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New Ideas For Old Holiday Traditions

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Like a devastating fire, divorce is usually tragic. But good can rise from the ashes. I am not a child of divorce; my parents have been married for over 50 years. But growing up, my family had two Christmas traditions: We celebrated Christmas Eve with my mother’s family because that’s what they “always” did, and we celebrated Christmas Day with my father’s family, as he had growing up. The compromise worked out to benefit all.

I cherish my Christmas traditions, but the truth is they were made up. They only became traditions because we repeated them.

When child custody comes up in my work with divorcing couples, this is one of my first questions: Do the parents have new family traditions they can adopt for their children going forward? Alternate custody is often the court’s solution, and seems to create a “loser” out of one parent each year. Since the couple is permanently reorganizing their family, I propose that divorcing parents consider starting new traditions. This idea can make the holidays even more joyful.

Hanukkah has eight nights. Parents might choose to alternate their evening celebrations. If Christmas is celebrated, rather than yearly alternating holidays, couples have the opportunity to create a new tradition: The children can look forward to spending every Christmas Eve with one parent’s family and every Christmas Day with the other parent’s family. This eliminates the holiday “loser.”

These new traditions will be cherished by the children if the parents embrace them. Perhaps they’ll have to flip a coin to see who gets what, but once they start observing the new tradition, the children will never experience a year where they wish they were with the other parent during a particular holiday.

Happy Holidays,
Ty Supancic and all of us at The Law Collaborative
The Law Collaborative, APC
T:(818)348-6700
F:(818)348-0961

The Raging Bull of Van Nuys

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I had an interesting nickname for the first 20 years of my law practice, and I’ll occasionally meet an attorney who may reference my original, aggressive style of litigation. The following should bring some clarity:

Years ago, I appeared on an initial Request for Orders in the Van Nuys Superior Court. A typical Request for Orders involves custody, visitation, interim child and spousal support, attorneys fees, and temporary restraining orders.

The attorney on behalf of the responding party was from Orange County, and introduced himself to me. He was cordial and polite. I invited him to go to the cafeteria to talk about an interim settlement. He agreed, and we asked the court to put the matter on second call. We went to the cafeteria, and, with the help of our clients, settled the entire case. We then returned to the Northwest Department to declare that we had completed the matter: in those few hours in the cafeteria we had worked out a Co-Parenting Plan, an equitable division of assets and liabilities, and permanent support orders to complete the case.

As we waited for the court to take the bench to hear the stipulation, the attorney remarked that he was very surprised. I asked why. He told me, “I’ve never appeared in Van Nuys before. I wanted to get a line on you and your reputation, so I called a friend of mine from law school. He told me you were called ‘the Raging Bull of Van Nuys.’ Imagine my surprise when you extended your hand and invited me to the cafeteria; even more so when we proceeded to settle the entire case.” I responded, “You’re reasonable, intelligent, and you didn’t demand anything to which your client was not entitled. You made a case for your client, and it was reasonable and fair. That’s the best we can ever hope for our clients.”

I’ve thought many times since about that dubious reputation for being a “Raging Bull.” I had certainly never intended to be a raging bull, but I was passionate, and vigorous in my advocacy on behalf of my client. I practiced “take no prisoners” litigation for the first 25 years of my career because, at the time, that’s what law schools taught. However, I was always aware of the damage and destruction caused by the traditional litigation approach, to the families, the clients, and especially their children. I was a child of divorce, so am very aware of the pain that children feel.

I served on the Executive Committee for the San Fernando Bar Association Family Law Committee. The cases in Superior Court were backlogged for up to two years at the time, so we put together a volunteer attorney pro tem program, in order to give relief to the courts. We planned to do small claims appeals, default judgments, and much of the administrative work that prevents judges from hearing trials in a timely manner.

Our committee approached the supervising judge in 1976, the Honorable Charlie Hughes, who listened patiently to our pitch for a volunteer attorney pro tem program. His response: “No. But I’ll tell you what we do need. We need you to create a volunteer mediation project.” Our reaction? “What’s mediation?” It was the first time any of us had heard the word used. (At that time I’d been practicing law for six years.) He explained the process, and we, in turn, created the project. Mediation proved to be so successful in that community that our program was copied in Santa Monica, where it proved equally successful. The supervising judge in the Central Department got wind of the success in Van Nuys and Santa Monica, and wanted to know more. Thus the program was extended to Central, and then to all of the 14 branch courts in L.A. County. That Volunteer Attorney Mediator Program is still in existence today.

I liked what I learned about mediation, because consensual, cooperative problem solving is a kinder, gentler way to solve disputes like divorce. I originally trained as a mediator in 1981, at a California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists conference in San Diego. In 1997, while attending an International Alliance for Holistic Lawyers conference in Santa Fe, I had the opportunity to meet lawyer Stu Webb. He told me about the work that he was doing in Minneapolis through the foundation of the Institute for Collaborative Law. I brought the message of Collaborative Law back to Los Angeles County and I, as well as my clients, have been reaping the benefits of consensual dispute resolution ever since.

Subsequently, I’ve attended many Advanced Professional Skills Programs, such as those held by the Pepperdine University Law School, Strauss Institute for Dispute Resolution, as well as spending several summers training with the Harvard Insight Initiative Project. I believe that Mediation education will never be complete – there are always new skills to learn.

I respect and trust the collaborative approach, cooperative problem solving, and alternative dispute resolution, consensual dispute resolution, interest based bargaining, principal negotiation, and teaching lawyers all of the skills that have been developed through the Harvard Programs of Negotiation:

“Getting to Yes,” “Getting Past No,” and “Difficult Conversations.”

At The Law Collaborative, APC, we approach every case by first reaching out to adverse counsel, to invite him or her to sit down to talk solutions. Sadly, and too often, some lawyers are so caught up in their own personal agendas, that they use their client’s case to attempt to solve their own emotional strife. On those occasions, I may have to let the Bull out of his pen. We can still do it the hard way, but only when it’s in the clients’ best interests.

Thank you for reading,
Ron Supancic, CFLS
The Law Collaborative, APC
T: (818)348-6700
F: (818)348-0961