Divorce

What happens with lottery winnings if a couple divorces?

Attorney Randall Kessler was interviewed by WSB-TV news about how lottery winnings can affect divorce procedures.

He touches on a different situations that can arise when a couple wins the lottery, including what happens when one spouse hides their winnings from the other.

To see the video, click here.


How to discuss divorce with your young child?

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

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

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

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

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


Everything you wanted to know

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

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


Divorce: Protect Yourself

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

Divorce:Protect Yourself Book Cover

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

So many people helped me along the way (most are listed in the Acknowledgements), but really, my clients have taught me. I have learned from them how to endure hardship, how to react to the unimaginable. How to be patient when you want to scream in righteous anger. And I wanted to give back by writing a book. “Divorce: Protect Yourself, Your Kids and Your Future” (available at www.divorceprotect.com) is that book. It is a general overview of the divorce process. It is NOT legal advice and anyone going through a divorce should hire their own lawyer and rely on that lawyer’s advice. The book can be a supplement, a starting point, but of course a lawyer in the jurisdiction where you live is who should be advising.
The week after the book was printed I appeared on the Today Show (http://youtu.be/um_kH0e_Zrw) to discuss how words can affect divorce and it has been selling quickly ever since on Amazon, Kindle and directly from the book’s website www.divorceprotect.com.

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


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.


How You Can Help Your Divorce Lawyer Do a Good Job

This is a guest post by Scott Morgan a board certified family law attorney in Texas and founder of the Morgan Law Firm a Houston based firm with an additional office in Austin.

As soon as you’re certain that a divorce is imminent, it is of the utmost importance that you hire a lawyer that you can work comfortably with. Your lawyer will help you to navigate through the tedious and often confusing divorce process. This process can be complex and may take a long time to work through, so it’s necessary that you’re able to maintain a good working relationship with your attorney. Just by following some basic tips you can make it easier for your lawyer to assist you in getting what you deserve out of the process.

1.    Don’t Lie or Withhold Information

Telling lies or withholding information is a guaranteed way to destroy both your case and your working relationship with your lawyer. This person relies on you to provide them with accurate and in-depth information so that they may figure out how best to go about arguing your case. The better and more truthful your information is, the more likely you are to get what you want out of the ordeal.

2.    Don’t Harbor Lofty Goals

No lawyer can tell you with certainty how your case will turn out, but they should be able to provide you with a basic picture of how you can expect things to go and how the courts typically handle such situations. If you expect your lawyer to do things that are unrealistic, you will only serve to hurt your case’s chances as well as your client-lawyer relationship.

3.    Stay Organized

Getting and staying organized will make your life much easier when you’re going through a divorce. Your lawyer may need to look at a large variety of different records depending on your case.  These could include financial records, bills, pay stubs, emails, medical and school records and other pertinent documents. It can be a big job to gather these things but it is absolutely essential that compile whatever documents your lawyer asks for. The better you are at compiling and organizing these records the less time and resources your lawyer will have to waste on doing it.

4.    Control Your Emotions

Divorce is an emotionally charged situation but the better you can control your feelings and keep them from affecting your choices, the easier it will be for your attorney to work with you. Judges generally are not very compassionate towards people who are out for vengeance. If it seems too difficult to put your emotions aside consider seeking the aid of a therapist. They can help you work through your feelings and come to terms with them, enabling you to go about your case with a more strategic approach.

5.    Listen to Your Lawyer

Your lawyer can’t help you if you’re not willing to cooperate. The less time you spend being resistant, argumentative or stubborn, the quicker your lawyer can proceed with your case. If your lawyer says that you should or shouldn’t do something, you should comply to the best of your ability.

Having an excellent lawyer is extremely important in a divorce but it is not a panacea.  You have to do your part as well if you expect to get a good outcome in your case.  If you follow these tips you will stand a very good chance of achieving your goals in the case.

For more information on Scott, see: http://www.houstondivorce.com or http://morganlawaustin.com.


What it’s like being a divorce lawyer on Valentine’s day.

This is a copy of my recent blog written for LinkedIn:

It is very interesting being a divorce lawyer on Valentine’s Day. Yes, at times I feel bad being in a profession that is part of the process of breaking up, except that I know in my heart that I did not cause the break up; rather, my job is to bring closure and to get it done so that each side can move forward. I did not create the often bad feelings that exist between divorcing spouses. At times I can help reduce them, but often it is a matter of time until each side recognizes that they really must resolve things so that they, and more importantly their children, can put this stuff behind them. Interestingly enough, Valentine’s Day sometimes seems to do the trick. Perhaps it is because divorcing spouses see how things could and should be and perhaps they then recognize how far they are from that place, that they then try harder to resolve things. Yes, we see many more offers of settlement around and after Valentine’s Day. It may be subconscious, but it is a time of hope and caring. And this is the person you used to care so much about, how can your feelings towards them be so harsh? Valentine’s Day and the surrounding ads, aisle displays in stores and TV shows related to Valentine’s Day force us to see how good love is (and by implication how bad it is not to love or not to have someone to love).

I was interviewed this week, Valentine’s Day week for two stories, one in the New York Times (see article at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/14/garden/the-secrets-hidden-at-home.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0) and one for DailyFinance.com (see article at: http://www.dailyfinance.com/2013/02/15/prenuptial-argreement-finance-love-money/).

The New York Times piece discussed hiding information from a loved one…and getting caught. The other piece focused on prenuptial agreements. Interesting that articles relating to marital discord or potential discord ran on Valentine’s Day (The NY Times piece was on Valentine’s Day, the other was the day after).

For me, it was also a time to reflect. Of course I am reminded daily of how bad things could be, as I watch other people’s difficulties. But I am also reminded that there is hope for everyone. And more importantly, that divorce is not an end, it’s a beginning. By the time people hire me, their marriage has often been over for years. What my firm and other firms like mine are hired to do, is to help make the transition as smooth as it can be and to allow the parties to start over. There has to be a financial division and arrangements for the children. Without such formalized arrangements there would be chaos. Parents would take kids when they felt like it, empty bank accounts, etc. Giving structure to a separation is vital. But at the same time, we must know and feel that we are offering hope. Hope of a new life. While money is always tighter after a divorce and while children certainly struggle, if there is organization and structure within this chaos and upheaval, and more importantly, predictability, people will fare better. They will be able to focus on other things, their relatives, their jobs, their hobbies, their art or whatever it is that makes them really happy. And this helps them heal and get back into the real world and out of the divorce world. And once there, it is my hope they again find love and a future with someone they love.


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.