Esther Donald | Divorce After 50: Insights into Handling Gray Divorces

Today we’re excited to welcome Esther Donald to the Texas Family Law Insiders podcast. A graduate of The University of Texas, Esther is a Partner at Goranson Bain Ausley Family Law. She has immersed herself in the collaborative law model and was recently distinguished as a Credentialed Collaborative Divorce Lawyer, one of a select few in the state.

Today she sits down with us to discuss the distinctions of gray divorce including:

  • The biggest challenges of divorcing over 50 
  • How adult children can help (or hurt) the case and insights on creative ways to involve them
  • The secret to winning emotionally and financially (for the entire family)
  • And much more

Mentioned in this episode:


Esther Donald: I want to get a picture of the whole family because really, that’s going to affect the kinds of decisions that get made in the divorce and what issues we need to sort of flag and address.

Voiceover: You’re listening to the Texas Family Law Insiders podcast, your source for the latest news and trends in family law in the state of Texas. Now, here’s your host attorney Holly Draper.

Holly Draper: Today we’re excited to welcome Esther Donald to the Texas Family Law Insiders podcast. Esther is a partner at Goranson Bain Ausley in their Dallas and Plano offices. She has immersed herself in the collaborative law model and was recently distinguished as a Credentialed Collaborative Divorce Lawyer, one of the select few in the state. She chaired the Dallas Bar Association’s Collaborative Law Section and is a board member of the Collin County Bar Associations ADR section and an active member of Collaborative Divorce – Collin County.

Esther served the State Bar of Texas as the Assistant Course Director for the Annual Collaborative Law Course in March 2021. And is honored to be Course Director for 2022. Her emphasis on cooperative and collaborative family law solutions has led to her recognition as a Best Lawyer by US News – Best Lawyers in America, in the field of family law from 2017 through 2021. And as a Texas Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters, from 2016 to 2021. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Esther: Thank you so much, Holly, I’m excited to be here.

Holly: So why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about your background.

Esther: Great. So I am a late in life family lawyer, I started as a commercial litigator in a downtown Dallas firm. And although I was privileged to learn from the best and brightest, it wasn’t the right match for my personality. It took me a while to kind of circle around to family law. And once I got started, which was already I’m well into my 40s, I’ve never looked back. Family law was the right fit for me. I think in terms of the way I like to use the law to help people solve problems and the way I like to interact directly with clients. So I started at a small firm in Plano moved to Goranson Bain, seven years ago now. we were just Goranson Bain then. We became Goranson Bain Ausley since and I’ve continued to grow my family law practice, got collaboratively trained, and I’m in 100% divorce and family law at this point.

Holly: So how would you describe your current practice?

Esther: Like you said, my practice is very cooperative, and collaborative. Meaning that I tend to offer my clients out of court solutions to their divorce and family law issues. I’m lucky to be at a bigger firm. So it gives me that luxury of being able to say, hey, your, your case is going to need the courtroom. Let’s get one of my associates, a partner involved, who’s more often in the courtroom. I really believe that when you start to do the kind of practice I have, you get a little rusty in the courtroom. You don’t know the judges as well, you don’t know the core coordinators, and I think that I don’t offer my clients is as many tools in that arena, as I do for clients who say I don’t want to be in that arena. I think my problem can be addressed outside of the courthouse.

Holly: And it probably keeps your stress level down too as a lawyer who gets the luxury of staying out of the courtroom in more amicable situations.

Esther: It does. I tend to sort of joke or spar with colleagues about it. I, the unpredictability and deadlines stress of a litigation practice, I don’t have and my clients don’t experience. And I think that even though the lawyers feel like they get stressed about that our clients do too, right? People who are getting divorced things that happen by surprise that they can’t prepare for are that’s unsettling, right. So I definitely think that part is much more manageable and predictable. I think the trade is that my practice is much more high touch. And I get very embedded with my clients during their family law cases, I’m happy to say that I stay connected with a lot of them. And that can be really personally rewarding. So it’s I feel like I have to be more accessible. But I don’t have nearly as many emergencies.

Holly: We see a lot of family law emergencies in traditional litigation, especially this time of year. I’m not sure when this will air but right now we’re closing in on the holidays. So we see a lot of everyone has an emergency at this time of year. Right?

