April 7, 2014

Celebrity Divorce - Ice Skater Johnny Weir

The messy and bitter divorce of ice skater Johnny Weir and Victor Voronov has been garnering headlines for weeks. They have continuously slammed each other both in the press and in court documents and can’t seem to agree upon anything related to their relationship or their divorce. This week, however, they came to a compromise on how to divide their community property items – though it took the parties and lawyers 6 hours to come to an agreement. Johnny Weir – Crying Fit Over Faberge Egg, tmz.com, March 31, 2014.

Specifically, the parties were trying to agree upon how to divide the pricey contents of a jointly held storage locker. The parties had previously agreed to sell off this expensive community property and put the proceeds in a trust to be divided at a later date, but they could not agree on who would actually sell the items and how the items would be sold. Johnny apparently offered to take all of the items and sell them himself, but neither Victor nor his lawyer trusted Johnny to comply by the rules governing the sale of such items. As such, the parties divided the property in the storage locker and each will sell his portion, putting the proceeds in a joint trust for later distribution.

Though this entire divorce battle seems crazy, their agreement to sell property and divide the proceeds is actually a great idea and can be used in many divorce cases. Suppose a divorcing couple owns a valuable piece of art, but neither party wants to keep it. Even if the parties have not yet agreed upon how the marital property will be divided, they can sell the art (under specific orders from the court) and place the proceeds in a trust. That way, the property is immediately liquidated and can be divided according to an agreement made at a later point in time, and there is no danger of it being damaged while the divorce case is pending.

April 4, 2014

Celebrity Family Law Chronicles: Simon Cowell

In a previous post, I discussed the benefits of settling your divorce case versus having a divorce trial where a Judge will decide all issues. An example of why settlement is beneficial can be seen in the case of Simon Cowell and his girlfriend, Lauren Silverman. Simon Cowell – Life is Complicated with Baby, tmz.com, February 22, 2014. When Simon and Lauren got together and she became pregnant, she was actually married to one of Simon’s best friends. As a result, Lauren and her husband had a bitter divorce and custody battle. They were unable to settle the case (it is unclear how may attempts at settlement were made, if any) and, thus, a Judge determined their post-divorce lives.

One term of the divorce decree required Lauren to keep Simon away from the parties’ seven-year-old child for a year. For now, this restriction certainly complicates things for Simon and Lauren, who just had their baby and are living together. Recently, Lauren’s son stayed with her for a few days and Simon was forced to move into a hotel during that time. Though Simon moved back in when the child left, this will certainly not be the last time they are faced with this issue, which essentially keeps them all from living together as a family. It is unknown whether Lauren’s ex-husband would have insisted on this term had they settled the case, but it is possible that Lauren could have given him something else that was important to him in return for leaving this restriction out of any settlement agreement.

March 31, 2014

Deposition Etiquette - Justin Bieber

If you are involved in a family law case, it is possible that you will have to testify under oath in a deposition, hearing and/or final trial. Testifying under oath in any of these formats can be stressful and may fuel the fire in an already hostile case. But regardless of how you feel toward the opposing side, it is important to always be respectful and to answer questions honestly. Remember that anything you say can be used against you and, if it is a video deposition, your actions may speak louder than your words.

Pop star Justin Bieber recently set a great example of exactly how not to act in a deposition. In a recently released video of a deposition in one of the pending lawsuits against him, Bieber is arrogant, disrespectful and combative toward the attorney who is deposing him.

It is not clear what Bieber was trying to prove with his attitude during the deposition, but the Judge and/or jury are unlikely to be impressed with his refusal to cooperate. In fact, his actions are likely to work against him in the current case as well as any future case. A good attorney will give his/her client tips on how to act in a deposition, both to assist in moving the case a long and to avoid a situation such as is shown in the video. It is unclear whether Bieber’s attorney gave him any pointers on how to act during this deposition but, if he did, it is fairly obvious that they were ignored.

