We Americans love lots of things. We love to fall in love, we love to get married, we “love” to get divorced, and we love to move. Almost all of us fall in love (at the very least with our pets), almost all of us get married, almost half of us who get married get divorced, and almost half of us born in one state end up living in another. When our country was formed none of this was true. Marriage was near universal, divorce was unheard of, and most people stayed put.
State rights, one of our nation’s founding principles, made sense back then. It makes far less sense today. But your state of residence determines all kinds of things. These include the penalties for crimes you commit, how much you pay in taxes, how much you can collect in welfare, what you can leave your children when you die, where you can buy beer, whether you can smoke pot, whether you can readily get an abortion, and the list goes on.
One of the biggest issues some married couples face when they move across state lines is how they will fare if they get divorced. (And, again, almost half will untie the knot.) The answer may be far better or far worse depending on the state and even the county in which you reside. I say “may,” because if you reach an amicable settlement, that settlement may be legally approved no matter where you live. But if you have a contested divorce and end up leaving it up to a judge, she’ll likely apply state or county guidelines that can be very different depending on the state or country. Indeed, since only a few states and counties in the country have formal guidelines, the guidelines are mostly those set by the local judge. These judges are, of course, influenced primarily by what other judges in their locality and state are doing.
Why ‘brutal’ divorce laws must change in White LakeWomen are quitting the practice of criminal law at a significantly higher rate than men, according to a new report by the Criminal Lawyers' Association (CLA). The report, entitled "The Retention of Women in the Private Practice of Criminal Law," was released this past weekend at a CLA conference in London, Ont. It found low pay, lack of financial support for maternity leave and being treated differently than male peers by judges and court staff as some of the reasons so many women are leaving private practice of criminal law. Gender inequality stands out in the workplace Ontario law society to drop parental leave program Minority lawyers face discrimination The report confirms what many had been reporting anecdotally for years, according to Breese Davies, vice-president of the CLA. "We all had impressions that women were leaving criminal practice at a higher rate than men," she said. "But we never had any numbers to determine whether or not our impressions were real." Breese Davies, a Toronto criminal lawyer and member of the Criminal Lawyers' Association, said the report found 'an enormous attrition rate' of female criminal lawyers over a span of 10 years. (Phil Brown) The study, authored by Natasha Madon, a postdoctoral research fellow from Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia and Anthony Doob, professor emeritus of criminology at the University of Toronto, examined statistics from Legal Aid Ontario and the Law Society of Upper Canada. They also set up five focus groups and surveyed 225 female criminal lawyers in Ontario. They found many women dropped criminal law after five years and very few were still practising in the area after 10 years. "Most shocking to me was, of the women who started doing criminal law in 1996, there were 47 of them. Eight years later, by 2004, only 13 of them were still doing a substantial amount of criminal law," Davies said. "That is an enormous attrition rate." Sixty-one per cent of those surveyed reported they considered leaving because of low pay, long hours and challenges dealing with the Legal Aid system, a key source of funds for those in criminal law. Many also pointed to the financial burden of maintaining a practice and running an office during maternity leaves. "It's amazing that, given all those challenges, we have any women in criminal law," said Indira Stewart, a Toronto defence lawyer who has been in practice for seven years. "It's such an uphill battle. It's such a tough field, even if you're not a woman." 'A systemic problem' Stewart, who has two young children, says many of the report's findings ring true for her. "The unpredictability of work hours, the logistical and financial challenges in taking a maternity leave and then having to completely rebuild your practice after returning. You really have to start from scratch after you've been gone," she said. "In my first maternity leave, I took less than four months, but even in that short time frame, clients' matters have to proceed, their cases move along and they form a relationship with a new lawyer." The Law Society of Upper Canada has a parental leave program, but it's very limited and requires applicants to pass a means test. 'It's a systemic problem that needs to be addressed.' - Breese Davies, vice-president, Criminal Lawyers' Association Many women also reported a lack of respect and being treated differently than male lawyers by court officers, police, crown attorneys and judges. One reported being called "little lady" repeatedly. Others said they were chastised for asking judges for time to pick up children from school whereas their male counterparts who made similar requests were not rebuked. The study also found senior male lawyers tended to see women as students or assistants rather than fully qualified professionals. Only 22 per cent of those surveyed said they felt men and women were treated equally in the system. "It's a systemic problem that needs to be addressed," Davies said. The study also found that many women gave up private defence practice to take government jobs or become Crown prosecutors, who have guaranteed regular hours, no overhead and benefits, including maternity leaves. Davies said it's important that the practice of criminal law reflect the community and legal profession. "Diversity matters," she said. "We need diverse perspectives to make sure the law develops in step with social values. You do not want a group of homogenous people designing and developing laws." The report makes several recommendations on how to resolve some of the issues women face: Create mentorship programs involving senior female lawyers; Develop education programs and sensitivity training for judges and other court staff; Establish fixed end times for courts and streamline court processes; Provide greater support for maternity leaves; Increase the number of female judges. "There's a lot to be done. These are pretty ambitious recommendations that touch a lot of areas of the criminal justice system," Davies said. She said she hopes to reassess the system in five years. "Certainly in five years, I would hope that we're not losing the number of women we're losing now," said Stewart.
