I was recently honored by being featured as Lawyer of the Month in the Premier Edition of Attorney at Law magazine in Georgia last month. It was truly an honor, especially considering who the next Lawyer of the Month is (Joel Katz, the top entertainment lawyer in the country). I am grateful for the selection but honestly and humbly know there are so many more deserving potential honorees. They wrote such a flattering article about me that I really was struck (click here for a link to it). I have been very lucky in my career and my life. I am blessed to have a career I love. Being a divorce lawyer has it’s down moments for sure. But more often there is a feeling of being able to help. And that is the most rewarding part of all.
Final thoughts on my year as ABA Family Law Chair
I recently “passed the gavel” to the new Family Law Section Chair, Maryann Foley of Alaska. It was a heartwarming ceremony and many of the leaders in family law were there. But perhaps more important than that ceremony, was our final Council meeting the day before. While it was the last one I will preside over, it was a meaningful one. We surveyed the status of our section’s efforts, including our great publications, CLE programs and other endeavors, but what was also nice, was that we reviewed and revised our Family Law Section’s Mission Statement. While the changes were not extreme, they did force us to again review our Mission Statement and to think about what we do and what we want to do and be, as a section. So with that, I say farewell as Chair, and leave you with this, the newly revised Mission Statement of the Family Law Section of the American Bar Association:
Mission/Goals of American Bar Association’s Family Law Section.
The mission statement of the Family Law Section follows:
The mission of the American Bar Association Family Law Section is to serve as the national leader in the field of Family Law. To accomplish its mission, the Council has adopted the following seven goals for the Section:
I. To improve the family law system.
II. To be the pre-eminent voice on family issues.
III. To serve our members.
IV. To improve public and professional understanding of family law issues.
V. To increase the diversity and participation of our membership.
VI. To educate the public about family law and the professionals involved in family law.
VII To improve professionalism of all participants in the administration of family law.
Chairing the Family Law Section of the ABA has been an honor
I have been so fortunate to have been able to serve as Chair of the Family Law Section of the American Bar Association for the 2011-2012 term. I cannot believe the year is drawing to a close. To have been allowed to lead this section, has truly been an honor and the highlight of my legal career and bar service. About 15 years ago I served as Chair of the Family Law Section of the Atlanta Bar Association. I have served as Chair of the Standing Committee on Substance Abuse for the American Bar Association and as Chair of the Family Courts Committee of the Family Law Section of the ABA, as well as Chair of the Family Law Section of the Georgia Bar Association. This year has really been a culmination for me and I really know for sure now, that being a lawyer, and serving the bar and the community in ways beyond representing clients, is what makes ours a profession worth pursuing. I have been fortunate enough to meet lawyers and judges from across the world. And while there are many different personalities in our profession, like any other, there are so, so many people trying so hard to do good and to make the world a better place.
I recently attended an event for Congressman John Lewis. He explained how he has been getting in “good trouble” his whole life. What an inspiration he was and is. We should all get in “good trouble” and help make positive change in our world. For me, it is in my limited capacity as a family law attorney, but for all of us there is a way. My year has had it’s challenges just like any other year, but it has been quite an interesting one for Family Law. DOMA seems about ready to fall. Grandparent’s rights are evolving. International custody issues have been given more attention. We should all be helping ensure that these issues get the attention they deserve. Family Law attorneys can and should continue to help legislatures and courts understand the law and the ramifications of poorly drafted statutes or poorly interpreted laws. We should also help the public understand them. Knowledge is power and we should all be as knowledgeable as we can about the laws which shape our country.
Again, I am grateful for the opportunity to serve and hope I can continue to contribute. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to be so involved have a duty to continue to help and to ensure that ours truly remains a “profession” and not just a job. Let’s keep trying to make this world a better place.
Video surveillance of spouse in your own home: okay under GA law.
