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An Inconvenient Truth

November 9, 2013 Leave a comment

I am active on the highly market-effective but (IMHO utterly toxic website Avvo every day. Yes, I climb it because it is there.

It is populated (I have been able to discover) by people who go looking for an answer to a legal question and up there due to heavy SEO action by the site. Their SEO really is that good. Some of the googlers could find the correct answer to their question if they were better researchers, but many (probably most) don’t know the words that fit their situation. But if it involves a family member they go to “Family Law’ and there they are in my feed.

If it is something I don’t know (The details of loss of parental rights, for example) I can always fin the answer in seconds using Google—but I know the magic words. Being a lawyer, I do. The public does not.

So for the vent portion of this blog I will point out that once I Avvo they are met with responses that in a majority of cases are self serving—lawyers are on there trolling for paying work. Their responses are not designed to provide service to the public. (Yes, Virginia lawyers are asked to provide our expertise “pro bono publico”). These responses are often simplistic—“file for a court hearing”—or wrong. (”Your judgment may have expired.”)

Others just don’t know anything but the few things they have picked up doing whatever they do. Litigated divorce, mostly. But family law brings in tax issues, real estate issues, bankruptcy issues, immigration issues (fraudulent marriage), collections (Family law judgments are “evergreen” and never expire) and many other areas of law.

Silly me, I have always made it a point to know stuff. Especially stuff that is relevant to the practice of family law—and any other area that keeps people out of court, like prenuptial agreements and trusts.

As I say—silly me.

But the one area I am still passionate about, although I have moved out if California and have VERY FEW paying clients is getting the word out that fighting a court battle is not helpful and that alternatives exist. (I have not seen a single other attorney inform the “asker” of this fact—EVER. Recently a few have chimed in after I did, bless them.)

So my new mission is to help the many people who find them selves entangled with what Bill Eddy, problem solver extraordinaire, calls the “High Conflict Personality.” These are the bane of courts and all around them,

A brief bio:
“William A. (“Bill”) Eddy IS CO-FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT OF HIGH CONFLICT INSTITUTE, LLC, IN San Diego, California, AND Senior Family Mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego, California. He is a Certified Family Law Specialist in California with over FIFTEEN years’ experience representing clients in family court. Prior to becoming an attorney in 1992, he was a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with twelve years’ experience providing therapy to children, adults, couples and families in psychiatric hospitals and outpatient clinics.”

He is very clear that this—the “HCP” is a common obstacle to courts and litigants alike.
“An Observable High Conflict Pattern
High-conflict people (HCPs) have a pattern of high-conflict behavior that increases conflict rather than reducing or resolving it. This pattern usually happens over and over again in many different situations with many different people. The issue that seems in conflict at the time is not what is increasing the conflict. The “issue” is not the issue. With HCPs the high-conflict pattern of behavior is the issue, including a lot of:
All-or-nothing thinking
Unmanaged emotions
Extreme behaviors
Blaming others

All-or-nothing thinking: HCPs tend to see conflicts in terms of one simple solution rather than taking time to analyze the situation, hear different points of view and consider several possible solutions. Compromise and flexibility seem impossible to them, as though they could not survive if things did not turn out absolutely their way. They often predict extreme outcomes if others do not handle things the way that they want. And if friends disagree on a minor issue, they may end their friendships on the spot – an all-or-nothing solution.”

But it gets better- he has tools for helping courts, ex-spouses and even governments deal with this pattern of behavior.

