According to an article published this summer in the Wall Street Journal, there is an increasing trend among divorce lawyers to market their practices specifically to men.
As a marketing tool, from the perspective of the lawyer, this makes perfect sense. There is nothing new about niche marketing and boutique divorce firms have been all the rage for years. A lawyer who can convince his or her demographic that he or she is a champion of men and understands the injustices that too often befall them in divorce court, can gain a leg up on colleagues who trust clients to understand that experience representing both men and women benefits clients of both genders.
Jennifer Smith, the author of the WSJ article entitled “Lawyers Carve out ‘Divorce for Men’ Niche”, makes it clear that the trend is about marketing and not about law. The article discusses packing lawyers’ websites with SEO rich keywords and phrases appealing to men’s fears and concerns. There are plenty of plausible reasons for this, none having to do with outcomes for clients. Lawyers who limit their practices in this way may believe that any focus in advertising is a good thing, or may have a personal bias that male clients are generally in a better position than women to finance divorce.
The question for men facing divorce, by contrast, is whether the fact that their lawyer markets exclusively to men will make a difference in the outcome of their cases. When pressed for answers on what kind of special advice such firms offered, self-described men’s lawyers reported advising clients not to get into arguments with their wives which might result in false claims of abuse, and not to relocate to distant places if they planned to seek joint custody of their children. Hardly profound insights or advice different from that which any experienced divorce lawyer would offer.
There is no doubt that at least some of the lawyers, who limit their divorce practice to men, genuinely believe that men tend to be short-changed in divorce court. Many might be proponents of alimony reform — a hot issue across the country.
Query, though, whether any judge is likely to be swayed in his or her decision by the politics of the husband’s lawyer as opposed to by the facts of the case. To the extent that gender biases exist in any jurisdiction, count on the fact that the experienced lawyers in that jurisdiction are aware of them and are prepared to address them on behalf of their clients. All of us are bound by Rules of Professional Conduct that require us to represent our client’s zealously.
Before selecting a lawyer who touts himself or herself as a man’s divorce lawyer, men should first ask: does it cost extra, and, if so, exactly why?
After more than 20 years of marriage that ended in divorce in 2003, Connecticut resident Peter Larson seems to have been no stranger to the courts. When he returned to court in 2010 to seek a reduction of child support and alimony orders, he had two previous efforts at modification under his belt and probably felt confident that he would win his pro se bid for relief. After all, his income had gone from about $85,000 in 2003 to about $21,000 and he was unemployed.
And, in fact, he did come away with some degree of success without the help of a lawyer. The trial court recalculated his child support dropping it from its original level of $347 per week to $115 per week. In addition the court reduced his alimony order to $1 per year — not a permanent victory on the alimony front, but still an important win.
Unfortunately, Mr.Larson’s former wife, Matilde, did hire a lawyer who filed a counter-motion for contempt seeking past due child support and attorney’s fees. Ultimately, although he received a break in his current orders, Mr. Larson was also ordered to pay almost $100,000 in past-due support and was also ordered to pay almost $27,000 in attorney’s fees.
In a per curiam decision of the Connecticut Appellate Court scheduled for release next week, the Court upheld the trial court’s action.
As he had at the trial court level, Mr. Larson represented himself on appeal. His arguments of error were;
- The trial court hadn’t reduced child support enough
- The trial court should not have found him in contempt of prior orders
- The order of attorneys fees was excessive because the fees were unreasonable
The Court’s response to these claims makes it clear that Mr. Larson would have benefitted from consulting with a lawyer before filing his motion and, later, before filing his appeal. First, the court stressed the enormous discretion accorded to trial courts by appeals courts in family matters. It is never enough on appeal that the appellate judges might have decided the case differently. This means that strategic errors at the trail level can rarely be corrected on appeal.
Second, Mr Larson would have been cautioned that, because he was not fully in compliance with existing orders, he should have expected a counter-offense if he chose to seek a modification. Based on the amount of the arrearage that the court found, it is clear that his former wife had tolerated his non-compliance for a very long time up to the point that he made the first move in 2010. To the extent that Mr. Larson thought his current financial situation would — or even could — protect him from being held in contempt for falling behind, he was mistaken and any experienced lawyer would have made that clear to him.