Esther: Exactly. I tend to think of myself more as I don’t know, like, if you think about medicine, right? Like a dermatologist. I’m sure there are occasional emergencies, but typically, you don’t think of that as a very emergency related practice. That’s more the kind of law practice I have, as opposed to a ER physician or a you know, somebody like that who’s going to be much more like a litigator who’s litigating all the time.

Holly: So one of your areas of expertise, and what we’re here to primarily talk about today is what we refer to as gray divorce. How would you define gray divorce?

Esther: Okay, so I see it defined two different ways, but almost always, it starts with the idea of how old are the participants? Right? How old are the couple getting divorced? You know, I see some people writing about it at 55, some at 50. At 58 I’m little offended by the 50 thing. My hair dresser and I work really hard for me not to be gray, but I am legit gray no matter how you define it. And I think one of the more important distinctions, Holly is that typically you’re going to see this couple without minor children. Right?

Not always, but for the most part a true gray divorce means to kids around the house if there were kids to begin with, and that we’re focusing on what the court would look at as a property divorce really, almost as a spreadsheet divorce. Right. But what we really know what you and I know, as family lawyers is that there’s so many more aspects to it than that that are emotional, even though a judge might not address those, if that case went to the courthouse.

Holly: Right. So what other things make handling a gray divorce different than any other typical divorce that walks through the door?

Esther: Okay, so that’s such a great question. Um, I’d say the first thing is, for the most part, probably almost completely, my clients have slightly larger estates, because they’ve had more of their lifetime to build up their estates. So I tend to see cases that have more complex assets, right. If they’ve gotten if a couple has gotten their kids through school, say, if that was a big savings and budgeting priority for them. Now, they’re able to make some higher risk investments, maybe they’ve been able to build up their 401K’s or their retirement accounts. So I tend to see a little bit of a larger estate. If I’m representing the wife, which, in my practice, like most of our colleagues really tends to be about 50/50, right. I’m not a wife’s lawyer, or husband’s lawyer, I’m just a people lawyer.

But if I have the wife, it’s more often that I will see the woman having been out of the workforce for a long time, right. That’s just, we just tend to see that more with people that are 55 and over than we do with people who are younger, who’ve grown up, really with a two career family, right. If I have the husband, often I’m going to see also more of that division of labor, where a husband has considered himself more in charge of finances, and maybe, in fact, has been more in charge of the family finances. So he’ll often have a much higher level of knowledge about the family finances, and if he’s still working. So if I’m kind of in that sweet spot, say between 55 and 65, for the clients, husband might be working at his very highest earning power, right? He’s making more money now and saving more money and investing more money than ever before. And wife often has been out of the workforce for even longer.

Okay, so that’s, that’s one kind of very typical gray divorce I see. I also do see, though, plenty of gray divorces, where wife does have a career, even if maybe she was out of the workforce for a while. And part of that, her getting back on her feet, her feeling financially powerful and independent, sometimes can help precipitate the divorce, right. It allows somebody to maybe leave an unhappy marriage, who otherwise would have felt more trapped in it financially. Those are probably the two basic templates I see.

Holly: Yeah, we see a lot. In our practice a lot of stay at home moms who have younger children. And when they go through divorce, they’re usually not in the worst position to get back in the workforce, because it hasn’t been that long. But when you’re dealing with somebody who’s stayed home for the last 20 or 30 years, that is really going to make it challenging for them to get back into the workforce.

Esther: You’re exactly right. And I know that a lot of people who are listening to this are just listening. So maybe you can’t tell by voices, but anybody watching on video, we’re obviously I’m a lot older than you are. It’s it’s a really typical thing, I think, in family law, particularly that your client base is I’ve heard maybe like 10 years plus and minus your own age, right? That’s not strictly true. But I’d say for me, it’s probably true. My clients are mostly mid 40s to way on up, right. So I do see those women, especially sometimes the man, but usually the woman who’s been out of the workforce for so long. Even if they have a college degree, it’s been unused for such a long time. They either actually don’t have or at least feel like they don’t have the kind of tech skills that are necessary to be, you know, competitive in the job market right now.

