That divorce has a major impact on the lives of children is axiomatic; it is rare that a child is better served by their parents divorcing than if they stayed together (though exceptions exist where a child’s home life with two warring parents is far worse than a peaceful single-parent household).  Even if a divorce results in a better home life for a child, there is a psychological impact on a child and how they view and approach personal relationships as they get older.

In a recent article on www.sciencedaily.com, two studies are reported on which examined the impact of divorce when it occurs early in a child’s life.  In one study, 7,735 people were surveyed about their personality and close relationships.  More than one-third of the participants experienced their parents’ divorce at an average age of 9 years old.  These individuals were “less likely to view their current relationships with their parents as secure. And people who experienced parental divorce between birth and 3 to 5 years of age were more insecure in their current relationships with their parents compared to those whose parents divorced later in childhood.”

One of the doctors conducting the study, R. Chris Fraley of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is quoted as saying, “[a] person who has a secure relationship with a parent is more likely than someone who is insecure to feel that they can trust the parent… [such] a person is more comfortable depending on the parent and is confident that the parent will be psychologically available when needed.”  The study also found that parental relationships with fathers are more affected by divorce than with mothers and that there is greater insecurity with paternal relationships than maternal.

These studies will undoubtedly inform and influence the counseling of children (and adults) affected by divorce.  Though divorces will occur, a greater understanding and emphasis as to how divorces affect people will hopefully result in children of divorce having better relationships with their parents post-divorce, but also have secure, solid relationships when they are adults.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an excellent article discussing the expanding use of spy technology in keeping tabs on wandering spouses. “A Spy-Gear Arms Race Transforms Modern Divorce.”

New technology allows folks to place GPS trackers on cars, leave hidden cameras around the house and install internet and e-mail monitoring software all for hardly more than it costs to have a nice night out on the town.  The era of hiring private investigators to snoop is over, now the common man can now play Sherlock Homes just by sitting down at his home PC.


Be careful though. The legality of interspousal spying is still an evolving area of law and could lead to serious criminal charges. In Chester County, Pennsylvania, a father of two is being charged with felony intercept of communications and unlawful use of a computer for allegedly installing a $97 spyware program on the family computer. Though the criminal charges may yet be dismissed, it is a cautionary tale to snooping spouses that a reasonable expectation of privacy exists in a marriage and that you need to respect your spouse’s private e-mail, mail and other communications records. Criminal charges are unlikely to result when the snooping occurs with documents and e-mail accounts that are left open or are in plain view. The danger lies in prying into another’s personal affairs where some sort of security or safekeeping measure has been employed evidencing a desire to keep those matters private.


So the next time you consider opening up your spouse’s private e-mail account or searching for texts on their iphone without their permission, think twice, you may be breaking the law.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an online and print article by Elizabeth Bernstein discussing a study which identified the five main reasons why people get divorced. The article and study look to divorced people to develop the common themes of their unsuccessful marriages.

While the article is designed to offer tips on how couples can stay together, I also found a few of the points instructive to individuals on surviving their divorce litigation:


Continue Reading Advice to Married Couples Works for Divorcing Couples, Too

It is the 21st century and, slowly, modern technology is making its way into the custody realm. For years, custody orders have often included provisions allowing for telephone contact between non-custodial parents and their children. For years, these provisions have been a source of contention, with non-custodial parents claiming that custodial parents block telephone access. Conversely, custodial parents often claim that the privilege of telephone contact is abused by non-custodial parents. As we discussed in an early blog, studies have shown that technology is providing an avenue for non-custodial parents (particularly fathers) to stay more involved with their children on a day-to-day basis, however, recent court decisions are showing a trend for using technology to justify significant shifts in custodial arrangements. Video chatting, among other technologies, is carving out an increasingly important role in shaping custody cases.


