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.
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.
There is no question that a Prenuptial Agreement is unromantic (although I have heard of a man getting down on one knee to offer a prenup to his fiance). Whatever the reason a prenup may be desired (a bad first marriage and expensive first divorce, for instance), asking your intended to sign a prenuptial agreement is very unromantic. But then again, many things about marriage are unromantic. The decisions about the wedding, for instance, are often a struggle between the desire for the most beautiful, exotic wedding in the world versus the finances available. Or whether to even have a big wedding and invite everyone, or save the money for a first marital home? Even the question of who to invite to the wedding can be very unromantic and often the cause for dissention. Should a relative who has been unfriendly to the fiance’ be invited? Do step-parents walk down the aisle? So the issue of whether or not to sign a prenuptial agreement is not the only practical question an engaged couple faces. But it may be the most troubling. After all, isn’t the request to sign a prenuptial agreement bascially a nice way of saying I don’t trust you one hundred percent? Or at least, maybe it is a way of saying I don’t trust me, or us, one hundred percent. Either way it casts doubt on a couple’s certain belief that their marriage will last forever.
But many, about half of all marriages don’t last forever. And what really should be avoided is a contested divorce. And that is the one true potential benefit of a prenuptial agreement. It can avoid, or at least reduce litigation and the related costs.
So the issue of whether or not to execute a prenuptial agreement is a balance bewteen practicaity and romance. And for a couple being looked upon these days as the epitomy of romance, the Prince William and his bride, Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, it is understandable why apparently no prenuptial agreemen was signed (click here for press coverage of that issue). It is understandable why they may have opted for romance, but even so, it was a required consideration, and likely that the question at least caused the Prince to consider it. There is nothing wrong with weighing options, even if only for a millisecond, especially for a future leader (at least a future figurehead leader) of his country. But for a fairytell wedding, it seems a prenuptial agreement just would not have fit the storyline. And they are not the only ones to feel that way. These questions and emotions are not unique to British Royalty. In my practice I have seen this exact dilemma often, and can never predict whether a prenuptial agreement will actually be signed. But the process is intriguing and one of the most human endeavors I have the opportunity to witness from time to time.
It seems there is a new trend in divorce (there are always new “trends”, but this one does seem new), the private financing of a divorce by a for profit company. In other words, when someone needs a divorce but cannot afford a lawyer, instead of borrowing from relatives, or if there is no way to borrow, there may now be a new option. It seems that if the stakes are high enough, or if there are enough assets to ensure a return on investment, people going through a divorce may now be able to borrow money with the settlement monies used as a sort of collateral. There is a story in the New York Times about this (click here for the story).
Is this a good thing? That’s a very good question. The obvious discussion might be “why don’t divorce lawyers simply do this?” The not so obvious answer (until you hear it) is that it would be highly unethical. Why? Because divorce lawyers should not be motivated to simply obtain as much as they can for their client, unless that is what the client wants. So, what if a lawyer’s fee is dependent upon a large recovery, and then their client decides they want to walk away with no money? Then there is a potential conflict because the lawyer will not be paid if the client walks away, yet the lawyer’s duty is to be governed by the client’s wishes. So perhaps this new idea, a loan or investment by a third party could help? I have not yet thought about it long enough to know if I support the concept or not. What do you think? Please post a comment.
This Wednesday through Saturday, the ABA Family Law Section hosts it’s annual Fall seminar (next October we are meeting in Las Vegas). True to form, the programming is excellent, filled with excellent speakers on excellent topics of interest to family law practitioners. New and interesting topics include “Using Stock Options and other Executive Compensation to fund Alimony” and “Parenting Plans for Children Under 3”. There will also be debates/discussions about many far reaching issues, including the need for a uniform act on child support guidelines and the Model Act of the Representation of Children.
Of course, the informal education that comes from the interaction of lawyers from across the country between sessions cannot be overestimated. I look forward to seeing many old friends and to meeting new ones this week in Fort Worth.
The brochure for the program can be found at: http://www.abanet.org/family/events/fall10brochure.pdf
If I can answer questions, before during or after the program, please let me know.