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 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.

February 24, 2014

How Can Social Media Impact Your Divorce Case?

We’ve posted several blogs about celebrity divorces as well as several about how social media can affect a family law case. There is a recent divorce case in the tabloids that combines the two. ‘Burn Notice’ Star Seth Peterson – Check Out the 22-Year-Old I’m Banging…NOT My Pregnant Wife, tmz.com, January 9, 2014. The pregnant wife of “Burn Notice” star Seth Peterson just filed for divorce, claiming her husband was cheating on her with a 22 year old. Rather than denying the affair, Peterson has posted pictures of himself and his girlfriend all over social media. Specially, his girlfriend posted pictures of the two together with captions indicating that they are, in fact, a couple.

This is a perfect example of how social media can hurt you in a divorce case as Peterson has now admitted the affair and there is photographic evidence of the two together. Peterson’s wife is asking for spousal support and full legal and physical custody of the children. If this case were in Georgia, the Judge would look at the best interests of the children in determining custody. Peterson’s actions regarding this affair would come into play, especially if the children have been or could be exposed to any of it. In addition, in Georgia, his actions could impact equitable division. Under equitable division, the Judge looks at all aspects of the case, including the actions of the parties, and marital assets are divided equitably, not necessarily equally. Peterson could, thus, be looking at a lesser portion of the marital estate. Further, if this case were in Georgia, his actions would prohibit him from receiving spousal support from his wife. He may not be seeking alimony from her, but it is important to point out.

The lesson to take away from this case is stay away from social medial during your divorce. If you want to still post things to Facebook, make sure they cannot be used against you in any way in your case. If you are unsure, ask your attorney.

December 30, 2013

Using Affidavits in Family Law Cases

Most people have heard the term “affidavit,” but what is it and how can it be beneficial in a family law case? Quite simply, an affidavit is a written witness statement, signed under oath. The person signing the affidavit must have personal knowledge of the facts that he/she is affirming in the affidavit.

For example, if one spouse is alleging adultery in a divorce case, that spouse may file an affidavit of an eyewitness to the adultery. Since adultery is often difficult to prove, a sworn statement by a person who actually witnessed an adulterous act would be very beneficial in that case, particularly if the adulterous spouse is requesting alimony. It is important to note that the witness must have personal knowledge of the facts in the affidavit – he/she cannot have merely “heard” that something happened.

Sometimes affidavits are not filed with the court but, rather, are obtained to gain an advantage in the action and possibly avoid a lengthy trial. In the example above regarding adultery, if the adulterous spouse knows there is an affidavit from an eyewitness to his/her adultery, he/she may drop his/her claim for alimony and save both parties the time and money associated with a contested trial on the issue.

For a sample affidavit that can be used in family law cases, see Fulton County Family Law Information Center website.

December 20, 2013

30-Day and 60-Day Scheduling Conferences in Fulton County

In Fulton County family law cases, scheduling conferences are used to ensure a case is moving forward. Parties, attorneys (if any) and the judicial officer must all be present at the scheduling conference, which is usually held in a small meeting room outside the courtroom. Unlike a trial, no one else may attend or observe. There are two scheduling conferences – one approximately 30 days after the case is filed and one approximately 60 days after the case is filed (or 30 days after the first scheduling conference).

At the 30-day scheduling conference, the parties and judicial officer will discuss the status of the case, including the issues on which the parties agree and disagree. A game plan will then be made for the remainder of the case and a Consolidated Scheduling Order will be filed with the court. This Order will include deadlines for discovery, mediation, and trial. A temporary hearing to resolve issues such as child custody or child support on a temporary basis can also be scheduled at this conference, if necessary. The judicial officer can also immediately refer the parties for mediation.

At the 60-day scheduling conference, the parties and judicial officer will again discuss the status of the case and attempt to come to an agreement on any remaining unresolved issues. If an issue was resolved at the 30-day conference or any hearing thereafter, it cannot again be raised at this conference unless a party can convince the judicial officer that it is necessary to revisit the issue (i.e. if something has changed that may affect the best interests of the children). The judicial officer then has the same options as at the 30-day conference – set for final hearing (if all issues settled), temporary hearing, mediation, Consolidated Scheduling Order (if a new one is necessary).

For more information about the 30 and 60 day scheduling conferences in Fulton County, including a list of the items you should bring with you, please visit the Fulton County Family Law website.

December 16, 2013

Fulton County Family Law Information Center

For people who choose to represent themselves in a family law case, the task of filing the petition and all the subsequent motions and responses can be quite daunting. Fortunately, Fulton County has a Family Law Information Center (“FLIC”) to help people in this position. According to its website, the FLIC assists people “who wish to represent themselves in domestic legal matters or educate themselves about domestic issues.” There is no requirement that a person is unable to afford an attorney – the FLIC is open to anyone who desires assistance.

