I post my contributions to news outlets, interviews and published articles on this page. I launched my mission in Feb 2020 to change the way family law is done and to help families get better outcomes for less money. I invite you to bookmark this page for highlights and updates “In The News”.
DEEP FAKES IN DIVORCE COURT: MANIPULATED ELECTRONIC EVIDENCE AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
In a recent case I worked on, Wife submitted text messages as evidence of domestic violence and threats made by Husband. The threats in the text messages were short and to the point. Husband had learned that Wife’s boyfriend had been arrested for pretty horrific domestic violence in front of the children. He requested, and was granted, temporary custody of the three minor children.
FIVE CHANGES TO FAMILY LAW PRACTICE IN THE PANDEMIC
It’s been about 100 days since California issued its COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. For my own solo family law practice, and from my discussions with and observations of my colleagues practices in Santa Barbara County, the pandemic has led to several surprises and also had a marked impact on how we practice family law.
DON'T FORGET TO DIVIDE THE PENSION PLAN IN YOUR DIVORCE
The most important thing to remember if you are divorcing and have or are married to someone with a pension is that it is not only a valuable asset, but most likely the most valuable asset in the marriage.
The pension plan in your divorce is something you should start thinking about right away.
A former client of mine was married to a Lt. Col. in the US Air Force for 34 years. She and her husband had 4 children and had lived, as is a common story, all over the United States and abroad. They had met when they were still in school and were married from her husband’s first commission until one or two years before the end of his career. My client referred to his military retirement as “our retirement.” “Jude,” she said, “I traveled all over the world with that man, for his career, on the promise that we would get to retire together. I never had a career myself. I homeschooled four kids, made the home for him and spent many tours of duty being a single parent for months on end, worrying about his safety. That is why it is our retirement.”
COULD COVID-19 lead to more divorce settlements with less family suffering
As divorcing spouses recognize the suffering and sadness, worry and anxiety in each other due to the pandemic, we can begin to talk openly about fair and good resolutions of divorce cases. The combination of shared anxiety and astoundingly long wait times from Courts could allow COVID-19 to lead to more divorce settlements with less family suffering.
Remote Court Appearances Are the New Normal (and That's a Good Thing)
California courts’ reopening guidelines require all court appearances to be remote – via telephone or video call. Before the pandemic courtrooms were impossible places for social distancing of any sort. It was not uncommon to have “standing room only” in the small, cramped courtrooms in the three counties in which I regularly practice—San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara (north and south) and Ventura. Almost two weeks before our courts announced a shut down in early March, I informed our civil court presiding judge that both I and the three lawyers I employed were not going to make in-person court appearances.
child support in a pandemic-broken economy
One in five American workers filed for first-time unemployment benefits from mid-March to April 25, according to the most recent report from the U.S. Department of Labor,
“At the highest of levels of unemployment following the 2008 financial crisis, there were 15.3 million jobless Americans. But in the past five weeks, a staggering 26.5 million workers have already filed jobless claims,” wrote Lance Lambert in “Real Unemployment Rate Soars Past 20%” (Fortune, April 23, 2020).
Prior to March 13, there were already 7.1 million unemployed Americans, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “When the figures are combined, it would equal more than 33 million unemployed, or a real unemployment rate of 20.6% – which would be the highest level since 1934,” Lambert continued.
Just one year ago, the unemployment rate was 1.1% and the volume was 1,659,123.
This unemployment crisis means it is time to start thinking about child and spousal support orders. Courts are closed across the nation, making it more difficult to seek modifications of orders already in place. In California, the Court does not have jurisdiction to modify support orders until a party has sought to modify them by filing a formal motion (Fam. C. 3653 – the later of the motion to modify support or the date of unemployment). But many clerks’ offices are closed and are not processing new motions.
What does a support obligor do?
3 Things to Do When Your Ex Won’t Follow the Quarantine Rules
Virtually all courtrooms in the country have closed for the COVID-19 pandemic. Adding to that is the pressure of schools being closed and parents off work.
Now that most school districts across the country have determined that they are not going to reopen until the beginning of next school year, what are parents to do?
Sharing custody of children can be trying under the best of circumstances, but living with the virus (quarantine rules, symptoms of illness, different views on the disease and parenting strategies, a lack of clear guidance from courts and experts) exacerbates parenting conflict.
