We have three different blog series for you to find inspiration and encouragement as you go on this journey:
- Doing Divorce, A thoughtful discussion about divorce: Angela Dunne provides practical advice based on real examples of what she and her clients have faced through the transition of divorce.
- Divorce Made Simple: Our attorneys breakdown the divorce process in a way that is easy to understand.
- NEXT: An Empowerment Series: Attorney and life coach Susan Koenig guides, supports, and inspires you on the journey of creating a life you love.
Back in Beantown to visit, a blue-sky morning invited me on a walk to see the fall foliage New England is famous for. I walked for miles.
I admired the muted purple hydrangeas. I bent over to sniff a lone white rose in front of the three story with gingerbread trim. I scanned each street in search of the yellows, oranges, and reds I’d remembered.
I applauded the small ivy-covered patches that passed for yards. I paused a pocket garden that I mused I could replicate. It was autumn. But instead of the vibrant shades of favorite season, more flowers flourished than leaves fell.
The climate crisis was cleverly disguised.
Returning to Nebraska, the global news focused on Glasgow where world leaders debated and negotiated why some country other than their own should do more to put the brakes on the speedway to continued tragedy. Meanwhile, millions more of the poor and vulnerable die or are devasted by fires, floods, and droughts—-with no end in sight.
I pondered my part.
I pat myself on the back for buying second hand dresses. I applaud my occasional abstention from chocolate, knowing its Ivory Coast source means massive deforestation (oh, and child slavery). I go down a rabbit hole researching bamboo toilet paper only to discover it’s shipped from China.
I am reasonably well informed. What I’m doing is better than nothing. But I’m less sure I’m doing the best I can for my very own community which has yet to even start an action plan for averting the escalating crisis.
Seasons change. Eventually one ends and another begins. Always.
With the day of giving thanks soon arriving, I’ll appreciate the one that bought me an October rose. I’ll savor the stunning red sumac and burning bush. I’ll surrender to the season of being an imperfect global citizen. And I’ll vow to not be among those whose promises to do better are broken.
Change is inevitable.
It’s past my time to be it.
Do you see yourself as a citizen of your community? Your country? The world?
Do you connect the season of your life with the seasons of the earth?
What change is inevitable for you?
If you or your spouse is a service member at Offutt Air Force Base and you are considering filing for divorce, the first question you must answer is where do I file?
Every state has different divorce filing requirements, but all states require at least one spouse to be a “legal resident” of the state in which he or she wishes to file. Legal residency (also known as “domicile”) is defined as the state in which a person resides while also intending that state to remain his or her permanent home. This intent requirement becomes more complicated with military divorces, as spouses in a military marriage often move among many different states.
Although service members are presumed Nebraska legal residents after being stationed in Nebraska for one consecutive year, those seeking to file for divorce must still meet the intent-to-remain requirement. To determine whether a spouse intends to remain permanently in Nebraska, courts often look at that spouse’s:
– current residence
– voter registration
– voting practices
– real property
– personal property
– financial accounts
– personal and professional memberships
– religious practices
– employment or education
– owned businesses
– driver’s license
– preparation of a will
– automobile registration
– tax payments
For service members, however, courts look to the service member’s state of legal residence as declared to the United States Department of Defense. This is always the state to which the service member pays state income taxes and is often the state in which the service member entered service. Some service members execute a State of Legal Residence Certificate (DD Form 2058) to change their state of legal residence.
Our legal team at Koenig|Dunne has represented many service members and spouses through the complexities of a military divorce, and we are here to help you navigate these difficult issues with experience and wholehearted support.
The 93-year-old former physicist didn’t make the trip. He was now living in Germany with his third wife, having outlived two. The former mayor of Durham did, however, as did the Harvard psychologist. Ann was tired from working on an immigration matter late into the evening before but coaxing from her classmate convinced her to overcome her shyness and join the celebration.
I’d booked my flight from Omaha to Boston; booked before I had gotten my booster, but I knew we’d all be vaccinated. This was a group that had been thinking about others for decades.
Since before the pandemic, Don Green had been investigating our whereabouts and wrangling us to get together. Previously a Boston cop, he’d managed to uncover who was dead, who was vaccinated, and who would be willing to make it to the South End for the 40-year reunion of the Northeastern University Law School class of ‘81.
Don is one of those wonderfully relentless connectors who doesn’t give up on gathering people who think themselves too busy or too tired to try. Instead, they take the thought “We should get together some time” and magically make it happen for the rest of us.
A public interest law school, Northeastern attracted those eager to do good. Many were launching a second career. It was 1978 when we arrived to a class that had more women than men. Our freshman year we took over the dean’s office to demand greater diversity in the school’s hiring practices. (I’m the one wearing the hat in the photo above.) There was no class ranking, but here was a requirement to have 12 months of full-time legal experience to graduate.
In between the lobster roll and the chocolate mousse, triumphs and heartbreaks were met with congratulations and condolences. John, who joked he was working at a dump (a recycling center) when he started law school, went on to negotiate millions for those whose lives had been stolen by wrongful convictions. Barbara, who’d lost her sweet son to suicide at twenty-two shared, “You’ve got to talk about it.”
Some became judges. Others advocated endlessly for the homeless. Many like me found other meaningful paths after the practice of law. Each inspired me to be more like Don and exercise a bit more grit to surround myself with those who fill me with enthusiasm of a first-year law student just wanting to do good.
