Legal

New DNA Testing Claims Paternity Can Be Determined ASAP

For years DNA testing could reveal the paternity of a child after birth. Then came pre-birth testing. Now comes DNA testing in the twelfth week of pregnancy. This is a game changer. Read the story by clicking here.

Conceivably now, a couple could learn the paternity of their child in the first trimester of pregnancy, when termination of the pregnancy is legal in most places. Just think of the issues this raises. If the pregnancy is the result of an extra marital, or extra relational encounter, does this make it more likely that a pregnancy will be terminated? What if technology and science progress to the point where paternity can be established “the morning after” or at one month of pregnancy?

And perhaps the ability to know who the father is, so early on, will encourage more mothers-to-be to tell their partner that there may be doubt about the paternity of their expected child. Or at least the mother-to-be could get a test with her paramour and hopefully exclude him as the father early on, thereby perhaps saving her relationship with her husband or significant other?

This new technology, if accurate, could change many lives and many relationships. Some say ignorance is bliss. This may be one such occasion?


ABA Annual Meeting special one for me

The 2011 American Bar Association Annual meeting which begins this week in Toronto (click here for a link to the home page for the meeting), holds special meaning for me. On Friday August 5, 2011 I will be sworn in as Chair of the Family Law Section (FLS) of the ABA. I am so honored and excited. The FLS has 10,000 members who are all interested in the practice of family law, whether they are lawyers, judges or law students (over 9,000 are lawyers). Our goal, and mine, is to improve the practice of family law and to minimize the negative impact family law can have on families. My platform will be a continuation of our “Families Matter” project which has the reduction of such an impact on families as its goal.

Practicing family law has been gratifying, knowing that we can and have helped many families. It also can and has been frustrating. When bad results happen to good people, especially to children, it can be devastating. But our job is not to be devastated and depressed, but to persevere and find better solutions. Through the ABA we are working to improve the system and to hopefully help all families achieve better results that are better for the whole family. Of course this is a difficult task, but it is one that any civilized society must undertake. All family law professionals (lawyers, judges, psychologists, accountants and others) play a role. Is our system perfect? No way. In fact, our systems vary from state to state and from community to community. But we are evolving. Today, family law is not an area of the law that is looked down upon. To the contrary, it is an area of the law viewed by many as one of the most important areas of law that exist. What other area has the ability to affect families and futures as much as ours? And with that comes a significant burden, a burden to help families and a burden to improve society.

I am glad to be in a position to help families. In my practice I often have that opportunity, and as Chair of the Family Law Section of the ABA, I have been given an even greater opportunity. I will try my best not to squander it and to do what I can to help families and professionals who are helping those families. If there is anything I can do, I hope you will call on me to serve you. It will be an honor to serve and I am sure, an experience I will never forget.


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.


Do children of divorce suffer poorer grades?

National TV Network news agencies are working on stories based on reports that children of divorce fare worse in school than others. USA Today just printed a story about poorer math scores for children of divorce (click here for the link).

As a divorce lawyer this concerns me greatly. My opinion, based purely on my experience and the experience of the other lawyers in our office and friends throughout the bar, is that it is not necessarily the divorce that can harm children, as much as the kind of divorce that occurs. Certainly a ‘good” divorce between two mature adults might be better for children than a really bad marriage with much tension (or even violence) in the household every minute of the day?

There is life after divorce and the way the process of divorce unfolds may well set the tone, not just for how the parties interact going forward, but how the children do in school and in life. Children that see two parents who treat each other with respect, even if they are divorced will likely do better than children who see their parents consistently embroiled in arguments and litigation. Those children must, at the least, be very distracted by their parents’ tension. Worse yet, many may feel that they (the children) have a duty to support each parent and to comfort them (or at least one). This must take time away from school work and social development.

So what’s the solution? A “good” divorce (if a divorce is going to happen). The parents must recognize that their tension always trickles down and is felt by, and affects their children. There is an old Jewish saying that the best thing a father can do for a child is to love their mother. Well if he can’t love her, he should at least treat her with respect and pleasantness, and it should go both ways. Not for the parents’ sake, but to allow their children to continue to grow socially and educationally and to not be distracted and held back by their perceived need to be a “cructh” or support system for their parents. Such a feeling of having to help a parent through a divorce can certainly not help a child spend the needed time to excel in school and socially.

I know that I am not a psychologist and that these words and thoughts are just those of a lawyer who has practiced family law for almost a quarter of a century, but I believe them to be true and hope lawyers and litigants consider these issues as they proceed through their family law cases each day.


