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 OrtonvilleWomen 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.
Should You Fire Your Divorce Attorney?Jeff Landers , CONTRIBUTOR I write for women going through financially complex divorces. Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own. Heidi Klum & Seal: Getty Images via @daylife I am not in favor of dirty tricks during divorce. However, pretending they never happen doesn’t do anyone any good, either. Divorcing women need to understand the full range of tactics some husbands use, and they need to be proactive –not reactive --as they work to secure the best possible divorce settlement. To that end, if you are contemplating divorce, you need to know about a tactic I see quite often in financially complex divorce cases: “Conflicting out” all the top divorce lawyers By “conflicting out” certain attorneys, your husband can make it difficult for you to hire the lawyer that’s best for you. Here’s how it works: He makes appointments with all the top lawyers in your area. Then, he meets with each one –but only for a short time. All he needs to do during those meeting is share enough information to create an attorney-client relationship. Once he does, that particular attorney will be prohibited from representing you. Of course, your husband doesn’t actually have to hire any of these attorneys. The entire goal with this tactic is to “conflict out” attorneys so they cannot be hired by you. Celebrities frequently use this strategy –and men aren’t the only ones that do. In fact, Heidi Klum made headlines earlier this year for divorce attorney “shopping” in Los Angeles. Of course, Heidi simply may have been interviewing divorce attorneys to find the most qualified and the one she would be most comfortable with – a perfectly legitimate endeavor. The lesson here is simple. Don’t procrastinate when hiring a divorce attorney. If you do, you could miss out on the opportunity to retain a great lawyer! What are some other tactics used by husbands during a divorce? Don’t get me wrong. Not all divorces are bitter battles. Some are relatively amicable, and the vast majority are settled outside the courts. However, at Bedrock Divorce Advisors we've seen quite a few underhanded financial and legal tactics employed by husbands or their divorce teams. Many husbands will also: Stall and delay. By repeatedly rescheduling court hearings and/or filing excessive motions and requests for evidence, a husband can drive up his wife’s legal costs and stretch out the time during which she must cover living expenses. In these cases, the husband is hoping she'll run out of money and be forced to agree to his settlement offer, which is often extremely unfavorable to her. Exert pressure to proceed too quickly. A husband who wants his wife to agree to a “quick” settlement may have something to hide. For instance, very early in the process, the husband’s attorney may send over a settlement proposal for the wife to review and counter. Usually, this means the husband just wants to get the divorce over and done with quickly, and he wants his wife to settle for what appears to be a reasonable offer. The problem, of course, is that in many cases, she has not received all the discovery documents requested, so she doesn’t have complete knowledge about key financial matters, such as marital assets, income sources, expenses, what they owe and what's owed them. Rushing to get a settlement is especially sneaky if the husband has been busy hiding assets and/or income and now he is trying to get her to agree to a 50-50 split of only a portion of their total assets! Deny access to financial resources. Unfortunately, many married women do not take a hands-on approach to the family finances. During a divorce, a husband can use her lack of knowledge to his advantage. He can ensure that only he can access family funds, cut off his wife's credit cards, move funds out of family accounts, etc. Actions like these can leave his wife without the money necessary to buy groceries, much less hire the right divorce team to represent her…while he hires an excellent team to represent him. This is especially problematic for abused women who live in constant fear of harm—to themselves and/or their children. Hide assets. As I have discussed at length in earlier blog posts (see 21 Signs That Your Husband May Be Hiding Marital Assets During Your Divorce and Divorcing Women: Here’s Where Husbands Typically Hide Assets), hiding assets during a divorce is sneaky, unethical and illegal –but it happens much more frequently than most women expect. Fail to pay court-ordered support or refuse to relinquish assets. Husbands who don’t follow court orders are breaking the law –and they force their wives to try to extract the promised payments at considerable legal cost long after the divorce is over. What’s more, all this financial and legal wrangling is terribly time-consuming. Some women have to take time off from work to deal with these issues, and that can put their jobs in jeopardy. Sadly, many family courts do a poor job enforcing such orders, even when a woman follows its requirements to the letter, and even for a well-meaning judge, deception on the part of an ex-husband can be difficult to decipher or prove. Because there are so many different dirty tricks, I recommend that women maintain their own emergency fund in a separate bank account, even if divorce has never entered their minds. If you are contemplating divorce, make sure you start organizing your personal finances and important documents under the guidance of a qualified divorce financial strategist. During the divorce, you’ll need to Think Financially, Not Emotionally® so you can keep your finances intact while planning for a secure financial future.