For most clients, their home is their largest marital asset. Unlike a retirement account, its value is more difficult to determine. Clients struggle with valuing their home when completing their Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit.   Many of them leave the line blank.  Others use the purchase price.  Neither are good options.  What other methods can litigants use to value their home?

  • Appraisal.  A home appraisal will provide the most accurate value (other than selling your home). An appraisal is a very educated guess about the value of the home.  The appraiser will visit your home. They will review the square footage, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the condition of your home, and take into account any recent upgrades or maintenance.  Most importantly, they will compare your home to other homes that have sold in your neighborhood.   Appraisers can also be subpoenaed to act as a witness should your case go to trial.  
  • Tax Value.  Each year you pay property taxes on  your home. The county determines the value of the home for the purposes of levying the tax. This value can be found on your county's tax office website. 
  • Online services.  Zillow and Trulia have a wealth of information.  You can easily search for homes in  your neighborhood that have sold recently.  This is especially valuable if you live in a neighborhood where homes have an identical floor plan to yours or are similarly designed.  Zillow also offers its own estimation value. 

Whichever method you choose, let your attorney know how you arrived at  the value. They may encourage you to have an appraisal particularly if your home has significant equity.  

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AuthorAdriana Torriente

An article in today's Washington Post suggests that children of divorced couples fare better in a joint physical custody arrangement over an arrangement where they spend more time with one parent.  The study was of mostly children aged 12 to 15 years.  The data was gathered in self-reported questionnaires by the youths.  Other factors, such as socio-economic status, were not captured and may have also contributed to the children's health.

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AuthorAdriana Torriente
CategoriesChild Custody

Today the New York Times has an excellent article on what documents you should keep.  One of their experts recommends keeping your divorce decree indefinitely.   In addition to keeping your divorce decree, I would recommend keeping a copy of your settlement agreement.  I would also keep every temporary and final order in subsequent modifications.   You will also need to keep the Parenting Plan which is also an order. 

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AuthorAdriana Torriente

Today we are linking to a post from Jacksonville Mom's Blog.   We don't often re-post content from other sites but today's post is an exception. It is a theme we see over and over again in family law litigation.  One parent thinks their way is better.  And if the other parent does not do it that way then the children will suffer, be permanently damaged, turn into purple polka dotted people eaters, etc.  

The blog post is titled Doing It Dad's Way and is written by Kathy, a friend and classmate of mine from my days at Georgia Tech. 

When you feel like your child's other parent is doing something "wrong" try to ask yourself these questions:

  • Is his or her behavior dangerous where the child's safety is at risk?  For example, a parent of a two year old refuses to place the child in an appropriate safety car seat.
  • Will the behavior impact the child's moral well-being? For example, a parent who allows a thirteen year old daughter have her boyfriend spend the night.

Micromanaging the other parent can lead that parent to interact less with the child and make the micromanaged parent disregard all advice from the other parent.  Neither of which are good for the child. 

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AuthorAdriana Torriente

Before any hearing, we discuss with our clients whether they would like to have the case reported. Having a case reported means there is a court reporter taking down what is said during the hearing.   We explain that it costs more money and in some counties, more preparation since we will have to schedule the court reporter.  Inevitably our clients ask, "Do I need it?".    Your matter can certainly proceed without a court reporter.   But if the client is unhappy with the result, it is often difficult to get an appellate court to overturn a  trial court's ruling without an accurate record of the hearing.

The recent case of Blue v. Hemmans, Georgia Court of Appeals Docket No. A14A0326 (May 23, 2014) illustrates the reason why clients in family law cases should strongly consider a court reporter for a final hearing.    In Blue , the Mother filed a petition to modify custody of her minor son.  The son  was living with the Father under a prior modification of custody order.  At a final hearing, both parents testified. The Mother testified how Father had interfered with her exercise of visitation. She also testified that the son's school administrators told her that the Father had not provided the complete prior order resulting in her inability to participate in her son's educational activities.  The Father objected to Mother's hearsay testimony regarding what the school administrators said to her. 

In the final order, the court modified custody -- granting mother sole custody of the parties' son.  Father appealed. The court vacated and remanded the case to the trial court.  In its order the Court of Appeals found that the trial court's findings for the basis to change custody were not supported by the evidence.  The trial court found that father had interfered on multiple occasions with the mother's visitation.  But the testimony at the hearing was that Mother had not been able to visit with her son on only one occasion.  The court also relied on Mother's hearsay testimony regarding what the school administrators told her. 