In the very recently decided Georgia Court of Appeals case of Rutter v. Rutter (July 13, 2012), the court ruled that video survelillance of a spouse, in their own home, even if they were unaware they were being recorded, is allowable - click here for the case video in home caselaw. While the purpose under the statute is supposed to be for crime detection, the court approved the trial court’s determination that even if the purpose was to possibly catch a spouse committing a crime, which might affect a custody case, the video is allowable and admissible. This is big news. The buzzwords we have all lived by used to be “expectation of privacy”. In other words, if you are in your own home and have a reasonable expectation of privacy, can a videotape of you at your own home be used against you in court? The answer is now yes. Does this mean spouses will now run to spy stores and buy video recorders to film their spouses doing things, which even if not criminal, may affect the custody case? Maybe. Does seeing how much a spouse drinks at home count as a crime? Probably not, but could it affect a custody case? Certainly. This case certainly changes the advice I will give clients as I have always said that I cannot advise them to install such a device and that I think the law used to be unclear, or even may have led to them being convicted for committing a crime. I am anxiously awaiting the comments of my peers, but for now, this is news and does change what I will tell my clients. I do not polan to encourage anyone to rush out and record their spouse, but when asked about whether it is okay, my answer will now be different than it has been.
Tom Cruise and why we should care
I was interviewed a lot in the last few weeks about the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes Divorce (click here for links to some of the interviews) People Magazine, CNN (CNN International, Headline News, etc.) and others asked me about it. Maybe I am biased because I know and respect Katie Holmes’ lawyers Jon Wolfe and Michael Mosberg, but I consistently suggested it would be worked out privately and quickly (see my blog posted June 30, 2012). Not only because there were good lawyers involved, but because frequently, when there is a lot of money combined with potential for a lot of negative public publicity, cases resolve quickly. They make news when they don’t. This one reached resolution quickly, and that is of course, beneficial to their daughter. Bravo to the parties and the lawyers. That’s how cases should get resolved and hopefully this divorce will be a good exmple of why it is good to get it done quickly.
Tom Cruise Divorce?
Tom Cruise is getting a divorce? Why is this news? Why is it interesting? Because he, superhero extra ordinaire, is going through what so many others have gone through, yet again. No one is immune. Perhaps that’s the appeal of the story? I learned about it Friday when CNN called and asked if I could comment on the “breaking news” that Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were getting divorced. I didn’t have too much to add, except to say that rich or poor, famous or not, everyone should try to reach settlement of their own issues, and I am sure they will do their best to do that. And the path should be open to them. Jonathan Wolfe, one of the finest lawyers in the New York area is representing Ms. Holmes and I know he will do his utmost to resolve the matter amicably, while simultaneously representing his client zealously. And that, is the test of a true lawyer. To be professional and to obtain good results for his client. I am hopeful that the next public statements, or at least a future public statement from either party, will reference the efforts each has taken to resolve the matter out of court. I know good lawyers are crucial to the process and that may be the lesson. If you can afford one, get a good lawyer. Their job is to bring peace and resolution. Yes they are able to do battle when needed, but for good lawyers, that is always the last option.
The New York Times recently ran a story on “Divorce Hotels”. It’s not such a strange concept. Click here for the NY Times story ( NY Times Story). A divorcing coupe stays at the same hotel to ensure the process moves forward. No delays. Lawyers there focus on that case. Paying attention to a case helps “get ‘er done”. http://nyti.ms/Lvv6F3. Interesting idea?
First Test Tube Baby’s Mother Dies
What a sad day. The woman who thought she would never give birth to a child, back in the 1970s, when there was no such thing as a “test tube baby” has died. The NY times has published a very nice overview (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/24/health/lesley-brown-mother-of-first-test-tube-baby-dies-at-64.html).
