The Thoughtful Divorce

One of the core tenets of my practice is that people need to be very thoughtful and very intentional about how they are going to go through the divorce process.  If they don’t want a big nasty fight, then they need to take the steps necessary to avoid a big nasty fight.  If they want to fight, so be it; that can be a valid choice.  But that needs to be an intentional choice, not something you fall in to. 

The point is that you don’t want to fall into a certain kind of divorce by accident.  You want the tone, tenor, and structure of your divorce process to be the one you and your spouse choose, not the default process of your attorneys.  

But to do that you have to start with the end in mind.  What kind of relationship do you want to have with your spouse down the road?  What kind of relationship do you want to have with your kids down the road?  What kind of relationship do you want your kids to have with the other parent?  Do you want to stress your kids out when they are planning their wedding because you and your ex never healed?  Do you want to lose out on time with your kids and grandkids because they have to divide their family time between divorced parents who can’t be in the same place? Do you prefer to fund your children’s college or your attorney’s children’s college?

I think these are the concepts that the divorce attorney to the stars, Laura Wasser, is touching on in her recent interview about the new movie Marriage Story.

In discussing a character’s super aggressive divorce attorney she says “If you don’t want to end up like these people, and have somebody like this representing your spouse, you ought to really think carefully about how you embark upon the road to divorce.”

She goes on to describe the trend of divorcing couples finding more peaceful and reasonable ways to get through their divorce: “I definitely think that, in the last five to ten years particularly, we have seen a shift in terms of more divorcing parties going to mediation, communicating more effectively…joining communities, reading things, getting educated about the process”.

Part of the reason for that is the fading of the misconception that aggressive and attacking behavior helps a client’s cause.  She says she doesn’t recommend clients “…exercising bad behavior as a way to get ahead. I don’t think judicial officers find that to be something that’s worthy of being rewarded.”

Laura Wasser is just one attorney but she’s an attorney who deals in many cases where privacy is paramount, there are big financial issues at stake, and emotions run high.  If she is telling her clients to be very thoughtful about their divorce process and to keep the end result in mind when choosing a process, then perhaps that’s good advice for everyone else.   

iPad and iPhone Dangers in Family Law

Technology is great.  Information sharing and syncing across your devices is great. But, more than one problem has arisen when kids, spouses or ex-spouses see texts, emails or photos that were not intended for them due to technology. Sometimes, this happens when kids have physical access to a parent’s device. That is easy enough to prevent.  What is trickier is when the kids have their own device (iPad, iPhone, iTouch) that is synced to the parents iCloud or Apple ID.  In that case, texts, messages, photos and other things that are intended for the parent can show up on the kid’s device. In order to avoid that problem in your life, here’s an article that helps explain how to avoid your private messages ending up in front of other people:  http://www.iphonejd.com/iphone_jd/2015/02/ipad-tip-turn-off-messages.html. When it comes to this problem, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Toddlers & Tiaras: A Cautionary Tale of Child Custody and Privacy

Most lawyers will tell you that there are many hidden perils of taking your family law matters to court. 

One of those hidden perils is the loss of your privacy.

Privacy has many forms.  One form that people frequently don’t consider is the loss of privacy in child custody actions.

This loss of privacy takes the form of the government interfering in parenting decisions that it would have no right to inquire about if you were not in court.  In court, everything you do as a parent and every decision you make regarding your children becomes a matter for public scrutiny.

This recent story about Lindsay Jackson, a “Toddlers & Tiaras” mom, is a cautionary tale:  Jackson lost custody of her daughter, Maddy Verst, at least partially because of her decision to put her daughter in pageants. 

If the case were not in court, then it is hard to imagine that a governmental agency would have grounds to inquire into this kind of issue in a family.  No one has the power to tell a parent not to put their child in pageants; unless you are in court.

But, once the matter goes to court, parenting decisions and behaviors that have been sheltered by your privacy are open to judgment and review by a court, and the public.  And like Bill Verst, Maddy’s father, most parents in court are only too willing to bring up these kinds of issues in front of a judge.

Clearly, Lindsay Jackson believed her daughter’s participation in pageants was good for her daughter, a positive experience and an unquestionable parenting decision.  Turns out, the father, the court and the court’s psychologist did not agree. 

Before you run to court to open up your family’s life and your parenting decisions to judgment by a court and the public, you may want to ask whether you want to sit in the crucible of explaining your parenting decisions to a judge.  Your privacy may be more important than your need to fight.  And, while you may consider the decisions you’ve made for your kids to be above reproach, the people in power may not agree.

Fortunately, you can resolve your child custody issues without sacrificing your privacy and without opening your family and your decisions up to public scrutiny.

Collaborative law and mediation allow you to work out the issues while maintaining your privacy and your family’s privacy.

 

 

Work Email and The Attorney-Client Privilege

Email that you receive at your work email address may not be confidential.

Many people do not realize that email in your work email account may well belong to your employer, not you.  That is because your employer owns the system and provides the service to you.  And, you may well have signed something in your employee handbook by which you agreed to this fact.

This matters because under some situations, having an attorney send you emails at your work email address may waive the attorney-client privilege. 

That in turn means that there is some chance that an opposing attorney could force your employer to turn over the emails between you and your attorney that went to your work email account. 

The bottom line:  If you have an attorney, get a personal email account and have all emails from your attorney sent there.  And, as a broader rule, do not use your work email account for any personal business.  

New Divorce Options Presentation

I find that many clients are completely unaware that they can actually choose the process for resolving their family law or divorce issues.  

As many people are stunned to discovery, in North Carolina you don’t have to go to court to resolve the issues of property division, cash flow, support (alimony and child support), and co-parenting (child custody).

While a legal divorce does require court action, the other and usually more pressing issues can be resolved privately, through a number of other processes.  

I have created a presentation that explains the basics of each process and briefly analyzes the pros and cons of each.  This was initially presented to a large Triangle company through its employee services program.  But, I think many more people can benefit from this information.

This informaiton may help you discuss your options with each other, and with any professionals that you consult.  

Feel free to contact me if you have questions about this information.  

Online Legal Divorce Forms and Separation Agreements – Privacy Problems

Last week, I wrote about the need to consult an attorney prior to using an online separation agreement or divorce forms.  This week, I’ll discuss another problem with these forms: Privacy.

 

I have seen many clients that use these forms without an attorney.  Most of these clients record their separation agreement, child custody (co-parenting) agreement or property settlement agreement with the Register of Deeds.  They do this because something in the online form, the form’s instructions or something else on the internet told them that this recordation was necessary.

 

Unfortunately, once a separation agreement is recorded with the Register of Deeds, it becomes public record.  That means that anybody with a computer can easily look up, read and print your separation agreement if it is recorded with the Register of Deeds.  Anybody.  For any reason.  Friends, family, foes, members of your church, co-workers, etc…And I can tell you that people love to know the intimate details. Do you really want to give them access to that kind of personal information? 

 

There are some parts of a separation agreement and property settlement agreement that may need to be recorded with the Register of Deeds.  But, a good family law attorney can help you avoid making your entire agreement public knowledge.

 

I routinely advise clients to avoid this kind of public disclosure of their private lives.  After all, if you wanted the details of your separation to be public knowledge, then you could just go to court.  But, in North Carolina, there are ways to avoid making the terms of your separation public record. 

 

However, you would not know that unless you consulted a North Carolina family lawyer.

 

Online separation agreements and divorce forms can be useful.  But, there are risks in using these documents, and the loss of privacy is one of them.

 

Consulting a North Carolina family law attorney before using these online forms can save your privacy.