Had the case not been reported, Father would likely not have been successful in his appeal. 

Before going to a hearing, discuss with your attorney whether you should have the case reported.  Here are some important points to consider:

  • How much will it cost?
  • Does the court  have a court reporter available or will you or your attorney need to hire one?  DeKalb County, Georgia does not provide court reporters for civil hearings.  If you would like your case reported, you will need to hire your own court reporter.   This is more expensive because it requires an appearance fee.
  • Is it a temporary hearing? A final hearing?  A motions hearing?  The answer as to whether a court reporter is necessary may be based on the nature of the hearing.

As always, discuss any questions you have with your attorney. 

 

 

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AuthorAdriana Torriente

 Although most non-custodial parents only have to send one check each month to the custodial parent, some things are not covered by child support.  For example, the children's medical and dental bills such as co-pays are not included in the monthly child support amount.  Why not? It is impossible to predict when your child will become ill or need to see a doctor.  Therefore, the child support worksheet assigns a portion of these expenses to each parent.  

If you have multiple children or children with lots of health related concerns, parents may be sending many requests for payment throughout the month.  Today we will explore some tips on keeping track of these expenses. 

Review your child support order. Within a divorce decree, custody order, or other domestic action there will be a document titled Child Support Addendum.  That document will detail how the parents will apportion uncovered medical expenses. For example, "The Father shall pay 50% and the Mother shall pay 50% of all expenses incurred for the children's health care that are not covered by health insurance. " 

Typically within the same paragraph,  the order will explain what kind of proof of expense the incurring parent will need to provide to the other parent in order to receive reimbursement and when that proof and payment shall be provided.  For example, "The party who incurs such out of pocket expense shall provide documentation thereof to the other party within fourteen days of said expenditure with a short note explaining the details, the reasons, et cetera, of said expenditure.  The other party shall reimburse the incurring party (or pay the health care provider directly) for the appropriate percentage of the expense, within fourteen days after receiving the verification of a particular health care expense. " 

Using the information above, Casey and Nat are the parents of Bobby.  On May 1st, Bobby woke up with a fever. Casey took Bobby to the pediatrician.  The co-pay for the pediatrician was $35.00.  Casey paid the co-pay.  Casey keeps a receipt of the co-pay.  On or before May 15th, Casey provides Nat with a copy of the receipt for $35.00.  Because the parties split the uncovered medical expenses, Nat sends Casey a check for $17.50 within fourteen days of receiving the original receipt.   In a perfect world, this is how it would work 

But what  happens when things don't go as planned.  How do you keep track of these expenses?

Maintain a spreadsheet.  The spreadsheet should have a column for the amount of the expense, the date the expense was incurred, a description of the expense (i.e.  Bobby's Five Year Well Visit)  the date you sent the receipt to the other parent, the date you received payment, and the amount you received for payment. 

Send the spreadsheet.  Include the spreadsheet in every email where you send a receipt. This will ensure that the other parent knows what is owed and that you  have applied prior payments.  Alternatively, create a Google Drive spreadsheet and share the spreadsheet with the other parent. You should limit their access to view only.

Send receipts timely.  Even if your order does not have a provision regarding sending receipts timely, do not hoard receipts.  For example, do not accumulate receipts for six months and then send the other parent a request to pay $500 in a few days.

Follow-up.  If you are not getting paid timely (within the time specified in the order) then follow up with the other parent. Don't assume they are just being difficult.  Maybe they did not receive the receipt. Maybe they sent you the money but you have not received it.  Document your follow-up on your spreadsheet too. 

Pay with a check.  Do not give the other party cash.  Cash is impossible to trace.  If you cannot pay with a check, then pay through pay pal or by money order.  If you have to pay with cash, then get a receipt. 

Use email to send receipts.  Although it is perfectly acceptable to make a copy of receipts and send them in the mail, they may get lost.   We find that it is easier to scan and email copies of receipts to the other parent. It is also easier to show that you did send the receipt requesting reimbursement.  However,  if you choose to send items by mail, you should make a copy of the letter and receipt you sent to the other parent.

We hope that you found these tips helpful. Do you have any tips that you feel help you keep track of these expenses?  If so, comment on this post. 

