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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Financially Preparing for a Divorce

Financially preparing for a divorce

It's the busiest time of the year for divorce lawyers. Family law attorney Kelly Chang talks with Tess Vigeland about why so many people seek to end a marriage at this time, the average cost of divorce and what she thinks about pre-nups.

Click here to listen to the interview.


TESS VIGELAND: We've gone a couple of weeks now without hearing about it being the "most wonderful time of the year." So let's get right to the not-so-wonderful part of the year. January is considered the busy season for divorce attorneys. And as the economy returns -- somewhat -- to normal, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reports an uptick in clients wanting to end their marriages.

Los Angeles family law attorney Kelly Chang is here to talk money, marriage, and the dissolution thereof. Welcome.

KELLY CHANG: Thank you. It's good to be here.

VIGELAND: What is it about this time of year that encourages people to take that first step toward ending a marriage. Were they just hoping to get through the holidays?

CHANG: Yes. There's a lot of that. And it's also the same reason you see long lines at the gym. It's New Year's resolution to be single.

VIGELAND: So much of this is circumstantial based on the individual lifestyle, but what does the average divorce cost?

CHANG: Well, it really depends. If you hire a divorce lawyer, they're going to bill you by the hour. You can do it on your own for relatively cheap. So it really depends. It's kind of like a roof -- you can do it for cheap or you can hire a professional contractor to do it for a lot more.

VIGELAND: Let's talk a little bit about how people can prepare themselves for this happening. What should each party start doing with their finances?

CHANG: Generally, I see in a couple, in a relationship, somebody assumes the total responsibility, leaving the other person in the dark. So if you're the person in the dark, I would get out of the dark. Find the latest statements -- they're mailed the house or you could call the bank. What matters, if you don't have a pre-nup, is what is acquired during the marriage and that includes credit card debt.

VIGELAND: What do you find in terms of the cost for trying to get a settlement between yourselves versus going to court?

CHANG: Much better.

VIGELAND: Court has to be more expensive.

CHANG: Everything costs money, so if it takes up too much time, it's costing too much money. So if you can reach a settlement agreement, do it on your own. It saves money.

VIGELAND: What do you find in terms of couples being able to do that. Is there a ratio of amicable to not amicable divorces?

CHANG: It's interesting. I think in the past few years, I have seen a rise in more amicable behavior in the divorces and it's probably because people can't afford to fight.

VIGELAND: Ah, because of the economy?

CHANG: Correct.

VIGELAND: Because I have a divorce attorney in the studio with me, I do have to ask about your thoughts on pre-nups. Based on your experience with couples going through a divorce, does it help? Does it make things easier or worse?

CHANG: I think it makes things much easier. Get a pre-nup. Marriage is grand. Divorce is twenty grand. Get a pre-nup. Get a pre-nup. I don't care if you don't have anything. You have to come in. If you have a 401(k), half of that could be belonging to your spouse, whatever is accumulated during the marriage. You have to protect yourself.

VIGELAND: Kelly Chang is a family law attorney here in Los Angeles, and we've been talking about January as a big month for, unfortunately, divorces. Thanks for coming in.

CHANG: Thank you, Tess.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Lawyers Sanctioned For Insults

From the ABA Journal
The Legal Ethics
Lawyers Sanctioned for E-Mail Insults, Including ‘Scum Sucking Loser’ Comment

When hiring a divorce attorney, put "ability to get along with others" on the list of top traits.
It's natural that in a divorce case, the parties hate each other. From my experience, that alone won't bar settlement. It also won't necessarily drive up the fees.
What WILL, however, is how your attorneys handle the case.
I have had many, many cases where opposing counsel and I differ on our interpretation of the law, and facts. But because of our maturity (We are all grown-ups!!!), the case was still able to settle.
Unfortunately, I have also had opposing counsel who 1) do not educate themselves on the law and misguide their clients; and 2) were raised in a barn.
Below is an article which appeared in today's ABA Journal. I wish more Judges would do this.
Two Florida lawyers who called each other a “retard” and “scum sucking loser” in escalating e-mail insults have been sanctioned by the state supreme court.

Nicholas Mooney of Tampa, a lawyer representing Volkswagen of America, received a public reprimand and must take a class on professionalism, according to the St. Petersburg Times. He is identified as a former partner at Hinshaw & Culbertson and a lawyer for Bromagen & Rathet on the law firm’s website. Kurt Mitchell of Palmetto, an accident lawyer who is identified as “an experienced litigator and biker” on his website, was suspended for 10 days and must attend an anger management class, the story says.

The St. Petersburg Times cites e-mails quoted in the bar complaints against the men. At one point, Mooney called Mitchell a jerk; at another, Mitchell called Mooney an "old hack." Later e-mails went so far as to insult wives and children. They story cites these exchanges:

• From Mooney to Mitchell, written after an accusation that he couldn’t handle the pressures of litigation: Mooney said he was handling more than 200 cases, "many of which were more important/significant than these little Mag[nuson] Moss [warranty] claims that are handled by bottom feeding/scum sucking/loser lawyers like yourself."

• From Mitchell: Mooney displays symptoms of a disability marked by "closely spaced eyes, dull blank stare, bulbous head, lying.”

