Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Protecting your Privacy in a Divorce. Who has access to your mail, e-mail, etc.?

I recently read an article entitled Is Your Boyfriend Reading Your Facebook Messages?, which stated that in response to an online survey, more than 20% of men admitted to reading their partner's e-mail or messaging accounts, and another 20% said they hadn't yet but would if they were suspicious that their partner was up to something.

Of course, this raises significant concerns about the behavior of the 20% who have already invaded their partner's privacy, including concerns about trust in a relationship and the dangers of controlling behavior in relationships.

It is just as shocking, though, that just as many men responded that they hadn't invaded their partner's privacy yet, but would if they were suspicious. Or, at least it would be shocking if I wasn't a divorce attorney.

In fact, I often warn my clients that everything they say can and will be used against them in Court, and that includes things they say on facebook, twitter, and even potentially in their e-mail or snail mail. Many parties don't realize that besides the lack of privacy on sites like facebook, even their e-mail and letters are discoverable in a Divorce case and could become evidence. The only communications that are not admissible are those that are privileged, such as communications with your attorney.

Regardless of the fact that some communications are discoverable, that doesn't mean you should make access to your private life easy for your ex, or allow potential breaches of the attorney-client privilege. Here are some immediate steps you should take to ensure that your ex does not have access to your e-mail, mail or other accounts:

1. Immediately change all of your passwords for e-mail, facebook, banking and other accounts. Don't use the same passwords for any accounts and make your passwords complicated so that your ex cannot guess them. For reasons why you shouldn't choose easy passwords check out this article at LifeHacker. For tips on picking strong passwords check out this article at TechSoup. If you still have concerns about an account, close it and open a brand new account.

2. Obtain a P.O. Box. Obviously if you and your ex have not yet separated there is the potential for issues with your mail, but even if you have separated and our living apart, your mail is still often vulnerable to both accidental and purposeful interception. For example, if your ex places a mail forward on their name, any mail that is marked poorly (Mr. instead of Mrs. by accident) could be forward to your ex without you ever seeing it. In addition, federal laws against mail tampering are easily broken since none of us have locks on our mailboxes. And unfortunately, children often having prying eyes.

Considering that the cost of a P.O. box for a year is probably cheaper than one hour of your attorney's time, it's well worth the investment to avoid the potential problems of having your mail unsecure.

3. Encrypt Electronic Communications. At Kelsey & Trask, P.C. we use SSL encrypted e-mail, and we encrypt and password protect any documents we send to clients that have private or financial information. You should ask your counsel to do the same to ensure that even if your account or your computer are somehow accessed, the draft and final files that you have exchanged with your counsel are not easily accessed.

For more information about protecting your privacy as much as possible through the divorce process, contact Attorney Justin Kelsey at (508) 655-5980 and schedule a one hour initial consultation.

Monday, July 19, 2010

How much will my Divorce cost?

Every divorce case is different and every case will therefore have different costs. For instance, if you are Tiger Woods your costs could include the loss of endorsement deals, in addition to the more typical costs of attorney's fees, alimony, etc. And that's not even taking into account whether or not you think his poor playing of late is also caused by the stress of his divorce.

To generalize for those of you who are not billionaire celebrities, though, I can tell you that there will still be significant costs to getting divorced and they will include:

1. The Emotional Cost: Divorce is often described as the second most stressful event in a person's life (next to the death of a loved one). We can't ignore that stresses in our life have a cost on our daily productivity, our ability to be optimistic, and our availability to deal with other stressful events. This cost is often best addressed through therapy or family support, and just because it can't be fixed through the legal process doesn't mean it should be ignored.

2. The Financial Cost: The financial price of your divorce has two parts: the cost of splitting up joint finances, and the actual price you will pay to become divorced.

2a. Joint Finances -> Individual Finances: It is a simple fact that it costs more to support two households than one. Whether or not your case warrants child support or alimony, there will still be a cost to dividing up the assets and liabilities that you and your spouse shared during the marriage. Many people will need to learn how to manage their finances, because this is something that their spouse used to do. Even if you helped manage the finances, you will need to consider how your budget will have to change now that you only have access to a portion of the assets you once did. This should include changing how you plan for retirement. All of this begins with a true, accurate and complete Financial Statement. A good Financial Statement is not just a tool for the Court, but can also help you and your attorney figure out how you will meet your budget as a single person.

2b. The Pricetag: And finally, the most obvious cost of divorce is the actual out-of-pocket cost to obtain the Judgment of Divorce. In Massachusetts, the Filing fee for divorce is currently $215 ($200 + $15.00 surcharge), and an additional $5 for the Summons if you filed a Complaint for Divorce instead of a Joint Petition.