 

 
Posted
AuthorAdriana Torriente

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With all the tornado watches, falling trees, and work-place shootings, no doubt many of you are thinking about your disaster preparedness plans.  While thinking about where to take cover or where your family will regroup in the event of an emergency, it is also time to think about whether you are prepared in your personal life.  Do you have a Will, Advanced Directive and Power of Attorney?  If you do, do you need to review or revise them?

You may need to think about your setting up or revising your estate plan if the following events have happened:

  • Marriage
  • Divorce
  • Birth
  • Adoption
  • Home purchase
  • Change in assets
  • Illness or injury

Wills are not just for the wealthy.  Anyone who owns property, is married, has a domestic partner or has children should have a basic will that establishes who gets what and what happens to your children in the event of your demise.

If you are injured or get sick and cannot make decisions about your medical care, having an Advanced Directive for Healthcare (more commonly thought of as a "living will") will ensure that your medical decisions are made by a person you trust and in keeping with the kind of care you want to receive.  An Advanced Directive is particularly important for couples who are not legally married but wish to entrust their partner with their medical decisions.  Same goes for Power of Attorney.  By assigning Power of Attorney to a spouse or partner, that person is able to handle your affairs (access accounts, act on your behalf), in the event that you are incapacitated and they are not otherwise assigned those rights (ex. bank accounts in your name only).

Torriente Marum, LLC offers flat rate packages for simple wills, Advanced Directives, and Power of Attorney for individuals and couples.  Call or email our office for more information!

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AuthorElizabeth Marum

Last week we introduced our series on text messages with a post on how to take a screen capture of your text messages.   This week we will walk you through organizing your text messages. 

At this point you have a collection of text messages in either .png or .jpg format.  You have probably emailed them to your personal email account.  Each text message overlaps with the one before it and the one after it so that it is clear that you have not selected points that make you look favorable.  There should be a date and time at the beginning of each text "conversation".   So now what?

You can send each individual screen capture to your attorney and have them organize it but even if they have their paralegal put it together it is going to be time consuming (translate to "expensive"). 

The better option may be to do it yourself.  We recommend downloading all the screen capture images to your computer and then inserting them into either a  presentation (such as Microsoft PowerPoint) or document (such as Microsoft Word).  If you do not have access to Microsoft, you can do the same in Google Drive which is free. 

Other important things to consider when putting these screen captures together:

  • Limit three to four screen captures per page.
  • Keep one text "conversation" to a page.  For example,  if you have only two screen captures detailing a "conversation" about exchanges for Thanksgiving then do not add a third screen capture which illustrates your ex's refusal to engage you in medical decision-making for your children.
  • If you have more than four screen captures in a "conversation" then make it clear that they continue by placing a title with the date "March 3, 2014 Page 1 of 4".
  • Limit titles on pages to dates or other neutral date-like information such as "Christmas Day" ,  "Casey's Birthday", or "Night Before Summer Vacation."
  • Do not include commentary directly on each sheet. We would prefer the commentary in a separate document.

As always, you should contact your attorney if you have any questions.

Posted
AuthorAdriana Torriente
 
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Texting has become ubiquitous.  I text often but mostly when I need to communicate something quick and timely:  "OMW! order without me."   I often recommend to clients to text their spouse, former spouse, or child's other parent when they are running late for an exchange or when you cannot reach the kids for an evening phone call.

But litigants embroiled in high-stress family law actions send more than just "running late" texts.  In temporary protective orders, respondents will continue to harass the petitioning party.  Or the petitioner will invite the responding party over to their house contradicting their in-court statements that they are fearful of the respondent.  Sometimes, parents in a custody action exchange nasty text messages between each other regarding the quality of their parenting. 

Invariably, text messages end up as evidence in much of our litigation.  We often use it not only for content but also to establish timelines.  But when I ask clients to email me the text messages, they are often puzzled.  In today's post we are linking to websites which illustrate how to to do a screen capture (a photo of your screen) so that you can email your attorney these text messages.

Below you will find directions on how to take a screen capture on popular phone models.  Note that some of these links do not come from the manufacturer but from other websites and blogs. If you don't find your phone model in our list, you can search for the brand and model of your phone along with the text "screen capture". 

Apple iphone or ipad

Samsung Galaxy

LG Flex

LG G2

Moto X

HTC One

Blackberry 10

When capturing long text message conversations, ensure that every subsequent screen shot captures the last two or so lines of the prior screen capture.  This will make it clear to a judge or jury that you captured all of the conversation and not only the part that suited you. 

