How to discuss divorce with your young child?

Such a discussion is unfortunate, but in today’s world, much more common than perhaps it should be. Nonetheless, circumstances often beyond our control (although some would argue that whether or not to divorce is within our control), require such a conversation, which must be handled with a great amount of tact and thoughtfulness. Such a discussion with a young child about the fact that his or her parents will no longer be living together is truly sad, but also an opportunity to set the tone for the child’s future relationship with both parents and extended family. So how and what do we do? Therapeutic help and guidance can be invaluable. And while not therapists, divorce lawyers see these problems over and over and based on that, I offer my opinion, as a minor but hopefully useful contribution to the planning for such a talk.

As lawyers we are taught to simplify things. We must simplify complex legal statutes to make them easier for our clients to understand. We must also often simplify complex financial situations so that judges can understand what the marital estate is comprised of, so that they may divide it fairly. We must simplify our legal documents so that the legal arguments can be easily and quickly digested. They are referred to as “briefs” after all. But how do we help our clients explain divorce to a 3 year old? That is something parents must deal with and must get right, to help their children. Whether it is explaining divorce to a 3 year old, a 6 year old, or a teenager, it is never easy, especially when it’s your own divorce. And while I think I have some good suggestions, truly it is beneficial to work with a therapist you trust to help guide you through that most difficult, but most important discussion.

If you must discuss divorce with a teenager, at least they already know the concept. But to explain the concept of divorce to a child who does not yet, or has just begun to understand the concept of marriage, can be overwhelming. There are many good books (e.g. “When Dinosaurs Divorce”). But there are so many questions. As a non-therapist, but simply someone who has seen more than my share of divorce in my practice, my best suggestion is that there be a united front. Children want their parents to love each other and to get along. And at the very moment that a child must learn that parents cannot get along well enough to stay married, it might soften the blow for them to see that they can at least get along when it comes to their children. Unfortunately I see much too much of the opposite behavior. Parents trying to “beat the other to the punch”. To tell the child their side of the story.

Children want their parents to love them (and to love each other). And if parents disparage the other parent to or in front of a child, doesn’t that encourage the child to do the same (disparage the other parent) so that they can ensure the love of the criticizing parent? And isn’t that wrong?
Remember, the child is the sum of the two parents, so anything negative said about the other parent is in essence a complaint about a part of the child.

So as hard as it may seem, take a joint approach. Remind your child repeatedly how much you both love him or her. And as hard as it may be, compliment the other parent, in front of, and to the child. It may be hard, but certainly you can do it. Think about your own parents. How nice it was (or would have been) for you your own parents to be sweet to each other. To talk respectfully and positively about the other. Aren’t those the memories you want your child to have? Explain it together, politely and with as much love as you have ever expressed. You can do it. Your children deserve it and you have the capability.

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Mr. Kessler’s latest LinkedIn Influencer Post: “Just because we ‘can’, does that mean we ‘should’?”

Now that same sex marriage is allowed everywhere in the U.S., many are lining up, or did line up, to jump right in to the sea of people legally wedded.  While many certainly have wanted to do this for a long time and have thought it through, sometimes over and over, are there some who may do it, just because they can?  Certainly in every segment of society there are those motivated by the prohibition against doing something.  Many young folks drink well before they are legally allowed to, and the appeal for many is precisely that, they are not allowed to do it.  I am by no means suggesting that the vast majority of same sex couples who wed as soon as they were legally able to do so, did not think it through.  In fact, as a divorce lawyer, I see many heterosexual couples who jumped into marriages without “thinking it through”.  There are all sorts of clichés for these types of marriages:  Rebound marriages, revenge marriages and “I can’t stand to be alone” marriages.  But the bottom line is that for many who were told that they could not marry the one they loved, the mere fact that they now can may not be the only issue they should consider.  Or maybe they should marry, but with a bit of caution, perhaps with a prenuptial agreement?

There is no doubt that along with same sex marriage will come same sex divorce.  It is already happening.  But the reasons for divorce will likely be no different than the reasons opposite sex couples divorce. Unhappiness with their chosen spouse, cheating, addiction and physical violence.  But the question may well be, did a couple marry quickly because they could, without thinking about, whether they should.  Human nature is human nature and people, couples, human beings are impulsive.  Yes many couples think very seriously about whether they should marry, but suddenly having the ability to do something that for years was prohibited, surely makes it a bit more enticing, no?  In the next few years, as we analyze divorce rates, I imagine we will see similar numbers of divorces for same sex couples as for opposite sex couples. Many couples no doubt will live “happily ever after” and I wish them the very best.  But in the short run and the long run, will there be those who are just as thankful for same sex divorce, as they were for same sex marriage? I think so. And perhaps that, the right to use the same rules to un-marry as everyone else, may bring even more equality.

