Entries Tagged as 'Divorce Mediation and Law'

New Year’s Resolutions for Divorced Parents

The Huffington Post has a nice article on New Year’s resolutions for divorced parents.  Some are obvious, but not everyone may be thinking about these things.

Happy New Year to all my clients and readers!

 

Divorce from Bed and Board

New Jersey has a law on its books from 1907 that allow a divorce from bed and board, also called a limited divorce.  The law was intended to allow couples to legally divorce without also receiving a religious divorce if their religion prohibits divorce (such as Catholicism).  In essence, the law allows a couple to break their economic bonds and go their separate ways while at the same time they remain married and they are not allowed to re-marry.  Since NJ does not recognize legal separation, this is the closest the state comes.  This also could potentially be used by couples who want to divorce, have no plans to remarry and want to remain on their spouse’s medical insurance (note: some insurance companies may look at limited divorces as a perpetuation of a fraud — consult an attorney before attempting this).

There is a downside: either spouse can have the limited divorce decree converted to a standard divorce decree without notice to the other party.  Also, both parties must agree to the divorce from bed and board.

A limited divorce gives people more options, but it is important to understand all the nuances.  If you are interested in pursuing a mediated divorce, please contact me.

NJ Civil Unions, Federal Law and Taxes after United States v. Windsor

On June 26, 2013, the United States Supreme Court issued their opinion in United States v. Windsor.  In this case, a woman married in Canada to another woman was denied the same death (estate) tax benefits that married couples receive.  The benefits were denied under a federal law called the Defense of Marriage Act (DoMA) passed in 1996.  DoMA’s Section 3 defined a marriage for federal purposes being solely between a man and woman — hence why the federal government denied Edith Windsor the death tax benefits in her marriage. In a 5-4 ruling, the court declared that Section 3 of DoMA is unconstitutional.

New Jersey does not allow for same sex marriages but does have a civil union statute that resulted from Lewis v. Harris.  In that 2006 case, the NJ Supreme Court unanimously declared that prohibiting same sex unions violates the equal protection clause but in a 4-3 decision left it up to the legislature to determine how best to give same sex couples equal rights of married couples.  The legislature chose civil unions.  I’ve covered this topic previously here and here.

Yesterday, the Internal Revenue Service updated their policies to reflect the invalidation of DoMA Section 3 in Revenue Ruling 2013-17.  In a nutshell, the ruling mandates that legally married same sex couples must follow the same procedures as heterosexual marriages, regardless of where they live.  So if a same sex couple marries and resides in a state that does not recognize same sex marriages, they will have to file as unmarried for state taxes and married for federal — ironically, the exact opposite of how it previously worked for same sex couples in a state that did recognize their union.  Same sex married couples can also refile their taxes covering the last three years if beneficial to them.

For NJ (and other states) couples in civil unions, the ruling does not recognize a civil union (or domestic partnership) as equivalent to a marriage and thus for federal tax purposes civil union partners are not married. See the IRS’s FAQs.  While it is not explicitly stated, presumably other aspects of federal tax law will not extend to civil unions.  In a dissolution, this can impact equitable distribution of assets and liabilities (a tax free event for married couples but gift taxes may apply to civil unions) and alimony (where it may not be tax deductible for couples formerly in civil unions).

Post-Windsor, Garden State Equality filed an updated case against the state of NJ seeking a declaration that civil unions do not provide the same equality as marriage (see Garden State Equality v. Dow).  This IRS Ruling certainly helps that case, and I would expect to see amended filings shortly.

If you are seeking to dissolve your civil union, be sure to find a mediator who has expertise in this area as it is quite different from a heterosexual divorce.  Feel free to contact me with any questions.

Changing a Child’s Name After Divorce

The NJ Supreme Court recently gave a decision in Emma v. Evans. In this case the divorced parents shared legal custody of their two children but mother Jessica Evans was the parent of primary residence.  The children’s father, Paul Emma, discovered through school records that the mother had changed the children’s surname from Emma to Evans-Emma.  Competing motions ensued, escalating to the Supreme Court.

The Court ruled unanimously as follows:

In a dispute to rename a child of divorced parents, the party seeking to alter the surname jointly given to the child at birth bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the change is in the child’s best interest. Irrespective of whether the parents were married at the time of the child’s birth, the best-interests-of-the-child test should be applied in a renaming dispute without a presumption in favor of the custodial parent’s decision to change the jointly given surname of the child.

Applying the best-interests-of-the-child test in the context of a dispute over whether to change a child’s name requires a fact-sensitive analysis. Each case should be weighed on its merits. Some factors to consider are: the length of time the child has used his or her given surname; identification of the child with a particular family unit; potential anxiety, embarrassment or discomfort that may result from having a different surname from that of the custodial parent; and the child’s preference if the child is mature enough to express it.

 

 

Divorce or Hit Man?

Divorce, for most people, is not an easy process.  Mediation does make the process easier.

However, a woman in Michigan (and a former NJ resident) decided that hiring a hit man to murder her husband was an easier way to resolve the issues she had with her husband.  According to an article in nj.com and video released by the Muskegon County Prosecutors Office, Julia Charlene Merfeld, 21, said to an undercover police officer: ” when I first decided to do this … it’s not that we weren’t getting along.  But … terrible as it sounds, it was easier than divorcing him.  You know, I didn’t have to worry about the judgment of my family, I didn’t have to worry about breaking his heart, all that stuff like this. It’s, like, how I got a clean getaway.”

