Divorce Can Be Deadly

10950859361151CDPIn 1967 psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe examined the medical records of over 5,000 patients in their research to determine whether stress causes illness. A positive correlation was found resulting in the Social Readjustment Rating Scale, also called the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. The Scale identifies life events and ranks them based on the the level of anxiety they instill. The death of a spouse rates highest at 100 units, with divorce right behind.

Holmes and Rahe later adapted their testing to children, finding that the death of a parent ranked highest, followed closely by parental divorce. It shouldn’t surprise us then that divorce is a catalyst for stress, anxiety, acting out and in rare cases, murder.

That brings me to the case of Michael Petersen in Nebraska who experienced an ugly divorce that stretched from 2002 to 2005. All of the triggers for hostility and resentment were present including a custody fight, a never-ending battle over financial issues, multiple appeals, and finally, disgruntlement with his lawyer. Petersen’s rage, however, was out of proportion to the issues he faced, anger that caused him to retaliate against his lawyer and his ex-wife….He killed them both.

Earlier this year Petersen plead no contest to the murder of his ex Nancy Petersen, who he shot outside of her home on November 13, 2013. He was sentenced to life in prison. Petersen’s blatantly insensitive criminal lawyer, Jeff Pickens, was quoted in the local newspaper:

“This man had worked hard for 40 years. Much of his hard work over 40 years was gone. He’d had enough of being screwed over by people.”

He’s got to be kidding! Mr. Pickens described a situation where Nancy Petersen was awarded one-half of the parties’ $600,000 estate. So how did this “screw” Mr. Petersen?

As far as the murder of his own lawyer, after killing his ex he drove to his lawyer, Todd Elsbernd’s law office, saw him outside and shot him in the back with a high-velocity rifle. Petersen had accused Mr. Elsbernd, age 52, of legal malpractice and there was an ongoing dispute over unpaid legal fees. Before killing him, Petersen filed a lawsuit against him that was thrown out.

After being sentenced to a second life term for murder, Mr. Pickens offered that between Petersen’s divorce payout and his loss of $150,000 after falling prey to a Nigerian scam, ( a second news report called it a dating website scam) he was penniless. And that’s an excuse for murder?

Michael Petersen was defiant until the end. He told the judge that the justice system was not fair, as he launched into a speech about pre-marital versus marital assets and insisted that his deceased attorney was professionally negligent. He said nothing about his cowardly slaughter of two innocent human beings. There will be a special place in Hell for Petersen.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang .

Judge Trashes New York Landmark “Carnegie Deli” in Divorce Ruling

49afd8240a58bf0fb97d4a86105572c1I was in New York city last fall and near the top of our agenda was a trip to the Carnegie Deli, a landmark in mid-town since 1937 and run by the Levine family since 1976. Its claim to fame is kosher pastrami, corned beef, and their famous cheesecake, all of which they can ship almost anywhere in the world. It’s a very kitschy little place with uneven floors and plastic table cloths, but there is always a line-up.

I didn’t expect the Carnegie Deli to be featured in a divorce post, but it seems that Marian Harper Levine and her husband Sandy, who now runs the deli with her, were lambasted by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Matthew Cooper for their petty squabbles, while litigants with serious problems were put on the back burner. The audacious judge said:

“What I care more about is the fact they’ve made millions of millions of dollars on the backs of dishwashers, cleaners and pastrami slicers who make as much in a year as they’ve made in a day or two.”

This was apparently in reference to a recent $2.65 million dollar settlement reached between the Levine’s and their staff, who were cheated out of proper wages for over a decade.

Mrs. Levine’s application was to reduce the $11,00 per month she has been paying her husband in spousal support, a request that was denied by Judge Cooper. She also complained that her husband, who began an affair with the deli’s former hostess, had helped himself to huge sums of money, an allegation that was called “all smoked meat and mirrors” by Mr. Levine’s witty attorney, Donald Frank. Mrs. Levine took exception to the trivialization of her concerns by opposing counsel, a view that Judge Cooper dismissed saying:

“This is not a case where I lose sleep at night. This is not some case where I have people with disabled children, where I have people who can’t afford to make next-month’s rent”…If I made light of anything, if I joked more than I should have, if I occasionally used a sarcastic tone…it’s not that I’ve lost track of what this case is about…”

No doubt we’ll hear more about the dissolution of the Levine’s 22-year marriage…as for me, I really didn’t like their cheesecake at all!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Silicon Valley Tycoon Convinces Court His Wife’s Scam is Designed to Avoid Pre-Nup

10950859361151CDPClyde Berg and his brother Carl Berg are two very wealthy men. They developed and built huge campuses for a number of successful Silicon Valley businesses, and sold their firm for $1.3 billion. But the old adage that money does not buy happiness is clearly illustrated in the divorce proceedings between Clyde, age 75, and his estranged wife, Ellena Berg, age 38. The first obvious comment is why a man in his 70’s thought he could sustain a relationship with a woman more than thirty years younger than him.

