• Brendan

Between the “40” Yard Lines

This will be brief. I have 45 minutes before I wake up our son and start the mad dash of breakfast, showering, dressing and remembering to put everything in the backpack before we run out the door. And that’s for both him and me. Perhaps like your home, it is the Keystone Cops over here in the morning.

But today, Vanessa turns 40. Unlike me, she is a modern person. I like old movies, Jazz, rare steaks and dry martinis. I don’t watch much TV except for TCM, the news and some sports. Maybe I will take in a Netflix thing here and there. I tend not to read much fiction anymore and I generally like to avoid being around other people (except at parties - when I do a Clark Kent thing and then you have to peel me off the dance floor or away from the microphone). While Vanessa likes to try new things and go new places - I prefer to stick to my favorite haunts and favorite destinations. I like to order my favorite dishes for each cuisine. I’m happy to stick with what I know. She will enter 40 boldly and bravely and make it a hell of an Act II.

In any event, turning 40 is something. It is a pivot. At 40 (I'm 42), you've had your childhood and adolescence. You have done the high school and college thing. You started a job and maybe had a kid and maybe got married. Now, you're half way in. Some people look at the next half with a jaundiced eye. They consider the parade of maladies and malfunctions that is to come. I look at 40 and see new possibilities.

Prior to 40 (and even now at 40+) - a lot of us cared an awful lot about being popular. We wanted to be liked, to fit in, to be cool. We cared what people thought and said and how we were received. Once you knock around this world for a while you start to learn a couple things. Not that I am any great lesson learner - just a regular observer like you. One of the things you learn is the value in not giving a damn (or at least not as much of one). Another thing you learn is how things actually work in reality.

And it is here where we will get to what this blog is about - divorce. So what does my ex-wife turning 40 have to do with anything? Well, first - it gives me an excuse to say happy birthday. Next, it provides a segue for me to use one of the lines I use in my practice all the time. I often tell clients that the lawyer on the other side is or is not "between the 40 yard lines." This is, obviously, a sports metaphor. What I mean to convey when saying this is that the position being taken is or is not normative for the practice. In other words, asking for 100% of the marital estate and $1,000,0000 per month in alimony/support is not within the 40 yard lines. Or perhaps I will say that the 60/40 split suggested by the judge isn't as crazy as it sounds and is "within the 40 yard lines."

It is good to know where and what the 40 year lines are in a case. It is good for lawyers to know it and it is important for you to know it too. The thing about the 40 yard lines is that they can move, they aren't etched in stone, but they are real and they exist - whether you or we like it or not. And the other thing is that these boundaries for outcome don't care about you very much, I'm sorry to say. They are like life that way. You are not the center of the universe and your case is not the family law version of Brown v. Board of Education. You will not move these lines because of "justice," "fairness," or any other appeals to abstract legal or moral principles. The 40 yard lines exist to operate as floors and ceilings. This isn't such a bad thing. Everything has its limits.

Turning 40 then, in life, like law - shows you a little more of the 40 yard lines. At 40, you have a little better take on what is possible. You can push at the edges and still move the boundaries - but you do so with the wisdom (or some bit of it at least) of knowing how the game is played and more of what the rules are.

For me, if I had known the 40 yard lines in life earlier - I probably wouldn't have become a lawyer or at least not the kind of lawyer I am now. I probably wouldn't have chosen to go over $100k in debt to go to law school and then practice in an area where because of the way it works, I will be paying my own loans down when our son goes to college himself.

I also would have done a number of other things differently. People say they have no regrets. I marvel at these people. I have many. But that is ok. I am now in Act II. As is Vanessa, now. We each, like many of you, now know where the 40 yard lines are.

None of us can go back in time, but we don't have to stay stuck in the present either. In our marriages, our divorces, our jobs or our lives. We can push those limits. We can have different or better marriages or we can make our divorce better if that's where we are at. We can start a blog and podcast, we can explore other opportunities in life or work or return to old ones dropped long ago, and we can make changes - but we can do all this now with some better sense of things. So here is to the #40. And here is to getting a little perspective on things - whether it is in a case or in life more generally.

I said above, I am a guy with habits and practices. I like what I know. True. I also like knowing what I didn't know before. And being able to see what to do with that all, what is possible and what isn't. Like the old cartoon show said: "Knowledge is Power." Have a nice day, enjoy your holiday weekend -- and if it is your birthday too - HBD.

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