Harsh Exposure of Divorce Lawyers & Courts: The Divorce Corp Documentary

July 7, 2015

UYe2xpOm.jpegDivorce Corp http://www.divorcecorp.com/ is a 2014 documentary film, directed by Joe Sorge, that exposes the inner workings and, in their own words, “the appalling waste and shameless collusive practices” seen daily in U.S. family law courts. This film presents a shocking viewpoint on the divorce industry, divorce lawyer practice, and the family law court system in the United States.   Divorce Corp’s goal is to make the viewer feel enraged toward the family law courts and the divorce attorneys who, they say, take advantage of individuals who are in a weakened emotional state.

The statistics presented in Divorce Corp are alarming.  For example, the producers estimate the total costs of divorce to be $50 Billion Dollars per year! In relatable financial terms, Divorce Corp estimates that the total dollars spent by Americans on their divorces, each year, is equal to the dollars needed:

  • To produce a healthy lunch for every child, every day, grade school through high school, in North America, South America, and Africa;
  • To pay the tuition for 5 million college students;
  • To fund the research and development of 50 new medicines each year.

While these statistics are tremendous, they do not compare to the wickedness that Divorce Corp asserts that the family law court system and their main players, the divorce attorneys, are capable of. The goal of Sorge and his guest “experts” is to prove that there is mass corruption in the family law courts in the United States.

They spend much time on the fact that family law courts are “courts of equity”, meaning that there are no juries and no right to an attorney –- despite the fact that people’s basic rights, such as the right to raise and enjoy the companionship of one’s children and the right to use and distribute one’s own hard earned money as the earner sees fit — are taken from them every day in divorce court.

Judges, they tell the viewer, have the authority to order complete liquidation of the parties’ assets and to issue restraining orders, even when there is very little evidence to support such a deprivation of liberty and seizure of real estate, personal property and money. Divorce Corp presents these facts in such a light as to make the viewer almost queasy at the thought of how one all-powerful judge can make extreme decisions, without even the nominal due process protections afforded criminals, and how an individual can be completely railroaded by the family law court – and pay for that railroading out of his or her own pocket!

The facts and statistics that Divorce Corp presents are deeply unsettling; but a skeptical eye is necessary considering the extreme sensational manner in which the information is presented. The producers of this documentary film focus on the absolute worst-case divorce scenarios and only showcase the most egregious of problems that individuals have had with family law judges. Though there is no doubt that these terrible situations occur, most reasonable viewers would have to wonder just how often and/or how likely these incredibly horrendous situations arise?  Divorce Corp’s modus operandi is to make it seem as if everyone getting a divorce will be severely overcharged by their divorce attorney and will, chances are, experience a corrupt judge who is out to ruin one of the spouse’s lives.

Though Divorce Corp did a sensational job of presenting the horrors of the divorce industry, divorce lawyers and the family law courts, it did not offer an alternative solution to that system, nor did the writers, director or “experts” provide any guidance whatsoever as to what could be done to reform the family law court system. No alternatives to litigation were presented and this is a shame considering there is a very effective and sensible alternative to divorce litigation: Mediation.

Parties that mediate the settlement of their divorce are able to avoid the court system and remain in control of their children, their assets and their future.  The parties create their own personalized settlement agreements, which include all matters of custody, child support, spousal support and the distribution of property and debt, by working together, with the help of a neutral party, i.e. the Mediator.   The Mediator works with the parties in four specific areas:

  1. Pinpointing relevant issues for settlement (usually eliminating strictly emotional issues that merely inflame parties and fuel litigious behavior);
  2. Gathering information about the children and all other relevant factual and financial information necessary for the parties to make sound settlement decisions for the present and the future (as much as practically possible);
  3. Sharing of information by the Mediator which is important for the parties in making fair and informed settlement decisions (e.g. divorce law and legal culture in the area, divorce tax law, expert information related to the effect of divorce on children and potential financial implications of various settlement decisions); and
  4. Assisting the parties in their negotiations and in reaching compromises that are mutually agreed and that give each of them the best possible opportunity for a fresh start.

Mediation prevents one spouse from gaining power over the other spouse, eliminates the aspect of an all powerful judge, helps individualize the settlement based on the needs of the family and costs a fraction of what divorce litigation costs.  As the producers of Divorce Corp correctly point out, litigation often creates more problems and difficulties for divorcing parties than it solves. Instead of focusing on helping divorcing men and women move forward with their lives, litigation tends to drag them back through all the difficulties of a marriage that has, for all intents and purposes, already ended.

Written by Jessica Wilds, Mediation Assistant

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.

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Child Custody In a Virgina Divorce: Legal Custody & Physical Custody Defined

June 9, 2015

child custodyWhen discussing various parenting arrangements with clients and prospective clients, I have learned that most people who are in the midst of a divorce/separation, or are contemplating such an event, make similar mistakes when it comes to Virginia “custody terminology”.

