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Massachusetts Divorce Law Monitor

What you never thought you'd need to know about divorce

Body Language in Court

Posted in Divorce Process

Hi there,

Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_xalanx'>xalanx / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

The perfect example… of what not to do.

Summer is almost here (thank goodness!), and instead of my usual rant on what NOT to wear to court I thought I’d write about body language in court.

Body language and facial expression are more important than you might think. Most first impressions are made in the first few seconds, and in that time it’s how you look and convey yourself that counts. A calm demeanor translates as trustworthy and believable.

When you are in court is not the time to appear angry, frustrated or furious, even though you may legitimately feel all of these emotions. Displaying these negative emotions can come across as a lack of self control, which usually is not a good thing. A party who has been abused can believably show fear in subtle body language. Anyone who cries legitimately at a tough moment on the witness stand can be moving. But these may be the only overtly emotional poses that will not be held against you.

One of the worst things you can do in court is show exaggerated disbelief, roll your eyes, sigh deeply, or shake your head when your soon-to-be ex or her attorney is speaking. Don’t succumb to temptation and do any of this – you will hurt no one but yourself. In these instances lack of expression is better than exaggerated expression.

If you are accompanied by friends or family (and another point: bring no more than an entourage of two well-behaved folks, EVER), be sure they understand courtroom etiquette – self control and a lack of emotion are of great importance.

When your attorney or your ex’s attorney are speaking to the judge, be calm and listen expressionlessly. Jerking your attorney’s elbow and furiously whispering in her ear translates as controlling and over-anxious, and may cause the judge to disregard your position.

All of this can be very hard to do when it’s your money and your kid’s future on the line, and you are asked to appear calm, detached and dispassionate. Think of it as an opportunity to convey silently how serious you are and how respectful you are. It’s your contribution to a well-thought-out performance by your attorney.



The International Divorce and Hague Convention Maze

Posted in Alimony and Child Custody, Court Decisions, International Divorce, Parenting, Children & Divorce

Hi there,

One of the most horrifying things to happen in a divorce is to have the other parent take your child, go to another country and refuse to return. The Hague Convention is the international law that governs this type of kidnapping. Not all countries are signatories to the Hague Convention. There are also vast differences between dealing with the Hague Convention in a country that recognizes and follows it (i.e., France), and one that is a signatory, but not really compliant.

Handling a Hague Convention case is a bureaucratic maze. There are very specific rules and requirements that do not exist in an ordinary case, and there is the overlay of dealing with the State Department as well as obtaining two sets of lawyers. You will need a lawyer in the country of the children’s “habitual residence” as well as one in the country to which the children were taken. There often are language barriers as well, so typically you need to find a lawyer who is fluent in English in the country to which the children were taken.

In fact, determining the country of the children’s “habitual residence” can be problematic. Hague Convention cases are always heard in the Federal Court System in the U.S. because the Treaty is implemented by the International Child Abduction Remedies Act, 42 U.S.C. sections 11601 et seq.  This is a federal law, which supercedes state laws.

Just this week, the 1st Circuit Federal Appeals Court remanded (fancy legal word for “sent back”) to the U.S. District Court, for the District of Massachusetts, a case of determining where the involved children’s habitual residence was. The family had gone to Singapore for a three-year job placement, and after about a year and a half the mother returned to the U.S. with the children. Dad sought return of the children to Singapore.  The factual question that the Appeals Court said needed to be answered was whether the family intended to abandon the habitual residence in the United States or did they intend to retain it while residing abroad temporarily?

May you never be confronted with the complexities of a Hague Convention case. If you are, get the best counsel you can afford as soon as possible.



Valuation and Division of (Unusual) Property in Divorce

Posted in Divorce Process, Finances and Divorce, Gray Divorce

Hi there,

That handsome fellow on the right is a jackalope. He was given to one of my paralegals by a client in gratitude for her work dividing an extensive collection of very unusual stuff, which did indeed include another jackalope.

Many of you, if you divorce, will have extensive property to value and then divide, including stock options, retirement accounts, real estate, deferred compensation, and business interests. All of these will require some form of valuation. They also will require consideration as to whether they will be divided immediately, usual for retirement accounts, or one party will keep the asset and then pay the other, which is usual for real estate and business interests.

Sometimes divorce can be used to prevent divestment of an asset, as in the case of the unlovely Sterlings.

Then there are collections; I find these fascinating. I’ve had to find experts to value everything from fine art (easy) to circus memorabilia (not so easy), to jewelry, and once, designer handbags. The evolution of internet sales has made valuation of individual items a bit easier (Hermes handbags, for example, are now fairly easy to value). Also, the sheer size of a collection can increase its value. In any case, dividing the marital assets can be one of the most difficult tasks faced by divorcing couples, and a little cooperation is they key to an amicable division of assets.

Enjoy the long Memorial Day weekend!