The FLIC provides packets with legal forms and instructions in almost all family law areas including divorce, name change, legitimation, contempt, child support modification, visitation, paternity establishment, and separation agreements. It should be noted that the staff in the office are not attorneys and, thus, cannot offer any legal advice as to how to fill out the forms or answer any other legal questions. However, if you do have questions or need further help, they can schedule a free 30-minute consultation for you with an attorney. You can then make the decision as to whether you want to continue pro se, or retain an attorney to represent you.

Though the Family Law Information Center is associated with Fulton County, the forms available on its website may be helpful to those who choose to represent themselves in family law matters in other Georgia counties. If you choose to use these forms as a starting point, please keep in mind that that the rules and procedures for each county, and even for each Judge, may differ. Thus, it is prudent to check with the Judge’s law clerk to ensure that you have filed everything necessary for your case.

October 25, 2013

Texting and Family Law

As texting becomes more prominent in our daily lives, people are using this mode of communication as an alternative to actually speaking to someone on the phone. So how may this method of communication impact a divorce or family law case?

In a family law case, particularly a very contentious one, the ability to text versus talk may be a benefit. There is often animosity and hurt feelings among a divorcing couple. As such, a conversation may quickly result in one person speaking in anger without really thinking. This will certainly cause emotions to run high and will likely (at least temporarily) hinder any settlement negotiations. In addition, this leaves open the possibility that children will hear their parents arguing. This situation is where texting versus speaking on the phone can be beneficial – a spouse can take his/her time to cool down and respond, rather than blurting out something that he/she later wishes he/she could take back. It also lessens the possibility of kids getting caught in the middle of their parents’ argument.

Texting can also be beneficial as it creates a “paper trail” of communication. If one spouse needs to change a visitation drop off location, for example, he/she can communicate this information via text. That way, if the other spouse later alleges that he/she was not told, showing the text can back up the communication.

While there are definitely benefits to using texts as a mode of communication in family law cases, there may also be drawbacks if the user is not careful. As stated above, a text creates a “paper trail” of communication between parties. Therefore, before you send a text, ask yourself if you would want your attorney, your spouse’s attorney, or the Judge deciding your case to read it. If the answer is no, don’t send it. Remember that anything in writing can be used against you.

October 4, 2013

My soon-to-be ex-spouse is bashing and harassing me on Facebook – what should I do?

In this age of social media, there are an infinite number of ways to communicate and, unfortunately, this creates more places and opportunities for an angry ex, or soon-to-be ex, to bash or harass. In any divorce settlement agreement with children involved, there will be language stating that neither party may talk badly about the other to or in the presence of the children. However, this does not necessarily prohibit someone from making these same comments to all of their “friends” on social media.

There are two words for someone whose soon-to-be ex is bashing them in this fashion – IGNORE IT. This is obviously easier said than done, but there are important reasons to take this high road.

Most importantly, anything you put in writing can be used against you. If your spouse is making negative comments about you online, print them out and bring them to the Judge’s attention. If you respond to anything your spouse says, you are only giving him/her the same ammunition against you. However, if you can show the Judge what he/she is doing AND that you have taken the high road and refused to get pulled into the drama, this could swing certain aspects of the divorce in your favor. The parties’ behavior can come into play when deciding child custody, equitable division and alimony, and it is always better to come in with your hands clean.

In addition, you are divorcing this person and there is no longer any reason to let them get into your head. There is a reason you are no longer together and part of it may be exactly how he/she is acting in broadcasting things about you to the world. If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, unfriend your ex, block him/her, or do whatever else you need to do to avoid the negativity. Whether you have children together or not, it is prudent to have a clause in your settlement agreement or divorce decree ordering that neither party may make negative comments to the other in a public forum such as Facebook.

September 27, 2013

Avoiding Service of Process

People often think that they can stop their family law case from happening if they can just avoid being served. There have been two recent news stories about people avoiding being served in family law cases. In one story, a process server attempted to serve singer Luis Miguel with papers for a child support case before a concert in California. Luis Miguel Screwup in Child Support Case, September 23, 2013, tmz.com. Unfortunately for the process server, he first attempted to serve the wrong person in Miguel’s car, which alerted Miguel to the impending service. After he was ordered to leave, the process server put the papers on the windshield of the car, which is valid service in California under very limited circumstances. It is unclear if it will be valid service in this case.

In another publicized case, Georgia Zimmerman is avoiding service of process in his divorce. George Zimerman: You Can’t Divorce Me…If You Can’t Find Me, September 22, 2013, tmz.com. According to Zimmerman’s wife’s attorney, Zimmerman cannot be found anywhere and they do not know how to track him down. Apparently Zimmerman’s family has heard from him but does not know where he is.

The bottom line for those attempting to avoid service is that you are delaying the inevitable. While you may cause a delay in the case (as well as anger the opposing party, their attorney and, likely, the Judge), a process server will eventually find you. Otherwise, there are alternate methods of service, such as service by publication, which a party can use if their opposing party legitimately cannot be found. If you are having trouble serving the opposing party in your family law case, please contact an experienced family law attorney for options to move your case forward to a resolution.