Such vocabulary faux pas are hardly indicative of a parent’s heartfelt desire to spend time with his or her child.  However, it is usually helpful to clients when they begin to get a handle on how the Commonwealth of Virginia goes about assigning labels in the context of divorce and co-parenting.  (Co-parenting refers to any situation when two parents are raising a child, in two separate households, whether or not those parents were ever married).

Of course, your mediator or divorce lawyer should certainly be able to figure out what you mean – no matter how you phrase it – when it comes to your desires for your child’s future parenting arrangements.  Not all mediators or divorce lawyers, however, do a good at explaining legal terminology.  The same goes for clients’ ability to absorb and process information in such a stressful and confusing time.

As a result, I have seen plenty of post decree (after divorce) situations where basic misunderstandings of the custody terms in the parties’ Final Order of Divorce (aka Divorce Decree) kept them fighting about their child several years after their separation and divorce.

To help alleviate this unfortunate and rampant misinformation about various custody terms in Virginia child custody cases, here is my “Virginia Custody Dictionary.”

Legal Custody:

Determines which parent has the right to make major decisions concerning their child.  Legal custody has nothing to do with where the child lives.

There are two types of Legal Custody:

    (1) Joint Legal Custody –  

        Major decisions must be agreed to by the parents.

    (2) Sole Legal Custody –

        Major decisions need only be made by the parent who is granted Sole Legal Custody.

  • The term “Legal Custody” is not intuitive to most people and problems often arise, down the road from when the settlement agreement is signed/Court order is entered, over the parents’ often diametrically opposite interpretation of the term “major decisions”.
  • Mediators encourage clients to jointly define the term “major decisions,” as part of the settlement of the custody issues in their particular case, to help save them from possible trouble down the road.
  • On the other hand, divorce lawyers tend not to focus on crafting an agreed client-interpretation of the term “major decisions”. Instead, they leave it up to the Courts to decide, should there be a problem in the future, whether a decision made, or to be made, by a parent is, in fact, “major”.  Ultimately, the Courts do have final decision-making power; but, a meeting of minds between parents is usually enough to end bitter battles before they start.
  • Examples of “Major Decisions” – Those decisions which are generally agreed by divorce lawyers and courts to be “major decisions”:
  1. Which school the child will attend;
  2. Whether the child will be required to undergo an elective medical procedure (e.g. plastic surgery on a scar);
  3. Whether braces will be placed on a child’s teeth for purely cosmetic reasons;
  4. Whether a child will be required to engage in psychotherapy;
  5. Who will be the child’s substitute caretaker necessary for the parents to earn a living (known as “work related childcare”, aka WRCC); and
  6. Choice of sleep-away camps.
  • Examples of “Gray Area Decisions” – Where decisions may or may not be considered “major”:
  1. Which week or two-week long camp a child will attend in the summer (not sleep-away camps);
  2. Which extracurricular activities a child will participate in during that parent’s custodial care time.
  3. Whether a child will participate in a specialized academic program during school hours (remedial or enhanced learning);
  4. Whether a child will participate in various in-school clubs, groups and activities;
  5. Choice of classes (middle school and high school);
  6. Choice of basic disciplinary techniques;
  7. Choice of how much to give a child for allowance/spending money; and
  8. Choice of vacation destinations with children (within reason);
  9. Choice of children’s playmates.

Physical Custody:

Determines where the child will live and the amount of time the child will spend with each parent.

Physical custody pertains to which parent (sometimes both, sometimes only one) has the primary responsibility for the care and control of the child on a given day.

  • Day to day decisions, of a routine nature, are made by the parent with whom the child is being cared for on that day.

 

Sole Physical Custody:

  • In Sole Physical Custody situations, that parent is granted all (or almost all) of the custodial care rights and responsibilities for the child.
  • The other parent is not usually involved in day-in-and-day-out responsibilities that come with raising a child.
  • The other parent is usually permitted “visitation” with his or her child (except in cases where that parent would present a danger to the child);
  • In Virginia, even in cases where one of the parents is granted Sole Physical Custody, the other parent still has the legal right to review the child’s medical and academic records (with exceptions);
  • To add to the confusion, when calculating Virginia Child Support Guideline Obligations, the “regular” calculation is called the “Sole Child Support Calculation”.  This poorly named calculation simply means that the non Primary Custodian cares for the children fewer than 91 days per year,2  even though the caretaking duties may clearly be shared between the parents.
  • Advocating for the denial of a parent to be involved in major decisions concerning his or her child is serious. It generally means that there is something very wrong with one or both of the parents’ ability to care for the child and/or use sound judgment when making decisions concerning the child.
  • In cases where one or both of the parents thinks that a child should have no or very little custodial care time with the other parent, it is often advisable that those parents litigate (hire a divorce attorney) and not mediate their cases.

