Cinnamon Rolls, Raisins, Life, and Law

Cinnamon Rolls, Raisins, Life, and Law

This week at my Leadership Fuquay-Varina class, we were lucky enough to be provided with delicious baked goods and coffee from Stick Boy Bread Company.  I quickly poured myself a nice cup of coffee, and merely eyed the baked goods.  After an hour or two into the class, I needed a sugar rush.  I kept walking by the cinnamon rolls with the cream cheese icing piled high.  I kept snubbing them because I assumed they contained raisins.  (For those of you that don’t know me well, I have an IMMENSE hatred of raisins stemming from my childhood).  I’ve been fooled too many times by cookies I thought were chocolate chip, or cinnamon rolls that had globs of cinnamon just to find out that instead, they contained RAISINS.  Ick.

I asked my peers if the cinnamon rolls had raisins in them, and no one knew.  It would have helped if I could have asked the actual baker about the ingredients.  Curiosity (and hunger) got the best of me, and I bravely strolled over to get a cinnamon roll.  I determined that I would just risk hitting a raisin.  After pulling apart and inspecting the cinnamon roll carefully, I found that there were NO RAISINS!  It was one of the most delicious cinnamon rolls I have ever tasted.  And the cream cheese icing tasted as good as it looked.

For some reason, I started thinking about my cinnamon roll experience and how it could actually parallel a few different life lessons:

  1. Things (or people) aren’t always how they appear on the surface, whether it be a person you meet, a cinnamon roll, or an apparent chocolate chip cookie.  Look beyond what is on the outside and find out what is REALLY going on beneath the surface.  You might find that the person you thought to be irritated or anti-social is merely going through a difficult period in their life, or they might just be shy.  On the other hand, the bubbly person with a big smile may actually be dealing with some heavy issues they are trying to hide.  You might also encounter a person, a situation, (or a cookie) that looks great on the surface, but leaves much to be desired after you start to delve more deeply.  Take some time to investigate beyond your first impression.
  2. Sometimes you need to just bite the bullet (or cinnamon roll) and go for it.  There are times where we need to take a leap of faith.  After you have considered the costs and benefits, make that decision!  Consult with friends, family, and professionals if you need to, but take that leap!  You might be missing out on a wonderful (or delicious) opportunity.
  3. Sometimes you need to ask a professional.  There are times when it is helpful to speak with your peers, your family, or your friends, but also times when you need to forego their opinions and ask a professional (or the baker).    

You may wonder how any of these lessons have anything to do with family law.  They actually have a lot to do with family law.  First, when going through a difficult time in your life, whether it be a separation, divorce, or child custody matter, take a moment to reflect on your behavior and the behavior of the other party involved.  Look beyond the surface.  Do they really hate everything about you (well, they might, but that will be for another blog post)?  Or are they merely figuring out how to deal with the emotional turmoil of a divorce or separation?  Once the initial shock has worn off and you all reach your new normal, you may find that your former partner is more willing to co-parent or negotiate any necessary agreements.  Again, reaction to a divorce or separation is different for everyone, so this might not necessarily fit your situation.  The point of this being to look beyond the surface to try to understand what you are feeling and what your former partner or spouse is feeling.

Second, take that leap or bite the bullet with regard to your relationship.  Do you think you can work things out?  Contact a counselor and try couple’s therapy.  Have you already tried couples counseling, or is your partner unwilling to even try?  Maybe it is time to talk about other options.  If you are both unhappy, it is time to address the situation, whether it be with a separation, couples counseling, or other options.  It also doesn’t hurt to take the leap and talk to an attorney about any questions you may have.

Third, perhaps you just need to speak with a professional.  Family, friends, and peers can provide you with opinions regarding your situation (and the law), but they are not able to direct you in the way that an attorney (or baker) can.  Instead of wasting your time talking to people that MIGHT know the answers, talk to an attorney about your options!