Sometimes they really have just haven’t even had that schedule or that kind of lifestyle where they’re working outside the home and haven’t for decades and decades. So that becomes a real challenge and a real theme of those divorces. And come, in the best ones, well, first of all, I guess I should backtrack if the state is large enough, you know, sometimes clients have the luxury has been maybe about retire. Maybe wife doesn’t have to get back in the workforce, but most of us, for most people, you know they do. And it would be helpful if they’re contributing at least some income to their own post divorce budget. So that becomes a place we really spend a lot of time.

Holly: Yeah, the lucky ones have had very high income earner spouses who have saved diligently and now they have plenty of money, they don’t have to worry about it. But unfortunately, not everyone is in that situation.

Esther: And I do I find in a lot of gray divorces, especially if it’s what I’m going to call the younger gray divorce, if they’ve just finished helping their kids with college expenses or graduate school expenses, they may although one spouse or both, maybe fairly high wage earners, their savings are not at their highest point, right. They’ve used a lot of their savings to get their kids educated, they now feel like you know, that part is behind us, we’re gonna start rebuilding for our retirement and then boom, you know, somebody, or both of them decide it’s time for a divorce. And so it’s it’s a, sometimes an interesting time to divide their assets, because their assets may be lower than they would have been otherwise. And it feels like the clock is really ticking how much time if we divide it in half. How much time do we each have to rebuild? And if it’s the client who, party, who hasn’t been working outside the home, the ability to rebuild is pretty limited.

Holly: Do you see a lot of spousal maintenance in those situations?

Esther: I do. And I have to say, and I’m kind of proud to say this, I guess. I see it even in the cases where my client is the husband. So I tried to do a really good job with my clients. I feel like I do. And so I don’t feel like a husband paying spousal maintenance is a loss. But I don’t think that’s a failure, or that we didn’t do well in the case. I think sometimes it’s the perfect solution for that family. So I do see a lot of spousal maintenance, probably certainly much more than I think any of us experience from the judges. Right, the courthouse is not a very favorable place to get spousal maintenance. But I think a negotiated divorce very often, that’s something that is a good tool, especially if you’ve got hate to be so stereotypical about it.

But with gray divorces, you just see more of those, I see more of those stereotypical gender roles, I think. So if husband’s still working in he has really adequate cash flow, spousal maintenance really makes sense, right? Tax laws are not as favorable for it now as they used to be, but it still can make the most sense for the family. And then maybe you’re going to go there next. But I think the other thing I do see often if we don’t do a spousal maintenance kind of situation is a more disproportionate division of the estate, putting maybe more in wife’s column and more of the liquidity or the assets that can be liquidated and used more readily, maybe more of those go into wife’s column or the lower wage earner’s column.

Holly: Right. And I would think that the more there is to put in the wife’s pile than the less need, there’s going to be for her to have spousal maintenance.

Esther: Absolutely. 100%.

Holly: I suppose it could be the husband’s pile if we had the very unstereotypical gray divorce with a stay at home father.

Esther: Correct. And you, and there are certainly, I’ve had a few of those. I mean, those do come up, but they they really don’t come up as often. I think when is when the current 30 and 40 year olds of the world, eventually become gray. I think we’ll see very different kinds of gray divorces, right? We’ll have seen women that have been in the workforce and really building a career and often are a higher earner than the husband, but I’m still not seeing it as much in my practice. And I have quite a few gray divorces that I am currently handling and I have handled where the parties are 65 and up. I mean, where I’ve got clients between 65 and 75. So in those much less likely that the woman had a robust career. Occasionally, but not not too likely.

Holly: So you mentioned a couple times about the children having grown up no more minor children. How would those adult children play into a gray divorce?

Esther: So interesting. When I first started family law, right, I learned like all of us do, they’re irrelevant, right? A child over 18 is relative, pretty much irrelevant in a divorce case. And I don’t think that’s true now. My own kids, so probably my own prism, but I have a law student and a college student, son and daughter, and I have a stepson who’s in his late 30s, right. So in my real life, and I’m married, my marriage is intact at the moment, but they’re, they’re very much part of the fabric of the family. Right? Both financially, emotionally, how we choose to spend our time and money, right all those things. And I think it’s equally as true in families that are in the midst of divorce.

