February 2011 Archives

February 24, 2011

Gays, Marriage, the Constitution, and Defense of Marriage Act....

Irrespective of your view of gay marriage, if you studied Constitutional Law you had to conclude that the Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA] wasn't constitutional. Essentially, this Clinton era legislation was to appease those who didn't like the idea of homosexuals getting married - this Federal law provides that a state is not required to recognize same sex marriages conducted legally in another state.

This became big news this week when the administration announced it no longer intended to waste time and energy enforcing the law. For students of the Constitution, however, it's not really big news except that a government employee has openly sided with reality.

The problem with the law is a provision in the U.S. Constitution that requires one state to provide "full faith and credit" to the public acts, laws, and court decisions from every other state: Article IV, Section 1. In simple terms, this means such things as a court ruling in one state being entitled to enforcement in another, or a contract validly made in one state is enforceable in another.

When the DOMA was enacted, it was my first reaction that the law violated this provision of the Constitution. There is a strong need for too many politicians to make it look like they are doing something to satisfy their core constituents. Where I have a problem is that they won't admit that they are wasting a lot of time and effort on window dressing to satisfy the ignorance of the voters. Unfortunately, those who claim to want strict enforcement of the country's founding document really only want to enforce the parts of the Constitution they like best, and don't see the hypocrisy. After all, the document is more than the 2nd amendment.

February 23, 2011

Whom Do You Trust to Give You Divorce Advice?

As part of my practice, I have Google alerts to keep me advised of news involving San Diego Family Law. Amazing what Google sends me daily - often some blog or other website change by a lawyer trying to impress potential clients, but also stories about divorces in the news - your basic TMZ saga of a celebrity or a really rich person.

Today, one alert was notice of a "divorce and property support group" where you would talk about your rights, avoid mistakes, learn who gets to keep the house. That's practicing law, or at least teaching the subject. Who sponsors the group? A real estate broker. The charge? $50. Doesn't sound like a support group to me. Sounds like a way to make money in a down real estate market, while getting your name known to people who might need a broker because they are forced by finances to sell their home.

Now a broker might be able to sell your house, but tell you about your divorce property rights? Give me a break. When I tried to find out who was doing this, I learned there is a group passing out "certification" as real estate collaborative specialists in divorce. Their claim to fame seems to be that they can do a better job of selling the house of people going through a divorce than someone who hasn't gone through their 12 hours short course. Never heard of such a certification program before. No surprise there. They are trying to capitalize on the "Specialist" and "Collaborative" designations, especially the latter which has some real meaning in Family Law. And if you want to get your divorce information from a Certified Family Law Specialist, there is a legitimate program behind that rating.

Personally, I know several brokers who don't claim this new "certification" who have sold dozens of homes in my cases with minimal friction between the parties - these are called PROFESSIONALS. I send my clients to them because they do their jobs, and no one complains to me about the choice. And, because they are professionals, they tell their clients to get their legal advice about their property rights from a lawyer.

Then there was the press release from a local divorce mill [advertise heavily, suck in a lot of business, and higher young and/or inexperienced lawyers to work on the cases]. The release was bragging about the great skill of one of its lawyers who had managed to get a father's timeshare with his children increased from 35% to 50%.

Sounds like quite a coup, until you talk to a certified family law specialist - he or she will almost certainly tell you that such orders are really pretty routine, it just depends on the facts. Although such a court order represents a 50% increase in time, it really means adding about a day a week - often a pretty easy feat as long as the non-custodial parent is competent, the children are doing OK in school and socially, and his or her work schedule permits the extra time - the system is biased in favor of equal sharing between competent parents, especially where they live close together, even though children generally perceive a 60/40 split as about equal.

Changing an order can be pretty easy if the 35% share hasn't caused problems, the children are doing well in school, no one has been arrested for a bar fight :), and especially if Family Court Services recommends the change. FCS mediates between the parents, and makes a recommendation to the judge if the parties don't agree.

In fact, an experienced lawyer may have his client agree to a 40% times share at the beginning of a case, knowing that adding an extra 10% [36 nights a year] is pretty easy to achieve the next time the case comes before the judge - all that is usually needed is that the non-custodial parent has kept his or her nose clean, stayed involved with the child or children, and can adjust his or her work schedule to accommodate the extra time since the prior order.