I downloaded and am internalizing his book “Biff: Quick Responses to High Conflict People, Their Personal Attacks, Hostile Email and Social Media Meltdowns [Kindle Edition]” available here:

BIFF is an acronym for Brief, Informative, Friendly, Firm.” The trick to making headway with these people is to have, wait for it… empathetic listening skills. I full understand that most people who have been enmeshed with this conflict for what seem like forever will have a tough time with the empathy—I count myself prone to this myself. But the tools for communicating in the way Bill describes are learnable. And, in my opinion, this the only hope for the ex spouse and co-parent of such a person. (It also works with obnoxious friends and family too, of course.) It takes practice, as this review by a lawyer acknowledges: By David J. Spellman
This is an excellent book.
Bill Eddy, an experienced lawyer and LCSW, is an expert on “High Conflict People.” In fact, the chart on Axis II on page 15 is alone worth the price of the book! Bill advises that we respond to communications from High Conflict People with BIFF…a response that is Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm.
I see the wisdom in Bill’s approach. But it is a challenge to my lawyerly instincts, because of the old legal maxim that “silence is assent” I tend to be sure to address and refute each allegation, point-by-point. But that just feeds into the dynamic of the High Conflict Person with whom I am communicating! This is a very wise and helpful book.

The hardest part (after mastering the tools) is that the system—courts—is do not yet begin to grasp that there is no hope that punishing these people will reform them. So I have Bill’s blessing to blog my heart out in hopes the PUBLIC will get the word.

Finding this quote yesterday inspired me to FINALLY write this first such blog:

“An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it. Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self sustained. “
o Mahatma Gandhi Young India 1924-1926 (1927), p. 1285

You see, some lawyers are High Conflict People too. And one of those was my tipping point. He lives to insist I am wrong– it matter not what I say, it is wrong. He is blind to irony, humor or EVEN BEING AGREED WITH. He will find a point to argue. Happily for me another women lawyer has begun to call him out. (He is unfazed but it tickles me. But I digress..)
o
It is an error to think and act as though punishing an HCP will stop their flawed thinking and bad acting. (Reasoning also does not work.) Heaven help this lawyer’s clients.

But in any case, if you are wondering why your (ex) wife wants to make an issue of some book fines from school, even when you did nothing to incur them, or in any way bring them about—like a frustrated dad I spoke with via Avvo… this may restore your sanity.

I dare hope so.

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I Was Ahead of My Time. (And still am.)

I was quoted in magazines, including California Lawyer- see here and here— 10 years ago, And more.

And I dared write this,  way back then on, Divorcenet. (Two of my articles were so popular they are still on the Nolo version. (Here and here.)

So, here is is again, in 2012. Yes, You Can! The Power of Intent

© 2007 Carroll Straus

Most spouses are powerless and unhappy in  the bewildering and frankly toxic legal system. Dealing with ex-spouses is not going to be easy, and the system is a juggernaut, once it gets rolling.  To stop it alone is impossible. HOWEVER– one factor we can become empowered by is our intent. The dictionary defines “intent” as “aim or purpose…”object, plan or design.”

What the dictionary omits is how a clear “aim, goal, purpose or design” can alter the course of our court case.  But it can! In a “litigated” divorce, and co-parenting with an angry or distant “ex”, you may discover that your clarity of aim is all you can take charge of.  We can only control what is in our hands. And that is only… us.

You have heard, “We are co-creators of our own reality.”  (Most recently the much-hyped movie “The Secret” has given a wider audience to this.) Some of you say, “Oh, yeah!”  Some may be baffled or skeptical.  There is, nevertheless, truth (and hard science) to this belief,  in the “real world.”   Certainly it is 100% true of our inner world. The evidence can range from the obvious (being obsessed with “losing” a significant other and driving them away) to the subtle– repeating life patterns, some good, some painful. (I just had an insight today about one of mine!) This is due to early learning we are blind to. We miss the “cause and the effect”, but they are there.  These “programs” run our lives.  We easily see them in others, on TV. Our own are invisible, except in the “mirror” of those around us.

This invisible factor in all our doings, our Intent, is the main ingredient in the quality of our lives.  And deep in our hearts, way beneath the surface, we know this.  We often feel our intent — where we are “coming from” as we go out merry way.  We all know the feel of a mean comment like “I thought you invented stubborn.” (Yes this was one of mine!) It feels vile, as though we’d been subtly stabbed in the gut.  On the other hand we know the warm, fuzzy feeling we get when someone says, “You’re terrible” — with love. We feel it when the words don’t match the “heart”. We feel the hidden agenda. And when the covert  actor is us, we know (on some level) what our true intent is. It takes some digging but the truth is in there!