She pleaded guilty to solicitation to murder on June 27. However, her husband and intended victim asked that she get no jail time at all.

Instead, Chief Muskegon County Circuit Judge William C. Marietti committed to cap her minimum sentence at six years. The maximum can be anything up to life in prison, depending on Marietti’s decision at Merfeld’s sentencing July 30.

I guess we can now use the tag line:  Divorce mediation — a better way to stay out of jail!

If you are interested in staying out of jail and mediating your divorce, please contact me.

Conservation of Energy in Conversation

Seth Godin has some sage advice today….

Conservation of energy in conversation

If you escalate (cut off in traffic, angry at the gate agent, frustrated at your boss), you’ve just added (negative) energy to a conversation.

If you escalate (high-pitched enthusiasm, a hug, encouraging words), you’ve just added (positive) energy to a conversation.

Once the energy is added, it has to go somewhere. Often, the person you’re engaging with throws it right back, or even increases it. A talented, mature person might take your negative energy and de-escalate it, or even swallow it and permit the conversation to calm down or end. But don’t count on it.

Sure, you can ‘win’ a conversation by overwhelming your opponent with energy they can’t handle. But of course, they’re not your opponent and you don’t really win. Being aware of the energy you add or take from interactions is a sophisticated technique that radically changes the outcomes of the conversations that fill your day. Add the good stuff, absorb the bad stuff and focus on the outcomes, not the bravado.

New York Finally Embraces Irreconcilable Differences

New York state was the last state in the United States not to offer its citizens a no fault cause of action for divorce.  In August 2010, Governor David Paterson signed into law a bill which adds irreconcilable differences as a cause of action.  Property division, alimony, parenting and child support will need to be resolved before one party can swear under oath that the marriage has been irretrievably broken for 6 months.

Unattractive? Ugly? Maybe you should settle your lawsuit…

A recently published study by Cornell University indicated that “ugly” or unattractive people who are defendants in criminal trials are 22% more likely to be found guilty and are given longer sentences on average (22 months longer) than attractive people.  The scientists conducting the study tried to look at why this occurs.  Study co-author Justin Gunnell said:

Information processing can proceed through two pathways, a rational one and an experiential one. The former is characterized by an emphasis on analysis, fact and logical argument, whereas the latter is characterized by emotional and personal experience.  Our hypothesis was that if we identify the two groups, then the experiential people are more likely to focus on extralegal factors, which shouldn’t have any bearing on the legal process.  Attractiveness was the variable we used.

The study confirmed what it referred to as an “unattractive harshness effect.”  Jurors who processed information in more of an “experiential” manner were the ones who gave longer sentences and were more likely to convict.

Psychologists and sociologists have long known of the advantages which more attractive people have:  they are more likely to be hired and are generally paid more than less attractive people.  Hollywood is practically defined by attractiveness.

Most lawyers will say that the outcome of many trials hinges on how well the jurors or judge “like” the litigants, lawyers and witnesses who appear in front of them.  The trier of fact gives credibility or believes who they think is more attractive.

As I’ve indicated many times, settling a lawsuit or divorce matter is almost always in the best interests of all parties due to the unknowns of trial.  Part of the unknown results from human biases, some of which were detailed in this study.  We all like to think of a trial as “justice” but the reality sometimes is that it is a popularity or beauty contest.

If you would like to consider mediation to resolve your lawsuit or divorce, please feel free to contact me to discuss your situation further.

See a Real Mediation in Action

Most of my regular readers know I almost never have “war stories” of my mediations on this blog.  The primary reason why is confidentiality.  When my clients enter a mediation, they have an absolute expectation that what is said in the mediation room stays in the mediation room.  They do not expect their dirty laundry to be aired over the internet, even if carefully camouflaged by changing or omitting the names of the parties.  This level of confidentiality also makes it harder to market mediation.  How can I easily explain mediation by example?  There are plenty of law and court based television shows, but almost no mediation shows.

The Maryland Mediation and Conflict Resolution Office (MACRO) does an excellent job of marketing mediation.  To this end, they have produced an excellent video on different types of mediation.  The mediations feature actual disputants who have waived their confidentiality privilege and touch on different areas of mediation (commercial/business cases, divorce, family, community and peer [students in school]).  The common misconception about mediation is everything sitting around a campfire singing Kumbaya and wondering why we can’t all get along.  While most mediations are civil, the reality, as you can see in the video, is that mediations often involve difficult discussions, difficult decisions and facing the issues directly with your adversary.  The results of the process are usually a better relationship — even if it means ending it on better terms.

The video is in .wmv format and can be viewed by clicking here.

Please contact me to find out is mediation is right to resolve your divorce, family and elder issues or commercial dispute.

An Apology or Slap in the Face?

I have written before about the power and effectiveness of a sincere apology to help resolve a dispute. Now from West Virginia, a completely different way to resolve a dispute: a slap.

Stewart Altmeyer, a prosecutor in Kanawha County, was suspended without pay for one month for agreeing to drop a larceny charge in exchange for allowing the alleged victim to slap the defendant.

In a mediation, I (or most of my colleagues) do not allow violence to be the outcome of any mediation.