Has Divorce Lost Its Shimmer?

This recent article in the New York Times makes the case that women’s views on divorce have changed over the last thirty years.  

While women may have viewed divorce as liberating in the 70’s, according to more recent research, it is now viewed as a failure.  

And, society’s reaction to divorce has changed.  Whereas divorce was once seen as something to be celebrated, it may now be harder for divorcees to discuss their divorce openly.

Further, the article notes that the divorce rate among upper middle class couples has fallen over the last 30+ years.  

The question remains as to whether these changes are a result of better marriages or differing attitudes about divorce.

Semi-Happy Marriage

There’s a new book out about the “Semi-Happy Marriage”.  As profiled on the Today Show this morning, Marriage Confidential explores the life of couples that are roughly satisfied with their marriage, but not ecstatic about it.  

I cannot help but wonder what percentage of these couples will find themselves separated or divorced later.  

Hopefully, they will take the steps to make their marriage fully happy before it comes to that.

Perhaps the book can be a catalyst of positive adjustments in your own marriage.  

Or, perhaps it is just an interesting read.

The Ripple Effects of a Bad Divorce

Unlike almost all other kinds of cases, family law resolutions typically cannot involve a “clean break” between the spouses.

Children, continuing financial payments and other continuing connections prevent most spouses from totally eliminating the other from their life. 

In contrast, two companies in a dispute can simply choose to never do business together again; an injured person and the person that hurt them can simply avoid each other; a lender and a debtor can choose not to borrow or lend from each other in the future.

Families don’t have that choice. 

Therefore, how a family law case is handled makes a huge difference for family law clients.  If two companies that never have to do business with each other again hate each other, they can cut ties.

But, if two parents that are going to be tied by children and financial commitments for years to come hate each other, well, then you have a recipe for long term disaster.

For example, in an adversarial and positional divorce, the following common situations frequently lead to numerous trips to court, unnecessary arguments and ballooning legal fees:

  * Future parenting decisions about schools, medical treatment, religion, etc.…(not to mention the smaller day to day decisions that can lead to problems (TV hours, sports, sleep-overs, discipline, etc.…));

* Decisions about selling a house:  Selling price, repairs to be done, repair concessions, etc.…

* Increases or decreases in financial support payments due to income fluctuations;

* Temporary adjustments to financial support payments due to income fluctuation, increased expenses or major life events;

* Adjustments to co-parenting schedules due to work schedules, new families, new spouses, children’s changing needs, etc.…

* Decisions about who will attend future family events with children and grandchildren.

 

By contrast, in divorces that are handled respectfully, productively, and in an interest-based model, these problems are frequently resolved by simple phone calls or emails.   This is only possible because the spouses saved enough of their dignity and their relationship to communicate with each other after their divorce. 

The point is this:  Allowing your divorce to take on an adversarial, positional, contentious tone will not solve your problems or effectively resolve the legal issues of your divorce. Rather, it will set you and your family up for future court battles, legal fees and destruction.  These ripple effects can haunt families for years and even decades after the actual divorce.

Choosing processes like Collaborative Divorce and mediation offer the chance to avoid these negative ripple effects in the future. 

 

Randolph (Tré) Morgan III is an experienced family law attorney accepting cases in Raleigh, Cary, Apex, Garner, Fuquay-Varina, Clayton, Smithfield, Wake Forest, RTP, Durham, Chapel Hill, Holly Springs and surrounding areas.  He focuses his practice in divorce, child custody, alimony, child support, equitable distribution, property division, paternity, guardianship and other family related matters.  

Collaborative Divorce: Getting Down to Business

The longer I practice collaborative divorce, the more benefits of the process I discover.

Case in point:  I recently helped a client who owned her own small business.  She had owned the business for a decade or more when the couple decided to divorce. 

The looming divorce forced her to analyze her cash flow needs for the future when she would be supporting herself.  The problem was that she had not kept a tight handle on the company’s finances in the past.  She didn’t know if the income from her business would support her in the future and help support the children.

Fortunately, she was in the multidisciplinary collaborative divorce process.  So, she and her husband hired a neutral financial specialist to help them with the financial planning of their divorce in the collaborative process. 

