Once a year I travel to meet with about 20 of the finest family law attorneys in the country. This is that week. I always learn something and gain an optimism after each yearly meeting that lawyers can make a difference. We deeply explore systemic problems and ways to fix them. We discuss helping individual clients as well as how to assist the legislatures and the courts to better understand the needs of individuals embroiled in family law cases. But most importantly, the sometimes very depressing work we do on a day to day basis looks and feels much more positive when we realize we all struggle with the same dilemmas. How to convince a client that settlement is better than court. How to explain to a client that even though their spouse cheated, the children still love them both and want them to get along. How to ensure they are financially protected without spending all their savings on discovery and other legal procedures. These are dilemmas. But I know that my colleagues are good, decent people trying their best to help. This is refreshing and inspiring. I respect them and am honored to be able to join them. And I look forward once again this year to being inspired and educated. I owe it to my clients to learn as much as I can to help them. And learning from experts from around the country is one of the best ways to do that.
Every New Year the divorce cases pile in
Another blog I recently wrote for LinkedIn:
It’s a New Year. Why does that so often mean divorce? Every year in January we receive more calls from people who want to learn about, discuss or file for divorce. Some may think January is a time to renew efforts to keep a relationship together. But in my experience many people often think and believe a new beginning at the beginning of the year makes sense. It’s a fresh start.
But really, it means it will be a year of transition. Very few divorces happen quickly. Aside from disputes over money and children, delay is most often the result of one party not being ready to “let go”. Divorce is seldom a simple business transaction between two reasonable and willing negotiators. The idea of reaching a “settlement”, to many people, is the ultimate in giving up on the relationship. While almost certainly one party has made that decision, often the other has not (yet). And thus the source of much friction. The one who is ready for the relationship to end is often impatient. Maybe due to a belief that their life will improve once the relationship is over. It may be because they are anxious to begin a new relationship. It maybe because they have already begun a new relationship? Whatever the rationale, when one side wants closure and the other is not ready, problems arise.
So filing for divorce in January rarely means an immediate new beginning. It may well be the start of a new beginning. But filing for divorce in January or at anytime, must be well considered and thought out. And if done peacefully, especially when both sides are ready, it can be a shorter, less costly and maybe even positive experience. If both sides see a benefit to a divorce, then they should do so in a cooperative fashion. And that means compromise and more compromise. And if there are kids, there is no price you can place on the value of cooperation and avoiding litigation.
Of course there are times when parties reconsider and thus the slowness of the process has given them time to keep it from ending. But really, if two people want to remain together, or to reunite, it should not matter whether they have finalized their divorce or not. Divorce is about setting rules for interaction between two people who are not married and how to divide their assets and debts. Once they reunite, these issues should become irrelevant. And my hope is that whether or not they reunite, either way, the more civil they can be to each other, and the better their cooperation on all issues, the better for their children and our society.
This was my 2013 post for LinkedIn Influencers (posted in December):
Welcome 2013. While the years roll by quickly, laws are often slow to catch up to the times. Legislatures move slowly, politicians worry about how their votes on new laws will affect their chances for reelection. And judges have much incentive to take the safe road, follow the rules and laws that have been around forever and to be sure they are themselves upheld on appeal. To accept a novel argument or interpretation of the law opens a judge up to much scrutiny and criticism. But there remains so much room for improvement in the area of family law. Not just to our laws, but within our profession as well. We need increased civility between lawyers and between parties. We need better education about the process and the tools available to achieve resolution. And we need better, more modern laws, to handle the new realities of our society.
On a national and state by state basis we must address how to help same sex couples dissolve their relationships in a civil manner. If they are not allowed to marry, perhaps they should still be allowed to divorce? Otherwise they will still end their relationships, but the process will continue to be confusing, frustrating and sometimes violent. When human beings have no recourse under the law, they engage in self help (sometimes called vigilante justice). Why not permit these tax paying and law abiding citizens to use our court system to resolve their disputes like other citizens? Wether you approve of same sex relationships or not, they exist and prohibiting same sex marriage, or same sex divorce, does not and will not stop same sex relationships. Instead, it helps avoid land disputes, child custody disputes, title disputes and many other problems that ultimately cause all of us money since our tax dollars pay for courts, policemen and other services that are needed when disputes get out of hand. Courts, when permitted to help members of society, for instance in same sex divorces, will reduce cost, tension and resources across the board and thereby help all taxpayers.