In addition to the filing fee, if you hire an attorney their rates and fees can vary greatly. I always recommend that my potential clients interview multiple attorneys. Although cost is certainly one factor, it is my opinion that trust is the most important factor when interviewing an attorney. If you can't trust your attorney, then they won't be able to do their job and you will end up spending more money in the long run anyway.

To learn more about what we charge for Divorce, call Attorney Justin L. Kelsey, Esq. at (508) 655-5980 or click here to schedule a one-hour consultation.

Friday, July 9, 2010

5 Worst Divorce Mistakes - MISTAKE #1 "My kids have a right to know what's happening."


While listening to 107.9 (Matty in the Morning) last week I heard a caller who described herself as a 17 year old girl. This girl when asked where she was, stated that she was at court with her Mother for a Contempt hearing against her Father for non-payment of child support. The girl thought it was funny, which is a perfect example of how a 17 year old child is still not mature enough to understand how inappropriate and damaging it can be to involve your children (no matter their age) in any of your divorce disputes.

The mistakes parents make involving their children in a divorce case range from a simple slip of an angry snide comment about the ex, to a revealing argument meant to win over your child because you think they're old enough to understand, to purposeful comments meant to alienate the child from the other parent.

In any of these cases the damage to the child is significant. A simple comment releasing a parent's frustration can put a child in the middle of an argument that they truly can't understand. Children, naturally inclined to want to please their parents, will often agree with both parents, only increasing their discomfort when parent's discuss the "preferences" of their children.

The bottom line is children (even for the most part adult children) want to love both their parents and should be given that opportunity. Even if one parent starts an argument through a child, responding only does more damage. Quite often the instinct to respond and defend oneself is the wrong choice because it only perpetuates keeping the child in the middle of the argument.

The best strategy for dealing with children during a divorce case is to provide them with as much stability as possible and to remember that they still want and deserve the chance to bond with both parents. According to Planning for Shared Parenting: A Guide for Parents Living Apart, children benefit when parents:

• Communicate with each other in a courteous “businesslike” manner.
• Are on time and have children ready at exchange time.
• Avoid any communication that may lead to conflict at exchange time.
• Encourage the children to carry “important” items such as clothing, toys and
security blankets with them between the parents’ homes.
• Follow reasonably similar routines for mealtime, bedtime and homework time.
• Communicate about rules and discipline in order to handle them in similar ways.
• Support contact with grandparents and other extended family so the children do
not experience a sense of loss.
• Are flexible in developing parenting plans to accommodate their child’s
extracurricular activities and special family celebrations.
• Make time to spend alone with their children when the parent has a new partner.
• Are with their children during scheduled times and communicate with their
children when they cannot be with them.
• Respect the other parent’s scheduled times with children and do not schedule
plans that will conflict.
• Discuss any proposed schedule changes directly with the other parent.
• Support the child’s relationship with the other parent and trust the other’s
parenting skills.
• Assure the children that they did not cause the divorce and that they do not have
the power to reverse the process.

Click here to view Mistake #5.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

5 Worst Divorce Mistakes - MISTAKE #2: "All of this is because of that slut!"


Many divorces begin with the discovery of an affair. Whether or not this is the true cause of the divorce is not as important of a fact as it used to be, especially in a no-fault divorce state like Massachusetts. Regardless, the introduction of a third person into the complicated dynamics of divorce can still make the process much more difficult, often causing the parties to focus on the emotions involved in a divorce instead of the practical breakup of the business partnership.

Two of the most common ways that a new significant other can complicate a divorce case can be easily avoided. The first is when one party focuses all of their energy and anger over the divorce on the significant other. They want the significant other to be deposed and made a witness, even if the value to the case is minimal. They convince themselves that the new person is the cause of the divorce (rather than a symptom). This misplaced focus can take up hours of your attorney's time (at significant cost) and take focus away from the assets and income that need to be inventoried and divided. Even worse, this unhealthy focus usually leads to wanting my "day in court" to establish who are the "wrongdoers." See Mistake #5 for a description of why this can lead to disaster.

Although, being hurt or angry is natural, focusing on the significant other as the source of your problems is not constructive. If you are caught up in this cycle then we encourage you to get professional help dealing with these strong emotions, such as therapy. Lawyers are not trained to help you work though your emotions, and you should consult with a professional who has that training. Then you can focus with your legal team on the legal issues such as the practical financial considerations and setting your goals for the future.

The second common way that parties can involve significant others inappropriately in a divorce case, can often lead to the over-focusing described above. I call this mistake "flaunting" the new relationship. Some parties will insist that their new boyfriend or girlfriend accompany them to court hearings, or discuss them unnecessarily in front of the ex-spouse. These actions are not only hurtful, but often downright inflamatory. Worst of all, they are almost always completely unnecessary. Especially when a new relationship is young, there is no need for that third party to be involved in your divorce case. Encouraging them to be involved only increases the likelihood that emotions will stay high and your case will drag out needlessly.