After ten years of marriage and an iron-clad prenup, Ms. Berg accused her husband of vicious abuse, including outfitting her with a spiked dog collar, tying her to a bed, and sexually assaulting her with a golf putter while she was nine months pregnant, an attack where she testified she was restrained for two days before freeing herself. But the presiding judge wasn’t buying what Ellena was selling and determined that she fabricated the entire incident. In dismissing the charges at a preliminary hearing Judge Ron M. Del Pozzo said Ms. Berg’s evidence “was not worthy of belief” and queried whether it was “flat-out-lying” or the product of being mentally ill.

Judge Del Pozzo rejected Ms. Berg’s absurd suggestion that while tied down she dialed 911 with her tongue borrowing a quip from Johnny Cochrane in the OJ Simpson trial: “If the tongue can’t dial, there’s not going to be a trial.”

As for Ms. Berg and her lawyers they retaliated by suggesting to the Judge that the District Attorney’s office was bowing to the “political and economic power” of her husband, a charge that was vigorously denied by the Crown who said: “We make prosecutorial decisions based on the evidence in the case, and not the money in the defendant’s bank account.” Of their client’s testimony, which consisted of ” I can’t remember” said forty-four times in ninety minutes, they argued that she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder because of her husband’s abuse of her and ill-treatment from the prosecutor’s office.

Meanwhile, Mr. Berg registered his displeasure with the Crown office saying they should have dropped the charges against him and not proceeded with the weeklong hearing, contending he was the victim of his wife’s scam designed to circumvent the pre-nuptial agreement signed by her.

The pre-nup signed by the parties provided Ms. Berg with $2 million dollars if their marriage ended. She earned $200,000 a year for her trouble. Mr. Berg spent nine days in jail and later spent months with an electronic ankle bracelet, and was ousted from his home following his wife’s report to the police. But he was most distressed about the removal of his beloved Weimaraner dog who was taken away from him as his wife also accused him of beating the dog.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Why Family Law Lawyers Will Always Bill By the Hour

GEO CASUALI read a piece in the Huffington Post this week written by Jim Halfens of Divorce Hotel, who argued that it was about time that divorce lawyers charged a fixed fee for the legal work they perform, instead of sticking to the “old way” of hourly billing.

It will never happen and for good reason! If Mr. Halfen knew the frailties of the family court system and the opportunities for abuse and delay, he would understand. But let me paint you a picture of regular occurrences in the practice of family law;

A client asks you to draw up a comprehensive separation agreement or prenuptial agreement, which without complications will cost in the range of $3,000. The problem is that often clients will request the agreement, expend the funds, all without having any idea whether their spouse will agree or sign the agreement.

Of course, it is an utter waste of time to present an agreement to your spouse, the terms of which have never been discussed with him or her. My practice is to warn clients that they may be wasting money, if they haven’t bothered to determine if their spouse is “on side”.

Once the client believes their spouse will cooperate, it is a “go” for the agreement and usually clients want to know exactly how much it will cost and want you to guarantee that fee estimate.

But it can’t be done….because every agreement and spouse is different and you can never rely on a client’s advice that their situation is straight forward. For example, it is commonplace to ask your client to provide you with a list of all their assets, their estimated values, and also their debts and the amounts owing. You also need the same information from their partner.

Of course, you can’t forget to request their recent personal and corporate tax returns, and in the case of companies, the financial statements as well. While the client may imagine their financial situation is simple, usually it is not, particularly where there are more sophisticated assets, like trusts, annuities and off-shore assets. But you don’t know any of that until you receive all the documents and my experience is that you never get everything you need or it trickles in over a lengthy period of time.

Lawyers bill for their expertise and the time it takes them to complete a task for their client. In this agreement scenario, it would be foolish to quote a fixed fee for ten hours of time, when it may take you twenty hours, or more. Another difficulty is that once the agreement is complete, your client’s partner will take it to her or his lawyer to review and negotiate. That could take two hours or ten hours, because initially you don’t often know who your client’s spouse will retain. One thing lawyers know is the negotiation styles of their colleagues, some lawyers are known to be reasonable, but others are not.