Thank you, Class, of ‘81.
Who have you been thinking about connecting with?
Do you remember a time of your life when you were filled with extreme enthusiasm?
How do the people around you inspire you?
I knew what I was seeing before I knew what I was seeing. My brain worked hard to protect my mom heart. What is that? Is that a highlighter? I pulled the top off not to expose a highlighter tip, but rather a menthol pack. Oh. OH.
My fifteen-year-old culprit daughter was in the basement working on a cheer routine. My mind raced as I ticked through options of how best to address this. I sent the photo to her dad and his only response was “That’s not good.” Well, that wasn’t good either – how was I supposed to handle this? Do I tell her I found it while simply setting laundry on her bed? Do I wait to make her confess once she realizes it is gone? Can I just ignore this, go get in my bed, and pretend it didn’t happen?
As my overwhelm started to subside, my well-worn lawyering skills of problem-solving kicked in. I set the vape pen on my dresser and reflected about what I was most upset about at my core. I knew intellectually that this behavior should be expected from teenagers as they strive to assert themselves into adulthood. They want to test limits, show independence, and flex into risky behaviors for the sheer sake of seeing what they can get away with. I knew this was normal as flickering memories of me at that age came into focus of drinking, sneaking out, and more…
I resolved to speak with her as soon as she returned upstairs. And of course, she bounded upstairs a bit later with enthusiasm and happiness of having mastered her tryout routine for the following week. Again, I was tempted toward avoidance, but instead said “You can message your friends that you will talk to them on Monday.” This was Wednesday and she quizzically looked at me. I said, “Look behind you.” She turned toward my dresser and back toward me with saucer eyes.
She gave me her phone (and all of her other electronics) and that was all I could do for the moment. I relayed my disappointment and said we would talk more the next day. (It was bedtime for us both). I was self-aware enough to know that speaking from fatigue would not be my friend. When my eldest daughter arrived home from babysitting soon thereafter – she said – “Oh, I had one of those my sophomore year too.” WHAT?!?! Another layer – so my eldest daughter was just sneaky enough to get away with it and avoid punishment? Or do I punish her now 2 years after the fact? Sigh.
In the days ahead we had several conversations. I set my anger, hurt, and judgements aside in an effort to really learn from and hear my daughter. She shed tears over the weight of peer pressure (“EVERYONE does it, Mom”), she affirmed repeatedly at my insistence that she knew how harmful this was and that my only intention was to keep her safe and healthy. She viewed this behavior as one of the least egregious of what she saw from her peers.
What I came to understand, and what I hope to remember when the inevitable next time arrives, is that my reaction had everything to do with opening up toward her instead of my initial reaction which was to close down at her. Not only did she need to start building back the trust I place in her, but I needed to maintain the trust she has in me that I will listen, guide, teach, protect, and always love.
A bloodied lip, a fractured arm, a black eye. These are the images we have come to associate with domestic violence. As an attorney, the physical manifestations of violence can often be proven in court. Unfortunately, there are other forms of domestic violence that often times fall through the cracks in a divorce case.
Scott Hahn, a divorce attorney at Koenig|Dunne, has a keen and perceptive eye to spot signals of domestic violence in its many forms. Prior to joining the Koenig|Dunne team, Scott exclusively represented domestic violence survivors at the Women’s Center for Advancement in Omaha, Nebraska.
At Koenig|Dunne, our attorneys are well-versed in the many forms domestic violence can take. From subtle clues to red flags, your legal team at Koenig|Dunne will support survivors of domestic violence in all the various forms, including:
Financial/Economic: One of the most common forms of abuse is financial or economic abuse. Withholding access to money, controlling the ability to seek employment, lack of decision-making or knowledge about finances, and threats regarding finances are common in divorce cases where abuse is present. Oftentimes, we find clients have stayed in abusive relationships because they felt they didn’t have the financial means to leave. This is exacerbated when children are involved.
Isolation: We often hear that at the heart of domestic violence is power and control over a survivor. A manifestation of power and control often is isolating their partner. Our clients come to us feeling as if they are alone and they have no one to turn to. Isolation can take many forms, but may look like a survivor no longer having close or meaningful relationships with friends or family, not being allowed to work outside of the home, and/or not being allowed to maintain private social medial or email accounts, etc.
Emotional: Emotional abuse, like isolation, can include many types of conduct including: verbal threats to a survivor’s immediate well-being or those of loved ones, threats to pets, continual criticism in public and private, preventing one from practicing their religious beliefs; defamatory accusations made against them to employers, friends, and others, humiliation, etc. As a divorce attorney hearing survivors’ stories, our job is to reaffirm the client’s reality, as they have often been gaslit by their partners. All such tactics usually result in a power imbalance in the marital relationship, making it more difficult over time for a survivor to reach out for legal help.
Because the non-physical forms of domestic violence are nuanced, it’s important for divorce attorneys to know and understand the facets of power and control that survivors experience. Below is a chart that describes in more detail the Power-and-Control Wheel:
If you or a loved one are experiencing domestic violence and are considering divorce, contact Scott Hahn or another experienced divorce attorney at Koenig|Dunne to schedule your initial consultation to learn your rights, options, and discuss a safe path forward.
