Not always the most wonderful time of the year

A phenomenon many divorce attorneys like me encounter each year between mid-November and January 2 is the sudden drop-off of clients and client activity.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s the holiday lull, the last-ditch effort to grasp the fast-fading warm feeling of family or at least the rational attempt to try to preserve the illusion that ‘everything is all right’ for the children.

DSCN0169Often, the holidays are a happy blurred memory batch from childhood, with ham dinners with families gathered at grandparents’ house, favorite (and not so favorite) presents we’ve received over the years, candlelit church services, carols and much more.

Overlay this with the commercial media blitz of glitter, bling (every kiss begins with k?? Who knew? Awesome!) and price cuts, and the secular Holidays take on an almost sacred tone of their own.

We want our children to experience this, to feel whole, to be glad and warm and loved. Often we are able to swallow our own pain–or drown it with well-doctored eggnog– long enough to let the little ones experience Santa and the magic.

But what we also see as the years pass is the carving up of these happy days with a broad knife, dividing the time the children “must” spend with father, mother, siblings, grandparents and others. When parents cannot look beyond their own needs to compromise with their children’s lives, the court will do it for them, with lack of emotion or feeling to guide it.

Four hours for mom. Two hours for grandma. Twelve hours for dad. Splitting the day so you have to be hauling kids on the road for two hours of the holiday you’d all rather spend at home. Weather? Schmeather. The court order says… Alternating years, so every other Christmas your hearth is empty and dark with no children to celebrate. Christmas Eve. Christmas Day. Thanksgiving Thursday. Friday? Maybe, if you’re lucky, a few extra days of the vacation when the children can have a parent all to themselves without other obligations.

DSCN0207There’s no good way to do it, so this yields the sucking-up and effort to maintain through the holidays “for the kids.”

In my generation, divorce was not as prevalent as today, and we visited in summers only, so our holidays, though father was absent, were not disrupted. My children, however, were subject to visitation orders, and spent most holidays with their fathers, which was fine with me. Holiday is a state of mind, as far as I’m concerned. You can have a special day on the 23rd, 25th, or even 31st, if you put your mind to it.

Many more children of my kids’ generation grew up in split parenting situations, so maybe for them, it’s not as traumatic for their own children to be visiting other households during these magic periods. And often, no matter how hard you’re trying to hold things together, the children are well aware of the tensions underlying the surface. If those tensions become toxic, then perhaps separation, even this time of year, could be the right choice, for everyone’s peace of mind. It’s important, though, not to compete with each other to “buy” the children with stuff.

But even if the magic fails on one front, there are many more, like these suggestions from Suzy Brown. As she says, “Holidays are about peace and sharing and gratitude and love. During tragedy, or divorce, or heartache we have to reach down and find those core things at a deeper level, a more meaningful level.”

It’s a tough time. I’m going through the single parent thing again for the first time in 15 years, and it’s a big readjustment. But it can be done. If you feel that you can’t hold on, for any reason, please seek professional help, whether in the form of legal counsel, psychological counsel, or just a heartfelt cup of cocoa with a good friend or close relative. Take time out for yourself. Most decisions about situations (absent actual danger) can be put off for a week or two. Give yourself and the children time in as de-stressed a manner as possible. This will pay off as they learn coping skills from you they can use all their lives.




When do you surrender?

I’ve debated writing this post for several weeks. Overall, I was worried it would sound whiny or complaining, and I honestly try not to be like that (at least not too much). Most people have busy lives and problems of their own and don’t have time to invest in my issues.  I’ve finally decided to write it because it might inspire someone else to take control of their life, before it’s too late.

red flowers

red flowers

Fibromyalgia has been a part of my days for about 10 years now , and I’ve written about it from time to time. It’s steadily gotten worse to the point where I felt pretty handicapped. Going to the court house for work was difficult–if I couldn’t get a parking place nearby, I had a hell of a time getting there. I gave up my house for a small apartment with minimal stairs. My marriage suffered and eventually ended. Daily chronic pain was unrelieved by the mild exercise I could do without causing more pain.