However, the agreement scenario is a piece of cake compared to the living nightmare if you must enter the family justice system, once negotiation and mediation have failed.(Unless of course, you are smart enough to agree to a private arbitration, but that’s another article) If you thought your lawyer was expensive before, this calamity will cost you not only heaps of money but also your emotional and psychological sanity. Where to begin?

After all the negotiations and mediations are at an end, the first thing you’ll have to do is attend a mandatory mediation with a judge, who may or may not be capable of facilitating a settlement. But it’s not like you haven’t already been there, done that. This first step will cost you several thousand dollars and it is not optional in most cases.

Once that has been a complete bust, you enter the nightmare called family law litigation, an experience that frightens even those who are courtroom addicts. The first shock is that you must produce every single piece of paper that has anything to do with the issues in your case, and I mean everything: your kid’s report cards, your kid’s medical records, all paper that is related to your assets and debts, including statements for long-lost bank accounts, credit card statements for the past five years, business records and financial statements, tax returns, and all the damning emails your spouse has sent to you, but that’s just the beginning.

Speaking of emails, most lawyers spend a lot of time reading lengthy email missives from their clients, and also multiple strings of nasty emails between client and his or her spouse, many of which will be producible for court. Hard to predict in advance whether you’ll need to read a hundred emails or several thousand. And don’t forget your lawyer will regularly scour the internet for damaging posts and pictures.

You’ll need to hire appraisers: lots of them, to value your home, your summer cottage, your cars, your boat and trailer, your wine collection, art collection, antique furniture, and your pension. But none of those appraisals will be definitive because your partner will do the same, and if you have a business, you need to set aside $30,000 or more to pay a business valuator. Welcome to the battle of the experts!

Worse than all of that is that when you finally prepare to go to court, you’ll get there and sit in a courtroom all day, only to learn that you have to come back another day, because the judge ran out of time. More delay and more costs because all that work your lawyer did to prepare, must be redone to prepare again, after all, your lawyer has dozens of clients and with even a delay of one week will not remember all the details without another review. You finally get a judge and you learn that you won’t get a decision for weeks, even months.

Tell me honestly, how do you provide your client with an infallible estimate of what it all will cost? That’s right, you don’t, because you can’t.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

MORE CELEBRITY DIVORCE RUMOURS

BarristerBeing a celebrity is not always an enviable status. Yes, when they are at the top of the heap, they get paid millions of dollars, have designers clamouring for them to wear their fashions, and get the best seats in the house, whether it’s a basketball game, tickets to the Oscars, or a front-row table at Wolfgang Puck’s.

But it can’t be any fun to read the constant speculation from the gossip mags that you’re heading for divorce. Recently, there’s a lot of dirt being dished about a whole bunch of Hollywood celebrities, apparently on the brink of separation and divorce.

In random order, Star, Us, People, TMZ, Buzzfeed, and so many more are telling divorce tales about the following couples:

-Sheri Shepard, late of TV’s “The View” and her husband are on the rocks, and to tantalize the public, Ms. Shepard has been sewered for allegedly walking away from their child who was recently hatched via a surrogate mother;

- Jay-Z and Beyoncé grabbed the headlines when Beyoncé’s sister, Solange, was observed assaulting Jay-Z in an elevator, ostensibly because he had done Beyoncé wrong. Some are saying that Rhianna is involved. Columnists are rabidly predicting that at the end of their $100 million dollar world tour, they will pack in their marriage. However, New York divorce guru, Raoul Felder, says that the rampant publicity is a boon for their tour and may be nothing more than “good business” for the pair;

-Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon are also rumoured to be heading towards Splitsville. The speculation is that the breakup is because of someone cheating, while others in the know say it’s because of Mariah’s diva-like behavior.

-Melanie Griffiths and Antonio Banderas separated a few months ago and now the paparazzi are following Melanie around Los Angeles, taking photos of her arm tattoo which is Antonio’s name in a heart, all the time wondering out loud when she will have it removed by laser.

-Barbara Streisand and James Brolin are another celebrity couple with rumours floating around. A recent article described Babs as very upset when she caught her 74-year-old husband ogling Kim Kardashian at an A List party in the Hamptons and we know he wasn’t looking at her eyes.

-Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are allegedly squabbling over when to have another baby and the stress has caused her to gain 20 lbs. She is apparently also in a panic because her dream marriage is a nightmare as Kanye keeps her on a tight leash with a GPS on her telephone so he can monitor her whenever he wishes.

Yes, there’s more: Ellen DeGeneres, Portia De Rossi, Michael Moore, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Kendra Wilkinson, David Duchovny, Tea Leoni, Robin Thicke, Paula Patton, Cuba Gooding Jr., Trace Adkin. Whew! It doesn’t end!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Divorce Revenge

_DSC4179 - Version 2A Supreme Court judge in New York recently referred to a divorce litigant as “despicable”. What could possibly garner this strong reaction from an otherwise cool, calm and collected judicial official?

Just before the litigant’s wife filed for divorce, her husband decided to come clean with the tax authorities and filed amended tax returns for 2004 to 2007, disclosing an additional $1.6 million of income from his contracting business.

As a result, he owed the government $1.2 million in taxes, a sum that was coincidentally equivalent to the value of the family home. He also made it very easy for the tax authorities by attaching to his amended tax returns details of the assets he owned, the bank who held the mortgage on the family home, and other pertinent collection information.

The wife was shocked and horrified because the law in New York, as in many other jurisdictions, including British Columbia, provides that a debt incurred during the marriage for the family will be a family debt that is sharable between spouses. Unpaid income tax owed on family income is considered family debt.

The couple had been married for almost fifteen years and had four children.

The New York Supreme Court considered the husband’s evidence of the large family debt and determined that the husband had made the disclosure, not because he was being audited or investigated, but because he wished to cause as much pain as possible to his wife.

The trial judge found that his conduct was malicious and revenge was his motive.

Unfortunately, for this husband, his plan backfired, as the court held that given the egregious circumstances, he would be solely responsible for the debt.

Confucius once said, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Canada’s Shared Parenting Bill Voted Down in Second Reading

GEO CASUALSaskatchewan Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott’s indefatigable efforts to introduce shared parenting into Canada’s Divorce Act has been an exercise in futility, its defeat yesterday an event that is no surprise to its advocates, who eventually realized that none of Canada’s political parties, except for the Green Party, would throw their support behind it. At the end, even the Conservative party, whose platform boasts shared parenting, abandoned Mr. Vellacott, in what was his third attempt to reform the present law.

The gist of Bill C-560 was the introduction of certain “presumptions’ including a presumption that allocating parenting time “equally” between parents is in the best interests of children, rebuttable only by evidence that equal parenting would not”substantially enhance” a child’s best interests.

Vellacott’s proposed law also allowed that current custody and parenting arrangements could be varied taking into account the new “equal parenting” philosophy by declaring the reformed law a “change in circumstance”, a legal requirement under the present Divorce Act to amend an existing custody order or agreement.

Critics of the bill complained that a presumption of equality does away with the tried and true “best interests of the child” test and elevates parental rights over the rights of children. They also resist the notion that parents across Canada may invoke the new law to reopen their custody orders and agreements, potentially leading to a landslide of fresh litigation.

Was the bill so flawed that its failure was inevitable? In my opinion, it was not, but it did contain a “trigger” that unsettled those who still believe shared parenting is merely a ploy of the father’s rights movement to reduce or eliminate child support payments.

One of the triggers was the use of the term “equal” which brought back the early days of the Child Support Guidelines, which provided that parents who had custody of their child 40% of the time or more, could bring an application to reduce their child support payments, based on the reasonable proposition that their own costs in caring for their child were increased and thus, their counterpart parent’s costs reduced.

Judges became arbiters of whether 40% included school hours; hours when the children slept; and other mathematical conundrums raised by parents seeking to assert or deny the 40% rule. Fear that these arguments would be resurrected cannot be understated, however, lawyers and litigants soon learned that few judges were prepared to accede to child support reduction applications.

But more importantly in the context of shared parenting, a fully involved parent is not necessarily a parent who can or should insist on perfect equality, in fact in many of the jurisdictions that have implemented shared parenting, lawyers, parents, and legislators have recognized that precise equality is not achievable, typically because parents’ and children’s schedules are incapable of being sliced in half.

What ought to be paramount is a cultural switch that emphasizes that children need both parents in their lives, and that, in and of itself, is in a child’s best interests, despite society’s increasingly male-absent procreation and child-rearing agendas. Outdated research that celebrates maternal preferences is no longer valid, but try telling that to Canada’s lawmakers.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang