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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Why Buy the Cow When You Can Get the Milk For Free? Answer: Cuz It Ain't Free!

Live-in lovers break up... then pay up: Court hearings boom for unmarried couples
By Tamara Cohen

Couples who break up following a live-in relationship are paying tens of thousands of pounds in settlements to their former partners.

A new phenomenon of ‘break-up payments’ is increasingly common because more and more couples are living together for several years without marrying.

When a marriage collapses, a spouse is usually entitled to half the couple’s assets, but for cohabitees the legalities can be a minefield.

Law firm Pannone has reported a 40 per cent rise in these payments in the past five years, claiming people are taking advantage of the uncertain legal status of unmarried couples to issue ‘nuisance’ demands.

Some people were willing to pay up to £100,000 to former partners to avoid lengthy legal action which can last up to 18 months, it said.

Recent actions have involved custody of children, jointly owned property, bank accounts and even pets.

There are 2.3million cohabiting couples and the number is expected to double in the next 25 years. One in four children is born to cohabitees.

Vicki McLynn, a senior associate at Pannone, suggested the problem was partly due to such disputes being dealt with using property rather than family law, as no legislation had yet been passed making clear the rights of unmarried partners when they split up.

She said: ‘It can ultimately be a case of “he said, she said” – one partner’s ability to be more convincing than the other in court can be crucial in determining how cases are settled.

‘Given that element of risk and the assets at stake, many family and litigation lawyers in our firm and elsewhere are seeing clients wanting to pay up to end the matter.’

Unmarried couple Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy split after five years together. They are not thought to have sought settlements from each other

In 2007, the Law Commission published a series of recommendations for the government following a review of the rights of unmarried couples. It concluded that the ‘unclear’ current law made for ‘unfair’ outcomes.

The commission urged a series of reforms including legislation enabling unmarried men or women who had lived together for at least two years to make a claim against their ex-partner. The recommendations have so far not been acted upon.

Miss McLynn suggested that while some disputes involved individuals who had genuinely made contributions to building up joint assets, others featured demands which could best be described as ‘nuisance’.

She said: ‘We have seen instances in which people have issued demands to complicate their exes’ new relationships.’

Earlier this year, family law firms reported a 15 per cent rise in the number of cohabiting clients seeking advice on relationship breakdown as a result of the recession.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Is Reading your Spouse's Email a CRIME?

Michigan man could go to jail for reading his wife's e-mail
By Hayley Tsukayama
A Michigan man faces five years in prison for reading his wife's e-mail, under a state law intended to prevent identity fraud. As the Detroit Free Press reports, computer technician Leon Walker accessed his wife's Gmail account on a laptop in their home. From her e-mail messages, he learned she was having an affair with her ex-husband -- a man previously arrested for domestic violence. Walker then filed for emergency custody of his wife's young son.

Walker's soon-to-be ex-wife testified that the laptop her husband used to access the e-mail account was a private laptop, and that she was the only one who knew the password.

Leon Walker, on the other hand, said the laptop was a family computer and that his wife kept all her passwords in a little book next to the computer.

The legal question at heart here is whether or not Walker's wife had an expectation of privacy.

Frederick Lane, a Vermont lawyer and electronic privacy expert, told the Free Press that the fact that the two still were living together, and that Leon Walker had routine access to the computer, might help him, Lane said.

"I would guess there is enough gray area to suggest that she could not have an absolute expectation of privacy," he said.

Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper told the Free Press she defends her decision to charge Leon Walker.

"The guy is a hacker," Cooper said in a voice mail response to the Free Press last week. "It was password protected, he had wonderful skills, and was highly trained. Then he downloaded them and used them in a very contentious way."

Other lawyers in the Detroit area told the Free Press that this application of the law was ludicrous. One told the paper that if this case is applicable under the law, the state would also have to prosecute parents monitoring their children's Facebook accounts.
By Hayley Tsukayama December 27, 2010; 10:38 AM ET
Categories: Digital culture, E-mail, Policy and politics, Privacy
Note by Kelly Chang Rickert: Though it may or may not be a crime, if you are in the midst of divorce proceedings, it would be wise to keep your emails/facebook/social network stuff private. Please see my article with tips for preparing for a divorce.