• From Mooney: Mitchell should look in the mirror to see signs of a disability. "Then check your children (if they are even yours. … Better check the garbage man that comes by your trailer to make sure they don't look like him)."

• From Mitchell, after learning Mooney's son suffers from a birth defect: “While I am sorry to hear about your disabled child, that sort of thing is to be expected when a retard reproduces.”

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Sustainable Love

Sustainable Love
The Happy Marriage Is the ‘Me’ Marriage


A lasting marriage does not always signal a happy marriage. Plenty of miserable couples have stayed together for children, religion or other practical reasons.

But for many couples, it’s just not enough to stay together. They want a relationship that is meaningful and satisfying. In short, they want a sustainable marriage.

“The things that make a marriage last have more to do with communication skills, mental health, social support, stress — those are the things that allow it to last or not,” says Arthur Aron, a psychology professor who directs the Interpersonal Relationships Laboratory at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. “But those things don’t necessarily make it meaningful or enjoyable or sustaining to the individual.”

The notion that the best marriages are those that bring satisfaction to the individual may seem counterintuitive. After all, isn’t marriage supposed to be about putting the relationship first?
Not anymore. For centuries, marriage was viewed as an economic and social institution, and the emotional and intellectual needs of the spouses were secondary to the survival of the marriage itself. But in modern relationships, people are looking for a partnership, and they want partners who make their lives more interesting.

Caryl Rusbult, a researcher at Vrije University in Amsterdam who died last January, called it the “Michelangelo effect,” referring to the manner in which close partners “sculpt” each other in ways that help each of them attain valued goals.

Dr. Aron and Gary W. Lewandowski Jr., a professor at Monmouth University in New Jersey, have studied how individuals use a relationship to accumulate knowledge and experiences, a process called “self-expansion.” Research shows that the more self-expansion people experience from their partner, the more committed and satisfied they are in the relationship.
To measure this, Dr. Lewandowski developed a series of questions for couples: How much has being with your partner resulted in your learning new things? How much has knowing your partner made you a better person? (Take the full quiz measuring self-expansion.)

While the notion of self-expansion may sound inherently self-serving, it can lead to stronger, more sustainable relationships, Dr. Lewandowski says.

“If you’re seeking self-growth and obtain it from your partner, then that puts your partner in a pretty important position,” he explains. “And being able to help your partner’s self-expansion would be pretty pleasing to yourself.”

The concept explains why people are delighted when dates treat them to new experiences, like a weekend away. But self-expansion isn’t just about exotic experiences. Individuals experience personal growth through their partners in big and small ways. It happens when they introduce new friends, or casually talk about a new restaurant or a fascinating story in the news.

The effect of self-expansion is particularly pronounced when people first fall in love. In research at the University of California at Santa Cruz, 325 undergraduate students were given questionnaires five times over 10 weeks. They were asked, “Who are you today?” and given three minutes to describe themselves. They were also asked about recent experiences, including whether they had fallen in love.

After students reported falling in love, they used more varied words in their self-descriptions. The new relationships had literally broadened the way they looked at themselves.

“You go from being a stranger to including this person in the self, so you suddenly have all of these social roles and identities you didn’t have before,” explains Dr. Aron, who co-authored the research. “When people fall in love that happens rapidly, and it’s very exhilarating.”

Over time, the personal gains from lasting relationships are often subtle. Having a partner who is funny or creative adds something new to someone who isn’t. A partner who is an active community volunteer creates new social opportunities for a spouse who spends long hours at work.

Additional research suggests that spouses eventually adopt the traits of the other — and become slower to distinguish differences between them, or slower to remember which skills belong to which spouse.

In experiments by Dr. Aron, participants rated themselves and their partners on a variety of traits, like “ambitious” or “artistic.” A week later, the subjects returned to the lab and were shown the list of traits and asked to indicate which ones described them.

People responded the quickest to traits that were true of both them and their partner. When the trait described only one person, the answer came more slowly. The delay was measured in milliseconds, but nonetheless suggested that when individuals were particularly close to someone, their brains were slower to distinguish between their traits and those of their spouses.
“It’s easy to answer those questions if you’re both the same,” Dr. Lewandowski explains. “But if it’s just true of you and not of me, then I have to sort it out. It happens very quickly, but I have to ask myself, ‘Is that me or is that you?’ ”
It’s not that these couples lost themselves in the marriage; instead, they grew in it. Activities, traits and behaviors that had not been part of their identity before the relationship were now an essential part of how they experienced life.
All of this can be highly predictive for a couple’s long-term happiness. One scale designed by Dr. Aron and colleagues depicts seven pairs of circles. The first set is side by side. With each new set, the circles begin to overlap until they are nearly on top of one another. Couples choose the set of circles that best represents their relationship. In a 2009 report in the journal Psychological Science, people bored in their marriages were more likely to choose the more separate circles.
Partners involved in novel and interesting experiences together were more likely to pick one of the overlapping circles and less likely to report boredom. “People have a fundamental motivation to improve the self and add to who they are as a person,” Dr. Lewandowski says. “If your partner is helping you become a better person, you become happier and more satisfied in the relationship.”
Do you have a sustainable marriage? Try the Marriage Calculator.