March 28, 2014

The Benefits of Settling Your Divorce Case (Or At Least Attempting To)

When going through a divorce, it is almost always prudent to attempt to settle the case through negotiation and/or mediation rather than go straight to court. There are several reasons for this. First, having a divorce trial is expensive. Through negotiation, you can learn a lot about what is important to the other side. For example, you may think that you both really want to keep the marital home, but may find out through negotiation that your spouse is not interested in it. In this case, even if you are unable to settle all issues and have to go to court, you can take this issue off the table, which will save everyone time and money.

Second, while it is unlikely the parties will each receive everything they want through negotiation and/or mediation, both parties will likely be happier at the end than if a Judge decided everything. Through negotiation/mediation, you have full control over the result. You do not have to agree to anything. Conversely, if you have a final trial, a Judge will decide all outstanding issues and you will be forced to comply with the final decree, whether you like it or not.

Third, you and your spouse can agree to things than a Judge is unable to order. For example, through negotiation/mediation, the parties may agree that the noncustodial parent can claim the dependency exemption on his/her tax returns. This exemption may make a big difference, particularly if that parent has a high income. The custodial parent may not care about receiving this exemption. A Judge, however, is unable to award the dependency exemption to anyone but the custodial parent. Therefore, each parent may use this issue as a bargaining chip throughout negotiation because it will go away if the case goes to a final trial.

In general, an unsuccessful attempt to settle a divorce case is better than no attempt at all. At a minimum you will learn more about what is important to the other party and may even be able to take some issues off the table for a final trial. Even failed settlement talks can save some time, money and headache for everyone involved.

March 24, 2014

Celebrity Family Law Chronicles: Ludacris in Custody and Child Support Battle

Rapper Ludacris is currently in the midst of a legal battle in Georgia with the mother of his two month old daughter. Ludacris – I’m Hurtin’ For Cash Because Of Paul Walker’s Death, tmz.com, February 20, 2014. The mother of his child, who currently has custody of the child, is asking for $15,000 a month in child support. Ludacris has claimed that he cannot afford such exorbitant payments because the movie he was counting on for income is on hold due to the death of one of its stars, Paul Walker. He further testified that he only made $55,000 in 2013. After listening to the testimony, the Judge ordered Ludacris to pay $7,000 a month in child support on a temporary basis, while he reviews the financial documents in further detail.

Since that temporary ruling, Ludacris has filed a Petition with the court asking for primary custody of his daughter and asking the mother to pay him child support. Ludacris Gunning for Full Custody – Wants Child Support, tmz.com, February 23, 2014. He says that he is a “fit and capable parent” to this child and that he has always been “an active father” to his 12-year-old daughter.

In determining custody, the Judge will base his decision on the best interests of parties’ two-month-old child. There is no presumption that the mother should be awarded custody so the Judge will consider all the evidence in making a fair custody determination. Once custody is determined, the Judge will award child support accordingly. While Ludacris may be hurting financially right now due to the unforeseen circumstances surrounding his upcoming movie, it is unlikely the Judge will use his alleged $55,000 income to determine child support. Rather, the Judge will likely look at his earning pattern over the last few years to make a determination.

March 21, 2014

January is "Divorce Month"

Certain months commemorate specific events – February is Black History Month. April is National Autism Awareness Month. May is National Pet Month. September is National Honey Month. But did you know that January has become Divorce Month? ‘Divorce Month’: In January, ‘ex’ marks the spot, by Sarah LeTrent, cnn.com, January 17, 2014. According FindLaw.com’s analysis of divorce filings from 2008 – 2011, there was a spike in divorces in January, and a rise and peak in late March.

There are several purported reasons for this trend:

1. A person may be thinking about divorce before or during the holidays, but don’t want to be considered a heartless scrooge by filing during the holiday season. Someone who visits a divorce attorney in January has likely been thinking about it for some time, but chose to wait until after the holidays.
2. Financial reasons can play a big role in waiting until the beginning of the year. Waiting until January will not interfere with tax filings for the previous year and a couple may still file jointly for that year. In addition, if a spouse gets a bonus at the end of the year, this asset will be considered marital.
3. Many people look at their lives at the beginning of the year and make resolutions, which may make them realize that they need to make a change in order to lead a happier life.