“He said he’d beat the crap out of me if I didn’t.” After a celebratory dinner of fried chicken, beans, and tortillas the room fell silent as Maureen* told her story.
She proudly showed the progress with glossy photos of sessions one, two, three, and four. She explained how Mario was removing her tattoo. Soon the mark made on her chest would no longer be a daily reminder of her abuser and her trauma.
Mario, a short muscular man with a giant curly ponytail, spoke next. He choked up explaining how he used to tattoo gang members. How he heard Blanca talk about the possibility of getting his own tattoo removed through the program she started for people leaving jail or prison. Now he helps remove other people’s tattoos.
Daniel, Blanca’s son, stood up. He’d been inspired by a book by Catholic priest Greg Boyle, homework at his Jesuit prep school. Father Boyle became an icon among gang members for his compassion toward them, and one of the first programs he developed was a tattoo-removal program to eliminate one barrier to them being employed.
Next was Blanca’s turn. After experiencing Daniel’s after school enthusiasm for Father Boyle’s work in California, she immediately saw the need in Nebraska. She found funding, and she found Dr. Mike.
Dr. Mike, who’d earlier blessed our chicken dinner, was next on the evening’s agenda. He’d learned from Blanca that the program required a doctor’s supervision. He couldn’t say no.
Then there was Tony. He slowly removed his backward ball cap revealing the half-faded tattoo across his forehead. The painful removal process requires multiple sessions, and he was still in the process. He flashed a smile, holding on to the hand of his girlfriend sitting close. Like the others, his gratitude was profound and his hope undeniable.
Everyone had gathered to celebrate the one- year anniversary of the tattoo removal program and the dozens who’d been helped.
-Maureen is out of that relationship. She now volunteers three days a week at the center Blanca started.
-Mario is proud to be a volunteer helping others in the situation he was once in. He recently was named employee of the month at the company where he works as a handyperson.
-Tony says he’ll turn to Blanca for help in starting his own nonprofit.
We each have a part to play in removing the vestiges of the past that no longer serve us or others. Our single part can make a difference. These heroes made a difference in mine.
Where do you look for inspiration?
Do you gain enthusiasm from what you read?
Who are your heroes for how you want to live your life?
*Names have been changed to preserve the confidentiality of these heroes.
“I can’t imagine what it feels like,” I heard myself utter in quiet dismay. I watched from behind the news reporter and the camera as my clients were asked “Why? How does it feel? Why do you love your sons? How do your sons feel? Why fight this battle? What is next?” The big tv camera lens will soon morph to a microscopic lens as the court evaluates these women as parents and whether or not they should be treated the same as unwed opposite-sex parents.
The truth is that I can try to imagine it – I just don’t want to because it is the stuff nightmares are made from. I can pretend to stand in the shoes of these moms and imagine what it would feel like to have my parental relationship with my daughters hanging in a legal chasm of half parent/half stranger.
This is the reality our clients, Erin and Kristin, face. Both women a biological mom to one of their sons and a full parent in every other way to their non-biological sons. The state of Nebraska refuses to acknowledge the truth of their family to protect their children into adulthood.
They have done everything possible under the law to secure their familial rights. They have custody and support orders in place while their children are minors and the judge ordered them to secure their names on the children’s birth certificate to ensure full legal rights are afforded to protect their children well into the future.
The judge tasked with upholding the minor child’s best interests ordered these parents to place their names on the birth certificates, knowing that if they didn’t, recognition of the parent/child relationship could be at risk. But they couldn’t. The Department of Health and Human Services denied the requests to amend the birth certificates.
What if I was lying in the hospital and one of my daughters was barred from seeing me, or worse yet from having a voice in an important medical decision for me? What if when I die, one of my daughters inherits as my child at a 1% inheritance tax rate and my other daughter inherits as a stranger to me at an 18% inheritance tax rate – making their “equal” shares significantly unequal. What if one of my daughter’s birth certificates identified me as mom and my other’s child’s birth certificate did not.
What if Nebraska legally recognized my relationship with Anna but did not legally recognize my relationship with Sophia?
Beyond powerless and heartbroken, it would be near impossible to quell my rage. Most parents spend their entire parent lives working to ensure safety, fairness, happiness, and prosperity for their children. To be told that you will not be recognized by the very state you reside in is maddening at best. Further, to be told that a man in an identical situation as yours need only sign a document without lengthy court action, legal fees, and judicial scrutiny is the very definition of unjust discrimination.
This is why we fight. This is why I became a lawyer. This is why I represent Erin and Kristin zealously with everything I have. This is why.
We argued about the garlic in the guacamole. He stormed outside. I stood at the second-floor bathroom mirror; my shaking hand focused on my mascara. I heard the front door open. His is footsteps coming up the stairs. He opened the door, punched me in the stomach, and spoke calmly.
“Now you can tell your friends I abused you.”
I was young but I was strong, confident, and independent. On the outside. In my home, I justified the purchase of a two-dollar tube of lipstick. I defended why I wanted to see a movie with a girlfriend. I stayed with a man who threw the bowl of Olive Garden Spaghetti across the kitchen, cracked the windshield with his bare fist, and smashed a vase of flowers from our garden against the mantle. Meanwhile, I set the table, kept driving, and wept.
