Parental Alienation: Who Puts Kids in Jail for Not Seeing their Dad?

On July 10, 2015, Detroit’s Judge Gorcyca, found three siblings in contempt of court and sent them to a juvenile detention center/sleep-away camp in Oakland County, for “failing to maintain a healthy relationship with their father.” The reason: the 15, 10,and 9 year-old siblings refused to have lunch- much less any contact with their father at all- for the seven months prior.

According to court transcripts, Judge Gorcyca admonished the children, “You’re so mentally messed up right now, and it’s not because of your father… In fact, he has moved mountains to become a part of this family.”

Judge Gorcyca draws parallels between the children’s abnormal enmeshment with mom and outward disrespect to law enforcement to the cult-like behavior Charles Manson’s followers.   She ordered that the children be separated from one another within the quarters of the juvenile detention facility, arguably to take away the power of this toxic sibling set.  Likewise, mom, Maya Eibschitz-Tsimhoni, and her family are prohibited from contact while the children are in custody.

Is this too extreme of a measure? “This is really a draconian remedy,” CBS News legal expert Rikki Klieman said Friday on “CBS This Morning.” “This gives new meaning to the phrases ‘scared straight’ or ‘tough love.'”

However, Judge Gorcyca justified her actions: “While the court’s actions might seem extreme, so is the notion that these children are being taught that the only way to love the mother is to vilify the father.” She underscored the idea of parental alienation by stating “that in the past five years, the court has received no evidence that the father has done anything to negatively impact the children.”

Either way, this case decidedly marks a distinct case of parental alienation.  The 2010 contentious divorce turned saga of strained parent-child relationship lasting five years later, is not only sad but too common.  While finding blame helps some rationalize behavior, we should be looking for solutions instead.

A non-profit called Overcoming Barriers (OCB) marks this seminal case as a call to action to resolve the failure to treat alienation within the adversarial system.  Dr. Matt Sullivan, co-founder of OCB commented on this tragic story:“While each family member plays some part in the overall dynamic, the child is never to blame and should never be the subject of punitive action by the court system under the guise of protecting or promoting the child’s welfare. To do so is to blame the victim, just as when individuals are victimized by domestic or sexual violence.” Dr. Sullivan, asserted that,”the child’s behavior is symptomatic of the system’s failure.”

There is no simple answer.  Is the two-week respite from mom going to repair five years’ worth of damage? Probably not.  However, this judge is sending a message that we cannot allow parents to act as puppeteers- controlling their children.

Kids Say the Funniest Things: Divorce Speak from the Mouths of Babes

If you thought your ex spouse had the ability to defrock you in one sentence or to befuddle you with a single word, you probably already know that children can do the same.  Children are pure, unfettered, innocent creatures that tell it like it is.  And sometimes we don’t fully appreciate what they tell us.

When my ex-husband and I told our girls, ages 6 and 9, about our imminent split, they rapid-fire questioned us.  Despite my career of training as a divorce lawyer, these were some of the hardest cross-examination questions that I could have imagined:

  1. Are we still a family? (they started easy at least)
  2. “Is Dad going to be more like an uncle now?”
  3. “When are we getting a stepmom or stepdad?”
  4. From my six year-old, with a disgusted look on her face: “Are you now EX’s?”
  5. “Why did this have to happen?”
  6. “If this is a good choice, then why are you sad?”
  7. “Do we have to choose which parent we like better?”
  8. This zinger directed at me, “I thought divorce lawyers are NOT allowed to get divorced!”
  9. “Can we call/see you both whenever we want?”
  10. “Is this going to last forever?”

While there are no perfect answers to these questions, these ten questions spoken from the mouths of babes, grant insight into the worries of children after learning that their parents are getting divorced and separated.    For the record, my ex-husband and I followed a strict script of how to approach discussing divorce with your children from a preeminent family lawyer, Gay Cox and an amazing Ph.D. who works with divorcing families and children on a daily basis, Dr. Honey Sheff. http://www.dontfightaboutit.com/tips_for_parents.pdf. (called “Tips for Parents Engaged in the Collaborative Family Law Process.” Even if you are not divorcing in a collaborative fashion, an artful, well-scripted discussion with your children is an essential tool for your family

Childhood should be free from worry. Especially during divorce.