Though this seems to be the current trend, waiting until the beginning of the year certainly doesn’t work for everyone. There is never a “good time” to tell your spouse you want a divorce. The best thing to do is to be honest and upfront, do not cast blame, and agree to work together to resolve everything as amicably as possible.

March 17, 2014

Defining Infidelity

For purposes of divorce in Georgia, adultery (infidelity) is defined as sexual relations with a person other than his/her spouse. In daily life, however, people define infidelity differently. What Is Cheating? New Survey Reveals How Men And Women Define Infidelity, huffingtonpost.com, January 21, 2014. The Second Annual State of Dating in America report, jointly commissioned by dating sites Christian Mingle and JDate, found that men and women define infidelity differently, but women’s attitudes on the topic have become more liberal.

According to the report, in 2013, 82% of women and 56% of men said they considered “sexting” or online flirting to be infidelity. That number dropped this year to 68% for women and 51% for men. Also, in 2013, 100% of women and 86% of men said that kissing someone passionately was infidelity. These numbers dropped to 90% for women and 75% for men in 2014.

One surprising stat is that nearly 25% of single women and men would consider marrying someone who had cheated on them while they were dating. Either these people do not learn from their mistakes in trusting a person, or they believe that the sacred vow of marriage will make their mate act differently.

March 14, 2014

Divorce Rates: Red States vs. Blue States

If someone were to ask you whether the divorce rate is higher in traditionally “red” states or traditionally “blue” states, what would you say? My initial thought was that the divorce rate would be higher in blue states, which generally have more liberal views on marriage and divorce. According to a recent study, I’m wrong. “Red” States Have Higher Divorce Rates Than “Blue” States, And Here’s Why, huffingtonpost.com, January 21, 2014.

A new study titled “Red States, Blue States, and Divorce: Understanding the Impact of Conservative Protestantism on Regional Variation in Divorce Rates,” found that divorce rates were higher in religious states, but lower in liberal states. The study found that, rather than safeguarding marriages by discouraging divorce, “the conservative religious culture is in fact a major contributing factor thanks to ‘the social institutions they create’ that ‘decrease marital stability.’” This culture of pressuring young people to marry early and frowning upon cohabitation and sexual relations before marriage results in less solid marriages from the outset. A greater incidence of unhappy marriages translates into a higher rate of divorce.

March 10, 2014

How Divorce Can Affect Your Pet

Deciding who will get the pets after a divorce can be one of the most contentious issues in a divorce case. However, the battle over pets is not a custody battle. Even if you consider your pets to be your children, the law does not see it that way. Rather, Georgia law, as well as the law of many other states, considers pets to be property. But this certainly does not mean that a dog should be treated like a piece of furniture, as divorce can take a toll on a pet. A recent article on Huffington Post addresses this issue. Who Gets the Pets In A Divorce? What You Need to Consider When Fighting Over Fido, By Maria Moya, huffingtonpost.com, January 19, 2014.

In that article, Nancy Peterson, an issues specialist with the Humane Society of the United States, gives examples of the emotional toll a divorce can take on a pet: an energetic dog can become depressed, the dog may sleep more or eat less, the dog may become less interested on going on walks or playing, the dog may have accidents in the house, the dog may bite/groom himself excessively. So what can be done to help the pet through this difficult transition? The article offers some suggestions, many of which are similar things to think about in a child custody case:

1. Decide what is best for your pet. Though the courts do not consider the best interest of the pet in determining who will get the pet post-divorce, that does not mean that you and your spouse cannot. Think about who the primary caregiver of the pet has been and who has the means to financially support the dog on his/her own.