So what about DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act)? Will it fall this year? It seems inevitable. The federal government which has historically left family law matters to the states, stepped deep into family law when it approved DOMA. It seems the current trend is to to see DOMA as overreaching. I believe DOMA will be undone (by the courts, since a majority of legislators will likely never vote to do something that implies that they approve of gay marriage).
And international custody issues including abductions, denial of visitation rights and even simple communication via new technology should be reviewed. We all remember the Sean Goldman custody case in Brazil. There are so many cases like his that are not reported in our press. Kids get taken from (or to) the U.S. and are never returned. Even in countries that have signed the relevant Hague Treaties, it is often difficult to get a child back. And in others such as Japan, it is nearly impossible. We need to work on this in 2013.
But again, civility. Handling our family matters in a civil and peaceful way is a must. It all starts with family. And we as lawyers must do our part. Yes family matters such as divorce and custody disputes fall into our adversarial system of justice. And for some disputes, it must be so. But so many family disputes can be resolved amicably if we just let emotions subside. If we pause and think about how we want our children to know we handled our differences. Wouldn’t we all be prouder if family law disputes were resolved by the parties involved and not by lawyers and judges who had never known the family when they got along? Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) has played an increasing role in family law. Be it mediation, arbitration, late case evaluation or collaborative law, there are many more options in 2013 than there were in 2003 or in 1993. Let’s take advantage of these resources, and lets all, lawyers, judges, mediators, expert witnesses, psychologists and parties, pledge to work amicably. Court decided resolution is never as good as a result agreed to by the people involved. And that can best be accomplished if we act civilly. Especially us lawyers. We do not have to continue seeing the other side after the dispute is resolved. But our clients do. They will go to their kids’ weddings and other events together. Lets commit to doing our best to ensure that these future events and life itself, will be better and easier for our clients because of the efforts we undertake. That’s my commitment for 2013. I look forward to a positive year of helping people and doing my best to ease their burdens and not to increase them.
Bar Mitzvah Year?
Bar Mitzvah year, 2013
2013, a future has arrived. Just the name of the year, 2013, still sounds to me like a science fiction title. While the number 13 has to many been a symbol of bad luck, it seems that 2013 is starting off right. 2012 (not 2013) was, per the Mayans, to be the end of the world and the fiscal cliff dilemma seems to have subsided. But whatever your superstitions or concerns may be, it really is a time and chance to move forward. 13 is a magical number. It is the year a Jewish child becomes an adult through a Bar Mitzvah. It is the first “teen” year. And it is a brand new year for all of us.
Despite the instability in the Middle East and many other troubles worldwide, we have still avoided a world war, even though after the first one, barely twenty years elapsed before a second one arose. We have found ways to work together, despite so many differences. And in my profession, that is the key, both for lawyers and litigants. People who sue each other obviously have differences. But even in litigation, we are all human and owe each other the basic respect and civility which makes us human beings. There will always be those who battle for every last inch. And when pushed, even the mildest mannered lawyer can return the favor. But as lawyers, as counselors, we must stay on task. Seek our clients goals, while advising them competently during the process. Help them decide which goals are unattainable, or will only come at too high a price. We must give them good, reliable advice that will help guide them to make good, informed decisions. Variables include not just the financial cost of litigation, but the cost in terms of lost time, damage to relationships with children and actual damage to children which expands the longer litigation lasts. Yes this is our duty and if done well, can help families and society.
I remain proud to be in a profession which has the ability to help in so many ways. If practiced well, the profession of law can and should benefit us all. Without laws, without civilization, we lose our unique characteristics that make us human. Might becomes right, and we become like any other creature on earth. Laws are valuable, perhaps invaluable, but the manner in which they are enforced, argued and used, is up to us. And it is this duty, (the duty to act civilly and ethically) which can make the law work for all of us.
Again I wrote for LinkedIn and want to share it here as well:
Parents, even parents not going through a divorce, often ignore what is in their children’s best interests. I do not mean forgetting meals or not educating them, I mean basic, common sense things. I read a recent Huffington Post piece that made that clear and that I want to share. Click on the link in the next sentence to read the brief piece:
If Your Kids Could Make The Rules of Divorce http://huff.to/uY9K7g,
But generally, the piece is what parents are taught in most court-ordered parenting classes. Things such as “Don’t make children be the messenger”, or “Don’t tell them you hope they don’t grow up to be like, or marry someone like, their father/mother”. Even though this advice makes perfect sense, in the heat of the moment it is easy to turn to a child to complain about your partner; don’t do it! As divorce lawyers, our role is to be a lawyer, but ideas like these are part of why we are also referred to as counselors at law. Let’s take that role seriously and help remind people of the obvious: kids are innocent and their needs and desires, including their needs and desires to love both parents, should be respected at all costs. It is the least we can do for the ones we have brought into this world.
