I was recently asked to comment for CNN (click here to see the video clip of my appearance on “Newsroom” with Don Lemon) about a new fad: Divorce Insurance. My first reaction, as I told Anchor Don Lemon, is that the best insurance against divorce is not getting married. Of course that was said “tongue in cheek”, but really, if you plan to get married and want to pay, monthly, for divorce insurance, it seems very strange if not counterproductive to the goal of a long-lasting marriage. Let’s explain it this way. If a couple, or even just one spouse is considering a divorce, AND they know the expenses of a divorce are already paid for by insurance, isn’t that just one more thing that facilitates them moving forward with divorce? It is almost like saying “hey, we paid the insurance, let’s collect on it”.
Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements can predetermine division of assets and alimony. Once those things are decided, only issues related to children remain. And how can you predict the cost of issues relating to children. There are so many variations on parenting time, decision making, travel expenses, etc. How can we insure against all such costs?
Yes, divorce insurance sounds like a nice, safe bet. Why not limit your exposure? But when you start to think about the concept, it unravels. For instance, if I want to be sure I have the best divorce lawyer, is there any guarantee that the best lawyer will accept my insurance company (since insurance companies typically pay reduced rates to lawyers)? And what about a wealthy spouse who can afford a good lawyer and then, when the other spouse says “well, I need a good lawyer too”, the court’s reply may be “You have insurance so use that”?
I am all about prevention, but smart, effective prevention. To me, that is a prenuptial agreement. A prenuptial, or post nuptial agreement forces a party to think about all of the possibilities specifically. It is unclear to me how divorce insurance can address evrything, but if it makes someone more comfortable getting married, then perhaps it is not that bad. But for the best protection, I would suggest a consultation regarding a prenuptial agreement (which of course must be prepared and reviewed by an attorney in the proper jurisdiction, and I am certainly offering advice since prebuptial agreement laws vary from state to state). And besides, isn’t it nice flying without a safety net sometimes? Yes, I am a divorce lawyer saying that. Perhaps the thrill of a good marriage is that each spouse is voluntarily continuing to commit without fear of consequence. But if that thrill has been spoiled once by a bad divorce, then perhaps a prenup is right for round two.
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.
If I can answer questions, before during or after the program, please let me know.
Today I presented on Hot Topics in Family Law for the AICPA National Forensic Accounting Conference in Boston, Massachusetts. These CPAs were very interested and interactive. They asked probing questions and really seemed eager to learn. It was very refreshing and a little intimidating. They wanted to learn and asked some great questions. The gist of the program was a combination of technical legal issues combined with practical application. Or, what are the rules, and how are they applied. They seemed to know the rules and focused more on the nuances, the exceptions and the practical application: do judges follow the rules; how can you argue one position one day and another the next day for a different client and other tough ones.
But perhaps more important than the program was the interaction before and after. Interacting with professionals who are so vital to family law practice and who can help quickly resolve financial differences and disputes made me realize not only how important it is to rely on experts, but easy it can be. Once an expert, such as a forensic accountant, understands the basics of family law litigation, they can save lawyers time and clients money. I am looking forward to consulting even more with such experts in the future, and to more joint learning programs. In May, 2011, the ABA Family Law Section will host a joint conference with the AICPA in Las Vegas to help young forensic accountants and lawyers get a headstart in understanding each other and how we can all work together to help our mutual clients.
Each Fall, the American Bar Association holds it’s annual Section Officers Committee meeting in Chicago. This year it begins this week. Each section, division, forum, etc. of the ABA has officers who are new each year. Those officers all come to Chicago to learn how to best perform their roles as Secretary, Vice Chair, Chair-Elect, etc. of their particular group (for me it will be as Chair-Elect of the Family Law Section). It is great to be around so many lawyers who are committed to improving the practice of law. Each lawyer sacrifices two to three days of work to be at the meeting, yet it never feels like a sacrifice. There are “big picture” discussions about the general practice of law, things we can do to help our communities, things we can do to help educate the public about new laws and how we can improve the overall workings of the entire ABA. There are also “small picture” discussion groups focused on how we can each help our particular group (family law, business law, criminal law, etc.). Click here to see the SOC page on the ABA website describing SOC.
While some may say it is inconvenient, especially since each of the officers attending also typically attend four or five other ABA programs each year, including a Spring and Fall program for their area of law as well as the ABA annual and mid-year meetings, it is valuable. It is a chance to step aside from the basic programming and educational aspects of the ABA and to focus on how we can each use our strengths to better our individual areas of practice as well as the ABA as a whole. I am looking forward to it and to actively participating. It feels good.
Why is the McCourt’s divorce unique? Because lately the high profile cases in the news have been resolved out of court (Think Tiger Woods, Sandra Bullock and A-Rod). In fact, most high profile matters our firm is involved in are settled without any press and with very little expense. Actually going to trial with so many dollars at stake (and so much public reputation to lose) is becoming rarer and rarer. But the McCourts are there (click here for link to UPI story). No doubt the lawyers tried their best to guide the parties to resolution. Lawyers of that caliber always do. But when one party (or both) think their position is blatantly reasonable, or is an obvious “winner” in court (there is no such thing), it can be hard to settle a case. Some cases are just easier to try.
