litigation: This approach is the one most people are familiar with, where lawyers file suits, go to court, and carry out other standard legal processes.
  2. Mediation: In mediation, the two partners sit down with a neutral third party, who is not advising or advocating for either side, but instead is trying to help the two parties reach a mutual understanding before moving forward with filing and doing all the other ‘usual’ legal stuff.
  3. Collaborative Law: Collaborative law involves five people: the two partners, their lawyers, and a coach (generally a therapist) who ‘takes the emotional temperature’ of the room. The lawyers serve as advocates for each side, but the whole process is more open than in most litigation.
  4. Arbitration: Think of this as “private court”- the two partners and their lawyers make arguments and discuss their issues in front of one Arbitrator (often a retired judge), who then makes a decision based on what they present.

Each of these has its’ own particular advantages and disadvantages. By engaging in The Consilium Process, clients are education about what their choices are and why one or another might be the best path for them. As a result they can then make an intelligent, informed decision about how they want to proceed with the restructuring of their family.

For the next few weeks, I will be writing a series of “Toolbox” articles, which will discuss each of these four approaches in depth, to help you understand what they entail, and whether this approach is right for your particular situation.

I want you to know what tools are in your Toolbox, so that you can pick the right one for the job you have ahead of you.

My Father, My Mentor- on the 100th anniversary of his birth

As I was preparing to write and send out my next blog, I realized that I would be sending it out today, the 23rd of June, which would have been my father’s 100th birthday.  As I practiced law with my Dad for ten years, and learned most of my Courtroom skills by his side, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on him and how I came to be practicing as I do.  As an aside, and out of curiosity, I just pulled my grandfather’s 1914 law diary off of my shelf to see if he’d made note of my dad’s birth.  Sure enough, he had.  As a study in both contrast and change, I’m attaching his diary notation, alongside my newest Consilium ® Divorce Consultation card.

It seems like only yesterday when I would be leaving the office for Court and my Dad would call out “come back with your shield or on it”.  When a powerful adversary was on the other side of a case, he would say “you can’t sharpen knives on butter”.  As for ethics, he told me if you have to ask the question, the answer is No”. He told me those words had been told to him by his father, and he passed them on to me in the spirit of summing up all you needed to remember about honesty, integrity, and compassion when handling other people’s money and problems.

When I became pregnant with my oldest child, my father wondered whether I might want to stay at home and leave the practice of law.  I didn’t want to do that with my first (I still had too much to learn about lawyering).  With my second, I cut back to part-time.  With my third, he said to me “My father made this practice work for him.  I made it work for me.  You need to figure out how to make it work for you”.  It was his blessing as it were for me to reframe, revise and rethink.  I am grateful for his words, his lessons, his mentorship, his inspiration and his encouragement for me to “think outside the box”.

I dedicate this blog piece to the memory of my father, J. Chester Webb, Esq.