Right, so the the gray divorce, I think even more so. You see the involvement of the adult kids. We tried to discourage the involvement where an adult kid is the confidant for one of the parents or even worse both of the parents want to use the adult kid is a confidant, right? not healthy for the, the child even though the child might be 40, right, just not healthy for a human to be put in that position. And really not helpful in the family moving forward productively. Where I see it sometimes though, is the child themselves, the adult child wanting to be involved, right. They either want to protect one party or the other, maybe they’re angry at one parent or another, or they just don’t want to be left in the dark. They feel like at this point, they want to understand what their parents are doing financially, if there are grandkids, right. There’s a lot of interest in how is this affecting inheritance or future, you know, generational wealth planning all kinds of reasons why the adult kids get involved.

And I found that adult kids can be very productively involved in gray divorces. I am not the lawyer that says they’re irrelevant. We can’t, you know, they can’t be part of it. I’m probably the opposite. I tend to ask my clients even in an initial consult, right, where I know my clients age. And a lot of times, they’ll you know we’ll have already asked. I’ll already know that, you know, say kids are in their 30s. I’ll still say tell me about your kids briefly. Where do they live? What do they do? Do we have grandkids? You know, tell me about the son or daughter in law. I want to get a picture of the whole family, because really, that’s going to affect the kinds of decisions that get made in the divorce and what issues we need to sort of flag and address.

Holly: So you mentioned that they could be often very productive in the gray divorce. Can you give some examples of how they actually get involved?

Esther: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Okay, so I’ve got it, I’ve got a couple, let me just kind of going off the top of my head. The most sort of obvious and clear cut one I ever had happened to be a collaborative case. So we have husband and wife both sitting in a room with their lawyers and a neutral financial professional, a neutral mental health professional. The case started because one, the adult son, both parents said, we’re going to get a divorce, they were in their young 70s, the parents. Adult son was in his mid 40s. They involve their son and said, we want to make sure you and your sister are, you know, have enough information that you feel comfortable that you you know, know that we’re going to, we’re not going to disrupt the family. We still want to be a family. And he put them with a counselor who said, hey, collaborative divorce would be really good for your family.

So the, the adult son actually got the divorce setup, very, you know, pretty unusual. But in that family that was really, really affective. And I think because the older mom and dad had already met with the counselor, they had a lot of comfort going in that there was somebody neutral, who knew them both a little bit, and was walking beside them during the divorce. As it started to unfold, it’s clear that husband was very savvy financially, wife had been a stay at home for decades and decades at that part point and not confident financially. And so the adult son ended up becoming involved in the case, he became a neutral observer, with an observer agreement in the collaborative divorce. And he came to the meetings sat in on the phone calls, dad was very comfortable that he was a little more of the adviser to mom.

But he was still part of the whole picture. And I think it gave mom a lot of comfort that she was making good financial decisions. And it helped the dad, the husband feel like he wasn’t the bad guy. And that there was somebody else watching and saying, hey, dad made good decisions. And he took good care of mom, and he’s not leaving her in the lurch. And it was a very positive outcome for that family. So that’s, that’s one example. Other ways, I think, let’s go to the other end of the spectrum where the kids are still in college, right? Kids are in what I would call that, say, 19 to 25 ish age range in college, grad school or just beyond. I think there, I try to encourage clients that those kids don’t need to know the whole picture of the marital financial estate, they just don’t. They may need to know how secure their financial ties to their parents are.

So in other words, I’m a sophomore in college. Is this, are you going to stop paying for my college? Who’s gonna pay now? Is it, am I gonna say mom, I need my tuition paid. And you’re gonna say go to dad, right. So they’re very, that’s a pretty self focused age. So those adult kids, we really tend to say, let’s think about what questions they’re going to have. We know they all have, well not all. They mostly have the same kinds of questions. A lot of it has to do with their stability. Where am I going to celebrate Christmas or holidays? How’s my college gonna get paid? Who’s gonna, are y’all gonna help me with my wedding, maybe those kind of as you start to get to the end of that age group.