My grown children were sympathetic, and we tried to work out a plan where I might go stay with one of them, so I didn’t have to manage a place on my own. Of course, Little Miss would have to go along, and she’s still in school.  And I wouldn’t have a job. Or insurance. And they’re not keen on giving disability for fibro. You know, since it’s not one of those “real” diseases.

Besides, why should any of that be imposed on one of my girls? Not their fault. They’ve got their own lives.

So, nothing worked out. Better yet, this year I’ve had a steady stream of diagnoses. Both knees’ cartilage totally destroyed. Torn retinas causing flashes in night vision. Sleep apnea. Neck and back arthritis. (Getting old just isn’t pretty, folks.)

Overwhelmed, I started wishing that whatever was wrong with me would just escalate and end me before the summer came and I had to make a decision. If I was dead, I wouldn’t have to deal with it any more…the day-long pain, the things I couldn’t do for myself any more, the knowledge that there would likely be more and more things like that. Sure, I could keep taking two Vicodin a day and muscle relaxers, and more and more anti-inflammatories that were eating away at my liver.  It wouldn’t make the pain vanish, but made it tolerable most days.

This is from someone who has a reasonable income that provides for our needs, an education, transportation, food on the table and a roof overhead. I can’t even imagine how this goes for someone who doesn’t have these things.

autoimmuneAnd then in late August, I got the topper–gout/arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. For those who don’t know, the latter is an autoimmune disease. My body had become so dense with inflammation, that it was attacking itself, no longer able to differentiate what was good and bad. That’s why my ribs ache. That’s why my knees are shot. Probably the retinas, too. I’d done it to myself.

That could have been the end.

Instead, I found myself galvanized into action. I’m still not sure what the difference was, but finding myself under official attack must have kicked my competitive nature into gear.  I started reading about RA and some of the treatments out there. I consulted with some friends about it, what worked for them, what didn’t. One of my daughters had a family that had gone on the paleo diet to help with my granddaughter’s thyroid issues, and she extended a hand. My sister Shawna had recently received a spinal arthritis dx and she was dealing with the same thing. I signed up for a monthly healing seminar. I have support.

I could do this.

The dietary changes to reduce inflammation seemed like the best first step. The next day, I went to the grocery store, armed with the AIP list of foods to eat and foods to avoid, and I’ve followed that for over six weeks now. Is it a bitch to eat no dairy or eggs, no beans, no nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, potatoes), no grains, no nuts or nut products, oils, etc, ? You betcha.

But my pain has dropped about 75%. Yes. I said 75%. My energy is up about 50%. I might take two Vicodin a week, instead of two a day, and some weeks not even that. I’m in physical therapy and try to walk on the days my knees don’t hurt–and there are those days. On cold rainy days, I used to curl up on the couch, unable to move. Now those days are just like any other day. I’m winning the battle, for now, anyway.

That’s all I can do. One day, then the next day, then the next.

Because I’ve got a lot more days out there, and without all the suffering, I know I’ll really enjoy them. I finally scored an appointment with a rheumatologist at the Cleveland Clinic for next month, so new options will become available. There may come a time when I have to give in, but I haven’t reached it yet, not with this new lease on life. Supporting those with chronic pain is hard. But knowing someone else’s outstretched hand is available– preferably holding a couple of spoons!–is priceless.

Don’t assume, ask–a rule to live by

When I was a kid, maybe fourth or fifth grade, one of the highest honors you could get was to be chosen as a school Portrait of a young boy crossing guard standing on the road holding a stop signcrossing guard. Remember those kids? They would wait with the professional guard and help others cross the street, take care of stragglers, all that sort of thing.

At Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Euclid, Ohio, in order to be selected as a student guard, you had to have all A’s and B’s and be a good, reliable student. I’d transferred to the school in fourth grade, so I didn’t get chosen right away, of course, and that was fine. So in fifth grade, I was ready when they announced the names, because I always had good grades and was a teachers’ pet kind of gal. But they didn’t announce mine.