In our next post, we will explain how to organize the screen captures to send to your attorney. 

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AuthorAdriana Torriente
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Earlier we talked about what men should wear to court.  Although most of that post is relevant in today's post, there are a few areas which are specific to female litigants.  

  • Clothes should be clean.
  • Clothes should be free of holes.
  • Clothes should fit you properly.  Tight clothes are not appropriate. 
  • No shorts.
  • If you choose to wear a skirt or dress, make sure that the hem hits your knee or slightly above your knee.
  • No flip flops or beach shoes.
  • No t-shirts with logos on them. 
  • Wear appropriate footwear such as flats or pumps.  Use caution if you choose to wear boots, platform or stiletto shoes.  If the shoes make you look like an exotic dancer,  you might want to rethink your footwear.
  • Do not wear leggings unless you are wearing a tunic top which covers your tush completely.
  • Your bra or bra strap should not be visible.  Do not wear a sheer blouse.
  • Makeup should be tasteful and subdued.  (i.e. leave the fake lashes with glitter for the weekend)

I tell most of my female clients that they can choose to wear a suit if they feel comfortable wearing one.  However, it is not necessary.  Again the important thing is not that the clothes are designer but that they are clean and appropriate.   If you can go straight to the club from court, it is probably not appropriate attire.

Posted
AuthorAdriana Torriente

One of my favorite shows on TV was the reality show, What Not To Wear.  Stylists Clinton Kelly and Stacy London helped transform the lives of  women (and men) by changing their clothing and giving them a new haircut.  I was always amused when participants felt that their appearance did not matter because they were good people and other good people would recognize that.   Stacy and Clinton spent many episodes trying to get participants to understand that so much of what people think of you hinges on their first impression of you.   Not only is it true in business and in personal situations, it is very important to make a good first impression in court.  The judge is not going to get to know you -- they may spend four hours or maybe a whole week with you in their courtroom -- but they will not get to really know you.  They will only know what the witnesses say about  you and how your spouse portrays you.  Therefore, a good first impression (including the clothes you wear) can make a difference in your case.

Today we will focus on men and their appearance in court: 

  • Clothes should be clean.
  • Clothes should not have holes.
  • Clothes should fit.  Not too tight and not too loose.
  • Do not wear shorts.
  • Tuck in your shirt.
  • Do not wear shirts with printed material on them. For example, a Corona Light t-shirt you got at a bar in college.
  • Do not wear beach shoes or flip flops.
  • Shave.  If you have facial hair, make sure you have  groomed your beard and mustache. 
  • Do not wear cologne but do use deodorant.
  • Jeans or slacks.  This is really up to you.  I think slacks make a better impression but as long your clothing is clean and free of holes then I think you should wear what makes you most comfortable. 
  • Suit. If you feel comfortable in a suit, then you should wear one.  However, if your suit is ill-fitting then it would be better to wear a nice button down shirt and a pair of slacks over a suit.

If you question whether something is appropriate, then it probably is not.  Notice that I did not talk about designer clothes. It does not matter whether  your clothes come from a garage sale  or from Neiman Marcus.

Always ask your attorney if you have questions about what to wear. 

Posted
AuthorAdriana Torriente

Now that we have established the elements of the Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit (DRFA).  Why is it necessary for you to complete one? 

Superior Court Rule 24 requires that litigants in domestic relations actions complete one.  Failure to do so could result in a citation of contempt. 

DRFA.jpg

In a divorce, Judges refer to it to calculate child support, to determine whether alimony is warranted,  to determine how much alimony, to determine attorney's fees,  and to determine the division of assets and debts.  In child custody and support cases, they refer to it in determining support. 

Litigants should carefully review their DRFAs before signing them to ensure that all the values are correct as they can have drastic consequences in your case. For example, if you are paying your child's day care costs and the cost is showing at $100 per month but in reality it is a $1000 per month,  the child support you receive may be lower. 

Lately, I have noticed more and more judges immediately opening the file to ensure that updated Domestic Relations Financial Affidavits.  They want to know that these are the most current values for gross income, day care expenses and health insurance for the children since those three are critical in determining support. 

