Legal

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.

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.


“Handling” the Media (in Family Law Matters)?

On Wednesday January 18, 2012 I will be presenting a Webinar for the ABA. It is one that is interesting to me. The title? Handling the Media in a Family Law Matter. I am sure I don’t know all the answers, but preparing for it and thinking about it has been educational and enjoyable.

While there certainly is more than one way to work with the press, I have found that being forthcoming with the media, even if my answer is “I don’t know”, or “I know but cannot and will not say”, has been the best. The media have much power, but in the end, they, like we, are people making decisions and judgment calls so why make them second guess your honesty or integrity.

I am looking forward to the program. If you have any helpful tips, resources, insights or suggestions, please pass them along. It can only help improve the presentation.


Holiday Season puts brakes on divorce

Divorce filings always seem to decrease around Christmas time. There may be many reasons, including some that we hear such as wanting to keep the family together for one last holiday, or feeling guilty about filing around Christmas time. It is a nice reprieve and it is always nice to see people really give their marriage one more good effort.

But then filings seem to always increase after the holidays. People want to make a fresh start. New Year’s resolutions often include a commitment to finally divorce or separate. Or people realize that the goodwill of Christmas was not good enough to make them want to stay forever with their spouse.

Divorce lawyers across the country experience slowdowns in December and increases in business in January every year. This has been a constant in good economies and bad. And again this year, we have seen our share of December consultations which end with clients saying they want to wait until after the holidays, or they want to see how the holidays go. If only that time of good will was year round in their relationships, divorce rates would permanently decrease? Maybe if Christmas lasted all year?


CUBA! Family Lawyers trip

Cuba! To exchange legal ideas with Cuban lawyers, in Cuba, how unbelievable! I am so fortunate to be able to help with this venture next March. The idea is to promote understanding of family law in each country and to exchange ideas that will hopefully help families in both countries.

Again, the goal is to enhance American and Cuban lawyers knowledge and skills in family law, especially now that we may be on the verge of more Cuban and American family law issues as travel and immigration restrictions change. What an opportunity to learn each other’s legal systems with a view to helping Cuban and American families who will go through family law cases.

At this point I am simply excited about the program and am looking forward to it. If you have any ideas, suggestions or comments, please let me know.


High Profile Clients Programs

I have been very fortunate to have been invited to speak at a few seminars recently on high profile and high asset divorce. This month (November, 2011) I have already spoken in Mexico to Sports and Entertainment Lawyers, to Asset Recovery Specialists in Las Vegas, and on November 21, 2011, I am on a panel with David Boies and others to speak on High Profile representation (for program information, click here). Over 2,100 lawyers have signed up for this one. While it is always flattering to be asked to speak, being asked to speak alongside one of, if not the best lawyer in the country, David Boies is one of the highlights of my career. Just preparing with him and the other panelists has been a thrill. The real challenge will be to not say too much during our presentation so that I may learn as much as I can from him and our other panelists.

While we have been honored to represent our share of public figures, David Boies has been hired for the biggest cases by the highest profile clients (Al Gore, Mrs. McCourt, the NFLPA and the NBPA among others). This program will be educational for all, and I will have the best seat in the house. I am flattered and grateful to have been invited onto the panel and look forward to learning a lot from my co-panelists. If there is anything you want us to address during the program, let me know so I can see if we can work it in. If we can’t, I’ll do my best to get answers to your questions after the program.


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.


Book Arrives

Even though I knew this day would come, it was still exciting to actually see our “Georgia Library of Family Law Forms” arrive. They actually had me do a formal “signing” (see photo). Finally seeing the finished product was so nice. But it also means now that everyone can read it, I have to be sure we update it and keep it current. There are already suggestions for updates that I have started on.

If you search for a family law form and it is not in the book, please let me know so we can consider including it, if appropriate for the book, in the updates (to order your copy, click here). I remain grateful to the attorneys and law clerks in our office and the publisher and their editors and staff who have helped so much to make this book a reality.

I hope you enjoy it and I look forward to your feedback.


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.


Forensic Accounting in Family Law

I have been learning a lot about Forensic Accounting in Family Law lately. I have been to three or four seminars in the last few months across the country for accountants and business valuation experts. Boy is there a lot to learn. So perhaps the best tool is the one I received in the mail today from my friend Miles Mason. It is his brand new book “The Forensic Accounting Deskbook, A Practical Guide to Financial Investigation and Analysis for Family Lawyers” (read more about it, or order it, by clicking here).

Miles has a way of making complicated and complex ideas easy to understand. When we as divorce lawyers are confronted with numbers and tax issues and valuation concepts which may be foreign to us, we can now simply refer to this handbook. Of course I will almost always hire a forensic accountant as well, but knowing the jargon and the concepts is vital to understanding the issues and helping our clients.

I highly recommend this guidebook.