Saturday, March 15, 2014

When did work stop being work?

As I sat at my desk Thursday evening after most had left and looked at the time realizing I was well into my overtime for the week already, I asked myself, when did I stop minding the over time?  When did these long days become so short?

I hope having a new attorney on board won't take away from me the fun and interesting things I do.  Oh the cool projects I had this past week....

TaxCalc14 Seminar

With so many seminars, you learn some great stuff but then when you get back to the office you aren't able to immediately apply that information and so you forget what you learned.

This was not the case with the TaxCalc14 Seminar I attended this week, which was hosted by the Collaborative Family Law Council of Wisconsin and presented by Grant Zielinski of Divorce Financial Solutions and Attorney Dan Cross of Perterson, Berk & Cross, S.C.  In the just the first two days back in the office, I spent hours using the tools provided and demonstrated at this seminar.  It was by far the best training I have ever attended.

Before attending this seminar the extent of my experience with Divorce Financial Solutions TaxCalc14 spreadsheets was only with child support and maintenance calculations.  This week I made good use of their QDRO Estimate tool (to figure out tax consequences of distributions from a retirement account received through a QDRO), property division worksheet, and Wage Stub Calculator in addition to figuring maintenance and child support.

For any attorney (or support staff) not already using these tools, I encourage you to check them out and the best part is that they can be downloaded for free from Divorce Financial Solutions's website.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Two observations

First, how a person reacts to a difficult situations says a lot about their character.  Some people hide and avoid the situation completely.  Others plug along pretending they know what their doing (and often creating a big mess).  And yet others confront the situation so they can get all the facts, adapt, and focus on reaching the bar.  I hope that with each difficult challenge, I become a little bit more like the last person.


On another note, I won't say I am not guilty of this but I have tried to be more conscious of it in the recent years.  Absolutely no good comes from gossiping about faults of former or current co-workers.  I don't want to hear how awful my former colleagues were - I actually liked them.  I also don't want to hear about the faults of my current colleagues (unless they are my employees) - these are people I need to work with.  

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The IRS does not care what you put in your MSA

Contrary to what many people think, from a reliable source (an IRS Revenue Agent), I can assure you that the IRS will not spend time reading nor following the terms of a Marital Settlement Agreement or other family court order.

They don't care if the husband is solely responsible for the back taxes; if they can't collect from the husband, they will go after they wife.  They don't care if the mother is supposed to be able to claim the child as a dependent; if dad claims the child too, they will look at who provided more for the child (had the child in their care more of the time, spent more money on the care of the child, etc.).

For this reason, it is absolutely critical that you include language in the MSA that can be enforced by the Court should the IRS or state Department of Revenue (or any third party) try to collect from the other party.  Some options I have seen include a hold open on maintenance for the purpose of enforcing the obligations of either party or the ability to ask the Court for an increase (or decrease in the case of the payee failing to meet his or her obligations) in maintenance to cover same.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Figuring out what your employees need

People in general are not very good at articulating what they need.  In a employee-supervisor relationship, that gets more difficult as no one wants to appear weak or inadequate in the presence of the someone judging their job performance.  So as someone new to supervising employees, I'm learning to pay attention to the cues my employees give me to attempt to figure out what they need and find a way to give it to them if possible.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

If I were you, ....

I recently listened to a webinar recorded in July 2013 titled "People Management 101:  Providing Direction & Support" presented by Ann Phillips, Senior Consulting Partner at The Ken Blanchard Companies

One, of many things, I took from the presentation was the use, or preferably non-use, of the phrase, "if I were you, I would..."  This phrases loses sight of the very important fact that I'm NOT you.  We are all different and would respond differently to any situation.  

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Collaborative Divorce

Not to detract from my more humorous post of today's date, I've been meaning to discuss this topic.

Our law firm seems to take on more and more collaborative divorces all the time and although this process is not for every divorce, when it works, it really works.

Let me start by summarizing how collaborative divorces work in our area.  Both parties enter into a Stipulation stating that they will approach this collaboratively.  They agree not to use traditional trial tools like formal discovery and instead work openly with each other to reach resolution.  They seek the assistance of financial advisers to settle financial issues and the assistance of coaches and a child specialist to settle issues related to custody and placement.