I knew that domestic violence was the misuse of power and control. I was a divorce lawyer and a feminist activist to boot. But when I was in its midst, I was blind. I compared myself to those I considered “real” victims—those in my office with blackened eyes, broken bones, and battered children.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Despite decades of public education and the fact that one of every four American women reports being physically abused by a spouse or partner at some point, many people still don’t understand the complexity or breadth of domestic violence. Whether you are a welder or an accountant, rich or poor, a Gen Xer or a boomer—you are not immune.
What gave me the courage to face the truth was others gently asking, “Is this the first time he hit you?” “Do you think that’s normal?” “Feel like talking?” The concerns of others—shared without judgment—helped me to see the seriousness of my situation.
“I just called to see if you’re okay. I’m worried about you.”
Terror, isolation, and limited safe choices keep many in danger. I was lucky. I had income, options, and support. The 30,000 victims around the world who die each year from intimate partner abuse aren’t as lucky.
If you or someone you know is experiencing the warning signs of intimate partner abuse, support is essential right now. Call the 24-hour domestic violence hotline at (800)799-SAFE (7233). Develop a safety plan. Call an attorney knowledgeable about protection orders. Don’t wait.
It’s time to be aware of risks, rights, and the next small step forward toward a safe future. As for me, the only regret I ever had about my first small step was that I didn’t make it sooner.
First I was confused. Later I silently disagreed. Then I started to question.
“You support a lot of people,” my friend said. The conversation moved quickly past my subtle bristle, but my recurring trait of wanting to be right itched like a prickly tag inside a sweater.
My children are grown. My parents are dead. I am not a caretaker for anyone. My love Kevin is as much a support to me as I am to him. My mild annoyance and urge to argue lingered.
Margo visits our terminally ill friend Joyce week after week. Mary Helen has fed the homeless every Tuesday for years. Michaela and her wife care for their very special daughter with long list of extra special needs each and every day.
I wasn’t like them. What I do is small. Occasional. Chosen. And mostly easy.
Check on Mary’s cat litter order and find her divorce decree
Review documents for Sam’s condo sale and visit him in memory care
Talk with Brian about chemo ending and give Grace asked for advice
My calls from my blind sister last about 5 minutes. Brian and I FaceTime every three weeks and I never have to leave home. Sam is 83 and it’s been rare he’s needed my help. Taking a plate of blueberry pancakes to my neighbor hardly fits my belief about being a helper.
I wasn’t like Margo or Mary Helen or Michaela. I wasn’t humble. If I admitted I supported a lot of people, my achiever ego had to admit the choice that my countless undone, unfinished, and unstarted projects would wait another day.
I confused what I do (small and paltry in comparison) with who I think I am (someone who should be doing big things). I forgot that who you are “being” matters more than what you are “doing.” Whether I am doing big or small or only now and then, I don’t need to deny being supportive or loving.
I love the people I help. I love a lot of people. I vow to keep loving and not argue about it.
Do you ever diminish who you are by comparing yourself to others?
Does your ego ever hide what’s most important to you?
Has a small kind act ever made a big difference to you?
In child custody cases, certain individuals can be asked to provide an expert opinion to the court regarding parental fitness, custody, financial matters, and the like. An expert is someone who has specialized knowledge in a certain area and is qualified by skill, experience, training, or education to assist the judge in understanding the issues.
Experts are typically authorized to review and receive information, records, and reports concerning all parties involved. He or she will prepare a report with recommendations. The expert may have their deposition taken at the request of a parent and may be subpoenaed to testify at trial.
The court may also choose to appoint its own expert to assist in the court’s decision.
Child Custody Experts
A child custody expert is a neutral evaluator, usually a clinical psychologist, whose role is to determine the best interests of the child and to make recommendations to the court regarding custody and parenting time. He or she will conduct a complete evaluation of the parties, including psychological testing, interview the parents and the child, and evaluate the interaction between the child and both parents. The evaluator may opine as to what custody arrangement he/she believes to be in the best interests of the child.
Parental Fitness Experts
When parental fitness is at issue, a parent may request that a physician (or physicians) conduct a physical or mental examination of the other parent. These examinations will only be ordered by the court if the requesting parent shows good reason for the examination. The examining physician will likely be qualified as an expert and can be asked to give expert testimony regarding his/her findings.
The Nebraska Child Support Guidelines allow for a court to consider a parent’s earning capacity in lieu of actual income under certain circumstances. When a parent’s income is at issue for child support purposes, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or other financial professional can provide expert testimony as to what that parent could reasonably earn in Nebraska given his/her training, skill set, and work history.
Expert testimony and opinions at trial are generally afforded more weight than lay witness testimony (e.g., the parents’ testimony). It is also not uncommon for each parent to have his/her own expert, and a “battle of the experts” may ensue. Expert testimony can make or break a case.
When preparing your custody case for litigation, it is important to consider who will testify and what voice the judge will find compelling. Experts are frequently relied upon, and their opinions can be critical to the outcome of your case.
“Either somebody who loves you did it or something mystical is going on,” Megan said, turning her head to the side as if to say, “You tell me.” My coworker had noticed what was happening in front of our office.
“Either way, I’m glad,” I smiled.
While doing repairs last fall, the utility company pummeled the flower box in front of our office. Gratefully, they emptied all the soil, placed new blocks with precision, and replaced perennials I’d planted over the years—-roses, coneflower, salvia.
