New Collaboration

Sorry for the blackout this summer.  I’ve been collaborating on a project with other Women’s Bar Association members to bring a presentation to middle and high schools in MA about teen dating violence and what legal resources are available to victims of dating violence.  This is an important topic that the New Hampshire Bar Association began presenting about last year.  I am very excited and working hard to bring something similar to MA.

Anger Meet Management

It’s hot outside, children are home for the summer (which can be frustrating), and tempers can be high both at work and at home, so I thought I’d share some tips for how you can manage your own anger and reduce conflict in your life.

Take a breath and count to 10 before responding to someone who you are having conflict with. This gives you some time to think before you speak. We often respond (especially to emails/texts) right away and it doesn’t give us an opportunity to think about how our reply will be received. Is letting yourself say what you’re actually thinking worth escalating the conflict? This is especially true with dealing with a superior at your workplace; you don’t want to say or do something that could jeopardize your job or a promotion or raise.

If you are face to face with the person, another option is to Walk away to give yourself (or the other party) time to calm down. But make sure to tell the other person that you need a break, simply walking away may escalate the situation. It can be as simple as saying you need to use the restroom or get some water. Just give yourself the time you need to cool down before responding. Remember, however, 99.99% of the time, you do need to come back to the discussion topic; avoidance will not do you much good if you’re dealing with a family member or co-worker, as you’ll have to deal with the issue eventually and by then, both of you will likely be further entrenched in your positions. If you need more time than just a restroom break, take a walk or run around the block if you can. Physical activity can help you control your body’s physical response to anger/stress, which can help you to manage that emotion.

Think about the issue from the other person’s point of view. This is often a hard one, especially when you are emotionally invested in the situation. In law school, they teach students to look at the case from both sides. You have to look at your conflict from both sides in order to see the weaknesses in your own point of view. If you don’t try to step into their shoes, you only see the weaknesses in the other person’s case/argument, not your own.

I am not saying that you should not express your anger. I am saying you need to be thinking clearly when you express your frustration so that you can be non-confrontational (which can escalate the dispute), but assertive. You also need to Listen to the other person’s expression of frustration from their point of view. They may not be expressing themselves in the best way, but try to look behind that and get to what’s really in those words or actions.

Be respectful and use “I” statements, not “You” statements.

Present a possible solution to the issue at hand, but don’t be wed to it. In other words, it’s not my way or the highway. Be open to the other person’s ideas for resolution as well, there’s likely a compromise in there that you can both live with.

Lastly, recognize when you need help, whether it’s someone to help you deal with your anger alone (i.e. an anger management specialist or course) or a professional like a mediator to facilitate the conversation and direct the process.

Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse

In most states certain professions, such as: social workers, teachers and other school personnel, health care workers (i.e. doctors, nurses, mental health professionals), child care providers, medical examiners, law enforcement officers, are required to report suspected child abuse/neglect to the appropriate authorities in that state. Some states, however, require ANY PERSON to report child abuse/neglect not only certain professionals. New Hampshire and Rhode Island are the only New England states that presently have such a requirement. The New Hampshire Statute requiring any person to report is RSA 169-C:29. Other sections of the statute also lay out how to report and the information needed:

  • An oral report shall be made immediately by telephone or otherwise, and followed within 48 hours by a report in writing, if so requested, to the NH Division for Children Youth and Families
  • Such report shall, if known, contain the name and address of the child suspected of being neglected or abused and the person responsible for the child’s welfare, the specific information indicating neglect or the nature and extent of the child’s injuries (including any evidence of previous injuries), the identity of the person or persons suspected of being responsible for such neglect or abuse, and any other information that might be helpful in establishing neglect or abuse or that may be required by the department.
  • If you make a report in good faith in making a report under this chapter is immune from liability.
  • Only the Attorney- Client privilege trumps this reporting law, all other otherwise privileged communications are subject to it.
  • If you fail to report, you may be charged and found guilty of a misdemeanor. Misdemeanors are punishable in NH by up to one year’s imprisonment, a $1,000 fine or both.

