family law

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.


Family Law Forms Book!

I am so excited about the new Georgia Library of Family Law Forms.  Last year I was asked to develop and edit this book and it has been a long process.  The attorneys and staff at the firm have been wonderful and we have gone to great lengths to ensure that this book (and CD-ROM) of Family Law Forms will be beneficial to the Family Law Practitioner.  There are over 200 forms and once we begin to receive feedback, I am sure we will add more forms and keep improving it each year with each new edition.

Family Law seems to affect everyone, and almost every practicing lawyer is asked once, if not many times during their career “Can you help me with my family law matter”.  While this forms book does not answer every single question, it does provide a wonderful start to those who are just beginning to practice family law as well as to those who want to have a full library of forms for themselves or their younger associates, paralegals or staff.  I am very proud of it and look forward to your feedback.  The first printing is scheduled for Fall, 2011 and there is an early bird discount for those who “pre-order”.  Let me know what you think (you can click here for more info).


Prenups are not romantic, especially for the Prince and Princess

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.


ABA Family Law Section meeting starts in Amelia Island

It is always exciting to get together with fellow practitioners and judges from across the country to learn the latest trends, practices and innovative ideas of our profession. This year, our Spring seminar will focus on “Families Matter”. The seminar is from April 6, 2011 to April 9, 2011 and will devote much time to helping alleviate much of the pain, cost and discomfort of family law matters (click here for the full brochure). The agenda is great (click here to link to the home page for the program).

There are many cutting edge topics, such as “Oh, the Tangled Web We Weave: irs rules and regulations Effect on payments and Expenses in Third party reproduction” and “The alphabet soup of Military pay and Family support”. If you are a family law practitioner, I strongly urge you to consider joining us. And if you can’t make this one, join us in late October in Las Vegas at the Wynne-Encore and then next April at the Eden Roc in South Beach (Miami Beach), Florida. I look forward to learning and blogging what I learn.


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.


Why not seal divorce records?

Why shouldn’t we allow divorce records to be sealed? Since when is the public’s right to know more important than a couple’s right to keep private the division of their assets and the whereabouts of their children. Married people need not publicly disclose how they share assets or time with their children. So why must divorcing couples be subject to public scrutiny of their most personal dealings?

This has always seemed odd to me. In Georgia a few years ago, much was made of the Speaker of the House’s divorce being sealed (click for wikipedia info). But I think the outcry was not so much about his case being sealed, but more about why was his case sealed, when many others weren’t. The answer should have been: “Let’s seal them all”. Instead, the opinion of the majority seemed to be: “no special treatment for him”.

Currently, as reported by the Washington Post, the Montana Supreme Court is considering restricting public access to such records (click for story). As a family law attorney, I think the potential benefits are tremendous. Why should information about where children are being dropped off be public? What about agreements to sell property for a certain price? It may take a philosphical shift about court records, but family law is different. The parties, if they have children, will continue to interact and be somewhat interdependent on each other after the divorce. Why allow more roadblocks, like allowing outsiders to know their private business, to make their life any harder than it already will be?


2010, the year in family law.

As 2010 comes to a close, I can’t help but look back and realize how much “family law” was in the news (click on the stories for articles on each). There was the Goldman international custody case between U.S. and Brazilian citizens as well as gay marriage debates, laws and rulings nationwide, culminating with perhaps the most reported case of all, Proposition 8 in California (click for Associated Press Video).

There were countless celebrity divorce and family law cases in the news. Just think of Mel Gibson, Tiger Woods, Octomom, Kate Gosselin, Sandra Bullock and perhaps the biggest of all, The McCourts (Owners of the L.A. Dodgers).

There is the Tony Parker v. Eva Longoria case and the Charlie Sheen divorce.

It is time for the media to start looking back and summarizing the stories that made news. CNN has already written one on celebrities’ troubles.

Still, what continues to amaze me, is how interested the public is in other people’s lives. Have we become a voyeuristic society? Or do we simply take comfort in knowing that even those who seem to have it all are not immune from the same type of pain and emotional (and often financial and physical) agony the rest of us may endure?