Friday, December 10, 2010

How to Survive The Holidays Without Your Children

8 Survival Tips for the Non-Custodial Parent

Happy Holidays, everyone! I posted this last year, but due to demand, I am posting it again...

It already hurts a little during the year, but being without your children during the holidays may be downright depressing.

If you have joint custody with alternating holidays, this may be your year without the children. Here is how to make it better.

1. Have Christmas a week, a month early. As with all natural disasters (earthquakes, fires, being without your children!), plan accordingly. If this is an ODD year, and you have your children for Christmas on even years, you will need to celebrate early this year!

Purchase gifts, have a tree, and explain to the children that you are not skipping the celebration just because you don't have them this year. Instead of Christmas without you, they will get TWO Christmases!

2. Get Skype and see them on Christmas! If you are on good terms with your ex (and you should be, especially during the holiday season - REMEMBER THE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS), arrange for the children to see you (and you them) via webcam.

Skype is also particularly useful for grandparents, who always have to share custody of their grandchildren for Christmas. :)

3. Volunteer your blues away! You think your life sucks? Go to the local orphage, where you will find children who don't have parents. They would love to have you. If you have gifts of song or dance - or baking - or just simply being there to hug them, GO AND BE WITH the needy. They will love you. And love is what you need. Google local churches. They'll get you the volunteer A-List.

Here, I just googled it for you. How to Find Volunteer Projects at Christmas Time. Enjoy.


4. Celebrate your day without children by doing adult things! If you have very young children, this tip is for you. There are some restaurants and resorts that do NOT allow toddlers and babies. Yay! These are for you. Watch a REAL movie without cartoon characters. Get a massage, and then hang out and lounge at the steam room. Enjoy a nice long dinner with your friends without rushing home. Drink a glass of champagne. Listen to music that Elmo doesn't sing.

5. Change your Custody Order. Get together with your ex, and if it's feasible (location, emotion) see if both of you can agree to share the children on this special holiday.

6. Take lots of pictures and videos during your year, and view them every year. It is amazing what a walk down memory lane can do for your mood.

7. Spoil yourself rotten. Pamper. Indulge. Overindulge. You deserve it.

8. Take a trip. A long trip. An international trip with a huge time change. You won't even know you missed them.

The holidays are only a lonely time if you choose to feel that way. If you look around, there are many people who need you in so many ways. You can benefit by turning the focus on others (ah, the true holiday spirit). So many people forget the meaning of Christmas - it is the utmost celebration of the birth of our saviour Jesus Christ, who died to save our wretched souls. Being in the true spirit of Christmas is thinking of others, and forgetting our own selfish needs and desires.

If you cannot find solace in that (and believe me, I can understand why the above is not consoling at all), look to your friends. Being surrounded by other people will magically help you feel better. Remember, it's just this year. Next year, you'll have them again.

Finally, remember, all parents (whether separated, divorced/married, widowed) all eventually deal with not having children for Christmas. Consider it a blessing that you have the opportunity to deal with such a tragedy earlier than later!

For all of you - children, no children, married, single, divorced, widowed, it's complicated - Have a Wonderful Holiday.


The Law Offices of Kelly Chang

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Marriage Advice for William and Kate

LONDON (AP) — Prince William and fiancee Kate Middleton have another chore on their must-do pre-wedding list: Sit down with priests to think about the vows they will make.

The couple are expected to meet Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Bishop of London Richard Chartres before they marry April 29, palace officials said Wednesday. Both clergy will be involved in the wedding ceremony at London's Westminster Abbey.

"It's customary for a priest to meet with the couple before their wedding," said Maria Papworth, Williams' spokeswoman.

These marriage preparation sessions include discussions on how to handle marital disagreements and how to prepare for the changes brought on by parenthood. Meetings often take place in groups, but talks for the soon-to-be royal couple will be private and strictly confidential.

The marriage of William's parents, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, ended in divorce. St. James Palace would not comment on whether they also received similar attention, but it is normal practice for a Church of England wedding.

For more marriage advice (from a divorce lawyer), see here.
Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dodgers Divorce: Judge Gordon Throws Out Postnup

Judge rules in favor of Jamie McCourt in Dodgers ownership struggle

See the Statement of Decision.

The decision denying Frank McCourt's claim to sole ownership of the team is not expected to immediately affect day-to-day operations. He may use other legal strategies to challenge his ex-wife's case.

By Bill Shaikin and Carla Hall

Frank McCourt is not the sole owner of the Dodgers, a judge ruled Tuesday, a decision that keeps the team in legal limbo for what might be several more years.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon granted Jamie McCourt's plea to throw out a 2004 marital agreement that would have left her without an ownership share in the Dodgers.

"The court finds that the marital property agreement is not a valid and enforceable agreement," Gordon wrote in his ruling. "The court orders that the marital property agreement is set aside."

The ruling is not expected to have an immediate impact on the day-to-day operations of the team. Frank is expected to employ other legal strategies to dispute his ex-wife's claim to co-ownership of the team.

Frank could decide to appeal Tuesday's ruling. He already has notified the court he wants to use a different legal strategy in another claim to sole ownership of the Dodgers, one based on the concept that he bought the team with a company he established before his marriage to Jamie.

Frank's attorneys have said such a trial could be completed in one day and that all the necessary evidence is in the court record. Jamie's attorneys have said such a trial could require up to 60 days, preceded by months to collect new evidence.

Dennis Wasser, an attorney for Jamie, said he hoped the ruling would enable both sides to settle the case, for what he said would be the good of the Dodgers and the community. "We are very pleased that the marital property agreement has been invalidated. Now that Jamie has prevailed in this case, we hope it will be possible to resolve the matter in a reasonable way going forward."

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has declined to comment on the case. The Times reported in September that the possibility of years of legal battles between the McCourts had prompted him to consider intervening on behalf of the Dodgers, but it is uncertain what options he might contemplate.

The McCourts also could use Gordon's ruling to renew settlement talks, with the validity of the 2004 marital agreement no longer a wild card in negotiations.

The sides have been unable to reach a settlement despite several rounds of discussions -- with and without mediators -- over the last year.

In the absence of a settlement, Gordon eventually would determine permanent spousal support. In May, Gordon ordered Frank to pay Jamie $637,159 per month in temporary support, including costs associated with the couple's homes.

The McCourts filed for divorce on Oct. 27, 2009, one week shy of what would have been their 30th anniversary.

In March 2004, two months after baseball owners approved their purchase of the Dodgers, the McCourts each signed a marital property agreement that specified the team belonged solely to Frank and the couple's homes belonged solely to Jamie.

In the initial phase of the divorce case -- and in a trial that lasted 11 days -- the only question before Gordon was whether the agreement was valid.

Frank asked Gordon to enforce the deal, arguing that Jamie was the driving force behind the agreement and that she had gotten exactly what she wanted from it -- that is, to protect the homes from creditors should the Dodgers suffer severe financial losses.

Jamie asked Gordon to overturn the agreement, claiming she never intended to surrender her rights to Dodgers ownership and never would have signed the document had she been explicitly informed of its impact in the event of divorce. She said she should be considered co-owner of the Dodgers.

As the trial approached, lawyers discovered the McCourts had signed six copies of the agreement, three of which listed the Dodgers as Frank's sole property and three that did not.

Larry Silverstein, the Boston lawyer who drew up the agreement, testified that he had botched the wording in the latter three copies and had corrected his mistake by replacing the relevant page in the agreement -- after the McCourts had signed the document, and without informing either of them of the alleged error.

Frank argued that Silverstein had made an unfortunate mistake but corrected it to conform with what Jamie had wanted -- that is, no financial responsibility for the Dodgers.

Jamie argued that Silverstein's blunder, whether innocent or intentional, resulted in two versions of the agreement with materially opposite terms. If one version said Frank owned the Dodgers and the other version did not, she contended, there never could have been an agreement in the first place.



Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Taking Sides in a Divorce, Chasing Profit

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Michelle Pont and her husband amassed millions of dollars in properties and investments from a freight-hauling business that they started with a single stake-bed truck in 1991. They bought a four-bedroom home, then a second home, a vacation home, a motor home and half a dozen cars.

Michelle Pont is one of the company’s clients.
But when Ms. Pont decided to seek a divorce last year, she quickly ran out of money. She had no job. Her husband controlled the family’s investments. A few months of legal bills maxed out her credit cards and drained her retirement account.