Now, if the non-custodial parent worked 60 hours a week, worked odd shifts, didn't or couldn't participate in parent-teacher conferences and doctor appointments, or take the children to their after school events, different case. Show me such a parent where the timeshare increased 50%, and I'll take notice. That would require luck and good lawyering. A beginner might be lucky....

February 21, 2011

Cost of Litigation in Divorce Cases: Millions for Defense....

Here's a question: Would you spend upwards of $300,000 in attorneys fees trying to get your spouse from collecting what he or she is probably going to get anyway? Does the answer change when the dollars change? Does the answer change if the person is in a tax bracket close to 50%, and has to earn close to $600,000 to pay those fees.

Let's say, hypothetically, there is a very long term marriage. The high earner makes about $1,000,000 per year. The low earner wants support to maintain the marital standard of living. In this hypothetical, the low earner worked throughout the marraige and still works, full time, earning about $80,000 per year. Hypothetically, the temporary support ends up being around $30,000 per month. In gross terms, that leaves the high earner with about $640,000 a year, and the spouse about $440,000 per year. Sounds like a lot of money, doesn't it, but hardly unfair to the high earner after 30 years of marriage.

Temporary support in my county, San Diego, is almost always computer and formula driven: Pretty predictable once you agree on the amount for the parties' earnings and tax deductions. Our computer programs calculate net incomes and divides them on about a 60-40 ratio, although it is adjusted for the recipient-spouse's earnings and often ends up closer to 55-45 if the low earner makes a good living.

Long term support [also called permanent or judgment support] is what a judge would order after trial and the division of assets - the court must then consider a bunch of factors, and is not permitted to use guidelines. Notwithstanding that rule, long term support tends to be close to temporary support for long term marriages: Those twenty plus years, especially if a career was built during the marriage.

Knowing all of that, why would anyone spend that kind of money avoiding the inevitable? I don't have an answer, but it's a question that I ask a lot. Especially after watching it happen time and time again. Personally, I'd rather give the money to my ex-spouse than to the lawyers. The lawyer isn't going to walk my daughter down the aisle or come to my son's graduation, and at least I'm keeping the money in the family.

February 5, 2011

Divorce Lawyer Bragging Rights? Pulling the Wool....

The economy is lousy, so I expect a little puffing by my competitors to get a bigger share of business. But sometimes the claims are really silly.

I have a permanent Google alert set to send me any news about family law in San Diego, so I get a lot of weird posts from blog sites, press releases, and other efforts by lawyers trying to get noticed: I.e., to move up their Google ratings. The more their names and and web addresses appear on the web, the higher they rate, on the mistaken assumption that a lot of people are pointing to them.

Sometimes, the stories or posts read as though they had been written by a third grader who wasn't a very good student - pure gibberish, incomplete sentences, and typos in almost every sentence. [yes, I know, I make a few]

Last week, a lawyer who runs a mill and isn't a certified specialist, issued a press release bragging about the great skill of one of his employees. The young lawyer had "managed" to increase a father's custody time share from 35% to 50%. That is almost a 50% increase, but hardly one that requires great skill in most cases.

Any lawyer who has a significant volume of cases has results like this all the time, and most of the time it has nothing to do with his or her skill - usually you get such a result when Family Court Services recommends and increase, but sometimes it's not much more than a father who decides he is able to spend more time with his children, or a mother who goes to work full-time and can't care for the children all day.

It reminds me of an older post commenting on a lawyer whose website brags he is the recipient of a "coveted award." That award, in reality, used to be given out by a retired judge at our family law bi-annual dinners to point out lawyers who show up late regularly, and always have an excuse for not quite measuring up - someone we like, but not too reliable. You need to be careful with what you read - it's not always what it seems.

February 3, 2011

Co-Parent by Divorced Parents:

Here is a link to an interesting article in the New York Times Magazine from last Sunday dealing with the effects of divorced or separated parents attempts to co-parent.

I neither endorse, reject, nor comment on the contents, I am just the conduit. :)