Pro Tip: Get Involved and Stay Informed In Your Family Law Matter

by Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.          3 minute read

The best case outcomes in many family law matters depend on active, ongoing client involvement and two-way communication between attorney and client. A good working relationship between attorney and client is often essential for a good outcome in family law matters.

Unlike some other areas of law practice, family law matters depend on open, ongoing, two-way communication between lawyer and client. Divorce and child custody matters are often emotional. Events often take place during family law litigation that could impact the outcome of a case. Unless the client and his or her counsel have an open line of communication, the chances for the best possible outcome can decline.

Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.

Common reasons why some clients are reluctant to keep their counsel abreast of new developments in their family law matter. 

a) Some clients feel like they will be overcharged for sending their lawyer a short email or asking a simple question. If you find yourself in this situation, bring it up to your lawyer without delay.

b) Sometimes a client will think that newly discovered information will hurt their case, so they say nothing and hope it goes unnoticed. This is a big mistake. Let your lawyer decide what is important. If you don’t keep your lawyer informed, you could get blindsided at trial.

c) Some family law clients are simply not in an emotional state to stay on top of the issues involved in a high conflict family law matter. This is common. The best thing to do is seek professional help. Mental health treatment can be a key component to becoming the best person you can be. There is no shame or stigma for reaching out for professional help, especially in times of great stress. Do not wait.

Your attorney is your advocate. Forming a great working relationship can often impact the result in your family law matter. I invite your inquiry. Feel free to contact my office at (610) 256 4843.

Avvo - Rate your Lawyer. Get Free Legal Advice.

 

 

Using Social Media in Child Support and Child Custody Cases

by Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.                             3 minute read

Use Social Media With Extreme Caution During Your Child Support or Child Custody Matter 

Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms are fertile grounds for family law attorneys to gather evidence in support or custody cases. Skilled attorneys can navigate the Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence to get the social media postings authenticated, and admitted in evidence.

Heavy Drinking, Drug Abuse, and Reckless Behavior Should Not Be Undertaken and Then Documented on Social Media if you are in a Custody Battle. 

It always amazes me how some people doom their own family law case by posting damaging evidence on their own social media accounts.

I recently represented a father in a high conflict child custody case. The mother had dozens of postings on her social media profiles proudly displaying her hard partying, illicit drug taking, intoxicated lifestyle. In nearly every photo she posted on her social media accounts, this mother was holding a beer can, or a shot glass, or a marijuana pipe, and she always appeared impaired and disheveled. The young child who was the subject of this custody dispute also appeared in many of the mother’s social media postings.

A good lawyer will have relevant social media postings admitted in evidence at trial.

I properly authenticated every single social media posting of the mother that my client obtained off of the mother’s social media accounts. Every piece of evidence was admitted in evidence. Needless to say, I was able to secure a great result for the father. Pictures don’t lie. Especially when you have dozens of pictures, all with the common feature of mother’s frequent heavy drinking, and frequent heavy cannabis use, while she had  physical custody of the young child. In the days before social media, obtaining this type and quantity of evidence would have been much more difficult, if not impossible. I am amazed that some people have no idea how they continue to doom their own child custody case via their use of social media.

Evidence From Social Media May Be Used in Spousal and Child Support Cases

In recent years, evidence retrieved from social media platforms has been used by savvy attorneys to support allegations of hidden assets or the underreporting of income. Social media postings by litigants in support cases who post details of frequent exotic trips, and their fancy new six-figure automobiles, can and do work against certain litigants in a support case. I am amazed how often litigants unthinkingly post photos of their new exotic sports cars, and expensive trips (often with their new paramour), even though they have a pending, hotly contested, support case where they claim an income that cannot possibly support such a lifestyle.

If you are a litigant in a support matter, use proper discretion when posting personal information about your new Italian sports car on social media.

For some reason, certain family law litigants seem to create problems for themselves by making bad decisions, being reckless, then documenting their recklessness on social media platforms for the whole world to see and discover.

Always try to think things through, with a clear head, and make good decisions that will impact your family law case in a positive manner.

Feel free to contact my office at 610 256 4843 to schedule a consultation about your family law matter.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Avvo - Rate your Lawyer. Get Free Legal Advice.

Why Parents (usually not the courts) are in the Best Position to Decide Child Custody Issues

by Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.

I recently worked on a custody matter involving the parents of a beautiful preschooler. The parents were never married. They do not even like each other very much. In fact, they hardly communicate at all. They have both entered into new relationships. Their five year old is now part of two new blended families. Everybody wants to be with the child as much as possible. It was very easy to understand why.