Just Log Out: Social Media, Smartphones, and Family Law Litigation

Just Log Out:  Social Media, Smartphones, and Family Law Litigation

According to various research groups, in 2017, between 67 and 77% of adults in the United States owned smartphones.  I would venture to say that number only continues to increase.  And it doesn’t take an official study to show how addicted we are to our phones.  Ever feel like you are missing an appendage when you leave home without your device?  I think we can all relate.  What in the world do we actually do on our phones?  Most of us text, email, use the internet, and post on various social media apps.  Not a problem, right?  The answer is:  not usually.

If you are going through a separation or divorce, any good attorney will tell you to avoid or limit social media use, or will at least tell you to ensure that all of your social media accounts are “private.”  That is where things get a little tricky.  You see, “private” accounts are never truly private.  For this reason, I would encourage you to be aware of what you put on any social media platform, even if the account is allegedly “private.”  There are always “friends” that will report back to the opposing party with screenshots from your social media page.  These screenshots may or may not be incriminating.  As bad as it sounds, trust no one when you are going through any type of litigation, especially anything family law related.  Family law encompasses separation, divorce, equitable distribution, custody, child support, alimony, and even domestic violence.  I think it is best to assume that anyone can and will read what you post online.

Venting about your current legal situation might seem like a great idea, especially since the opposing party is not a friend or a follower of your social media accounts.  WRONG AGAIN!  If you must post, avoid disparaging the other party (or their family), and especially avoid posting details regarding a pending court case.  Another thing to avoid posting is any picture that might be even a bit incriminating.  Posting pictures of yourself online with your new boyfriend or girlfriend is generally cute, UNLESS you are involved in litigation.  These cute pictures may land you in a world of hurt, and cost you more money than you ever imagined.  And who doesn’t like to post pictures of their vacation or of their fun weekend activities?  Did you take a spur-of-the-moment trip to Turks and Caicos?  How about that filet mignon and lobster tail you had for dinner last weekend?  Posting about these things are fine unless you are claiming that you don’t have any money to pay alimony or child support.  When in doubt, don’t post it!  You can do what everyone did prior to having social media to document our every move…keep those memories in your head.

Utilizing texting or any type of instant message program is generally a bad idea, especially someone who is the opposing party in family law litigation.  We all know that words can be misconstrued, and it is very easy to hide behind a keyboard to type things we would normally be ashamed of.  That’s not even considering the fact that these messages are never truly deleted.  There are screenshots as well as conversation logs that can and will be accessed if necessary.

The bottom line is to use your common sense.  Assume that everyone can and will be able to see or at least access your social media posts and texts.  Keeping a low-profile on social media is always a best practice during any type of litigation!  If you need help navigating your family law issue in Wake, Durham, or Johnston County, please contact The Law Office of Melissa K. Flanagan, PLLC.

Deception, Distortion, and Deceit: What You Should Always Tell Your Family Law Attorney

Deception, Distortion, and Deceit: What You Should Always Tell Your Family Law Attorney

  1. I had an affair.
  2. My spouse had an affair.
  3. I did something that might make it seem like I had an affair.
  4. Someone might be in possession of emails, texts, screenshots, etc. that might make it look like I had an affair.
  5. I have pending criminal charges or had criminal charges in the past.
  6. I have a current restraining order against my spouse or have in the past.
  7. My spouse has a current restraining order against me or has in the past.
  8. I have a girlfriend/boyfriend.
  9. I have children other than the ones I had with my spouse.
  10. I’ve hit or threatened my spouse but no one reported it.
  11. My spouse hit or threatened me but no one reported it.
  12. I don’t think I am the child’s father.
  13. I have accounts my spouse doesn’t know about.
  14. The police have been called to our home on ANY occasion, even if no police report was filed.
  15. I think my spouse might have proof of ANYTHING that might challenge my case.

