The unlikely crusader for marriage - Lynne Gold-Bikin
cmfce at smartmarriages.com
Mon Aug 28 15:30:44 EDT 2000
subject: The unlikely crusader for marriage - Lynne Gold Bikin
from: Smart Marriages
This article from the Philadelphia is about our own Lynne Gold-Bikin -
divorce lawyer and creater of the PARTNERS youth/school program. Lynne
has presented on the PARTNERS programs at every Smart Marriages
conference - 1997 through 2000. Tapes of her sessions available from
800-241-7785. - diane sollee
Philadelphia Inquirer, July 2000
The unlikely crusader for marriage
Lawyer Lynne Gold-Bikin knows divorce inside and out. So she's working to
keep couples together.
By Lini S. Kadaba INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
The real-life drama unfolds in a county courtroom in Media. Stage left:
The government-issue table is empty except for a short stack of three
skinny folders. Two suits - the
father and his lawyer - stare silently head at the empty judge's bench.
Stage right: The table overflows with two red binders, thick with
testimony; masses of manila folders, stuffed with documents; piles of
cassette tapes, rich with evidence; and reams of crisp legal pads, heaps
of Post-It notes and bundles of pens.
The mother touches the shoulder of her attorney, Lynne Z. Gold-Bikin,
Esq., one of the area's most sought-after divorce lawyers with a notable
media profile. Counsel and client huddle, whispering behind polished
His Honor enters. Gold-Bikin rises, straightens the jacket of her smart,
expensive navy suit with the white satin collar, and takes over the
stage. Show time.
"You don't like your ex-wife very much?" she asks, arms defiantly
crossed. Her husky voice outsizes her 5-foot-5 frame, even with the
boost of 2-inch heels.
Gold-Bikin may be 62, but she doesn't look a day over 50, with big brown
eyes, a wide smile and lots of hair highlighted blond. She credits "good
genes," 90-minute sunrise workouts, her diet and an eye for fashion that
In the courtroom, she cuts a striking figure, blasting questions that
land like statements of fact.
Of course, she wants the father to look controlling, hoping that the
judge will give her client a greater share of custody. She's a great
mother, the lawyer insists.
"I don't like what she does to the kids," he answers, confident that he's
the World's Greatest Dad.
Gold-Bikin doesn't like to be pushed around, and more important, she
doesn't like her client to be pushed around.
In the cross-examination, the fast-talking New York native hammers the
father on the minutiae of his everyday life with the children - the
missed extracurricular activities, the poor report cards, holiday
logistics - details that grow larger, and uglier, when custody is being
With nearly 25 years of courtroom experience and 15,000 divorces,
Gold-Bikin knows better than most how to manipulate the process in her
client's favor. By the time she finishes two hours later, the World's
Greatest Dad will look like a creep.
Without doubt, the diva of divorce is a tough-talking, fearless
litigator. But once she steps out of the courthouse and slips off the
high heels she hates but consistently wears, the mother of four and
grandmother of six has a completely different agenda.
She wants to save marriage.
"I believe we don't train people to be married," says Gold-Bikin, herself
twice divorced. "You can't really make a difference in people's lives
after they've been married 20 years and all those tapes have been played.
"The time to get these folks is before they've made their lifetime
Four years ago the big-name firm of Wolf, Block, Schorr & Solis-Cohen
came calling, courting Gold-Bikin's six-member family law practice in
Norristown. She said I do, viewing the marriage as a another notch in a
smartly managed career. Among other things, she brought to the union a
program called Partners.
It is a 10-lesson interactive curriculum designed to preserve a marriage
through a step-by-step approach to better communication.
"It seemed to me that we know what it takes to break up a marriage," she
explains. "And we ought to be able to use that to put it back \together
again or keep it from breaking up in the first place."
The program uses videos with short legal lectures by Gold-Bikin,
communications tips and scenes of quarreling couples. Instructors,
often with help from local lawyers working in partnership with a
school, lead students through live role-playing. A high school boy and
girl will be given a scenario with built-in conflict and told to talk
through the situation - to "fight fair" - as the class watches.
Consider this exchange from a recent Partners session.
"So what time are we going out tonight?" Jacob Coker asks Nicole
"I don't feel like going out tonight," she snaps.
The two are headed for a doozy of an argument, the type that could
destroy a relationship.
"But you said you'd go out with me." Jacob looks hurt.
"Yes, I said I'd go out with you," says Nicole, drenching the you with
annoyance, "not the rest of your friends."
The audience for this make-believe couple is 18 fellow students from
Martin Luther King High School, their teacher, Lynn Dixon, and some
lawyers, including Gold-Bikin. Because Wolf Block has a mentoring
relationship with the school, the sessions take place at the firm's sleek
Center City offices.
