Saturday, March 19, 2011

Announcing the Divorce Field Madness Tourney

I checked with a friend if I was legally obligated to do a March Madness tourney on this blog since it is sports related.   I have never filled out a bracket for the Tourney and really didn't want to start.   Fortunately, my friend who knows my dislike of March Madness very well and has occassional flashes of brilliance, suggested I do  a family law tourney.  

The idea is simple.   I took stories from the last year (mostly) that involved sports figures and family law.   I broke them into four sports categories:   NFL, NBA, MLB and Other.   I had to go with Other because apparently all the other sports -- including hockey -- are far to genteel for their family law issues to make the news.   The details of each case can be found under the "Divorce Field Madness Tourney" tab at the top of the page.   To play, just vote for your favorite cases in the polls below.   The top two from each category will go on to the next round.  The next round will have the top case from each category move on.   From there, the final four will be paired in a way I find interesting (hey I am running this thing, I get to seed it).  Then finally the votes will be for the most intriguing, interested, screwed up, expensive, whatever family law story of the year.

The sixteen cases are in the poll on your right.   Scroll through to vote for each category.  You may vote for more than one case in each category.   However, this is not Chicago, you may only vote once.   And no dead people voting.

Feel free to comment on the cases in the Comments Section.   Enjoy.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dads Do Too Get Custody

This got a little lost in all the lockout/decertification news out of the NFL.   There are other sports you know (I have just learned this).  

Dwayne Wade of the Heat was granted custody of his two sons on Friday.   Full physical custody.   They arrived to live with their father in Miami on Friday.   His teammates gave him a standing ovation in the locker room when he shared the news.

It was sadly a very long and nasty custody battle.   The final opinion of the Judge was 102 pages, the longest in Cook County history.    That is a long opinion for any case, let alone a family law case.    According to the article, Wade's ex-wife made several baseless allegations against Wade and his fitness as a parent.  

That is just wrong.   Parents should not be tearing each other down just to gain an alleged advantage.    Leaving aside the fact that this often does not work (Courts aren't stupid, they know when someone is trying to put something over on the court), it only hurts the kids.   The kids become pawns in the divorce.   Whoever gets the kids "wins."    It becomes about winning, not the best interest of the kids.

Most courts have done away with maternal preference for custody and the "tender years" exception.   The "tender years" exceptions means that young kids should be with their mother.   The law has caught up with reality -- dads can change diapers (if I figured it out, anyone can), dads can feed the children (okay breast feeding is a problem but no kid died from being a bottle baby that I know of), dads can get up in the middle of the night when the kid is cranky.   In other words, either parent can provide a loving, caring environment for the child.

It used to be that for dad to get custody, he had to prove mom was unfit.   This lead to a lot of baseless allegations against mom.   Thinks like "mom has a boyfriend, she shouldn't have the kids,"  "mom has a drink after dinner, she is an alcoholic and shouldn't have the kids."    This led to mom fighting back.   And a horrible double standard.   Mom having a boyfriend was considered bad because who knew what that guy would do to the kids.   Dad having a girlfriend was good because there was a woman there to help him care for the kids.   REALLY???????    It all got very insane for dads trying to get custody of their kids.

Now the standard is Best Interest of the Child.  No more showing the mom is unfit.   It means showing which parent is better for the child in this particular case.   Dad may love helping the kids with homework and getting them up and out the door for school.   Mom may want to scream everytime she thinks about having to make dinner.   Mom may love all the projects associated with Girl or Boy Scouting.   Dad may prefer root canal without anesthesia to attending one more PTA meeting.    Doesn't mean either parent is bad.   Just means one is a little better at parenting than the other.   The perfect solution would be each parent caring for the kids according to their strengths.

Well, that's the perfect solution.   In the real world, it rarely works that way.   Dads still have a heck of a fight on their hands to even get joint custody.   Many courts still assume mom is the best parent until proven otherwse.  Mr. Wade had the money to fight his ex-wife for several years.   Not every dad has the money or the energy to fight that long.   All I can say is Dads, don't give up.    Your kids are worth it.   Just ask Mr. Wade.  

Saturday, March 12, 2011


It actually happened.   The implications of both the players' lawsuit and the owners' lockout are well covered by PFT, The Volokh Conspiracy and The Sports Law Professor Blog.

While there may be no football for awhile, custody, child support and divorce cases continue.   Heck, the players have nothing better to do right now, might as well get those cases moving.   There are two types of cases, those that are currently litigated and those which have been litigated and the player may want a modification.   There are different things to consider in each type.   Let's examine them.