These days we take artificial insemination for granted. But the truth is, it is still a tedious, imperfect and very expensive process. The field has expanded enormously to include frozen embryos, surrogate pregnancy and even the possibility of “designer babies”. All fascinating ideas and the subject of much discussion regarding morality, ethics and of course, legality. The entire new field of law, often referred to as ART, for Artificial Reproductive Technology, is fascinating. The Family Law Section on the American Bar Association, which I currently Chair, has seen its membership increase and it’s attendance increase since this issue has grown. Our seminars and our publications now spend significant time covering these topics, and the professionals in this field, are highly motivated. They are on the cutting edge. The entire Family Law Section, the entire American Bar Association, and in fact, the entire country (and yes, the legal world) benefit from the work these professionals are doing. They are trying to chart courses in previously unnavigated waters. What a challenge, what a responsibility and what a blessing to have folks motivated to try so hard to get it right, to do the right thing. They did not invent these issues, but are trying ensure we can all work with them and understand the rights of parents, children and perhaps even rights of embryos. I do not intend to start a philosophical or religious or moral debate, but the absence of any law in this area until our generation makes the work that much more crucial. I am looking forward to new developments every day, and again thank Lesley Brown and the others who advanced this field and allowed people who otherwise may never have experienced the joy of parenting their own biological child, to do so.
Presenting to Business Valuation Experts
On Thursday June 21, 2012 I will be one of the featured speakers at the 2012 Annual Consultants’ Conference. It is being dubbed the “Superconference”. Information on the program is available by clicking here. The program is sponsored and hosted by NACVA, the National Association of Certified Valuation Analysts. Not only am I speaking, but more importantly I plan to learn. The best business valuation forensic experts in the country will be attending and presenting. I hope to soak up as much knowledge as I can from these industry experts.
The added benefit to me, is that it is in Dallas and gives me a chance to return to the great state of Texas. While the seminars will be educational, I really look forward to getting to know the leaders in this field, after hours, between speeches and at meals together. Where better to do this than Dallas? If you will be there, please say hi, and maybe we can share a meal?
Father’s Day 2012
I feel like the luckiest guy in the world, just as many father’s do. Especially since, in my practice, I see so many dads (and moms) who wish they could have more time with their kids. This year I was honored as “Father of the Year” by the Father’s Day Council and the American Diabetes Association. Click here (soon, hopefully by July 1, 1012) for links and news articles about the event. I got to tell a few hundred people how proud I am to be a dad and I got to thank those who were and are important to me. That was the real gift I was given (aside from a trophy that seems to weight 20 lbs.).
I am lucky and happy to have enjoyed a full weekend focused on my relationship with my daughter. I hope every weekend is as joyful and wish much happiness and joy to all the fathers out there.
Social Media Implications in Family Law Cases
The landscape of evidentiary tools available in today’s divorce cases is rapidly evolving, and the courts in this country are becoming more openly accepting of them. With the advent of social tools like Facebook and Twitter, incriminating evidence has never been easier to obtain. You now must be extremely mindful and filter the information and pictures that are posted to your profile page, because such evidence can be used against you and possibly deal a devastating blow to your divorce and/or custody case.
One recent example of a court ruling in favor of full disclosure of social media profiles comes out of a personal injury lawsuit in Pennsylvania, Zimmerman v. Weis Markets, 2011 Pa. Dist. & Cnty. Dec. LEXIS 187. The employer being sued filed a motion to compel disclosure and preservation of the employee’s Facebook and Myspace information on the non-public portions of the websites, which would require disclosure of user names and passwords to the employer. The basis for the employer’s motion and the rationale for the court’s ruling was that because there was evidence contrary to the employee’s claim available on the publicly accessible portions of the websites, it was reasonably likely for there to be other relevant information to the claim on the non-public portions of the pages.
