Surviving the Holidays Part III: Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali, and New Years

The Winter holidays; Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali and New Years, can be very difficult, especially if you are newly separated or divorced.   The thought of celebrating the holidays may seem impossible and even depressing, especially if your children will not be with you.  Your first instinct may be to isolate yourself from friends and family, but you should try to embrace the holidays as best you can.   Accept invitations to parties, or plan your own holiday party.  If you are feeling overwhelmed, set limits so friends and family know what you are capable of doing during the holiday season.  

      In his article, Your First Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa since Divorce, Brian Galbraith lists ten things you can do to make your holiday special.  Below are the top five, with suggestions on how you can implement them.  To read the full article, click here

1.   Ensure your schedule is specific: If you have children and you have not addressed the holidays with your former spouse or soon to be ex-spouse, now is a good time to begin discussing a holidayIf you already have an Agreement or Court Order, you should review the holiday schedule to make sure you know when the children will be with you and if details need to be worked out, resolve them now rather than later when the stress of the holiday season can make negotiating difficult.  

2.   Don’t fight over which days you have your children: There are many options for holidayFor those who celebrate Christmas, one option is for one parent to have the children for Christmas Eve and the other parent to have the children Christmas Day.  Think about when exchanges will take place taking into consideration what will work best for your children.   Because Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Diwali are multiple day holidays, parents often celebrate these holidays when they have the children on their regular access days.  However, for some, it is important to have the children on a particular night of the holiday.  While you may not be able to have, for example, the first night of the holiday every year, you may agree to alternate.  Try to treat your ex-spouse the way you would want to be treated, even if the behavior is not reciprocated. 

The specific holidays are not the only issue to think about.   Most children are off from school between Christmas and New Years.   You should consider who will be with the children during Winter Break.   If you typically go out of town to visit relatives, or for vacation, you may need to discuss if this is possible now that their time may be divided between both parents.   If neither of you have off from work, childcare is an issue you may need to discuss.   If you are having difficulty agreeing on a holiday schedule consider meeting with a divorce mediator or a divorce attorney to assist you with negotiating an amicable resolution.

3.   Do something special for yourself:  Exercise, yoga, and even meditation are great ways to reduce stress and feel good about yourself during the busy holidayInvite some friends over for dinner or suggest you go out to celebrate the season.   Catch up on movies you’ve wanted to see or books you’ve been planning to read.  

4.   Support your children: Do not speak poorly about the time your children spend with their other If you feel you need to vent, call a friend or your therapist. 

5.   Create new traditions:  Recognize that it may not be possible to maintain your past traditions. If you do not have your children on Christmas Day or the first night of Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, it is okay to celebrate on anotherYour children will be happy to be with you, regardless of the calendar date, especially if you plan and schedule your festivities so everyone has something to look forward to.  Here are a few ideas for creating new traditions:

a.   Plan a holiday movie marathon with popcorn and hot

b.   Create a CD or I-pod playlist with holiday music.

c.   Have dinner and then drive around to see the holiday lights andYou can visit nearby neighborhoods or go to some of the organized light displays in our area.

d.   Attend a Holiday show, such as theThere are so many options in our area to suit any budget.

e.   Take your children shopping so they can pick out a gift for their otherYou can also purchase supplies and have the children make a gift for their other parent, as well as grandparents, friends, and other family members. 

Remember, anything can be a special event if you keep a positive attitude. The best gift you can give your children and yourself is the gift of peace and joy this holiday season.

( 12/3/12)

Tuesday, 13 November 2012 22:19

Best Lawyers

Geraldine Hess named in the Washington DC & Baltimore’s Best Lawyers 2013 Edition.

            Ms. Hess has been selected by her peers for inclusion in the Washington DC & Baltimore’s Best Lawyers 2013 Edition.   Best Lawyers is one of the leading referral guides in the legal profession.   The 2013 Best Lawyers List appeared in the Best Lawyers special advertising supplement to the Washington Post on Friday, November 9th, 2012 .  Ms. Hess, owner of Hess Family Law, appears on page 24 of that publication.  

Thursday, 01 November 2012 15:14

Surviving the Holidays Part 2: Thanksgiving

Surviving the Holidays When You Are Newly Separated or Divorced:

Part II:  Thanksgiving


Halloween is over and now your focus turns to Thanksgiving.  If you are newly separated or divorced, the thought of changing your Thanksgiving traditions or developing a Thanksgiving custody arrangement can be overwhelming.  But it does not have to be.  With advanced planning you can resolve issues before they become problems, and rather than dwelling on what used to be, you can focus on creating new traditions.


