On the Home Front…

Is your home secure during your divorce or after divorce?

Having a home may be considered more of a luxury than ever before, now with the loss of income during the coronavirus pandemic being added to the drain on families caused by litigation expenses.

Are you or someone you know at risk of losing a home because of court expenses such as high attorney’s fees and bankruptcy? If you are post-divorce, are you afraid you will not be able to afford to keep your home after spending so much during the case, especially if child custody was disputed?

Our hope is that with Georgia courts being temporarily closed for health preservation, that more people will stop, learn and listen so that they can avoid further loss and injury related to child custody and divorce litigation. This applies especially to parents who are usually so busy with their child’s school and sports activities to learn what they might be missing in terms of resolving conflict and protecting a child in need of attention.

A few tips:

  1. Save all of your lawyer’s emails as PDF’s and put in a folder. If you can make searchable PDF’s, that is even better. If there are communications between your lawyer and other professionals involved in your case that you have not been copied on, meaning the entire email exchange was not forwarded to you, this is another issue to raise, and one for which you may need to obtain help.
  2. Create a sub-folder for emails, letters, pleadings related to financial matters, including costs of litigation and strategy pertaining to homes and other property. Pay attention, especially, to any communication that hints at a trade-off around child custody and property.
  3. Write out questions about any wording or issue you are not absolutely certain about as to meaning and the effect on your family.
  4. Print out all billing statements from your lawyer and other other professionals involved in the litigation; compare records for duplicates or any other sign of over-billing. Print your contract with professionals and read it carefully, and compare what you agreed to with what you have been billed for – this is a learning process.
  5. If your lawyer has not provided you with detailed billing statements and in a timely manner, this may be an issue you want to raise with the State Bar or a local Bar Association in your area.
  6. Look for and ask about communications specific to your property and how awards around marital division, homes, accounts/debt, and attorney’s fees and other expenses are being handled.

Sometimes, it is what you do not see or do not know (yet) that you need to look for, which may mean asking your lawyer to ensure that you have an unedited copy of every single email/text and document related to your interests and case. With some lawyers, it is not until a specific request is made, for example to have a copy of your entire legal file made, that you do not realize what else may be going on, or not going on, that you should know about. While we do not provide legal advice, we do know which lawyers will give you straight answers and help you fill in missing pieces of the picture.

Examples of Issues to Watch Out for:

  • Do you have equity in your home? Involved in marital dispute over division of equity? Learn more from real estate agents and financial advisors so that all of your understanding is not reliant on your domestic lawyer’s perspective.
  • Are you at risk for having to file for bankruptcy? Make sure to consult with a bankruptcy lawyer separate and apart from your domestic lawyer, and ideally not with one referred by your domestic lawyer.
  • Is your partner/spouse or former spouse/partner at risk of filing for bankruptcy – or in bankruptcy? If yes, then you may want to consult with a bankruptcy lawyer yourself, and also separate and apart from your domestic lawyer.

Could this be you or someone you know? Is your home at risk?

Conflicts have been seen with domestic lawyers where property division and fees are concerned, such as:

  1. In Cobb County: after three years of convoluted litigation, attorneys discussed with the judge how the court expenses would be covered. It turned out that from the judge’s perspective, there really was no need for all the legal battles that were waged – there was no dispute and no decisions for the judge to make when they appeared in court for a “hearing,” so the judge looked at the lawyers, and both sides (lawyer for the mother and the opposing counsel for the father) flushed red. Before that moment the only focus was on which parent had more equity in their pre-marital home as the attorneys wanted the judge to issue an order about who was paying what attorney’s fees (and guardian ad litem fees). What came out is that the case was not about the children, but about how long the case could be dragged out to increase the fees; clearly the lawyers knew there was equity in the homes to take – and they did. Both the mother and the father appeared to not realize what was going on and neither knew how to protect themselves, or how to avoid losing equity or property.

2. Recently in Gwinnett County: a divorcing couple with children went through marital division of assets and the fees incurred were extraordinarily high, well over $50,000, which is not unusual.

In order to get a judgment in his client’s favor on financial support and fees, the mother’s lawyer decided to falsify the father’s income in pleadings to be higher than reality, an act that set the father on course for bankruptcy; this is also not uncommon. Maybe the mother was so busy managing the children that she did not realize her fees were being unnecessarily driven up by a lawyer misrepresenting numbers to the court, and did not realize this would ultimately cost her more than it helped her and their children.