Many courts have issued general guidelines that parents are expected to follow existing court orders. This means households that are sharing children back and forth are essentially living under one roof in a sort of conjoined bubble (two separate households with people going back and forth).
Co-Parenting in Quarantine: Sharing Custody During the Pandemic, Advice from a Family Law Specialist
If the coronavirus pandemic was a hurricane, only now would the winds have begun to blow.
As a California divorce lawyer for 12 years, and before that a Professor of Disaster Management at Louisiana State University at the Stephenson Disaster Management Institute, I can warn you that there are two truths in any disaster: 1) the disaster is what happens after the winds stop blowing or the earth stops quaking, and 2) the thing that causes the biggest problems is never what you expect or what you plan for.
We are in the middle of a slow-moving disaster of perhaps the most epic proportions we have witnessed in modern times. In California, we have no available courts and access to judges is limited to the most extreme emergencies (e.g., I have a client whose child is in a medically induced coma unrelated to COVID-19 who needs special attention or he will die). In the midst of this, we are called to do what Buddhists say in a different context, “chop wood, carry water.” The pressure cooker of quarantine is, in many ways, a divorce lawyer’s garden—spouses cooped up, money running tight, the kids home from school all day, nowhere to go. It recalls Sartre’s No Exit in which one of the characters, cooped up in a hotel room for eternity with two others, remarks: “Hell is other people.” But, surprisingly to some readers, most divorce lawyers I know view it differently. They are concerned about increasing incidents of domestic violence, child and spousal support payments with skyrocketing unemployment, dealing with school and court closures, and juggling child custody agreements in an age of quarantine.
Could COVID-19 Lead to More Divorce Settlements with Less Family Suffering?
Today a friend told me he was optimistic. Another told me he was hopeless. For my own part, I have been painfully closer to hopelessness than to optimism these last couple of weeks. I have meditated each morning with positive effects; it is probably the only thing keeping me from plunging into the pit of despair. I pressed my optimistic friend on his outlook, and he said he believed in the American spirit and that as a nation we would rise again. His confidence struck me and forced me to consider how a divorce lawyer could be optimistic during such dire times? After all, we divorce lawyers are rarely optimistic creatures.
I spoke later in the day with a client who is a well-known music producer. She and her husband have been deeply stressed about their marriage for several months, both wanting to get divorced and both wanting to preserve their assets. It is not a complicated divorce in terms of the division of assets, but the existential questions being asked by both have made it more complex: “Where will each of us live? How will we finish our residential lease? How will we share the dogs (there are no kids in this marriage)?”
From Academic to Advocate: On Becoming a Divorce Lawyer (With Heart)
When my daughter was born, my DNA changed. Her mom had a C-section, which meant I had the first two hours of my daughter’s life outside the womb alone with just my daughter in the nursery. Her mom had had those 9 months in utero to bond with her, but for me, those first precious few hours cemented that she was the one for me . . . Only 18 months later her mother and I split up.
I had spent the better part of my adult life chasing a doctoral degree at Berkeley—and earning a law degree–working at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. After earning my degree, I landed a “dream job” as an LSU professor for a disaster management think tank funded by Hurricane Katrina donor dollars. The job started in August 2008; shortly thereafter Hurricane Gustav missed New Orleans and slammed Baton Rouge. Because I had just started my job and my daughter hadn’t been born yet (she was born in September 2008), I was in Louisiana doing research when the storm came. The storm itself was a metaphor for how I felt—having a partner but unmarried and about to be a father at 35 years old (not young like my parents were when they started a family) right at that moment when all of the professional goals I had made were coming to fruition (but far away from home).
Graduating and the legal market is looking bad? Go solo!
Practicing law as a solo practitioner can be daunting. Yet, at a time when more new law school graduates than ever are complaining that they cannot find employment after graduation, “hanging a shingle” is the road not considered, much less taken, by many potential lawyers.
According to a 2017 ABA Journal article (“At least half of the lawyers in these nine states and jurisdictions aren’t working as lawyers”) 42.7% of California lawyers are not working as attorneys.
Imagine spending all that time and money (especially that money) and not even practicing in the field you studied? Sure there are pitfalls, and it is difficult enough dealing with judges and opposing counsel without also running a business and making payroll.
Still, sole practitioner is the choice many new law school grads should take for the following reasons.