2. Consider keeping the pet in the family home with the children, if possible. The more familiar the surroundings and routine, the better.

3. If there is more than one pet, try to keep the pets together. Again, familiarity with surroundings and routine are best.

4. Spend time with your pets. Like children, they need to know that they are still loved and cared for post-divorce.

5. Take your pet to the veterinarian regularly to make sure all is physically ok.

March 7, 2014

What Is A Divorce?

This may seem like a fairly simple question and, in actuality, it is simple – a divorce is a legal action in which two spouses terminate their marital relationship. In Georgia, a divorce “annuls a marriage from the time of the rendition of the decree.” OCGA §19-5-15. Unlike an annulment, a divorce does not erase the marriage from the record books from the start and pretend that it never happened. Rather, the marriage is terminated upon the granting of the divorce.

Though what divorce means is pretty black and white, a British woman recently didn’t see it that way. According to an article on Huffington Post, the woman sued her attorneys claiming they should have told her that by getting a divorce, she would be…divorced. UK Woman Sues Attorneys for Not Warning Her Divorce Would Terminate Marriage, huffingtonpost.com, January 13, 2014. The woman claimed that her attorneys failed to explain to her that a divorce would terminate her marriage and said that they should have suggested a legal separation to her instead. Her case was dismissed.

While this case sounds bizarre, let it be a warning to always make sure you understand everything your attorneys are telling you about the divorce process. If you don’t understand something, ask questions. It is your case and your life and you deserve to know how the process works.

March 3, 2014

What Happens During a Divorce Trial?

In most divorce cases, valiant efforts are made through negotiation and mediation to resolve all issues, to save the parties the financial and emotional strain that often comes with a divorce trial. Sometimes, however, these efforts are unsuccessful and the parties must seek the help of a Judge, through a final divorce trial, in obtaining a final divorce. During the trial, each spouse presents evidence regarding the reasons for the divorce, as well as how alimony, child custody, child support, and equitable division should be determined. The evidence may include witness testimony and documents. The length of the trial can vary greatly, depending on how many witnesses each side presents, and the length of time each witness testifies. The Judge then considers the evidence and the arguments of each side and makes his/her determination on all issues. A final divorce decree will be issued, outlining the rights and responsibilities of each party and officially terminating the marriage.

February 28, 2014

Divorce Basics - What Issues Must Be Resolved?

Whether a divorce is highly contested or the spouses agree to all terms, there are four main issues that must be resolved before a final divorce may be granted. Some issues may not apply to certain divorces, but they must all be addressed.

Alimony – Alimony is financial support for a spouse after a divorce. Alimony may be awarded on a monthly basis or in a lump sum. Several factors, including standard of living during the marriage, duration of the marriage, and financial resources of each party, are considered in determining what the appropriate amount of alimony will be, if any. Generally, a Judge will weigh the factors and consider one party’s need for the alimony versus the other party’s ability to pay in making the determination.

Child Custody – After a divorce, the parties’ minor children (if any) will no longer be able to live with both parents. There must, therefore, be a determination of both legal and physical custody. Legal custody has to do with decision making while physical custody deals with where the children will live. Visitation must also be worked out under any child custody arrangement. If there are no children of the marriage and, therefore, no child custody to be decided, the Final Divorce Decree must explicily state so.

Child Support – If there are minor children, there must be provisions made for the financial support of these children. In Georgia, there is a child support calculator that considers each parent’s income, among other factors, in determining the appropriate amount of child support. The worksheets also take into consideration the amount of time each parent spends with the children as well as other expenses paid by each parent for the benefit of the children. If there are no children of the marriage and, therefore, no child support to be decided, the Final Divorce Decree must explicily state so.

Equitable Division – Any marital assets must be divided between the parties equitably. Equitably does not necessarily mean equally. The Judge will take all circumstances surrounding the marriage and divorce into consideration when dividing property. Parties are usually happier if they can work this issue out on their own, as only they know what is most important to each person and why.