Thursday, October 22, 2009

Angels and Miracles

When women speak confidentially to one another, almost every one of them shares this tragic secret: At some point in their reproductive career, they have lost a child. 

Many have had multiple miscarriages before or in between or even after having beautiful perfect children. They persist and they go on. They deal with the pain quietly, only sharing when they hear of another sister's loss. It is so common. Tragic but common. So many of us share this pain.

It just goes to show how it is a miracle that each and every one of us is born. There must be a very good reason for us to be here because getting here is NOT easy.  

Yesterday, I was shocked and devastated to learn from my doctor at a routine visit that the baby I was convinced was thriving in my womb, the child whose heart my husband and I had witnessed beating just a month ago in a sonogram was no longer alive. How could this be? How could this happen? What to do? What does it all mean? Where do we go from here?

This morning I got up at 5:00AM to just walk. Walking has always been therapy for me. During my walk, I cried some tears, and then suddenly remembered something my 5 year old son had told me several days ago. I hadn't thought much of it at the time.

Lukie had told me that he had had a dream about the baby sister. We didn't actually know what we were having but we thought the baby was a girl for whatever bizarre reason. He had told me that he dreamed that we had lost the baby sister, that we could not find her. That he looked and looked for her and finally found her. She was not a baby but a little girl.

When I came back from walking this morning, Lukie was just waking up. He came into the kitchen yawning dressed in his boxer pull-ups, pajama top and Spider Man slippers. I hugged and kissed him and then asked him to tell me more about the dream he had told me about before. "Can you tell me more about the baby sister you saw in your dream?"

"Yes," he said with confidence. "She was a girl--not a baby--she was about Macie's size. She had black hair and brown eyes. She had purple clothes and black shoes. She smiled at me."

"Lukie," I said, "I think that was the Baby Sister. I think she came to tell you goodbye for us and to let you know that she would be our angel in Heaven looking out for us. Do you feel that that is what happened?"

"Yes, Mommy," he said and smiled and hugged me.

Was Lukie visited by an angel? Our baby who would not be? I cannot say whether it is true or not. What I can tell you is that believing this is helping us to heal. I choose to believe in angels. And Lukie and Macie take comfort in believing that the baby sister they were so eagerly looking forward to helping Mommy with is actually an angel in Heaven helping Mommy with them.

More importantly, I want my children to know that they are miracles. That just by virtue of existing here on Earth, they are meant to be. The Universe has plans for them and they should never doubt that they are worthy. We are all worthy. We are all miracles. 

So, when you are sad and doubting yourself; when you wonder why you are here; when you wonder if you are doing enough or if you are perfect enough or if you are a failure, remember this: 

You are not a mistake. The odds against your being here are enormous. The fact that you exist demonstrates that you were meant to be. So be at peace. Whatever your worries, be at peace. Whatever your fears are, be at peace.  You are here for a reason and your life matters.

Live. Know. Be.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Why the Constitution and the Bill of Rights Matter

In 1787 our founding fathers sat down to write out some principles for the people and government of the fledgling United States of America. These principles were meant to guarantee liberty, justice, domestic tranquility, the common defense of and general welfare for “We the People.” They both set forth—and limited—the powers of government. The system may not work perfectly, but it works pretty well. We should all be thankful that we live in this day and age in the United States of America, although some young people don’t realize just how lucky we really are.

The first time I ever taught as a Florida Supreme Court Justice Teacher (, I addressed an 8th grade class at Hoover Middle School in which a confident young man flippantly stated something to the effect of, “I don’t see what the Constitution and the Bill of Rights have to do with me.”

So, yes, perhaps it is a luxury of growing up in a free country that young people so easily take for granted the rights and freedoms they and their families enjoy. Florida Supreme Court Justice Fred Lewis developed the Justice Teaching program earlier this decade with the goal of pairing up one jurist or lawyer with each and every school in the State of Florida to convey to young Floridians just how important their rights and freedoms really are. Just peruse any newspaper and you will read about what can happen to citizens of other countries where government is not necessarily “by, of and for the people.”