For those of you in NH that encounter children in your daily lives (which I venture to guess is most people), please be aware of this law and if you suspect abuse of a child please report it, not only for the child’s wellbeing, but to keep yourself in compliance with NH law.

Prayer in Public

You may have heard that yesterday the US Supreme Court rendered a decision in Town of Grees v. Galloway et al 12-696.  I’ve seen many headlines this morning (see list below).  I’ve also read the decision, which is 80 pages long and is linked here: www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/12-696_4f57.pdf

I urge you to at least read the summary on the first few pages.  Essentially the court found that given the historical nature the use of prayer in this country in legislative bodies and town meetings, the use of prayer in these public forums does not violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.  I think what many people do not understand about the Establishment Clause is that is does not mean that there is to be no religion in the public square, it is that the government cannot coerce or force people to practice religion or endorse one religion over another…that doesn’t mean that others cannot pray or show signs of faith around you.  According to the facts of the case as reported in the opinion, there were no only Christian ministers invited to give the invocation, but also those of other faiths within the Town.  I urge you to decide for yourselves not to rely on the media reporting of this issue, which in my opinion makes it far more divisive an issue.

Supreme Court endorses prayers before town meetings
Chicago TribuneMay 5, 2014

Did Supreme Court strike a blow for religious freedom? Yes… and no
Fox News19 hours ago

Prayer case divides Supreme Court justices along religious lines
Los Angeles Times7 hours ago

Justices allow public prayers at New York town’s council meetings
CNN (blog)May 5, 2014

New York Times: A defeat for religious neutrality

Supreme Court is wrong: Prayers divide

Washington Post (blog)by Richard Cohen1 hour ago

“Best Interests of the Child(ren)”- Standard for Child Custody

When people contact me regarding divorce issues, oftentimes the first sentence I hear from them is I’m getting divorced and I want to get custody of my children. I have heard this from both Moms and Dads. Assuming there has not been a history of abuse, Mass. Gen. Law c. 208 sec. 31 says: “In making an order or judgment relative to the custody of children, the rights of the parents shall, in the absence of misconduct, be held to be equal, and the happiness and welfare of the children shall determine their custody.” For those of you who don’t know, there are two types of custody, legal and physical. Legal custody is defined as “the right and responsibility to make major decisions regarding the child’s welfare including matters of education, medical care and emotional, moral and religious development.” This post will focus on physical custody. Physical custody is different in that it deals with the day to day supervision and care of the child(ren). In the past, the mother very often got custody of the children because they were the mother and primary caretaker. In recent years however, Massachusetts judges have really begun to embrace parental equality as mandated by statute and there is far less bias toward awarding physical custody to mothers. This could be due to the changing faces on the bench or it could be because more and more fathers are taking active parenting roles and fighting for custody of their children or more likely a combination of the two. Also, keep in mind a large number of cases settle prior to trials before a judge; in those cases, oftentimes, fathers agree to the mother having physical custody (or a majority of the parenting time) with the children.

When the decision is left to the court (as opposed to being agreed to by the parties), there are no mandatory factors listed in the statute, but here are factors that judges take into consideration by virtue of past case law. These factors include: age, sex and stage of development of the child; child’s present state of adjustment in home, school, and community; present and prior interactions of the child with parents, siblings, extended family members or other person who significantly affects the life of the child; the expressed preference of an older child and the wishes and real motivations of potential custodians; the mental and psychosocial health and status of the child and the parents; evidence of each parent’s home environment; a comparison of the economic, physical and emotional environments of the potential custodian including their educational backgrounds, employment circumstances and proposed child care plans; history of domestic violence, alcohol or drug abuse by a parent and its effect on the child; also the comparisons of the capacity of potential custodians to foster growth and development to promote education of the child, to give affection, love, guidance, and moral and spiritual training, and to cooperate with, provide access to and foster affection and respect in the child for other caregivers in the child’s life. In practice, the courts put a lot of weight on disrupting the child’s life as little as possible, because divorce is such a disruptive process in the first place; therefore all other things being equal, if the court needs to decide between one parent who is still living in the child’s school district and another who is not and the child is well adjusted and settled there, it is likely that the court will decide that the child will remain living with the parent lives in a place where the child will not have to switch schools, etc. and uproot their lives even more. For older children, the court also give great weight to the where the child wants to live.