The court granted the motion, reasoning that “no privilege exists for information posted in the non-public sections of social websites, liberal discovery is generally allowable, and the pursuit of truth as to alleged claims is a paramount ideal.” The court agreed that allowing a party to a lawsuit to hide behind privacy controls on a website which enables people to share social information risks depriving the opposite party of access to relevant material and a fair trial. The court also held that such a ruling does not violate any fourth amendment rights, which protects people, not places; further, there is no reasonable expectation to privacy on a social website, and privacy concerns are far less where the objector voluntarily disclosed the information. The court strongly closed their opinion, stating that “any relevant, non-privileged information about one’s life that is shared with others and can be gleaned by defendants from the internet is fair game in today’s society”.
The rationale adopted in this case is yet another example of how litigants should be extremely careful when navigating through social media. Remember, once you post something, it is extremely likely, if not certain, that such information will be used against you in a family law case.
I have been very fortunate in my life. I have been given many opportunities to help people. Usually it is as a family law attorney. But very soon, the opportunity comes as an honoree of the American Diabetes Association. I am grateful for the chance to assist the American Diabetes Association by raising awareness (and hopefully money) as they hold their annual “Father of the Year” event. While I am one of the honorees, the true goal of the evening for me and the other Fathers being recognized is to help us inch (or maybe more optimistically “mile”) forward towards reducing, and one day curing diabetes.
If you are able to attend, are able to support, or are just curious about the event or diabetes, please click here for all the information about the June 14, 2012 event and about the American Diabetes Association. Also, if I have done this right, you should be able to open the invite by clicking on the following: 2012 Invitation Proof. I am looking forward to the event and most importantly, to spending time there with my family and friends, all for a great cause.
The New York Times recently ran a story on “Divorce Hotels”. It’s not such a strange concept. Click here for the NY Times story. A divorcing coupe stays at the same hotel to ensure the process moves forward. No delays. Lawyers there focus on that case. Paying attention to a case often helps “get ‘er done”.
Is this the wave of the future? Probably not. Is there a place for it? Maybe. The real bottom line is that once people are ready, emotionally and with all of the facts (an understanding of all finances/incomes/property values, etc.), divorcing parties should get together, be it for mediation or a settlement conference, or even a weekend at the “divorce hotel”, and they should not stop trying to reach resolution until it is done. The alternative, trial, is expensive, costly and very, very imperfect. Keeping hold of your own desitiny is vital. Mediation, and maybe even the “divorce hotel” offers an opportunity to do that.
30th Annual Family Law Institute this week in Amelia Island!
The 30th annual Georgia Bar, Family Law Institute is this week in Amelia Island, Florida. There are already over 500 people signed up. This is the final seminar for my year as Chair of the Family Law Section in Georgia and I must thank Kelly Miles for putting together such an outstanding program. Click here for the entire agenda. The whole seminar is filled with Cutting Edge topics in Family Law, Hot Tips, case law update and a surprise speaker at the end. There will be ample opportunity not only to learn, but to network and meet other family law attorneys whom you may have litigated against, or with andothers who you certainly will meet for work in the future. Why not come to the program and try to meet them now, while you have no cases against them. It will make it much easier to handle cases together if you develop that relationship independent of any client directives or litigation which may make for a rougher start to a relationship?
I look forward to seeing those of you who have signed up and those of you who still may. Let’s learn and have fun together.
Family Court Boot Camp
This Friday, May 18, 2012, there will be a “Family Court Boot Camp” CLE program. It will cover the basics of practicing in Fulton County’s Family Division. It has been a few years since we have had such a seminar and it will be good to learn what is new. Click here for the program agenda.
The Family Court Judges’ Staff will be there, so that alone makes it worth attending. But more than that, over 70 lawyers are already planning to attend, so come learn with your peers and see what’s new in the Fulton County Family Division.
Obama’s statement on “gay” marriage
This is a watershed moment. It will affect thousands and maybe hundreds of thousands of lives. Perhaps soon there will be no such thing as “gay” marriage and it will return to simply “marriage”, which may be between same sex individuals or different sex individuals. Years ago the debate was “interracial” marriage, but today, when a black person and white person marry, it is simply called “marriage”. They do not sign forms and indicate they have an “interracial” marriage. They are simply…married. That looks like what is on it’s way for “same sex” or “gay” marriage. Barack Obama’s statement (see CNN article) and what impact it could have, who knows. But it is a step. In a nutshell, here is what he said: “I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.”