On Sunday, September 20, 2009, I was struck by an Associated Press article on page 16A of Florida Today entitled “Families bear brunt of prisoners’ plight.” This article described how thousands of frantic families in Iran are unable to find out about loved ones who were detained in the crackdown after the disputed June 12th presidential election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It tells the story of 29 year old journalist, Fariba Pajooh, who had been picked up by Iranian Intelligence Ministry agents and placed in jail without explanation on August 28th. After a month of incarceration, Ms. Pajooh’s family and lawyer were still unable to determine the nature of the charges against her or when, if ever, she would be released. According to the article, thousands of other families in Iran are in the same situation with no knowledge of their incarcerated loved ones. The prisoners are denied access to legal representation and due process as we know it in the United States.

The plight of Ms. Pajooh illustrates the horrors of what could happen here in the United States if our founding fathers had not promulgated the United States Constitution and the first ten amendments thereto lovingly referred to as “The Bill of Rights.” How could Ms. Pajooh’s fate been different, had she been a journalist in Brevard County, Florida, rather than in Tehran?

Amendment I to the U.S. Constitution would have protected her freedom of speech, her freedom as a member of the press and her right to peaceably assemble, especially since she was ostensibly arrested due to her occupation as a journalist.

Amendment IV would have protected her against unreasonable searches and seizures without at least a warrant or probable cause.

Under Amendment V, Ms. Pajooh’s family would be ensured that their wife, sister and daughter would receive due process of law, not be compelled to testify against herself or be charged twice in double jeopardy for the same alleged crime.

Under Amendment VI, Ms. Pajooh would not be languishing in jail for as long as the government wished because she would enjoy her right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury. She would have been informed of the crime she was alleged to have committed, of the nature and cause of the accusation. She would be able to confront the witnesses against her and have access to her attorney to properly defend her. As of the date of the Florida Today article, Ms. Pajooh’s lawyer had still not been permitted—over a month later—to see or speak to his client.

Under Amendment VIII, she would have been granted a reasonable bail and as we do not know how she is being treated during her arbitrary and secretive incarceration, she would have been protected from any cruel and unusual punishment.

So to the 8th grader who thought that the Bill of Rights didn’t matter to him, my hope is that by the end of my Justice Teaching presentation he understood that his rights and freedoms were indeed precious. I hope he now believes that he is blessed to live in a country where he enjoys freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble, and the right to present the government with his grievances. I hope he now knows that not everyone in the world gets to go to sleep every night without fear of being unreasonably searched or whisked away from his family suddenly and without explanation. And, that if he is ever charged with a crime, he’ll know at least what are the accusations and charges against him, be able to review the evidence, confront his witnesses and have access to an attorney to protect him against what I have found to be the most dear right to any young person: The right against cruel and unusual punishment.

Brooke Deratany Goldfarb, Esq., Harvard Law, JD, is the Justice Teacher for Indialantic Elementary School. Ms. Goldfarb currently works as a Florida Supreme Court Certified Family Mediator & Collaborative Family Lawyer in Indialantic, Florida with Peaceful Beach Mediation & Collaboration She is a former large firm corporate lawyer and small town criminal defense attorney.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Parents, Children, Divorce Professionals & Divorce

It was a beautiful Saturday morning in May. Soccer season was finally over, which meant there was no need to rush off to the fields. I relished the concept of just taking our time and enjoying being home as a family. But it was May 16th, the day for which I had signed up two months earlier to observe the court ordered "Parents, Children & Divorce" course (Florida Statute Chapter 61.21, Parent Education & Family Stabilization Course) required for all married and unmarried parents of minor children going through divorce or separation in the State of Florida. (

I had strongly felt the need to see this class in person because I was always telling my family law and mediation clients that it was the very first thing they absolutely had to do now that they were no longer going to be husband and wife. Of course, the natural question from them was always about what they would learn at this ominous-sounding four-hour class. Since I hadn't taken it, I always found myself at a loss for an answer and just replied something like, "Well, it's a court-ordered parenting class to help your children while you divorce and you have to take it."

But now I was cursing myself. I was tempted to just stay home, make pancakes, read the paper and enjoy some Florida sunshine. Instead I dragged myself out of the house. As I stopped in the corner 7-Eleven for a large cup of coffee, I thought, "Well, maybe I'll just stay a half hour or so; enough to have something more substantial to tell my clients when they ask the inevitable question."