In sum, review your Financial Affidavit carefully before submitting it.  Ensure that the values are correct. If you are asking for your spouse to pay a portion of marital debt  make sure that the debt is listed on your DRFA.  If you are representing yourself, carefully review the opposing party's DRFA.  Note any discrepancies and use that in your cross examination. 

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AuthorAdriana Torriente
CategoriesFinancials

As attorneys we spend a lot of time listening to our clients, opposing party and a variety of other people.  At the heart of many family law cases is an inability to listen to what the other spouse or parent is saying.  Use some of these techniques to improve your listening skills. 

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AuthorAdriana Torriente

Earlier this month we posted about summer planning for divorced parents. But what if you and your spouse are not yet divorced, how do you plan for your summer vacation?

If you are represented by an attorney, then you should contact your attorney and discuss summer planning. They can contact opposing counsel or the opposing party and help you and your spouse arrive at a summer schedule.   Remember that whatever summer schedule you have this year may or may not be your summer schedule post divorce.

Most counties enter an order at the beginning of any new domestic relations case.  Some counties call it a Domestic Standing Order and others call it a Mutual Restraining Order.  Review that order carefully.  It generally has provisions regarding traveling with the children. Some counties prohibit traveling outside the state with the kids without permission from the other parent and in other counties, travel is permitted but only for a specific duration. 

Regardless, the children will be out of school and you will need to ensure they are properly supervised while both of you are at work.  Contact the other parent and schedule some time to talk about summer vacations, summer camps and summer day care for the kids.   Plan a time to meet to review options.  Unless you are barred by a protective order, consider meeting in a coffee shop or other public place particularly if there are allegations of violence, etc.  If you live far from each other, consider setting up a telephone call, Skype or Facetime. 

Before discussing plans with your spouse, do a little pre-planning.  Review the list from our other summer planning blog post. You shoudl bring the following items to your planning meeting with your spouse:  your kids' school calendar for this year and next year, bring your own calendar which has both personal and work obligations,  nanny/babysitter availability and information regarding summer camps.   We recommend scheduling this meeting to occur in March as many summer camps fill up before the end of April. 

 

Posted
AuthorAdriana Torriente
CategoriesChild Custody
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Although summer is months away (and we are experiencing another winter chill), it is time to start planning for summer. If you are divorced, now is the time to review your settlement agreement or final order in your divorce for summer holidays and summer break visitation schedules.  Typically, parents need to elect their summer weeks in the spring.  Here are a few things you should consider doing this month:

  • Review your settlement agreement/ parenting plan/ final order for summer visitation and summer holidays.  If it is unclear, contact your attorney or go talk to an attorney ASAP.
  • School schedule.  Go online and look at your children's school calendar.  When are they released from school?  When do they return to school? 
  • Call your family and friends and find out their summer schedule.   Is your family planning a special trip this summer? Do your parents want to see their grand kids the last week in June or the second week in July?  Does your sister want you to meet up with her and her kids at Disney?   Do you plan on attending your high school reunion this summer?  Does your new boyfriend/girlfriend want to take a couples only cruise this summer?  Determine your family obligations before electing your summer vacation dates.
  • Summer camps and other day care alternatives.  Investigate summer camps for your kids for the weeks your kids  are on vacation but you have to work.  How much does the camp cost?   Are you supposed to get OK from your ex before enrolling them in summer camp?  Is the other parent responsible for all summer camp costs?  What are the camp registration deadlines?  Are your parents coming for a week to care for the children for a week?
  • Passports. If you plan to travel outside the United States this summer, do your kids have their passports? Are they current?  If they do not have passports, have you checked the requirements on the State Department's website? Both parents have to consent for a minor's passport. 
  • Communicate.   Contact the other parent and discuss your plans.  Make sure you provide the other parent with your elected dates for summer visitation on or before the deadline in your agreement.   And if there is no deadline in your agreement, then as soon as possible. 
Posted
AuthorAdriana Torriente
CategoriesChild Custody

There was an interesting segment today on NPR's Morning Edition on a father's rights group leading the charge to change custody laws.  The group wants to change the laws so that courts are more likely to grant joint physical custody.  Joint physical custody is when the child/children spend equal time with each parent. 

Joint physical custody can take many forms in a daily schedule.   For example, a parent has one week with the kids and the next week the kids are with the other  parent.  In that type of scenario, the change in custody occurs only once per week usually after school on Fridays or at the beginning of the week on Monday morning.  This is popular when there is friction between the parents as it minimizes the number of times the parents interact.  The change in custody can occur at the end of an activity  so that the parents do not have to see each other-- the child is dropped off at soccer practice by one parent and the other parent picks up the child.