Unfortunately for the McCourts, it appears the court will decide their divorce which is guaranteed to make one, if not both parties displeased with the outcome.
On ocassion we encounter a stubborn opponent (opposing party or opposing lawyer). Even then, steps are taken to try to reach resolution. Mediation, settlement conferences and even pre-trial conferences with the judge are usually attempted to promote settlement. We also sometimes utilize a process known as Late (or Early) Case Evaluation. This process entails hiring a family law attorney who is respected by both sides to give everyone a “reality check”. Sometimes that does the trick. But when someone is truly unreasonable, the only way to resolve a case is trial. But even then, the good lawyers can only ease their conscience if they have truly attempted settlement first. But once settlement efforts are exhausted, trial becomes inevitable. Perhaps the one benefit of the McCourts actually going to trial is that others will realize how risky and costly trial can be, and thus become more determined to resolve their own cases privately. Let’s hope the message is sent, and heard, loudly and clearly.
A Georgia Public Broadcasting article suggests birth rates and divorce rates are down in this poor economy. But is this a good thing? We must remember that divorce, is a legal proceeding, not a determinative identification of which marriages are stable and which are not. Perhaps the economy is preventing some folks from filing legal papers or hiring lawyers, but does that really mean more people are staying together (and if so, happily?). I think not. From my perspective, many people who have struggled for years trying to maintain a marriage have had it. On top of years of marital or relationship troubles, the stress of a poor economy puts many couples over the top. The economy may be the proverbial “last straw”.
Couples who are in distress, especially those living in separate residences, often need the court’s assistance to decide how funds are shared between the parties and how time with the children is allotted. But in a poor economy, many cannot afford an attorney so they often ignore the legal process and engage in self help. This may work on an ad hoc basis, but troubles are inevitable. And if we do see a decrease in divorce, unfortunately, in my opinion, we will see a rise in other legal areas, such as child kidnapping, criminal claims of abandonment and even domestic violence as people take out their frustrations on each other (frustrations which a “good divorce” or “good divorce agreement” might have avoided).
So, the real issue is not whether divorce rates are down, but are marriages healthier? Are people now staying together and resolving their issues. Or are they simply not able to afford the safeties and resolution mechanisms divorce courts provide?
Hilary Swank apparently views her divorce after 14 years of marriage as a sign of 14 years of success in marriage, rather than a failure. At least this is what USA Today reports (click for a link to the story).
When Diane Sawyer signed off after ten years as an anchor of one of America’s most loved news programs (Good Morning America), she quoted Dr. Suess (the story of her leaving GMA can be viewed by clicking here). The quote was “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” What a way to view such a big change.
If people going through a divorce could try to use this perspective, what a difference it might make. While it can be debated forever whether divorce in general is a good thing, the truth is, once it happens, about all one can do is to try to manage it in the best way possible. Dr. Suess’ philosphy, reiterated by Diane Sawyer is one magical way to take a difficult situation and view it in a whole new light. For a guy who had such an influence on kids, adults could learn a thing or two from him as well.
What an annual meeting! The CLE programs have been wonderful, and for those of you still here in San Francisco at the 2010 ABA Annual Meeting, there is one more “MUST-SEE”. At 10:30 am today (Sunday), there is a presentation on “Trying High Profile Cases in a 24/7 New Media World”. What is amazing is who is on the panel of presenters. Among the five panelists will be David Boies, who just successfully argued and tried the Proposition 8 case. Is it possible to have another presenter as timely as him? Yes, The Honorable Vaughn Walker, the judge who decided that case will be on the panel as well. Many ABA groups are co sponsoring the program and I am sure it will be packed, so I just hope there is room for everyone who wants to attend, including me which means we should all get there early.
There has already been a tremendous amount of educational information sharing, but to be in San Francisco and to get to go watch and listen to the lawyer and judge who just tried one of the most intriguing and possibly society-changing cases in our lifetime makes it worth rising early and standing in line to listen, watch and soak in as much as possible before this 2010 Annual Meeting ends. I am looking forward to the program and I look forward to learning from it and sharing.
What a time for the annual ABA meeting to be in San Francisco. I land in 20 minutes and it already feels like there is a buzz in the air. The plane is filled with Georgia lawyers all headed to various ABA meetings for different areas of the law.
But it is in San Francisco and same sex marriage has just been judicially approved with the striking down of Prop 8. I look forward to the feel of legal interest and discussion throughout the city. And I imagine that our group, the Family Law Section will be discussing it ad nauseum. I look forward to seeing what my peers have to say, especially those from California.
I hope I always feel this same sense of excitement about the law and our legal system. By no means is it perfect. But unless good men and women continue to debate, discuss and challenge our laws, the system would stagnate and eventually fail.
I am proud to be a lawyer and a member of the ABA. I look forward to learning and sharing over these next few days.