Thursday, September 18, 2014

Facing Reality

Lat post I talked about whether or not you need an attorney for your family law case.   I asked some really tough questions that only you can answer before deciding whether or not to hire an attorney.   Those questions involve you being realistic about your situation.

Facing reality is hard in a family law situation.   Really, really, really hard sometimes.   I often refer to it with my clients as the same as a death.   It is the death of a marriage or a partnership where you intended to raise your kids together.   This leads to a lot of emotions, just like when a loved one dies.   Except you still have to deal with the other person.   The emotions cover all the stages of grief from anger right up to acceptance.   Getting to acceptance can take a long time.   How long it takes is different for everyone.   But whether or not you are there, the court case is going to happen on its schedule, not yours.   So you have to be prepared.  

Just like the death of a loved one, a dead marriage is dead.   It is no more.   It is not "resting."  It is not "pining for the fjords."  It is a dead parrot  -- I mean marriage.   Now that doesn't mean marriage counseling can't save a marriage.   Or you can't reconcile.   Those aren't dead marriages those, those are merely critical marriages that need intervention to be saved.   A dead marriage is one where one person is not interested in saving the marriage anymore, he or she wants O.U.T.  

Knowing that one person wants out of the marriage can be shown in various ways.   Moving in with a significant other and saying "send me my stuff" is a fairly obvious one.   If they have already moved on with someone else, they ain't coming back.   They have moved on.   They will not stand up at the final hearing and say "You know what, you fought so long and so hard to get me back, I realized I still love you.  I'm moving back home."   Nope, the real thing that happens if you continue to try to force the person to continue the relationship is the person hates you even more than they already do.

Another way to know the relationship is over is when they flat out tell you it is over.   "When someone shows you who they really are, believe them," Maya Angelou.   If someone says its over and you suggest counseling and they say no, go by yourself.   Go to help you deal with the end of the relationship, not because you expect to find a way to get the person back.   They showed you they don't want you, accept it.  

There are less obvious signs, but if you look at your relationship realistically, you will recognize them for what they are.

What can you do once you realize the relationship is deader than a dead parrot?  Protect yourself.   Get an attorney to explain your rights to you.   Don't believe everything the other person says about the division of property, custody, child support, alimony, etc.   You might be married to them but they no longer have your best interest at heart.   They are looking out for themselves.   You need to look out for yourself and not rely on your partner to protect you anymore.   Remember the partner wants O.U.T., not necessarily to be fair and reasonable.  

Get counseling if you feel you need it to accept the situation.   Lots of people don't want to get counseling because they feel it will be used against them -- especially regarding custody.   It won't.  Counseling does not equal crazy.   Counseling is seeking assistance.   And we should all do that when we need a little help.   The courts get this.  

What will not happen is the court ordering the person to stay married to you.   Think about it, the person doesn't want you, is unhappy with you and wants to move on.   Totally the court is going to ignore what that person wants and make them stay because that is what you want.   In Maryland, once you are living separate and apart for one year, the divorce is pretty much happening.     See above for what happens when you fight it.   The sooner you accept the marriage is over, the easier it is on you mentally.   If you keep fighting it, you only hurt yourself.   The other person doesn't care anymore.   Does being married give you rights?   Sure -- to the stuff.   Not to the marriage itself.

It takes 2 people to make a marriage work.   If one doesn't want to work at it anymore, there is no marriage.   Accept this fact, even if you need some time to deal with it emotionally.   Protect yourself legally.   But save yourself stress and heartache by facing reality.

Monday, September 8, 2014

DV in the NFL - My .02 on Ray Rice

As the entire world knows, a new video surfaced today of  the Ray Rice domestic violence incident.   This video is what happened inside the elevator.   We all saw the aftermath when a very drunk Ray Rice is trying to get an unconscious Janay Palmer out of the elevator.   The aftermath video may be the only one the NFL saw when they imposed the 2 game suspension on Rice.   Janay herself also accompanied Rice to his meeting with Goodell and pleaded for a light suspension.   What was she going to do with her abuser right there?   Say "suspend his ass forever?"

I even defended Rice after the aftermath video.   The story at the time was that she hit him first.   Hey, someone hits you, you are entitled to self-defense.   Now could you make like Jay-Z and not hit back when struck by a woman?   Sure.   But it is not wrong to defend yourself.   And he was drunk, he might not have realized how hard he hit her since his reflexes were affected.

I stopped defending him after the joint press conference.   Everything he said set off abuse alarm bells in my head.   He was clearly all about control in his talk about "being the head of the family" and "leading."    Again, Janay now Mrs. Rice was right there taking the blame.    Because abused women believe that.   "If only I hadn't provoked him, he wouldn't have hit me.   I know how he gets."   Make no mistake, before the first punch lands, the abuser has mentally abused the victim into believing she deserves it.  

Then the interior video surfaced.   It showed that Rice lied about what happened.   Janay never laid a hand on her.   I don't care what someone says, you don't hit.   You. Do. Not. Hit.   I don't care if it is most vile disgusting thing you have ever been called.   You. Do. Not. Hit.

But face it, the Ravens and the NFL knew he hit her hard enough to knock her out.  That only got him a 2 game suspension.  He got cut and suspended indefinitely for lying about the circumstances that preceded the hit.    The take away here is "Hit your fiancee, just don't lie about it."