Teens v Parents, at what age to cut the cord?
I was asked to comment on HLN last week on the story about the young actress (14 years old) from the TV show Modern Family who wants to be out from under her mother’s care. Apparently her mom doesn’t like catching her in bed with boys and is very protective. Well that may be the best evidence of good parenting I have seen in quite a while. But young stars, like most young people, want to spread their wings. But they have more ability, more resources, more money, more friends (her older sister, in this case, took temporary guardianship of her) and more “supporters” making them feel powerful. But they are kids and need guidance. Soon enough they will have the freedom to make many of their own mistakes, but even though some parents are not great at parenting, the natural parent seems to be the one most likely to want what is best for the child. Sure there are some parents who abuse this situation, but unless it is clear that such is the case, why shouldn’t they be given every chance to guide their child that they brought into this world as they deem best?
A view on our election, from Mexico
It is eerie to have landed in Mexico as our U.S. presidential election draws to a close. Whatever your personal beliefs, we are in for a very interesting four years, at least on the family law front. Same sex marriage, assisted reproductive technology, women’s right to choose and many other issues are and will be developing over the next four years. And what if new U.S. Supreme Court Justices are appointed? This election has certainly set us on a definite course. Will congress offset or delay it? Who knows, but this will be an interesting decade. Let’s hope our economy rebounds and our country remains the world leader in the areas it has led in historically, freedom, helping the downtrodden and being the symbol of so many great things human beings can accomplish. Whatever your politics, we are a great nation and stronger for these serious debates and discussions. So many of us are interested. So many care. And in so many countries, people have no voice and are resigned to their status quo. Here’s to our country and to our ability to disagree civilly and to be able to campaign hard, and then work together to make all of us better.
NY Federal Court holds DOMA unconstitutional
I was interviewed today (October 21, 2012) on CNN about the new Federal Court decision declaring section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional (click here to see the interview: http://youtu.be/TErI_O9nQ6E). This is another step towards the U.S. Supreme Court eventually addressing it, and in my opinion, declaring sections 2 and 3 to be unconstitutional. The case was EDITH SCHLAIN WINDSOR, IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS EXECUTOR OF THE ESTATE OF THEA CLARA SPYER, – v.- UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. The case can be read in full at http://www.aclu.org/files/assets/windsor_2d_cir_opinion_pdf.pdf .
To summarize, the case held that an elderly woman (83 years old), could not be forced to pay over $300,000.00 in federal estate taxes on assets her partner had left to her when she (her long time partner and wife) died. They had gotten married in Canada and lived in New York, where same-sex marriage is legal.
The Court said “Homosexuals have suffered a history of discrimination” and used a heightened scrutiny test treating gays like other minorities which made it easier to find the law unconstitutional. They said: “[W]e conclude that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act violates equal protection and is therefore unconstitutional”
Here is what Section 3 says:
“In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”
Same Sex marriage licenses are issued in: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York and the District of Columbia so according to this opinion, the federal government must recognize same sex marriages in these states and thus federal laws applying to married people should apply to married same sex partners.
Will the United States Supreme Court review this case? Who knows? Perhaps. But they may want to await a future decision that also raises the constitutionality of section 2 of DOMA, which seems to violate the full faith and credit clause of the constitution by stating that states need not recognize marriages in other states between same sex individuals if such state itself does not want to deem such marriages valid. But surely this case makes the issue more noticeable and in need of clarification. And since congress isn’t likely to try to fix this or address the constitutionality (the congress actually paid to defend the law in this case since president Obama would not), it seems the supreme court is where it will ultimately land.
One interesting line from the opinion is: “The law is not concerned with holy matrimony. Government deals with marriage as a civil status–however fundamental–and New York has elected to extend that status to same-sex couples.” This statement, to me, makes it clear that the legal definition of marriage, can, may and often will differ from the religious, moral and philosophical definitions of marriage espoused by different people, different religious experts and others. But the fact that same sex marriage has been declared legal by some states seemed to carry the day in this case. This decision stated clearly that the federal government cannot contravene the state’s determination that same sex marriage is authorized and that in this case, the federal law, DOMA which attempts to override state law, is unconstitutional.