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Kathryn Boortz

A big issue for parents these days revolves around children’s use of social media, with the two biggest questions being when should parents allow their children access to social media and how much should their children’s social activity be monitored? Children’s experts are mixed in their opinions on the two questions, and parents tend to have conflicting thoughts on how best to monitor their children’s online activity.

A 2012 survey by Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics found that 83 percent of parents believe that the benefits of social media use by children outweigh the potential risks. But while 68 percent of the parents surveyed felt that children under 13 should not be using social media, many of these same parents reportedly said that they let their own under-age-13 children use social media because their classmates were using it.

Children’s Mercy clinical psychologist Edward Christophersen said “Given the mind of an 8-, 10-, 12-, 13-year-old child, the risk-benefit ratio is unfavorable because they don’t understand the possible repercussions of it.” And once a child is granted permission to access Twitter, Facebook or other socials media, parents “should absolutely look over their children’s shoulders,” he said.

However, Elaine Heffner, a psychotherapist and author of “Good Enough Mothering,” warns that parents should be hesitant to monitor too much, and suggests that parents seek consent from the children for the monitoring. Excessive monitoring could be construed as similar to reading private diaries and journals. And if parents do this furtively it can destroy the trust between parents and their children. “The goal of every parent is to build up trust with their child,” said Heffner. “And it’s important for kids to feel they do have a sense of privacy and independence.”

Meanwhile, a recent Georgia appellate court ruling will likely encourage parents to increase such monitoring. In what marks a legal precedent on the issue of parental responsibility over their children’s online activity, the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled last October in Boston v. Athearn that parents can be held liable for negligent supervision of their children’s social media activities.

The case was sparked by a seventh-grade student–Athearn–who constructed a false Facebook profile of a classmate–Boston–that was offensive and libelous. The Boston family filed suit against the Athearn parents for intentionally inflicting emotional distress by failing to supervise their minor child when he posted the false Facebook page, and then by failing to remove the defamatory content once it was discovered. In a decision partially overturning a trial court decision, the appellate court determined that the Athearns could be held liable for failing to supervise their son’s use of the computer and online media after they learned of the false Facebook profile posting, but that they could not be held liable for the original posting.

As the mother of two young children, and as a juvenile defense attorney, I will be following this issue closely as I weigh my own decisions on how to let my children safely navigate social media.


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The effect of age difference and other factors on marriage

0db2598I was recently interviewed by a WSJ reporter for a piece he was writing for “MarketWatch“. It was to discuss a recent report analyzing certain factors and how they affect marriage, or more importantly, how they may increase the chance a couple will #divorce. The study and his story were interesting to me. The three factors that really rang true to me were: age difference; length of the marriage, and whether they had children. Although when he asked me if I agreed with the study that having children makes a couple less likely to divorce, my reply, based on my anecdotal experience, was simply that often having children simply delays the problem(s) and that sometimes it actually brings added stress to an already difficult situation. Children need us. They need our time, our resources and our attention, which means that our spouse gets less of each of these once children are brought into a marriage. They are very worth it and I dare not suggest children are not worth the compromise or the effort, but I do not think that having children always keeps couples together. And generally it is a good thing for children to be raised in an intact relationship, but many psychologists and others tell us that a bad relationship in an intact family can sometimes be worse than a good relationship between separated parents. But I do agree with him that the longer a relationship lasts, the longer it is likely to endure. Once you learn how to live with each other, through difficulties, there is less reason to divorce. I hope that most people still see divorce as a very last option and if they do, sticking it out should lead to more “sticking it out”. After all, only when you cannot bear to live together anymore should there be a #divorce, and if you can bear it, most people will try and make it work. @GADivorce

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Supreme Court declines to hear same sex marriage issue; what does that mean for GA?

This week the United States Supreme Court declined the opportunity to review the issue of same sex marriage on a state level (Of course they have overturned part of DOMA as it related to the federal definition of marriage in the Windsor case).  While many wish the U.S. Supreme Court had taken on this issue, the practical effect is that same sex marriage will now be permitted in many states. And that is because many federal appellate courts have overturned state bans on same sex marriage and everyone was waiting to see if those federal appellate decisions would be upheld or overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.  And now we won’t know.  But that means that the federal appellate courts’ decisions stand thereby making same sex marriage legal in many states.