Words have surprisingly little play in communication.  Maybe only 10% of our communications is verbal. Thus, if we speak from love, love is comes across .If we speak from malice, “Icky” comes across.

Deepak Chopra writes  “intent has “infinite organizing power.”  I have seen it. If you look you will see it. Not easily, in a society where we have been taught to believe in randomness, duality and only the mechanistic “facts.” But the investigation is worth it.

There is no consensus on how strong emotions play out around us. Some say that all “reality”  is our thought. (I am not so sure about this.) But all manmade “stuff’ was once thought!  A car, a bridge, a computer– each was first a thought, then plans, then reality.

We now know that neuropeptides are a road between brain and body, carrying messengers to every cell. Candace Pert told us so in “Molecules of Emotion” in 1999. More recently, (2005) Bruce Lipton has demonstrated (in hard science) how thoughts cause proteins in our cells to change shape and change function,  like a computer chip turning on or off.

In biology,  we all know sunlight ends up as matter.  Emotionally, we can feel how a snotty remark can ruin our day. Have you kicked a tire or smashed a computer in frustration? Hardly logical, but common.  But our feelings actually  run us, even though we are just starting, as a society, to admit it.

Startlingly, if we observe closely enough, there can really be no question that intent– again, our true aim or purpose– has more impact on relationships than any other single factor, and yet it remains acknowledged except by a few on the “lunatic fringe.” Which is sad, because in each and every situation (no matter how the deck may be stacked against us) our intent is the one thing which first, last, and always, remains in our hands.  Caroline Myss states in “Anatomy of the Spirit: the Seven Stages of Power and Healing,” We do weave our spirits into the events and relationships of our lives.”  Intent is how we direct our spirit.

Directing intent  is simple–but not easy.  Take the statement  “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Huh?  If our intentions were “good” then we should be in OK, right? Alas, no. Post “good deed” hell may be how we feel watching the aftermath– of choices we made without being clear about the UNDERLYING aim or purpose of our acts.  Have you ever “meant well” and gotten clobbered?  I have. I have also learned that what I ended up with was based in large part on what my true intent was. The good news about the “hit” is if can be a “gift.” I learned what my unrecognized error was! Without the “hit” that recognition would not have taken place. With recognition, changes to lour “agenda” come as if by magic.

We all lie to ourselves because, sadly, we all feel “not good enough.” “The truth hurts” is true– but it is a sharp SHORT pain! Thus, we read, “strait is the gate and narrow is the way and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:13) and “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32) If we only knew the power of this deep truth! The gate to “freedom” and peace of mind lies where none of us has been trained to look– deep down, below the surface… it is… Truth!

Can we err and not be lying? Of course. But only once! “Meaning well” and creating pain (repeatedly) is common, but not “OK.”  One of my teachers said, “If you want to know what you’re committed to, look at your life.  Suffice it to say, the truth lies in the end result–our very own inner hell.

Divorce is both and end and a beginning, and the choices are many. Very few divorcing souses can say they got through it without being in  court hell, but it can be done. And if hell is already upon us– we can use that hell to burn away the underlying material that is no longer serving us.

Yes, Virginia, Sometimes There IS Justice!

August 23, 2012 2 comments

I have good news, and… good  news.

In the matter of

FELECIA AMOS

v.

COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

Not only was I right on all counts about what happened and the utter wrongitude of it—it is going up on appeal and the brief is masterfully written.

I am “in the loop” — hearing about developments–as a direct result of the previous blog post. (!)

Here are just a few excerpts:

“As a non-party Ms. Amos was, of course, not permitted to cross-examine either of these witnesses, to challenge the authenticity or completeness of the audio recording or to present any evidence. ..At the end of the hearing the court delivered “an uninterrupted monologue …” (I am picturing a rant. Another sign of the bias this reeked of.)

