Sunday, February 23, 2014

From Whom Are You Taking Legal Advice?

Probably the most common thing I hear as a family law attorney is "My brother's cousin's best friend's nephew told me I can get [x] in my case."   X, of course, being whatever the person talking to me really wants to happen in the case.   Usually, this involves being told if you get joint custody, you don't have to pay child support.

In my crankier moods I want to respond with "And where did this person go to law school?"   In nicer moods, I patiently explain why that might not be possible in this particular case.   Especially the joint custody gets you out of child support one.   That one is highly unlikely.  

People always want to argue based on what they heard, saw on tv, read in the paper, whatever.   The problem is that 1) the people they are talking to are not lawyers and/or 2) every family law case is very fact dependent.   Within the law what is possible in one case might not be possible in another.

What really baffles me is that people are paying me to give them legal advice, then challenge me when I give it to them.   I and every other attorney went to law school.   We passed a bar exam.  We are qualified by the authority that granted our law licenses to give legal advice.   Why would listen to someone with no legal training over someone who has all that?   I know, people want to hear good news.   They want to hear that what they want is possible.   I get that.  But, once you are told by qualified people that what you want is not possible and they have explained to you why it is not possible, you should listen.

Family law cases are stressful enough.   They are not fast either.   A case can take months to get to trial (but usually not years).   Involving family members and friends by listening to their legal advice over that of your attorney, only makes the matter harder and longer.  

Obviously, ask questions of your lawyer.   Make your lawyer explain until you understand.   After all, you are the one who has to live with the consequences.   But don't make a difficult matter worse by taking the legal advice of non-lawyers over that of your lawyer.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Relaunch - Refocus

When I started this blog, the idea was to use sports to explain family law.   I quickly found out that the most common problem athletes run into is not paying child support (hey they are just regular folks after all).   There were only so many times I can say "Dude, pay your child support."   So the blog kinda faltered.   Okay died like the Broncos offense when faced with the Seahawks D in the Super Bowl.   Definitely not pretty.

I also found myself tweeting a lot about stuff I saw in family law that day at the courthouse or heard about  or just thought of.   A lot of that stuff does not really explain well in 140 characters.

Combining these two things made me realize its time to relaunch this blog.   Same name, new focus.   I am just going to talk about family law issues in good plain English so someone who is dealing with the court system for the first time can understand it.   Understand it enough to work with their attorney to achieve a realistic result.   What I post here is not legal advice, might not apply to a particular situation faced by a reader and quite, frankly, should not be relied on solely in court.   Family law is emotional.   You need an attorney to help you deal with the legal stuff, so you don't have to deal with it and the emotional stuff too.

Obviously sports will still creep in.   It can't be helped.   That's who I am.  Even my non-sports liking clients get sports metaphors.

Hope you enjoy the new focus.   Feel free to comment often.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Must Be Nice

Tim Duncan recently finalized his divorce in a private hearing held at his attorney's office.  Yes, the judge left the courthouse -- on his lunch hour -- to grant Duncan his divorce in private.   His ex-wife's attorney was there so clearly it was okay with her.   No notice of the hearing appeared on any docket.   Must be nice to be able to get a judge to give up his lunch hour to grant your divorce.

Now, there are good reasons for this.   The media scrum at the courthouse might have been pretty bad if the hearing were made public.   But, on the other hand, court proceedings tend to be open for a reason -- so the average Joe and Jane can see the justice system works.   That nothing is hidden.   Hearings like this lead people believe there is one system of justice for rich folks like Tim Duncan and one for the rest of us.   I work for the rest of us.   I represent folks who going to the courthouse and spending time even in court for even a simple uncontested divorce means time missed from work.   Unpaid time missed from work.   Believe me, I wish I could get the judges to have hearings in off hours so my clients don't have to miss work.  But it's not going to happen.   First, Judges deserve their lunch hours too and shouldn't miss it just because someone wants a divorce.   Second, because the judges are at the courthouse, we go to them, they don't come to us.

Now, Tim and the former Mrs. Duncan are to be commended.   They apparently went about getting divorced with minimum fanfare and fuss.   They apparently reached an agreement and the divorce hearing today was uncontested.   This is great.   More people should do this.   Fighting over every little thing doesn't save the marriage, it just makes the end of it that much harder on everyone and means the animosity will linger longer.   Agree where you can.   Be reasonable at all times.   The sooner you reach a settlement (without being a doormat, of course) the sooner you can move on with your life.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Update -- And Custody Goes to the Cousin

The judge has ruled in the custody case for child in the Belcher-Perkins Case.   After listening to testimony and at least one expert witness, the judge decided that the cousin of the child's mother should have permanent custody.   He felt that both the paternal grandmother and the cousin would be good guardians but the cousin was better.