I was immediately contacted by the local NPR affiliateand asked how this would affect the issue of same sex marriage in Georgia.  In the interview, I surmised, based on reading the opinions of those who follow the issue much more closely than I do, that same sex marriage will arrive in Georgia and it won’t take that long. While Georgians have historically opposed same sex marriage (although in metro Atlanta numbers of supporters versus opponents of same sex marriage is likely much higher than outside of Atlanta), same sex marriage is likely on its way here.  Many similarly situated states such as Texas and Kentucky have had their laws prohibiting same sex marriage, which were passed by a strong majority , overturned by federal appellate courts, and those decisions and the decisions overturning many other states’ similar laws now remain intact, given the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to tackle the issue at this time.
But what does this all mean? For one thing it means that same sex couples across the country will soon be able to use the process of divorce (some already can) because the appellate court’s decisions are basically now confirmed (by default).  While this sounds bad, think about it. Currently in states such as Georgia where same sex couples may not marry, when they separate, what happens? Confusion. Chaos. There are no good mechanisms to help them divide the assets and debts they acquired together, or to help them resolve their child related disputes (custody, visitation, support).  Divorce is a process that, even if you do not like the rules, at least there are rules which make the process more predictable than one which has no rules.  And that may be the one thing we can all agree upon.  My point is that without a formalized process for same sex couples to dissolve their relationships, there is more cost, more confusion and more trouble.  Many sets of lawyers are needed (real estate lawyers, custody lawyers, corporate lawyers to help divide businesses, bankruptcy lawyers, etc.).
So why do I think Georgia and all other states will eventually have same sex marriage? Because there really is no other choice.  And even if the federal appellate courts do not strike down the Georgia ban on same sex marriage, trial courts may, and that may well be upheld on appeal. It only makes sense. Now that a majority of jurisdictions have or soon will have same sex marriage, couples who are married legally elsewhere and legally divorced elsewhere will move to Georgia. Then what would Georgia do? Ignore a child support order from a same sex marriage because it then recognizes a same sex marriage? But that would then harm the true innocent party, the child, and that should not, and must nothappen. So when a trial court issues an order that explicitly or implicitly recognizes same sex marriage, the issue will be, in my opinion, eventually handled in a way which results in the recognition of same sex marriages in Georgia. And of course, in April of this year a lawsuit was filed in federal court challenging the Georgia’s ban on same sex marriage and if that is successful, same sex marriage will arrive in Georgia even sooner.
#samesex #divorce #samesexmarriage
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This is an interesting question and one I had never really pondered, until a Wall Street Journal reporter contacted me to ask for my thoughts on this.  And his question, and the article he wrote (find it by clicking here), sparked some thoughts.  When Quentin Fottrell (@quantanamo), WSJ reporter and the Personal Finance Reporter for MarketWatch (part of the Wall Street Journal I believe) called me about this issue, I had really not thought much about it.  But then it all seemed to make sense.  We discussed why those who went to college may stay married longer (they may have had more relationships since they were surrounded by thousands of others their age, been exposed to more options, may have been more likely to meet someone with similar interests, etc.?).

But the issue for me was not so much that people who were educated stayed married longer, but rather that people who were more educated or more successful than their spouse, might have more tension in their marriages.  My belief after practicing divorce and family law for over twenty-five years is that resentment is a huge problem in many marriages.  Many people may harbor resentment and not discuss it.  They may be upset that their spouse has “done more with their life” or they may just be upset that their spouse “thinks they have done more with their life”.  Either way it reduces, minimizes, trivializes or eliminates respect and value by the more educated or successful spouse for the efforts of the other spouse.  And the “other” spouse may actually be contributing much more to the relationship. In fact, that is often the case (raising children, taking care of the home, the finances, the bills, the medical needs of the family, etc.).  The “successful” spouse’s achievements are often more obvious or visible (job title, initials such as Ph.D., M.D., etc.) while the other spouse’s efforts may be hidden or concealed.

So when the relationship sours, or when an argument erupts, the underlying resentment can create or give rise to much more anger and animus than is warranted by the basis for the disagreement of the moment.  And sometimes the resentment remains subconscious and the person who resents the other may not even realize why he or she is so angry.  But certainly a disparity in education, or success or income can and often does create tension in marriages.  And I often hear about it only after the die has been cast (after the decision to divorce has been made).  That is unfortunate.  I wish I had the answer and could help people recognize this issue and address it before they end up in my office seeking a divorce. Perhaps counseling, perhaps meditation, but I guess most important would be to simply examine your feelings, your relationship and the source of frustration in your life.  Is it with yourself?  Do you (fairly or unfairly) compare yourself to your spouse? Does your spouse recognize and appreciate what you do for the relationship? Could you do more for the relationship (not just for your own success, or as many people tell me they are doing it “to support the family financially”)?  Whatever it is, as a divorce lawyer who has witnessed much agony about the ending of relationships, my suggestion is to explore your feelings thoroughly.  Through friends, through therapists and with your spouse.  And if things cannot be changed (whether it is you or your spouse, or both, who need to change), then a divorce may still be what happens.  But wouldn’t it be and feel much better to try to understand and address these issues before the relationship comes to an end?  I think so and I have heard from many clients that they wish they had “tried harder” or “listened more” or “worked on their issues” before the divorce happened.  And they have been there and speak from their own experiences. I’d be interested in others’ opinions as it will expand my understanding of these issues and I hope make me a better lawyer and counselor.