This list is not all-inclusive.  You should tell your attorney EVERYTHING.  The attorney will let you know whether that information will be relevant.  Communications you have with your attorney are covered by attorney-client privilege in nearly all cases.  There are only a few exceptions that allow an attorney to release information you provided to them in confidence.[1]

Why should you be one-hundred percent truthful with your attorney?  Your case may be affected in a negative way.  If you are truthful, your attorney can mitigate the damage from any information that may be harmful to your case.  Your attorney is only able to represent you to the best of his/her ability if they know all the details surrounding your case.  Your attorney will not judge you but will be eternally thankful that you were forthcoming.  No one likes surprises in the court room!  Help your attorney and help your case by telling the truth.

[1] See N.C. Rule of Professional Conduct 1.16

Attorney Consultations: Top Ten Dos and Don’ts

Attorney Consultations: Top Ten Dos and Don’ts

  1. DO look at the attorney’s website (or call) to ensure that they handle your type of legal matter. It will save you and the attorney valuable time.  Do you need a family law attorney or an attorney who handles general civil litigation?
  1. Before the consultation, DO make a list of all the questions and concerns you would like to address. Be as specific as possible, but also keep in mind the length of your appointment.  If you have written questions to guide you during the consultation, you are more likely to remain focused.  Check off the questions as they are answered.
  1. DO think of the consultation as an interview.  Ask questions regarding fees and how the attorney handles cases like yours.
  1. DON’T forget to bring any applicable legal documents with you to your consultation.  This will help the attorney better understand your particular legal situation.
  1. DON’T be afraid to ask for resources or websites that may be able to guide you.
  1. If the attorney cannot take your case, DO ask for a referral. We usually have a large referral network and are generally happy to steer potential clients to someone within that network.
  1. DO acknowledge that some of your questions may not be answered immediately. The attorney may need to do a little research after your appointment to find an answer for you.
  1. DO know that your consultation is confidential, even if you do not hire that particular attorney. It is important to be truthful in explaining your legal situation so the attorney is better able to gauge how they may help you.
  1. DON’T assume that an internet search regarding a legal matter is a sufficient substitute for an attorney’s advice. Internet searches are great, but during the consultation, leave this “research” at home.
  1. DO follow your gut. If you do not feel comfortable speaking candidly with the attorney, you probably shouldn’t hire them.  You are trusting them with a lot, and it is important to have a good working relationship.

Are You a Bulldog?

Are you a bulldog family law attorney

Are You a Bulldog?

Most attorneys I have spoken with have heard this question many times during their careers.  It is a loaded question, and a difficult one to answer.  I had one person pose this question to me earlier this week.  It did cause me to think about the kind of attorney I am and strive to be.

A “bulldog” attorney can mean different things to different people.  Many people think of a bulldog attorney as one that is overly aggressive, rude, and demanding.  Others see this type of attorney as one who will fight to the death to achieve a certain result for their client.  I think most attorneys would say that they zealously advocate for their clients.  In speaking with a few attorney friends this week, I’ve gotten a number of answers regarding the characteristics of a bulldog attorney.  For many, a bulldog carries a very negative connotation.  This attorney can be very difficult to work with, generally disagreeable, and is well-known for these traits in the legal community.  On the other hand, one friend stated that a bulldog can be all bite and no bark, which makes a lot of sense.

While I was thinking about this, I decided to go to the American Kennel Club (“AKC”) website to find the true characteristics of a “real”[1] bulldog.  The site indicates that “The disposition should be equable and kind, resolute and courageous (not vicious or aggressive), and demeanor should be pacific and dignified.  These attributes should be countenanced by the expression and behavior.”[2]  Wow!  Those are some fancy words, but what do they all mean?  Equable means that one is “marked by lack of noticeable, unpleasant, or extreme variation or inequality,”[3] resolute means “marked by firm determination,”[4] and pacific means “tending to lessen conflict”[5]  Now that those descriptions are cleared up, let us venture into whether these are traits that potential clients would want in an attorney.