I arrived just before 9:00AM at the Courtyard Marriott near the Melbourne Square Mall on 192. The room was packed tight with moms and dads; no children, of course. Cheerful music was playing on a portable radio. A large jar full of candy sat on a chair in the back of the room. I sheepishly approached the perky blonde woman at the front of the room and hesitantly identified myself as "the lawyer/mediator come to audit the course."

"Fantastic!" exclaimed the blonde woman. "Welcome! We LOVE it when lawyers sit in on this class; I wish more of them would."

Her name was Dee. I liked her immediately. She had such an engaging, bubbly personality, I found myself espousing my old schoolgirl habit of sitting right in the front of the class, eager to hear what she had to say. After making sure we all filled out our registration forms and that everyone who hadn't already paid, paid their $40 fee, Dee passed out a handy-dandy little workbook (our very own for us to keep, oh boy!) and turned off the music.

She directed us to turn to a page in the workbook with a heart-wrenching handwritten letter by a child to her mother about how she felt so sad and hurt inside when Mom talked about Dad "with such angry." The child went on,

"I know you hate him and then when you tell me I'm just like him
I know you hate me too... I love Dad. Just like I love you.
I'm afraid to say anything about my time with him
because you scream at me or put him down...
I just want to get away from all of this mess.
I hate DIVORCE."

Then she had us turn to another page and read an even more heart-wrenching letter from a child to his parents that read:

"Dear Mom and Dad,
I love you both. I am scaired when you fight.
I dreamed I was drownding
and you were on the boat fighting
so you count here me yelling and I drownded.
Why do you have to both fight so hard
when Daddy picks me up to see me?"

I wanted to cry.

Now this is a class that you would expect to be a real downer, right? It is all about sad and angry feelings and how parents unwittingly hurt their children during divorce. But, surprisingly enough, it actually turned out to be a very uplifting class, perhaps common sensical at times, but then again, common sense often seems to be the first thing that goes out the window when a married couple decides to break up.

Although I had planned to only stay for the first 1/2 hour, I stayed for all four. I was riveted. I was engaged. I raised my hand and answered questions and was rewarded with a small stuffed bird thrown at me by Dee ("because I wasn't a bird brain") which I took home to my 5 year old son. I was now having a terrific time. I don't think it was only because I am the classic overachieving teacher's pet wannabe. The other people in the classroom--who HAD to be there--were smiling, nodding with knowing expressions on their faces, sometimes laughing out loud and other times tearing up with emotion from Dee's touching real life stories. Some students in the class told their own stories; they shared their respective moments of Zen. Dee turned a course about such sensitive issues into a really meaningful, entertaining, interactive and inspiring (dare I say, Oprah-like?) class experience.

If only more people would take this course earlier. If only more lawyers themselves would audit this course (no charge!) so they would be more mindful that these are families we are dealing with during divorce, not court cases to be "won" or "lost." Then maybe, just maybe, more children and families would be spared the potential brain damage and destruction inherent in so many ugly divorces.

This course confirmed my belief that the very first thing a divorce attorney should tell a client with children is to sign up and go to it. So many attorneys don't even mention that this course is required by the courts. They only bring it up as an afterthought when it is time for the final hearing. This is just plain wrong. The information in this course is so helpful; people should have as much time as possible to benefit from it. Taking the course at the beginning of the divorce process would more likely make the process go so much more smoothly. The goal of the course is to help parents help their children overcome their fears during divorce and to help them adjust to the new family configuration. Here are some of my favorite highlights:

*It's not the divorce itself that is so devastating to children, but rather the divorce wars that children have to experience.

*Criticism of the other parent is criticism of half your child.

*Get that you are a family and always will be, just one who doesn't live together anymore.

*Let yourself go through the stages of loss and grief. The grief of divorce can be even worse than the grief of death because it can go on and on.

*Let it go. You can't control your ex. Accept your ex for who they are.

*Choose how you feel. When you express anger, you give your power away.

*Forgive your ex. Forgiveness does not condone the action. Forgive for yourself.

*It is a myth that divorcing parents have a handle on how the kids are doing because kids tell parents what they think they want to hear. Children are great little actors and actresses and can hide their feelings so well.