Spyware and Divorce
(The following is a blog entry I contributed to LinkedIn as one of their “Influencers”):
Gosh the laws are in a state of flux on this topic. I contributed to a front page story in the wsj a week or two ago and have received a lot of feedback. Where are we in the electronic age? Well eavesdropping still seems to be bad. But is looking at your spouses email really the same as tapping their phone calls? Is it perhaps worse? It again all comes down to the expectation of privacy that our country tries so hard to protect. The South Carolina Supreme Court just weighed in on the issue saying that looking at your spouse’s email may not be wrong? See: http://www2.counton2.com/news/2012/oct/15/supreme-court-rules-favor-women-who-hacked-mans-e-ar-4761793/. But other courts differ.
My real question, is should there be a divorce exception? It is one thing for a company to steal important information from a competitor, but the desire of a spouse to know whether their companion has been faithful (romantically or even financially) is a hard desire to suppress. Not that wiretapping or invading privacy should be legalized for divorcing couples, but perhaps the punishment should be lowered? It is just such a hard urge for mst people to suppress, and while ignorance of the law is no excuse, most do not know they are committing a crime. After all, keystroke and other software is so readily available, and spouses usually feel that they are only “invading” their own computer, since after all, they are married and everything they own, they share, right?
It will be interesting to see what happens next. I am looking forward to the development of this issue as more cases reach the courts.
Guess what? You are not the mother, the kids are mine!
HLN (formerly “Headline News”) recently called me to help them explain/discuss the legal issues in a very interesting case about whether a “surrogate” mother is also a legal mother (To see the interview, click here: http://www.ksfamilylaw.com/tv-and-radio/local-broadcasts/).
The case arose when a woman who could not have kids of her own agreed to have a child with a long time male friend. They decided to use a donor egg, his sperm and she would carry the baby. But when she gave birth, she was immediately served with papers saying that he was the only legal parent and would be raising the child with his male lover/partner. They even obtained a restraining order to prevent her from breastfeeding. We don’t know what documents were signed (but it was likely a “surrogacy” agreement disclaiming any rights to the child, probably thinking she was merely signing documents needed to get the donated egg), but no matter what, she was devastated. And the interesting legal point is: Is a surrogate mother a legal mother? What happened? What did she sign? Was she defrauded? Do the normal rules of contracts (meeting of the minds, absence of fraud) even apply, or should there be a higher standard to meet before the father can enforce such a contract. As of the time I was interviewed, the father had custody and the woman (should we call her the mother?) was suing to get rights to the children. The original story by ABC is here: http://abclocal.go.com/ktrk/story?section=news/local&id=8823108.
So why is this such a new thing? Because artificial insemination is only thirty years old. Before that there was no possibility of such a problem. And even then, it was all very controlled. Now that surrogacy and ART (Artificial Reproductive Technology) is becoming commonplace, this issue, and many like it are arising and challenging us. Law vs morality. Social values vs. strict contract terms. And that is where we as lawyers can help. Until the legislatures of the states and perhaps of the United States can predict and resolve all such dilemmas in advance, great lawyering and judging will have to get us through.
Family Law Lecture in Hawaii, Yes, Hawaii!
I have again been fortunate to have been invited to address the Hawaii State Bar Family Law Section as their keynote speaker this Friday. I have worked very hard on my 3 hour, yes 3 hour presentation. But this time it’s different. I will not be speaking about the rules of evidence, or recent caselaw. Rather, I will discuss how to practice with a passion. I am lucky to be passionate about what I do. The rewards are not immediate, but I know I am doing my best to help people, and any lawyer who practices family law should feel that way, IMHO (in my humble opinion) as the young texters say. This program will cover not only practicing with a passion, but how your passion can help your practice and your life. And how it can lead to better time management and in fact, the creation of time. If we can create time by how we practice, we can spend more time focusing on what’s important. Things like our family, our colleagues, and even the big picture of our cases, instead of drowning in the details. This idea is a work in progress for all of us, but I hope to help the lawyers who attend. I am nervous and excited. I hope I merit the invitation.
I am looking forward to this opportunity and already know that I have learned so much, just in thinking about what to say. Teaching is always a great learning experience.