   In her article “Your First Thanksgiving after Your Divorce”  Dr. Hecker lists techniques for coping with your first Thanksgiving after divorce.  Whether you are newly divorced, just separated, or have been divorced for many years, you may find these tips helpful:

                                1.   Accept your emotions.

                                2.   Don't isolate yourself from others.

                                3.   Make new traditions.

                                4.   Treat your ex with courtesy.

                                5.   Don't put the children in the middle.

                                6.   Give thanks.  


     If you have children and you do not have an Agreement or Court Order regarding when you will spend time with your children during the Thanksgiving weekend, now is the time to resolve this with your ex-spouse or newly separated spouse.   If you are unable to reach a resolution on your own you may want to contact a divorce mediator or divorce attorney for assistance. 

There are many different scenarios that can be arranged to make the weekend work for you and your family.   For example, one parent might have the children at the beginning of the day for an early Thanksgiving meal and the other parent would have the children late in the day for an evening Thanksgiving meal.   Another option is for one parent to celebrate with the children on Thanksgiving Day and for the other parent to celebrate with the children on the Friday after Thanksgiving.  


Many newly divorced or separated parents do not have young children; however family gatherings continue after the children turn 18.  If both you and your ex-spouse or newly separated spouse are invited to spend Thanksgiving with one of your adult children, it is important to set ground rules.  If there are certain topics that will cause stress or tension, agree to avoid those topics.  Be respectful of one another and focus on your children and/or grandchildren rather than your former spouse.   If you do not think you can cope with celebrating the holiday together, you can suggest that it might be less stressful if you joined the family for leftovers on Friday.  Or, you can agree to rotate which parent spends the holiday with your adult child.  Click here to read the full article, Tips for Adult Children of Divorce at Thanksgiving. 


Creating new traditions is a great way to focus on the future.  Some ideas include having family or friends for the meal, going to a parade, having a turkey picnic, volunteering, or doing something else that interests you and your children.  Giving thanks at this time in your life might seem impossible, but now is the perfect time to practice gratitude.  Helping those that are less fortunate can lift your spirits and might even spark new traditions.   Volunteering at a soup kitchen, participating in a turkey trot, or helping prepare a Thanksgiving meal for the homeless, are just a few ways you can get involved.   Click here for a list of volunteer opportunities in the DC Metro area.  





Tuesday, 23 October 2012 22:59

Surviving the Holidays Part 1: Halloween

Surviving the Holidays When You Are Newly Separated or Divorced:

Part I:  Halloween

           Halloween marks the beginning of the holiday season.  If you are going through a divorce, or already divorced, the holidays may bring additional anxiety.  This three part series will provide some tips on surviving the holiday season.

For the separated or divorced parent, holiday time with your children is shared between you and your ex-spouse or separated spouse.   Halloween is a difficult holiday to divide between parents for trick or treating because of the limited length of time of the trick or treating event.  If going trick or treating together as a family is not an option, the holiday is likely to be alternated between parents each year, or in many families the holiday is not specifically addressed in an Agreement or Judgment and the children are with whichever parent happens to have the children on that day of the week according to the regular access schedule. 

Even if you don’t have your children for trick or treating there are many ways to celebrate and create Halloween traditions with your children in the weeks and days leading up to the actual holiday.  New Halloween traditions might include an annual trip to the pumpkin patch to pick pumpkins off the vine, apple picking, and/or hosting a pumpkin carving or decorating party that could be just for you and your kids or include friends and family.   Some other things you could do include, making a pumpkin pie, pumpkin seeds or other holiday treats from scratch, attending a Fall Festival, having a holiday themed movie night, allowing your kids to select the treats you will hand out to neighborhood kids or anything else that interests you and your children that you can share together and do year after year.  For some ideas of events happening in the D.C. area click here

If you have not addressed Halloween with your ex-spouse or separated spouse, now is a good time to figure out a plan.  If you think you will need assistance reaching an amicable resolution, you might want to consult a divorce mediator or divorce attorney so you and your children can enjoy Halloween stress free. 


Health Insurance Coverage Options After Divorce.

Health insurance is a concern for many divorcing parties. If you are not the policyholder of the family health insurance policy, it can be stressful ensuring that you have coverage after divorce.   Your ex-spouse cannot continue to maintain you on his/her employer sponsored group health insurance policy after divorce.   While your soon to be ex-spouse may be able to provide a COBRA policy through their employment, the cost may be prohibitive, and depending on the terms of your settlement or Court Order, you may be required to pay those expenses.  Also, COBRA coverage is for a limited time.  At some point you will need to secure your own health insurance.  

If you are employed check with your employer regarding health insurance options.  Research individual policies through private insurance companies.  And, don't forget to check with any organizations to which you belong to see if they offer a group health insurance policy.  Group policies are usually less expensive than individual policies.  It is important for you to learn your options and the cost.  You want to make sure your future health insurance costs are considered in your budget, and that the future health insurance expense is considered when evaluating alimony or spousal support issues.  