 

 

 

 

 

 

so that they can start to grieve and eventually gain closure.

The following is a list of bullet points that I have summarized from the above-mentioned 16-page article about sending the right signs and signals in communicating to your children about a divorce in a healthy way:

  1. Avoid blaming the other parent.
  2. Emphasize and work to show the children that everything will remain the same, stable life during and after divorce.
  3. Show love and empathy to the children.  Answer their questions.
  4. Assure the children that both parents will always love them and be there for them.
  5. Contrast the love between Mom and Dad from the love of sisters, friends, other family. (Mom and Dad love is romantic and could end; Mother-child or Father-child love will never end).
  6. Avoid having difficult arguments in front of the children to minimize conflict.
  7. Encourage your children to have a positive and healthy relationship with the other parent.
  8. Do not involve your children in parental decision-making.
  9. Be consistent with disciplining your children so that they cannot manipulate the parents.
  10. Let kids be kids: do not put them “in the middle” or make your child a messenger.
  11. Be a positive role model- the kids are always watching and mimicking our behaviors.
  12. Maintain flexibility, even if it hurts.
  13. Always choose your children’s needs above your own.
  14. Remember that the only consistent thing in divorce is change: bend with the change.
  15. Finally, just remember that childhood is precious and as a parent you are the keeper of memories and guardian of you little one. Let’s preserve our kids’ child-like hearts forever.
  16.  Must #share it... #childhood #heart #human #innocence #life #motivation #inspiration #quote for #friends #startup #fitness #coach #entrepreneur to #love #share #hustle @21dreamz #bestoftheday #photooftheday #juststart #bored #inspire #instaquote #discove

     

 

Tamsen Fadal’s, THE NEW SINGLE: Post- Divorce Manual for Recovery

In her book, The New Single, Tamsen Fadal is gorgeous, successful and of all things- a professional matchmaker and award-winning journalist, who is getting divorced.  She explains the embarrassment,  the feeling of failure, and the fear of being alone in New York City during her divorce.  In her post-divorce recovery manual, Ms. Fadal encompasses subjects ranging from guides on your new wardrobe, your new diet, and how to fall in love with yourself before the next man in your life.

While her antidote to divorce is glossy and simplified, there is no room in her world for “woe-is-me” victimhood or time to cry in fetal position.  Instead, she lays out a practical path to recovery. In this non-judgmental formula for change, our author gives the loving nudge or kick in the pants that you may need to end the wallowing.

Fadal tells her reader how to survive the split-up and to start over, 90-days at a time.  Our divorce diva, as author and trusted friend, tells the New Single to embrace who you are today and to radiate confidence.  Translation: “be yourself” and “fake it til ya make it.”  Self-care is a theme as well.  If you don’t have your health, a career, and financial freedom, what do you have? Her advice is chopped up into small, literary soundbites for easy digestion.  She includes checklists, quotes from trusted experts, and chapters that explain how to discern “Mr. Right from Mr. Right Now.”

The New Single quotes her father, “It is better to be alone than lonely with someone.”  These words of wisdom and truth that only can be uttered by a woman who has conquered the state of existing in both worlds and finding that being alone is preferable until you fully heal.  http://www.zimbio.com/watch/hP08f9Mnh8F/Five+Common+Mistakes+After+Breakup+Divorce/Tamsen+Fadal

5 Suprising Lessons I Learned from My Own Divorce

  1. Timing is everything.

In my former, married life, as a divorce attorney, I never quite understood why clients were obsessive that their divorce pleadings filed as soon as possible.  The process seemed artificially accelerated upon the client’s decision at consultation. Usually, clients admitted when I met them that the Titanic had been sinking for a long time. So why the sudden urgency?

When you realize that your body is on fire, the only option is to jump into a pool of water.  Once you make that decision to put out the fire, you feel it to your core and want to begin to rebuild your life.  Filing for DSC_2988-14divorce is that first step.  So, today when clients ask for me to file an Original Petition for Divorce “stat,” I know that even hours can make the difference.

  1. Divorce is not for the weak of heart-even when kids are not involved.

Divisions of assets are highly emotionally charged.  The balance sheets, or the Inventory and Appraisement, all provide symbolism for the clients.  While these Excel spreadsheets are black and white numbers, they tell a story of how there was a power imbalance throughout the marriage, a lack of respect between spouses, hidden or deceptive spending; or simply a general lack of trust. Every dollar counts, and almost counts as double if insult is added to injury.