Double Dipping in a Divorce

There is a concept that divorce lawyers are very familiar with: “Double Dipping”. A simplistic explanation is that in a divorce, sometimes an asset like a business is valued and divided, but then the income from that asset is used to calculate and pay child support or alimony. Is this fair? There are multiple arguments. One argument is that to pay the spouse his or her share, it would be as if the payor is making a hypothetical sale of the asset and paying the other spouse. In such a “hypothetical” sale, there would be no more asset to use to calculate or pay child support or alimony.

But here’s the big news (at least to family law attorneys): California is considering passing legislation to avoid this dilemma. Here is the text of the proposed legislation:

(n) The extent to which income for support was already capitalized
and paid to the other spouse in the division of community property,
to avoid double counting the income when the result would be
inequitable, based on all of the circumstances presented.

Whether one agrees with this bill or not, at least it will, if passed, give the California courts guidance in thsi area. Hopefully other states will follow this example.


New law-Custody for Military Families

A new law was enacted this week in the Georgia Legislature. It grants certain protections to military personnel in their custody and visitation disputes. An AJC article outlines it well (click here for the article). The bill was passed with overwhelming support and prevents final orders changing custody to be entered simply because a parent is deployed. A draft of the proposed Act can be accessed by clicking here.

For years advocates for military personnel have complained that armed services members were often penalized for simply serving our country. The delicate balance is between rights of those serving our country and the best interests of children. No answer will be perfect for every situation, but this bill was drafted, considered, reviewed, debated and finally passed. No law is perfect, but hopefully this law will help military families and their children, and hopefully does not reduce the emphasis that must always be placed on ensuring that we do what is in the best interests of the child.


NFL Lockout and child support

So the NFL Lockout may begin at midnight (see story by clicking here)? What does that mean for players who pay child support (and mothers who receive child support)? In the short term, it probably doesn’t mean much. But if the lockout lasts a while, there could be some real child support consequences. The first obvious consequence is that players may not have the cash flow to remain current on their child support obligations. Hopefully they choose correctly and pay child support before some of their other ongoing expenses (car payments, etc.). Not only should child support be at the top of the list, judges who have the power to incarcerate child support obligors may be much less sympathetic to the NFL player who was paid millions and did not save for this “rainy day”.

The next concern is litigation, two types. The first type of cases that will be brought may be the ones seeking to enforce court orders against those who have stopped or slowed their payments. The second is the actions to be filed by players to seek a reduction (temporary or permanent) of their support obligations. While courts may or may not be sympathetic, such lawsuits at least show the court that the player is not ignoring the obligation, but instead is trying to make it reflect his current financial situation. Of course lawsuits cost money so before a player files, he must feel that the work stoppage will not be short-lived.

The third, and best course of action, is for players and the women to whom they pay support, get together and reach agreements. In this way, there could be an agreed upon temporary reduction. If the player is ultimately reimbursed the full salary, then child support would be fully reimbursed. Or once the situation is resolved, there could be renewed discussions and possible agreements prior to running to court. Of course, if there is no season, players should have (and spend) more time with their children. This can also be agreed upon instead of litigated.

But the best suggestion is communication. Child support obligors and recipients should always communicate. Communication, good, effective communication is almost always the best first step to resolution. It’s what we encourage at KSS Family Law, and what we hope all attorneys, advisors and counselors do.


DOMA no longer to be defended by Federal Government

The Obama administration moved closer to officially recognizing the right of same sex couples to marry. It was done in a reverse sort of way. As reported by the Washington Post “The Obama administration said Wednesday that it will no longer defend the federal law that bans the recognition of same-sex marriage because it considers the legislation unconstitutional….” (click here for full story from the Washington Post).

It seems the administration recognizes that sooner or later the fedral law defining marriage as between man and woman will be overturned. But in this manner, he seems to making it easier for the courts to make that determination, since it may take a very long time for the legislature to do so.

Like the ancient Chinese proverb says “We live in interesting times.”


Another foot in (or out) the door for gay marriage (or at least for gay divorce)

A very interesting case from Texas is in the news. A lesbian couple left texas to get married in Massachussetts. They returned to Texas and subsequently sought, and obtained a divorce. The Texas Attorney General then intervened, but so far that intervention has been been ruled as coming too late (click here for a link to the story).

Perhaps Texas law had previously not allowed gay divorce since it does not allow gay marriage (and in essence, granting a divorce to a gay couple basically acknowledges a gay marriage). While this case may not set reliable precedent, it does seem to be an indicator of where things are headed. And, had the court not granted the divorce, how would this couple have resolved their issues? Sticks and stones? It seems to me that allowing them access to the court to resolve their differences is what we should do in a civilized society. This debate is long from over, but it certainly is interesting.