Saturday, June 30, 2007

Behind the Scenes: Celebrity Divorces

Divorce is a nasty business - but imagine having your most intimate secrets splashed across the newspapers. More and more websites obtain publicly filed documents from divorce and other litigation matters and publish them for all of the internet to see. Curiousity, voyeurism, a thirst for the salacious --- the reasons that the public tends to have a voracious appetite for celebrity information are varied.

These documents can also be used to learn about divorce - for the most part, celebrities can hire teams of lawyers who work round the clock to produce comprehensive, compelling and persuasive court filings. Of course, each state, and even each county, has their own procedures and rules as to what can be filed with the court, so you need to know what will fly wherer you live. But these fact filled documents (produced by expensive lawyers) can give you a general idea of how to tell a story --- so that someone will sit up and take notice.

Click here for the divorce filing of NBA star Jason Kidd --- and the response of his wife -- who went toe to toe against him with every allegation --- and then upped the ante with stories of her own.

In litigation, just like in nature, every action produces a reaction - and sometimes a nastier new action. When love goes bad, the gloves come off . . . . .

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Protection From Abuse

What exactly does the law in Pennsylvania provide regarding Protection from Abuse (sometimes known as restraining orders)?

Read a recent Pennsylvania Superior Court opinion here that outlines the law and general requirements of an order under the Protection from Abuse Act.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Knocked Up, Hollywood Style

This weekend, I saw the new summer comedy: Knocked Up. (See clips here.)

Premise: Beautiful successful girl meets not so beautiful, not so successful guy and she ends up pregnant (after one encounter). The movie ebbs and flows through their relationship, leading up to the birth of their love child, with comedic scenes and one-liners thrown in here and there. (And everyone in the movie liberally uses the F-word - almost as if the screenwriters received a bonus everytime it popped into the script. I do not now anyone who actually talks like that - thank heavens).

Back to the movie . . . .

No mention of child support.

No mention of custody schedules.

No mention of health insurance.

Glosses over the pathetic, unemployed situation of dad.

The real world just does not work that way --- but I guess if they made movies all of the time that truly mimicked the real world - no one would be necessariy interested. Disagreements over child support and child custody can be bitter, heartbreaking, depressing and frustrating - not necessarily light summer fare.

*Spoiler alert* (if you do not want to know what happens at the end of the movie, stop reading).

Generally, everyone works towards a happy, peaceful co-existence - loser dad gets a job and his own apartment, Mom accepts dad for who he is and everyone lives happily ever after.

If you are interested in a somewhat more realistic approach to the world of child custody and child support, check out this film, which I wrote about when it was released --- it is now available on DVD.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Who's the daddy?

Happy Father's Day!

We watched incredulously as potential father after potential father kept coming forward to allege that HE was the father of Anna Nicole's baby. (In case you missed the total saturation news coverage of the Anna Nicole saga, you can read about it here.)

Larry, Anna's previous boyfriend, and Howard, her life partner, fought bitterly over the paternity question -- and other stepped into the fray. Why was everyone knocking each other over to be named the father? Maybe for the love and companionship of a daughter? This daughter could offer something more, though, than mere love -- she is the heir to a potential fortune -- if Anna Nicole's estate is successful in recovering huge sums from her late husband's estate. Was that the motivation?

Ok - back to the real world. Here in Pennsylvania - are men running to the courthouse to claim paternity and take their place as a father in their child's life? Or - are they running to the courthouse to deny that they are the father . . . and thereby avoiding a child support obligation.

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania decided a case this week regarding paternity -- a convoluted affair wherein a Mother sought to prove that an ex-paramour was the father of her child, and therefore, on the hook for support. Curiously, the child in question was born in 1989 -- so will be 18 years old this year. That is one of the tragedies of this chaotic story -- to reach adulthood without being sure who fathered you. Read the opinion here.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Getting Over It

There are plenty of fish in the sea - but what happens when the one I am hooked to wants to unhook from me?

Whether you initiated it or it was foisted upon you, divorce signals the end of a marriage - which can bring feelings of loss, confusion, fear of the unknown and financial difficulties. If you have children, you must learn to raise them in two households instead of one and the adjustment process can be overwhelming.

Obviously, the first step in the process is to consult with a lawyer so you can understand your rights and have a clear idea what is ahead. But once you have taken care of the legal aspects - you need to take care of yourself.

Consulting with a qualified therapist can be invaluable throughout the divorce process - to help you through the difficult times, but also to learn what may have gone wrong in this relationship so you know the warning signs next time.

