Alimony

Family Lawyers meet to help improve things

As written for my “Influencers” post:
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.


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.


Thanks for the opportunity.

I am now a few months into my year as Chair of the American Bar Association’s Family Law Section. Wow, it goes fast. There seem to be fires to put out every week (or every day), but we have great staff at the ABA that really make things easier. There are budget concerns, planning of Continuing Legal Education Events, policy issues and the like. But most of all, there is a sense of responsibility that our group, our Family Law Section has a responsibility; a responsibilty to help. There are issues with military family law matters that we are addressing as well international custody issues (which will be discussed heavily at our Annual Fall Meeting in Las Vegas in two weeks; to see a link to the brochure, click here).

I said in my first Chair’s Column in the Family Advocate and in my speech as I became Chair, that I want to help everyone: lawyers, clients and others, understand the family law process better (chairs column1). Knowledge is power and we should all be as knowledgable as we can about the laws that so vitally affect families, especially children. I look forward to the seminar in two weeks and to making this and future years great and helpful to all lawyers and people, and especially to those dedicated to the field of family law and to helping those with family law problems.


ABA FLS Brochure available now

The American Bar Association, Family Law Section’s Fall CLE Brochure is out and available on line (click here to view it). The seminar will be held in Law Vegas at the Encore (Wynn) Hotel October 26-29, 2011.

We have worked hard to develop an exciting and educational program. Topics include: “Saving a Stolen Childhood: How to Prevent and Resolve International Kidnapping Cases,” and “Diminishing Returns: Effects of Illness, Psychological Problems, and Addiction on Support Calculations”.

The speakers and program producers have worked very hard to organize and create this exciting program and we hope you will join us. Please pull up the brochure, sign up and join us. Again, click here for the brochure: BROCHURE.


Do you need a prenuptial agreement?

While prenuptial agreements aren’t for everyone, they are an absolute necessity for some people.  I cannot tell you how often I have someone sitting in my office surmising “I wish we had signed a prenup.”

As you may or may not know, prenuptial or antenuptial agreements, colloquially referred to as prenups, are generally contracts entered by parties prior to their marriage (or civil union in some states).  The substance of prenuptial agreements can vary, but typically they address the divorce issues of property division, property rights, liabilities, debts, and alimony.  A properly drafted prenuptial agreement should address the commingling of separate and joint property.  (Note, prenuptial agreements cannot address custody and child support, because the best interests of the children controls at the time of divorce.)

But how do you know if you need a prenup?  While I encourage you to discuss this question in confidence with a lawyer trained in this intricate area of family law, I think the following checklist of questions will help guide you in determining if you should have that discussion with an attorney.  If you or your future spouse answers “yes” to any of the following, a prenup might be appropriate for you:

– Do either of you consider yourself high net worth individuals?
– Do either of you have significant stock holdings, stock options, profit sharing, bonds, other investments, or cash?
-Do either of you own any real estate (including investment / rental property)?
-Are either of you a business owner?
-Do either of you currently earn more than $100,000.00 per year?
-Is there a disparate difference between your income / assets and those of your future spouse?
-Do you want your estate (or a part of it) to go to your children (and/or children of a former marriage) instead of your spouse?
-Do either of you have professional licenses or degrees?
-Do either of you have significant family wealth or expected future inheritance?

While this checklist is not intended as an all-inclusive list, it is one that should at least start the conversation with yourself (and perhaps your future spouse), about whether a prenup is appropriate.  Again, I encourage you to speak with an attorney who specializes in this area of law if it is something that you are considering or are on the fence as to whether or not a prenup is right for you.


Celeb Divorce, now J-Lo and Marc Anthony

Our country seems fascinated with the family lives, especially divorces of celebrities. Perhaps that is because we see celebrities as role models or who we often aspire to be. Thus it is interesting to see how famous people act, or react in situations that many of us non-celebrities also face.

The Lopez/Anthony divorce just happens to be the most current celebritiy divorce. What is interesting to me is only that it is so interesting to everyone else. All major news organizations reported on it immediately, even though there was really nothing to report. Perhaps it is that we romanticize our celebrities. We want their marriages to work since they are who we aspire to be?