The mother likely did not learn on her own what using inflated numbers could mean for her, and therein lies the risk. She probably trusted her lawyer to only serve her interests and not put the home in jeopardy.

When her lawyer pursued the father to collect the attorney’s fees of over $50,000 and the bankruptcy court became involved, it was revealed that the lawyer did not protect his client and the marital home could be forced into a sale and used to cover the fees driven up by the lawyer; of course, the mother may have no way of knowing she could lose the house. If she believes that her lawyer’s collection efforts are “normal” and not putting her at risk, she may be caught off guard. In this case, the lawyer failed to have the father removed as owner of the property, so as it is a part of the estate, it can be used to cover debts. This situation and others like it are why our founder, Deborah Beacham, observes lawyers in courtrooms, studies transcripts, billing records and orders, and encourages parents to learn more in advance and to try to resolve as much outside of the courtroom as possible. Situations like this one are also why she engages legal malpractice lawyers in discussions – education and preparation are key to preventing the kind of shock and loss going on in this example.

3. In another metro Atlanta divorce, the mother’s lawyer helped her stage and provoke a stressful situation they called “domestic violence,” so that the father would have to leave his pre-marital home; the litigation was dragged out for years, with multiple professionals involved to run up fees & turn what could have been a straightforward resolution into a high conflict mess.

Not only did positive co-parenting go out the window, putting much greater stress and shame on the child, but because of the way the father was set up, falsely accused and kept from his home office and equipment, his business failed; the total loss that followed resulted in his business partner giving up hope and taking his life. From where we sit, studying hundreds of similar situations all around Georgia and in other states, this loss of life – and the loss of a small business and loss of the father’s home due to attorney’s fees – was avoidable.

What could have been saved if this family learned to get the right kind of help before entering into the legal process? Everything.

Unfortunately, the above examples barely scratch the surface in explaining what families and children are experiencing. In a better, safer world, parents will be more informed and prepared to avoid such outcomes.

Solutions are available to protect children, homes and reputations.
~ Deborah Beacham

Let’s start here. By raising awareness and building legal protection funds, we can guide parents to safety, and stop the current trend of destabilizing families and children.

We can save homes, jobs and health, and most importantly, the parent-child bonds that children need to thrive.

Augusta Court Fails to Allow Due Process: Children Gone

The rest of the story in this Augusta case is much darker that at first believed. It is also similar to other troubling stories, the damages revealed by families throughout this judicial circuit. When we contrast the order and beauty inside of Augusta National with what is Outside the Gates, it is for this reason: parents are set up to fail intentionally and children are being left in harm’s way, when there was evidence, testimony and opportunity to prevent poor outcomes. This reality is the opposite of what the world thinks of when they hear Augusta or think of The Masters Tournament. This case and others are pulling back the curtain.

Civil or Criminal?

At one time it appeared that Atlanta attorney Kathy Portnoy was properly advocating for her client, one who appears to have not gotten a fair shake throughout this case. The issue featured here in this news report?

A DFCS report was made available to the court by the father’s attorney and used by the judge in reaching a decision as he noted. The problem for the judge was that the report was not made available to the mother and her counsel so that she had a chance to cross-examine the report and be fully informed in her case. The report was never put into evidence and therefore was not supposed to be considered by the court.

If this report had been put into evidence, the guardian ad litem on the case would have been able to refute it, as she knew it was created as a part of the father’s legal team’s strategy to wrongfully cut the mother out of the lives of her children. This issue was resolved when the appellate court agreed that the judge erred in considering this report. [See VIDEO at the bottom of this page.]

The bad news is that it didn’t matter; the fix was in on this case, and the judge gave the father permission to remove the children from the state before notifying the mother. The mother learned her children were gone when they did not get off the school bus. They did not even get to say goodbye.

We now know this was not merely an “error,” and that it was intentional to cause the mother and children this unnecessary trauma. It was also intentional that this mother was not allowed to know what was being said or used against her, denying her right to a defense.

Have you been allowed to know what was being used against you, or to know that all available evidence is being used to support your case? The more news reporter Nick Lulli investigated, the worse this case looked as evidence surfaced – – evidence that was either not being used by the mother’s counsel, or was being ignored by the court.

This is an ongoing and larger story than we first realized, as the court is now expected by the father’s team to force an agreement on the mother, an agreement which is different from what she was considering, and one which she did not sign. Her attorney used up all of her financial resources and abandoned her. The timing on her withdrawal and how her presence was used to keep this mother in the dark is telling.