Thus, my client was able to spend time with the financial specialist getting a handle on her business’s finances.  And, she did not have to do it under the pressure and stress of subpoenas, discovery demands and other litigation tactics.

Once that was done, my client had good solid numbers to analyze for her business.  That enabled her to make financial decisions in the collaborative process that she did not feel comfortable making earlier. 

That ability to make decisions was of great benefit to her spouse, who had a need to make decisions and move forward. 

My client came out of the process with a separation agreement, co-parenting plan and financial plan that worked for her, her spouse and her business. 

And, as an added benefit, she came away with a much better understanding of the financial picture of her business.

This case is just one great example of the many “value-added” benefits of collaborative family law and highlights why small business owners benefit from the collaborative divorce process.

Randolph (Tré) Morgan III is an experienced family law attorney accepting cases in Raleigh, Cary, Apex, Garner, Fuquay-Varina, Clayton, Smithfield, Wake Forest, RTP, Durham, Chapel Hill, Holly Springs and surrounding areas.  He focuses his practice in divorce, child custody, alimony, child support, equitable distribution, property division, paternity, guardianship and other family related matters.  

 

$30 Million Alienation of Affection Judgment in Wake County

A Wake County judge recently handed down another huge judgment in an alienation of affection and criminal conversation case in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The award to the ex-wife against her Husband’s paramour totaled $30 million dollars.

$10 million of that amount was to compensate the ex-wife for actual losses suffered as a result of the paramour’s “stealing” her husband’s love and affection.  The other $20 million was awarded to punish the paramour for her acts.  That is some expensive lovin’.  

This story will surely draw headlines all over the country.  North Carolina has become famous (or infamous) for these kinds of cases.

However, it is important to note that the paramour apparently did not even appear to defend herself.  So, this case is not reflective of the true “value” of alienation of affection cases in North Carolina.  It appears that the judge awarded the ex-wife what she claimed she was entitled to receive, and since it was not contested, she essentially got to “pick her number.” 

I suspect that the paramour does not have $30 million sitting around.  In fact, she may have nothing (other than her apparent charms).  As is typical in these “super-verdict” cases, the ex-wife will likely not even collect one percent of that award (that would still be $300,000).  And, the husband doesn’t have to pay a penny of the judgment.  So, the amount of the award is largely irrelevant.

Nonetheless, there are two very important lessons to take away from this story:  First, don’t fool around with married people in North Carolina; second, be prepared to defend yourself if you do. 

 

Randolph (Tré) Morgan III is an experienced family law attorney accepting cases in Raleigh, Cary, Apex, Garner, Fuquay-Varina, Clayton, Smithfield, Wake Forest, RTP, Durham, Chapel Hill, Holly Springs and surrounding areas.  He focuses his practice in divorce, child custody, alimony, child support, equitable distribution, property division, paternity, guardianship and other family related matters.  

Spending Your Marriage Away

As a divorce attorney, I see a lot of marriages that suffer from financial stressors.  It has been a matter of simple observation that debt creates marital stress and sometimes lead to divorce.

In his short article “Bank on It: Thrifty Couples are the Happiest”  Professor Jeffrey Dew explores the impact that spending habits and financial issues have on marriage from a scientific perspective.  He points out that consumer debt has a negative impact on marital happiness.  According to Dew’s review, the “research indicates that consumer debt (e.g. credit card debt) plays a powerful role in eroding the quality of marital life.” In fact, he goes so far as to conclude that “…couples who are wise enough to steer clear of materialism and consumer debt are much more likely to enjoy connubial bliss.”  

While debt is may not be the main or only cause of any divorce, it is worth considering the impact of debt on your marriage.  It may be far wiser to pay off your credit cards and save your marriage than to pay a lawyer to handle your divorce.

 

Randolph (Tré) Morgan III is an experienced family law attorney accepting cases in Raleigh, Cary, Apex, Garner, Fuquay-Varina, Clayton, Smithfield, Wake Forest, RTP, Durham, Chapel Hill, Holly Springs and surrounding areas.  He focuses his practice in divorce, child custody, alimony, child support, equitable distribution, property division, paternity, guardianship and other family related matters.  