Weeks later, in a corner of the box, large heart shaped leaves appeared out of nowhere. On this September day, Megan saw a moonflower growing. Moonflowers do not survive a Nebraska winter, nor had the landscapers planted it. Kevin loves me and had sent me a bouquet of flowers that day, but he made no claim to the moonflower.
Moonflowers are a big and beautiful trumpet shaped flowers of iridescent white. Blooming on in the dark, they are sensitive to the changes in light, and patiently wait until nightfall to unfurl. Their fragrance is enchanting.
The life of each blossom ends after a single day.
It’s a big and bold trumpet when it blooms. But I find it at its most beautiful before it opens. It’s stunning spiral of potentiality fills me with the promise of possibility.
The final days of summer are here. Each morning we awaken without the sun and each evening watch it set too soon for our liking. We know more darkness is coming.
The moonflower is said to be the symbol of transition and of blossoming in dark times. I don’t know whether it was delivered by a mystery planter or a mystical messenger. Either way I’m glad to be reminded that even in dark times, beauty will bloom as the seasons change.
I’ll savor the preciousness of the beauty here for a single day or a single night. A fall full moon is just days away.
Have you ever had a needed message magically appear?
How do you find beauty in dark days?
What possibilities may blossom for you in your next season
During a custody case, if you and your spouse are unable to agree on a parenting plan, the judge may have to make decisions regarding the parenting plan for you. If a judge becomes involved in custody decisions, it is important to keep in mind what the judge can and cannot do for you.
General standard for custody cases:
In general, judges are bound to make custody decisions based on the law and their interpretation of the law. Specifically, in Nebraska, custody decisions are made under the “best interests” standard, meaning judges make decisions based on what they believe will be in a child’s best interests. To assess a child’s best interests, a judge may consider factors such as home environments, emotional ties to either parent, the moral fitness of each parent, preferences of the child, and the stability of each parent’s character.
What a judge can do:
If the parties in a custody case do not agree on a parenting plan, one thing judges can do is create a parenting plan themselves. In Nebraska, provisions in any parenting plan must be found to be in the child’s best interests. The plan must provide for the safety, emotional growth, health, stability, and physical care and regular and continuous school attendance and progress. You can find more regarding Nebraska’s law on parenting plan requirements here.
To satisfy the best interests standard and the Nebraska Parenting Act, a judge may include these types of provisions in a parenting plan:
- Legal and physical custody designations
- Routine parenting time for each parent
- Specific provisions for holiday and vacation parenting time
- Provisions regarding transportation to facilitate parenting time exchanges
- Provisions determining how parents must communicate with their child
- Provisions for determining how parents must communicate with each other
- Supervised parenting time provisions to provide for the safety of the child
- Provisions that ensure attendance of minor children in school
- Provisions ensuring communication regarding changes in address or contact information
- Any other provisions that support a successful co-parenting arrangement
What the judge cannot do:
A judge cannot ensure that co-parents have the “ideal” co-parenting relationship. Instead, provisions included in a parenting plan created by a judge are often as a set of bottom-line standards for parents to follow.
Further, a judge will not be able to make your co-parent the ideal parent if your expectations stretch beyond what is required in their parenting plan. Whether your co-parent is the best parent they can be, whether they go above and beyond in their parental duties, and whether they live up to your expectations is solely in the hands of your co-parent.
Although judges are not responsible for shaping parents into the best versions of themselves, they will ensure that a co-parent is fit to be in a parent-child relationship with their child. An unfit parent is a parent that has a personal deficiency or incapacity preventing them from performing essential parental obligations that may detriment a child’s wellbeing. If your co-parent is unfit to have a relationship with your child, the judge can put provisions in place to help ensure your child’s wellbeing is not negatively impacted by your co-parent’s inability to provide the essentials.
Overall, when navigating custody divorces, a judge cannot make your spouse a better parent. However, they can provide the basic framework for a co-parenting relationship and put your child’s best interests first.
He gave up his hippie acreage with gardens to move into the middle of the city with me and my
children. There he planted tulips and tomatoes anew. When the kids were grown and we moved
from house to apartment, he grew kale in raised beds on the rooftop and raspberries and
pumpkins in the country. He spent one summer managing a community garden for fun. John
always grew a garden.
He took breaks from digging and watering to sit and savor the multitude of shades of green. I’d
willingly weed nonstop in the Nebraska heat I’d grown up with. I completed chores, crossing
them off my list without noticing the blossoms on the zucchini. I never had much patience for
planting and preferred picking the flowers to have something to show for my hard work.
After the cancer diagnosis, John grew wheatgrass to heal himself and others. In a small room
with windows on three sides he soaked seeds in Mason jars, fed them fertilized soil and filtered
water, and played Mozart for their health and happiness. In his final summer, his withering limbs
could no longer make the daily trek to his garden. John left the earth he treasured in September
ten years ago.
When I asked him what he thought he would miss most about his time as a human he said, “The
When the pandemic hit, I found myself irresistibly drawn to the respite of a neglected garden at
my high school of lifetimes ago. Each day, alongside my life partner and love Kevin, I knelt on
the earth. I dug out the deep roots of burdock. I pulled unending invasive chives and prickly
prairie rose. I commented on each worm and celebrated every ladybug. I planted a hundred
By the following spring, the pair of redbuds showed their stunning pink style and fragrant
honeysuckle climbed up the newly built arbor. A small bridge graced the pond between the
poppies and the columbine. Robins and squirrels and butterflies returned.