Keep your child out of the middle

One of the major issues in the custody case centered on where the child would be over the holidays. Christmas Eve. Christmas Day. New Year’s Day. Memorial Day weekend. Mother’s Day. Father’s Day. Labor Day weekend.

After about 20 minutes of the parents complaining about who was responsible for the demise of their ability to communicate, and each dredging up old allegations of misdeeds by the other parent, everything suddenly changed. The two parents started talking to each other about what made sense for their 5 year-old. Once the parents focus shifted off of their needs and wants, and onto the needs and best interests of the child, the parties were able to come up with a comprehensive, agreed custody order, which the court ultimately approved. The comprehensive custody order was then placed on the docket, and became an Order of Court.

THE COURTS NORMALLY CANNOT KNOW MORE ABOUT YOUR CHILD, AND WHAT IS BEST FOR YOUR CHILD, THAN YOU KNOW

With very limited exception, (i.e. a parent who has a drug or alcohol problem, who neglects or abuses a child, who has a serious untreated mental illness impacting the well being of the child, etc.), parents (not the courts) are usually in the best position to know what is in the best interests of their own child. Some kids can transition easily from household to household. Other kids need a day (or two) to settle in after a custody exchange. Parents are normally in the best position to determine what matters most, and how children will react.

In my case example above, many of the minor, but important details started to emerge as the parents of the child opened up the lines of communication with each other, with the focus on their son. Bedtime, food likes and dislikes, doctor well-visits, preschool, vacation schedules, visitation for both sets of the child’s grandparents, who wished to spend quality time with their grandchild. Once the parents focused on their child, the meeting took on a life of it’s own. In less than 90 minutes, every open custody issue was discussed, resolved, memorialized, and ultimately made an Order of Court. Not easy, but worth it.

NOTEWORTHY BENEFITS WHEN PARENTS AGREE ON THE CUSTODY OF THEIR CHILDREN: THE FINANCIAL AND EMOTIONAL COSTS TO RESOLVE THE CUSTODY DISPUTE PLUMMETED. 

In the custody matter I describe above, the parents saved a significant amount of time, financial resources, and emotional energy by working together for the benefit of their toddler. No more custody court hearings, and the need to take time off from work to attend. No more custody related attorney’s fees, and costs. Great things happen when everyone focuses on the best interests of the child, and finds a way to work together with a laser-like focus. Again, not easy, but worth it.

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 11.25.00 AMAVVO TOP CONTRIBUTOR CHILD CUSTODY BADGE

 

How family law boutiques and solo practitioners are reinventing the delivery of excellent legal services

by Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.

Perhaps more than any area of law, solo and small firm family law attorneys, have created a sustainable competitive advantage in the legal services marketplace.

One great family law attorney with whom you work closely can usually get a better result than five average family law attorneys
Depending on the specific facts of your case, one great family law attorney with whom you have a close, trusting relationship, can usually create better results than if you hired five general practitioner lawyers to work on your family law matter. Strive hard to find the one best lawyer for you and your case.

The delivery of excellent legal services, especially in family law (and to a great extent, criminal defense) matters, depends to a huge degree, on the specific attorney you hire. Not the building they work in. Not the number of attorneys on the letterhead. Not the number of offices the firm has around the state or offices they have around the world. The law school the attorney attended matters very little, if at all. The attorney you hire and your working relationship with that attorney, are perhaps the most important factors in the results you obtain in a family law matter. This concept cannot be over-emphasized.

In my opinion, some of the best family law attorneys work solo or in a family law focused, small law firm.  With very limited exception, they are not usually part of a firm with hundreds or thousands of lawyers. Some attorneys charge a flat fee. Others charge by the hour, in 6 minute increments. Some have a unique billing system based on specific services. Some lawyers use a sliding fee scale. Some bundle or unbundle their legal services. Some work fast. Others work slowly. Speak candidly about costs and fees when you interview any potential attorney. I do not know of any outstanding attorney who will shy away from answering your questions about costs and fees. In Pennsylvania, the rules of professional conduct require a written fee agreement between attorney and client. Read it. Understand it. Ask questions. Stay informed.

An attorney’s billable hourly rate does not necessarily correlate with your total legal costs. A $250 hourly rate is not efficient if it takes three times as long to bring a matter to a successful conclusion. Conversely, an attorney with a lower than average hourly rate does not mean an attorney is not competent or cannot deliver a great result in any particular matter. In fact, lower than average billing rates can mean “big law firm overhead” has been cut out of the equation and the savings has been passed along to the client.

A high hourly billing rate does not guarantee great results or that the attorney is a good fit for your high net-worth divorce matter, or even that the attorney is a good fit for you. Some attorneys who have a higher hourly billing rate work quickly and very effectively. In the end, they can actually save the client money.