Various states, including Illinois and Florida, have enacted statutes allowing courts to order virtual visitation or e-visitation in custody matters. Without express statutory authority, a number of courts in other states have required custodial parents to permit non-custodial parents to communicate with their children through applications such as Skype. More troubling, however, is the recent trend in allowing parents to relocate with children, in part because the non-custodial parent can replace physical visitation with virtual visitation.


Recently, a New York judge required a mother, who planned to move with her children from New York to Florida, to arrange for Skype access between her children and their father before she was permitted to move. Debra Baker v. James Baker, 29610-2007, NYLJ 1202464436957, at *1 (Suffolk Cty. Sup., August 4, 2010). 


Similarly, a Massachusetts case in 2002 garnered headlines when a mother was permitted to move with her three young children over the objections of their very involved father. The court, in that matter, found that access to the children via video-chat would allow the father to maintain his relationship with the children. Cleri v. Cleri, Massachusetts Probate & Family Court, No. 01D-0009-D1. The father appeared on the Today show to express his outrage at the decision.


While video chat and other electronic means of communication may be beneficial in those cases where the non-custodial parent can not visit a child regularly, I question whether it is a satisfactory substitute for real visits between a parent and a child. While Skype may be an affordable alternative for a telephone call, a good old fashioned game of catch between a parent and child is priceless.

The Wall Street Journal edition for August 22, 2009 features a fine article by John Freeman which the author describes as a “manifesto for slow communication.”  What made it all the more real was the experience of the past two days.  The most memorable moments of that period were: (1) a colleague telling me that a client’s effort to start a new business was gravely set back by an errant “reply to all email” and (2) the experience of watching a family of six sit down to a Saturday night dinner in a local restaurant whereupon half the family immediately reached for their hand held devices.

I defer to Mr. Freeman:

“The ultimate form of progress… is learning to decide what is working and what is not; and working at this pace, emailing at this frantic rate is pleasing very few of us.  It is encroaching on part of our lives that should be separate or sacred; altering our minds and our ability to know our world…”

While acknowledging that this new technology has its merit Freeman notes that for the first time since the Industrial Revolution the concept of time “away” from work has begun to steadily erode.  In our new search to remain connected he notes that we now endure flotillas of unnecessary jabbering that makes it difficult to distinguish “signal from noise”.

The new phenomenon we experience today is what I will term “drive by lawyering.”  With increasing frequency clients ask to skip coming in for a personal interview in favor of a phone call. Better yet, get an answer on the fly by email. These are indeed useful devices for both lawyers and clients but they are handled without perspective.  The goal is to put your economic house in order or to formulate a new living arrangement with your children.  This kind of goal is rarely advanced in increments of ten or twenty minute conversation let alone a five minute email exchange.

Your divorce involves your family and your money.  Take the time to do your best to get it right and give your lawyer the tools and the time to do so.

The purpose of a blog is not to recount war stories.  But war stories can be illustrative.  We represent a client whose wife is a homemaker.  She has the skill set to seek employment as a teacher but, for a variety of reasons, some reasonable, some not, she has not sought employment. On behalf of Husband, we have calculated the support due and advised our client to pay it.  We did so on the basis of wife having a -0- earning capacity, even though time has made that position more and more unrealistic on wife’s behalf. Wife is represented by a smart attorney.  We know that if she thought her client was undersupported she would take the matter to court.  After more than two years of proceedings she has threatened court but never filed. Some might argue that because she did not file, our client must be overpaying.  In our judgment those people are not in business of assessing the cost of litigation and offsetting that against the broad range of possible outcomes if the case was litigated. Experience tells us to follow our gut after running several series of calculations.

In recent months wife has begun an email campaign to convince her husband to pay more.  We have told our client not to dismiss that request but the only reason to pay more than our recommended amount would be if Wife came through with a comprehensive proposal to settle the entire case.  That would save the cost of further litigation and allow our client to formulate his own “plan” to right himself financially.