While John would be heartbroken by daily news of horrific hurricanes and raging fires, I imagine
him admiring the harvest of what he planted in our vegetable-eating children throughout his
Penelope growing from a loving mother to grandmother to his five great grandchildren.
Benjamin sowing seeds along the spiritual path John helped unearth.
Marisa tenderly nurturing profoundly disabled children.
Jack loving the earth so much he left lawyering to be closer to it.
Melanie devotedly caring for a husband living with a diagnosis as grave as her dad’s.
John grew a beautiful garden. I hope to help do the same in my seasons ahead, now that
I’ve taken some time to grow myself.
Have you learned from observing others who are different than you?
What seeds are you planting?
How do you hope to grow in your seasons ahead?
From photographs to school records, text messages to family calendars, a variety of evidence may be used during custody litigation in Nebraska. Understanding what evidence is helpful to your case and how to gather it may save valuable time and resources in preparing for a custody trial.
Here are a few reasons why evidence is important in your custody case:
- Evidence may narrow the issues in your case.
- Evidence may promote settlement.
- Evidence will help prepare your case for trial.
Having evidence outside of verbal testimony allows a judge to visually see exactly what you are talking about. Evidence is invaluable in presenting your side in a custody case. So, what kind of evidence should you consider gathering?
One piece of evidence that may be useful in custody cases are journals. Whether you are just beginning the divorce process, are somewhere in the middle, or have just completed your divorce, it may be a good idea to start journaling. In your journal, make sure to include dates, descriptions of incidents, the names of individuals who were involved, contact information for any witnesses (if applicable), and anything else you believe is important.
Another kind of evidence that may be helpful in custody cases are photographs. For custody cases, photographs showing you child’s day-to-day life, their living arrangements, and important people in their life, may help the judge picture the stable, loving, and safe environment you can provide.
Text Messages and Email.
Text messages and email are two forms of written communication that you might think about preserving during your custody litigation. Texts and/or emails may show your attempts to co-parent, an inability of your co-parent to communicate effectively, or changed parenting time arrangements.
Social media is another potential source of evidence. Social media posts that may be helpful in custody litigation include photographs, inappropriate posts, and posts that document interactions with the children and/or third parties.
A calendar is a great piece of evidence when dates and times of events are disputed during custody litigation. So, the sooner you start calendaring—if you haven’t started already—the better. On the calendar, you may note any exchanges between you and your co-parent, any missed parenting time, trips, appointments, activities the children are involved in, and which parent attended each event. In addition to a calendar, a summary of the event—potentially in journal form—may be useful to recall exactly what happened on each date.
Education and Medical Records.
Finally, education and medical records may be relevant during your custody case. To obtain education records, a records request or release of information may be signed and submitted to your child’s school. Education records may be useful to show the number of truancies and/or any educational issues your child may. Under Nebraska law, certified copies of school records that contain attendance and academic progress are admissible into evidence during a trial.
As for medical records, you can sign a HIPAA compliant authorization disclosure for your child’s records, or a subpoena may be issued to the health care provider requesting the pertinent information. Medical records may be useful to document abuse, verify sick days from school, show treatment for any relevant medical or mental health conditions.
Physical evidence is an invaluable way to convey your story to the judge. The types of evidence discussed above are just a few that may help your attorney prepare for settlement and/or trial. If you have evidence that you think is relevant to your custody case, consult with your attorney about the best way to provide them with the evidence.
For months I knew it would arrive, and now it has. It would be special, sad, and I wasn’t sure what else. Now that September’s here, I escape my procrastination at looking.
It’s my month of many anniversaries. The major milestones and markers of my life’s journey make a list that includes:
Became a lawyer
Became a mother
Became a widow
The universe seems to know that the impending arrival of autumn is my special time for a change of seasons.
In falls past I could see neither their full meaning nor their foretelling of my future. How being admitted to the bar would lead to founding a wholehearted law firm. How birthing my firstborn in a hospital room would one day mean he’d be life flighted to the same hospital with crushed limbs. That sitting on the bed beside my husband in his final days would lead me to a longing to serve the dying.
In school I ignored opportunities to study history beyond reading books about heroines I admired. Now that I’ve accumulated a bit of my own, I’m a staunch believer in honoring the past. After all, it’s been good to me. It’s been generous with gifts of seeing the impermanence of our days, the preciousness of people, and that the present matters most of all.
Tomorrow I will add another celebration to my September remembrances. My nephew Kevin and his bride Lori are to be married. He is a gregarious Midwesterner and she a New Jersey woman who matches his love of family and joyful spirit.
The walk to their wedding day was long. Jobs and homes and children all in different cities. A pandemic postponing the party to its third date. When their vows are exchanged, I will be the officiant declaring them husband and wife. Their pasts will be with them, but they will be wholly and completely present, as will I.
This month I intend to take time to take it all in—-each day on the calendar along with the big milestones of 40 years since I entered the legal profession and 10 years since John left this earth he loved. As I do, I pray to be fully present to the wonder of the present, knowing it will one day be my past I honor.
This month Susan will share further reflections on the gifts of her Septembers past.
