Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Five Things To Keep In Mind While Going Through Divorce

“Divorce is a fire exit. When a house is burning, it doesn’t matter who set the fire. If there is no fire exit, everyone in the house will be burned!” Mehmet Murat ildan

It’s so easy to get caught up in the chaos of a burning house ( ie your marriage) but keep these five thoughts handy as you head towards the fire exit.

1) DIVORCE IS A PROCESS. That seems like a simple concept but all too often we see (former) couples struggling through their new reality. Be patient with yourself and the process. If you are not like Brittney Spears its likely that you have been married for more than 55 hours, you guys have assets to divide and living arrangements to figure out. If you have children this division becomes more complex. Even divorces in which both parties agree on everything (see: unicorn of family law) can take up to six months to complete. Take this time to adjust and get to know your unmarried self.

2) DIVORCE ISN’T THE SILVER BULLET. The thing is, the problems you had in your marriage don’t magically disappear because you have filed for divorce. Truth is the process of divorce can sometimes amplify the issues couples struggled with during marriage.

Be prepared to work through those problems as your divorce progresses. For example If you had communication problems in your marriage be prepared to address how best to communicate about the children and discuss the division of property in writing so you both have a point of reference as things get hectic. Even after you divorce you may have to tackle issues form the past. Be ready to choose which battles are worth fighting.

3) YOUR CHILDREN ARE NOT WEAPONS. Do not use your children against one another. Going through divorce is hard enough on children, with out the added pressure of having to choose sides. Don’t make them choose a side. Reassure them that they don’t have to take sides. Remind them that whatever disagreements you all are having does not involve them. The problem with using children to as the go between is that it makes children feel responsible for what is happening. The success or failure of the family becomes their burden to bare and it is simply not fair to place that burden on a child.

If you notice your child taking a side, even if it is yours, encourage them to remain neutral. Outside of accusations of child abuse, there is no reason why the break down of your marriage should spell the destruction of the parent-child relationship between your (former) spouse and child.

4)  CHILD SUPPORT AND PARENTING TIME ARE NOT THE SAME THING.  This is a big one. No parent may deny or grant parenting time based on the payment or lack thereof, of child support. If there is a court order in place that demands parenting time, honor it, no matter what. Timely let the court know of delinquency and work with your attorney to get child support for your child. Denying parenting time will only hurt your child and your case, especially if parenting time is a contested issue.

Do, talk to your attorney as soon as you begin the notice a pattern of non-payment. Seek the help of an attorney to modify a current child support order if your circumstance have changed and or you are unable to make payment due to job loss or injury. Talk to your attorney if you are being denied parenting time.

5) DIVORCE DOES NOT HAVE TO BE UGLY.  Remember you choose how you want your divorce to look. Be clear in your intentions with your attorney and make sure they are on the same page. Attorneys deal in conflict all the time, so we've got you covered in a dog fight. However, its equally important to make sure you have an attorney who is also willing to work collaboratively with your spouse and/ or his attorney. If you are still on speaking terms with your spouse (barring a history of abuse) communicate to him/her clearly that you don’t want to drag out the process and you hope to resolve it as peacefully as possible. Realize you only have control over your behavior, but you can influence your spouses choices.

Even if the process starts off highly contentious, you can work with your attorney to change the trajectory of the most contentious divorces. Remember agreements can be made pretty much anytime during the process and the family judicial system is set up to encourage and support agreements.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Avoiding the Left Hook

A little creative storytelling never hurt anyone, right? When it comes to your attorney, you may be hurting your chances for a successful claim or defense.

Imagine your attorney as the boxer you send into the ring to fight on your behalf. Your attorney has trained and prepared for your big rumble. She uses evidence to knock the other fighter on their heels. She bobs and weaves to avoid the devastating blows that will be thrown throughout your case. Now imagine half way through the match, you send your fighter into the ring blindfolded. There is no way for her to see the punches coming, and before the referee can call it, your fighter is TKO'd with a solid barrage of left hooks. What are those left hooks? The information you chose not to disclose to your attorney and she is blindfolded because she had no way of preparing for the left hook.

Keep in mind; you have hired the attorney to represent you in your legal matter. That means she is bound by a legal duty to effectively navigate the legal ring with your interests in mind. Within the attorney-client relationship, you are protected by attorney- client privilege, which means that communications between you and your attorney, related to your representation, are confidential. The idea behind this protection is to reinforce your confidence in your attorney and your attorney’s confidence in you. Family law, by its very nature, opens up our homes and lays bare the intimate details of our bedrooms. This can be scary even for the most unabashed among us. Your attorney’s job is to leave judgment to the judge, and your job is to tell your attorney the relevant facts and details. Your attorney has trained to wade through the details to find the items that will help or hurt your case. They can extract those items that will build a strong defense or counter argument when those details look like they will TKO your claim. The fact is: your attorney can’t prepare for what she doesn't know about. So don't be shy, spill the beans and give your case a fighting chance.

Keo'vonne W.

"Turn Your Dream Into Your Legacy"

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Tipping the Scales

When I think of the model/social media star Amber Rose, the first thing that comes to my mind is not “exemplary housekeeper”. So I was not surprised to see the photos of a "less than tidy" home posted all over the internet this morning by her ex husband and father of her child, rapper, Whiz Khalifa, I thought to myself immediately  “what does he hope to accomplish here?” Sure there were overfilled trash cans outside of her home and dog poop on the patio, but was this proof of an unfit home for the purpose of modifying a parental custody agreement?