    In litigation:    As always the court will be looking at the "best interest of the child."   Is an unemployed dad, the best custodial parent right now?   Dad won't be going to offseason lockouts, he won't be traveling for games during the season, etc.   If Mom does work, maybe living with Dad is the best to avoid putting the child in daycare.   If Mom doesn't work, as Mom has been providing the majority of care because of Dad's work schedule, should she retain custody?  

This all assumes that Dad is too involved in being a football player to care for the children.    It is a vast generalizations, that is certainly not true individual cases.   Football player dads can be just as involved in their kid's lives as any other Dad.   But, there unique work schedules and incredible amounts of travel have to be considered.    With a work stoppage, all that changes to just any other out of work Dad.   If the judge believes the work stoppage may continue for awhile, he may award custody to dad.   Or he may decide Mom is the best as the most stable parent all along, looking at the long term.   Judges know this lockout won't last forever.   They have to make the best decision for the children, not just today and the future.   But, if I represented Dad, I would be arguing the current situation that we have today.

  Already Litigated:   Judges probably won't accept a work stoppage that is mostly likely temporary as a "material change in circumstances" such that moving the children around is warranted.   In joint custody situations, Dad can probably get a few more nights.    In sole custody situations, hey, it's a great time to spend more time with your kids.    Get a weekend overnight that you couldn't have during the season because you worked weekends.    See if Mom lets you have the kids for a week (as long as they get to school).   Taking a trip is probably not a good idea since you don't know when your next paycheck will be.   There are lots of free or low cost things you can do with your kids though.   Time to do those things you would promised you would do "when you had the time."   Time is all you have now.   No offseason workouts with your teammates at the team facilities, no OTAs, maybe no training camp.   Take advantage of the downtime to hang with your kids.   Even if you never missed a visitation, try to spend some extra time with the kids.   They will love you forever for it.

   In Litigation:   Again, depends on how the judge sees it.   If the judge knows this is temporary, he may look at the player's contract and based alimony on that income.  This is the most likely scenario.   No player is ever guaranteed a spot on a team and a continue paycheck  (Not even Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.   Believe me if they had not come back from their knee surgeries as well as they did, they would have been cut).   The only thing guaranteed to a player is the guaranteed money stated in the contract.   Given that reality, a temporary work stoppage has no more effect on a player's income that being waived by a team.   A judge has to look at the income and make a decision about the player's future ability to make payments.   On the other hand, the judge could look just at current income ( 0 ) and know that the player could be cut when -- and if -- training camps ever open again.   The judge could then say the player is not voluntary impoverished since the owners locked him out of his employment.   He could then look at the player's ability to get another job and what that job would pay.   The decision about alimony would be based on that likelihood of getting employment.

    Already Litigated:   The player could really be screwed here.   In some states (like Maryland), alimony is not modifiable.   What was established when the divorce was litigated is what the player is stuck paying, regardless of financial situation.   The good news is that alimony is not the lifetime pension it is was once.   In the 21st century, the wife is expected to get off her butt and get a job.    Just because she was married to a rich football player once up a time does not negate her need to be self-supporting.

Child Support
    In Litigation:    Much the same analysis as alimony.   With one huge exception -- you are expected to sacrifice and do what you can to support your children.    Supporting your ex-wife, not so much sacrifice expected.   A player would be expected to get a job during the work stoppage to make sure his kids have food on the table, a roof over their heads and clothes on their backs.    The judge may figure child support based on the player's football income, presuming the stoppage will be temporary.    Temporary unemployment will not relieve one of the obligation to pay child support.   The judge may consider the temporary job in assigning a temporary amount to be increased when the player returns to the playing field.   

     Already Litigated:    The standard for a change in child support payments is the same as for a change in custody -- "material change in circumstances."    It is up to a judge to decide whether a most likely temporary work stoppage is enough to warrant a permanent change in payment amount.   This is unlikely.   Whether dad is working or not, the kids still need to be supported.   The amount won't likely change.   The judge could decide to temporarily suspend payments until the player returns to the field.   The player would then be responsible for all the back payments.   This is unlikely though.   The lockout should not impose a hardship on the children who had no say in whether it occurred or not.   The children cannot make up the difference of the child support payments.   Dads need to continue making these payments, whatever other sacrifices they make during the lockout.

Obviously, the players should have been saving their money for just this situation.    They should have enough money saved to meet all their financial obligations until the paycheck resumes.   Some will have done so.   For those players and their families, life will go on just as before.   For those that didn't, they  may be explaining their lack of financial responsibility to a judge.   It will not be pretty.   I don't see any judge being particularly sympathetic to someone who makes more at the League minimum than most people make not saving some of that money for the lean times.  

