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.
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.