Custody

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: https://appsto.re/us/9GxPP.i. The Android version can be found in the Play Store or Google Play by searching “GA Child Support” or by clicking: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=in.shaun.kschildsupportcalculator.


My role as ABA Family Law Section Immediate Past Chair

When my term as Chair of the Family Law Section of the American Bar Association ended in August of 2012 in Chicago, I thought that my travelling days were headed for a significant reduction.  And I enjoyed the travel and the ability to meet family law professionals worldwide.  Fortunately or unfortunately, in my year as Immediate Past Chair, I have travelled just as much (although certainly when my year as Immediate Past Chair ends this August in San Francisco, it will slow down significantly).

As an example of how the travel has continued, in this short year so far, I have travelled to Miami, Austin, New Orleans (twice), Mexico, Las Vegas and have plans this month and next to head to Alaska, Louisville, Memphis, Las Vegas, New York and Destin, FL (all except two are for family law events).  But this, I know, is the end of the hectic two year travel schedule.  It is flattering to be asked to come speak to a group in another state.  To be flown in as “the expert”.   And I have been able to practice law around and during these trips (it’s amazing what can be done remotely now that our office has gone to the “cloud”).  But I look forward to spending much more time in Atlanta, practicing much more law and being with my peers and colleagues at home.  And of course, even though my family has travelled with me on the majority of my trips, staying home will ensure even more time with them.  The nice thing is I hope to be able to continue to travel, to meet new and old friends and colleagues across the country, but to appreciate those trips even more, as they will be fewer and farther apart.

But most importantly, my service to the ABA and my being available to organizations accross and outside the country has only been possible because of our wonderful attorneys and staff.  We work well as a team and support each other.  Our clients know there is always at least one other attorney involved in any case in which I am involved, in case of an emergency.  So while it has been a pleasure to serve the ABA and to serve other groups trying to educate themselves and their peers about family law issues, it has been and remains even more of a pleasure and honor to work with the people in our firm.  Yes there are tough times, days and cases, but it is truly a blessing to enjoy coming to work each day, and I do.


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.


Welcome 2013

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.


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:

http://www.d2l.org/site/c.4dICIJOkGcISE/b.6300229/k.43F8/Childhood_Stories_Documentary.htm.

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.


Tom Cruise and why we should care

I was interviewed a lot in the last few weeks about the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes Divorce. 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 example of why it is good to get it done quickly.


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.


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: .

Additionally, my article The Hague Convention: Application and Analysis to Child Custody Issues” closely examines how this act will affect future child abduction cases.