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From a Divorce Lawyer, The Questions We Get at the Dinner Table

(reposted from my LinkedIn Blog): Certainly “divorce law” is not the most comfortable dinner conversation topic when out with friends. Often when the discussion turns to “How’s work?” or “Tell us about what you do”, there’s an uncomfortable pause when I explain that I am a family lawyer. I often get looks wondering if that means I handle divorces, or simply all sorts of law for families (like wills, etc.). I then explain that yes I am a divorce lawyer, but I prefer to call myself a “Freedom Lawyer”.

It breaks the ice and is certainly truthful, at least in the minds of many who have been divorced. But what happens next is almost always one of two things. Either the conversation moves right along to another topic, perhaps because people do not know what to say (which is fine with me, I do not want them to be uncomfortable), or more often someone starts to tell a story about their own, or a friend’s divorce. It still amazes me how many people are touched by the process. And it seems to always be a cathartic discussion.

People who could never discuss their own situation when it was happening, have now moved on and can have some perspective. They see the process in the broader sense and actually seem to enjoy discussing how it works, and how people each seem to handle divorce differently. And I realize that these discussions are much more pleasant than the ones we often have with people in the midst of a divorce. These dinner discussions seem to become a commentary on human nature, on how different people handle the same process differently. How some people put their head in the sand while others want to fight for “principle”.

And these discussions, this hindsight and retrospective, helps me improve as a lawyer. Because when I am in the middle of a divorce case, I must always think about how can I help them get to a place where they can reflect and be glad that moment is behind them, but also know that I helped them through it. No lawyer is perfect and certainly we get blamed for a lot, but we too must evolve and learn and grow and try not to just look at the moment, but to think ahead to that dinner discussion, and how we want our clients to look back at the process we helped them through. And hopefully, if we do our job well, the discussion will be a positive one and one that makes us proud of our profession and the difficult work we do.

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The Stream


(Copied from my LinkedIn Influencer Post): I was asked last week to participate in a discussion on “The Stream“, a news show on Aljazeera America, on how divorce affects children. It will air next week. “The Stream” (it is a series, like “Nightline”, etc.) is a neat show with a great format involving guests, anchors and social media participation by viewers. The hosts do a great job of keeping the conversation moving, involving the
viewers and the 3 guests (me, an expert who wrote the book and a child of divorce- those are 3 separate guests) covering the topic in a comprehensive way. I was asked to be on as the author of Divorce: Protect Yourself, Your Kids and Your Future. The anchors and the guests interact with each other and the audience viaTwitter and other social media.

The issue covered in this show is really about how divorce affects children in ways most people do not consider. How it can change their outlook on life, love and relationships. It is an underexplored topic and I hope more stories on this issue surface since children always bear the unintended consequences of divorce and understanding this is the first step to reducing the negative impact divorce has on children.

Here are the details for when the show airs:

It will air Monday 9/8 at 12:30p EST, and Wed. 9/10 at 12:30p EST and Saturday 9/11. Here’s how to find out how to watch:

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Everything you wanted to know

When to file for divorce is a question only you can answer (except, unfortunately, if your spouse has filed or files first, then you will be thrust into a divorce, even if you aren’t or weren’t ready for it).  A good lawyer or friend or therapist will not tell you that you must file.  All they can do is to tell you what they advise or what they think may happen if and when you file.  And no one ever knows for certain what will happen.  So what should you do? Be prepared. Read, learn and consult.  Read everything you can about the process and consult with whoever you can, but do your best to find those respected in their professions.  I recently wrote a short piece on this which you can find at:

Divorce is never easy.  Though some cases are shorter and simpler than others, they always involve emotions across the spectrum and it may be hard to think rationally when going through the process. So learn as much as you can, think about the consequences of acting hastily, and then, after you have consulted and read and learned, be sure to make the decisions you are comfortable with.  It is your life and you will live with the results, so think things through, get as much advice as you can, and perhaps do your best to try, if at all possible, to act rationally, not emotionally, even though the emotions can be overwhelming.

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Father’s Day

Lots of things come to mind, but for me, as a divorce lawyer, it sounds more like “Parent’s Day”.  All parents should be celebrated and hopefully able to be with their children on this day.  Rather than single out one parent, why not focus on one, but maintain the importance of both? And yes this applies to Mother’s Day as well.  Two loving parents are better than just one.  And in fact, California has recently authorized judges to designate three legal parents (think same sex couples plus the other sex parent whose semen or egg was needed).  Generally we must all agree that the more people loving, caring for and supporting a child, the better. Of course there are exceptions and of course (and unfortunately) there are bad parents. But when all parents love and support a child, doesn’t that increase the child’s chances for happiness, success and a good future?