Court Watch on Augusta Family Court – April 17th – 9am. If the court refuses to allow a continuance as requested by the mother so that she can find counsel to help her navigate and defend her rights, it will become even more obvious that she was never meant to have a fair trial on these issues, or to have a fighting chance at parenting her children.
WFXG FOX54 Augusta – Your News One Hour Earlier
How can parents prepare ahead of time to learn the pitfalls in managing family disputes, especially involving children?

Request more information to learn about the hiring the best team for your needs. This case is another glaring example of what can go wrong when you rely on word of mouth and online marketing to make hiring decisions. There currently is no real accountability for attorneys who allow their clients to fail by withholding evidence and avoiding opportunities to prevail, or for others who use special relationships with judges to reach outcomes that are damaging to children and to good parents. This is just “normal” for Augusta and for other judicial districts.

Economic Impact: Reform Makes Business Sense

Business leaders and business press:

My Advocate Center has been tracking for several years the impact on each community, and on our state.

You’ve seen it in your firms and corporations: the lost time from work, lost productivity, higher levels of stress and inability to focus.  You’ve seen the increase in healthcare costs, and the time lost to moving to smaller homes and dealing with children who are not coping well.

Now it is possible to see how the bad practices in Family Court are feeding and escalating these issues, and on a larger scale than you might imagine.  You know the divorce rate in Georgia?  Across the country?  You also are aware of the foreclosure rates here as well.

There is a direct correlation between what we are measuring and reporting on, and the economic impact felt by both our business community and our citizens.  When you see the data it will be an easy decision to make.  Backing reform over how our families and children are treated as they work through legal conflict will become a priority.

If the economic impact is not a concern to you or your business, then think about what is happening that could also happen to your children and grandchildren.  As we are proving now, no one is immune.

On Twitter:

#ReformMakesGoodBusinessSense #AtlantaNews

#BusinessofDivorce #FamilyCourtReform

#LostRealEstate #EconomicImpact

LinkedIn:

Discussions are developing around the country between professionals, professionals and parents, and in the business and healthcare communities regarding why we should collectively address these bad practices, and how to help our families and communities recover. The numbers are too staggering to ignore any longer.  And now we have the data and the solutions.

http://www.linkedin.com/company/my-advocate-center-llc

New Series: What Lawyers Say

Day One:  Lawyer Quote #1

Social Media Rocks.  Why?  Good lawyers are getting the word out.  We are listening.

It is NOT all attorneys and judges involved in wreaking havoc on unsuspecting citizens.

This is anonymous for now, until we have permission to use his name:

“Reforms are definitely needed in [my state]. To establish reforms that benefit the parties will require the participation of family law lawyers who support certain changes, too many which can be listed here.  (MAC: we agree) That said, it’s no secret that the family law system is a business. Additionally, it should be generally understood that model does not serve clients well, unless a client gets lucky and hires a highly ethical and competent family law lawyer who is more interested in resolving the divorce as amicably and efficiently as possible, rather than generating the most billable hours. I’ve seen far too many examples of the latter.

I was told by prior employers that I solved cases too quickly, and that by doing so, I cost that employ tens of thousand of dollars that could have been generated from the case (had I not resolved the parties issues so soon). That’s the primary reason I decided to work for myself, so my hands would not be tied, in terms of helping people resolve their divorce without costing so much, and without the unnecessary generation of conflict.

To put out a fire, one should apply water, not gasoline. Many family law lawyers apply gas to increase the fire. The brighter and longer the fire burns, the more money they make. Of course, one who has a conscience (such as myself) finds this approach beyond deplorable.

Again, it’s no secret (at least within the industry) that most family law lawyers don’t bend over backwards to resolve conflict as quickly as possible, whether their reason is to generate more billable hours, or they lack the skill (professional/legal or interpersonal) to help parties resolve conflict in a competent manner.  (MAC note: why should this secret be kept from the public?)

Most lawyers are adept at conflict. Also, many get into family law for the wrong reason (because there’s plenty of work and it seems like an easy area of law, and it’s also easy to start a solo practice). Hence, parties are at high risk that once they initiate their divorce process and hire a lawyer, that their problems will escalate.”

* This is just one sample: lawyers all over our country are stepping forward to say they are OVER being labeled along with those who commit fraud, breach fiduciary duty, commit legal malpractice…or who are just plain lazy or greedy, or all of the above.

Keep it coming!

#Courage #ThrowawayClient

problem_solved

What many lawyers – not all – want you to do