They agree that if the divorce becomes contested in Court they will seek new counsel so that discussions they had during the collaborative process stay a part of that process and aren't used against them at a contested hearing.

Last week, I had the opportunity to sit in on an office conference between our client and the attorney.  During that conference, they discussed in detail the discussions being had with the coaches and child specialist.  What amazed me was the honesty, reflection, and focus on the goal of what is best for the parties' son.  The comments she shared from the child specialist and both coaches showed a dedication to the process and helping two individuals work together to figure out what was best for their son.  Clearly both parties' coaches and the child specialist are really good at what they do.

I'm not trying to say the divorce goes perfectly with this model or that it works with every case (trust me, it doesn't!).  Any divorce involves two people very hurt by the actions of the other.  It is a very emotional time.  What this model does is allows for the parties to have a solid support system to help them through the process and help them come up with the best end results for a less than ideal situation.

Quotes from Court

At my last job I used to spend a lot of time in Court and as a result heard a lot of crazy things said by attorneys and occasionally by the Commissioners and Judges themselves.  So today when I came across this link, I couldn't help but laugh.

I still remember an attorney saying to me weeks after I saw her in Court that she learned her lesson not to ask any questions of her client that she doesn't already know the answer to.  I think the Court would have ruled in her client's favor if not for the answer to that one question she could have avoided asking.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Casualties of Politics

I recently spoke with a veteran teacher who resigned from teaching and completely left the world of education.  From my conversations with her and observance of the way lead others out of school, I think it a safe bet to say she was a dedicated and very talented teacher.  She isn't the first and she won't be the last.

Recent politics has turned to bashing teachers and government workers in general.  It has turned to making demands about a profession one can't fully understand until one is immersed in it.  Recent politics have turned away from learning and towards results of meaningless assessments.  It has taken away from teachers the ability to teach in a way that will enhance future generations.

When you display such a hatred against a profession, take away all their tools to truly do their job well, and eliminate fair compensation you are only left with those that can't find a job elsewhere or don't mind being a part of a system that is falling apart.  Because the rest will find a new career.  The talented and dedicated educators will move on to a career where there isn't interference with doing a job one can be proud of.

Is that what people want?

I fear that 20,40, or even 60 years from now, the few who can rise up without a decent education will really regret the politics happening now.  And the rest will be too dumb to know the difference.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

For something different

Here is a poem I wrote that I thought I would share with you.

My Client, a Survivor
By Rebecca Klamert

Her voice suddenly quiet,
she hesitates.
It’s her second call today.
Each resembles the last.

They all start the same:
a timid voice speaks my name;
a force of energy upon knowing its me;
a need to explain, doubtful I’ll believe.

This time she hopes
for a different response.

They all end the same:
after an intense conversation,
a hesitation,

and the soft whisper of goodbye.

Finding good people to hire

With this current job I'm seeing things from a different perspective as a supervisor of employees and as one who will be part of the hiring process as we look to find new talent.  It definitely has its challenges and I often face situations that are well out of my comfort zone but I know it is good for me.  I am a firm believer that growth only happens when you step out of your comfort zone and the sense of accomplishment at the end makes it all worth it.

Our firm is currently hiring a part-time Legal Assistant.  Here is a link to the ad on monster.com.  I haven't had a chance to carefully look at the stack of resumes on my desk but at first glance, I can't believe what people send out.

If you can't format a resume so that it is readable, how can I believe you will be able to format pleadings and Estate Planning documents correctly?

If there are glaring spelling and grammar mistakes on your resume and cover letter, what are the chances you will do well proofreading and composing letters?

If your cover letter is three sentences long, what does that say about your communication skills?

I remember the hours I have spent in the past drafting resumes and cover letters and completing online applications because I recognized that they had to be excellent, especially in this job market.

This reminds me of a time five or six years ago when in an online community a college graduate was having trouble finding a permanent full time job a couple of years after graduation.  She posted her cover letter and resume on the forum asking for feedback.  Her cover letter was two or three sentences long and her resume hard to read which to me really explained why she couldn't find a job.  The part that really got me though was when people tried to give her any feedback she completely dismissed it all.  It was only in the last year or so I heard she finally found something in the middle of no where out of state.