Double Duty, Quadruple Duty Family Law Day; Divorce Seminar, Child Abuse Seminar and 2 TV interviews
Double Duty, Quadruple Duty Family Law Day; Divorce Seminar, Child Abuse Seminar and 2 TV interviews (Kelly Rutherford Custody Case and Paparazzi and Divorce, and yes, it started with the Kate Middleton Story)
On Friday, September 14, 2012, in addition to working on client cases and matters, I had a full, quadruple duty family law day. I had scheduled a day without trials so that I could present at two very important programs. The day started out with my presenting as the lead-off speaker at our annual “Nuts & Bolts of Family Law Seminar” sponsored by the State Bar of Georgia, Family Law Section. I presented on “How to Present Your Case When Time is Short”. I think I was effective, and at least I finished on time, since going long would have been disastrous, given my topic. The program agenda can be viewed at: http://www.iclega.org/programs/8025.html.
As soon as I finished speaking there, I left to go Chair and speak at maybe the most important seminar I have ever been a part of (there were well over 200 people attending the “Nuts & Bolts of Family Law Seminar”, so I had to try my best to leave discreetly, but that was impossible). The program I then went to was called “Stewards of Children” and it was a training session to teach people how to prevent or help prevent, child sexual abuse. The numbers of sexually abused children astounded me. I thought I knew something about children and the issues they face. I had no idea. To get an idea, feel free to watch this short video:
The seminar was a success and everyone who attended was moved by it and motivated to do more. For information and full brochure: http://www.iclega.org/programs/8030.html
That was the “Double Duty”. Then came part two. As we went to break during the second seminar, I received a call from CNN/Headline News. They invited me to come comment on the Kelly Rutherford Custody case, where her former husband who now lives in France was just awarded custody of their two very young children. I agreed, studied up, and went over as soon as the “Stewards” seminar ended. As I walked over, the telephone rang again and it was CNN/Headline News. I thought perhaps my segment was getting cancelled. Instead it was another department asking if I could appear on the Jane Velez Mitchell Show to discuss paparazzi and celebrities, including Kate Middleton. I agreed, especially since I was on my way to their studios anyway. Without getting into much detail, it was a whirlwind of an afternoon. The bodies of the Americans who had perished in Libya at the Consulate attack had just arrived in the U.S. and Secretary of State Clinton and President Obama each gave speeches right when my segment was scheduled. Needless to say my segment was delayed for a while. But I can’t tell you how interesting it is to be there and to watch the news unfold. This happened once before as I was at CNN to discuss a custody case and right between my two segments, the news broke that Michael Jackson had died. I tell you, reputable news organizations like CNN/HLN work so hard. You should see the experts and professionals scrambling to ensure the news is accurate and that it is delivered quickly and professionally. They have to learn the story and then explain it to the world, all in a matter of moments, and they do and they do it well. AND IT IS A LOT HARDER THAN IT LOOKS! Imagine trying to learn all about ten stories you will cover in just one hour. Stories about the far east, the middle east, medical stories, celebrity stories, politics, weather, sports and other topics. No one can be an expert in every area, but they become experts in all of it. But I digress. I eventually made it from one interview to the next and enjoyed every second of it, including the last second changes, personnel changes and time changes. The first interview can be seen by clicking here.
So why do I feel good about all of this? I guess part of it is to be able to accomplish a lot of different things within a day. But as I think about it, I know I had a chance to help. On a day to day basis I hope I help my clients (and yes, I spent about four hours in the office on client matters to on Friday). But on this day, I hope I helped family law attorneys learn to present their cases more efficiently, other lawyers to be able to better help protect children from sexual abuse, and viewers across the country to better understand the custody laws and concepts as well as how travel and international diversity can affect court rulings. I didn’t do anything complex or change anything or anyone, but I did my little part, using the knowledge I have, to try to improve lives. And that made the day wholly worthwhile.
Stewards of Children Training
Stewards of Children Training is a revolutionary, child sexual abuse prevention training program. It is the only adult-focused, evidence-based curriculum proven to increase knowledge and attitudes about child sexual abuse and to change behaviors promoting protective factors.
As a parent and member of our community, I hope that your attorney friends and colleagues will participate and take affirmative action to put an end to this epidemic. To learn more, watch this short video at: http://www.d2l.org/site/c.4dICIJOkGcISE/b.6300229/k.43F8/Childhood_Stories_Documentary.htm.
Please register using the link below. As an added incentive, the course fee is substantially less than other CLE seminars.
Information and full brochure: http://www.iclega.org/programs/8030.html
Please share this with any attorneys you know and encourage them to attend.
Thank you for your support!
Humbling, the story in Attorney at Law Magazine
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?