Legal

Questions our Parents Never Faced: When and How do we Monitor our Children’s Social Media World? By Guest blogger Kathryn Boortz

Kathryn Boortz

A big issue for parents these days revolves around children’s use of social media, with the two biggest questions being when should parents allow their children access to social media and how much should their children’s social activity be monitored? Children’s experts are mixed in their opinions on the two questions, and parents tend to have conflicting thoughts on how best to monitor their children’s online activity.

A 2012 survey by Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics found that 83 percent of parents believe that the benefits of social media use by children outweigh the potential risks. But while 68 percent of the parents surveyed felt that children under 13 should not be using social media, many of these same parents reportedly said that they let their own under-age-13 children use social media because their classmates were using it.

Children’s Mercy clinical psychologist Edward Christophersen said “Given the mind of an 8-, 10-, 12-, 13-year-old child, the risk-benefit ratio is unfavorable because they don’t understand the possible repercussions of it.” And once a child is granted permission to access Twitter, Facebook or other socials media, parents “should absolutely look over their children’s shoulders,” he said.

However, Elaine Heffner, a psychotherapist and author of “Good Enough Mothering,” warns that parents should be hesitant to monitor too much, and suggests that parents seek consent from the children for the monitoring. Excessive monitoring could be construed as similar to reading private diaries and journals. And if parents do this furtively it can destroy the trust between parents and their children. “The goal of every parent is to build up trust with their child,” said Heffner. “And it’s important for kids to feel they do have a sense of privacy and independence.”

Meanwhile, a recent Georgia appellate court ruling will likely encourage parents to increase such monitoring. In what marks a legal precedent on the issue of parental responsibility over their children’s online activity, the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled last October in Boston v. Athearn that parents can be held liable for negligent supervision of their children’s social media activities.

The case was sparked by a seventh-grade student–Athearn–who constructed a false Facebook profile of a classmate–Boston–that was offensive and libelous. The Boston family filed suit against the Athearn parents for intentionally inflicting emotional distress by failing to supervise their minor child when he posted the false Facebook page, and then by failing to remove the defamatory content once it was discovered. In a decision partially overturning a trial court decision, the appellate court determined that the Athearns could be held liable for failing to supervise their son’s use of the computer and online media after they learned of the false Facebook profile posting, but that they could not be held liable for the original posting.

As the mother of two young children, and as a juvenile defense attorney, I will be following this issue closely as I weigh my own decisions on how to let my children safely navigate social media.

Read more at http://www.boortzlaw.com/blog


The effect of age difference and other factors on marriage

0db2598I was recently interviewed by a WSJ reporter for a piece he was writing for “MarketWatch“. It was to discuss a recent report analyzing certain factors and how they affect marriage, or more importantly, how they may increase the chance a couple will #divorce. The study and his story were interesting to me. The three factors that really rang true to me were: age difference; length of the marriage, and whether they had children. Although when he asked me if I agreed with the study that having children makes a couple less likely to divorce, my reply, based on my anecdotal experience, was simply that often having children simply delays the problem(s) and that sometimes it actually brings added stress to an already difficult situation. Children need us. They need our time, our resources and our attention, which means that our spouse gets less of each of these once children are brought into a marriage. They are very worth it and I dare not suggest children are not worth the compromise or the effort, but I do not think that having children always keeps couples together. And generally it is a good thing for children to be raised in an intact relationship, but many psychologists and others tell us that a bad relationship in an intact family can sometimes be worse than a good relationship between separated parents. But I do agree with him that the longer a relationship lasts, the longer it is likely to endure. Once you learn how to live with each other, through difficulties, there is less reason to divorce. I hope that most people still see divorce as a very last option and if they do, sticking it out should lead to more “sticking it out”. After all, only when you cannot bear to live together anymore should there be a #divorce, and if you can bear it, most people will try and make it work. @GADivorce


Supreme Court declines to hear same sex marriage issue; what does that mean for GA?

This week the United States Supreme Court declined the opportunity to review the issue of same sex marriage on a state level (Of course they have overturned part of DOMA as it related to the federal definition of marriage in the Windsor case). While many wish the U.S. Supreme Court had taken on this issue, the practical effect is that same sex marriage will now be permitted in many states. And that is because many federal appellate courts have overturned state bans on same sex marriage and everyone was waiting to see if those federal appellate decisions would be upheld or overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. And now we won’t know. But that means that the federal appellate courts’ decisions stand thereby making same sex marriage legal in many states.

I was immediately contacted by the local NPR affiliateand asked how this would affect the issue of same sex marriage in Georgia. In the interview, I surmised, based on reading the opinions of those who follow the issue much more closely than I do, that same sex marriage will arrive in Georgia and it won’t take that long. While Georgians have historically opposed same sex marriage (although in metro Atlanta numbers of supporters versus opponents of same sex marriage is likely much higher than outside of Atlanta), same sex marriage is likely on its way here. Many similarly situated states such as Texas and Kentucky have had their laws prohibiting same sex marriage, which were passed by a strong majority , overturned by federal appellate courts, and those decisions and the decisions overturning many other states’ similar laws now remain intact, given the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to tackle the issue at this time.