In my line of work, every day I see people fighting over kids, each convinced they love the child more and know what is best for the child.  But today, Father’s Day, should be a day on which we stop and say “let’s be sure our child knows we all love and support him or her, that we can cooperate, that if we are not together as parents, we can at least exchange the child agreeably and with kind and soft words”. 
For a child to know that his or her parents love each other, or at least that they respect each other and can get along, is one of the greatest gifts a child can receive. And this is not just for divorced, or never-married families.  Marriages and intact families should also strive to offer this gift to their children.  This would not only help children, it would reduce the need for lawyers to be , and I for one, think that is a good thing
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100,000 followers, really?

Over a year ago LinkedIn invited me to be one of their “Influencers”. I did not know what that meant and at first thought they may want me to pay for the privilege.  They said the world’s most influential people were being invited. People like Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Barack Obama. I laughed and knew there must be a catch. But I’ll be darned if there was no catch.  They simply wanted me to share my opinions and perhaps provide the perspective of a family law attorney on topics of their and my choosing.  And it has made me think deeply about things.  Topics they have asked me to write about include what would I advise my 22 year old self, what set me on my career path and other introspective topics.  And I am grateful to LinkedIn for the platform and the prodding. I don’t think my musings are any more relevant or insightful than anyone else’s, but they are mine and I’m glad LinkedIn asked me to share them.  And after more than a year of doing so, I am incredibly flattered and fortunate to now have more than 100,000 followers.

I hope to continue to contribute and explore and read the comments and feedback.  It has truly been an experience and I look forward to continuing this posting journey.  If you want to know what I’m talking about, feel free to check out my posts and feel free to follow me at:

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(From our LinkedIn Influencer Post): What a few weeks of legal seminars!

A few weekends ago I was in Chicago for a presentation to the Sports Lawyers Association in Chicago (list of the amazing speakers). It was snowing outside and raining knowledge inside.  I sat in on many of the other presentations and learned a lot about sports law along with 850 other lawyers and law students.  Then the next week and weekend were spent at the annual Georgia Family Law Institute in Amelia Island, Florida with over 600 other Georgia Family Law attorneys (including most of the lawyers from our firm).   And then the following week was spent presenting at the Alabama annual Family Law Program, speaking to their judges on “Things Family Law Attorneys would like you to know”.  The program agenda can be viewed at I then sat in on the other presentations and learned about national and local trends in family law in our neighboring state.

Then of course it has been back to the office for work and to implement many of the good ideas and tips learned at these programs. Attending and presenting at seminars is very valuable, but my passion is truly in the practice of law. I’ll look forward to the trials (and tribulations) of practicing without a seminar break for a while.  But even while I’m away at programs, we are fortunate to have lawyers working around the clock and keeping me well in the loop on cases in which I’m involved.  And the iPad, iPhone and IMac certainly keep me connected.  
The balance is to be able to stay up with current trends in the law, locally and nationally and to use that knowledge and the tips learned, to better assist our clients.  Hopefully the things learned at these Continuing Legal Education seminars help me and my firm provide better service to our clients. It is for them that we try to be the best we can be.  And we are always learning.  As they say, it is a law “practice”, since we are always trying to improve. 
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It has been a busy CLE (Continuing Legal Education) season

The American Bar Association Spring Conference just concluded and later this month the Georgia and Alabama Family Law Institutes take place with hundreds of family law attorneys trying to learn the latest trends and laws relating to family law. Before that though, there is a big one in Chicago. It is the Sports Lawyers Association where I am excited to be presenting on Family Law for Athletes.  700 lawyers who represent athletes are expected to attend. Should be a great conference:

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This is a blog I wrote for LinkedIn

I just read an article about China now having 10,000 divorces per day (click for the article). That number astounds me. I know China has a lot of people, but gosh, the number of divorces here in the states is high and we wrestle with the insufficient resources we have to handle American divorces (not enough money to now support two homes, therapeutic involvement for the family, financial support for children, legal assistance to the parties, etc.).  We have been grappling with how to improve our family court system, whether it’s by having courts dedicated to handling family law matters, or guidelines for child support and alimony, it seems we are always playing catch up.  And some may say we should make it harder to divorce. I do not think that will solve things.  Rather, people may be forced to remain in bad marriages, and they will spend even more money and energy trying to get out of them, money and energy that should instead be used for their families.  Of course, if people decide to stay married, that may help, but like many other social trends, divorce may be something that is best addressed by social awareness.  Raising consciousness about how hard divorce can be on children may help.  But truly each case is unique and perhaps the explosion in the amount of divorces in China is not due to the laws making it easier to divorce (which of course play a role), but perhaps the explosion is due to the quantity of people that have been waiting to divorce, have been legally unable to divorce, and that see the new laws in China as a way to fulfill their hopes of a new and better life?  I am not saying they are right, but don’t all human beings have a right to choose their own fate?  We can promote laws that inhibit divorce, but we should be very careful when we pass laws that may confine others to situations that we would not want to be forced to endure, to force people to remain legally connected, if truly they think they and their children would be better of “uncoupling” as the recent flurry of articles surrounding Gwyneth Paltrow’s divorce discuss.  Uncoupling a bad relationship to allow people to move on, may be a good or bad thing, but shouldn’t it be there, not our choice?