Bottom line: Parents are the only ones that really know what is in the best interest of their child(ren) and YOU (the parents) have options in the process and the outcome of your divorce or custody dispute. Look at your divorce from your child’s perspective and make the best decisions you can for their lives. You want to be able to look back and know that you did your best for your children. That you didn’t let your emotions control you actions and did not use the divorce or custody of your children just to get back at your ex. If you can put your love for your child(ren) before anger at your soon to be ex, you can choose what is best for the kids together. Alternatives to a litigated divorce/custody case, such as mediation and collaborative law can help you do this.

If you would like to learn more about all your alternatives in such matters, please contact me.

 

Listening

One of the hardest things to do for  many people is to “just listen”.  I mean really listen, not half listen, or hear their words while trying to figure out how to solve their problem.  When someone is talking, listen to the words they are saying and their body language then try to reflect back what they told you in your own words.  It is a mediator’s job to do this and help the other party really hear what the speaker is saying.  To get at the underlying matters not just what’s on the surface.  It can be more difficult than it seems.  Can you do this in your life when you are having a conflict with another?  I encourage you to give it a try, just listen.  You might be surprised at what you discover.

MA Domestic Violence

The Jared Remy case has brought a spotlight to the issue of domestic violence in recent months here in Massachusetts, but there are cases throughout the Commonwealth and the country on a daily basis that get no publicity.  There are women that live in fear of their partner daily and if they leave an abusive relationship that they may be found by a partner/former partner and may be punished or even killed for their defiance.  These people need a voice and support and a legal system working to make them safer.  There are over 100 bills that have been introduced in the state legislature on the subject of domestic violence in this session alone, but there has been too little progress made.  Speaker DeLeo and AG Martha Coakley had a press conference the other day about yet another bill.  It was said that they expect to be able to get something passed within the next 60 days.  The question I ask is why does it take such a high profile case for the legislature to actually get anything moving forward on such important matters?  I realize that there are very complex issues at play, but it’s our elected officials’ job to deal with such issues; nevermind continuing discussion on a bill in committee that would prevent divorcing couples from having a dating relationship in the home without the court’s permission.  I implore you, can we please deal with the real problems in society like stopping violent offenders, not whether a person who is getting a divorce or in a custody battle can bring a date home?

Up-skirt Photos

You may or may not have heard on the news in the last few weeks, but earlier this month, the SJC ruled that a man who was arrested for taking photos up women’s skirts on the MBTA was not committing a crime.  The way that the law was written did not include taking pictures of the private parts of people who were fully clothed, only those who were undressed or partially undressed under the MA “peeping Tom” law.  Following this ruling, the MA legislature moved quickly and just days later, on March 6th, the legislature passed a bill to change the law to include “photographs, videotapes or electronically surveils” another person’s sexual or intimate parts without that person’s consent.  This is now a misdemeanor and a person convicted of such an act would face a maximum penalty of 2.5 yrs and $5,000 fine.

Employers can still legally ask for social media passwords of potential employees.

As of January 2014, only 11 states have laws prohibiting employers from asking you for login information (including passwords) to your personal social media accounts.  New Hampshire has legislation pending to address this issue in the current session.  Legislation on this issue was also introduced in Massachusetts in January 2013, but the bill is still sitting in the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce development.  Do you think an employer you are interviewing with or working for should be allowed to ask you to turn over your personal social media information as a condition of employment?

Dealing with Conflict

Not many people like to deal with conflict in their lives.  Many avoid conflict by not talking about the issue, some even avoid the person they are in conflict with altogether so that they don’t have to deal with it at all.  It is very easy to fall into that trap.  Relationships breakdown and what started small often develops into something that seems insurmountable.  I like to focus on the problem not the person.  That is what those of us who practice in the fields of mediation and collaborative law have come to find can get you to a place where you are able to resolve your conflict and reach an agreement that you can both live with.