Divorce Negotiation: Maximize Your Influence

One thing that I try to convey to clients in family law or divorce matters is the difference between control and influence. 

Control is the ability to determine the outcome of a situation.  In contrast, influence is the ability to affect the outcome of a situation in some way. 

Understanding how these differ, and how they play into an issue are crucial to productively resolving family law legal matters. 

In short, there is no control over a family law matter.  So, clients need to maximize their influence.

Many clients want to control the outcome of their legal issue.  However, the reality is that no one party or attorney can control the outcome.  That is true in both negotiation and in the courtroom.  In negotiation, any resolution is by definition voluntary.  And, neither party can force the other to agree to anything.  Since neither party can control the other, neither can control the outcome of a negotiation. 

Many people and clients come to me with the belief that they can control the outcome of their case if they go to court.  This is, in fact, a myth.  In court, only the judge controls the outcome.  This is especially true in custody and spousal support cases.  In those cases, there are few established guidelines for a judge to follow.  Thus, a judge exercises wide discretion in making decisions.  (There are more structured guidelines for judges deciding property division and child support issues).

So, regardless of whether a client is negotiating or in litigation, no one party can control the outcome of their case.  Actually, many clients know this before they come to me.  And knowing that they cannot control the outcome naturally creates a lot of fear for them.  The typical response is to try to find a way to gain control.  I believe that many family related lawsuits are filed out of this desperate attempt to gain control over the outcome and reduce fear.

I have found (as have most of my clients) that the better approach is to make the most out of a client’s influence over the outcome of a dispute.  In reality, all a client (or an attorney, for that matter) can do is influence the outcome. 

Processes such as mediation and Collaborative Law maximize client influence over the outcome of a case.   Mediation and Collaborative Law give clients influence in determining what issues will be negotiated, how the issues will be negotiated, when the issues will be negotiated, whether the issues are resolved and the terms by which the issues are resolved. 

That is maximum influence. 

Allowing a court to tell you what you can talk about, when you can talk about it, how you can talk about it and ultimately what you are going to do with your life, children and worldly possessions is not maximizing your influence over your matter.  That is minimum influence.

My advice:  Before you make decisions in a family law matter, consider whether you are exercising maximum influence or operating under the myth of control.

Divorce Processes: Impact of Early Decisions

One dynamic that I see repeated in family law matters is that most families stay on the legal path that they chose at the beginning of the divorce.  For instance, most couples that pick-up the sledgehammer of litigation from the beginning stay on the litigation path for the remainder of their dispute.   Likewise, most couples that pick up the chisel of collaborative divorce or mediation resolve future issues through those same processes.

The reason for this, based on my observations, is that litigation creates, feeds and depends upon hard feelings.  Typically couples choose litigation because they are so angry or inflexible that they cannot productively negotiate with each other.  (There are exceptions to this; some couples have very complex or novel legal issues that are best handled in litigation).  The competitive win/lose nature of litigation encourages negative statements and testimony about the other party.  That creates hard feelings and anger, which in turn creates more negative statements.  This is, perhaps, the biggest reason couples are rarely able to avoid future litigation once they have chosen that path. (Some people begin litigation but end up resolving their disputes in court ordered mediation. However, even those people typically file a lawsuit again when the next issue flares up).

 On the other hand, couples that choose to avoid litigation in the beginning typically choose to avoid litigation in future disputes. In my experience, choosing non-litigation processes for conflict resolution avoids many of the hard feelings and competitive tactics of litigation.  Thus, the parties are able to maintain a problem solving focus instead of a competitive focus.  These couples often choose collaborative divorce or mediation from the outset.  They then return to these processes for future problems.

 Given this dynamic, it should be obvious that the first steps a couple takes in divorce will have a long lasting impact on their disputes and their families.  Therefore, it is imperative that couples learn about their options for resolving their disputes before picking a path.  


Randolph (Tré) Morgan III is an experienced family law attorney accepting cases in Raleigh, Cary, Apex, Garner, Fuquay-Varina, Clayton, Smithfield, Wake Forest, RTP, Durham, Chapel Hill, Holly Springs and surrounding areas.  He focuses his practice in divorce, child custody, alimony, child support, equitable distribution, property division, paternity, guardianship and other family related matters.