If divorce were exclusively transactional in nature, finalizing it would be a matter of plugging in numbers and deciding on a percentage for the division of assets.  However, as humans, our tit-for-tat relationship score keeping bleeds over into division of the community estate.  The true question is the point of diminishing returns: do you really want to spend $1000 to chase down $100? Answer: how angry are you?

  1. Being a demanding, needy client is perfectly acceptable.

When I first meet clients in my office and rhetorically ask how they are doing, they smirk, and say, “well I’m here.”  Here is a place where you am signing a retainer agreement to end your marriage. I know that the couch in my office is typically not where I deliver the manifesto of hearts and sunshine.  In fact, I must remind clients that they pay me to tell them the truth, to be realistic and to offer them a continuum of good, firm strategies to achieve their goals.

Regardless, the truth can be frightening and hard to digest.  Today, I don’t see how a divorce client can be anything but demanding and needy during this process.  With one’s self confidence shot, depression ensuing, and a general belief that your reality is crumbling, clients need a lot of support- both emotional and legal.  They need a quick response time to calls, emails and updates, especially during a journey when some family and friends are at a loss as to how to help their struggling friend.   I like clients to understand I am here for them, and that my job is to walk them through this difficult journey in the legal sense.  A good counseling referral always helps too.

  1. Temporary insanity is a symptom of divorce.

Albert Einstein said, “Life is like a bicycle.  To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”  In the process of divorce, we emotionally stop moving forward, and get stuck in the past.  Sadly, the past is not a productive place to be.  It makes us crazy and causes behaviors that may be out of character.  The failure to keep moving and progressing forward, exposes us to a process of degeneration.

Now, I forgive the emotionally charged thirty-minute conversations with clients about how big of a @##@# (expletive) the other spouse is. I understand that sometimes (even though not condoned), my client feels compelled to Facebook stalk their former mate, instigate fights by draining the accounts, or sleep around within days of finalizing their divorce.  As family lawyers, we are taught that divorce clients are “good people on their worst day,” while criminal clients are “bad people on their best day.”  Short of doling out Xanax and antidepressants, (which my credentials strictly prohibit), my job is to help rein in the crazy. I am charged with the task of  helping clients understand that this temporary insanity is not who they are- just a moment in time which will pass…only if they keep moving.

  1. Revenge is irrational but natural.

You have been irreparably harmed.  Your hurt, anger and rage regardless of who may be assigned blame in the breakup of the marriage, is valid.  I have heard clients utter the phrase, “I will spend every last dollar tearing her down.” This illustrates a process where destruction of the other seems almost more appealing than moving on.  

“If you spend your time hoping someone will suffer the consequences for what they did to your heart, then you’re allowing them to hurt you a second time in your mind.”  Shannon L. Alder
Don’t fall prey to getting even because while natural to want revenge, it is irrational to believe that it will ever bring you one ounce of satisfaction.roadsign-flickr-punknomad

5 Reasons Why There are No Winners In Divorce

loser via creative commons license (https://flic.kr/p/BuK1d)

Image via CC

No one can declare victory in divorce. One party may get more custody or more money, but nobody wins.

  1. You once had something whole, and now it is divided. Whether that is half of your 401k or half of your children’s time, you no longer have the whole thing. Just like toddlers, we don’t like to share our things, especially when we are now divorced.

  2. Your investment is now worthless. Time, energy, vulnerability, and love for any marriage take work. Your payoff in divorce is disentangling your time, energy, vulnerability, and love from your former mate. This occurs without producing dividends on this investment we call marriage.

  3. Divorce is a gift that keeps on giving. The fight isn’t over. It has just has mutated from a 1-year litigation battle, to a lifetime of rehashing old wounds. The aftermath of divorce is like a lifetime of heartburn after eating a chili dog chased with a martini every morning.

  4. The nature of compromise dictates that winning is a state of mind. Judges and mediators are human. They work to craft the best solution, but this “solution” doesn’t take into account a points system in which parties win.

