Coronavirus Update - Helpful Information for Our Clients

Articles Posted in Mediation/Arbitration

Hello again dear clients and friends of BFL,

This new  coronavirus is serious and  likely will be with us for a while.    The most important thing is that you take all necessary precautions to keep yourself and those around you safe.  Stay Home and follow the most current directives of the CDC.

BFL is open and ready to help you while we all learn to live differently in this unprecedented time.   We are working from our homes, and monitoring your cases.  We are available to meet with you by video and talk by phone.  Of course,   you always can email us, as usual.

You decide not a stranger

The range of emotions that arise when a family with children splits up can be overwhelming.   Complex decisions  have to be made around the lives of children, which can cause  among other things, anxiety, anger, stress, and resentment.   Depending upon the age and developmental stages of the children they may be more or less attuned to the changes happening around them.   Even the youngest of children is aware of stress and knows when mommy and daddy is, or is not, around.   As the children get older, they may feel  confusion or “caught in the middle.”    Normalizing decisions around custody and keeping a sense of control and harmony over this difficult situation is essential to the child(ren)’ s well-being.

Unaware of the potential or possibility of mediation in custody matters,  many families  begin a case by filing for custody and the matter ends up in court—before a master or a judge.   We suggest that  keeping custody cases out of court,  whenever possible,  is perhaps one of the kinder and wiser things you can do for your family.     Afterall, who knows  your child or children better than you?   How can a judge who does not know your children or the quirks of your family possibly be better at deciding what is better for your children than you?

Private mediation is a viable and underutilized option in custody.  There are many things that can be decided by parents in a safe setting with appropriate guidelines.    Among these are the obvious:

  • custody – how the child’s time will be split between two homes, and when each parent will have time with the child(ren);
  • Vacation and holiday schedules;
  • Changeover times and places can be agreed to, including transportation arrangements.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.   Once the  initial details are agreed to,  parents in mediation can discuss and reach agreements about  the things that are just superficially addressed in other settings.  These are  what we call the rights and responsibilities      Even if parents have reached an Agreement or a Custody Stipulation in the traditional arena,  we find the nitty gritty details are not fleshed out because the document was written by lawyers.  In mediation, Parents set the  rights and responsibilities agenda and fully discuss issues and reach agreements.  Among the topics, they may discuss:

  • rules for each house- bedtimes, use of electronics, when children can be left alone, etc.;
  • information sharing- medical information, school reports,  events;
  • communications- how will they talk with each other,  how will the children talk with the parents, when,  how often, on what devices;
  • changes to routines;
  • travel plans—family travel, business travel;
  • changes in family makeup- introducing new “friends,”  can someone move in, remarriage;
  • new children etc.

In  a custody mediation,  parents should be asked  to  identify their goals,   and perhaps to  think about Continue Reading

     Conflict is an inevitable and pervasive part of human psychology and social relationships.  The traditional approach to conflict is a flight or fight response.  The kinds of emotions that trigger this  response are hurt, anger, fear, vulnerability and pain,  the  triggers that can  bring  a couple or a relationship to the brink of separation and divorce.   When  the level of conflict is high the fight or flight leads to a situation where the disputants want to fight and win.  If someone wins, then naturally the other person loses.

While in the midst of  intense feelings it may be hard to believe that things will change, or that one has the power to make a difference.  Some parties may flee and seek the courts  and/ or an attorney for a remedy.   Some may feel stuck and remain in a negative situation until it becomes unbearable.  Regardless, the conflict is dealt with, either through avoidance or more directly through a form of dispute resolution.   For couples,  when avoidance no longer works,  mediation should be considered because the possibility of a win/win is better than the alternatives.