Okay she married him.   Why?   Who nows?   They have a kid together.   Maybe he told her he would get custody of the kid because he had more money.   I see this all the time in my practice.   I explain and explain how custody is decided.   In Maryland, the judge must consider any incidents of dometic violence when deciding custody.   The judges have been educated that if domestic violence happens it is not always just confined to the parent and that even witnessing it affects the kids.   I tell my clients that.   They still believe that the barely literate moron they married can somehow manipulate the system in their favor.   That deispite laws about custody, marital property and alimony, the abuser will get everything and the victim will be homeless with just the clothes on her back.   These folks don't even have close to the resources of Ray Rice.   With his millions (even cut he gets $25 million) she knows he has the resources to get a good lawyer who can make things difficult for her.    Who knows what resources she has?    If she even believes she can try.   Remember I said above about the mental abuse?    Yeah, that could be in play here.   She's been told no one will love her like he does, that she is no good, that is it is her fault, etc.   When you believe that, why not stay?   You certainly don't believe you can make it without your abuser.

The Ravens have cut him.   The NFL suspended Rice indefinitely.   Sounds great right?   I'll believe in the ban from the NFL if he never plays another down.   But the reality is, there are different rules in the NFL for good players versus marginal players.   Rice is a very good player.   He can apply for reinstatement next year.    If he promises never to lie again and has taken some anger management classes to show what a great guy he is, I will not be surprised if Goodell decides to "give him one more chance."

The other aspect of the cut and suspension is what will happen with Greg Hardy of the Panthers?   He has already been convicted of assaulting his pregnant girlfriend, but the case is appeal.   He played Sunday.    Ray McDonald of the 49ers has only been arrested.   In this country, innocent until proven guilty.   Let's see what happens if he is convicted.   If he is not convicted,  the NFL should think long and hard about punishing him.   Sure the NFL doesn't need a conviction to suspend someone.   Sure not being convicted means legally didn't do it.   But the NFL can protect the Shield and suspend anyway if they think there were manipulations (like paying off the victim to not testify or the victim was intimidated into not testify) to avoid the conviction.   Either way, the NFL better get all the evidence before deciding again.   And meet with the victim separately, thank you very much.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

DIY Divorce - Should You?

The short answer is:  probably not.    Unless you have no kids, no marital property and have lived apart for a year (MD requirement) before filing AND have lived in a Maryland for a year before filing, maybe you can do yourself.   Everything else, you need an attorney.   And not just because I believe in full employment for family law attorneys.

But wait, do you even know what marital property is?   Do you think it is just property that is jointly titled and everything with only one person's name on it is separate property?    Not true.   Marital property is anything acquired during marriage regardless of how titled, unless inherited, a gift to only party or by agreement not marital property.   What about pensions?   After all those are earned through one person's job so not marital right?   Wrong.    Because that money could have been spent on the family now it is considered marital property.

The law is full of nuances.   That is why attorneys go to law school, to learn how to work with those nuances.   We practice every day to get familiar with those nuances.   The judges hear cases about those nuances every day.   Do you think you can hit up a few internet sites and be sure you got it right?

Sure those sites exist.   Legal Zoom is a favorite.   They love to say their forms are accepted for filing in all 50 states.   Great wonderful.   But clerks will pretty much accept anything for filing as long as it is formatted right.   It's the form you care about, it's the substance.   Are you sure the generic agreement actually addresses the issues the way a state specific court will?

Take for instance the separation period for a no fault divorce.    Every state is different.   Maryland requires one year separate and apart.   Okay what does that mean?    If you don't know exactly what separate and apart means you might not get your divorce.

Custody.   Are you really going to entrust the future of your kids to some generic form you found on the internet?   These are your kids.   Sure you can agree that you and your spouse will share custody.   Okay, when are the kids with each parent.   Oh you mean mostly with one parent.   That is not shared custody.   But still when do they see the other parent?   By mutual agreement.   Wonderful.   What happens when the primarily custodial parent never agrees?   What happens when you disagree on a non-emergency medical procedure?   One parent wants to send the kids to private school, but wants the other parent to pay for it?   New significant others?    No problem or you want restrictions on when the kids meet?  

Do you know how long child support lasts in your state?   Do you know how you end it?   I had to help a guy in the family law clerk's office once because he was arguing with the clerk that the child support was ended because the kid was iwth him.   But he didn't have an order saying that.    He could not understand that it was not automatic thing.   He also had trouble with the concept of service.   He thought just telling the mom about how he wanted child support to end was enough.  

Do you know how to properly serve someone so the case goes forward?   In Maryland, a party cannot serve the papers.  

Then there is the whole emotional thing.   Your relationship with the other person is ending, whether through divorce or just two parents who never married going separate ways.   I often tell my clients it is just like a death.   It's the death of a relationship and you go through all the stages of grief from anger right through acceptance.   Sometimes it takes longer to get to acceptance than you think.   You might believe you are at acceptance but your actions are still allllllllll the way back at anger.   Can you put your emotions aside and do what is in the best interest of your kids?   Should your kids really be kept from the other parent or are you just so done with the other parent you want nothing to do with them?   You might be done, but the kids are not.   Even if kids are not involved, can you divide up the stuff fairly?   Do you think you should get everything because the other person cheated on you?   Yeah, it doesn't work that way.   Adultery may affect the division of property but in reality it rarely does.   Basically, can you put your emotions aside to do what needs to be done with the case or are you running the case based on your emotions toward the other person?   If you are too emotionally involved, you will not conduct a good case.   An attorney cares about the case but is not emotional about it.  

To sum up:   The person who represents himself has a fool for a client.   Get an attorney.   Getting it right the first time is worth the cost and waaaaay cheaper than trying to fix it later.