So I worked even harder, and when they announced the names for sixth grade, I just knew I’d be included. They nominated other girls who lived on my street. They nominated just about every one of my classmates in the top reading group. But they didn’t pick me.

I was devastated.

What was wrong with me? I mean, I remember being one of those nerdy kids the cool kids picked on. My stepmother had an odd sense of children’s fashion, and I didn’t have a lot of friends. But this could have been a real self-esteem builder and verification to the other students that I wasn’t a total loser.

It took me awhile, but finally I got up the courage to ask my teacher why I hadn’t been selected. She smiled quite fondly and said, “Oh, Barbara dear, we didn’t think your parents would let you participate.”

So they hadn’t even given me the chance to ask if I could–the school officials had just made that decision for me. Expecting I’d be disappointed by my parents saying ‘no,’ they were being kind by not inviting me.  Forty years later, I still feel that disappointment and loss of vindication.

Raising children on the spectrum brings me into a confrontation with this issue a lot. How often do others–or even us as parents–leave our kids out of activities because it’s assumed they won’t like it/do well at it/be interested? Are we being kind when we shield them from potential failure?

If I assumed that Little Miss couldn’t deal with loud activities because of her sensory issues, she’d never have signed up for chorus, which is one of her favorite classes at school now. She loves singing at concerts. IMGP0394

She would have missed one of the greatest concerts we ever attended–and one she loved–because we’d have skipped it rather than helping her cope with a set of good headphones and a blanket to cover her head when it got overwhelming.

We might have assumed that she couldn’t compete with other children in the county fair contests, but she tended her flowers and won a ribbon every year. She attended dance classes, even though she opted out of the performance. That was okay with me, because I asked her opinion first. She wanted to dance with Miss Heather, but she didn’t want to participate in the end of season event. I don’t see that as someone who doesn’t finish what they start, I see it as someone who’s empowered to make their own choices for age-appropriate activities.

The boys, too, have been offered options–martial arts classes, music classes, theater classes, after school gaming sessions. They don’t choose many, not being particularly ambitious. But they get the first chance of refusal, which I believe is the right way to go.

What about you? Have there been events or activities you’ve offered to your children that you thought they couldn’t/wouldn’t like or be able to participate? Is it better to keep them from the disappointment of failure? What have they tried and succeeded at that surprised you?


VoodooDreams_w7507_medOn the same note, I will not assume that you don’t like free books, but I will ASK if you’re interested in this, the third book of the Pittsburgh Lady Lawyers series, standalone novels of romantic suspense, all with a heroine who’s a lawyer in the great city of Pittsburgh. VOODOO DREAMS is FREE for Kindle December 17-21. You may get one for yourself and as many friends as you think would like it for Christmas! Here’s the storyline:

When her big trial goes bad, corporate attorney Brianna Ward can’t wait to get out of Pittsburgh. The Big Easy seems like the perfect place to rest, relax, and forget about the legal business. Too bad an obnoxious–but handsome–lawyer from a rival firm is checking into the same bed and breakfast.

Attorney Evan Farrell has Mardi Gras vacation plans too. When he encounters fiery and attractive Brianna, however, he puts the Bourbon Street party on hold. He’d much rather devote himself to her–especially when a mysterious riddle appears in her bag, seeming to threaten danger.

Strangely compelled to follow the riddle’s clues, Brianna is pulled deeper into the twisted schemes of a voodoo priest bent on revenge. To escape his poisonous web, she must work with Evan to solve the curse. But is the growing love they feel for each other real? Or just a voodoo dream?


And then the judge said…

So we’re in court this morning for domestic violence cases, and the judge has about seventeen cases waiting –a pretty stellar number. Usually there’s six or eight. Everyone’s a little twitchy and not looking forward to three hours of “he said, she said” sad stories.

So he starts at the top of the list and begins the Call, seeing who’s there and who’s not. He barely gets the caption of the first case out when the male defendant in the case stands up and says, “Do I have to be here?”

The judge looks at him a little funny and starts to answer, when the guy interrupts again. “Look, I don’t care what she does, all right? I just got off work, I work third shift. I’m tired, I got a bunch of beers waiting and I don’t care what she does. I don’t want to be here all day listening to this crap. Can I go?”