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Upcoming Family Law Seminars

It has been a busy year already for seminar presentations.  I have presented at a few already, most recently one for the Georgia Bar on media and the law, focusing on the new same sex legal issues surfacing in Georgia and elsewhere.  And this month I will be presenting at three more (the brochures can be accessed here: SAME SEX LEGAL ISSUESGENERAL PRACTICE AND TRIAL INSTITUTEWINNING SETTLEMENT STRATEGIES )  One of the seminars is an update on the newest family law cases.  Another is how to effectively settle a family law case, while the third is an entire seminar devoted to same sex legal issues.  If you are a lawyer who practices family law, these seminars may be for you, but more importantly, if you are a general practitioner, at least two of these (and hopefully all three) should be right up your alley as they are basically framed as presentations on family law for the general practitioner.  But the biggest beneficiary is me. Preparing the papers and PowerPoints for these programs, and then actually presenting them keeps me fresh.  Now that my chairmanship of the family law sections of the American Bar Association and the Georgia Bar are behind me, this seems to be the best way for me to stay current and to benefit our firm and our firm’s clients.  I actually enjoy working on programs like these as they force me to look at the big picture, to survey Georgia (and U.S.) law and to have a good feel for trends and directions in which the law may be heading.  If you have suggestions for things, cases, issues to be included in any of these programs or others, please let me know, especially if you are aware of a new law, case, strategy or issue which might be relevant to share with the audience.  Thanks in advance for your help.

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This V-Day, take stock in how you communicate

Almost everyone could do more to avoid or reduce the chances of going through a divorce (not counting abusive situations). Some common reasons for filing for divorce might seem obvious, but they are usually incorrect.

If someone cheats, for example, most people think that is the reason the couple is divorcing. But when you look at it a little deeper, most cases of adultery occur long after problems arise in the relationship. For instance, if the spouses had not had sex for 10 years and then one party had an affair, is the affair truly the cause of the divorce? Sure, the affair may be the proverbial “last straw,” but there were likely problems for years.

Yes, I could repeat stories of couples who filed for divorce because “he cheated” or “she spends too much time at work” or “we don’t talk anymore” or “he has been gambling away our retirement,” but before these events occur, there are many opportunities for spouses to try to fix things. Thinking about how the other partner feels, trying to address their concerns, listening: These are small things that can go a long way.

In my opinion, communication is the No. 1 problem in marriages that leads to divorce. Spouses often forget the good things they like and love about each other and don’t recognize or appreciate them over time. People come to expect the good qualities and complain about the negative ones. Communication, even if assisted by a therapist, family member, church leader or a close friend, can help spouses keep their marriages intact.

Other reasons that form the basis for most divorces are a bit cliché. My favorite is “the grass seems greener on the other side of the fence.” Also, if absence makes the heart grow fonder, then perhaps closeness makes the heart grow less fond? Or put another way, you “don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.”

There were reports years ago about the divorce rate being very low in Israel, when every man (and woman) had to serve mandatory reserve military duty of 30 to 90 days per year. It seemed that just when marital strife was at its height, one spouse had to leave for a month or so and each realized what they actually missed about the other.

If a marriage can’t be reconciled, the saddest part for me is that most often, only one person feels that way. If both parties agreed on divorce, it would be easier, but when one person is committed to divorce and the other is not, people do crazy things to try to save the marriage.

People offer to give their partner all their money if he or she will stay. If what you want is a marriage, throwing money at it or making promises to do better isn’t enough. Recognizing poor communication, listening to your partner and making time to discuss and hear how the other feels are the very best ways to reduce the chances of divorce.

Maybe this Valentine’s Day, in addition to roses or chocolates, book an hour or two with your spouse to simply talk and reconnect. Perhaps a “staycation” at a nice hotel? Yes, it could cost a bit, but not as much as a divorce (and is certainly less painful).

This V-Day, take stock in how you communicate

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Happy New Year

We take this opportunity to wish all of our clients, fellow attorneys, friends and colleagues a happy New Year.  As family law attorneys, every year has its trials, tribulations and triumphs. But most importantly, in the long run, we hope we are able to help ease the burdens of our clients and smooth their transition into their post-divorce life so it will be more bearable and hopefully much better, once the issues that brought them to us are resolved. That is our goal. We particularly want to wish a happy and healthy New Year to those in the midst of family law litigation.  May 2014 bring peace and comfort.