Click here for more information on maintaining your health insurance after divorce.  For Maryland's mini-cobra rules, Click Here


Saturday, 13 October 2012 02:12

Tips for Testifying in Court

Tips for Testifying in Court


For many, a divorce hearing is the first time they step into a courtroom.   Like anything in life, it is important to be prepared.   It is normal to be nervous before testifying, but with these tips, you can ease your fears and testify like a pro.


  • Dress for the occasion.   Wear clothing that shows respect for the Judge.   Clothing you would wear to church or synagogue is appropriate.  Work out clothing, provocative clothing, or sloppy dress, is not.  Try to avoid wearing jeans if you have other options. 
  • Review your testimony with your attorney.  It is okay to practice what you are going to say.   Practicing eases your nerves and allows you to think about your answers.
  • Anticipate what the opposing lawyer will ask you.  Try to predict cross-examination questions with your attorney.   If you are worried about being asked about a topic or specific question, it is okay to discuss and formulate a response in advance with your attorney. 
  • Listen to the questions being asked.   If you do not understand a question or do not hear the question, ask for clarification or for the question to be repeated. 
  • Only answer the question being asked.   You do not have to volunteer information.
  • Do not get rattled by opposing counsel.   Do not argue or raise your voice.   Oftentimes opposing counsel is trying to get you to react in an angry, aggressive, or controlling manner; you need to stay calm.  It is okay to be emotional but not overly emotional.  Remember to be respectful of the Judge and his/her Courtroom.
  • Do not ramble when answering a question.   This is where practicing helps.   Give short concise answers, especially on cross-examination.  
  • Always tell the truth even if you think it will hurt you.   If you lie or mislead the court and it is brought out on cross-examination your credibility will be damaged.  It is better to tell the truth even if it is not flattering then to have opposing counsel discredit you.
  • When testifying, try to avoid using absolute words such as always and never, as these words can discredit your testimony.  Rarely is there an occasion where something always or never occurs. 
  • Avoid using phrases such as “I would not lie to you” or “Honestly”.  All of your testimony should be honest. 
  • Tone is important.  Do not be confrontational or hostile. 
  • Practice, Practice, Practice.  While in the shower, looking in the mirror, driving in your car, practice your answers to the tough questions.  With practice you will learn to say what is important in a succinct manner. 
  • Try not to look up at the sky when you are answering questions.  If you would rather not look at the attorney asking you questions then pick a spot on the wall and look at that spot.  If you can, occasional eye contact with the Judge is nice. 
  • If an attorney states an objection, stop speaking immediately.  The Judge needs to rule on the objection.   If the objection is sustained you cannot continue your answer.  If the objection is overruled you can continue your answer.  As long as you stop speaking the Judge can do his/her job.  If you are unsure if the Judge’s ruling means you can answer or not, don’t worry because the Judge or questioning attorney will let you know if it is okay to continue with your answer.
  • When you are a party in a court case you are in the courtroom for the entire proceeding, not just your testimony.  It is important that you present well in the courtroom even when you are not testifying. The Judge is always looking around the courtroom and observing what you are doing. 

Here are some tips for your behavior when others are speaking or testifying, especially your spouse:

  • Do not shake your head vigorously in agreement or disagreement of the testimony.  Do not sigh loudly, do not speak out, do not jump out of your seat, do not raise your arms in the air, or otherwise call attention to yourself.
  • Do not talk to your attorney.  Your attorney must pay attention to the testimony so he/she can object and determine what questions to ask on cross-examination.  Your attorney cannot do his/her job and listen to you at the same time.  Keep a pad and pen and write notes to your attorney.  Write calmly and not furiously; you need to show that you are in control of yourself. 
  • Sit respectfully in your chair.
  • Do not chew gum, eat, or drink beverages other than water in the courtroom.

Courtrooms are open to the public.  You can go to the courthouse and observe a trial, and observe the Judge scheduled to hear your trial, before your court date.



