Kudos to Alec Baldwin

September 20, 2008

…for a wonderful interview on 20/20 last night (click here for link to story).

I was particularly impressed by three aspects of the interview:

1) The way that Alec dodged traps (by explicitly stating that he does not support abusers or deadbeat dads for instance) and by calling out Diane Sawyer several times on her attitude “What, you don’t believe what I saying?”  (about judges being corrupt and inefficient).

2) Alec also apparently took time outs when he began to get heated in the interview (and what was up with the hot room – was it premeditated to make him look flustered and “hot under the collar”?)

3) How he managed to slip sound bites into the interview (like judges in the divorce industry being like pit bosses at a Vegas casino keeping people at the tables). The latter point echoing many of the same observations I have made on this blog (here and here for instance).  

I think he has also done great service in bringing the debate on parental alienation into the public spotlight. I am looking forward to purchasing a copy of Alec’s book when it is released on Tuesday.


More lawyers, more divorce laws

September 8, 2008

Hans Bader has made an interesting link between the number of lawyers and lawyer-intensive divorce laws in this article.

The head of the Virginia bar association is concerned because Virginia, which once had the highest percentage of lawyer-legislators in America, now ranks behind New York and Massachusetts and on par with New Jersey. Although I am a lawyer myself, I view this as cause for celebration, because the more lawyers are in a state legislature, the more unfair a state’s divorce laws tend to be, and the more anti-business they tend to be. The states with the weirdest, most lawyer-intensive divorce laws are New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts — states with lawyer-heavy legislatures. (Given the ideology of my classmates at Harvard Law School, this doesn’t surprise me).

Hans goes on to explore many freakish or bizarre cases that invite on-going litigation in a number of lawyer-heavy states.


Lazenby v. Shriver

August 26, 2008

Former 007 George Lazenby and tennis star Pam Shriver offer a near textbook case of the family law “industry” in action. Lazenby clearly wants to be in his children’s lives and act as a responsible parent but finds himself with a restraining order and 3 supervised visits a week instead. Remember none of the allegations against him were grounds to steal his children BEFORE he entered family court.

Both sides have been encouraged to dig up as much dirt on the other as possible and the lawyers are looking forward to a “big trial”. Exactly how is this in the children’s best interests? This is a system seriously out of control.


Some Common Misconceptions about Divorce in Nevada

July 21, 2008

So you do your homework on the divorce process, speak to a few lawyers, read a few websites, perhaps get the self-help documents. You think you understand the process. This post will let you in on a few secrets that I learned through bitter experience that are difficult to find through online research.

Myth: Divorce in Nevada is fast
Reality: It’s only fast if it is uncontested (see this post)

Myth: The family court seeks justice
Reality: The family court system is an industry. (see this and this)

Myth: The family court is fair to both parties
Reality: There is a distinct anti-male bias (see here and here)

Myth: If you have a few unresolved issues your case will end quickly
Reality: My whole case was an alimony case. It could have been settled in five minutes. Instead, it took three years. Sometimes judges don’t want to make decisions. Remember all judges are lawyers, lawyers get paid for billable hours, and judges like to help their own kind. The old adage that the case settles when you run out of money is very true (and very sad). Voltaire allegedly said “I have been broke twice in my life – once when I lost a lawsuit, and once when I won a lawsuit”.

Myth: Judges are independent.
Reality: Nevada judges (including family court judges) receive the majority of their campaign funds from lawyers who will appear before them in court. The Nevada Supreme Court has ruled that this is not a basis for a conflict of interest!

Myth: A deal’s a deal – if I have a written agreement, the court will uphold it.
Reality: The judge can change the deal any time or even defer ruling on the validity of a written agreement

Myth: Judges must follow the law and court rules
Reality: A family court Judge has wide discretion (i.e. she can do whatever she likes) on issues like alimony (see here and here), custody/visitation, attorney fees, and temporary support orders.


Can I use a paralegal for divorce?

July 14, 2008

You can use a paralegal to prepare legal papers but not for legal advice – that would be practicing law without a license.  Paralegals can run anywhere from $50-$100 per hour (which is much better than the $200-$500 per hour charged by lawyers).

In my lengthy case (three years and counting), I have frequently used a paralegal to prepare court papers. It is simply not worth the time to prepare them myself (they have to be typed a certain way then notarized then delivered to the court) and I refuse to pay a lawyer $1000 for basic clerical work. It is well worth paying $100 for a paralegal to do the leg work.