  5. Everybody hurts after the battle. Your mutual “friends” are confused about which “side” to take. Your children are worried about the tug-of-war for love, post-divorce. Even your dog looks askance, wondering who will fill her bowl. Your web of loved ones hurt with you and because of you. Divorce makes boundaries sketchy and old, secure relationships tenuous. How could that be a win?

I’m not suggesting that just because you can’t “win” divorce, you should not partake. I am trying to remind those contemplating divorce (and those who have freshly finished that marathon) that if you feel like you haven’t won, there are plenty of good reasons for that feeling.

Instead of focusing on the win, focus on the changes that you can make to win in your personal life. You can win back you- your self-esteem, your health, and your sense of peace.

Natalie Gregg
The Law Office of Natalie Gregg
(972) 829 – 3923
Natalie@NatalieGregg.com

 NOTE: None of the information in this blog constitutes or is intended to be legal advice. These rates above are no guarantee of what you can expect to receive/pay. If you would like to know about your individual situation or if need legal counsel, you should consult an attorney regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. When you contact the Law Office of Natalie Gregg, this does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.

Natalie Gregg on Cover of Texas Super Lawyers

We are proud to announce that our managing partner, Natalie Gregg, was recently profiled in Texas Super Lawyers. The cover article, “Hopeless Romantic,” is cited below.

To book an appointment with Natalie Gregg, please fill out this contact form or call The Law Office of Natalie Gregg at (972) 829 – 3923.


Natalie Gregg on Cover of Texas Super Lawyers

Natalie Gregg on the 2015 Cover of Texas Super Lawyers

Natalie Gregg likes tidy endings. Sure, divorce is a messy process, but her goal is a harmonious settlement that encourages positive co-parenting.

Still, part of the Allen family law attorney’s job is to give her clients a reality check.

“I tell people that divorce is a death,” she says. “It’s the death of a portion of your life. That’s when they stop and cry. But I want them to acknowledge that it’s not just tonsillitis. I have to change my Kleenex box every day.”

Gregg’s clients—or their stay-at-home spouses—are mostly highly educated professionals with large estates who are typically in their first marriages. Her most lucrative clients are Collin County millionaires: doctors, dentists, engineers and corporate executives. In addition to couples who simply fell out of love, there are white-collar career types with serial-cheating spouses, and others who’ve endured years of emotional abuse. Some come to her in a delicate state, outlining their situations and asking, “I should get divorced, right?”

Unless abuse or crime is involved, Gregg won’t try to make that decision. Her role is to listen and help her clients meet their goals. “I cannot choose for you,” she says. “I will not walk for you. I can’t be in your shoes. But just like a doctor, if somebody’s not going to take the antibiotic, you can’t do anything for them.”

Once the client decides, Gregg puts her formidable energies into trying to resolve things long before the case ends up in a courtroom.

“She keeps her eye on the ball, and she’s reasonable,” says family lawyer Ike Vanden Eykel, CEO of KoonsFuller in Dallas, whose firm contends with Gregg on a monthly basis. “Some people make unreasonable demands at all times, and those are lawyers you can dismiss pretty quickly—but that’s not the case here. She’s very able to reach accords. We don’t have the big fights I can tell you about because we’re able to work together and get things done.”

But she’s also tough. On a recent day in a downtown Dallas courtroom, Gregg, wavy jet-black hair pulled back in a ponytail, politely but forcefully digs in her heels as she and opposing counsel approach the bench. “They’re trying to make it all about money and child support,” she tells the judge. In the meantime, her client’s main concern is a troubled daughter with falling grades, who has cut off contact with her mom, and who has been missing college-prep tutoring sessions while staying with her wealthy father. Just yesterday afternoon, the girl’s mother learned that her daughter had just started seeing a new counselor and taking medication—without the mom’s input. “There’s no co-parenting going on here,” Gregg says.

The judge grants Gregg’s motion for a hearing continuance to process the new information and strategize. Later, outside the courtroom, Gregg meets with her client, pleased with the result. “We got what we wanted,” she says.

Jessica Perroni, Gregg’s senior associate, chimes in: “She did good.”

Asked whether Gregg’s lawyering style is more forceful or restrained, Ken Koonce, her former boss, chuckles.