2-2-5-5 Custodial Schedule

2-2-5-5 Custodial Schedule

Another popular schedule is 2-2-5-5 as shown in the graphic above.  In the table, M is for Mother and F is for Father.  This schedule works well for parents who travel out of town for work on some days of the week.  It is also helpful when a child consistently has a specific activity on a certain day of the week where one parent is more involved in that activity (for example, if the child always has Math Team on Tuesdays and Mother is the coach) or when one parent's schedule is more flexible to allow the child to participate in an activity (for example, when child has a dance class that starts at 4pm on Thursdays and Father works from home on Thursdays and has  a bit more flexibility on those afternoons). 

When we advise clients on joint physical custody, we discuss a few factors:

  • Age of the children
  • Children's special needs
  • Distance between parents
  • Distance between each parent and the children's school and extra-curricular events
  • The ability and interest of each parent to set up a household that mirrors the other home so that children have similar toys and sufficient clothing at each home.
  • Parent's work schedules
  • Parent's ability to cooperate and communicate with one another

Regardless of how well joint physical custody may work for parents, Georgia courts award custody based on the child's best interests.    If you think that joint physical custody may be what is best for your child, discuss it with your attorney. 

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AuthorAdriana Torriente
CategoriesChild Custody

Parties in domestic relations actions are required in Rule 24 of the Georgia Uniform Superior Court Rules to create, share and file a Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit (DRFA) throughout the course of their litigation.   The affidavit provides a snapshot of your financial status.   Attorneys review it in preparation for their examination of their client or in preparation of their cross examination of the opposing party.  Judges review it when determining alimony or child support whether at a final hearing or a temporary hearing.

The affidavit is broken out into five different sections:  summary, income, assets, expenses and debts.  All sections are completed with monthly figures.    Review Rule 24 before converting weekly and hourly figures to monthly ones. 

The income section requires a party to disclose all income they have available to them. This includes income from rental properties or unemployment in addition to income earned in employment.    If you are paid hourly and work full-time, then you should multiply your hourly wage by 174.  If you are paid weekly, then you should multiply your weekly rate by 4.35.  These factors are listed in Rule 24.2A.

The asset section lists the assets available to the affiant.  In a divorce, some of the assets may be non-marital or have a non-marital component.   For example, prior to the marriage the Wife had a 401(k) through her employer.  She left that employer a month before she married and did not contribute to that 401(k) after her marriage. Therefore, 100% of that account is non-marital.  Regardless of whether the Husband can stake a claim to her 401(k), she must disclose it on her financial affidavit. 

The expense section requires the affiant to list all their expenses they incur each month. For expenses that occur less frequently such as car insurance, the affiant would pro-rate the cost for a month.  If you have children, the expense section is very important as expenses you pay for the children may have an impact on the amount of child support you receive or pay.

The last section is the debt section. The affiant is required to list all debts, the balance owed, and the monthly payment. Like the asset section, some of these debts may not be marital in divorce cases. 

The summary rolls up each section into a clear summary for a judge or a party to review. 

The last page requires the party to sign the affidavit and swear to its accuracy.  Therefore, it is important that the affiant carefully review the DRFA before signing it.

Later this week, we will explore why it is so important to have a complete and accurate DRFA.   

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AuthorAdriana Torriente

Elizabeth and Adriana attended the Georgia Association of Women Lawyer's Art Auction on Saturday, April 20th.  Elizabeth was a member of the Art Auction Committee this year and  helped organize the event.  The proceeds from the auction help fund scholarships for law students. You can read the entire article at the Fulton County Daily Report.

 

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AuthorAdriana Torriente

Even attorneys are not immune to the dangers of Facebook.  We have all heard about the teachers and other professionals who have been fired, suspended, and generally subjected to public scrutiny for posting "inappropriate" photos on their private Facebook accounts.  We have repeatedly warned you and our clients to purge your Facebook pages and keep it clean.  Now, the Miami Herald reports that a Facebook posting by an attorney has made it to the limelight, caused a mistrial, and cost the attorney her job (and a large chuck of her credibility).

