I had a cool and inspiring lawyer experience recently. I was in court with a client who had been treated poorly for more years than anyone ever should. As we waited our turn, we chatted about my client's children and a recent vacation. Our case was called, and as we took our seats with the opposing party six feet away, my client sat, hunched over with both arms crossed, looking at the ground. I made my argument, we prevailed, matter ordered in our favor. Yay! So exciting! But more exciting was that after the judge rendered a decision, my client became six inches taller right in front of my eyes. We left the courtroom to discuss the results, and although the issue I was arguing had been pretty routine, the immediate impact its outcome had on my client was remarkable. From that moment through the rest of the day, my client was brave. For the first time since the start of my representation, my client had courage. And I thought, wow, how very cool is it that I can empower a person by just doing my job?
All weekend I have been thinking about empowerment. We hear so much in the news these days about organizations empowering women by offering experiences and products and jeans that are properly tailored for diverse bodies. Empowering a healthy lifestyle offering a website with recipes calling for exotic and holistic spices. 'Empower,' 'empowering,' 'empowerment'...it's hard to know what these words mean anymore.
I believe “EMPOWERMENT” means a person's having the ability to drive his or her own life outcomes. A person having choice. A person having decision-making autonomy. A person feeling safe. When a person has been falsely arrested for something small, knowing there are real options other than paying a fine and accepting a criminal record. When a person is going through a rough divorce or custody battle, or a small business owner is struggling to have a go at it...there are choices. Working as an attorney within the law to support a client's efforts, or to return to someone the choice or autonomy or drive or feeling of safety that was at one points taken away. My mission as an attorney is to empower every client...to help each feel taller and stronger with every interaction.
Not all cases have an immediate outcome with a thrilling decision. Many issues take some time to resolve. But…one thing I do in my practice of law is work to empower my clients with choice. There are many modern and innovative ways to empower people through the law, and there is rarely a scenario in which there is absolutely no choice, no option, no way out. I am proud of my client for recognizing that there was an option, and going after it. And am still so excited to watch my client feel brave and empowered for the first time in a very long while.
Dr. Kathleen M. Linnane, Esq.
There’s been a lot of buzz in the past few days about the “pet prenup” – happy to see this in the news just days after our last blog post! Pets are increasingly becoming a part of couples’ prenuptial agreements, because although a pet is often considered a part of the family, a pet is treated as an asset in a property division. And like a piece of art or a house, pets are often used as bargaining chips in a separation. You give this, you get that…more or less.
Couples are increasingly opting to sign prenups…a wise decision and smart move, for MANY reasons. Not because couples anticipate a failed marriage. Not because people don’t trust their future spouse. But…as the marriage age is creeping up, so is the accumulation of assets and other sorts of wealth acquired by individuals prior to entering a marriage. People entering modern marriages often have pre-marriage business interests, larger retirements accounts than in years past, and in the United States, people also have more significant debt.**
A prenuptial agreement functions to protect both spouses in the event of an unfortunate end to a marriage. How many times have we heard a friend say he or she was in complete shock when divorce papers were served? Even a quick internet search returns results showing people are interested in learning how to file for divorce without a spouse knowing beforehand. At the end of the day, no person can ever know what will happen tomorrow, two years, or ten years from now…and when the going gets rough and divorce gets emotional and irrational, divorcing spouses are known to deny the existence of assets or even fight over a spatula.
However, a prenuptial agreement should never be thought of as a pre-divorce contract, nor is it a tool to adopt in anticipation of having leverage in future disagreements. Instead, a prenuptial agreement is a tool that facilitates pre-marriage communication. Prenups force couple to engage in necessary discussions about financial expectations during the marriage, about spousal and family support during future growth of the family, and about taking on and handling future debts, among other things. A prenup enables these conversations, encourages them to occur when couples are happy and excited about the future, anticipating a long and successful marriage before the fighting has begun.
A prenuptial agreement is a modern, proactive tool all couples should strongly consider, as it fosters complete disclosure and peace of mind, and in the event of an unfortunate separation, provides a roadmap for a less conflicted divorce with no fighting over the spatula or the dog.
**Student debt follows the debtor in the event of a separation, but a prenup can specify that any marital assets used to pay off one party’s student debt during the course of the marriage must be taken into consideration in the property division.
Any person planning to marry or divorce, regardless of income or assets, should seek the assistance of appropriate legal and tax advisors. Work with Linnane & Associates to plan for your life and marriage goals. Consider pre-marriage counseling…consult us for some guidance.
A recent article in Vanity Fair boasts, “Jason Momoa, Lenny Kravitz, and Lisa Bonet have Mastered the Modern Divorce,” and goes on to discuss how the self-professed bros are the best of friends despite Momoa being married to Kravitz’ ex-wife, Lisa Bonet.
A truly modern family. We are not sure ex-spouse friendship rings are for everyone, but Bonet, Momoa, and Kravitz sure got something right…a modern approach to their relationships (or at least one that is making plenty of headline news!)
The modern marriage is becoming less and less about traditional roles, and more about compromise and equality between marriage partners. A marriage is about merging two lives. And with that, merging assets, planning for the future, and choosing a person to be your closest relative. Your spouse is the person you choose to share your life, whom you designate to inherit from you, and who will make decisions for you in the event you are unable to do so. Mastering the modern marriage is all about setting the stage for these and other important life decisions.
Modern pre-wedding preparation must include more than flower choices and cake flavors. We all love cake!! But we, as human beings, also love knowing that important life decisions are in our control. Pre-wedding prep should always include sensible legal counseling to build a foundation that enables choices that align with what couples really want.
Wills, for example. Every couple should have a will. Not out of a fear of death, but for estate planning. A will designates where assets will go. Without a will, a couple’s assets can end up in probate court and sit there for YEARS.
Children? Who will be a child’s caretaker in the event that a couple is no longer able to care for the child?
Surgery. In the event of a standard surgical procedure or in an emergency, a patient’s spouse is responsible for making any decisions that need to be made when the patient cannot make them (i.e. under anaesthesia). Oftentimes someone other than the spouse would be a better decision-maker. An understandably emotional spouse is very often unable to make the best choice, or the choice that the patient expressed before 'going under'. Sometimes another family member has medical expertise and is known by the couple to be the better decision-maker...the responsibility still falls on the spouse. In any event, unless medical decisions or designated decision-makers are specified in a living will or medical proxy, any harrowing medical choice is left to a distraught spouse.
Pets? Who will take the dog in the event of a split?
Couples need to think beyond the party. Life happens after the party, and so do life decisions. It’s not only about a prenup, which is also important, but about SENSIBLE, real-life legal conversations that each couple should have before they marry. Celebrate and dance and have cake, and maybe trade BFF skull rings, but master the modern marriage by preparing for a successful future!
Kathleen Linnane is the Managing Partner of Linnane & Associates. Check back for our weekly blog updates about current legal issues of interest, and how changes and updates to the law might affect you and your community.