Click here to view Mistake #1.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

5 Worst Divorce Mistakes - MISTAKE #3: "Our friends should know my side of the story!"


Although I always encourage my clients to confide in and find support in close family members or family, I also warn them against the danger of sharing too much. The dangers of sharing your private information on sites like Facebook and Twitter have been discussed on our blog before and have made recent news as well. But this is just the latest way to share too much.

While it is important to have a support system when going through a divorce, talking to anyone who will listen usually results in your personal information making it back to your spouse, or even into court. Mutual friends can inadvertently disclose important strategies while trying not to take sides. And helpful friends explaining what their sister's best friend's brother's divorce was like can provide poor and unreliable information. If you have concerns make sure you discuss them with your attorney first and only discuss your case with your closest confidants. In addition, make sure you consider how your case is different than anyone else's and discuss any specific facts that concern you with your counsel.

Click here to view Mistake #2.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

5 Worst Divorce Mistakes - MISTAKE #4: "Do I have to tell the court about EVERYTHING?"


Another costly mistake that many parties make in divorce cases is failing to disclose all of their assets or debts. As we have previously stated, divorce is about the break-up of a business partnership. If we don't know what went into the partnership, how can we split it up appropriately and completely.

Whether through laziness or deceitfulness, parties often fail to put all of their information on their Rule 401 Financial Statement. Financial Statements, however, are signed under the pains and penalties of perjury as TRUE, ACCURATE, and COMPLETE statements of all of your income, expenses, assets and liabilities. The consequences of lying or filing an incomplete Financial Statement are significant, and could include a Judge finding you to be an unreliable witness at trial (i.e. take all relevant testimony from your spouse only). In addition, if a settlement is reached in your case and it is later discovered that a particular asset was left off your Financial Statement, the settlement could be voided for fraud, and that asset awarded to your spouse.

Not taking the form seriously is such a typical mistake that one of the most common ways that a lawyer will cross-examine a party in a divorce case is to compare different financial statements filed during the course of the case. Carelessness often leads to inconsistencies that can make you look like a liar.

Even worse, parties that think that they can hide assets, are often found out. Not only is all of their testimony suspect from that point on, the Judge is then highly motivated to award an uneven share of the known assets to the other party in the event there are other hidden assets.

In short, take the Financial Statement seriously and don't lie. Full disclosure is the key to a reasonable and quick settlement. Failure to disclose will almost certainly ensure drawn out and expensive litigation.

Click here to view Mistake #3.

Monday, July 5, 2010

What are the 5 Worst Mistakes People make in their Divorce case? MISTAKE #5: "I Want My Day in Court"

There is a saying that criminal law attorneys see bad people acting their best while family law attorneys see good people acting their worst. As a divorce attorney, I have seen generous and commendable behavior, but I have also witnessed my share of vindictive and damaging actions committed by divorcing litigants. I have put together this list of the worst mistakes that parties make in their divorce case in the hopes that at least some people will think twice before committing these mistakes in their lives.

I have excluded purposefully bad behavior such as physical abuse because it should be obvious that such actions are not only inappropriate but criminally dangerous.


Divorce is best viewed as the break-up of a business partnership. A long and drawn out divorce trial will ensure that you pay your attorneys significant funds, but will not ensure the best outcome. Is it likely that a Judge hearing only admissible evidence over the course of a few days can learn everything about your past, present and goals for future? Or is it more likely that you and your spouse, working together, can divide your partnership in a way that provides the best possible future for both of you, taking into account all of the information you both have about your lives and goals (most of which will never end up in front of a Judge)?

Unfortunately, many parties aren't focused on what their life could be after the divorce, but are still focused on their anger or sadness over the ending of their marriage. These parties can be heard saying things like "I just want my day in court" or "the Judge should hear my side of the story" or "the whole world should hear what he/she did." While the desire to be heard and express one's feelings about the end of a marriage is understandable, the court is exactly the wrong forum for this type of closure. Therapists are much cheaper (sometimes even covered by insurance) and much more likely to provide you with emotional insight.

At the end of the day, no matter how much of "your story" gets discussed in court, the court is still only going to decide which assets you get, and which assets your spouse gets. The Judge will not give you a trophy or any other sort of validation regarding who was "right" and who was "wrong." So, save your money, and rather then your "day in court", figure out what you want the rest of your days to be like and make sure that you and your attorney are working towards those goals.

Click here to view Mistake #4.

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