We also want to look back and reflect on the growth of our firm in 2013 with the addition of attorney Karine Burney and law clerks Taylor Statfeld and Jamie Beton. They helped make 2013 a better year for us.  We look forward to 2014 and the new additions of attorney Michael Deeb and paralegal Karla Ingold. We also look forward to our expansion to the 34th floor of our building in our downtown office as we will now be occupying parts of both the 34th and 35th floors.  We hope our growth and our investment in space and personnel helps us do an even better job for those who put their trust in us by having more resources on hand.

Family law is a difficult but often rewarding field. There are disappointments, delays and frustrations, daily. But in the long run, we hope the difficulties our clients experience will pass and that their burdens will be lessened. We truly wish them the best. And we wish them and all of our friends, colleagues and families a very good new year.  May 2014 bring you and them joy happiness, and most importantly, good health.

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Making the GA Child Support Guidelines easier to determine

 The one question all lawyers get, not just family lawyers, is “how does child support work?” Or “how is the amount of child support determined”. Whether it’s a friend of ours, or someone we just met, people seem to always want us to be able to quickly give them a thumbnail response about how child support works, or how much it should be in a certain (usually “their”) situation. The answers are often long, complex and confusing. There are calculations that need to be done. Questions that need to be answered (how many children, who pays for health care, etc.). It is not really a simple question. But it seems like everyone asks this question sooner or later, even if it’s just out of curiosity because they have a friend going through a child support situation.

To help simplify the answer, we have developed an App for the Georgia Child Support Guidelines. It is the first of its kind in Georgia. It is available for iPhones, Android phones and on the web (iPad version is coming in the next few days). Links to the App appear below. The App certainly should not and does not substitute for legal advice or for using the official calculator and worksheets, but we hope it will give a broad, initial projection so that people in a child support situation can have a general idea of the possible child support result in their case. There are many variables which can affect the determination of child support and certainly no one should rely on the App as if it were legal advice. But if you want a very general idea of what child support should be in a given situation, the App will give you a general idea. Of course there are many factors that are not taken into consideration in the App, such as other support obligations, extremely high income, unusual parenting time arrangements, etc. But what we hope is that this App will provide a modest amount of comfort or knowledge to those who have no idea about child support, so that they will not be shocked once they hire an attorney or use the official child support worksheets to determine child support. As a family law firm, we felt that developing the App was something we could and should do to help the general public better understand this often confusing, but very common family law issue.

Try it, there’s no cost and no ads. We just hope it provides a little bit of help for an often difficult to understand issue. And if you like it, please rate it and share it.

To locate the App in the ITunes App Store, search “GA Child Support” or click: The Android version can be found in the Play Store or Google Play by searching “GA Child Support” or by clicking: To learn more about the Georgia Child Support Guidelines, feel free to visit the overview (and you may view and use the full calculator) on our site at:

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Divorce: Protect Yourself

(Copy of my newest “Influencer” blog for LinkedIn)

I am so excited/relieved to announce that the book I started writing over fifteen years ago is done. We just received the first copies this month and I am really filled with all sorts of feelings seeing a book with my name as the author. I started this project to help people considering or going through a divorce. It is basically an overview of what I want my potential clients and others about to go through a divorce to know. Certainly it cannot encompass everything and each situation is different. But I wanted people to have hope, to understand the process and to understand that there actually is a process. There are answers to the questions they have and that they will have.

So many people helped me along the way (most are listed in the Acknowledgements), but really, my clients have taught me. I have learned from them how to endure hardship, how to react to the unimaginable. How to be patient when you want to scream in righteous anger. And I wanted to give back by writing a book. “Divorce: Protect Yourself, Your Kids and Your Future” (available at is that book. It is a general overview of the divorce process. It is NOT legal advice and anyone going through a divorce should hire their own lawyer and rely on that lawyer’s advice. The book can be a supplement, a starting point, but of course a lawyer in the jurisdiction where you live is who should be advising.
The week after the book was printed I appeared on the Today Show ( to discuss how words can affect divorce and it has been selling quickly ever since on Amazon, Kindle and directly from the book’s website

I am so grateful to those who helped me get it done, and again, to all of the good people who have hired me and my firm over the years. This is for you. I wish you happiness and a future that is all you desire.

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The background check. It sounds intimidating, all-encompassing, legally binding and almost invasive in scope. Many people — employers or employees — never deal with them directly, and have only the vaguest ideas of what they really are or what they might reveal. In the childcare industry, though, background checks can be life-changing documents, for both nannies and families. They can guide parents to make hiring or firing decisions; they can proudly vouch for a nanny or haunt them for years. For these and many other reasons, it’s important for you to learn about background checks no matter what part of the hiring process you’re in. When you truly understand what a background check is and what it isn’t, you can use them to make the best decision possible regarding childcare.