Many (but not all) are taught from a young age that kindness is one of the most important character traits.  Kindness means that you treat others with respect, are generally friendly, and are considerate of others.  I’m thinking that you can’t go wrong with kindness.  Being kind does not mean letting others run all over you.  You can be firm in your demands and dealings with others, but also kind.  A kind and resolute (even) disposition can work wonders even with the most unpleasant client or fellow member of the Bar.

Being an attorney requires that one be both determined and courageous.  After all, we are required to power through law school and the Bar Exam.  Those feats alone take tremendous amounts of determination and courage, even before one is officially licensed to practice law.  That determination and courage must bleed over into our dealings with others, both in and out of the courtroom.  It takes both of these qualities to accept tough cases, deal with less-than-congenial opposing counsel, and potentially intimidating judges.  And, as stated in the AKC description of the bulldog, being courageous does not mean that one must be vicious or aggressive.  I believe this is key.

Lastly, I believe it is important for an attorney to lessen or eliminate conflict when possible.  A common perception is that most attorneys are argumentative and quick to jump into a conflict.  In certain situations, this may be appropriate and even unavoidable.  However, I do believe that an attorney who strives to lessen conflict actually appears more dignified than one who is quick to instigate a conflict.  The increased focus on mediation, arbitration, and collaborative law over the last several years tends to show that our profession is starting to move away from conflict.  There will always be cases that cannot be handled peacefully, but conflict can be handled in a dignified manner.  We must always remember to walk into every situation, even a contentious one, with respect for all involved.

Do I think I am a bulldog attorney?  Yes, I do.  I believe that we, as attorneys, have quite a bit to learn from our canine bulldog friends.  We should all strive to have their characteristics.   Perhaps if all attorneys truly had the traits of our canine counterparts, our profession would garner even more respect.

[1] Of the canine variety.





Divorce: The Fifth Season

Divorce: The Fifth Season

Spring.  Summer.  Fall.  Winter.  Divorce?  Who knew there was a fifth season?[1]  While there is never a “good” time for a divorce or separation, there are certainly times during the year when family law attorneys receive more phone calls.  If you were to venture a guess, what time of the year do you think this occurs?

Here is a small hint:  it is the time of year families traditionally gather for the holidays.  Regardless of whether your family celebrates Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, the months of November, December, and January can be stressful.  Throw alcohol, increased spending, and already strained relationships into the mix, and it is somewhat of a perfect storm.

According to many of my colleagues (and my personal observation), December and January are the most popular months for potential clients to call with questions regarding separation or divorce.  There are many theories floating around the legal community as to why.  First, many struggling families will choose to have one last holiday season together.  Oftentimes this is due to families having young children, not wishing to taint their holiday memories.  Second, individuals already contemplating separation or divorce may wait to act as part of a New Year’s resolution.  Third, the financial strain of the holiday may bring up larger financial issues within families.  Obviously, this short list is not all-inclusive, but it does address some of the main reasons why so many people decide to separate or divorce during November, December, and January.  Regardless of the reasoning behind the influx of phone calls, most family law attorneys will agree that the “fifth season” (divorce) has arrived.

Though family law attorneys seem to get more phone calls in November, December, and January, the North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics tends to show a different trend.[2]  In 2016, the months of April, May, and June had the highest recorded number of divorces.  In contrast, the months of November, December, and January had the least.  Though the Center for Health Statistics does not say for certain, one may presume that the numbers only include finalized divorces.  It is not surprising that the number of finalized divorces would be lower in November, December, and January.  There are more court holidays during this time period, and fewer days to presumably finalize a divorce.  These statistics do not take into account those that enter into separation agreements.

Since the fifth season is upon us, I will be doing a series of blog posts about different aspects of separation and divorce.  The first blog in the series will address separation agreements.  If there are any particular topics that pique your interest, please let me know!

[1] Kudos to my husband’s cousin Charlotte, who coined this title for this blog post.  She is twelve years old, and wise beyond her years!

[2] 2016 North Carolina Marriage and Divorce Rates by County