We all hope this Lockout is temporary and we have football come fall.   For the players facing family law issues, this just complicates an already difficult time.   Resolving it quickly will mean one less uncertainty to deal with in court.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Owners Open Your Books

One of the sticking points in the NFL CBA is that the owners refuse to open their books.   They claim they need to claw back some of the monetary gains made by the players in the last CBA because teams are not "profitable."    Apparently, the players are just supposed to take their word for it and give back the money.  

The players union, not being stupid*, is not going for it.   They have consistently asked for financial information.   The League has responded by offering to provide aggregate numbers with no data or documentation to back up the numbers.

Again, the players, not being stupid, are demanding the actual numbers so their own accountant can review everything.  The owners are still balking.  

In a child support case, one can't just say what one's income is.   One must produce documentation in the form of pay stubs and bank statements.    If one fails to produce this information there is big trouble.   It must be produced under oath too (at least in Maryland).   Which means if you lie, you can be criminally charged with perjury.  

This is for everyone.   Your average folks who have some savings, the big rich folks with multiple houses, and the folks living paycheck to paycheck.   Even those receiving state assistance must produce verified proof of benefits.

Yet, the NFL in a major negotiation with the players to work out the new financial agreement (among other things) for the future of a multi billion dollar industry, want the NFLPA to just take their word for it?     Not happening.   If the player's union sues, they will have to produce a lot more in court.   If they don't they will face a lot more trouble from the  judge than a simple "produce the stuff, please" that happens in most family law cases.    They could be facing huge monetary sanctions.   It certainly will influence any final ruling.

It is better to disclose up front, than be forced to disclose.   The court always hates the side that tries to hide information.

*At least not stupid on this issue.   They may be acting stupidly in other areas.   The owners may also be acting stupidly in other areas too, while smart in others.    The scream you may hear at 11:59 ET tonight will be me if there is a work stoppage. 

Putting It All in Perspective

I woke up to news of the horrific 8.9 earthquake that hit Japan this morning.   It was followed by a tsunami with a wave reported as high as 23 feet.   Waves are beginning to hit Hawaii as I type this.   The devastation is incredible.   Hundreds missing, including possibly a boat with 100 passengers and a train.   Nuclear plants are also affected, with evacuations ordered near one.   No one knows what the final death toll will be.   The Christchurch quake was just a couple weeks ago with equal devastation.  

It really snaps things into perspective.   Mike Florio over at ProFootballTalk posted about this in an excellent piece concerning the NFL CBA.   Is trying to figure out how to divide up a $9 BILLION pie that important?   I think not.  

Looking at it from the family law perspective, it really brings the big picture into focus.   Does it really matter who the kids live with as long as they are safe and cared for?    Who cares who gets the house as long as it is still standing?   Oh and the golf clubs, third car, stamp collection or whatever?   Really, is that worth the fight over?    Your ex wants a few extra bucks in child support?   If you can afford it, pay it.   It's for the kids, who you love so much.   I am not saying these things are never fighting over.   But, make sure the fight is for the right reasons.   Don't keep arguing with your ex just because you are mad at the break up of the relationship.   Keep the focus on what really matters.   Love.   Going home at the end of the day to a warm house.   Waking up the next day knowing you will see your kids smiling faces, get a hug and a kiss from them.

There are people in Christchuch and Japan who will never experience those things again.   Don't take what you have for granted.   Appreciate it every day.  

If you want to help the people of Christchurch or Japan, I am sure the Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, Mercy Corps and many other fine organzations are accepting donations.    All of the organizations I have listed are rated by Charity Navigator.     

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Oh Good Grief.

You have no idea how much I wanted to entitle this post "Guys, keep it zipped up."   However, I decided that was a little unfair.   It's not always the guy's fault when things like this happens.   After all, it takes two to tango. 

What did happen?

Former Bear Shaun Gayle testifed on Tuesday in the murder trial of his pregnant girlfriend.  Allegedly, his pregnant girlfriend was shot by another woman who had a relationship with Gayle.   Gayle had previously stated there was only a business relationship.   Under oath, the real truth came out -- as it so often does.   Gayle and the other woman, Marni Yang, had a sexual relationship.   From the testimony it appears it was a friends with benefit situation.   Well, that is how Gayle saw it.   Yang apparently wanted a bit more. 

Hence, the title.   Guys, if your girlfriend is pregnant, do not be getting it someplace else.   In fact, if you are in a relationship such that pregnancy is not unexpected, don't be getting it someplace.   Do not be spraying it around like a fire hose.  However, as I said, it's not always the guy's fault.   Ladies, if his girlfriend is pregnant, do not sleep with him.   He is not going to leave him for you.   If he is willing to bail on his pregnant girlfriend for you, do you really want him?   No, you do not.   Have some dignity.