The current Partners curriculum evolved from live broadcasts Gold-Bikin
began in 1993 for the Massachusetts Corp. for Educational
Telecommunications. On one of her many plane trips she had met Ina Beth
Miller, then the organization's executive director, and talked
about her ideas for teaching marriage skills before the fact. The two
exchanged business cards and Gold-Bikin followed up. In a weekend
meeting of Gold-Bikin, educators, communication experts and other
divorce lawyers, the Partners prototype, aimed at high school
students, was developed, and Miller was hooked.
Every Tuesday, Gold-Bikin would take a 6 a.m. flight to Boston to
host the show with family therapist Lori Gordon, whose relationship
skills program for adult couples served as a model.
Seven years later, the videotape version opens with Gold-Bikin saying,
"We believe learning about marriage and relationships before we
make our life choices will help to ensure permanent relationships. We
are particularly concerned about the impact of divorce on children."
For six years, with the sponsorship of the American Bar Association's
Family Law Section, Gold-Bikin has crisscrossed the city, and the
country, selling her message and getting a fair share of publicity. "This
is a great man bites dog story," she says: Divorce lawyer out to
save the institution of marriage.
Now the Partners videotapes and curriculum, costing $400, are used
in more than 175 schools across the country, says Gold-Bikin, who
receives a royalty from the sales, with the rest of the proceeds going
to the ABA's Fund for Justice and Education. "We want to be in
every high school in the country. We want [Pennsylvania] to mandate
it. This is a program that every kid should learn. I truly believe there
are a lot of marriages that do not have to end in divorce."
Lynne Gold-Bikin actually made it easier to put matrimony asunder. In
the late 1970s, as one of a handful of female family law attorneys in
the area, she captured the spotlight by talking up no-fault divorce
in front of Pennsylvania legislators and, more important, in front
of TV cameras.
The high visibility campaign was the beginning of her role as a smart
sound bite on issues of divorce and custody. The new code, passed in
1980, provided for alimony, recognized marital property in dividing
assets and - here's the most controversial part - established no-fault
divorce. That meant that Pennsylvania couples headed for
Splitsville no longer had to prove fault in the shape of adultery,
desertion, cruelty and other marital misdeeds. Under the new law, a
couple could divorce without going to court and without placing
Some have argued that no-fault makes divorce too easy. Says
Gold-Bikin: "When people say divorce is too easy, I'm here to tell you
divorce is never easy. It's painful, it's a loss, it's a death, it's
stressful, it's frightening, it's expensive, it's emotionally
So if she thinks a would-be client's marriage isn't beyond repair, she'll
encourage counseling. But don't mistake Gold-Bikin for a Pollyanna.
"There are a lot of manipulative people, abusive people,
emotionally abusive people, drug addicts, alcoholics, philanderers.
"We get them divorced."
This passion for saving marriages and equal passion for splitting
marriages would seem to be incompatible. Privately, some
competitors think she talks one way for the publicity but practices
quite another way. She can make divorce more difficult than it need
be, they say.
"There is a difference between a Southern woman and a Northern
woman, a Liddy Dole and a Hillary Clinton," she says, making no
apologies to those who snipe at her courtroom style. "I'm a Hillary
Clinton. I don't smooth things over. When I first started practicing, I
wanted everyone to like me, and I wanted to be nice. But guess
what?" she says with a forceful look. "You can't protect your client by
being nice. You have to protect your client."
With a flourish, Gold-Bikin sifts through papers at the courtroom table,
pushes her chair back with a scrape, pushes it forward with a jab -
all to unsettle the man - and then fires a round of questions at
Are these the forms that had to be submitted? Sir, can you please
answer the question I ask you? Is it your testimony that you've never
The father sputters a no or yes, even as the Gold-Bikin fusillade
So Thanksgiving doesn't start at 10 a.m. Thanksgiving Day? It starts
when you say it does? . . .
The father says the mother is controlling. His example: She insisted on
dressing the couple's daughter herself for First Holy Communion
instead of leaving the details to him, even though he had primary
custody at the time.
"It's not unusual for a mother to dress her daughter for First Holy
Communion?" fires Gold-Bikin.
"I wouldn't know," says the father, simmering. "I bought the dress.
[The stepmother] tailored the dress."
"The question was, it's not unusual for a mother to dress her daughter
for Holy Communion?"
Says Gold-Bikin: "It calls for a simple answer - not a speech."
Each week for 10 sessions, the high school students come to the
fancy offices of Wolf Block to learn about good relationships - and
the legal codes that rule bad ones.