Third, he would have been advised that law that requires courts to consider the respective finances of the parties when allocating responsibility for attorneys fees in divorce cases, does not apply in enforcement proceedings where there has been a finding of willful contempt. In such cases, attorney’s fees can be shifted to the party who failed to obey a court order as a simple matter of punishment.
While Larson complained that he had not been given a fair chance to challenge the reasonableness of the fees, the appellate court noted that, not only had the trial court afforded him the opportunity to do that, but had actually scheduled a separate hearing for that very purpose. Although Larson attended the hearing he did not, according to the court, present any evidence on the subject. It is not unusual for inexperienced litigants to expect the trial judge to take the lead in a factual inquiry.
In a 201o op-ed piece published in the New York Times entitled “A Nation of Do-It-Yourself Lawyers” John T Broadrick, chief justice of New Hampshire, and Ronald M. George, chief justice of California, stressed the disadvantages faced by litigants who, for financial reasons, feel compelled to go it alone. The authors urged members of the bar to step up to help mitigate the problem by offering so-called unbundled legal services so that litigants who could not afford comprehensive representation could nonetheless receive limited assistance in the form of consultation, coaching, and help with document preparation.
What many do not understand is that limited representation can be a minefield for lawyers since the rules in many states do not adequately protect them. We cannot reasonably expect lawyers who would otherwise be willing to play a supporting role in a lawsuit, to risk taking responsibility for the final outcome of litigation they do not fully control or to be required to provide additional or even comprehensive services without remuneration.
Still, in every community there are lawyers who recognize the problem and who are willing to address it as long as roles are clearly defined and the expectations are clear. When the stakes are high, it makes sense to seek them out.
Yesterday, the Huffington Post reported on a new study by sociologists Wendy Manning and Jessica Cohen concerning the relationship between cohabitation prior to marriage and the risk of divorce down the road.
As it turns out, the divorce rates among couples who did cohabit and those who did not are fairly equal.
While the authors of the study looked at factors such as gender, and level of committment — whether or not the couple planned to marry from the start — nothing in the report suggests that the authors considered whether the cohabitation took place before a first marriage or a second or subsequent marriage.
In Connecticut and many other states, the decision to cohabit before a second marriage carries an added risk — the prospect of losing alimony whether or not the new relationship works out.
In most cases, alimony terminates on the remarriage of the recipient. Under the so-called Connecticut cohabitation statute, things are not so clear-cut.
The Connecticut cohabitation statute uses peculiar language. Most importantly, it does not include the word ‘cohabit’. Instead it allows a court to suspend, reduce or terminate alimony if it finds that the recipient is living with another person under circumstances that alter his or her financial needs.
While the language is broad enough to include roommates, relatives, and even long-term guests, the courts have generally interpreted the statute to be focused on couples living together without the benefit of marriage.
As broad as the language of the cohabitation statute is, cohabitation can be tricky to prove especially when the couple separates in reaction to a motion by an ex-spouse to terminate alimony.
Still, the cost of cohabitation for anyone receiving alimony can be loss of a stream of income that might otherwise have continued for years. While courts have the option to suspend or reduce alimony on a finding of cohabitation, termination is far more common. Once alimony has been terminated, it cannot be reinstated.
So if the Manning/Cohen study tells us that cohabitation prior to marriage doesn’t reduce the incidence of divorce, at least for second-timers whose existing alimony is at risk, it might be wise to test a new relationship from a safe distance.
A recent decision of the Connecticut Appellate Court in the case of Felicia Pierot Brody vs. Cary Brody illustrates what can happen when the focus of a divorce case shifts from the issues in the marriage to the credibility, or lack thereof, of one of the parties to the case. In the Brody case, one thing that happened was that a lot of personal information became public – e.g., the husband’s awkward excuse for stashing condoms in his travel bag. Another consequence: Brody was ordered to pay $2.5 million in lump sum alimony even though his prenuptial agreement was meant to prevent that and even though the court was unable to ascertain his income. The trial took place in 2010. Recently the Appellate Court has ruled against Brody on all six issues he raised in his appeal.