Talk to your lawyer about their use and mastery of technology before hiring him or her. The century-old methods of delivering legal services is no longer tolerated in today’s competitive environment. No family law attorney needs to keep an extensive, physical law library. Cases and statutes are instantly available online.

With limited exception, most legal filings in PA state courts of common pleas can be done electronically. Make sure your family law attorney files court documents electronically whenever possible. Your lawyer should strive to leverage technology in an effort to save your money.

As previously stated in an earlier blog: when choosing a family law attorney, search vigorously, select wisely. In the end, you will be glad you did.

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 11.25.12 AMScreen Shot 2016-04-08 at 11.25.26 AMScreen Shot 2016-04-08 at 11.25.00 AMScreen Shot 2016-04-08 at 11.25.48 AM

 

 

 

 

 

 

“My prenuptial agreement was written in NY, we both signed it in NJ, we had a destination wedding in Napa Valley CA, we moved to AZ, and now we are getting divorced in PA. What state law will be used to interpret and enforce my prenup?”

by Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.

No, this isn’t a bar exam question. It is real life. How many adults do you know who have lived in the same state their entire life? Probably not too many. People are more mobile today than ever. A properly drafted and properly executed prenuptial agreement will help answer what state law will control in the event the prenup needs to be enforced. Since we live in a mobile society, and state laws vary widely, this issue could “make-or-break” the enforceability of your document.

Prenuptial Agreements are carefully crafted documents, tailored to suit your specific situation and your specific needs and goals.

I love when people inquire about prenuptial agreements. It shows they are taking a cautiously optimistic, yet pragmatic view regarding how life can and does change. People change over time. Circumstances change. Laws change. In the unfortunate event of divorce (or death), a properly drafted and executed prenuptial agreement can make the divorce process easier, more efficient, and help ensure you do not lose all that you have amassed. Properly drafted, and executed, a prenup is one very useful document.

Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.
Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.

Prenups make sense. When properly written and executed, prenups save time and money. They can help you exit from a non-functioning marriage without paying a king’s ransom to your lawyer and/or being potentially victimized by a non-cooperative, or unrealistic, soon-to-be ex-spouse. Prenups can help protect assets that you have earmarked for your children from a prior marriage. Prenups can help protect your assets from being depleted by the well meaning, but often slow churning, and over-burdened court system. As a very general rule, the less time you spend in court fighting over divorce related issues, the better off you will be at the end of the divorce process.

I believe the best legal advice is forward thinking, with the aim to keep you out of court as much as possible. A well drafted and properly executed prenup should be part of a pragmatic, forward thinking strategy.

Prenuptial agreements are never standard or “boilerplate” agreements. 

No two prenuptial agreements are exactly alike. Everyone has different assets, different goals, different financial histories and different family histories. While most prenuptial agreements are put in place in the event of divorce or death, no two marriages share an identical set of facts and circumstances.  You should never take a prenuptial agreement written for someone else and simply substitute your own information.

Like all contracts, the parties must enter into a prenuptial agreement voluntarily. Prenups require full disclosure. No surprises. 

If you are thinking about springing a prenuptial agreement on your significant other during the rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding, you can forget it. In most, if not all jurisdictions, a prenuptial agreement will not be enforced if the party seeking to have the prenup set aside can prove they were not given adequate time and a reasonable opportunity to review the document with independent counsel of their own choosing. Presenting a prenup for the first time and demanding it be signed a few days prior to a wedding is inviting trouble down the road. Some jurisdictions require a minimum amount of time for the parties to retain separate counsel,  to examine, and to sign a prenup. The earlier you handle discussing and putting a prenup in place, normally the better. Getting a prenuptial agreement properly wrapped up before the wedding invitations are mailed is one suggestion that deserves serious consideration.

If you are planning to marry and would like to learn more about how a prenuptial agreement can help protect you, please feel free to contact me via email at jonathancnobleesq@gmail.com or call my office at 610 256 4843 to set up an initial consultation.

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 11.26.25 AMScreen Shot 2016-04-08 at 11.25.26 AMScreen Shot 2016-04-08 at 11.25.37 AM

A VC’s Term Sheet and a Prenuptial Agreement – both define important legal rights at exit

New businesses are started every day around the world. Some businesses will become hugely successful (i.e. Twitter, Google, Amazon, Facebook), others, not so much. Many start-up businesses seek funding to help grow their business. The source of start-up funds often comes from a venture capitalist, also known as a VC. Angel investors are similar to venture capitalists, but they usually provide seed-stage funding (less than $1,000,000). Often, angel investors are high net worth individuals with excess liquid capital they want to invest. As this blog post is being written (May 2015), the amount of angel investment money and venture capital money available to fund new ventures has never been higher. However, it still remains very difficult for many start up companies to raise money from angel investors and VC’s for reasons beyond the scope of this blog post.

Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.
Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.

When founders and VC’s choose to work with each other, some people, (myself included), believe it is similar to a marriage, with one major exception. Investors almost always expect their investment relationship in the companies they finance (known as their “portfolio companies”) to eventually end. VC’s properly prepare an exit strategy from day one.

Unlike a marriage, nearly every single investor has the primary goal of someday exiting the company they once funded.  For many reasons, some investors remain on the board of directors of their portfolio companies even after the company has gone public or has been acquired.

Certain provisions contained in a VC’s term sheet act like a prenuptial agreement for investors. A term sheet controls the economics of the investment deal when the relationship between the portfolio company and the investor ends. In many ways, prenuptial agreements act in the same manner as a term sheet. 

In very basic terms, before money changes hands between the investor  (VC or angel) and the founders of a company, a document known as a term sheet must be negotiated and signed by both. The term sheet is a critical document for both the founder and the potential investor. The term sheet controls the economics of the deal and often, control of the company. Basically, the term sheet sets forth the economic terms when the company experiences a liquidity event. The term sheet establishes who is entitled to how much money when the company is acquired, merged, issues an initial public offering (IPO), or the company is otherwise liquidated. Modern day investors could not function without a term sheet.

In the technology sector, it is not unusual for some investors to earn 25 to 50 times back on their initial investment if a company they funded becomes successful. If you were an early investor in Google or Facebook, that could translate into hundreds of millions of dollars in profit. The term sheet becomes critical when valuing the everyone’s share of the company.

What does a term sheet have in common with a prenuptial agreement? 

Venture capitalists and angel investors make investments with the expectation they will eventually exit. In contrast, people do not marry each other with the expectation that they will eventually divorce. However, statistics tell us about 50% of first time marriages in the United States end in divorce. The divorce rate is even higher for second and third marriages.

Given the high likelihood of divorce, having a prenuptial agreement in place is simply a good economic decision. For high net worth individuals, it can save tens of thousands of dollars, (or more) in legal fees and costs in the event your marriage ends.

At first, it may seem difficult to approach the subject of entering into a prenuptial agreement. In reality, many people are surprised to discover the idea is welcomed and even embraced by their significant other.

Avvo - Rate your Lawyer. Get Free Legal Advice.

 

Writing a $974,790,317.77 check and moving on in divorce

Sometimes keeping things in perspective is half of the battle.

Recently, a couple from the midwest (Harold and Sue Ann) were going through a divorce. Harold is a billionaire, but his fortune is largely tied to the price of oil. Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.The price of oil can and does fluctuate . Therefore the value of their marital assets can and do fluctuate.

 

The court valued Harold and Sue Ann’s marital estate at a little over two billion dollars. The Oklahoma divorce court awarded Sue Ann almost half. In an effort to end the divorce proceedings, Harold decided to write a check to Sue Ann for $974,790,317.77. You may have already seen a copy of the widely publicized check.

Here is a link from Reuters with the story and an image of Harold’s handwritten check to Sue Ann:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/01/09/us-hamm-divorce-wife-idUSKBN0KH2BK20150109

Sue Ann allegedly vowed to appeal the award, claiming Harold’s company was worth much more. A few days later, she cashed the check, pretty much ending her rights on appeal regarding the valuation and distribution of marital assets.

Why is this story important? 

This story is important because this couple could have spent more money on lawyers fighting over millions (or billions) of dollars, with absolutely no guarantee of a positive outcome for either party. I imagine Harold is a very smart guy. Instead of fighting for an indeterminate amount of time with no guarantee that either party would achieve a better outcome, he simply wrote a check that “got the deal done”.  Harold simply wrote a check to Sue Ann for $974,790,317.77. She deposited the check a few days later. Here below is a link to the story from CBS news:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/harold-hamms-ex-wife-cashes-billion-dollar-divorce-check/

Harold appeared on CNBC soon after Sue Ann cashed the check. Here is the link to his very short interview:

http://www.cnbc.com/id/102462914

Notice Harold’s mindset. During the CNBC interview, he said his divorce is “in the rearview mirror, movin’ on”.

While the case may still be pending on appeal, many legal analysts believe that Sue Ann faces an uphill battle to overturn the award on appeal.

For some going through divorce, the story of Harold and Sue Ann should act as a reminder that setting smart goals (i.e. putting the divorce in the rearview and movin’ on) is often an important part of a good overall strategy.