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Mediation is attractive because it allows the parties to take control of their situation and the resolution of their dispute.  In the marital arena  parties can go to mediation for division of property in divorce;  to work out child support and spousal support; to work on parenting issues around children; to work out custody;  and for all of these.  Mediation allows a forum  for the parties to  air their  concerns and grievances, to talk  honestly and work out solutions that they craft together.  Mediation provides a  safe place to  come to a negotiated agreement  and resolve  marital conflict in a positive way.   When parties can work together to craft either a division of property, or a custody schedule or a support plan this, most importantly,  allows for a positive relationship going forward into the future Continue Reading

 

Mediation is a wonderful tool for resolving disputes.   In divorce, especially, it can be an empowering and healing process.  However, not all marriages can be dissolved through mediation, and you almost never can successfully mediate with a narcissist.   The irony is that living with a true narcissist is a prime cause of divorce.

The shared love, compromise, mutual understanding and support necessary for a marriage to thrive are lacking in a narcissistic relationship.    If you are considering a mediated divorce, before proceeding we suggest carefully evaluating your   current relationship and your partner to see if mediation really can work for you.

The term narcissism is used with almost abandon in common parlance today to describe people who may be self-absorbed and think highly of themselves.   However, a degree of withdrawal into one’s self and having positive feelings about one’s self are not always negative qualities.   Such traits are common in many successful people who may be driven to excel.  Indeed, they may be essential for certain professions and tasks.   Narcissism appears on a spectrum from arrogance and conceit to full blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).     If you are married to a successful partner who has become aloof, arrogant, and/or checked out of the marriage, that does not mean that your spouse is not  a good candidate for mediation.   Look closer.

The kind of narcissist not suitable for mediation is one with  real NPD.  About 8% of men and 5% of women in the United States have NPD.   This is a clinical diagnosis for a cluster of traits that define a narcissistic personality.  Psychiatrist, Stephen E. Levick, in his book Clone Being says that “people with Narcissistic Personality disorder have a sense of grandiose self -importance and are pre-occupied with grandiose self-fantasies.  They believe that they are special and unique, and only want to associate with other special high-status people or institutions and may show arrogant haughtiness in the way they relate to others. Requiring excessive admiration, they have an unreasonable senses of entitlement, lack empathy, and are interpersonally exploitative…. Self-righteous rage, exhilaration and shame associated with anxiety are states of mind associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.”   The need for admiration, sense of entitlement, lack of empathy, and leanings toward exploitation are what make successful mediation impossible with someone with a narcissistic personality. Continue Reading

 

A few weeks ago I went to the annual Pennsylvania Council on Mediators Conference.  One of the wonderful things about going to a conference is that it gives me time away from the day-to-day practice to refresh and reconsider.  The positive energy in the  seminar rooms reminded me that for many couples there may be a kinder way to dissolve their marriage,  and  I came away with renewed dedication to promoting  the tools in my alternative dispute toolbox  to make the divorce practice less stressful for our clients.

Much of traditional divorce practice  can devolve into a win/lose strategy.   When the Court titles the case  Smith versus Smith or  Jim versus Jane, the matter organically starts out as he against she fight.    So,  when we begin with Jim  fighting Jane, or vice versa,  it seems reasonable for the parties to think they need a “heavyweight” in their corner.    Indeed,   in our office we sometimes field calls from potential  clients asking   if we can fight for them like a bull dog?    We understand that clients may be  hurt and/or angry and think they need  a lawyer  who will  bark and roar and bite if necessary  to win,  but we think this approach to divorce  oftentimes  results in long-term destruction to family good will, and fractured lives– especially if children are  involved.    Alternatively, if the divorce process can be framed not as a one versus the other, but as an action in the best interests of the family  to move forward with the least destruction all the parties (children included) may come out more whole.