So we, we will use sometimes a counselor to do just a little bit of family counseling. In a collaborative case, we might call them an adult child specialist, but in a just a cooperative case that’s not in the collaborative divorce model. I’ve still used that family counseling to help them have some safe conversations that the parents think appropriate, right, it’s topics that the parents are okay with. But to give the kids a voice in the divorce, and, and a little bit of divorce, education and reassurance that, you know, things are going to be okay for them, or if things are gonna change, here are the ways in which things are gonna change. And Holly, I’ll tell you, I really, really see it if you’ve got college kids, but there are still younger siblings at home.

Those kids are super that the 22 year olds are super protective of their 17 and 15 year old siblings, who they think are really going to bear more of the brunt of the divorce, right, they’re still in the midst of it. So interestingly, I see that a lot of times. They become the superhero advocate for their younger siblings, sometimes more than is even necessary, right? They kind of don’t trust their parents, but the parents are taking good care to make sure the younger kids are going to be alright, as well. So those are those are a few of the examples that I’ve seen.

Holly: So what about when you have the adult child who is very clearly aligned with one parent?

Esther: Okay, so that’s the less ideal situation, and it definitely comes up. And in those cases, what I really have learned to try to do I think, probably at the beginning, I tried to disengage the child on my own. Right. That was really not very successful plan. The more successful plan is to help to, for me to really work with my client about is this helping the case? Is this hurting the case? What are our goals? What are you trying to achieve? And do you think that daughter’s involvement of blaming, shaming, cutting off dad, not in letting him come to the child’s birthday party, is that going to get you closer to your goals or further from your goals? And a lot of times once the, and it’s not always mom, right?

That can happen the other direction too. But once the client identifies that, wow, this is not, it makes me feel good that the kid likes me better. I see. I’m seen as the good parent, I can see that it’s not going to be helpful in getting a good divorce settlement, or one and find it for me good divorce is, is it cost effective? And is the conflict low? Right? Are we managing the expenses and the disruption? And that that over alignment usually pushes it the other direction.

Holly: Right. So you’ve mentioned a few times about collaborative divorce in the gray divorce context. I know collaborative is one of your passions. So why is collaborative divorce a good way to go when you have a gray divorce?

Esther: Oh, I could talk about this for a long time, Holly. I’ll give you a few high points. And I am handling, I think I have, I tried to do counts from time to time. I think I may have like 10 active collaborative divorces right now. That tends to be a lot because they’re, they tend to finish quicker than a litigated divorce. But they’re kind of high intensity while they’re going on right? Of those 10, I think fully six or seven or gray. So I have a lot of gray divorces active in the collaborative model right now. Couple of things that really I think make collaborative appropriate are this idea that there can be an adult child specialists like we talked about.

Sort of a ninja counselor that we bring in just for the purpose of giving these adult kids some divorce education, a voice in the divorce a little bit. And then this counselor can report back to the the husband and wife and to the team. Hey, here’s what your kids are really thinking that they don’t want to tell you or here’s what their worries are. And it allows the husband or wife to think about those issues as they’re solving their divorce, right. So that the adult child specialist is one factor that’s a really, really helpful one. Another one is that if you have in the gray divorce back to the beginning of our conversation, you have one of the parties whose less sophisticated financially hasn’t been the high wage earner.

The gray, the collaborative model gives us a neutral financial professional, who’s building one spreadsheet, we avoid the dueling spreadsheets, right? But that person can often give a lot of budgeting and cash flow advice counseling strategy. And usually I find the party who has less financial savvy maybe not the high wage earner, will work with the financial professional, some extra on budgeting, and what their post divorce needs to look like. That usually helps the case get settled. And the working, the high wage earner spouse really early on usually realizes that is a great thing. It is it’s such a bargain. The financial professionals are less expensive than the lawyers. It’s a neutral person who can really sit down and help the lower wage earner or the non worker identify needs, and then their bargaining from a position of strength and knowledge and planning rather than fear.

Because gray divorces have a lot of financial fear if you’ve got somebody who has always relied on the other partner their whole adult life to manage the finances right. So that, I think that neutral financial professionals a huge piece of it. And again, some of these creative ways like this 45 five year old son that we brought in as an observer, right? We just have more ways for the kids to be part of the conversation in a way you would never want to do in litigation because you’re afraid that those people could end up on the witness stand, right? Those adult kids are not immune from being called to testify. And the confidentiality of the collaborative process makes it a really good one to deal with these adult child issues that the family code doesn’t address.