He also stated all those involved should remain involved in the child's life.   However, it's not clear from the news report whether this is formally in the Order.   If it is not, I foresee lots of trouble ahead.   If there is no Order to at least allow the other family members -- especially Jovan Belcher's -- access to the child, the cousin can simply deny any and all acess.   One hopes she won't do that.   However, it happens far too often in contested custody cases.   If one person has all the control over access, then they go power hungry.

This is more likely in this family considering the cousin will have to put aside her personal feelings about the family of the man who murdered her cousin.  I hope she can for the child's sake.   The child needs to know both sides of her family -- regardless of the circumstances that led to her being orphaned.

The other good news in the case is that no family member controls the very large trust fund.   A corporate trust company is managing the funds.   This will ensure (hopefully) that there is money left when the child turns 18.   And reduces the need to control access over money fights.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day

Probably should have done a post on Mother's Day too.   Oh well, this blog covers family law issues in the sport world.   The sports I cover have mostly male player, so, Father's Day gets more attention.   Which is unusual.

Good knows we talk enough about fathers here.   Especially the ones who don't pay their child support.   I don't care how many kids you have -- pay your child support.

I don't care how difficult the moms are, take every second of your court ordered visitation.   There is NO excuse for not spending time with your kids.   Fine, being a professional athletes doesn't exactly lend itself to every other weekend visits.   Do what you can.   You don't have to go that party in Miami.   You don't have to go to that other sports's championship game(s).   Spend time with your kids.   Or hey, bring your kids.   They would love it.  

Two tweets (god I hate that word, someone give me an alternative PLEASE) gave some really good advice this Father's Day.  

Wanna say Happy Fathers Day to all the good dads out there. Wanna change the world? Starts w/the man in the home. Raise your kids!

"The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother." - Theodore Hesbur

On that last, you don't have to be married to the Mom or living with her.   But you damn well better treat her with respect -- no matter how she acts.   And you better not bad mouth her to your kids, or let your kids see by any of your actions how you truly feel about her.   This is the mother of your children.   Without her, you would have a reason to celebrate Father's Day.   Got it?  And I don't want to hear about that she doesn't do the same.   Two wrongs don't make a right.   Be the better person.   Set a good example for your kids.   That is the best gift you can get for Father's Day, knowing your kids will grow up to be good, respectful productive members of society.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Who Gets the Kids -- When Mom and Dad Are No Longer Around

Custody is usually decided between Mom and Dad.   After all that is the point of a custody order -- to decide with whom the kids will live when.   If Mom and Dad are living together, there is no custody to decide.   If only one parent is available for some reason such as hospitalization, incarceration or sadly, death, then that parent gets custody.

Grandparents have few rights to get custody of kids.   If Mom and Dad are both around, they have almost no chance.   Even if one parent is gone, the parents of the missing parent do not just step into the void created and act as the other parent.   The surviving available parent is sole custodian of the children.   With all the rights to determine who sees the child when as before.  

Grandparents can get custody but there are some hurdles to overcome.   In Maryland you have to show extraordinary circumstances and unfitness of parents.   These two actually go hand in hand.   If the parent is unfit, there are extraordinary circumstances.   If there are substance abuse issues or incarcerations, the parents are not fit to have custody.   Usually in those situations, the child has been left with a grandparent anyway.   The grandparent then is really just getting the court to recognize legally what the situation actually is.  The grandparents are the primary caregivers of the child, making all the decisions for the child.  

But what happens when both parents are gone?   That situation is playing out in a Missouri Courtroom beginning June 11.   The underlying facts are as follows:   Jovan Belcher of the Kansis City Chiefs shot and killed Kasandra Perkins, the mother of his child last fall.   He then drove to Arrowhead stadium and killed himself in front of his coaches.   This left a little girl with no parents.  His mother was present for the shooting.   In the immediate aftermath, she began caring for the child.   She allowed the parents of Perkins to take the child to Texas for her mother's funeral.   The Perkins family then refused to return the child.  The child is currently being cared for by a cousin of Perkins.