Even attorneys are not immune to the dangers of Facebook.  We have all heard about the teachers and other professionals who have been fired, suspended, and generally subjected to public scrutiny for posting "inappropriate" photos or comments on their private Facebook accounts.  We have repeatedly warned you and our clients to purge your Facebook pages and keep it clean.  Now, a Facebook posting by an attorney has made it to the limelight, caused a mistrial, cost the attorney her job, and a large chunk of her credibility.

Apparently, a Miami-Dade public defender in the midst of a murder case decided it was a good idea to post a picture of the leopard print underwear the defendant's family brought for him to wear to court during his trial.  Yes, to some this would be really a funny moment in the history of lawyering and we have all shared our funny "this one time" stories. But timing is everything.  This attorney decided to post this to Facebook during lunch on the day of trial.

No matter how heavily guarded our accounts we are not anonymous on Facebook.  Since she posted this while she was involved in the trial of what is no doubt a case that is discussed on the news, there is little doubt that all 500 or more of her "friends" were now privy to the defendant's most intimate clothing choices.  I am sure the identity of her client was no secret.  Her behavior shows that she did not take him seriously or respect him as a client.  She did not even respect his privacy.

No matter our personal beliefs or standards, our job is to advocate on behalf of our clients. We cannot be known to outwardly judge our clients or we lose credibility and, worse, we lose our client's belief that we are on their side. 

So take this as just one more example of all the reasons to keep your Facebook clean so your dirty underwear doesn’t end up all over the courtroom (and news!). Facebook profiles and posts often make appearances in court cases, particularly in family cases.  Remember, Court proceedings and case files are, for the most part, public record.

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AuthorAdriana Torriente

Earlier this week Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise announced that they had reached a settlement in their divorce.   When Ms. Holmes filed for divorce it caused quite a  ruckus especially since Mr. Cruise was in Iceland shooting a film and about to celebrate his fiftieth birthday.  Within eleven days, the parties had reached an agreement. They have not disclosed the details of said agreement.    As unfortunate as a quick settlement might have been for the celebrity news organizations, it offers us family law counselors an excellent opportunity for a “teachable moment”.

 

Plan it.   It is clear by the surprise factor and the swiftness of the settlement, that Ms. Holmes did not wake up one morning, hire an attorney, and file for divorce.   Extricating yourself from an unhappy marriage does not happen overnight and a little planning goes a long way.   No one is necessarily advocating you hire three law firms in three different states and use a disposable mobile phone to put your divorce in motion but planning may help provide some control over the outcome.  Many people are reluctant to speak to an attorney until they are served with divorce papers or until a triggering moment occurs (i.e. a domestic violence issue, one party moves out, etc.).  If your marriage is worth saving, speaking to an attorney early on will not doom it. Both Elizabeth and I refer clients to marriage therapists.   But making decisions in the heat of the moment will have a long term impact on your life, the lives of your children, and your finances.

 

Make it Quick. I would love to say that the Holmes v. Cruise divorce was quick and painless but since I don’t know them personally I cannot accurately judge their pain.  But quick it was. So why is quick good? The longer your case ends up in litigation the worse things get.   No matter how much planning you have done, divorce is stressful.  People gain weight. They may get depressed. Some even start drinking or develop erratic behavior.   A barrier to quick is that parties want to argue about every little possession (i.e. an extension cord in the garage). Focus on your children, valuable assets and the other items that are irreplaceable such as antiques and gifts from your grandmother.   The money you save on attorneys and therapists will pay for the replaceable things.

 

Keep it Private.   I would love to get my hands on that settlement agreement.  I would love to see Katie Holmes on Anderson Cooper dishing the details of Tom Cruise, Scientology, and why his wives divorce him when they are 33 years old.  But I will have to keep my gawking to the B-list celebs of Teen Mom fame.   Although most Georgians do not have the paparazzi chasing them, you still should keep your divorce private.  Do not publicize your divorce on Facebook. Do not tweet about your spouse on Twitter.  Do not blog about the idiocy of their friends.  Yes, it may be fun, but it will undo any planning you have done and will not contribute to achieving a swift divorce.  If you have children, it will make a spectacle of their lives and that will not play well in front of a Superior Court judge.

 

If you are thinking about divorce or in the middle of one, we hope that you remember Katie and Tom as your matter progresses.  Do some planning, make it quick (and hopefully as painless as possible) and that you keep it between you and your spouse.

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AuthorAdriana Torriente