Consider Alternatives to the Traditional Process

Traditional divorce often is a closed, rather than an open process.  An adversarial  couple may dispute  sharing  child custody,  schedules,  routines, etc,   child and spousal support may be litigated and  equitable division of assets may be hotly disputed.    Not surprisingly, the more unresolved feelings between the spouses,  usually the more issues  end up  in court rather than worked out through negotiation and settlement.   Custody may end up being decided by a third party who really does not know the child(ren).     Nasty things may be written in  pleadings filed with the court.    A  court appointed Master may determine how much a spouse will pay to support a family.      Parties reluctant to divide assets fairly may try to hide assets.      Costly discovery becomes necessary when there is distrust and fear of hidden assets.   The attorney must do due diligence  to look for the hidden assets.    Parties may return to Court numerous times  for hearings.    The process can drag on,  and costs  will  escalate.    In the end neither side may be happy with the results,  nor with the aggressive attorney that the party wanted so desperately to  hire at the start.  Indeed,  one or both parties  may find that the “bulldog”  chewed up a lot of  assets,  and  tactics employed unintentionally may have destroyed any goodwill that still was  intact  in the family. Continue Reading

ANGRY EMAILS? … HOSTILE TEXTS? … NASTY LETTERS?  

Consider the BIFF RESPONSE® METHOD

Have you been the recipient of angry tests, nasty emails, and ugly outbursts in public?   Has your ex said nasty things about you on a social media site?   Has the parent of your child said bad things about you?  Have the things said made you angry, embarrassed, humiliated, or infuriated?   Have you reacted and then perhaps regretted your reaction.  Have you found yourself in a hearing with the threat that nasty texts between you and your partner were going to be presented to a judge?      In our family law practice we come across all kinds of situations and people.  The cases that present the most conflict, however,  often involve one party who seems to thrive on hostilities.   Our philosophy is to minimize conflict.    Our goal is to reduce the anger and angst of family matters,  so when a case presents with communication difficulties between the parties—especially  unkind, nasty,  accusatory messages–  we seek out ways to help clients learn skills to deal with  the high conflict people who  engage them and the attendant situations.  Thus, we are sharing the BIFF  Response Method of Conflict Resolution here.

Do we need lawyers if we are doing mediation? Isn’t that redundant? Tihis is a question we are asked frequently.

Or sometimes our office receives calls, where a party asks will the Mediator answer our legal questions? This question belies a fundamental misunderstanding of the mediation process. In mediation, parties can come to any agreement they wish , regardless of what the law might require or impose in a certain situation.

Unfortunately, myths and misconceptions about mediation exist. While most people generally understand that mediation is a collaborative process between the parties, few truly grasp how self-directed the process is.

Mediation is a semi- formal process for resolving conflicts. The parties come together in a comfortable setting with a neutral third party who should be a certified mediator. The mediator is there to facilitate a process whereby the participants can safely discuss their issues and come to an agreement. It can be used in Divorce, Custody, Support and many other situations involving conflict. Mediators take specialized classes to prepare them for different types of mediations such as: family, labor, international, etc. If the parties are ready and suitable, mediation can be a wonderful solution because it allows the individuals to work out an agreement between themselves.

As an alternative to the traditional method of divorce, mediation has pros and cons. The positive attributes are that it is an opportunity for the parties to openly and honestly discuss the matters that brought them to this point in their relationship. It is a chance for them to work through some of the emotions, and to see to the future. It can be a time to make decisions (personal and joint) and to show caring and respect for the other party. With the help – but not legal advice of the mediator–the parties will decide how to divide their property in a way that feels fairest to them. The equitable distribution laws of the State of Pennsylvania, or of any other state do not bind them. If children are involved, the parents and not a stranger get to make the decisions about things such as where their children will live, who they will spend holidays with, how college might be paid for, who will be responsible for taking the children to the doctor, etc.

The cons of mediation are related to the pros. Since the parties do all the work, it is important that they are ready to mediate; that they are open to and trust the process; and that they be somewhat equally situated. If one party wants a resolution, but the other is being “pulled along,” the process is not likely to work. If one party is not trustworthy, or is unlikely to keep a promise made in mediation, the process will fail. If one party has all the power in a relationship, the couple usually is not suitable for mediation. Power in a relationship can be manifested in many ways. It can be economic, it can be emotional, and it can be physical. If there is a power imbalance the mediation could result in an unfair agreement.