Often I can even email drafts of my pleadings back and forth before the final version is submitted. Of course, I am now intimately acquainted with Nevada divorce law and process so I am in a good position to know what I would like to put in my documents. Paralegals simply cannot give you advice on what to ask for – but they can give you a lot of advice about the legal process and how to file documents. My advice is to read all the posts on this site then go see a paralegal to file your documents. If you need to represent yourself in court, consider using an attorney in an unbundled capacity, and failing all else, retain a lawyer (or here or here).

The difficult part is to find a paralegal who is skilled at the craft. Fortunately, the paralegal I use is simply excellent. Dads can contact Equal Rights for Divorced Fathers for a referral.


Billable Hours

April 8, 2008

This pretty much sums up why you do not want to engage in litigation of any sort (Hat Tip to Law Blog):

    If you hire me, I promise that my billing system will reward me for solving your problems at the slowest possible pace, with as much duplication of effort as possible, and where I will face economic penalties for exercising any judgment that limits or focuses our work. I will, under this system, have strong incentives to embrace any opportunity to engage in discovery wars where the work is the easiest and the financial rewards are the greatest. And you can be assured that every member of my team will have a real financial inducement to exaggerate the amount of time they devote to every task.

Some more good advice on choosing an honest lawyer in a divorce can be found here. But even if your lawyer is reasonably honest, it only takes one unscrupulous lawyer to drive up fees on both sides…

 


Pre-Trial Discovery

March 24, 2008

According to Wikipedia: discovery is the pre-trial phase in a lawsuit in which each party through the law of civil procedure can request documents and other evidence from other parties or can compel the production of evidence by using a subpoena or through other discovery devices, such as requests for production and depositions. The US is unique among common law countries in having a discovery process.

In family court in Nevada, the judge will set a trial date and a discovery cut-off date once the parties indicate that they cannot reach a settlement (via a joint conference report). The trial may occur as far out as 6 months or more from the date of the joint conference report and discovery may end only 14-30 days before trial. Both sides then have this period to conduct discovery. The nominal purpose of discovery is to collect facts to build a case for trial.  In practice, discovery can become very expensive.  As Wikipedia states: The use of discovery has been criticized as favoring the wealthier side, in that it enables parties to drain each other’s financial resources in a war of attrition. For example, one can make information requests which are expensive and time-consuming for the other side to fulfill; produce hundreds of thousands of documents of questionable relevance to the case; file requests for protective orders to prevent the deposition of key witnesses; and so on.

The major forms of discovery are: request for production of documents (RFPs), interrogatories, and depositions. Basically, each side can ask the other side to produce any document they wish (including electronic documents), can ask up to 20 questions, and conduct sworn interviews of witnesses that are recorded and can be produced as testimony at the trial. You are required to make your best efforts to provide documents, answer questions, and attend depositions. In theory, the court can fine a party for not responding to discovery requests (without very good reasons). The Nevada courts even have a discovery commissioner to hear complaints.

I say “in theory” because things work very differently in practice. I prepared my own RFPs and interrogatories using Bender’s Forms of Discovery to save on legal fees (even lawyers don’t make up their own discovery requests – they consult this manual). After 3 months, I received no response from her attorney and the discovery commissioner’s office never returned my calls.  With only 14 days to trial, I filed a motion (on an order shortening time) before the judge requesting that the opposition be found in contempt for not responding to ANY of my discovery requests.  The judge refused to hear the motion before trial. The opposition then filed a motion (on an order shortening time) requesting that the trial be delayed because I did not respond to THEIR requests (despite the fact they had received hundreds of pages of information from me). The judge granted their motion (forcing me to cancel an overseas business trip to attend the hearing) and delayed the trial another six months. My sin was not including monthly payslips from 4-5 years ago because our HR system did not have data going back that far. The judge determined that I did not make my best efforts to get the information (despite including five years of W-2 and 1040 tax returns). So, I was admonished despite the fact they had given me NO information.  They were not penalized in any way and I was ordered to continue paying 90% of my income in temporary support for another six months until the new trial date.

BOTTOM LINE:

1. Discovery requests are easy to make by using Bender’s Forms of Discovery.

2. Discovery can be very costly (particularly depositions where you must pay for your lawyer to sit through the testimony and a court reporter).

3. The court may decide your best efforts to get information are not your best efforts and fine/penalize you as it sees fit

4. The court may allow the opposition to delay and withhold information without penalty.