At this point, all the attorneys in the room are turning around to check out this fool, a young guy who must be about 18 or 19, nice looking kid, short hair, rock band T-shirt and jeans. And all you can think about is the beers and the disrespect he’d show to a judge, and wonder what the hell this poor woman’s had to put up with.

The judge is obviously taken aback by this young man, and he stumbles over his words. “W-Well, there’s no rule that says you have to be here–”

“Great. Thanks. See ya.”  And, all eyes on him, he struts out of the courtroom to go get in his car, go home and drink his beers. Hopefully, in that order.

There’s a beat of silence in the courtroom, then a buzz of conversation. The judge looks at us and says, “Great way to start the day.” Then he picks up the list and moves on, leaving us all wondering what’s going on with the next generation. I’m all for not having to waste time, but, son, this is your life. Best start taking it seriously pretty soon before you get much older. Just sayin…


You should know this! First aid for seizures

At a support hearing the other day, I represented a client who couldn’t work because she had seizures. We talked about the situation for half an hour or so, her journey to be certified unable to work or drive or do many things because of the seizures, which tended to come on under stress.

Then she had one. Right there. Just melted down off her chair onto the floor in a heap, twitching and banging her forehead on the floor.

Four adults in the room with her, me included, and we all stared for several seconds, stunned.  I’d had first aid training in college, some 25 years ago, and couldn’t remember anything, faced with the crisis.  Something about swallowing a tongue.  But then I thought I remembered they’d decided that was a bad idea.

The soon to be ex-husband was a jackass, starting with the cracks about how he always thought she was faking it, etc. He totally failed to help any of us. backing out the door and watching, with a huge smirk on his face. I came close to smacking him upside the head.

I finally turned her on her side, holding her steady so she didn’t hurt herself, and someone from the office brought a pillow from the break room so she didn’t hurt her head. She kept seizing, and the staff called 911. Within five minutes an experienced team was there and took her off to the hospital. But I didn’t forget that helpless feeling–and I didn’t like it.

SO. In the event you see someone experience a seizure, here’s what you should do, from the Foundation for Better Health Care:

  1. Roll the person on his or her side to prevent choking on any fluids or vomit.
  2. Cushion the person’s head.
  3. Loosen any tight clothing around the neck.
  4. Keep the person’s airway open. If necessary, grip the person’s jaw gently and tilt his or her head back.
  5. Do NOT restrict the person from moving unless he or she is in danger.
  6. Do NOT put anything into the person’s mouth, not even medicine or liquid. These can cause choking or damage to the person’s jaw, tongue, or teeth. Contrary to widespread belief, people cannot swallow their tongues during a seizure or any other time.
  7. Remove any sharp or solid objects that the person might hit during the seizure.
  8. Note how long the seizure lasts and what symptoms occurred so you can tell a doctor or emergency personnel if necessary.
  9. Stay with the person until the seizure ends.

Call 911 if:

  • The person is pregnant or has diabetes.
  • The seizure happened in water.
  • The seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes.
  • The person does not begin breathing again and return to consciousness after the seizure stops.
  • Another seizure starts before the person regains consciousness.
  • The person injures himself or herself during the seizure.
  • This is a first seizure or you think it might be. If in doubt, check to see if the person has a medical identification card or jewelry stating that they have epilepsy or a seizure disorder.

After the seizure ends, the person will probably be groggy and tired. He or she also may have a headache and be confused or embarrassed. Be patient with the person and try to help him or her find a place to rest if he or she is tired or doesn’t feel well. If necessary, offer to call a taxi, a friend, or a relative to help the person get home safely.

Now you know. Hopefully, you won’t have to confront this situation. But there’s nothing that feels as bad as seeing someone in the throes of this and being helpless.

Happy endings

Often in domestic violence cases, we find that when an abuser starts losing control of the victim, and the victim becomes a survivor and moves out on their own, then the abuser goes after what hurts that survivor most. Usually that’s the children.

I have a dozen cases in my files where mothers have lost their children to fathers who are better funded, better situated, and often present as pillars of the community, despite the abuse they’ve dished out over the years. Many of these women are cut off from their children for years, certainly long enough to destroy all hope of a positive mother-child relationship forming. They have to choose between their own safety and their child. What a horrible place to be.

This month, I had the joy to be involved with a case where a mother and a child, separated by more than ten years by a vindictive abuser, had the opportunity to be permanently reunited again. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the courtroom as this mother and daughter hugged each other, triumphant at last.

 Karma does come around sometimes, as I continually reassure these women who live in agony, praying their children are safe and cared for.  They just have to keep themselves strong, healthy, and on the road to stability. Always prepare for that chance that fate will bring your children home again. You never know when that happy ending will arrive–sometimes when least expected.

It’s nice to have a smile at the end of the day. Best wishes to my client and her daughter, and nothing but good days from here on.

Why the drama, mamma?

As a family law attorney, I know that I’m going to be dealing with people’s emotional issues. After all, when these people come to see me, usually their lives are in turmoil. They may be newly separated. They may be struggling with financial stability. Parents living in two different homes may be battling over children who clearly can’t be ripped in two. I get that.

Really, I do.

We spend a good deal of time dissecting those situations and doing the very best we can to get people through those gauntlets in one piece, and hopefully arrive as close to their original goals as we can. 

What really makes me crazy are the people who must create more drama for their lives, because they love it. It makes them feel important. These people will have their cell phones at appointments with me and answer every call, because if they don’t, the world as they know it will come to an end. Now I don’t know Uncle Harry, and I’m sure his bowel issues might be very significant to him, but if you’re paying me in excess of a hundred dollars an hour, is it really worth discussing his condition with your mother and deciding whether he needs to take his medicine for ten minutes on my clock?  No problem. I’ll just check my email while you’re busy.

Then there’s the extremists. “I”m taking this all the way to the Supreme Court!” they exclaim. That’s all well and good, and I appreciate that determined spirit.  Of course, the fact that the Supreme Court/other federal courts don’t handle a lot of family law cases might be relevant. But there’s still a Superior Court and Supreme Court here in Pennsylvania, if you’re not happy with the order entered by the county court. None of which matters if you don’t return my calls, don’t provide me with the documentation I ask for, and you yell at the judges during our hearings because you ‘just have to be yourself.’

And listen, people. When you have a spouse, long-term partner or a teenaged kid, there’s one rule that applies across the board: any of these people have lived with you long enough that THEY KNOW HOW TO PUSH YOUR BUTTONS. This shouldn’t be news after all this time. Seriously. So when he or she does that ONE thing you can’t stand–whether it’s call you twenty times a day, shows up to pick up your kid ten minutes early every single time, or has their new boyfriend call to negotiate custody arrangements–you don’t have to call and tell me a hundred times. I cannot repair the person that you aren’t going to be with any more. I mean, that’s why you’re not with them any more, right? Just learn to ignore them. Planned ignoring, our therapists call it. It’s a real tactic. Read about it here. It’s free. Use it. 

I’ve said it before: Breaking up is hard to do. (Actually Neil Sedaka said it before me. And got paid better for saying it.) Some people deal with the stress by making themselves into the victim to gain sympathy from everyone around them. Some people try to prove that they’re in control by running roughshod over anyone they get a chance to crush, including social workers, court staff and other people trying to help. Some people just grasp at anything they can find to hold on to as though it were a life preserver, because they really have no clue what’s going to help.

I blame a lot of the need for drama on the current trend for reality show circuses. When you watch Big Brother or Jersey Shore or Wife Swap or Celebrity Rehab or Survivor–any of them, you get a fabulous lesson in how to manipulate people, how to portray yourself. how to make yourself more important by how you deal with everyone around you.

 But as far as I’m concerned, you’re hiring me to do a specific job: to get you through your life crisis with as little damage to your life as possible. I’m not here to deal with you while you’re waiting for your close-up. If that’s what you’re really after, please call me after your fifteen minutes is up. That way, I can preserve my sanity as well as yours.