*The #1 way to help kids in divorce is to help them get their feelings out in age appropriate ways.

* Get a support system for yourself. Go to counseling. Get a support system for your kids (Sandcastles program for kids age 7-17).

*Don't give children adult information that they are not emotionally ready to handle.

*Don't put the child in the middle; don't use him as a pawn, messenger or spy or make him feel guilty about spending time with the other parent.

You would think that everyone would already know these things, but sometimes even the best of us need a little reminding of what we already know.

Just take the class, sooner rather than later. Trust me; it is four hours very well spent. Take it in person (and not online) if at all possible, and please say, "Hi" to Dee for me. I'm a big fan.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Mediation and Collaboration Empower Divorcing Parties to Resolve Their Own Disputes

The Divorce Coach’s Corner #1: Mediation and Collaboration Empower Divorcing Parties to Resolve Their Own Disputes
The Tale of Cat, Rabbit & Fox

Once there was a cat, a rabbit and a fox. Cat and Rabbit started fighting over a piece of delicious cheese they had found in the forest. Rabbit broke the cheese into two pieces. Cat grabbed the larger piece for himself, announcing, “This piece is mine.”

Rabbit, of course, had to disagree, “No it isn’t, it is mine!”

Just then, Cat saw a fox walk by and called to him, “Mr. Fox, we have two pieces of cheese and I want the bigger piece, shouldn’t it be mine?”

Rabbit interjected protesting, “That’s not fair, I want the bigger piece, it should be mine!”

“I will solve this problem,” said Fox, “I will bite the bigger piece so that both pieces will be the same, “ and with that, Fox took a bite out of the bigger piece of cheese.

“But now the other piece is bigger!” complained Cat.

“No worries,” said Fox, “I will now take a bite out of the other piece.”

“But now the first piece is bigger, no fair!” cried Rabbit.

“Never fear, I will solve this problem for you,” said Fox. This process continued as Cat or Rabbit each time complained about how much cheese should be his or hers and with Fox taking bite after bite until finally, all the cheese was safely in Fox’s tummy. “Mmm, that sure was good cheese, too bad you two lost your chance to have some.”

Cat started to whine, “But all the cheese is gone now!”

Fox grinned, “So it is. But at least the pieces are the same size,” and with that Fox ran off.

“But which piece was mine?” asked Rabbit in a daze.

“I guess it doesn’t matter now,” said Cat wistfully, “they are both gone, and now we don’t have any cheese at all.”

Only then Cat and Rabbit realized, “I guess we should have solved our problem ourselves.”

I witnessed the saga of Cat, Rabbit and Fox as a short play in my daughter’s theater class. To me, the tale illustrates the fall out of the litigated divorce with the loss of cheese signifying the loss of, among other things, the dignity of the participants. It is a cautionary tale of what can happen to couples that decide to fight with each other, utilizing the court system instead of choosing non-litigation techniques such as mediation or the collaborative process. The Fox doesn’t symbolize the actions of any particular person, lawyer or judge, but rather the dehumanizing and unsatisfying process of litigation itself, and what happens when litigants focus on grabbing all they can, instead of stopping and thinking of creative ways to come up with a solution that would be fair to all—a solution that the participants can “own” because they worked it out for themselves instead of having “the system” dictate a solution that satisfies no one.

What would have happened to Cat and Rabbit’s cheese if instead of filing complaint after complaint with Fox they had instead decided to empower themselves with the help of a mediator or through the collaborative process to decide for themselves what would be the most fair distribution of the cheese? Would they have been happier with the outcome? I submit that they most certainly would have.

Actually, Cat and Rabbit had a lot more in common than they thought, just as divorcing parties usually have much more in common than they sometimes realize. It has been said that the divorce process brings out the very worst in otherwise perfectly nice “Cats” and “Rabbits.” But it doesn’t have to be that way. As a divorce mediator and collaborative family lawyer, I have noticed that most people, most of the time, once they are able to get past the anger and fear, are perfectly capable of coming up with their own solutions. I’ll take it further than that and venture to say that most people most of the time want to do the right thing. They have an inherent sense of fairness. They love their children, want what is best for them, and even though they are divorcing, have somewhere inside them some sense of caring for their soon to be ex-spouse. Even in the “ugliest” of divorces, as long as at least one of the parties calls a “truce” with his or her ex and starts acting with more compassion towards the other, even seemingly impossible divorce situations can be turned around, especially with the assistance of a gifted facilitator.