She wrestled with accepting a smaller settlement than she considered fair. Then a lawyer referred her to Balance Point Divorce Funding, a new Beverly Hills lender that offers to cover the cost of breaking up — paying a lawyer, searching for hidden assets, maintaining a lifestyle — in exchange for a share of the winnings.

In October, Balance Point agreed to invest more than $200,000 in Ms. Pont’s case.

“It’s given me hope,” Ms. Pont said. “I don’t view it as a loan; I view it as an investment in my future. They are helping me to get what is rightfully mine.”

With some in the financial world willing to bet on almost anything, it should be no surprise that a few would see the potential to profit from the often contentious and emotional process of ending a marriage.

So far, the number of companies investing in divorce is small — Balance Point is one of the few that do it exclusively. But other businesses are gearing up. A New York start-up, Churchill Divorce Finance, also is planning to enter the business. The company’s chief executive previously co-founded a publicly traded Australian company, ASK Funding, that has invested tens of millions in divorce cases there.

While this business is in its infancy, Balance Point is part of a bigger trend — the growing industry that invests in other people’s lawsuits, arming plaintiffs with money to help them win more money from defendants. Banks, hedge funds and boutique firms like Balance Point now have a total of $1 billion invested in lawsuits at any given time, industry participants estimate.

Lawsuit lenders initially focused on personal injury cases, but over time they have sought new frontiers, including securities fraud cases brought by disgruntled investors, whistleblower claims against corporations and property development disputes.

Stacey Napp, a lawyer by training who has spent her career in finance, founded Balance Point last year with money from her own divorce. Since then, she has provided more than $2 million to 10 women seeking divorces. She says she is helping to ensure both sides can defend their interests.

“Everybody knows somebody where at the end of the day, the divorce was not equitable,” she said. “We want to help those people, the underdog, to make sure they get their fair share.”

Divorce cases may be a promising niche for lenders because costs can mount quickly — some top lawyers in Los Angeles charge more than $500 an hour — and because state laws uniformly require plaintiffs to pay lawyers upfront, rather than promising them a contingency fee, or a share of any winnings, as is common in other civil cases.

The state laws were written to make people think twice before pursuing a divorce. But Madeline Marzano-Lesnevich, a New Jersey lawyer who serves as a vice president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, which sets ethical standards for divorce lawyers, said she welcomed the use of divorce financing as a workaround because, in her view, society also has an interest in helping people who are determined to separate.

“It furthers the concept of putting both spouses on an equal playing field,” she said.

Ms. Napp developed the idea for Balance Point during an eight-year legal battle with her former husband, which she paid for with loans from family and friends. She filed to divorce David Napp in 2001 after 13 years of marriage. Mr. Napp, an investor in mobile home parks, agreed to pay $500,000 and allow her to keep the family home. But shortly after the deal was finalized, Ms. Napp was stunned to discover that Mr. Napp was about to sell his stake in the parks for $5.7 million. She asked the court to reopen the settlement, setting off a legal dispute that lasted until the spring of 2008, when an Arizona judge ruled in her favor.

“Somewhere along the way a light bulb went off,” Ms. Napp recalled. “I said, ‘I’m kind of a perfect storm. I know how to find assets, I understand litigation, I have resources — what happens to people who are missing even one of those elements?’ ”

She decided to seed a business with some of the money she had won in Los Angeles, the city of fleeting marriages. Balance Point has since raised additional money from private investors. Ms. Napp said she expected the first case to be resolved later this fall, providing her first profit.

Her customers fall into a pattern. They are women. They generally do not have jobs. They often are raising small children. And their husbands run their own businesses, making it tough to obtain financial information.

A stay-at-home mother with three children spent 16 months trying to compel her husband to produce current financial statements for his solo law practice. She was running out of money when Balance Point agreed in August to provide financing.

A woman who signed up in January has used the backing to build a case that she is entitled to share the value of 17 properties her husband put in a trust for the benefit of his children from a previous marriage. Both women declined to be identified.

