State laws give us some very specific rules about legal relationships in traditional families. But there are a lot of un-traditional families and unique circumstances that need special legal protection. The time to put those protections into place is before anything happens.
We have a great deal of experience in this arena. We write strong prenuptial agreements. We help unmarried couples, including same-gender couples, define their relationships and adopt, raise and protect their children.
But what if you’re part of a traditional marriage that is falling apart? Even if the divorce is cordial, you still need to make sure you get your share of the assets and provide for your children. And if it isn’t cordial? Then you need somebody fighting tooth and claw to get what’s coming to you and to keep your children safe.
In this mobile society, it’s not unusual for these legal battles to be carried out in different states. We expertly navigate multiple legal systems to protect our clients’ rights.
Property Settlement in a Divorce – Don’t Give Away the Farm
by Armene Kaye
Assets. Everyone wants them and no one wants to give them up, especially in a divorce. Many adults are of the mindset that “the one with the most toys wins.” Understandably, many of us have worked hard to get to where we are and take pride in all the trappings that follow.
During a marriage, most couples acquire assets and a few liabilities along the way. The most common assets include a marital home, a vacation home, automobiles, boats, pensions and financial investments, just to name a few. Liabilities are items such as mortgages, equity and installment loans, medical expenses and credit card debt. Neither of these lists is inclusive, but it gives you an idea of what family law attorneys keep in mind when developing a property settlement plan.
Many people concentrate their focus on child support and custody, but property settlement can be an emotionally charged area as well. Imagine the struggle that occurs when deciding whether to sell the house and split the proceeds. But there are other options as well. Often one spouse can remain in the home and buy the other out after refinancing has occurred. A good lawyer will advise you to select the financial decision that is right for you and your future.
For those couples that do not have children, it is highly likely that they have acquired substantial assets with their greater disposable income. For any couple facing a split-up, dividing their assets and debts equitably is the key to a new start in life. And if there is a business involved, that can become a complicating factor in the financial settlement. A professional valuation of the business is often essential to a proper determination of its worth. Keep in mind that the key to successful negotiations is properly evaluating your assets and liabilities.
Unfortunately, little thought may be given to the property settlement when the focus is on just trying to survive the divorce in one piece. It’s possible that you might not be aware of what qualifies as a marital asset or whether your spouse has been secreting away assets while preparing for a divorce.
It is also important to know that separate property is not always separated from the marital estate. That can be a major disappointment to those that have received an inheritance prior to the marriage and then commingled the funds afterwards. You can’t trust your family, friends or co-workers to know what you’re entitled to keep at the end of your marriage. It is the courts that have the broad discretion in dividing marital and separate property and making the decision with regard to which categories your assets will fall into.
Without question, you need a skilled negotiator to assist you in retaining desirable assets while preventing you from acquiring more than your fair share of the debts. It is not an enviable position to discover that you were awarded more debt than assets in the judgment of divorce. And don’t forget that some hard fought battles are won only to find out that the tax consequences of winning were not taken into consideration. Financial security and independence cannot be achieved if you unwittingly gave away the farm.
from an article written for the Detroit Legal News, April 22, 2011
Marriage: Unequal Rights Under the Law
by Armene Kaye
The wedding expo coming up on May 1 in Livonia, which was created for same-gender couples, demonstrates that the subject of gay marriage isn’t going to go away. It’s an issue that is gaining national attention and momentum. Last month, Congress introduced the Respect for Marriage Act, which would serve to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) of 1996. It is widely seen as balancing the scales of justice in favor of marriage equality regardless of gender-based issues, or gender-biased issues as I prefer to call them. DOMA is the federal law signed by then President Bill Clinton that allowed the federal government to narrowly define marriage as the legal union between one man and one woman.
On Feb. 23, 2011, the U.S. Attorney General announced that the Obama Administration would no longer defend DOMA Section 3 in court, which interestingly enough is the section that defines marriage for federal purposes. The following day, the Department of Justice notified the First Circuit Court of Appeals that it would “cease to defend” a pending case challenging the constitutionality of DOMA. It is quite remarkable that only 15 years separate the two Democratic presidents with such a dramatic reversal in their administration’s policy toward the enforcement of DOMA.
Seven jurisdictions now recognize marriage equality since the enactment of DOMA’s discriminatory intrusion into the private lives of U.S. citizens. Those included are Connecticut, District of Columbia, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. California is also included primarily because it allowed some 18,000 same-gender couples that married in 2008 to remain legally married today. The issuing of marriage licenses in California was halted with the passage of Proposition 8, a citizen led referendum that prohibited the state from legalizing same-gender marriages. It remains to be seen whether the public at large can initiate discrimination into their state’s constitution by voting on the rights of a suspect class of fellow-citizens.
From this attorney’s perspective, it’s simply a matter of when, and not if, our government resolves to fully recognize the constitutional rights intended to be conferred upon all citizens. This would naturally include the legal ability to marry the person you love and cherish until death do you part.
In the meantime, eight states have enacted benefits and responsibilities of marriage for same-gender couples. However noble that may appear, they attached a label such as civil union or domestic partnership and not that of “marriage” in their endeavor to move the issue forward. To many, including this author, it is the mark of inferiority or yet another notation further identifying a second-class citizenry amongst us. It’s not just another debate in semantics, but an example of how good intentions often miss the mark.
The General Accounting Office has previously identified 1,138 federal statutory provisions in the United States Code in which marital status is a factor in determining or receiving benefits, rights, and privileges. In essence, there are over a thousand benefits that are bestowed upon heterosexual couples with the issuance of a marriage license.
It turns out that opposite-sex married people have a great deal of significant advantages in the area of estate planning, income tax, housing, pensions, social security, insurance and healthcare decisions just to name a few. It’s simply astonishing how many areas that LGBT couples, otherwise engaged in loving and committed relationships, are relegated to the status of second class citizenship.
Nonetheless, gay couples can take legal measures to honor their relationships through the creation of various deeds, wills, trusts and contractual agreements. I have personally found a great deal of satisfaction in sharing my knowledge and skill with those that had given up hope on receiving any legal recognition of their status as a family.
The more widespread the inequities have become, the more frustrating the wait for equality. Many years ago, I began to address key areas of concern for domestic partners. With a great deal of determination and matched effort, I tailored my legal services to those clients with unique needs such as those within the gay community. Proactive measures can be taken while waiting for equality under the law to arrive. We have the ability to offer legal documents such as a Durable Power of Attorney, Designation of Patient Advocate and Domestic Partnership Agreement to establish certain rights and responsibilities until the government offers a more permanent solution. While the aforementioned is not meant to be an all inclusive list, it is a good start. Simply put, one cannot wait for the government to grant legal recognition when there are other means to immediately establish legal rights and protections.
For me, the debate ended a long time ago. It’s not about gay marriage. It’s about marriage, stupid. It’s about couples that want to pursue a lifetime of commitment to each other with full legal acknowledgment of their relationship. No matter how hard some may try, they can’t stop the inevitable progression of equal access to legal marriage. The politician and gay activist Harvey Milk said that gay rights were a “simple matter of justice.” Adding to further the notion to marriage equality and rightfully so, love conquers all.
“To Have and to Hold: The Same Sex Wedding Expo will take place on Sunday, May 1 from 3 to 8 p.m. at the Detroit Marriott Livonia. Information at
Armene Kaye has worked in private practice since 1999 at the Law Offices of Armene Kaye, P.C., a full service law office providing legal advice and services throughout the Metro-Detroit area. Kaye also offers practical legal alternatives for the specific needs of the LGBT community statewide.
She can be reached at (248) 496-9500