Monday, 01 October 2012 02:29

Keeping in Touch with Your Children

Separation and Divorce:  Keeping in Touch with Your Children

For many, the thought of not seeing their children on a daily basis can be difficult, but when you divorce, it is inevitable that your children will spend time with your former spouse whether you have shared custody, sole custody, or visitation.  Veronique De Miguel posted an article on with some suggestions for keeping in touch with your children when they are with your former spouse.  Here are some of Ms. De Miguel’s suggestions, as well as some of my own:

  • Call your children on a regular basis (unless you are restricted by Agreement or Court Order).   When you call remember these rules:
      • Keep it brief and positive;
      • Do not call at improper hours;
      • Do not use your children as messengers;
      • Do not be upset or discouraged if your child chooses not to speak with you on the telephone.  Some children don’t enjoy talking on the telephone or don’t want to be interrupted when they are engaged in something else.  However, it is still beneficial for them to hear that you called and wanted to speak to them.  Sometimes it is your effort that is most important.
  • Send letters, greeting cards or post cards.  Even in today’s world of instant messaging, kids still love to receive mail.  Again, keep your letter brief and positive.   If you want, enclose a picture or a small inexpensive trinket in the mail, such as a stick of bubble gum, a pencil, or other small item that your child might enjoy. 
  • Use Skype, I-chat, or any other VOIP technology.
  • Email or text if your child is old enough and has their own account.  Remember, anything you write or send will likely be read by your former spouse.  Also, make sure you don’t “over do it” by texting or emailing too often. You don't want to be perceived as pestering and you don’t want to turn your child away from you rather than bringing your child closer to you.   When communicating with your child, be reassuring, positive and open.
  • Have a special “coming home” tradition.  Establish a tradition for you and your children to enjoy when they return to you after being with their other parent for several days or more.  It can be as simple as going out for a special treat, reading a favorite book together, or playing a game, or it can be more complex such as a special dinner that includes a menu of favorite foods, or to which each family member invites a friend   It is beneficial for your child to have something to look forward to, in addition to seeing you, especially if they might be sad they are leaving the other parent. 
  • Be Generous.  Let your children know you love them, but do not expect anything in return.  Children often feel that they are betraying the other parent if they show too much emotion or talk to long with the other parent.  Also, children don’t always have the same desire to share as adults do, they need to keep some things “their own” and private.   Let your children know you are there for them.
To read the full text of  Ms. De Miguel’s article click here. 




The membership of the Collaborative Divorce Association, Inc. elected Geraldine Hess to serve as one of the Board of Directors of the organization.  Ms. Hess's practice consists of both traditional litigation/representation and collaborative law. 

The Collaborative process is not right for every case or family situation and that is why Ms. Hess offers the Colloborative process as one of many ways of resolving family, custody and divorce matters.

Review the Collaborative Divorce Association, Inc. checklist, and consult with a Collaborative attorney to determine whether the Collaborative process is right for you.   


Letting go of Emotions and Dealing with Negative Emotions During a Divorce

It is hard to let go of emotions during a divorce, especially if you did not choose to leave the marriage and do not want to be divorced.    Cathy Meyer's article explains the importance of letting go of emotions so that you can protect your legal rights and build new dreams and a new future for yourself.

Ms. Myer's tips include:

1.  Focus not on your spouse's prior bad acts, but on the here and now so that you can protect your interests in the here and now.

2.  Be angry, be resentful, but don't stay that way.  If you remain angry you may wind up focusing on how to punish your spouse in the divorce process rather than protecting your future.  

3.  You should be assertive and stand up for your rights during the divorce process, but do so kindly and gently, if possible.  You benefit from a divorce and parting relationship that has less conflict and leaves you with more self-respect.  Remember, this was someone that once was, and may still be, important to you.

 You can find Ms. Meyer's article here:


Monday, 25 June 2012 19:01

A Child Focused Divorce

 A Child Focused Divorce

The Huffington Post posted an article written by Risa Garon, a licensed social worker and Executive director of the National Family Resiliency Center, discussing the needs of children during and after a divorce. Below is an excerpt of the 7 tips she suggests to promote a sane and child focused divorce. Follow this link to  view the full article:

1. Understand what therapy is, what goals are and how therapists and clients work to achieve those goals. Choose a therapist you trust and support that therapist in working with your child.

2. Explain the transition in easy-to-understand ways for children; reassure them that they are loved and children can love each parent.

3. Model for your children how you want them to treat you. If you take the time to reach out and listen, you will have the answers

4. Take the money you would have spent on legal professionals in court and distribute to your children's educational accounts.

5. Each parent needs to hear the voice of their children before they make decisions about activities, access, school, religion, etc.

6. Helping parents through transitions is a life-long process. Conflict, violence and hostility don't support children; these behaviors destroy them. Every parent has a choice to take the "high road" and provide for their children the very factors that predict healthy divorce adjustment -- the number one factor being that parents don't put their children in the middle of their conflict.

7. Those of us who are parents know that it takes a village to raise children; it also takes a village to support parents through a healthy transition, one that includes letting go of the hatred, vengeance and retaliation.


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Mailing Address

Geraldine Welikson Hess, Esq
Hess Family Law
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Geraldine Welikson Hess, Esq
Hess Family Law
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Vienna, Virginia 22180

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