Family Law

IACP Conference in Chicago

Posted by Heidi Risser
on November 4, 2019

I just returned from the International Association of Collaborative Professionals (IACP) in Chicago, which was held last week. 

Kendra Erkamaa, a financial neutral from Des Moines, IA, and me at the IACP last week.

I met collaborative lawyers, mediators, mental health providers and financial neutrals from all over the world (Australia, Canada, UK, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Brazil, Israel, to name a few) as well as from all over the US.  I took classes on the newest ideas in collaborative law and mediation. 

I will be sharing these ideas and learnings on January 9th at the CCDP meeting (time and place TBD). 

I enjoyed getting to know Steven Goldman, a fellow attorney from Fairfax, VA.

One of the classes I took was Collaborative Law and Mediation: On a Collision Course or Merging? I took another class on streamlining the collaborative process, and I even learned about a Flat Fee Collaborative Model being used in Canada.  

Lydia Richardson, a mental health professional from Chicago, IL, and I enjoyed discussing Myers Briggs and the Enneagram model.

I had a 5-hour class on the Enneagram Model of personality, which is a fascinating theory.  I took a class from Pauline Tessler, and she spoke about various ways to become more self-aware and become a better collaborative professional.  She gave us a battery of tests on Myers Briggs, unconscious bias, Enneagram, and conflict style.  I left her class very informed, more self-aware and quite a bit more humble.

Cheryl Panther, a financial neutral from Nashville, TN, was sweet as can be!

It wasn’t all work, though.  Much of our time was spent socializing with all these interesting professionals.  When you do the same kind of work, you sort of skip over the basics and begin to explore ways to push the collaborative method forward. 

I was awestruck by Louise Mathias, a barrister and mediator from Sydney, Australia!

The people I met were kind, warm and very giving of their time and professional experience.  I definitely plan to attend the IACP convention again.

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Lynna Moen’s Campaign Kickoff

Posted by Heidi Risser
on July 23, 2019
Lynna Moen and I laugh and smile at the camera.
Who said lawyers can’t have a good time?

I attended the kickoff of Lynna Moen’s campaign for District Court Judge 2020.  The event was held at the offices of Miller Bowles Law, PLLC.  The speeches were short but impactful. 

I have worked with Lynna for years and have deep respect for her as a person and as an attorney.  However, until they read her resume, I had no idea how accomplished she really is. 

There were a lot of family law attorneys at the kickoff, because we want more district court judges with family law experience.  It’s not always enough just to have some familiarity with the statutes and cases, it really is helpful to have practiced in this area and to have a feel for the clients and their families.  Lynna has that. 

Laura Burt and me smile at the camera
The Charlotte family law community is very tight knit, and we love getting together!

Some people may think family lawyers all dislike each other, especially if you just watch us in court.  In reality, many of us enjoy each other’s company.  Looking at the pictures, you can tell we were having fun.

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Changing the Culture of Divorce

Posted by Heidi Risser
on May 23, 2019

Charlotte Collaborative Divorce Professionals (CCDP), which is the local collaborative family law group, had it’s last meeting of the year on Thursday evening. 

Ashley-Nicole Russell inspired me to continue to advocate for collaborative method when helping couples going through divorce.

CCDP brought in an author and collaborative family law attorney to speak.  Ashley-Nicole Russell shared her experiences running a collaborative family law practice with offices in Greenville, Raleigh and Atlantic City, NC. 

In terms of commitment to collaborative practice, she was speaking to the choir in our group.  However, she had a lot to offer with regards to statistics on what a contentious, court-room divorce battle can do to the children involved. 

Her statistics showed that children of divorce have an increased chance of alcohol dependence and suicide, among other ill effects.  Ashley-Nicole is on a mission to change the culture of divorce, especially since she experienced her own parents’ divorce and the trauma it brought to her life. 

She encouraged us to “sell” the collaborative method shamelessly to our clients and other attorneys, because it is better for the family and especially for the children.  She also offered some great advice on marketing the collaborative practice. 

I wasn’t sure what we were in for when I decided to attend the dinner, but I left inspired.  Since I began to practice collaboratively, I have always believed in its virtues, but it was nice to receive an inspiring pep talk from a fellow practitioner.

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Charlotte Museum of History Benefit Dinner

Posted by Heidi Risser
on May 14, 2019

I attended a benefit for the Charlotte Museum of History last week, as the guest of my friend, Deborah Hampton.

While I was there, I ran into some folks in my law school class—Tamika Shafeek-Horton, Amy Hinshaw and Chris Brady. 