Do not forget to take care of yourself during the process -- divorce can be agonizingly long and expensive. So you need to continue to develope and nurture the other aspects of your life so that you are not overwhelmed by the process. If it is financially feasible, make time to continue a hobby or interest, see friends and family (without monopolizing the conversation about your divorce!), go to the gym and achieve new heights in your career.

Know someone going through a divorce? Well placed and low key humor can help. Check out these nail polish line with names like E-Nuff is E-Nuff, Read-Y Set Ex, Starter Wife and Wife Goes On. This website sells humorous greeting cards that you can send to a friend going through the process. While not every person divorcing is ready for humor, sometimes just showing you are there for them can help.

A client of mine recommended this book: Around the Home and In the Garden: A Memoir of Heartbreak, Healing, and Home Improvement by Dominique Browning.

I have not read it but she says that when her family was making her feel crazy and bizarre for taking so long to get over the end of her marriage, she found comfort and solace in its pages. This author talks about the years of recovery, and she needed to know that it could take that long and that she was not the only one in the world who was having trouble getting over her divorce. So while I cannot personally vouch for the book, it did help one of my clients.

So whatever your method:

reading, seeing a therapist, finding solace in
friends, etc.,

make sure that you do not let your life stop

because your
relationship has ended.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Get Prepared for the Tax Man . . . Now!

Your filing status on your tax return affects the amount of tax you will owe.

Generally, your employer bases the amount of taxes withheld from your paycheck on your filing status.

If your filing status changes, but you do not change your withholding, you could end up owing a signficant amount in taxes at the end of the year. Accordingly, the middle of the year (now) is a good time to check to make sure you are getting the right amount withheld.

Contact a qualified accountant, who can perform that calcualtions with you and assist you in adjusting your withholding. The IRS publishes a booklet that will also give you some guidance. The form that you use to notify your employer is the Form W-4.

Here are some common traps that might cause you to owe a higher tax bill than expected:

1. Having your taxes withheld as married filing jointly, but filing your tax return as married filing separately -- generally - you will owe more.

2. Having your taxes withheld based on claiming your children as dependents - and learning later that you are not claiming those children.

3. Failing to account for taxable alimony that you receive.

Check your tax situation in the summer -
that gives you time to make necessary adjustments so that you are not surprised at the end of the year. Consult with a
qualified accountant who can analyze your situation, and advise you of the appropriate strategies.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Honey . . . . You are Talking into the Wind . . . .

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
-----Eleanor Roosevelt, 'This Is My Story,' 1937

Eleanor Roosevelt's words should be the mantra for anyone going through any type of family law dispute. Arguing over divorce, child custody, child support and dividing assets seems to bring out the worst in people. Rather than negotiating issues like adults, parties resort to name calling, threats, put-downs, hiding personal property, accusations and other child-like tricks in an effort to wear the other party down. Unfortunately, sometimes it works. Do not let it.

People get desperate in family law disputes -- the legal system often moves slower than a snail, the results are never quite what they hoped, legal costs start to spiral and people's limitations (financial or otherwise) become self-evident. So, frustrated, unhappy and confused litigants resort to taking out their woes on the opposing party -- an obvious and available target. Do not let it happen to you.

A few weeks ago, I approached a judge's clerk in court regarding a pending motion (the judge, court and clerk will remain anonymous -- to protect the rude!). The clerk looked at me and said, "Honey . . . . You are talking into the wind . . . . save it for the judge" (This statement was accompanied by rude hand gestures and nasty facial expressions.) Despite the fact that she was wrong, and ultimately, the judge told her to do what I asked, her words remained with me. Sometimes, when you are dealing with someone, you have to realize you cannot win, your words are disappearing into the air and you are wasting energy. So that clerk, with her obnoxious attitude, actually was telling me the truth -- I could have stood there all day and never changed her mind. Realize this before you get into a non-productive argument, email exchange or telephone fight. Retreat and change tactics. And, if the other party is trying to intimidate you, harass you, bully you or otherwise undermine you to get you to agree to something or withdraw what you are pursuing, you should think (but not say - because it rarely pays to be rude) "Honey . . . . You are talking into the wind . . . " Eventually, the other party will realize they are not getting satisfaction and will back down.

So, learn how to hang up the phone, screen your calls, tell someone with finality that something is not up for discussion and stand your ground. You will feel stronger. You will avoid being talked into something you do not want to do. And, most importantly, you will not let someone make you feel inferior.