I'm rambling, I know.  My point in all of this is that if you don't put the time and energy necessary into your job search, employers are not going to believe you will put the time and energy needed to get the job done well.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is becoming just another social site.  I don't even have an account with Facebook yet get invitations from people I don't really know (such as my husband's co-worker from 10 years ago who I probably only briefly met a couple of times).  With invitations like this, it's evident it is about a popularity contest and not about any real communication (there obviously are exceptions to this).

Now I'm starting to get the same invites on LinkedIn.  And as if the invites from those I don't really know weren't enough, I've had people on two occasions endorse me for a skill they have never seen me do.  One such endorsement came from someone who I haven't seen in close to 10 years long before I had even acquired the skill she endorsed.  With endorsements like this, how can anyone take any endorsements seriously.  LinkedIn could be such a good tool if people used it as it was meant to be used.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Attorneys’s Fees

Anyone who has been through a divorce or works with a law firm that handles divorces knows how quickly attorneys’ fees add up.  The cost of representation is beyond reach of probably a majority of those going through divorce.  Some choose to go in debt to have representation.  Others go it alone.

Now add to that thought the additional expense for cases that are highly contested.  And most highly contested cases involve domestic violence.

A victim of domestic violence is at a disadvantage for many reasons. 

S/He may be very traumatized from the violence which may have resulted in mental health issues.  The trauma and/or mental health issues often make it very difficult in communicating with the attorney and may make it difficult to make efficient use of their time with the attorney.  This results in a higher attorney bill because the attorney has to spend more time with him/her or results in the attorney have a lesser grasp of the case leading to a bad outcome for the individual.

This trauma and/or mental health issues also often result in him/her not presenting well to the court resulting in an unfavorable outcome.

Additionally, many victims of domestic violence were abused financially and so may have less or no access to marital money or may not be able to get credit because their spouse has significantly ruined their credit.

Private attorneys can’t take on all kinds of clients pro bono or they would never keep their doors open.  And they can provide discounts on their rates to a certain point without affecting their ability to stay in business.  And these cases are very time consuming. 

So I don’t know that there is an answer to this problem.  It’s just frustrating that representation usually becomes unaffordable to a victim of domestic violence.  And it doesn’t help that funding for programs that provide free or low cost representation like Legal Action of Wisconsin is constantly being cut.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Family Justice Center in Milwaukee

Today on jsonline, there is an article about plans for a Family Justice Center that will bring together many groups to better serve victims of domestic abuse.  When I worked at Legal Action, I remember discussions about bringing more groups together and it is really neat to see this might actually happen.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Change is good

Change can be very difficult as we find comfort in the routine.  And in those moments of change it can be very difficult to remember that change is an important part of our lives and can bring great things.  I write this blog post in anticipation of the things to come.  On Monday, I start a new job.  I will be working as a legal assistant for a small law firm that focuses primarily on family law but handles a variety of other types of cases as well.  I'm excited about working for this firm especially because the attorneys seem to be very focused on clients and doing what is just and right for the children.  Plus you can't beat the commute.  I will be saving 6.5 hours a week alone in commuting.  The commuting never bothered me before but now I wonder what I could have been doing in those 6.5 hours each week.

I imagine the topics of my posts may change some as I am not in the trenches of the domestic violence world (although I recognize domestic violence and family law overlap significantly) but we shall see.

In these last few days, I'm looking forward to enjoying my time now that I have found a job.  I have been immersing myself in poetry much of today and look forward to writing some more of my own poetry over the next few days.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Lundy Bancroft and Janet Johnston

At a recent training, Lundy Bancroft mentioned Janet Johnston which has caused a bit of a stir with a few members of our community.  Bancroft did not go into detail at the training but referenced his book The Batterer as Parent where he spends an entire chapter discussing Janet Johnston's research.  As I couldn't find our copy of the book, I found online a blog post by Bancroft that addresses this very thing.  About half way through the post in the section titled, "The Connection Between Battering and Child Abuse" Bancroft discusses the typologies identified by Johnston and the issues he sees with using these typologies to assess risk in child custody and placement cases.  The AFCC (Association of Family and Conciliation Courts) used Johnston's research on these typologies in developing their risk assessment.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Lundy Bancroft

Our organization had the pleasure of hosting a training led by Lundy Bancroft last month who has extensive experience in batterer's treatment and domestic violence and has published several excellent books.  We refer many of our clients to his book entitled Why Does He Do That?.  The Batterer as Parent is a great resource for professionals working with victims of domestic violence and their families.  Below are some key messages I took from the training led by Lundy Bancroft.