I was able to spend time with my friends (from left) Amy Hinshaw, Tamika Shafeek-Horton, and Deborah Hampton.

I toured the Hezekiah Alexander house, which dates back to 1774.  Hezekiah Alexander served as a local magistrate and leader during the time following the Revolutionary War, when the British were no longer governing the colonies. 

I loved meeting some of Deborah’s friends at this event!

It is amazing that we have preserved this historical site so close to the center of the city.  Still surrounded by woods, it was a leafy and lush site for the benefit dinner.

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Mediation Training with Sandra Lee

Posted by Heidi Risser
on March 22, 2019

Once again, I am training new mediators with Mark Riopel and Ketan Soni. We have another fantastic class of mediators. Our community is going to be filled with very experienced family law mediators.

My hope is that our clients will choose mediation instead of litigation to handle their family law issues.  To inspire everyone, Sandra Lee came to speak to the class.  She offered her view of mediation from the viewpoint of a non-lawyer mediator.  She has built up a thriving mediation practice over the years and helped thousands of people make better decisions about their lives and families. 

Sandra Lee and I stand side by side hugging after our mediation training.
Sandra Lee inspires students to write their own story of their divorce through empathetic and strategic mediation.

She gives the power to her clients, telling them that they can write the story of their divorce.  It can be peaceful through mediation and settlement, or it can be acrimonious through litigation. 

Sandra inspires me to give the power to my mediation clients, and to give them the credit when mediation succeeds.

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Walk and Talk: A New Way to Network

Posted by Heidi Risser
on February 21, 2019
My friend David Herring and I love to "walk and talk" to catch up on each other's practices.
My friend David Herring and I love to “walk and talk” to catch up on each other’s practices.

Networking is critical for any attorney to build and to maintain a law practice.  Most of the time, I have lunch or dinner with people.  Sometimes, I schedule a “walk and talk.” 

My friend and fellow collaborative family law attorney, David Herring, likes to go for a walk while we catch up on each other’s practice.  He and I have busy schedules, so we usually have to plan it a few weeks in advance. 

We meet up, usually at a convenient park, and walk around while we discuss current issues with collaborative law or running a law firm as a solo practitioner.  We have been doing this for over a year, and David and I really enjoy it.  It gets us out of our offices, and we get a little exercise in the fresh air. 

Networking with David was so nice, I had to capture it twice!
Networking with David was so nice, I had to capture it twice!

Coincidentally, I was reading in the Wall Street Journal today about “walk and talk” meetings.  The examples in the paper do not resemble what I am describing.  In the WSJ, everyone is dressed for an office setting, and it might be inconvenient to have a walking meeting in heels. 

Also, the WSJ described situations in which the boss just drops by a desk and requests a walk and talk meeting.  In my “walk and talks,” both of us are dressed to walk and the time and location are agreed upon far in advance. 

I think networking during meals is a great way to network, but I want to offer up this alternative, because not every networking meeting needs to involve food.

I would love to hear what you think of “walk and talk” meetings or other unconventional ways to network!

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Mediation Training at UNC Charlotte

Posted by Heidi Risser
on January 23, 2019

On Friday, January 11th, I had the opportunity to conduct a Mediation Training course, with Ketan Soni and Mark Riopel, for the department chairs of UNC Charlotte.  I was a little nervous to lecture in front of professional lecturers, but that nervousness was short lived.  The professors were very receptive to what we had to say.  I had a misconception going into this training that we family law attorneys deal with more serious issues and conflict than the department chairs of a university.  Was I wrong!  Given their reactions, I believe these department chairs deal with a similar level of conflict.  That means that this message about mediating conflict is more universal that I had believed.   

Mark, Ketan and I lectured for the first part of the day and conducted a few mock mediations at the end of the day, to give all the attendees some practice before tossing them back out into the world of conflict.  There are some very talented mediators among these professors.  Some are naturals, and some really incorporated our teaching into how they worked the problem.  As always, I was amazed at the various styles each person brought to mediation.  Some mediators used a bit of small talk to warm up the two sides.  Some used silence and observation to great effect.  I adore the fact that mediation is flexible to accommodate different styles and still be equally effective

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Charlotte Collaborative Divorce Professionals Holiday Party

Posted by Heidi Risser
on December 12, 2018

Last week, I attended the Charlotte Collaborative Divorce Professionals Holiday Party.  I have been a member of this group for more than 10 years.