I would encourage more lawyers and divorcing parties to educate themselves about the benefits of mediating their disputes or choosing to use the collaborative process, whereby a “divorce transition team” of professionals is formed to help the couple get themselves and their family through what can be one of life’s most stressful events. Mediation and collaboration not only help divorcing couples maintain their dignity, such processes also tend to cost less money than litigation, allowing the parties to keep more of their financial “cheese” for themselves and their children.

Brooke Deratany Goldfarb, Esq., Harvard Law, J.D., is a family mediator and collaborative lawyer with Peaceful Beach Mediation and Collaboration in Indialantic, Florida. Brooke can be reached at 321.626.2858 or

The Difference Between a Good Argument and a Bad Argument

The Divorce Coach’s Corner--#2
The Difference Between a Good Argument and a Bad Argument

When most people think of divorce, they get an image in their head of two angry and upset people fighting with each other. It is true that in a divorce it is likely that at least one party has at some point said or done something to enrage the other. Indeed, divorcing parties often don’t see eye to eye. They argue over money (or the lack thereof), the division of assets and liabilities, how to parent and share time with the children, and countless other issues. With so much to argue about, how can a divorcing couple possibly be expected to resolve their differences amicably?

The answer is simple: Go ahead and have an argument. Just make it a good one.

What makes a “good” argument as opposed to a “bad” argument? I found an answer one Sunday when I came in early to my daughter’s 2nd grade Hebrew school class. Written on the board was an explanation of the difference between a “good” argument and a “bad” argument. It went something like this: When people argue by taking turns respectfully listening to each other explain their different points of view and what they perceive to be true for them, that is a good argument, or what the rabbis of yore called “an argument from heaven.” This means no name-calling, no accusing, no dwelling on past hurts and sleights. In a good argument, when all is said and done, the parties have actually learned something from each other. They understand each other better and feel heard by the other person, even if they still don’t necessarily agree with each other, at least they can find some common ground or a resolution they can both live with.

When two people argue by calling names, making accusations and not listening to the other side; when they focus on trying to hurt each other with jibs and jabs; when they are more concerned with making their spouse “pay” for the pain they feel that the other person has caused them, instead of what would be the most fair and equitable resolution for everyone concerned, that is a bad argument or what the rabbis called, “an argument not from heaven.”

Processes such as mediation and collaboration provide safe forums for parties to express their needs, desires, concerns, fears--and even anger--through the use of good, healthy argument. Alternatively, the litigation of family matters in a courtroom easily lends itself to the use of bad arguments. When litigation is involved, people tend to get all caught up in their anger without an appropriate way to express it. Instead they focus on “getting” the other person or “punishing” their spouse by “beating” him or her in court and “winning.” But in such a situation, no one really wins, and even when they win, they still lose. One side might get his or her way but only at the extreme emotional and financial cost to both the parties and their children. No one ever came out of litigation feeling like they had improved their relationship with their ex-spouse. Most people come out of litigation feeling spent and oftentimes even angrier and more hurt than before.

Litigation of family matters erodes the possibility of the all too important post-divorce parenting relationship. Even for parties without young children, the litigated divorce does not provide closure. The mediated or collaborated divorce on the other hand, does just that, and at a fraction of the legal fees of the litigated divorce.

When people choose to dissolve their marriage outside of the courtroom, they empower themselves to make their own decisions about their future. It benefits society as a whole when families can work out their own differences outside of the court system. Excessive fighting not only destroys families, it also clogs up the courts and prevents the truly irresolvable matters from getting the attention they deserve.

So go ahead and have an argument. Just make sure it is a “good” one and if you find yourself or your client in the unfortunate position of needing to dissolve a marriage, explore how mediation or collaboration can at least make this most stressful of life experiences a more positive and productive one.

Brooke Deratany Goldfarb, Esq., Harvard Law, JD, is a mediator and collaborative family lawyer in Indialantic, Florida at Peaceful Beach Mediation and Collaboration ( She can be reached at (321) 626-2858 or