Celebrities have many issues the average person will never have to face (crazy visitation schedules, nanny issues and significant asset division and/or support payments). But ultimately, celebrities are like anyone else. They get their feelings hurt, they have pride and they sometimes feel a need to “win” almost as if that is an achievement. But most often, they ultimately realize that it is best to put the legal process behind them and to resolve matters. Using lawyers to do their communicating often has its limits and almost always, celebrities figure out what they want to do and then tell their lawyers to “make it so”. They are used to controlling their own destiny and often more confident than the average person in their own decisions. After all, their own decisions got them where they are.

There are also many celebrities who meet with us (divorce lawyers) and never file anything. When they finally do make the decision to seek a divorce, they usually know what they want and are ready to make a deal. It would not surprise me if Jennifer Lopez and Mark Anthony, like many other famous couples, had already investigated the process for a very long time and had a good idea of what the outcome should and would be long before one or both of them made the decision to end the marriage.

And the way they handled it is the way it should be done. A joint statement like they have done letting the world know they are mature enough to handle it privately for the sake of their children is wonderful.

When two wealthy people fight, judges often are more upset. Every day in Family Court, judges see regular people scraping to survive and raise their children every day. It seems Ms. Lopez and Mr. Anthony recognized this and it is admirable that they have resolved matters outside of court. That is how it should always be done, in my opinion and I hope others will follow their example, if they decide to divorce.


GA Supreme Court makes “Pilot Project” for Discretionary Appeals more permanent

The Georgia Supreme Court of Georgia has just changed it’s “pilot project” rule regarding discretionary appeals for domestic relations cases. This process, which has been a “pilot project” for about ten years, is now more formalized. To view the Court’s Order, click here..

The Family Law Review issued a bulletin which summarizes it well (which can be accessed by clicking here). Take a look, and those of you who practice law in Georgia, please review it carefully. Most importantly, let’s be sure we do not abuse this wonderful opportunity the Supreme Court has given us to help clients in need, those who have a meritorious basis for appealing. The court has entrusted us with discretion to not overwhelm the Court with non-meritorious appeals. Let’s oblige.


“Civil Gideon”

The ABA has long pursued the concept of “Civil Gideon” which, loosely defined, means the right to a lawyer in civil cases (Gideon v. Wainwright was, of course, the case that guaranteed the right to counsel for criminal defendants). At the ABA Annual meeting in San Francisco in August, 2010, the resolution passed. The resolution can be accessed by clicking this sentence.

This week the Fulton County Daily Report published an article about a lawsuit in Georgia which attempts to guarantee the right to counsel for certain civil defendants, particularly those at risk of incarceration for failue to pay child support (click to read article).

What a dilemma? While states such as Georgia are struggling to find funding to provide lawyers for defendants in criminal cases, there are now lawsuits being filed, such as the one referenced above, to require funding for lawyers for defendants in civil cases. The goal is noble and well intentioned, but the potential pitfalls are numerous. For instance, why should only the defendant receive such assistance? Perhaps the plaintiff who may be filing to receive support is even more worthy of the public’s assistance?

The beauty of America is that we can have this debate. While aspirational goals are great, when there is only so much funding available, sometimes aspirations must yield to practicality. It will be interesting to see where this case goes.


Divorce financing by private companies?

It seems there is a new trend in divorce (there are always new “trends”, but this one does seem new), the private financing of a divorce by a for profit company. In other words, when someone needs a divorce but cannot afford a lawyer, instead of borrowing from relatives, or if there is no way to borrow, there may now be a new option. It seems that if the stakes are high enough, or if there are enough assets to ensure a return on investment, people going through a divorce may now be able to borrow money with the settlement monies used as a sort of collateral. There is a story in the New York Times about this (click here for the story).

Is this a good thing? That’s a very good question. The obvious discussion might be “why don’t divorce lawyers simply do this?” The not so obvious answer (until you hear it) is that it would be highly unethical. Why? Because divorce lawyers should not be motivated to simply obtain as much as they can for their client, unless that is what the client wants. So, what if a lawyer’s fee is dependent upon a large recovery, and then their client decides they want to walk away with no money? Then there is a potential conflict because the lawyer will not be paid if the client walks away, yet the lawyer’s duty is to be governed by the client’s wishes. So perhaps this new idea, a loan or investment by a third party could help? I have not yet thought about it long enough to know if I support the concept or not. What do you think? Please post a comment.