I represent men and women going through the toughest fights of their life.
A person going through a divorce often feels frightened, like he or she is paddling upstream against a strong current that is pushing them back.
My job is to help them paddle, against the current if we must, to get them to their destination.
I've been doing this every day of the last 34 years for my clients here in New Jersey.
The metaphor of "paddling upstream against the current" goes way back for me. I've done it throughout my life. Here's a graphic example.
Before I was a lawyer, I actually had to literally paddle upstream once to help two children who were stuck in a river.
I remember both their fear and panic, as well as my own.
Here's what happened to me back then, and how the image of having to paddle upstream against the current might apply to you and your divorce case today.
I spent a good portion of my summers during college leading canoe trips down the Delaware River for a children's summer camp.
It was a hot July day and I was leading a group of 16 kids and their counsellors, two in a canoe (except for me, as I liked to paddle solo), nine canoes in all, down a moderately challenging part of the Delaware River.
We were about three hours into the trip and were setting up ahead of a series of moderately challenging rapids.
Usually we had an experienced guide both in front, to lead the way, as well as another guide in the rear, to help anyone who might have trouble.
That day I was alone with the group.
I was in canoe 1 and I went first to lead the way for the others, followed by canoes 2 and 3.
All was good.
However, canoe number four didn't follow the canoe in front of it, deviated from the course that we had outlined, hit a dangerous part of the rapids, and got wedged in between two boulders and flipped over on its side, with the opening facing upstream.
It was on its side wedged between two giant boulders, and two people, wearing life jackets but scared and screaming for help, were stuck in the canoe, filled with pounding water, stuck hard between these two rocks and not going anywhere. (Have you ever felt that your divorce case is stuck between two rocks and is not going anywhere? Keep reading...)
Canoes 5 through 9, had come successfully through the rapids but were unable to offer any assistance to the people in canoe #4.
It was my responsibility to make sure that these people were safe, and at that moment they were not.
...I remember saying to myself.
I started thinking about what could happen to them.
I was really scared. I had to get them out of there quickly, but how?
The only way to rescue them quickly would be for me to paddle my canoe 200 yards upstream against the strong current, by myself.
"How the hell am I going to do THAT?" I thought to myself.
It was one of those "you just do it" moments (kind of like many moments of any given contested divorce case.)
I knelt down on my right knee and put my left knee up, resting my butt against the canoe seat. This lowered my center of gravity and minimized the chances of me flipping over in the fast moving rapids.
I used the “J” stroke on the right side of the canoe, which allowed me to get a powerful push forward yet maintain a straightforward direction.
To my delight and surprise, it was far easier than I had envisioned.
I was moving quickly upstream against the current!
I used the “J” stroke again and again and again and again and again and again and again, and I kept moving upstream.
I remember the momentum was fast and furious, but my fear kicked in my adrenaline, and I was on a mission.
Stroke, stroke, stroke, stroke…
...with no warning, my canoe paddle somehow missed the water, causing me to lose my balance (kind of like what happens in all contested divorce cases at some point: the "curve ball" is thrown! I "didn't see that coming!" Now what?)
How that is possible to this day I cannot explain. "You missed the water?"
Yes indeed, I would explain to my dentist during my weekend "emergency" visit that followed.
I paddled “the air” instead of the water for that one stroke. There was no resistance to my intense canoe stroke.
As a result, I lost my balance and the top of my fast moving wooden paddle hit me hard on the top row of my teeth, shattering a front tooth.
I remember the intense nerve pain and the feeling of fragments of shattered tooth enamel filling my mouth while I continued paddling vigorously upstream so as to not immediately drift back down to where I had started from.
I reached the stranded canoe and circled around behind it, upstream of it, so that the rushing river water pushed me up against the rocks that were stranding the two people.
I balanced my canoe as they climbed out of their flooded craft and into my dry canoe.
The three of us then paddled through the rapids together and downstream to safety.
That Experience From Over 40 Years Ago Has Stayed With Me
It taught me how fighting hard against even a seemingly overwhelmingly strong adversary pays off.
As a divorce lawyer, many times I am hired to represent someone whose fear of what they are going through causes them to be “stuck” somewhere in their divorce case, much like that canoe was "stuck" in the Delaware River.
It takes creative thinking, a good plan, and hard dedicated work to “save them”.
That’s what I enjoy most about my job.
Steven J. Kaplan, Esq.
Law Practice Specializing In Divorce and Related Issues