Shared Physical Custody:

  • In Shared Physical Custody situations, it is presumed that both parents are involved, to a much greater extent than in a “Sole Custody” situation, in the day-in-and-day-out responsibilities that come with raising a child.
  • However, Shared Physical Custody does not, necessarily, mean 50/50.  It does, however, mean that there is a discernible sharing of parental caretaking duties for the child.
  • The term “Shared Physical Custody” is not clearly defined in Virginia law in terms of custody and parenting arrangements.
  • To add to the confusion, when calculating Virginia Child Support Guideline Obligations, there is a special calculation available for situations where a “non-primary custodian” cares for a child 91 or greater days per year.  That calculation is called the “Shared Child Support Calculation.” The Virginia Shared Child Support Calculation is able to accommodate various ratios of caretaking duties (e.g. 50/50 custody, 60/40 custody, etc.).

Primary Physical Custody:

  • The parent who is the “Primary Physical Custodian” is usually the parent who cares for the child greater than 50% of the time.
  • The term “Primary Physical Custodian,” however, is not well-defined in Virginia law.  There are situations where parents have less than a 50/50 custody share (exp. 60/40, 70/30), but where a settlement agreement/Court Order show that the custodial care plan is “Shared Custody” (even though there is, by most standards, a “primary parent”).
  • Some divorce attorneys are concerned that a judge may allow a parent, who is referred to as the “Primary Custodian,” in the settlement agreement/Court Order, to have more potential influence in possible future battles involving the child (e.g., moving away with the child).
  • If a parent is referred to in a settlement agreement/Court Order as the “primary custodian,” a school district may defer to that document when determining which school a child should attend.  (See previous Blog article: https://fairfaxdivorceblog.com/?s=prince+william )

In certain situations, and if there is no tax planning as part of the parties’ settlement, The IRS automatically awards certain child-related tax benefits to the “Custodial Parent”.  The IRS does not use the term “Primary Parent”.  The “Custodial Parent,” in terms of tax law, is the parent who cares for the child greater than 50% of the time during that tax year.  If the settlement agreement/Court Order conflicts with the actual caretaking schedule, this could present a problem if both parents wish to claim the child as their dependent exemption. This is not a problem, however, if parents insure that the settlement agreement/ Court Order matches their actual caretaking activities and if they make sure that tax planning is a part of their settlement (as it should be). (See previous Blog article https://fairfaxdivorceblog.com/?s=tax+custody )

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.


Financial Investigation Tips for Second Marriages

June 2, 2015

INTRODUCTION by ROBIN GRAINE, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator

As a divorce mediator, I am keenly aware that many of my clients will enter into second (and sometimes third and fourth) marriages. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that, within five years of a divorce from a first spouse, a whopping one in five Americans says “I do” a second time.  A two marriage record is OK . . . but a two-time personal divorce statistic is really hard to deal with for most people.

Hopefully, whatever mistakes you made in your first marriage will not be repeated in your second attempt. If some of the problems in your first marriage had to do with money, this article will help you with essential and necessary ways of determining what you are getting into the second time around.

Though it may be uncomfortable to do the investigation necessary to ensure “financial bliss,” successful remarriages need to start with openness, trust, and a mutual value system. If you are concerned about your financial future with your new bride or groom, you may need to open up your tax files as big as you open up your heart . . .  it really should not be a problem.  If it is, there’s your first warning that things might not be as perfect between you as you had thought.

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Graine Mediation’s guest blogger, Julian Block, who is a leading national tax professional and attorney, has this to say about protecting yourself financially before you say “yes” to a second marriage:

Tax Reminders for Couples Contemplating Tying the Knot—Again

As an attorney and author who has written and lectured extensively about the tax aspects of marriage and divorce, I frequently receive questions from couples contemplating marriage.

One of my standard recommendations is that they consider the tax consequences beforehand, especially when one of them or both of them are remarrying. My advice: Before they commit to a walk down the aisle, each should consider whether to ask the other for copies of tax returns. In my experience, it’s particularly important for women to do that.

To illustrate how I would advise them, let’s say it’s going to be a second or third marriage for both John and Marsha—something that’s not uncommon nowadays, judging from the SundayStyles Section of the New York Times.

Something else that’s no longer uncommon is that her holdings considerably exceed his. Possible reasons why she’s wealthier? Much-married and several-times-widowed Marsha inherited assets from her spouses; or a couple of divorces resulted in her receiving several sizable settlements; or she was one of the Facebook staffers who were enormously enriched by its IPO.

Both Marsha and John are old enough for membership in AARP. Their ages matter because the divorce rate is extremely high for people over age 50—particularly for those who remarry.