This week, the email campaign went into high gear.  The client forwarded to us an email proclaiming that the $5,500 in monthly child and spousal support she was receiving was insufficient to meet her needs.  Some readers will dismiss such claims as ludicrously high.  Others would disagree. Our client has net income of roughly $12,500 per month.  Forty-five percent is the “right” amount due based upon our calculations. This estimate is based upon the guidelines now in effect in Pennsylvania for primary custodians who are not working and have primary custody of two children. The email noted what the children were not doing and how disappointed they were to not be going to particular activities where a fee is involved. The email even alleged that there was no money to take the children to the dentist.

This drove our client to the edge. The client began to chain email us and then to call.  What would we do? The family employs a psychologist to help them deal with child custody issues.  Our client phoned the psychologist, who, appropriately told our client that children should not be immersed in financial issues.  The client forwarded this advice to his spouse.  The reply was that he could tell their elementary school daughter that she would miss out from her upcoming activity as there was no money.

The client shared his reply to this with us.  He started out well.  He was paying what his lawyers told him was appropriate support.  He did not tee off on his wife about her ability to secure employment.  But then he slipped over the edge. “Tell Nancy (their daughter) to call me.”

Nothing good could come of this, so we stopped our other projects and intervened.  The psychologist had just told our client to keep the children out of support decisions. The only reason he was going to speak to his child was to address the “need” for the upcoming activity. If he took the call he was going to get a crying kid.  Not many fathers can say no to a crying child who is not in their custody.  They give in.  And in so doing they send two “wrong” messages.  The first is that the key to getting money out of a spouse is to use the kid.  Bad precedent for the child and for the custodial parent. The second message is more invidious.  The message to the child is that the real power is not with the custodial parent but with the spouse with the money. The message to the child is that “Mom is powerless, Dad is the one who makes things happen.” 

We advised our client to do nothing.  He was paying adequate support.  No one was in any real distress. We had a child who, like all children, was needy.  If he stepped forward and satisfied the need, he was creating a cycle of demands without a foreseeable end. The child learns to call a parent and cry for whatever was her need.  The dependent spouse learns to couch any need as a child’s need and let the child carry the water. 

Is this always the answer? Yes and no. There are times when an event is so unique or so important that exception should be made. But the basic premise of all support is that “needs” of divorced couples should be planned and budgeted, not handled extemporaneously. Costs are difficult to manage in a world where parties live together.  Once they split and occupy two homes, costs are all the more problematic.

There is collateral damage as well.  Seven or more emails and a phone conversation all made the cost of divorce more unmanageable. In an age when a phone is always at one’s side and text messages offer instant access to attorneys, clients tend to forget that they are spending real money.  Last week our client was ruminating about the fact that his divorce costs were mounting. Today he racked up charges that did not bring him any closer to concluding his divorce.  Rather, he came perilously close to making it last longer by creating a cycle where both his spouse and his child could increase their household budget by resort to claims of dire need.

Instant access can be a good thing.  But it is also an expensive thing.  It is not uncommon for clients to be staggered by a legal bill where they have indulged in hours of instant access legal counseling over relatively innocuous issues.

I blogged last week about an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer that discussed a study that said it was good for your blood pressure to be in a healthy marriage.

Today CNN reported on a study that shows that one way to reduce your risk of death is to argue with your spouse.  Obviously, I’m being a little facetious, but the study looked at 192 couples over a period of more than 15 years, and concluded that spouses "who kept their anger in when unfairly attacked did not live as long as those who expressed their anger". 

The key is communication.  I am often asked what I believe is the main cause for couples divorcing, and the expected answer always is adultery.  But having practiced for 20 years, I really believe that the most common cause for divorce is a lack of communication.  People just don’t talk about the issues, let them fester, and then spiral downward into divorce. 

Now there’s a study that says divorce may not be the worst thing that happens to you if you don’t express your feelings to your spouse.

The full article can be found if you click here.