“I would definitely put her more on the aggressive end of the scale,” says Koonce, who hired Gregg at a Dallas nonprofit legal-aid center about 10 years ago. “But she’s always courteous. She’s matter-of-fact, like: ‘This is what we want, and this is why we think we’re going to get it.’ She just addresses issues head-on, and she doesn’t mince words.”

There’s a softer side to Gregg, too. Over lunch, she exclaims over pictures of her recently acquired bichon frise, which she’s named Tinkerbell. The dog was a gift for her 37th birthday. In law school, she had another bichon, named Bella. She also has a penchant for happy endings. “I love Disney movies and romantic comedies and anything that ends well,” says Gregg. “I’m a hopeless romantic trapped in a divorce lawyer’s body.” In law school, comparisons were made to a popular movie. “People said, ‘You’re like a brunette Legally Blonde,’” she says.

That preference for happy endings may be why she gravitated toward collaborative law, in which divorcing spouses agree to settle matters privately, away from the courtroom. While it’s not for everyone, Gregg believes couples who utilize the process generally spend less money and achieve better results and co-parenting situations.

Going to court isn’t always what people expect. “There are so many terrible consequences,” Gregg says. “They’re like, ‘I want my day in court.’ I say, ‘What does that mean to you? It’s not going to be pretty. It’s going to be he-said, she-said. You know, it’s not going to be Law & Order; it’s not going to be Matlock.’”

Clients who choose the collaborative process can make decisions for themselves. “There are no constraints,” Gregg says. “It’s as extensive or as confined as their imaginations.”

Collaborative divorce is a team approach, involving mental-health and financial professionals. The disadvantage is that, if clients ultimately decide to pursue litigation, they are required to hire new lawyers. “I’ve gained confidential information in a protective setting,” she explains. “That would give me undue advantage.”

Gregg, who was honored by the National Academy of Family Law Attorneys in 2014 as one of Texas’ top 10 family lawyers under 40, blogs for sites including StackStreet and The Huffington Post on issues ranging from technology’s effect on married relationships to who should get the wedding rings in a divorce (usually the person whose finger they were on).

Born in Honolulu to a military doctor dad and homemaker mom with a master’s degree in humanities—“she cooked like a rock star,” Gregg says—she grew up in Dallas and attended Catholic schools all the way through high school. Accepted to Brown, she instead opted for San Antonio’s Trinity University to be closer to her boyfriend, now husband, Jeremy Gregg, before transferring to Dallas’ Southern Methodist University. She graduated magna cum laude in 2000.

Gregg thought about taking a break before law school, but her dad, who had a modest upbringing and graduated at the top of his medical class at Northwestern, had other ideas. “He said, ‘If you really want to do it, you’re going to do it now,’” Gregg says. And then he cut up her credit cards.

She worked her way through SMU’s Dedman School of Law as a tutor, hostess and law clerk, including working full time at a firm during her final year. Her first job out of school was with a firm focused on medical malpractice defense. She felt unfulfilled. “I was always the most hated person in the room,” she says.

Meanwhile, she’d been volunteering at a church-run legal clinic in Dallas. “All our intake was family law,” she says. “Spouses doing crazy things. People needed help. I was fascinated. I thought, this is what I should be doing.”

A year later, she did just that, taking a job with the legal services arm of nonprofit Central Dallas Ministries—now CitySquare—and trading a 64th-floor office for a desk with an outdated PC and all the family-law cases she could handle. The program offered free and low-cost legal aid to the needy; Gregg became one of just a few attorneys working for director Koonce.

“My first day there I asked, ‘Where’s the guy who does my faxes?’” she recalls. “And they said, ‘That would be you.’ ‘Where’s the guy who does the mailing?’ And they said, ‘That would be you.’ … I didn’t realize how different it was.” When her dad told her, “You’re doing God’s work,” she quipped, “Yes, but does God pay?”

But she felt like she was making a difference. And suddenly, instead of feeling micromanaged, she had a boss who didn’t meddle. “Ken let me grow,” Gregg says. Though she recalls struggling at first in the short-handed environment, Koonce says she thrived, grasping issues more clearly and exercising better judgment than most lawyers with her limited experience.

In 2009, Gregg went out on her own, initially borrowing space in a friend’s office above a Papa John’s; two months later she rented an office from another lawyer. “I always thought I’d do it when I turned 40,” she says. “My husband said, ‘Why are you waiting?’ We had just gone through a really bad recession. But my husband says divorce is recession-proof, which is true.”

