Thinking Through the Details of Your New Normal

By Inna Loring, Esquire

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I joined Z Family Law two weeks ago. In that short time, I have become steeped in the firm culture of helping clients envision, plan for, and adjust to their New Normal: the reality that settles in after separation and/or divorce. And my mind keeps going back to a fifteen-minute blip. Here is why it stands out.

Recently, I sat in on another attorney’s initial meeting with a new client. The client came with a well-formulated course of action she was contemplating for her family. The lawyer first asked about the client’s long-term goals. And then she drilled down into such details as: who will take out the garbage and do groceries, who will cover sick days and school closures, and who will clean the house and wash and fold the laundry.

The lawyer did not so much care about the answers as having the client “show her work” and explain how she arrived at the result. So I asked myself, why ask these questions? Why ask them at an initial meeting? Why would a lawyer care? So I thought it through.

Big picture planning, especially when emotions rule the day, is easy. But big pictures disintegrate into a pile of nonsense when each little component does not work with the others. This is what separates a pointillist painting from spilled Dippin’ Dots.

When a hurt spouse or partner wants to walk out of the relationship, it is gratifying to slam the door and screech out of the driveway. It can be fun to go on Buzzfeed and scroll through funny lists like, “The biggest jerks in relationships who never saw it coming”. Even better – blast Lizzo or the Strokes on full volume.

But then you wake up to questions about morning routines, HELOC and utility payments, the garbage, pediatricians’ visits, and piles of laundry. Thinking things through ahead of time is a more constructive – albeit less gratifying and dramatic – way to move toward the New Normal. And it spares collateral damage and bad blood. So, the same way a good dentist tells the patient to floss floss floss, a good family lawyer asks the client to think things through in mind-numbing detail. Or nine out of ten family lawyers do.

What does this mean? This means that, when you contemplate separation – even if not divorce – think about what your New Normal looks like. Then drill down into the daily minutiae. Who will do what? When? How? Where? Why will this work? Why would the other person wish to accept or reject this? What may be the biggest impediment? How would one best address it? This may force you to reassess what your New Normal looks like, and redefine your goals and strategy for getting there. We lawyers want your business – sure. But the better-articulated a client’s plan, the better and more efficiently we can help the client.

Good family law litigation and negotiation is planning and thinking things through. Plans and checklists can form habits and agreements. Good agreements whittle down or avoid litigation altogether – and, where litigation is inevitable, stable and consistent patterns of behavior tend to carry the day.

Thinking things through may look different to different people and different families. Victims of domestic violence are, unquestionably, in a class of their own. They must get out and be safe, without the luxury of calm, collected planning. But for those not facing an unsafe or abusive situation, planning for a New Normal after divorce and/or separation starts before the initial meeting with a lawyer. It starts by thinking through the minutiae.

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