When people get divorced, they have to divide up property they accumulated during their life together. Houses, cars, bank accounts, investments and retirement benefits are all on the table to be shuffled, distributed, or sometimes divided. To be sure, for my divorce clients, I often spend a lot of time negotiating exactly how this should happen, but ultimately it does all come down to money, e.g., How much is the house worth vs. the 401(k)?

Not so with stuff.  Furniture, artwork (of the still-life-your-sister-painted-in-art-school variety, not the signed-Picasso-print variety), photographs, kitchen wares – the dreaded category of “personal property” can be the bane of the divorce lawyer’s existence.  Dividing up stuff is not about money; it’s totally about emotion.  People who have millions of dollars in investments can end up fighting over a piece of pottery someone picked up at a roadside market in Costa Rica. I try to avoid these negotiations like the plague.  I generally tell clients “I don’t do pots and pans” – meaning, work it out yourselves, because it’s a total waste of time and money to pay lawyers to argue about why one spouse should get the print of the lilies rather than the water color of the Cape Cod sunset; how are we supposed to know?

Don’t get me wrong, I do understand that stories and history and family culture are embodied in the stuff we acquire as the years pass, and sometimes lawyers can’t avoid getting involved.  If that happens, and if I start to feel irritated about it, I have developed a sure fire way to put a damper on my irritation and summon forth the empathy necessary to get the job done. I go straight to an example of stuff acquired during my own life that I would lie down in front of a truck for: my Christmas decorations! I love them.  I love acquiring a couple of beautiful new ornaments each year. I love the play dough, macaroni and glue Santas my son made in pre-school. I love the popsicle stick reindeer with the googly eyes he made in first grade.  I love the holiday candles and garlands I put on the mantle. Woe be to any person who wanted to take those treasures from me! So I get it. But I still hope fervently that my clients and their spouses can work out this part of their divorce for themselves.  I’m much more comfortable thinking through what to do with their stock options than their Kitchen Aid mixers. Remember…my job is to take the Drama OUT of your Soap Opera Situation.

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Summer is in full humid sticky lazy force. Traffic is tougher to navigate as folks are either heading out of town or trying to get back in to their homes.  The evenings are long and social. Court dates are continued due to vacation schedules and trainings. Opposing counsel will get back to you a week from Tuesday instead of tomorrow. In the world of civil litigation, the pace of work slows down. Not necessarily so for the family lawyer. Summertime brings a set of predictable crises which occur year after year.

One is vacation. One parent has a trip planned and the other does or doesn’t do something which interferes with the ability to take the trip. Dad doesn’t sign the consent form to get the passports. Mom is now hedging on the informal agreement to switch the schedule in the court order so that Dad can take the kids to his family reunion Or one parent actually opposes the trip itself: the country is too dangerous to travel to. I have had two hearings in the past few years where the other parent tried to prevent my client from taking their kids to Israel – one time the judge let the kids go, another time not. Tensions run high as people worry that long planned vacations will be derailed.

Another is school choice. School will begin soon and summer is showdown time for parents who don’t agree where their children should attend school in the fall. If they can’t come to some resolution, a court may have to decide, so negotiations amp up, and petitions get filed and social studies begin. Of course, starting such a task in the Summer may be too late to finalize by the beginning of the school year, as these things take time and no one ever has enough time, do they?

What should be times of happiness and relaxation for families become anything but. This can take its toll on lawyers, too, who want to kick back and enjoy their own families.  I know that I’m better at my job when I have more of a balance in my life.  You really do want your lawyer to be rested and healthy and to have a keen perception of your lawsuit and the strategies to reach your goals…right?

So this summer, to counteract that trend and center me in a better balance, I decided to take a little time away from my office in short, periodic vacation periods, and spend more time with my family.  I have great office staff that I can really rely on, so why not let them hold down the fort a couple of days here and there this Summer? I can do that because I know my clients are in great hands! I really do this for my clients.  My clients will love their happy, healthy, refreshed lawyer even better than before. They deserve it!

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