The family code thinks a child is under the age of 18, or not yet graduated from high school, except for some very rare sort of special needs exceptions, right. But again, in my experience, these younger adult kids and even kids approaching their own middle age are very much a part of the family dynamics and decision in divorce, and collaborative just has a lot more creativity of how we can involve them. And also, I think back to your point of what do you do when they’re causing a problem or overline, you have a lot of bumpers, you have a mental health professional who’s helping the parent who has the over alignment situation.

Also, like I was saying, try to understand this is not helping the process, and it’s probably not going to help you meet your goals. And so you get sort of a mental health weigh in on why that’s not good. And also some advice for the parent of how to help the child see, you don’t have to align with me, right? You can love both of us, you can be with both of us, we’re gonna figure this out. You don’t, even if you’re 42 years old, you don’t have to choose. Right. So I think those are some of the reasons why collaborative can be a really nice model for a gray divorcing couple.

Holly: Do you always involve a mental health professional neutral even if there aren’t any minor children in your collaborative cases?

Esther: Such a great question. So I would say more often than not, but not always. And probably one of the deciding factors is the functionality of the couple. If both are extremely divorce ready, they have a sense for kind of how they think they want to handle the estate. And there are not a lot of conflicts, you can do an attorney’s only collaborative case. That can be really streamlined. I’ve done this before. Almost always if there’s a difference in bargaining power and earning ability, you want the neutral financial professional, right. But I think the mental health official is sometimes seen as a little more optional.

What I’ve done sometimes, though, is said why don’t we start with it, because the mental health professional does a lot to keep the process moving. Keep us sticking to an agenda, keep us from going off rails. And off rails again means conflict and costs in my life, right? And you’re in what we know. So often if we start with the mental health professional and say, let’s just try it for a meeting or two to see what y’all think. They always want to keep him or her because their value so exceeds their cost. But there can be it but but attorneys only is definitely a viable option. And probably more common in a gray divorce where you’re not dealing with all those kid issues and the, like 25 page parenting plan as part of the decree.

Holly: Right, right. Before we got into talking about collaborative, you also mentioned the term cooperative divorce as opposed to collaborative. What do you mean when you say that and how does that play in on a gray divorce?

Esther: Okay, very fair question. Because it’s kind of like an Easter Bunny thing, right? Do you believe in it or not? It’s not it right. It’s not a family code term. Collaborative is right. There’s a collaborative statute, right? It tells us how to do it. Cooperative, in my mind is a case where both parties from the beginning, both clients are identifying we don’t want to use the courthouse or the judge as part of our problem solving. And so the attorneys from the beginning are saying, we’re going to do this without going to court. Now there’s no agreement, right? In a collaborative, true collaborative case, there’s an agreement, if we go to court, we start over with new lawyers. I mean, there’s a lot of cost and penalty to to resetting. In cooperative, anybody could access the courtroom at any time.

But I feel like in those cases, it’s ones where both parties say we think we need help. We can’t do it just at our kitchen table. But we don’t think we need the help of a judge. So that’s that’s more or less kind of how I would define it. One of the first things I see in those, especially now that we have these mandatory initial disclosures of information. If it’s a case where quickly both parties say we want to put that on hold, we want to suspend or abate that. Meaning we trust each other to at least share the basic financial information and get it started. Those cases, it’s usually a pretty good sign that they can stay cooperative and that’s the courthouse will stay in the background.

Holly: We do a lot of things that I would classify in the cooperative arena without truly going collaborative, although my partner does collaborative law, but we try and implement some of the neutrals or some of the things that you do in collaborative without truly going that route.

Esther: Holly, I think it’s so smart to do that. When I encourage colleagues to do a collaborative training, it’s not even the thing necessarily going to have a collaborative practice. But I do think some of those tools really add to our toolkits as family lawyers as even as a litigator. I have a case right now, it’s cooperative, pure cooperative, in the definition that I gave you. But we are stuck on a couple of parenting plan items. Will there be a college savings account for the kiddo and how will the parents contribute to that? Just a few things left. And we just can’t get there. The other lawyer is a great lawyer, and I like him a lot. I think he probably say the same thing about me, but we can’t seem to solve these last two issues.