For all most of us know, Mr. Brody might have told the truth from start to finish. However, the judge found him not to be credible which, as the finder of fact in a civil case, she was privileged to do.
Any judge will tell you that the best way to appear to be truthful is simply to tell the truth. Still, any divorce lawyer who’s practiced as long as I have, has encountered more than one client who is shocked to learn that their lawyer expects them to be honest.
What kind of lawyer wouldn’t help you hide your assets, understate your income or cover up your extramarital affairs? The answer: any good one. Yet, despite our best efforts, there are plenty of folks who remain unconvinced that honesty is the best policy even when the truth isn’t pretty.
The fact is, there isn’t much that happens in a marriage that the judge hasn’t heard before. Also, there can be two very different sides to every story even when the story is told by honest people. Your secret spending or infidelity might have led to enormous drama in your household, but in divorce court, might barely cause a ripple. Unless, that is, you deny the deed and the judge isn’t buying it.
Brody was not a divorce between members of the 99% although the basic issues were fairly universal. There was an issue of irresponsible spending — in this case buying one too many Ferrari automobiles , a wine cellar, and an airplane. There was an issue of suspected infidelity with no proof other than a few unused condoms. There was a business purportedly in decline — in this case the Defendant’s hedge fund. There were some “he-said-she-said” claims of verbal abuse. All matters divorce judges deal with day in and day out.
No case in Connecticut goes to trial without first going through at least one formal attempt at settlement usually with the assistance of a judge or court-appointed Special Master. Most cases settle before trial. Of the small percentage that do not, only a handful are appealed and those few find little success in overturning the decision of the trial judge.
In this case, the Defendant raised a number of issues that might have served him well during settlement negotiations. His business really had been embroiled in litigation with the SEC, for example, and the prenuptial agreement arguably offered him protection from a lump sum alimony award that would have to be funded by liquidating personal assets.
At trial, however, the judge found him not to be a credible witness. For one thing, he had admitted testifying falsely under oath in an earlier divorce proceeding that his wife had commenced but later dropped. Back then he had denied removing his wife’s jewelery from a safe, but had later come clean. Added to that was the finding that the Defendant had stonewalled during the discovery phase of the trial pretending that certain documents sought by the Plaintiff didn’t exist. With those two strikes against him, the case was pretty much over. The Plaintiff, whose personal net worth at the time of the marriage had been 29 million, and whose dividend income from her separate property was approximately $100,000 annually was awarded alimony and, tacitly, the designation of honest litigant.
The Supreme Court of the United States has rejected a bid by the state of Montana to revisit the Citizen’s United case.
In that 2010 landmark decision our Supreme Court declared that corporations had the same rights of free speech as natural persons and that these rights would be infringed if independent political expenditures — i,e., corporate funded ‘political advertising’ — was limited.
This was the birth of the Super PAC.
The Montana court subsequently found, as a matter of fact, that excessive private funding had corrupted elections in that state and therefore sought to limit excessive corporate spending that they found had led to the corruption despite the holding in Citizen’s United.
Nevertheless, the majority of the Supreme Court today dismissed the issues raised by the Montana court as having already been considered, albeit in the abstract, through the Citizen’s United case. Justice Breyer and three others dissented.
What do you think? Do you feel more inclined or less inclined to make small contributions to political campaigns in the wake of Citizen’s United? Do you trust the content of political ads less than in the past? Up to today, in this first presidential election cycle since Citizen’s United was decided, do you agree with Justice Kennedy, the author of the opinion, that unlimited political spending by corporations does not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption?
Please comment here or @oldmysticlaw on Twitter.
According to an Associated Press report issued yesterday, Susan Meredith a state arbitrator has reinstated 40 of the 103 state employees who lost their jobs in the wake of alleged disaster relief fraud following Tropical Storm Irene. D-SNAP — the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — provided food stamp and other relief to qualifying Connecticut residents. Qualification for the D-SNAP assistance depended on the income and assets of the applicants and on the amount and type of damage suffered.