But what does this all mean? For one thing it means that same sex couples across the country will soon be able to use the process of divorce (some already can) because the appellate court’s decisions are basically now confirmed (by default). While this sounds bad, think about it. Currently in states such as Georgia where same sex couples may not marry, when they separate, what happens? Confusion. Chaos. There are no good mechanisms to help them divide the assets and debts they acquired together, or to help them resolve their child related disputes (custody, visitation, support). Divorce is a process that, even if you do not like the rules, at least there are rules which make the process more predictable than one which has no rules. And that may be the one thing we can all agree upon. My point is that without a formalized process for same sex couples to dissolve their relationships, there is more cost, more confusion and more trouble. Many sets of lawyers are needed (real estate lawyers, custody lawyers, corporate lawyers to help divide businesses, bankruptcy lawyers, etc.).

So why do I think Georgia and all other states will eventually have same sex marriage? Because there really is no other choice. And even if the federal appellate courts do not strike down the Georgia ban on same sex marriage, trial courts may, and that may well be upheld on appeal. It only makes sense. Now that a majority of jurisdictions have or soon will have same sex marriage, couples who are married legally elsewhere and legally divorced elsewhere will move to Georgia. Then what would Georgia do? Ignore a child support order from a same sex marriage because it then recognizes a same sex marriage? But that would then harm the true innocent party, the child, and that should not, and must not, happen. So when a trial court issues an order that explicitly or implicitly recognizes same sex marriage, the issue will be, in my opinion, eventually handled in a way which results in the recognition of same sex marriages in Georgia. And of course, in April of this year a lawsuit was filed in federal court challenging the Georgia’s ban on same sex marriage and if that is successful, same sex marriage will arrive in Georgia even sooner.


(From our LinkedIn Influencer Post): What a few weeks of legal seminars!

A few weekends ago I was in Chicago for a presentation to the Sports Lawyers Association in Chicago (list of the amazing speakers). It was snowing outside and raining knowledge inside. I sat in on many of the other presentations and learned a lot about sports law along with 850 other lawyers and law students. Then the next week and weekend were spent at the annual Georgia Family Law Institute in Amelia Island, Florida with over 600 other Georgia Family Law attorneys (including most of the lawyers from our firm).  And then the following week was spent presenting at the Alabama annual Family Law Program, speaking to their judges on “Things Family Law Attorneys would like you to know”. The program agenda can be viewed at http://www.alafamlaw.org/DOB%202014%20Agenda%20-%20FINAL%20w-vendors%20through%204-21-14.pdf. I then sat in on the other presentations and learned about national and local trends in family law in our neighboring state.

Then of course it has been back to the office for work and to implement many of the good ideas and tips learned at these programs. Attending and presenting at seminars is very valuable, but my passion is truly in the practice of law. I’ll look forward to the trials (and tribulations) of practicing without a seminar break for a while. But even while I’m away at programs, we are fortunate to have lawyers working around the clock and keeping me well in the loop on cases in which I’m involved. And the iPad, iPhone and IMac certainly keep me connected.

The balance is to be able to stay up with current trends in the law, locally and nationally and to use that knowledge and the tips learned, to better assist our clients. Hopefully the things learned at these Continuing Legal Education seminars help me and my firm provide better service to our clients. It is for them that we try to be the best we can be. And we are always learning. As they say, it is a law “practice”, since we are always trying to improve.


It has been a busy CLE (Continuing Legal Education) season

The American Bar Association Spring Conference just concluded and later this month the Georgia and Alabama Family Law Institutes take place with hundreds of family law attorneys trying to learn the latest trends and laws relating to family law. Before that though, there is a big one in Chicago. It is the Sports Lawyers Association where I am excited to be presenting on Family Law for Athletes.  700 lawyers who represent athletes are expected to attend. Should be a great conference: http://www.sportslaw.org/conference/conference2014/agenda.cfm


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.


New Florida Alimony Law?

I recently appeared on Fox Business on the Willis Report to discuss the proposed new alimony law in Florida (interview can be seen by clicking: video.foxbusiness.com/v/2330991181001). It is an interesting law. While many have summarized it as a vehicle to eliminate lifetime alimony and to shorten or limit other alimony, the drafters have done a very careful job in creating the bill. Yes the overall intent seems to be to reduce alimony, but the wording is very interesting. Instead of mandating certain results, burdens are shifted. For instance, under the proposal, certain alimony would only be allowed upon “clear and convincing” evidence which is different and harder to achieve than the usual standard in a civil case of “preponderance of the evidence”. The full bill can be viewed at: http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2013/0718/BillText/e2/PDF. Let me know your thoughts.


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.