She reached for a second tissue. “Sorry about all the tears,” she said. Some people pour their morning joe for a pick me up. I go for my Megan. Our always steady and ready office manager Megan isn’t ruffled by a crashed computer or an overflowing toilet. Still, on this morning, she dabbed the tiny silver ring in her nose as the drops kept falling.
It was Lily’s first day at a new school. Across town. Where she knew no one. A school where she would be different and feel alone. While Megan knew all was well for her child, crying could not be avoided. Soon she let out a deep sigh.
This week social media fills with shining faces of innocence leaving us for places unknown. Caretakers capture the moments to share their awe while shedding tears when no one is looking.
My memory flashed to that August afternoon on a grassy lawn 20 years ago when I parted from my youngest. School was soon to start. 1000 miles away from home. It was college. Jack was 15. You can bet there were more than two tissues.
Protectiveness, pride, loss, and love—all in a single moment. The wise cells in our body know something needs to be released while our society sends messages that they’re wrong.
What would it be like for heartfelt feelings to not be hidden when the office frustration raises our fury or the news from Afghanistan crushes our soul? What if feelings were met with a bit of empathetic equanimity instead of an invitation to embarrassment? What if we could hold the space for others to simply feel?
When I was in the courtroom on a weekly basis, I had a habit of keeping a fresh handkerchief in my briefcase in case a client was caught by surprise by the emotion of the moment. I still like to keep a spare because weddings and funerals ought not to be the only places where we are safe to reveal we are human.
This week my Jack heads back to school again. He’s leaving his Harvard lawyer job in California to travel to northern Maine to the Jack Mountain Bushcraft School. There he’ll head into the forest, sleep on the ground, and find his food in the wild.
I’m all for sobbing without shame.
Do you get embarrassed if you become tearful?
Does vulnerability from others make you uncomfortable?
What worries you most about the inside of your heart showing on the outside?
My house was still on the eve of Anna’s first day of senior year. My stiff upper lip was fatigued and faltering. The mantra in my mind that I would see her tomorrow was of little comfort. The calendar was not my friend as this night before the start of high school landed on a “dad day.” This last “first day” was a milestone marker on her life path and I desperately wanted to share with her in the avalanche of emotion that was surely falling over both of us.
I’ve been letting go of her since the day she left my womb on that rainy April that seems like just yesterday. You would think after seventeen years I would pretty much be a pro. Instead, I feel like a novice notably deficient in perspective and wisdom. My age-old “being divorced” irritations rise too quickly to the surface for me to stop the boiling over into “it’s not fair” and “if onlys.”
I want to share in the nerves, the excitement, the jitters, and the prepping for this sentimental day. I feel “less than” as a mom knowing that I won’t be with her in the morning to send her off on this day with a tight hug and big smile. I take a deep breath and recall the numerous times in the last decade that I have missed what I perceived to be important moments of my daughters. A handful of Christmas mornings, first days of school, last days of school, learning to ride a bike, skiing for the first time, days they went home to their dad’s exuberant with some news of the day and an equal number of days they went home with heartaches, and it wasn’t to my house. My daughters don’t seem to remember, but I do.
How many times have I fought this battle around my worthiness as a parent? How many times have I scrolled through my social media feeds in a rotten state of comparison letting all the joy thieves completely take over? How many times have I moped, ranted, stewed, and succumbed to the fullness of these emotions? Too many to count. And yet I know better. Right?
My phone starts to vibrate with a FaceTime call. Anna. She rushes to the point. “Mom, here are the outfit choices for tomorrow. What do you think? Do you like the shirt? Shorts or jeans? Do these shoes look good? Should I curl or straighten my hair? MOM, it is my first day of senior year!!!! Mom it is the start of the ending. I need to cry…” and on she went sharing with me all that I needed to hear. Giving me exactly what I needed – to know that no matter where I am – I am always her mom and never letting go.
Choosing to be alone for days is not an obvious extrovert choice. Yet for over a decade I’ve taken a solo annual retreat. I don’t go far, but I do go away from home where I am tempted by the dazzling distractions of unorganized drawers and the unfinished anything.
My yearly ritual is usually in winter, the season of slowing down, anticipating the new year, and hoping the arrival of spring can be trusted. As usual, I marked my calendar for January. But the universe had its own plans. I postponed until summer.
This time away is to look back, forward, and mostly within.
I looked back. It hasn’t been my happiest year. It began with my son Benjamin carried into my home from the hospital, after his multiple surgeries, after the life flight, after his car was crushed in a head on collision two weeks before Christmas.
Along with the sorrow of waiting for the light in Ben’s smile to return, sadness seemed to surround me. Two of my dearest friends divorcing. My joyful friend Joyce diagnosed with a rare dementia type disease. My nephew falling deeper into addiction. My childhood friend dying.
And, like for all of us, the daily news of near and far and all.
I looked inward. What did I see? What was most important to me? What would I make of the season of life I am in? How will I serve? Love? Be?
As I sat on the bed in the quiet of the sweet small apartment that was my three-day sanctuary the sadness was wrapped in layers of gratitude. The miracle that Benjamin was walking and able to use his fingers. That so many supported our family with penultimate generosity. That my own body was strong and pain free. Our law firm thriving. Feeling never surer that the love of my beloved will carry us into our final days.
There were too many joyful moments to count. Eating Dutch Babies with my law partners. Watering roses on the rooftop and hollyhocks in the garden. Easter brunch on a picnic table in the park. Laughing with my zooming co-workers.