The story was picked up by news services across the state but also caught considerable national attention.
According to the report which cited a statement by Sal Luciano, executive director of the Union local representing some 35 of the former employees, the arbitrator determined that the errors committed by these 40 employees warranted discipline but not dismissal. Accordingly they will be required to pay restitution and serve suspensions of varying lengths –so far between 15 to 60 working days. This leaves open the issue of back pay for periods of unemployment following the August 2011 storm that exceeded the newly imposed suspensions. More than 60 additional cases are still pending–among them cases characterized as the most egregious
According to a post by the Hartford Courant blogger, Christopher Keating, the level of mutual tension between members of the Malloy administration on the one hand and lawyer for 60 former workers, Rich Rochlin, have remained high.
With controversy raging in Michigan and elsewhere over the role of labor unions in the public sector, we are curious to know how our clients and neighbors in Connecticut and especially here in Mystic, Stonington, Groton, New London, and the rest of Southeastern Connecticut view the issues.
Does the fact that the fraud impacted publicly administered relief funds, mean that public employees found to have abused the program should be accountable –not just in criminal court — but to their employer as well? Would this create an unfair disparity between workers in the public and private sectors? Should the state seek review of the decisions in Superior Court? Please tell us what you think.
NAVIGATING THE CONNECTICUT HOME IMPROVEMENT ACT — A NEW CASE IS GOOD NEWS FOR SUBCONTRACTORS AND BAD NEWS FOR HOMEOWNERSPosted: June 5, 2012
A decision to be released this week by the Connecticut Appellate Court — Probuild East LLC vs Poffenberger — tells a cautionary tale of the perils and pitfalls of home improvement contracting for everyone involved in the process including owners, general contractors, and subcontractors.
The facts of the case were relatively simple: A homeowner hired a general contractor who failed to make sure the contract complied with the Connecticut Home Improvement Act — a statutory scheme designed to protect homeowners. Once the job — which included completed change orders — was finished, the general contractor was still owed $10,800.
Enter the plaintiff, a materials supplier who recorded a timely mechanic’s lien for $15,275 to cover materials for which he had not been paid by the general contractor. The plainiff bypassed the general contractor and instead sued the homeowner seeking foreclosure of the mechanic’s lien.
At trial, the homeowner who knew nothing of the subcontractor raised the defense that, based on flaws in the contract between the homeowner and the general contractor, the general contractor could not have collected the balance of money he was owed. Since the homeowner’s only contract was with the general contractor, it followed, he argued, the the Home Improvement Act also protected him from claims by subcontractors on the job.
The trial court rejected the owner’s defense and ordered a sale of the property to satisfy the subcontractor’s claim, or at least that portion of it that would otherwise have been owed to the general contractor.
On appeal, the Appellate Court agreed with the trial court holding that the general contractor’s failure to protect its own rights did not affect the right of the subcontractor to collect its debt as long as the homeowner had not paid for the job in full.
Here are the lessons:
FOR THE GENERAL CONTRACTOR – Take care that each and every contract you present to a homeowner complies with each and every requirement of the Home Improvement Act. If it does not, you may never be able to collect your money regardless of the quality of your work and regardless of any windfall this creates for the non-paying homeowner.
FOR THE HOMEOWNER – Pay attention to the job. Find out who your general contractor is bringing on board. Ask to see materials invoices and subcontracts. Demand lien wavers from subcontractors each time you make partial payments on the job. Remember that you may be forced to pay subcontractors with whom you had no direct dealings even if you couldn’t also be forced to pay the general contractor for the same services.
FOR THE SUBCONTRACTOR – Keep on top of collections making sure to document all dealings with the general contractor and follow the rules for filing mechanics liens when payment is late.
Especially in this difficult economy everyone is watching the bottom line closer than ever and anyone who chooses to do business on a handshake does so at his own peril. In the end — at least when the judicial system becomes involved in the process — he who exercises the greatest caution wins.