Overlap of abuse towards mother and child abuse
  • 49% of batterers also physically abuse the children
  • Batterers are 7 times more likely to physically abuse the children than a non-batterer
  • Batterers are 6 times more likely to sexually abuse children than a non-batterer

 How the batterer appears in court or when meeting with professionals
  • Will deny/minimize allegations of domestic violence
  • Make allegations that the mother has mental health problems, abuses alcohol or drugs, or is an unfit parent
  • Will commonly appear as the friendly parent
  • Skillfully dishonest and manipulative which professionals may not recognize
  • Will usually outperform victim in psychological tests – there is no psych test that will show someone is a batterer
  • Will not seem capable of the kind of cruelty or abuse being accused of
  • Very good under observation
  • Will appear very calm when meeting with professionals like an officer immediately following an incident – batterers are very controlled in their behaviors even though at times they may appear out of control – an example – when he destroys things, he avoids destroying his own belongings

How the victim appears in court or when meeting with professionals
  • May not appear to be a good parent as the batterer typical undermines and interferes with her parenting
  • Often do not perform well on psychological tests which are usually only about 70% accurate in evaluating mental health and usually do not relate the results to the individual’s ability to parent
  • Typically not good witnesses

 Impact of battering on children
  • Batterer often causes divisions in the family affecting children’s relationships with their siblings and with their mother
  • They learn by example the values and behaviors that lead to perpetration or victimization
  • Separation increases the chances of children witnessing violence as it often occurs during exchanges
  • Children are often used as weapons or tools to continue the abuse

 Other comments by Lundy Bancroft
  • Domestic violence is not a relationship problem, it is a battering problem.
  • Our legal system sends victims mixed messages – if they stay with an abusive partner they are failing to protect the children; if they leave, the abusive partner is granted extensive unsupervised placement with the children leaving the victim unable to protect her children
  • Children heal through repairing their connection to the non-abusive parent and their siblings.  They also heal through increased safety and establishing loving, appropriate relationships with adults.
  • The risk of a boy becoming a perpetrator is directly related to whether the boy grew up believing the violence was the non-abusive parent’s fault or whether the abusive parent had to take responsibility.
  • Victims tend to give up financial orders (maintenance, child support, property division, etc.) in order to get custody and placement.  This often backfires as most financial orders cannot be modified at a later date but custody and placement can be modified.  With the lack of favorable financial orders, the victim doesn’t have the financial resources to fight it when the batterer keeps bringing them back to court to modify custody and placement.

Actions of Ordinary People Offer Hope

Click on the following article titled:  Tim Gruenke:  Actions of Ordinary People Offer Hope from the LaCrosse Tribune.  This article is a great reminder of why we do what we do.

Monday, November 19, 2012

No contact orders

I recently learned that no contact orders that are a condition of bond are not in effect when a defendant is in custody so I spent some time focusing on increasing my understanding of various no contact orders and what they can do to protect a victim.  Please note that I work in WI and so all of these no contact orders are specific to WI.  Other states will have varying laws which may or may not be the same as WI's laws.

No contact orders at the time of arrest
72 hour no contact order:  This is an order entered at the time of arrest of a perpetrator of domestic violence.  The victim has the right to waive or enforce this no contact order.  This order stays in effect for the 72 hours regardless of whether criminal charges are filed unless the victim waives it in writing.  2011 WI Act 267 recently changed the laws regarding violations of this no contact order to a criminal charge (from a citation).