Then there is Ms. Pont, who is battling her estranged husband, Jeffery D. Pont, over the value of their trucking company. The couple met in 1990. The next year, he bought his first truck with Ms. Pont’s tax refund of $2,300, she said. He started a small business carrying ink and printing supplies. Mr. Pont and his lawyer did not return calls for comment. By 1996, the couple had married and the company had rented an 1,100-square-foot warehouse. Ms. Pont said she answered the phones while nursing their first child.

By the late 1990s, there was enough money flowing in for Ms. Pont to stay home with the child. And the company has continued to prosper. The main warehouse is now 150,000 square feet.

But she moved out in the spring of 2009 and filed for divorce. The estranged couple has since spent several hundred thousand dollars on lawyers, accountants and investigators. The judge overseeing the case has warned that the total could exceed $1 million if the two sides cannot reach a compromise.

Ms. Pont said the money from Balance Point would allow her to sustain the case for as long as necessary. Balance Point does not charge interest; instead, clients pay the company a percentage of their winnings.

Lawyers who finance other civil cases generally keep at least a third of the winnings. Ms. Napp said Balance Point required a “substantially smaller” share from clients, though she declined to be more specific.

The company wants to focus on people with marital assets between $2 million and $15 million, a bracket Ms. Napp described as “the lower end of the high end.” She said that investing in smaller disputes was not worthwhile. Wealthier people, she said, seemed to resolve divorces more easily — perhaps because they still felt wealthy in the aftermath. “Anything south of $15 million, when you divide that in half and take out the legal fees, you’re not in the same house, you’re not taking the same trips — your life is different,” she said. “You can’t maintain that same quality of life that you’re used to.”

Ms. Napp says she urges clients to set aside emotions and negotiate a settlement. Indeed, she says she will not take clients who seem unwilling to compromise, fearing that their pursuit of justice will undermine Balance Point’s pursuit of profit. She cannot compel clients to settle.

But Ms. Napp concedes that clients are attracted to Balance Point in part because she did not settle her own case. Most lawsuit lenders avoid any role in the management of cases, seeking to disarm critics who worry that lenders seeking profits will corrupt the pursuit of justice. Ms. Napp, by contrast, sells the benefit of her own experience.

Ms. Napp said that as she decided to create Balance Point, she realized that she could not settle her own case. “I had to win,” she said. “Because I don’t know that, if you don’t have a happy ending, that people are going to think it’s such a fantastic idea.”

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Nicole Richie Seeks Permanent RO Against Paparazzo

LOS ANGELES ( KTLA) -- Nicole Richie is set to appear in a Los Angeles courtroom Wednesday to request a restraining order extension against a paparazzo who allegedly got too close to her daughter.

Richie claims Fabricio Mariotto frightened her 2-year-old daughter Harlow while trying to take photos of the child at her preschool.

Richie is seeking a permanent restraining order.She is also reportedly expected to testify that other photographers have also crossed the line with Harlow and her 15-month-old son Sparrow.The restraining order is part of a larger campaign Richie is waging against the paparazzi who persistently pursue celebrities' children.Richie has been dating her children's father, Joel Madden, since 2006. The pair are reportedly set to marry later this month.

Richie is best known for co-starring with Paris Hilton in the 2003-2005 reality TV series "The Simple Life." She is the daughter of singer Lionel Richie and has recently become a fashion designer.

There are several types of restraining orders in California:

•Emergency Protective Order (EPO). This type of Restraining Order is issued by law enforcement and is valid for 5 days. It is used by domestic violence victims for their immediate protection and safety.

•Domestic Violence Temporary Restraining Order (TRO or DVRO). A California Temporary Restraining Order is in force for three weeks, but it can be made into a permanent restraining order for 1 to 3 years. This is also useful for domestic violence victims.

•Criminal Protective Order (“No Contact” Order). This type of restraining order is obtained through the District Attorney’s office, and is issued in active domestic violence cases. With this order, your abuser cannot call, write, e-mail or contact you at all except through lawyers.

•Civil Harassment Restraining Order (CHO). This restraining order doesn’t need to qualify as a domestic violence restraining order. It can be used to stop harassment, threats, stalking, etc. by neighbors, roommates and co-workers.

The best way to determine which restraining order you need to to work with an experienced California Restraining Order attorney who will focus on your best interests.