I ask my family law clients some version of these questions whenever there is some nasty bit of information that may be marked for exhibit: “What do you hope to accomplish with this information?” and “will this information work toward that goal?”

It may be strange to think of setting goals when considering the dissolution of a marriage, but I think that a clear set of goals keep both attorney and client focused on the desired outcomes. These clearly defined goals can help shape the trajectory of the divorce itself.

To overgeneralize, most clients who are navigating the treacherous waters of dissolving a marriage-with-children start out with a goal to dissolve the marriage and make sure the children are not traumatized in the process. Most will repeatedly clarify throughout the initial client meeting and initial filings that they are only interested in the best interest of the children. But somewhere along the way, perhaps after weeks of back and forth with attorneys, adjusting schedules, unpleasant emails or texts, a few initial hearings, the goal takes on shades of Black and Yellow and the focus becomes exacting petty revenge.

Revenge becomes a priority and clients began engaging in tit-for-tat digs at each other. Case in point, the blurry photos of an ex’s poop-spotted porch and public Twitter spats. Does any of this serve the interest of the child in the short or long term? I posit a firm no.

When balancing the “child’s interest” and “exacting revenge” the child’s interest should always tip the scale in its direction. The love of a couple’s child(ren) has to outweigh the hatred for each other.  

Parents should dig in and fight hard for the safety and wellbeing of their child(ren). As an attorney, I stand in the ring with my clients with boxing gloves on. But before the gloves come off, it is important to access what “winning” looks like. Is it a well-rounded child, in a safe environment, and access to both parents in the absence of abuse, or is winning mutually assured destruction.

Whiz Khalifa’s concerns may be genuine and his goal clear, but I’m not convinced this is the best way to reach his goal, which he argues is his son’s safety and well-being.  A frank and honest discussion with his attorney about his goals may help Mr. Khalifa tip the scales back towards protecting his son’s best interest rather than publicly shaming the child's mother. That of course is assuming his son’s best interest is the goal he is working towards. If the goal he has in mind is humiliating the mother of his child, then he needs to just keep on doing exactly what it is he is doing, because The Plan is working.

Keo'vonne W.

"Turn Your Dream Into Your Legacy"

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

That One Time Kanye West Got It Right or How to Say I love you with a Prenup.

"Holla we want prenup, we want prenup, it's something you need to have, cause when she leave yo a**, she gone leave with half” ~Kanye West "Gold Digger"

   Kanye West is not always credited with being on the right side of any issue, but this complex artist may have been right when he directed his fans to investigate the merits of a prenuptial agreement. Prenuptial agreements tend to get a bad rap (no pun intended) but they are a great multipurpose tool for people considering marriage.

To put it in perspective, prenuptial agreements, often referred to as Prenups or Premarital contracts, have been around since the Ancient Greeks and we see its legacy in the form of the Ketubah, which has its origins in Ancient Jewish Law. They fell out of fashion only recently as opponents of premarital contracts made claim that the agreements undermined the sanctity of marriage and forced couples to enter into a marriage with an eye on divorce.

While there is some debate as to the decline or rise of the divorce rate in America, one thing we know for sure is that sometimes people do get divorced. And more often then not the result, despite what we see on Maury Pauvich, is due to the reality that couples simply fall out of love, and generally not because we don't know who the baby's daddy's really is. A premarital agreement does not increase the possibility of divorce but rather serves as an insurance policy of sorts. You never want to have to use your insurance, but you're glad it's there just in case the marriage crashes and can't be salvaged.

Kanye Voice “Yo Keo’vonne, I’m really happy for you, Imma let you finish, but don’t prenups hose the party who is at an economic disadvantage?”

A prenup is an agreement like any other and can be negotiated and redrafted until both parties feel they are satisfied with the agreement. Remember, a premarital agreement must be entered into voluntarily and without coercion. It must be a written agreement, signed in front of witnesses. It cannot be unconscionable and both parties should consult an attorney who has their interest in mind.

A prenup can actual help provide for a spouse when the marriage ends. We typically think of prenups as a tool to shield assets, but they can be used in the reverse. A prenup can enable a spouse to have property rights in inherited property that would ordinarily escape a community property designation.

Prenuptial agreements are also a great way to preempt a drawn out and unsettling divorce. The financial details of a separation or divorce can be worked out while the couple is very much in love. The idea is that if the couple is making the hard decisions before they are being dictated by bitter emotions, they will make smarter and less destructive choices about how to end their their marriage. 

Prenuptial agreements are like any other contract because they can be amended or ended. Terms can include a sunset clause that voids the prenuptial agreement after a number of years of marriage. Terms can also be drafted to incrementally blend assets or increase/decrease financial obligations according to preset triggers like the birth of a child, infidelity and even a relapse of drug use[1].

So sure a bouquet of roses is sweet, but if you want to show your partner that you care holla “WE WANT PRENUP, WE WANT PRENUP!” Don’t really do that…an open and honest conversation should do the trick.

Keo'vonne W.

"Turn Your Dream Into Your Legacy"

[1] Keith Urban, a former cocaine addict, forfeits his rights to any of wife Nicole Kidman’s fortune if he uses illegal drugs.