Women leaving criminal law practice in alarming numbersWESTEND61 VIA GETTY IMAGES This is a question I often hear from friends, co-workers and those who come to me for guidance and support as they navigate through separation, divorce and co-parenting challenges. Although every person's personal and legal predicaments are unique, there are several essential points to carefully consider before making the decision to fire your divorce attorney or not. 1. Exactly how far along are you into the legal process? Many times I talk with people who remember struggling to come up with enough funds to pay a large up-front financial retainer and signing an agreement to hire a divorce attorney. Then I discover that they have no clear idea about what is actually going on in their case at the current moment. Since divorce cases often meander along tediously slowly while everyone waits for several months for the next scheduled court date, many people simply assume that their attorney is staying on top of the process and that there is no need to check in frequently. However, during the time I worked as a paralegal in a city-wide firm that specialized in Family Law, I often noticed that many divorce attorneys have such heavy client caseloads that they find themselves constantly on the run from courthouse to courthouse putting out immediate fires. Are you sure about what exactly has been filed with the court so far? What approach is your attorney taking in terms of speeding things up or trying to slow them down? Do you understand and agree with the actions they have taken so far to confidently represent you when dealing with opposing counsel and the judge? Knowledge is power and not understanding and knowing what is or is not going on as your divorce unfolds is critical when it comes to getting your best possible outcome. 2. Are you satisfied with the ways that your divorce attorney communicates with you? Do they lapse into legalese so often that you can't understand what they are really saying? Are you able to reach your attorney the same day if you need immediate legal advice? Will your divorce attorney promptly respond to your emails and phone calls or do they regularly ask their legal staff to respond instead? Are you able to reach your attorney's cell phone if you find yourself in a heated parenting disagreement that has flared up on a holiday or a weekend? 3. Do you trust what your gut is telling you? Making a sound decision about if and when to cut your losses and move forward when you are deciding whether to change divorce attorneys is extremely difficult when you have already invested a great deal of your time, emotional energy and substantial sums of money with your current attorney. Since many people going through divorce are emotionally exhausted, emotions often cloud what should be a carefully considered business judgment. Although you may not realize it, divorce is usually the biggest business deal of your entire life. If you reach the decision that your interests will be protected best by changing to another divorce attorney, be sure to do your research up front to figure out your new attorney's particular strengths and weaknesses and how these could impact your case. Is the new attorney you are considering a specialist in mediation or a highly competitive and cut-throat litigator? Do they frequently represent clients in front of the same judge you will be seeing? How often have they been up against the opposing counsel in cases similar to yours? Once you have made the decision to move ahead, don't let the practical matters hold you back. It's usually easiest to go ahead and hire a new divorce attorney and then the new attorney will soon enter a motion with the court to represent you. Your previous attorney will file a motion to remove themselves from your case and your new attorney can ask to have all of your legal case records copied and then sent to their office by courier. Or you may choose to ask for copies and deliver them yourself. It's also critical to ask for a detailed final billing that outlines all previous legal and office related charges and be sure that any retainer monies that haven't already been spent get refunded to you in a timely way. Regardless of when you decide to replace your current divorce attorney with a new one, the new attorney will still need time to get up to speed on what's been going on and review the discovery evidence and documents that have already been filed. Despite the hassle factors involved, moving forward through divorce with a new attorney may be just what you need to get what you really deserve over the long run. Follow Nancy Kay on Twitter: www.twitter.com/nancykay7 Nancy Kay Divorce Strategist, Realtor, Manager of Chaos