It is up to a judge to decide which family it is in the child's best interest to live with.   He will have to look at a lot of factors, not the least why this child is an orphan.   He will also have to evaluate whether the requests to care for the child are motivated by true love and affection for the child or money.   You see the child is quite wealthy.   There is insurance money as well as a fund set up for her.  Whoever gets custody will most likely get control of the money.

Of course, the court could craft a compromise.  Physical custody with one family, visitation with the other.   Although until the child is old enough to travel alone (which won't be for years, she is only 8 months old now), the families will have to meet.   How do the families meet knowing that a member of the Belcher family killed a member of the Perkins family, leading to the current situation?   As for the money, both grandmothers could be appointed joint trustees with a requirement for agreement on any spending.  That should keep any one family from exploiting the child.  

This is one of the hard ones.   Deciding custody between two fit parents is hard enough.   Add in a murder and it becomes the stuff that keeps judges awake at night.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

NCAA and Custody

Last week was National Signing Day.   Normally I don't care where high schoolers are going to college (unless related to me).   This blog is about professional athletes and their family law problems.   College students -- even pre-college students -- are not technically professional athletes.   But hey, the schools will make millions off the sweat of these kids and this is too good a story.

Alex Collins a star player in Plantation, Florida went to his high school to sign his NLI.  He wants to go to Arkansas (soooey).   His mom wants him to go to Miami (uh yeah whatever they say there).   She took his Letter of Intent and left the building.  The obvious solution is "Get another Letter."   Apparently it is not that easy.   Although some of these high schoolers are 18 and will most likely be 18 by the time they play for their chosen school, the NCAA apparently requires a parent to co-sign.

So end of story unless Alex can talk him mom around right?   Well, Alex did what we all did when we were kids.   Mom said no, so he asked his Dad.  They got  a new letter and signed it the next day with Dad co-signing.

Mom retaliated by hiring a lawyer.  She is exploring her legal options.   Not sure what they are with regards to forcing her son to go to a school he doesn't want to go.   He's going to play football, it's not like she has to pay for his education.

But she might have grounds to challenge the legality of the NLI.   Alex's Mom and Dad are not married.   Presumably there is a custody order.   Custody takes two forms -- physical and legal.   Physical is where the child lays his head at night.   Where does Alex sleep (or supposed to sleep, there are indications he actually lives with his coach) on a regular basis?   Physical custody won't mean anything in this mess.

Legal custody is the big one.   Legal custody is the big life decisions about a child.   What religion is he raised in?  Does he attend public or private school?   Do we allow him to play football?  And the big one -- who can legally sign documents on the child's behalf.

Legal custody can be joint or sole.   If joint, the parents must consult with each other and reach shared decisions about the child.   If sole, only one parent makes the decisions but should keep the other parent informed.

If Alex's Mom had joint custody with Alex's Dad, it may be determined that either parent could sign the NLI just as if there were no custody order.   If Alex's Mom had sole though, Dad might not have had authority to sign it.   If Dad had no authority, the signing is void.   Which means Alex is back to persuading Mom to let him cut the aprons strings and move away from home.

I am going to keep watching this to see if anything actually happens from Mom retaining a lawyer.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Keep the Ex and the New SO Apart

Thanksgiving, that time when families comes together -- and custody handoffs occur.   Everyone wants the little angels to spend Thanksgiving with them, not the other parent.   But hey, there is a court order stating otherwise.   The Court Order controls.  

So, the split has occurred and everyone has moved on.   There is a new Significant Other in one parent's life.   Gues what, this new SO is NOT a parent.   They should not be involved in the Custody Order, the pick ups or the drop offs.   Even if the new SO lives with the parent.   If the pick up and drop off occurs at the house, the new SO needs to make his/herself scarce.   No confrontations at the front door, in the living room, in the driveway.

Did I say the driveway?   Yep, that is what happened to Halle Berry with her new fiance and her old boyfriend (who happens to be the father of her child).   Halle is already irked because she was not allowed to move to France.  Turns out dad has rights.   Go figure.   Money does not trump that.

So, Dad has the little cutie overnight and returns her today.   All nice and correct.  Until the new fiance decides to insert himself in the situation.    He approached Dad during the dropoff and tries to make nice.   Which seems like a good thing -- except it is not his job to do that.   He needs to stay out of the situation between Halle and Daddy.   It is not his business.