Apparently there was a sane judge on the (denied) appeal who dissented (bless him.) “Judge McCullough would have reversed on the grounds that a court cannot summarily punish a witness for giving allegedly false testimony. Id.at 12.”

And case law exists!!! Hallelujah!

“…Scialdone and Brandt rejected nearly identical arguments because, in those cases, as in this case, any factual finding of “calculated misuse of the judicial system” would necessarily be based on witness testimony, not the judge’s personal knowledge.”

As I say—AS IT SHOULD BE. Crikey. But happily some good lawyering is afoot here.

“If an attorney representing a party at a proceeding can be excused from objecting because a court’s action is unexpected it is difficult to see how the application of the rule would be different when a non-attorney, non-party is unexpectedly and summarily convicted of a crime….”

There’s more… Check this out:

“In response to Mr. Amos’s attorney’s concern that Ms. Amos might discover and be able to respond to this evidence, the court’s recommendation to counsel was explicit: ‘[d]on’t tell her.’”

So not only was Ms Amos “blindsided” (the appellate brief calls it an “ambush”—which it was) Husband, charmer that he was—is—went to considerable lengths to set the trap. (Are you tracking  the conspiracy here? Which, BTW, Felecia alleged?????)  And Gott sie danke, it seems case law in Virginia does not allow a judge to send someone off to jail based on THE JUDGE’S OPINION. Which is as it should be.

So,  the  first good news is, I was right when I smelled a rat and the OTHER good news is… This second appeal is to the court “en banc”—all the judges of the appellate panel, not just the one who is (in my HUMBLE opinion) “bent.

So, at some cost in dollars and anguish, Felecia Amos seems to be on track for some justice. Shout out to the Kaplan law firm.

Mr. Kaplan sir– kudos to you not only for your pursuit of  justice but for a stellar level of legal writing. Mazel tov.

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What I did NOT go to law school to be…

February 14, 2012 Leave a comment

“Competitive,  a situational pessimist”–these are two of the three qualities another “integrative lawyer” described as what her assumed audience went to law school because of, or to become. (The last was self reliant.” That I have been.)

Now I am beginning to wonder… am I REALLY weird? I know there are a few people reading this so feel free to provide a response. Am I the only non competitive lawyer out there? (I have been competitive in a few situations–but it has NEVER been my real motive for any activity.)

I drove across the country to go to a unique law school to GROW. To BECOME. To be able to make a difference in the world-my world and the world at large. As a child I really did not have a voice, so it did occur to me, after several years in the human  potential movement, that this was a huge benefit of being a lawyer.When I spoke on behalf of a client, my voice was heard. But I went to law school to be of service. I said as much in my essay, to gain admission to SCALE. They (the admissions committee) seemed to think it was a good motive!
But my inner driver–and I was indeed driven–was much more about knowing stuff and about  justice, and not at ALL about being competitive. Lucky for me SCALE took much of the competition out of the program by using nontraditional grades, and stressing learning above being “best.”  All my life it has been painfully obvious that for every winner there was a loser and that winning all the time was impossible. It never motivated me. Never.

Seeking truth and justice is very different from seeking a win or seeking to prove someone else is “less than.” Can I be alone on this mind set, in law? I suspect not– but when  one has been enrobed with the mantle of “lawyer,” the projection and preconceived notions tend to hide what and who is REALLY inside.

Which is one reason lawyers are so often  miserable. And if only person can win, then of every two lawyers on a case one is going to go down in defeat.

I knew I was “different” even in SCALE because we did some sort of personality inventory one day. I don’t think it was Myers Briggs,but I know it charted us in quadrants and I was the ONLY one in the upper left quadrant. I think I was shown as more of a risk taker then everyone else. (This is true. Not physical risks– risks like.. driving to LA to go to SCALE!)

And take these sort of risks I did. And do.

Now if I just knew why…

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