Life can be hard. And good. At the same time.
I looked forward. Having witnessed the wonder of life while looking back, I allowed myself to look beyond goals to the pondering of dreams. For this I turned to two of my favorite things: paper and scissors. My intuition unfolds in the creation of a vision board. Appealing images and words collected from magazines and mailers cut and glued onto poster board create a picture of a possible future. Purposeful playtime.
What you see above is a glimpse. Backward, inward, forward.
Do you allow yourself time for reflection?
Are you holding happiness and sadness at the same time?
When was the last time you let yourself look at your dreams?
“Mom, I signed myself up for the COVID vaccine. Can you take me on April 8th?” My sixteen, nearly seventeen, year old daughter at the time decided for us. Her fourteen-year-old sister followed suit a few weeks later when the age was expanded to include her. “Mom, you can sign me up on Monday for the vaccine, DON’T FORGET” was the text I received from her when the news broke. I supported their decisions. Their dad supported their decisions. We are a fortunate family in this situation.
For many other families, the emails and text messages have been exchanged in a flurry between parents in what I will call the vaccine vex. One parent is in favor, one parent is not. Whether it be for religious, political, health, or societal reasons, our attorneys have been listening to the range of reasons for why the other parent is wrong and they are right.
Most parenting decisions are not one way or the other. Typically, there are shades of gray in which to explore compromise. Kelly Gering, a parenting plan mediator extraordinaire says of mediating this issue with parents “beyond the science, traditionally we discuss the shared values, safety, and freedom. We discuss the desire for the children to remain in school, to travel and be with grandparents and friends. Often they will agree to visit the pediatrician together and take their concerns to a professional.”
For me, the decision was a consideration about what my girls wanted, what I wanted and what their dad wanted. Fortunately, we were all equally aligned. Since my girls are older (Anna will be 18 this year) it felt right to take their input into consideration. We all opted to move forward with them getting vaccinated.
Truthfully, the vaccination decision wasn’t about protecting my girls from fatal cases of COVID – because my girls are healthy young women with no risk factors. It was more about the big picture and minimizing the COVID impact in their community. The decision was made to support re-opening their world with in-person school, sports being played, Anna having a normal senior year with a mask-less prom, graduation with a big party (fingers crossed). My girls expressed feelings about doing their part to protect their community. They had lots of friends experience the illness of COVID in 2020. For them it was not a fear-based decision. It was a future-based decision.
For parents struggling with this decision, my best advice:
- Do not make this decision based on bad feelings toward the other parent.
- Do not make this decision to “win” against the other parent.
- Do not make this decision to “get back” at the other parent.
- Do not make the decision solely to antagonize the other parent.
As with all good parenting decisions, make the decision that best supports the best interests of your children – from both the big and small picture perspective.
Kelly Gering, a certified parenting plan mediator in Omaha can be reached at:
Kelly Gering, SADR
Shared Story, LLC
4917 Underwood Avenue
Omaha, NE 68132
Maybe you have one. Your “Go-To Spirit Lifter.” Joyce is mine.
When my mind was a mess, Joyce listened with the same compassion she’d give to a 7-year-old at the elementary school where she was a counselor. Her infectious laugh leaves you wondering why you ever thought you had something to cry about.
Just before the pandemic we celebrated (There is a lot of celebrating when you are with Joyce) her birthday with a glorious sail on a Florida bay. My next visit I don’t expect she’ll remember me.
Joyce was diagnosed with a rare and rapidly progressing brain disease.
The woman I counted on to wear a pink boa or bring bevy of friends to my parties can no longer complete a sentence. Once the guardian for her brother with disabilities, she is now the one for whom others decide her doctors, her dollars, her death plans.
Joyce has always been jolly. The first time Tony spotted Joyce giggling on her way out of a classroom he proclaimed, “I’m going to marry that one.” As decades of their married life passed, Tony envisioned his youthful bride would care for him in his later years. The unimaginable has replaced the vision.
I can’t count the number of people who are crestfallen by this diagnosis of early death for a loved one so full of life. Joyce has a circle of fun-loving women who have been steadfast support to one another since they were teens. In the center is Margo, Joyce’s bosom pal since junior high. An Ethel and Lucy pair, they’ve had all measure of hilarious escapades and disastrous adventures.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) strikes one in a million. It found Joyce, our one in a million human. All are heartbroken, but you can’t see it in Joyce. The bubbles of her effervescence still topple out like a newly opened bottle of champagne.
Her laughter is still with her. Her joy is so indomitable that—up until now— even this fatal disease has been unable to touch her essence of undeniable joy.
We never know when our brain or any other part of our body might change in an instant. My hope is to learn the Joyce joy lessons to spend more time in the uplifting and light filled parts that she has shown me for some 30 years of friendship. Perhaps when I see her, I’ll be able forget for moment what I’ve been crying about.
What are the qualities you hope to live more fully?
How might you lighten the lives of others by your presence?
Who is your “spirit lifter” when you’re feeling low?
This blog is made available to the reader by Koenig|Dunne for educational purposes only, to provide general information and understanding of the law, and not to provide specific legal advice. By reading this blog, no attorney-client relationship is developed between the law firm and the reader. This blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state. The content of this blog is not an advertisement for legal services.