In my practice, I have seen this happen several times.   He has kids of the same age, only a few months apart.   For the guys, this means you are paying child support for kids of the same age.   You are trying to balance visitation with kids of the same age.   For the women, this means you have to explain to your child why their half-sibling is the same age.   Also, sometimes the dad prefers one child over the other (usually based on how easy the mother makes things for dad -- as he perceives easy).    Do either of you want to explain the situation to a judge?  

It is just a mess all around.   Think before you have sex.   Keep it zipped up.   Use birth control -- both parties.   Do something to avoid this situation.   It is not good for anyone, even if it does not end like the Gayle case in one person being dead. 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

LT Fights Child Support Increase

Lawrence Taylor, the Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker for the Giants, back in court on Friday.   The hearing was about whether the media would be allowed in the courtroom for the final hearing.   The case revolves around child support.    LT has a 12 year old child, he has never seen.    He is currently paying $456 per week in child support or $1824 a month.    The mother wants to increase the support as the child has apparently been diagnosed with Crohn's disease.   LT wants to decrease child support.  LT is not behind in his support payments, so there is no issue there.

The judge ruled that the media would be allowed.   It is standard practice, according to the article, that New Jersey family law hearings are open to the public except in cases of abuse and neglect.    Obviously, any court is concerned with protecting the privacy of a minor child.   Usually, the child is not present in the courtroom.   Believe me, judges hate it when parents bring their child to hearings, whether the media is there or not.    The last thing a child needs to hear is mommy and daddy fighting over who gets the child or how much the child is going to cost.   As the child will not be present, and the media seems to be careful about disclosing information, I see no problem with the media being present.   If LT does not want the media following him, he can behave in a less newsworthy manner.

Which brings me to why the case is going to a hearing at all.  It never looks good when a parent wants to reduce child support payments.   Absent a really good reason, like being completely out of work for a really long period of time, you find a way to make those payments.   You work too jobs, you sacrifice luxuries (like hookers) for yourself to make those payments.  I don't know why LT is looking to reduce payments.   But the fact remains, that is what he is asking.  

Based on what he is paying, under the revised Maryland Child Support Guidelines (finally updated after far too long), the combined parental income is at least $14K a month.    Most of us are looking at that going, he makes $14K a month and thinks $1824 is too much for his child.   Let's go deeper into the caculations here.   

In Maryland, you take both parents income, minus any pre-existing child support being paid.   LT has at least three other children.   However, at least one of those children is an adult, so no child support there.  It is possible he is paying child support to the mother of his other kids from whom he is divorced.   That amount, if any, would reduce his monthly income.     Once you have established both parents income, you add them together for the combined income.   Then from the combined income, you figure the percentage of each parent's share of that total amount based on their income (for instance, a combined income of $900 per month, where one parent makes $600 and one parent makes $300 would yield a figure of 66% for the first parent and 33% for the other parent).    Then you check the statutory guidelines for the base child support figured given the combined income and the number of children.   In LT's case we have an estimated combined income (it is unknown how much the mother makes) of $14K per month.    That number for one child yields a base child support of $1824 per month.  

That is the base figure.   From there, you add in other things such as healthcare, daycare expenses if necessary, and extraordinary medical expenses.   Extraordinary medical expenses are those expenses that are not regular doctor visits, checkups, the like.    Treatment for Crohn's disease would fall under extraordinary medical expenses.   You add those expenses, whatever they are to the base child support figure that you found in the statute.    You have to add these in because all these costs vary so much so you have to take into account their actual expense.   Also, it is fairly clear that the base child support amount does not reflect what it truly costs to raise a child.

Once you have the base figure and all the extras figured in, you then divide that total by each parent's percentage of income.   That final number is each parent's child support obligation.   The parent the child is living with is already paying that amount, so does not need to pay the other parent.   It is the parent the child is not living with who has to pay the parent who has the child, the obligated amount.   

These numbers tend to be very straightforward.   Although arguments can be made to go up or down from them, it is tough to do.   You run up against the excellent public policy of parents should sacrifice to provide for their children.  

I would love to see LT's arguments for why he thinks his sick child should receive even less money per month.   This case cannot help his public image where he already plead guilty to sexual misconduct and patronizing a prostitute this year.   Perhaps, it would be best if Mr. Taylor is so concerned about the media portraying him in a negative light to just pay up.   This is a 12 year old girl we are talking about.   She already has never met her father.   Now, he is trying to support her financially even less?   He made be a Pro Football Hall of Famer, but Father of the Year he is not.