We sent this couple to a mental health professional who works as a collaborative neutral all the time, to try to just, she’s not making any decisions for them, but just helping facilitate the decision making on those last few issues. And they’re chipping away at it. And I think it’s gonna, I think we’re going to end up with a fully agreed divorce using that little tool. And they’ve, they’ll end up using about four or five hours of her. Really a very limited amount, but she’s able to talk to them with different language than two lawyers talking to each other, even if we’re trying to be cooperative. So yeah, I think you’ve I think you’ve hit on something really important is the way you use those tools. And I think in gray divorces, those kinds of tools become very, very valuable, even if it’s not really an actual collaborative case. Right.

Holly: So we’re just about out of time, but one of the questions I ask everybody who comes on the podcast is, if you could give one piece of advice to young family lawyers, what would it be?

Esther: I think I’m going to go to the toolkit idea. Try to create as big a toolkit for yourself as you can when you’re starting out, right. So for me, that means knowing how to counsel people and help them through all kinds of divorces. A kitchen table where they just need really, for you to draft documents, through a really full touch full team, collaborative divorce, or a really hotly contested litigated divorce with a custody evaluation or an amicus, right. Expose yourself to as many of those kinds of cases as you can. Shadow shadow shadow, right? Find attorneys that you respect, even if you’re not in a large firm, right? Reach out to people. It’s very flattering, I think, for a younger attorney to say to somebody my age, flattering to me.

Hey, you know, I’ve heard such and such about you, could I pick your brain a little? Would you mind if I shadowed a collaborative case? So try to get those opportunities. And don’t be afraid to say certain things don’t fit you. So this is kind of counterintuitive, I guess, to what I said, but I think build your toolkit, but then don’t be afraid as you go through your practice to start narrowing and saying I’m good at this piece, I’m not as good at this piece. And really be willing to say, to specialize a little bit, and to give it away when you need to. When I have a potential client meet me.

And I can see very quickly that my current toolkit, what I really use on a daily basis is not what they need. I’m gonna no charge that consultation and send them to a litigator either inside my firm or outside my firm, because I want their divorce to be successful for them. And I sometimes they need tools that are not the tools that I keep the sharpest. So I think you can eventually specialize. But I think a young lawyer does themselves a real service to try to get exposed to a lot of different ways of practicing family law and a lot of different tools for helping clients get divorced or handling or post divorce matters.

Holly: Yes, I think that’s excellent advice. And you don’t really find your niche until you tried everything in the toolbox, right?

Esther: You really don’t and sometimes, you know, just because you can go to the courtroom and you feel comfortable in the courtroom doesn’t mean you like it. You talked before about stress level. For me, it provokes a lot of stress, which makes me feel like there’s it just wasn’t aligned well, with the what I thought I could offer my clients was even when I’m so busy right now with some with a lot of collaborative cases at same time. It’s not the same kind of stress and it makes me feel like my tools are aligned with my client’s needs.

So I think that’s a piece of it, too, is just being, trying to taste everything but then saying hey, you know what, I’m just somebody that likes broccoli better than cauliflower and that’s okay. Give yourself permission to to take a few things off of your plate that you either just don’t enjoy or you don’t feel you do as well, because I think we owe it to our clients to give them good service, right. If they’re hiring us to do a job. We need the tools they need to do that job for them.

Holly: So where can our listeners go if they want to learn more about you?

Esther: Great question. So I have again, I’m lucky to be at a larger firm. So we have a good website that has a learning center, we have videos on it and blog posts that we’ve written. So that’s probably the best place which is And you can, people can look at my bio and also see some things that I’ve put on there about the kind of practice that I have and the kind of experiences I’ve dealt with and I even I started thinking about gray divorces a long time ago, Holly, so I probably have about a four or five year old blog post about gray divorce, right? It’s just it became something that was really interesting to me. And then my practice sort of grew in that direction.

Holly: Well, thank you so much for joining us today. And it’s been a pleasure chatting with you, and for our listeners if you enjoyed this podcast, go leave us a review and subscribe so you can enjoy future episodes.

Voiceover: That Texas Family Law Insiders podcast is sponsored by the Draper Law firm. We help people navigate divorce and child custody cases and handle family law appellate matters. For more information, visit our website at

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