Partners is grounded in a smart-couples philosophy intended to keep
relationships out of the courts. Like a jailer who gives juveniles a
scared-straight tour of death row, Gold-Bikin talks plainly about the
ugly details of divorce and custody, hoping that the young adults will
think twice, first about entering a marriage too hastily, and then
about leaving it too hastily.
Through Partners, students learn to fight fair by playacting scenarios
that vex most couples. "It's OK to fight," Gold-Bikin says. "It's how
you fight that breaks up relationships."
The students learn to use certain phrases: I notice this behavior. I feel
like this. I want that change.
"Jacob," Nicole says, "have you noticed lately that I haven't been
going out with you because I don't enjoy your friends' company? I just
want it to be between you and I."
"Well, we do things together sometimes," he says, on the defensive,
"but I like to chill with my friends. Why can't you come with us?"
The couple hit an impasse - the kind of obstacle that could lead to a
futile shouting match.
"Why can't I go with you?" she says. The role players often repeat
each other's words, a form of "active listening" that can elicit giggles
but helps ensure what was said was really heard.
"I feel like when I'm with you, we can communicate better. . . . But
when we go out with your friends, I have no chance to talk, because
you're always joking around, laughing, whatever, and you're never
really paying attention to me."
"She got me right there," says a hapless Jacob.
The class erupts in laughter, but Gold-Bikin pulls her face straighter.
She knows this is serious business - that this isn't about one side
winning a case, or a kid working a crowd for a few laughs, but about
both kids, one of these days, surviving matrimony.
Frequently, law offices are decorated with modern art, the kind of
pictures that show off colorful configurations of circles and squares,
looking expensive, even interesting, but essentially inoffensive. For
better or for worse, the walls of Gold-Bikin's Norristown office are
plastered with something entirely different.
The walls are covered with antique marriage licenses and wedding
Some clients have taken offense, but most approve of the message.
"You just don't toss a marriage away that easily," Gold-Bikin says.
A client intent upon divorce might take pause while studying the 1875
Luzerne County license of Morton F. Trippe and Sarah L. Holmes
with its photos of a young woman in a long, lacy dress and curly locks
and a young man in a stiff suit and long sideburns - both with
starched, solemn expressions - and a stern warning: What God hath
joined together, let no man put asunder.
Or the license of a Jewish couple that declares, "Marriage is
honorable." Or the 1868 Talbot County, Ga., license of two former
The none-too-subtle message continues inside her private office,
where tables and bookcases overflow with a lifetime of family photos.
"That's my oldest son. He's the father of the three boys over there,"
she says, pointing to another picture. "This is my youngest son. He's
the father of that little girl over on the table."
She has pictures of her third and current husband, Martin Feldman, of
her first husband, Roy Gold, of the grandchildren, her dog, and on and
Gold-Bikin tells a story about a visit a few years ago with her
daughter's family at Halloween. "When they got back, on this cold,
rainy day, my daughter and son-in-law put on a fire, took the wet
clothes off [the two children] and wrapped them in towels. Each one
had a child on the lap. Then the kids got up and switched laps. I
thought, what would I do as a grandparent if my grandchildren could
not switch laps like that?" Her big brown eyes mist up.
"That's when it hit me," she says, "that we had to do something to cut
down on the divorce rate."
Surrounded by her family pictures, she sits curled like a cat on the
couch, feet (shoeless, of course) tucked under. She ticks off Partners'
five communications principles, which are the basis of established
One, say something nice to your partner every day - or at least once a
week. Two, tell him or her something about your day.
"Otherwise," she says, "when you get home, you're doing the kids and
he's doing the yard, and when he's doing the dishes, you're putting the
kids to bed, and then you both watch your favorite television show
and you both pass out."
She talks fast, hands flying past words full of lots of examples, lots of
stories, lots of case histories.
Three, ask a question about something you don't understand. "I don't
understand why you drop your socks on the side of the bed." The
litigator in her comes out, perhaps unintentionally, as she continues:
"Do you think there's a little sock fairy that comes over and swoops
down and takes them to the hamper?"
Four, express a wish, hope or dream. "I really want to see Tea With
Mussolini this Saturday."
She says she uses the "talking tips" with her husband of 13 years, a
neurologist who commutes between the couple's King of Prussia home
and a New York City practice.
"Sometimes I say to him, `I notice,' and he sits right down." She
laughs. "He says, `OK, I notice. OK, dear.' "
It sounds rather simplistic, this recipe for a good marriage. But over
31¼2 years, Gold-Bikin says she has referred 70 couples to a couples
counseling program on which Partners was modeled, and 60 percent
have reconciled. "People say to me, Gee, I honk when I go by your
office. Thank you."
For the couples not honking, the communication skills at least make
for better divorces: "With kids, you've got a relationship forever. And
you don't want these people fighting."