Now, what Dad did is not right.  He charged Fiance and started a fight.   A serious fight which ended with both men in the hospital.   Dad is also facing misdemeanor charges.   Which is wonderful example to set for his kid.   Fortunately, Halle rushed the child into the house as soon as the fight started.   But kids are not stupid.   She is old enough to know daddy and Mommy's new friend got into a fight.  

Yes Dad was wrong to treat a gesture of conciliation as an invitation to fight.   However, again, fiance needs to keep his nose of things that are none of his business.    I get more calls in my practice after the case is over where the new person in the other parent's life is causing trouble.   Talking trash, trying to take the parent's place in the kid's life, disciplining the kids, and generally interefering.   This could all be avoided if the new SO just understood - you have no rights to these kids so stay out of it.   If the parent insists on inserting the SO into the situation, rather than dealing with the other parent on his/her own, that is equally wrong.   The parents are the parents.  Period.   Keep others out of it.  

Or it leads to this -- someone going to jail.   And a child who feels horribly caught in the middle.

(okay, this one is not sports related, but it was too good a lesson to teach.   And it was Halle Berry, I am not dumb enough to miss the SEO implications of that)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

"Not Even Once" Means You Too, Ocho

Now airing is a new PSA against domestic violence.   It features various sports figures speaking out against domestic violence saying that you don't hit someone you love even once.   It features David Beckham (all too briefly), Eli Manning and others along with Barack Obama and Joe Biden.   It does not feature Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson.    Which is a good thing considering the events of this weekend.

Chad was arrested Saturday night after an altercation with his wife one month, Evelyn Lozada.   It began over allegations of cheating and ended with violence.   He claims she headbutted him, she claims he headbutted her.   She was the one with the laceration and went to the hospital.

All of this is allegations at this point.   We don't know what happened between the two or who did what to whom.   What you don't do when someone is furious with you is get in a small enclosed space.   Which is what they did.   They were outside the car at home and got back  in the car to talk.    Furthermore, if the fight is getting heated -- walk away.  There is no rule that says you have to continue a fight.

Some men will say she was asking for it.   No one asks to be hit.   If someone is provoking you to the point that you feel you have no choice -- you do have a choice.   Walk. Away.

You don't want to be set up.   Walk. Away.

Be the better person and don't get into a physical fight.    It doesn't solve anything.   It just makes things very much worse.  

"Not even once" was taken seriously by the Dolphins.   They cut Johnson on Sunday night.  Yes, innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.   But your employer doesn't have to keep you employed.   If you get arrested as an NFL player or a barista at Starbucks you can lose your job.    Is your income really worth smacking someone upside the head?

Domestic violence is not acceptable.   It is not a way to resolve issues in a relationship.   It is about power.   Power that you think you have until the police put the cuffs on you and you find out who really has the power.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Divorce - NFL Style

The New Orleans Saints have been in the news a lot this offseason.   Not always for good reasons. Now they got another headline they probably didn't need.    Head Coach Sean Payton has filed for divorce.   The usual reasons of "irreconciliable difference" is cited.

Although he coaches in New Orleans, the filings are in Tarrant County, Texas.   This is due to a quirk of coaching in the NFL.    Coaching jobs can be short in duration.    Better to have one home for the kids while dad heads out to work.    Makes for not seeing a lot of dad during the season, but at least the kids aren't uprooted every few years.  

Mrs. Payton has counterfiled for residential and legal custody of the kids.   That means she wants the kids to remain in Tarrant County.    Legal custody means she wants to make the decisions about the kids' upbringing.    Joint legal might be preferred (at least in Maryland) but sometimes it doesn't work.    I can see a judge looking at the work hours of an NFL head coach and just saying, "Decisions about the kids need to be made in a timely fashion, Dad can't do that most months of the year, Mom gets to make decisions."   This does not mean Dad is cut out.   Dad still has a right to know what is going on with his children.   Period.   No hiding information just because Mom is the decision-maker.

At least with Payton's year long suspension from coaching, he will have time to devote to this case. On the other hand, it is a suspension without pay.    That could make calculating child support interesting.    If Dad technically has no income (I forget what Payton is doing this year to keep busy since he can't even attend the Saints games), how can he support the kids?   On the other hand, he is expected to work in order to be able to support the kids.    Since the Saints have said Payton is coming back as HC next year, a smart lawyer would ask the judge to calculate the child support on his contractual income.   Let Payton's lawyer argue against it.