Justice: by the law or by the heart?

When you have brought up kids, there are memories you store directly in your tear ducts. .. Robert Brault

I’ve debated how to write this post for several days, and it’s been difficult.  My role as attorney at law is to uphold the law. Most of the time, that also means to pursue justice. Sometimes these two goals don’t match. These are the hard cases.

I have a client (who has asked me to blog about his case), the victim of a biased judge and a vindictive ex-wife. For several years, the parties utilized the custody court in the state of Tennessee, because that’s where they lived, at first.

After they split up, the wife moved to Pennsylvania with their son, not bothering to get court permission to do so. My client, a high-powered computer consultant, then worked for Microsoft at points around the globe, without an address in the States. But the court awarded him summer and holiday visits with his son.

The mother denied him the right to visit several times thereafter. Although he applied to the FBI and other agencies, he was told they would not get involved in custody matters. (Those same agencies are now the ones prosecuting HIM.) He had to enforce his Tennessee order rights at the court in Pennsylvania, with the mother being held in contempt of court for violating the order.

After multiple findings of contempt, the judge in Tennessee finally gave my client primary custody and said he could take his son to live with him abroad. My client was then making fabulous money for Microsoft, but because the mother was afraid of something happening in the pro-Arab countries where my client was being sent, he quit his job (!) and became a freelance consultant instead. The child got the chance to experience living in many different places, at a much better standard of living, and better schooling and opportunities.

The summer of 2006 came, and he sent the child to stay with his mother, per the court order. Before the summer was over, she filed an emergency petition in Pennsylvania (even though the child hadn’t lived here for six months, as the law requires) to keep the child. Judge William White had said if Tennessee acted on the case, he would stay out of it, as federal law requires, and told her to put the child on the plane. The child went back to his father, as the court order required.

After that, however, the Pennsylvania  judge reneged on his statement. He scheduled numerous hearings, despite our continued objection, which my client did not attend. We steadfastly and consistently opposed jurisdiction in Pennsylvania while a valid Tennessee order was in effect. He issued a bench warrant for my client for failure to appear, when he knew he had no jurisdiction in the first place. He granted the mother custody pending further hearing, despite the fact that Tennessee said it was holding jurisdiction during the minority of the child, and the fact that the child DID NOT LIVE IN PENNSYLVANIA.

So now my client has been the subject of a case for international kidnapping, with the FBI and various governments around the world involved. Most recently he was arrested in Bulgaria, and his passport revoked. He talks about his situation here. Interpol took his credit cards and passport; the credit cards have now been used by unknown persons as far away as London. WHILE HE WAS IN CUSTODY. They are treating him like he is a dangerous criminal, when all he is, is a father who wants some time with his son.

It is truly a sad story. The child has been listed with the National Clearinghouse for Missing and Exploited Children when mother knew very well where the child was. I bet he was even on a milk carton somewhere. The end of the story remains to be seen, but anything positive coming from it is hard to envision.

The really sad part of the story is that if the mother had held to the original terms of her court order and sent the child to visit his father as scheduled, my client would never have gone after primary custody. He was content to let his son live in the States then, and have splendid holidays overseas. But by constantly denying him visits, forcing him back into court to effectuate his orders, the mother created this situation where he had to get primary custody to be sure he’d see his son.

And now, he knows that if he sends his son back to visit, he’ll likely not see him again until the child is 18, because she has always refused to comply with their current Tennessee order, in the only court that truly has jurisdiction.

So, has he violated the language of an order? You can decide that for yourself. Has he done something wrong? I don’t think so. He’s been forced, as many parents are, into an untenable position because of the vindictive and selfish behavior of the other parent in a custody battle.

Who won here? Not the mother. Not the father. Not the son, because in either household at this moment, under these facts, he must be denied access to his other parent. Not the lawyers. Not the system. Not the FBI, attorney general’s office or NCMEC, spending thousands of taxpayers’ dollars on something that this mother could have made unnecessary. No one, really. No one.

Too bad Solomon died years ago; we could use his wisdom about now.