Asked if starting her own practice was scary, she says she was a little worried going into it. But once she opened her doors, she says, “I was so busy, I never had time to look up and worry about it.”

By 2010, Gregg was ready to claim her own territory. She set up shop north of Dallas in Allen, which—in addition to being near her parents—was one of North Texas’ fastest growing communities. Since then, she’s taken on three associates, two paralegals, a law clerk and a receptionist.

Gregg has a favorite saying from the late Judge R. Lewis Nicholson: “You can love your kids or hate your spouse, but you can’t do both.” Nicholson, a Dallas County family court judge known for his “bah, humbug” disposition, “was the most unfuzzy guy you could ever meet,” Gregg says. “He was one of my favorites because he really cared and was just incredibly smart about the law. He had this knowledge that he would distill into these little sound bites.” She recalls the day when circumstances required that she get a temporary restraining order signed for a client and she had to bring her 6-month-old daughter to the courtroom, discreetly pocketed in a papoose beneath her blazer. “He called me on it,” she says. “He said, ‘Ms. Gregg, is that a baby in your jacket?’” He let her stay.

Marriage is hard, Gregg reflects. Sometimes, busy couples let happiness take a backseat to maintaining a routine for the sake of the kids. But that may not be the best thing for anyone. Looking out for kids is a driving force for Gregg, whose brochure pictures a preschooler holding a bouquet. Gregg says she has reduced pro-athlete clients to tears by telling them, “I know you hate [your wife] right now, but she gave you the most beautiful gift in your life.”

Who gets the engagement rings in a divorce? (VIDEO)

We recently published a blog entitled, “Give me my RING back! (Who gets the wedding rings in a divorce?).” We suggest that anyone asking this question consider reading it to learn our perspective on this common challenge.

Some of the items that we discussed in that blog are hilariously featured in this video from YourTango … enjoy!

Business Leader Spotlight Show profiles Natalie Gregg

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We are grateful that Rich Spalding from the Business Leader Spotlight Show chose to profile our managing partner, Natalie Gregg, for the show. You can listen to it below or click here.

C’est la vie, y’all: Does Texas or France Get Divorce Right?

c'est la vie y'all

C’est la vie, y’all!

In Texas, we do everything big, so why not divorce? In the land of McMansions, over-sized SUV’s and ten gallon cowboy hats, divorce proves to be as big and colorful as our very state. While I am familiar with other American states’ divorce law statutes and case law, I had never ventured past the continental US.

Recently, I had the privilege to visit Paris, France to interview international lawyer, Jonathon Wise Polier, who practices, among other disciplines, divorce law there. Mr. Polier hails from New York and has resided in Paris, France since 1991, when he went into private practice. His resume boasts a Ph.D. from Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Paris, and a JD from Columbia Law School. Mr. Polier’s quiet, Parisian office, located just off of the posh Champs Elysseus was the setting of our fascinating conversation about just how different French divorce is from divorce here in the U.S.

In a nutshell, there is no smut, drama or Matlock maneuvering in French divorce court. Likewise, instead of surprise hearings and sensational trials, French divorce is fairly vanilla compared to its US counterpart. Since French divorce forbids cross examination, deposition, and sworn testimony, the trial court does not entertain trial antics in the same way that we do here in the States. This leads to lower attorneys’ fees, faster trials, and less “War of the Roses” vitriol between the parties.