Of course, leaving such a decision to the states sounds like the old republican refrain (states’ rights) but on this issue, the last republican president sought a national plan. It certainly makes for interesting politics and it seems, like with many other issues of our, and our predecessors’ times, that society is moving ahead of the law. Same sex marriage is becoming more widely accepted and the law is following, albeit not everywhere (such as North Carolina).
Still the legal issues remain complicated and interesting. How do you resolve custody disputes between two gay men? How do you divide property, assets, real estate between a gay couple who separates? We can clog up our court system and make them file a separate lawsuit for each issue, or we could allow them to divorce, and to make use of the system already in place for heterosexual couples who break up, and that is the divorce process.
Divorce and Young Children
If you are the parent of a young child, particularly of preschool age, you may want to consider consulting a child psychologist before and during your divorce proceedings. According to this article, recent studies show that a collapsing family structure may lead to long-term behavioral problems in young children. Because your child’s “support network” is undergoing changes (often involving a move from a blended to single parent family) it is important to provide a sense of unity and structure for your child. Therapy may help in promoting healthy childhood development despite any familial changes brought on by divorce.
International Child Abduction and The Hague Convention
International child abduction affects thousands of children globally every year. In 1988, The United States adopted The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction in order to ensure that abducted children are immediately returned to their country of habitual residence. Ron Nelson, a close friend of our firm, writes an excellent article detailing this act. Anyone interested further in this topic is urged to check it out at: bit.ly/IMHGSJ.
Additionally, my article “The Hague Convention: Application and Analysis to Child Custody Issues” closely examines how this act will affect future child abduction cases.
New Grandparent Rights Law in Georgia
On May 1, 2012, the Governor signed into law a new bill that strengthens the rights of grandparents in Georgia. The new law, which is effective immediately, revises the former “no presumption” principle in child custody cases and prompts judges to rule in favor of visitation for grandparents who have financially supported or regularly visited their grandchildren. The new bill indicates a need to consider the potential health risks involved for a child who is denied visitation rights to his or her grandparents. Furthermore, the law allows judges to rule that a child’s health may be compromised without “minimal” visits from grandparents, lasting at least 24 hours in a month. The exact revision to Official Code of Georgia O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3 is as follows:
“In considering whether the health or welfare of the child would be harmed without such visitation, the court shall consider and may find that harm to the child is reasonably likely to result where, prior to the original action or intervention:
(A) The minor child resided with the grandparent for six months or more;
(B) The grandparent provided financial support for the basic needs of the child for at least one year;
(C) There was an established pattern of regular visitation or child care by the
grandparent with the child; or
(D) Any other circumstance exists indicating that emotional or physical harm would be reasonably likely to result if such visitation is not granted.”
Personal Jurisdiction to Adjudicate Divorce Proceedings – New Case Law
On April 24, 2012, the Supreme Court of Georgia decided Ennis v. Ennis, holding that while minimum contacts over a nonresident party are necessary to adjudicate issues related to a marriage (i.e. alimony, division of marital property, and attorneys’ fees), they are not required to dissolve the marriage alone.
The Court overturned the trial court’s ruling that Georgia had personal jurisdiction over nonresident Wife, noting that the minimum contacts requirements of the long arm statute (OCGA § 9-10-91(5)) had not been satisfied, and that Wife had not conducted any business nor did she have any recent, significant ties to the state.
However, the Court found that a Georgia court does not need personal jurisdiction over the nonresident Wife to simply grant the divorce. Pursuant to OCGA § 19-5-2, resident Husband was entitled to dissolve the marriage in a Georgia court so long as he had lived in the state for at least six months. If the residency requirement is met, the Georgia trial court has jurisdiction to grant the divorce.