Mindful of those stats, Marsha had John assent to a prenuptial agreement (just as she did in advance of earlier marriages). What else might Marsha do? I counsel her to ask for copies of John’s federal and state returns. Depending on what they reveal, she might decide that it’s prudent to stay single or, if they do wed, to file separate returns.

Following are summaries of scenarios I created that, albeit unromantic, are based on actual events.

Fear of filing:  It turns out that John hasn’t filed returns, something that’s common across all levels of society. It’s vital that Marsha know his potential liability for back taxes, penalties and interest. Also, he must specify when he will file returns and arrange for installment payments that will square him with federal and state tax agencies.

My advice, should Marsha wed: She files separate returns and doesn’t mix her assets with his assets. Also, she asks John to fill her in on what other shoes might drop.

A less troubling scenario that’s nonetheless problematicWhile John has filed 1040s, he owes considerable amounts in back taxes, and interest charges continue to mount. Marsha’s tactics, assuming they wed: Again, file separately and not comingle assets until he has squared accounts with the IRS. There’s a snag if they file jointly and are due a refund; the IRS can apply the refund to his back taxes.

John has filed returns and owes no back taxes: Marsha should still scrutinize certain deductions and other items on his returns. Let’s focus on some of the easier ones.

 Alimony payments: John’s returns reveal that he makes alimony payments to his ex-wives that he didn’t mention to Marsha;

Dependency exemptions for children not living with John due to divorce or separation: A divorce settlement (or settlements) allows him as a noncustodial parent to claim such exemptions.  He never told Marsha about those children;

Gambling: John’s returns show substantial amounts of gambling winnings for “other income” on line 21 of the 1040 form. Those returns also show offsetting deductions for gambling losses on line 28 of Schedule A. Losses are deductible only up to the amount of winnings. Does he have nondeductible losses that far exceed winnings? Perhaps the amounts wagered indicate that John gambles compulsively;

Schedule C: John files a Schedule C for his dental practice. A cursory review of amounts entered for business receipts and expenses suggests he’s understating gross receipts and overstating expenses. Whereas dentists in his area typically claim expenses equal to about 50 percent of gross receipts, his expenses equal about 75 percent of gross receipts. A plausible explanation for the discrepancy is that John doesn’t deposit currency payments received from patients into the practice’s bank account, and he tells his accountant to use bank deposits to calculate gross receipts. Is John trying to pull one on the IRS?

Schedule A: Line 4 shows he claims hefty itemized deductions for medical expenses (allowable to most persons only for the part above 10 percent of adjusted gross income). Deductions could be easily explained as attributable to payments for insurance premiums and expenses usually not covered by insurance—for instance, dental work, hearing aids, glasses, medically required home improvements or private duty nurses. Or the reason for substantial write-offs might be that, like Tony Soprano, John sees a shrink several times a week. Not to imply that there’s anything wrong with those visits; still—like the restorative powers of chicken soup—it can’t hurt and might help for Marsha to determine how much John has in common with Tony or, worse yet, Norman Bates.

Donations: John’s a chintzy contributor, whereas Marsha is a generous giver. This may not be a deal breaker, but they should discuss charitable donations before marriage.

Withholding: Each year, John receives big refunds, deliberately as a form of forced savings or simply by neglecting to claim enough exemptions on his W-4. But interest-free loans to the IRS are anathema for someone like Marsha, who meticulously monitors her withholding from wages and outlays for estimated payments. Her returns may show small balances due. It’s preferable that they discuss before marriage how they’ll handle withholding.

In the midst of all these thorns, there are some roses. Assume John has a substantial capital loss carry forward and no unrealized capital gains. At $3,000 a year, it will take many years to use up John’s carry forward. She, however, has a substantial unrealized capital gain. Marriage means Marsha can realize the gain and offset it against John’s carry forward.

Similarly, suppose he operates a business that’s unprofitable. He has a hefty net operating loss carry forward; but not enough other income to absorb the carry forward. Marsha has sizable income. Marriage enables him to apply his carry forward against her income.    

—————————————————————————————————————–

Julian Block writes and practices law in Larchmont, N.Y. and was formerly with the IRS as a special agent (criminal investigator) and an attorney. He is frequently quoted in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post, and has been cited as: “a leading tax professional” (New York Times); “an accomplished writer on taxes” (Wall Street Journal);and “an authority on tax planning” (Financial Planning Magazine). This article is excerpted from “Julian Block’s Tax Tips for Marriage and Divorce,” available as a Kindle at Amazon.com and as a print copy at julianblocktaxexpert.com. Law professor James E. Maule, a professor at Villanova University School of Law and Graduate Tax Program, praised the book as “An easy-to-read and well-organized explanation of the tax rules.”  The National Association of Personal Financial Advisers says it is “A terrific reference.”

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.


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