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.

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 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.

February 21, 2014

Interesting Change Proposed to France's Divorce Process

While the divorce process in Georgia is not overly complex, family law attorneys often hear complaints: Why does it take so long? Why do we have to go to court if we’ve settled everything? Why is our court date so far away? Why is there so much paperwork for a simple divorce?

The residents of Georgia are certainly not alone in their complaints about the divorce process. France is currently considering a plan to allow uncontested divorces to be finalized without the approval of a judge. Divorce Without Judges? France Considers Plan To Simplify Legal Process, Associated Press, huffingtonpost.com, 1/3/14. Under the proposed plan, a court clerk, rather than a judge, could approve divorces when both spouses agree. According to the Le Figaro newspaper, under the current plan, couples in an uncontested divorce (which make up 54% of French divorces) spend an average of only eight minutes in front of a judge.

According to the above article, proponents of the proposed plan argue “court clerks are highly trained in the law and could handle those cases, freeing up judges for trickier breakups.” These proponents point out that the divorce rate is 50%, so there is no reason to make it more difficult. Opponents of the proposed plan argue “the proposal will further weaken the institution of marriage, as well as make agreements harder to enforce.” They allege that taking away a judge’s approval may make some divorcing people believe that they did not get a good deal in the divorce.

It will be interesting to see where this proposal goes and, if it passes, whether other countries may follow suit. We’ll keep an eye on this one.

February 3, 2014

Interesting Divorce Cases - Carnegie Deli in New York City

People get divorced for an infinite number of reasons. Experienced divorce attorneys don’t get shocked too often about the reasons behind a couple’s split. Nonetheless, every relationship is unique - and there are definitely some interesting reasons for divorce that are not heard too often.

Such is the case with the owner of the famous Carnegie Deli in New York City. Carnegie Deli Owner in Divorce Battle Says Husband Cheated AND Gave Away Secret Recipes, huffingtonpost.com, November 20, 2013. After 22 years of marriage, Marian Levine, filed for divorce claiming that her husband cheated on her with a former waitress at the restaurant. To make matters worse, he allegedly gave his mistress secret recipes for some of the restaurant’s best sellers. In fact, Levine alleges that her husband gave his mistress so much inside information about their top-secret food that her family opened a Carnegie Deli knockoff in their homeland of Thailand. In addition, it appears that Levine’s husband was paying his mistress’ mortgage and plastic surgery, and buying her expensive jewelry. Assuming this was done with marital funds, he could be in world of trouble in his divorce action.

The divorce lawsuit is pending as is another lawsuit by Levine against her husband for stealing the recipes and company secrets. With the high level of animosity this appears to have brought, it is unlikely that this case is going away any time soon.

January 27, 2014

How Can I Dismiss My Divorce Action?

Sometimes, after a divorce is filed, the parties decide they would rather work on saving their marriage and want to dismiss the divorce case. In Georgia, it is usually not difficult to dismiss your divorce action.

If no counterclaim has been filed, the Petitioner just needs to file a Voluntary Dismissal with the court along with a Certificate of Service showing proof that the Petitioner has mailed mailed the dismissal to the opposing party. The Dismissal should be filed “without prejudice” which means that it can be re-filed at a later date, if desired. Therefore, if the attempt to save your marriage proves unsuccessful, there is nothing stopping you from re-filing at any time.

If a counterclaim has been filed, a Voluntary Dismissal filed by the Petitioner will not end the case because the Respondent’s counterclaim will still be pending. It will be up to the Respondent to also file a dismissal to officially end the case.

Forms for Voluntary Dismissals can be found on the Fulton County Family Law website.