No contact orders during a pending criminal case
No contact order as a condition of bond (WI statutes Chapter 969):  This is a criminal no contact order that a judge can order (usually at the request of the DA).  Bond must be posted (and the defendant no longer in custody) for this order to be in effect.  This order can prohibit contact with a victim and the victim's residence at the discretion of the judge and can last up to the length of the case.  A violation results in bail jumping.

No contact order per WI Statutes 940.47:  This is a criminal no contact order entered by the judge (usually at the request of the DA) which can prohibit intimidation of victims or witnesses, in person contact with victims or witnesses, and/or communication with victims or witnesses.  A violation can result in intimidation of victims charges.  This criminal no contact order if entered is in effect regardless of whether bond has been posted.


Condition of a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA):  If a defendant agrees to accept a DPA, a no contact order can be a part of that agreement.  If the defendant follows the conditions of this agreement, his case is dismissed after a set amount of time.  If he violates the conditions (including violating the no contact provision) of his DPA, he can be immediately found guilty and sentenced in that case.


No contact orders upon sentencing
No contact order as condition of probation:  If a defendant is sentenced to probation, a no contact order can be entered as part of the conditions of his probation.  My understanding is that this no contact order can be entered by the judge at the time of sentencing or by the probation officer.  If he violates, he can be arrested and his probation can be revoked.  Additionally it is my understanding that new laws allow the DA's office to enter criminal charges upon violation of this order as well.

Civil no contact orders
Civil temporary restraining orders and injunctions (WI Statutes Chapter 813):  This no contact order is separate from any criminal case and requires the victim to file a petition requesting a temporary restraining order that can last up to two weeks and then appear at a hearing to petition the court for an injunction that can last up to four years (depending on the type of petition filed).  The petitioner can specify exceptions to this no contact order to allow certain types of contact (which is often important in cases where the parties have minor children and need to be able to communicate in some safe way).  This type of no contact order is available to victims regardless of police contact or criminal charges.  A violation of this type of no contact order can result in immediate arrest and criminal charges.

It is important to remember that no contact orders can be an important part of a safety plan but cannot be the entire safety plan.  As we saw in the recent shooting in Brookfield, the perpetrator didn't care that there was an injunction in place.  That is not to say that all perpetrators will ignore no contact orders.  They work for many victims/survivors so it is important to listen to the victim/survivor carefully for what s/he thinks will keep him/her safe.  S/he is the one who knows the perpetrator the best.

Additionally, it may make sense for an individual to seek various no contact orders at once since they all provide slightly different protection.  Many of my clients chose to file for a civil restraining order even while there is a criminal no contact order as a condition of bond in place because criminal no contact orders are not long term orders and can disappear with little warning if the defendant pleads guilty.  So for those working victims/survivors it is important to understand the pros and cons of each type of no contact order so that victim/survivor can make an informed choice about what is going to keep him/her safe.

Please note that I am not an attorney and this post does not contain legal advice.  In this post, I am explaining my understanding of the no contact orders available to individuals in WI.  If any of the information above is not accurate, please comment on this post as my goal is to provide the most accurate information possible.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Domestic violence in popular culture

Years ago, I got into an online discussion about the song "Goodbye Earl" sung by the Dixie Chicks.  At the time I felt strongly against the song because of the violence it advocated.  I got a lot of negative feedback from people who told me I didn't understand what it was like to be a victim of domestic abuse.  I responded that I'm not judging what an individual victim may do to protect herself but instead am judging a message being put out by a famous country song that can be interpreted many very bad ways.

Now after three years working directly with victims of domestic and sexual violence, I don't pretend to know what they go through but it has given me a better understanding.  And with that better understanding my thoughts have not changed regarding that song.  I will not judge what an individual victim decides is best for him/her.  But I will not ever feel it is appropriate for popular culture to advocate violence.

There are other songs that follow this trend which I strongly do not agree with such as Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats."

Another song I would like to mention is Eminem (with Rihanna)' "Love the Way you Lie."  This song is not as clear cut to me because I feel it does bring up the conflicted emotions of a victim and the cycle they are stuck in both things that can bring awareness.  On the other hand it really romanticizes the violence and avoids accountability.  I feel like it sends the message that there are excuses for the violence and in my opinion there is no valid excuse for violence towards another individual.