Last night, looking around the room, I was amazed at how this group has grown over the years.  Meetings like this used to be just a few of us who believed in the collaborative approach to family law.  Now, we have attracted many more attorneys, CPA’s, Certified Domestic Financial Planners, Divorce Coaches and Child Specialists.

I have worked with many of the people in the room last night, and they are an amazingly talented group.  The more I trust these fellow professionals to help my clients navigate the divorce process, the better they have made my work life and the better they have made the process for those I represent.  I also believe they have improved the outcomes for hundreds, and probably thousands, of people each year here in Charlotte and the surrounding areas.

It was nice to reflect on all of this at year’s end, and look forward to more of the same in the new year.

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Podcasts with Sandra Lee

Posted by Heidi Risser
on November 14, 2018

I was asked by my friend, Sandra Lee, to record two podcasts for her business—Emerge Victorious. Sandra is a well-respected Divorce Coach and Mediator in our community, so I was delighted that she asked me.  I recorded two episodes for Emerge Victorious:  the first one was on Divorcing with Children and the second one was on Choosing a Collaborative Divorce.

In discussing Divorcing with Children, Sandra wanted to know about my role as a Parenting Coordinator and how this can help parents with custody issues. I am a certified Parenting Coordinator, which just means that I completed an intensive, week-long course to train me how to do this work.  A Parenting Coordinator works with parents who are having problems making custody work.  The Parenting Coordinator usually has both parents in the office at the same time, to identify and rectify the issues that that are making co-parenting difficult.  Courts are not the best places to deal with the “little things” that parents experience when trying to co-parent, such as when a parent is consistently late delivering or picking up the children or when one parent does not sign the reading log for school.  These “little things” become big problems, and can lead to conflict between the parents or bad grades for the child.  It is experiences like this that cause a child to be “put in the middle” of his or her parents’ divorce.  A Parenting Coordinator works with the parents to improve communication and bring down the hostility, which means the parents become better co-parents.  This improves the situation for the child, and provides a more emotionally stable environment for the child.

Sandra also discussed Choosing a Collaborative Divorce with me. I have been a Collaborative Family Law attorney for more than 12 years here in Mecklenburg County.  Before discovering collaborative law, I worked for some very fine litigators in NC.  I found that the collaborative approach to divorce was a better fit with my personality and with the way I like to work my cases.  Collaborative law addresses the fears and concerns of both parties, and the participants can find a more creative solution to the problems involved in a divorce.  Courts are very constrained in the solutions they can provide, but two collaborative attorneys and their clients can tailor a solution to the needs of the family.  Sandra describes the collaborative method as a “kinder and gentler” way to handle a divorce.  I like it, because it is private, self-scheduled, less expensive, and less acrimonious.  Also, I can be a problem-solver, instead of a problem-creator.  I believe the solutions are better able to stand the test of time, because both parties have input on the solution.  It’s harder for the parties to accept what a stranger in a black robe decides for them.

Sandra and I have worked in the collaborative community for years, and we had a fairly in-depth discussion of both Parenting Coordinator and Collaborative Law. If you want to learn a little more about either topic, this is an easy and quick way to do it.  Head over to Emerge Victorious and listen.

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40 Hour Mediation Class

Posted by Heidi Risser
on November 1, 2018

On October 26th, Mark Riopel, Ketan Soni and I finished up our first 40-hour Mediation Training class.  We had a terrific class of attendees. All of us worked very hard over a two-week period. The moral and enthusiasm of the attendees remained high, even after four ten-hour days!

Ketan, Mark and I pose after teaching our 40-hour mediation training.

Ketan, Mark and I pose after teaching our 40-hour mediation training.

We enjoyed getting to know the students and learning why they want to become mediators. Most of the students in the class were lawyers. We also had several non-lawyers in attendance. It was inspiring to see them hone their mediation skills and become better mediators over the course of the class.

Sarah Kemble lent her help to the class - thank you Sarah!

Sarah Kemble was an enthusiastic attendee of the class – thank you Sarah!

We covered several topics that are pertinent in mediation during the class. We learned bargaining techniques, basic family law topics, Myers Briggs issues, and High Conflict issues. Additionally, mock mediations gave everyone a chance to practice new mediation skills.

Ann Kreindler Seigal was a fabulous, enthusiastic student - thank you Ann!

Ann Kreindler Seigal was a fabulous, enthusiastic student – thank you Ann!

Mark, Ketan and I were so pleased that our local mediation community supported our class by serving as mock mediation observers and guest speakers. We could not have asked for a better beginning to our mediation training. I cannot wait to offer this class again in the Spring!

For more information on mediation training, please visit our website here.

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