As a family law attorney it is often difficult to see so much hardship. But our role as lawyers is to help reduce that pain. To counsel and to make a bad situation a little better, or at least tolerable. Often we are the only ones who can see the light at the end of the tunnel; that there will be a tomorrow. So perhaps the most important thing we can do is to reassure our clients that tomorrow does come. And look, here it is, 2011. Many people have suffered in 2010, but many have made it through to a new year. Here’s to hoping that things get better for those who had a rough 2010, and that those who didn’t, continue to be blessed in 2011 and beyond.


International child related issues on the rise.

As the Chair Elect of the ABA’s Family Law Section, I have made it clear that one of my priorities will be to focus on international custody issues. Given the many widely reported cases of international kidnapping and custody battles, such as the Goldman case, it seems we must focus more on these situations to protect all children.

But now there are much more complex issues relating to children across the globe which go beyond mere custody battles. Issues such as surrogacy and adoption. What if one country’s laws do not allow for a certain type of adoption or a certain type of articifial insemination? There are now ways to work around laws in one country by using another country as a vehicle for certain procedures. And this can be dangerous.

A recent Wall Street Journal article entitled “Assembling the Global Baby” discussed these issues in fine detail (click here for a link to the story). There are American companies orchestrating surrogacy and reproductive technology across the globe. While the term “orchestrating” may sound negative, that was not my intent. My intent was to demonstrate the internationalization of child related issues. What body or organization will set the rules? Is this something for the United Nations to look at? Conferences like The Hague will certainly look at these issues, but then a country’s willingness to sign a treaty is purely voluntary.

This internationalization of child birth, adoption and reproduction may be a very good thing. It seems very well intended. The problem is with the unintended consequences. When things go wrong, who is accountable? Which country’s laws apply? Is it more important where the birth occurs, where the semen was taken, where the parties live or which country the egg came from? These are fascinating issues that we must consider before they overwhelm us. I have no idea where we go from here, but I am sure that we need to start asking the right questions which will hopefully lead us to the right answers, or at least to the right forums and formats for seeking comprehensive answers to these emerging issues.


Eva v. Tony, “upping the prenup”?

Just like the rumors in the Tiger Woods divorce, there are rumors that the first time Eva Longoria caught Tony Parker cheating, she asked (or told?) him that the amounts she was to receive in their prenuptial agreement, in the event of divorce, must be increased. And if true, he likely complied because he loves his wife, wanted to stay married and felt guilty.

Relationships are very interesting and are what makes the human world go around. Money as punishment? Is that right? Well it happens all the time. Personal injury awards grant a victim of a car crash money, but does money replace a loved one, or a fractured bone? Slander claims often result in money damages, but does that undo the damage to reputation? I would submit that this example of “upping the prenup” is a way to artificially incentivize people to be monogamous or faithful. Is it right? Who knows, it is not for me to judge. But just thinking about the concept is interesting, at least to me. We use money to incentivize, to punish and to reward. Shouldn’t we be able to accomplish what we want without that? If the cheated on spouse still loves the other and wants to stay together, why ask for more money? If the cheater is truly regretful, why not just give the other whatever he/she asks for? In the end it seems we are all individuals. Maybe I am jaded as a divorce lawyer, but even I believe there are many, many people who instead of discussing money would simply discuss the relationship. If they both want it to continue, it will, if not, then it’s over. But of course it’s never that easy, is it?


Learning from Mark Cuban’s brother

I was fortunate to be asked to present in Dallas to the Sports Financial Advisor’s Association. My co-presenter was…..Brian Cuban. I knew all about Mark Cuban, the maverick owner of the Dallas Mavericks. But Brian is a superstar as well. When I learned he was going to be my co-presenter, I started reading up on him (check out his site and his blog by clicking here). Interesting guy. He has put himself out there, on his blog, on Twitter and everywhere as a crusader for many things. He is very outspoken against hate crimes and generates a lot of much needed discussion on that topic.

The topic of our presentation? How can/does regular and social media affect our business and our entertainment/athlete clients? While I consider myself a novice in these areas, Brian is obviously an expert. He discussed aspects of social media I had not appreciated. But what really impressed me about him (and I realize this applies to many) is that he learned and understands the workings of, and value of social media……by doing it. He has created a niche for himself and a social media identity and a “brand”.

All in all, like many seminars, I learned a heck of a lot, and. More importantly, I met a heck of a lot of nice folks.