So Gold-Bikin has encouraged her married children to take a couples
course - one of the three has - and regularly practice the talking tips.
She even allows, in a rare moment of wistfulness, that a little
Partners-style communication might have saved her first marriage.
(She won't discuss her second, to lawyer Bruce Bikin.)
Gold-Bikin reaches the last of the five steps: Request change. If the
guy arrives home later than he promised, she says, tell him, "I assume
you think I have nothing better to do than stand by the door until
you get there. I wonder if you know how I feel. I feel like I'm a
second-class citizen, and it hurts me when you do that. I hope that you
will, if you're going to be late, just call me. . . .
"That's the kind of way we should be talking to each other," she says,
"and we're not."
In the Media courtroom, the custody fight has seriously degenerated.
"Is it your testimony [that your ex-wife] should have her time limited
with the children, not expanded?"
"Yes, I believe that," says the father.
Gold-Bikin will push and poke like this, hoping to prod him into an
emotional - and damaging - response.
"Who's [your daughter's] best friend?"
The father looks puzzled. This is a setup - something at which
Gold-Bikin is adept. The time for fair fighting has long past.
"Would you permit [your daughter] to see her every day?"
"I guess so. I don't see why not."
Then comes the ambush: "Would you permit [your daughter] to see her
mother every day?"
As Gold-Bikin's partner Cheryl Young says, "I know Lynne would
rather settle a case than litigate a case.. . . She sees, like we all do,
the hurt and heartache of divorce." But if she has to litigate,
"she'll give up nothing on cross-exam. . . . She's all or nothing."
In the courtroom, Gold-Bikin keeps egging the father on like a bully.
"If you had sole custody, you wouldn't have to consult with [the
mother] on anything at all?"
Finally, the man explodes, shouting the words that just might tilt the
custody balance in her client's favor:
"I think she's a horrid, horrible mother."
Gold-Bikin rests her case.
(Before the custody proceedings were completed, the couple settled
out of court, giving the mother more time with the children.)
Lynne Zapoleon grew up on Manhattan's Upper West Side in a
middle-class Jewish family with household help. From her earliest
years, she was independent and opinionated. By the time she
graduated from high school, she had fallen in love at a swimming
party. She married Roy Gold when she was 18.
Back then, in 1956, she never considered what it might take to make a
marriage work forever. Back then, she didn't think about a smart
couples philosophy or how to fight fair or any of that stuff.
Soon after her marriage her parents, wed 30 years, separated,
divorcing about 10 years later. When asked about the split, she will all
but shrug it off. At a Partners class, however, she once told
students: "My parents were [separated] when I was 19. You think
it's easier at 19? It's not. You get to the point where you're
saying, `Wait a minute. They said they'd love each other forever.' "
In 1968 Gold-Bikin, with four young children, followed her husband, a
businessman, to Pottsville, Pa. It was quite a change for the brassy
Jewish girl who loved the Big Apple.
To compensate, she went to Albright College in Reading part time,
and then, at the age of 35, got into Villanova University's law school,
moving the family to Valley Forge. Her husband stayed in Pottsville
for the week, commuting to Valley Forge on weekends. During three
years of law school, Gold-Bikin says, she filled in her life without
The two divorced soon after she graduated. "We grew apart. I wasn't
as smart then," she says, quietly. But a divorce with children doesn't
mean the end of the relationship. Gold-Bikin and her ex have
discussed any and all matters concerning the children. She says she
doesn't see enough of that in her business.
"I don't think divorce hurts children," she says. "I think parents hurt
As Jacob and Nicole founder, counsel approaches. She is about to
save this relationship. "Now, let's see what happened right here," she
says, directing her comments to Jacob. She reviews the three parts of
a fair fight, the I notice this, I feel like this, I want this
Gold-Bikin tells Jacob: "So you've now identified the fact that you
want her to go out with you and your friends. She doesn't want to go.
How do you feel about that?"
Jacob expresses his feelings, leaning into the conversation, and offers a
proposal: "Can we work out something, like, every once in a while we go
out with my friends and every once in a while it's just you and me?"
Nicole rejects it. "But it seems like every time we go out . . ."
"Hold it!" Gold-Bikin interrupts, her hands flashing a time-out.
This is exactly the type of miscommunication that ruins a relationship
and turns a happy marriage into an ugly divorce.
"He's made you a proposal. That's why you've got to listen. That's why
repeating back is very important," she says, hammering the point. "It's a
very nice proposal. Now, what's your response?"
"Oh, OK," Nicole says, "that sounds pretty cool."
The divorce lawyer finally smiles, satisfied with a day's work that
might just save one more marriage.
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