Background Checks: A Definition

A background check isn’t just a phone call to someone’s former employer to verify work history. If you’re dealing with childcare, it doesn’t mean just verifying that your nanny worked where she or he said they did. There’s a lot more to it than that. In fact, the phrase “background check” is so broad it’s almost meaningless.

In the context of employment, a background check is a thorough investigation of criminal and automotive history, and it’s performed to give employers the most information possible when it comes to making a hiring decision. According to the National Association of Professional Background Screeners — a trade group devoted to ethics and best practices in the field — these types of background checks are typically conducted by licensed third-party consumer reporting agencies that are governed by the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The FCRA regulates the method of collecting and distributing consumer information as a way to protect employees and consumers. It’s crucial to note that fair and legal background checks require the consent of the person you’re investigating. If an agency tells you they can run a background check on a nanny you want to hire without actually telling the nanny, that’s a red flag. You need their authorization for the search.

Things That Will Appear on a Background Check

A proper background check can cover a variety of areas, including (but not limited to):

• Drug test information.

• Verification of employment, and if the applicant has earned any licenses or degrees they claim to have earned.

• Criminal record checks verified through local, state, federal and even international courts.

• Registry investigations, including searches of sex offender registries and child abuse registries.

• Credit history (minus an applicant’s actual credit score).

• Driving records.

As you can tell, the point of a good background check is to give an employer as much information as possible about the applicant in front of them. This is important in any job, but it’s especially important when you’re hiring a nanny, someone who will spend long, unsupervised hours every day with your children for months or even years. A nanny needs to be able to transport the children, make purchases for household items and be trusted caring for the kids; all things that tie into the areas covered in a background check.

To find this information, consumer reporting agencies check a variety of databases, including a family of systems at the FBI. There’s the FBI Identification Record, which covers criminal history and information connected to arrests. There’s a caveat here, though: some state laws prohibit using arrest and conviction records when making hiring decisions, so even if you find out an applicant had some criminal issues in their past, you might not be allowed to let that bias your decision. According to the NAPBS, California restricts the use of some marijuana-related convictions in the decision-making process if the applicant’s conviction is more than two years old. You should always consult with your consumer reporting agency about the findings of a background check to see what’s clear for you to know and use for employment purposes.

There’s also the Interstate Identification Index System (aka, the III), which allows for federal and state law enforcement agencies to share information about misdemeanors and felonies for background check purposes. However, the burden falls on the states to keep the databases updated, so sometimes the III might not have the latest data, especially about someone who’s lived in many states.

In addition to database checks there are also primary records searches. Considered the “gold standard” in criminal background checks, the county courthouse criminal records check requires a court runner to manually check the records at county courthouses if the records aren’t current and available online. Since sometimes records for felonies and misdemeanors are stored in different courts within a county, it is imperative that the proper court house records are checked to get an accurate picture of what, if any, records are available on an applicant.

The point of all this is that, though there are many helpful resources available for conducting background checks, there remains no single unified system that contains complete and updated criminal history for people. Searching multiple databases and sources is a good measure, but it’s also the only one we have.

Things That Won’t Appear on a Background Check

This naturally leads people to wonder: if there’s no single database for background checks, is it possible for some things to be overlooked? Yes.

Some things won’t appear on a background check because they’re not relevant or allowable to the scope of employment. For instance, medical records are out, as are records for anything that might have happened to the applicant as a juvenile. As mentioned above, while credit history is covered, specific credit score isn’t. Minor things like parking tickets may not be included, either, because they’re not fingerprintable incidents.

But the biggest thing that a background check won’t catch is obvious: if the applicant committed a crime and got away with it. That, and if the applicant committed a crime outside of the area that was searched. By definition, a background check can only turn up things that made it to the courts. A check can list a person’s criminal history, but that doesn’t mean it lists their entire history. Such a thing would be impossible.

That’s why it’s so important to remember that a background check is not a shield against future criminal activity, but merely an information-gathering tool designed to give employers the most information possible to help them make the best decision they can. You should absolutely perform a background check on anybody you’re considering hiring as a nanny, but you should never let that check give you a false sense of security. Just as old criminal history can be a sign that someone’s turned their life around and gotten their act together, so too can it indicate someone who might be willing to break the rules again if given the opportunity.

The bottom line is that there’s no such thing as a bulletproof background check. A background check should be used in conjunction with other interviewing tools, ranging from fact-finding questions to time spent with someone to gauge their personality. Using as many information gathering tools as possible and pairing what you’ve gleaned with good judgment will help you to make an educated and informed hiring decision.

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