  1. Procedure- In France, once a party files, the judge requests to speak with both parties (not in the presence of their attorneys) individually for ten minutes a person to determine whether the party can reconcile their differences. In Texas, the judges never meet parties alone and play no role in attempting to reconcile the parties’ relationship. Lawyers are always present for testimony in Texas divorces.
  2. Cost- In France, the cost of divorce is much lower. Because there are no contested hearing, no depositions, no cross-examination, there is less rhetoric about rabbit trials (i.e., cheating, addiction, mental health problems). Thus, less client funds are expended in French divorce. Across the ocean, and down south where we trade baguettes for nachos, Texas divorce can mean big money. Mr. Polier quoted that a large sum of money spent in divorce may be in the range of tens of thousands (of Euros) as a “big budget” case. However, commonly, a Texas divorce budget can average a cost of $30,000 even prior to going to trial, and by trial phase can rise to the level of over $100,000 US dollars.
  3. Timeline- In France, because much of the process is administrative, and not a witch hunt for the worst traits in a party, divorces are quicker. In Texas, with our contested hearings, depositions, discovery process, and other smut-gathering ventures, often the party who finds the most mud wins. Also, if a Texas divorce litigant has a large wallet, she can out-litigate the other side. While Texas boasts a divorce as quick as 61 days from filing, I would venture to say that if one takes a divorce with children and property with contested issues and compares the two side-by-side, the French divorce would more likely be complete prior to the Texas one simply because of the streamlined procedures.
  4. Evidence- France does not take a transcript of any of the lower court proceedings. Therefore, there are no court reporters at trial or hearing, and so if you want to appeal to a higher court, everything is tried de novo- or “start all over again.” In Texas, we have transcripts of all proceedings in district court, court reporters at depositions and at hearings if you request them, so that you do not have to reinvent the wheel upon appeal should you disagree with lower courts. Because there are no transcripts, there is no case law. That may seem like legal jargon, but case law provides fact-specific examples on how other lower courts should apply the law and it governs the gaps in the Texas Family Code. Without case law, our jobs as litigators would be difficult and the jobs of the judges would be highly discretionary with no record of what previous court precedent holds for guidance on how to apply to their cases.
  5. Parenting Plans- France’s default parenting plan looks and feels the same as Texas Standard Possession Order. The parenting plan is the most similar as we share alternating weekend access, division of holidays and breaks.
  6. Child Support- Guidelines are golden in Texas. We have a chart. We rarely if ever deviate from guideline child support unless dad is in the NFL or is the CEO of Coke. There is a specific list enumerated for why to deviate from guidelines such as disability of a child or special needs of children. Our French friends look at guidelines as mere suggestions and often deviate from them on a regular basis.
  7. Alimony- The French do not believe in alimony. It’s not like the tooth fairy. They understand it exists. However, alimony or spousal maintenance, as it exists in Texas, is nonexistent in France. Instead, the French provide a one-time lump sum property settlement that is supposed to take the place of alimony. Texas provides spousal maintenance according to many factors some of which include length in the marriage, difference in earning potential, and ability to cover the spouse’s minimum, reasonable needs in the future.
  8. Abandonment- In France, if I had a divorce law website, it would have a flashing 32-point font banner warning, “Do not leave your marital home.” The French take abandonment pretty seriously and this can color a divorce settlement based on whether husband leaves wife high and dry. This archaic rule sometimes forces French couples to cohabitate during the divorce despite high levels of acrimony and conflict. In Texas, the judge does not care whether husband leaves wife in the marital residence. The focus is for ongoing support, ensuring that wife or husband- can afford to reside and maintain the marital residence during the pendency of the divorce until the home can be sold or divided accordingly.
  9. Venue- The French Napoleonic Rule for where to bring a suit is much like the US Native American Rule: if you can claim a remote percentage of lineage as a Frenchman, you may bring a suit in France. This can result is some bizarre scenarios where the son of a Frenchman residing in New York and living his entire married live in New York may make an argument to sue for divorce in France and may rightly do so. In Texas, if you reside here for six months in a county for 60 days, you can sue for divorce. You could never be hailed into a foreign state where you owned no property or have never resided against your will.

In short – my French divorce education taught me that all of the aspects of the Texas divorce that make my job so interesting are bereft from the French divorce model. The legal maneuverings that we are afforded in Texas allow us to make discoveries about finances, lifestyle, and personal idiosyncrasies that may become public. These very things add fuel to the fire and burn through so much of the litigation dollars; by contrast, French divorce is a low-drama transaction.

Is this a better way?

On some levels, I believe that we can learn from the French. By far, it seems that Paris – the City of Love and Light – does not support the soul-crushing, aggressive model of litigation model that leaves no stone unturned on a hunt for dollars and custody.

 

Natalie Gregg named one of Top 10 Family Lawyers under the age of 40!

Natalie Gregg award from National Academy of Family Law AttorneysThank you to the National Academy of Family Law Attorneys for naming our managing partner, Natalie Gregg, one of the Top 10 family lawyers under the age of 40!