Financial abuse in marriage, 3 ways to get divorced, child custody and more

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Family law attorney Jacqueline Newman discussed how to keep an inheritance from going to a spouse during divorce, ways women suffer from financial abuse in marriage, and ways social media can hurt during divorce.

Transcript:

Bob Salter: On our program this morning in Hour One, we will get into an interesting discussion with a guest who has joined us once previously.  Her name is Jacqueline Newman.  Jacqueline, in her background, is a family law attorney, Managing Partner at Berkman Bottger Newman & Rodd, here in the city.  She is going to talk with us about a couple of interesting areas of discussion. 

First of all, Jacqueline, it is nice to talk with you, again.  Good morning.  Welcome to our program.

Jacqueline Newman: Thank you for having me.

Bob Salter: I guess in beginning this discussion, when we talk about this idea of family law, this time of the year, here we are it is approaching the end of February, do you see a lot of people coming to you after the holidays?

Jacqueline Newman: Yes.  February, they actually call it “divorce time”, and one of the reasons they do that is, in January we get a lot of people that come in initially to get information about divorce because they have just gone through the holidays, and people obviously do not want to bring up the nasty word of divorce during the holidays and stuff anyone’s divorce summons into their stocking, so a lot of people come in in January with the idea that they just want to gather information.  And, then I find usually around February is when people start really taking steps forward.  They process what they received In January and move forward.  Then, I also find in Valentine’s Day, believe it or not, as much of a Hallmark holiday as it may be, a lot of times you will have a lot of phone calls after that.  So, it is a big trigger time.

Bob Salter: It is almost like a slap of reality at that point for people.  When people come to you, and they are basically doing their homework.  They are doing their exploring.  In the age in which we live, people do their shopping.  That is exactly what they are doing.  Are there typical questions they come to you with?

Jacqueline Newman: Yes.  The people generally have big concerns about their children.  Usually I will find that if I am talking to the person who is the primary caretaker, historically they will want to make sure that they continue to be the primary caretaker.  And, when I am talking to the person that is not the primary caretaker, they are very, very concerned that they are not going to have a good experience with their children and they are not going to be able to have good access.  So those, I would say, are your number one questions; and, then, of course, the second questions always have to do with the finances.

Bob Salter: Okay.  We will get into the finances in the course of this discussion in a couple of different ways, because during divorce, I am assuming one of the issues that can come up is if one of the parties has an inheritance.  How is that affected during divorce?

Jacqueline Newman: It can be affected in different ways.  Part of it depends on whether the person has a prenup or not.  Initially, just to start at a baseline, inheritance is their separate property, meaning that if you receive an inheritance during the marriage, it is going to be that person’s, the person who received it.  It is going to be their separate property.  That is kind of your baseline beginning point.  It becomes a question as to what that person did with the inheritance to determine whether that inheritance will stay separate property during a divorce proceeding.

Bob Salter: What do you mean, “What they did with it”?

Jacqueline Newman: So, for an example, if somebody had an inheritance and they put it into a joint bank account and they also put the salary they were earning into that same bank account, and then they use all of that money for dinner, vacations, and things like that, they are not going to get a credit.  It is gone.  So, that is the beginning part.  Now, if there is money that still remains, and they have comingled it with any of their marital funds, then it becomes a question of tracing and trying to figure out what money that remains was part of the inheritance, or what money was money that was earned, and that can be a very, very confusing legal argument.

Bob Salter: How, on earth, do they figure that out?

Jacqueline Newman: It is not easy.  You bring in forensics.  You bring in people that really do whole background tracing.  Sometimes it can be easy.  For example, somebody inherited stock, let us say, AT&T stock.  And, they happened to put it into a brokerage account that had other assets in it, but they never sold that AT&T stock.  It stayed exactly the same, same exact shares.  Then that is an easy tracing.  It really becomes an issue when someone sells and they buy, and then somebody is actively managing the account.  That is when it becomes much more of a challenge.

Bob Salter: This idea of the prenup.  Does everybody need one?

Jacqueline Newman: I do not think that everybody needs one.  I think there are a lot of people that need them that do not get them.  And, once in a while, I will say, I actually get people that want them, they do not need them.  But, I think if you have a second marriage, if you actively manage your assets, or if you own a business, I think under those three circumstances it is an absolute must.

Bob Salter: Does it matter the size of the business?

Jacqueline Newman: Not really because, obviously, for a really, really small business, maybe, maybe not.  But, what you are really looking to avoid with a prenup, or a postnup, for that matter, is future litigation.  So, if in fact, even if the business is not of great value, you do not want to ultimately end up spending more in legal fees than the actual value of the business fighting about it in the event of a divorce.

Bob Salter: Now, in the situation where somebody inherits property, how does that get affected in divorce proceedings?

Jacqueline Newman: When you say “property”, do you mean actual real estate, or you are just saying in general?

Bob Salter: Yes.  I am talking about real estate first.

Jacqueline Newman: Okay.  So, in the event that somebody inherits real estate.  That actually can be somewhat of a tricky thing.  So, let us say someone inherits a vacation home, and the parents in the parties go to the vacation home, the couple that inherited with their children, and they kind of live there, and they go in the summers and things like that.  And, let us say they renovate that vacation home, and they pay taxes on it and things like that, in those circumstances, the real property, the value of it at the time of the inheritance, that would still be separate property.  But, if there is appreciation due to active efforts by either of the spouses, in that situation, the appreciation could be seen as marital.  So, that becomes another legal argument that people will get into to decide whether there is just market forces that increased the value of this property or was it, in fact, active effort?  And, you also have to be sure that you, if you do intend to get a divorce, that you need to get an appraisal as of the date that you inherited it.

Bob Salter: What about a different type of property where, let us say like a rare art collection, or some artifacts?

Jacqueline Newman: A rare art collection.  That is a little simpler in most circumstances.  If somebody has, like the typical law school example of this type of thing, is that if someone inherits a piece of artwork and they put it on the wall and they do nothing about it.  They dust it every now and again, but other than that, it just stays on the wall.  That will generally maintain its separate property character.  Let us say, if the artist dies and all of sudden it skyrockets, we are going to say unless that person killed the artist, for the most part they had nothing to do with it, in which case it completely passes appreciation and then it would stay separate.

Bob Salter: And, in a case like that, do you need to have that appraised as well?

Jacqueline Newman: I would not think that that is going to be as necessary to appraise it for the purposes of keeping it separate.  There may be other reasons that people might agree that just to have a full idea of the value of some of these estates.  But, other than that, no.  I would say that if it very clearly was inherited and just left to one party, it was not left to both of them, and it has literally just been sitting on the wall and you have done nothing for it, the only thing I could see possibly being of issue is if you paid any kind of taxes on it, if you paid any kind of upkeep, if you used your marital income to do anything to enhance this asset, maybe you could argue for a credit back to the marital pot.  But, I think the asset in itself would be separate.

Bob Salter: In terms of documentation, what does one need, the party who is receiving this inheritance, what do they need to show that it was intended for them?

Jacqueline Newman: Well, the will would dictate that.  I do not think there is usually that much confusion as to who is actually inheriting it.  On occasion, that comes up more so when there are gifts like when a wife’s family will give a gift to the couple, and then it becomes an issue of whether they are giving it just to the wife.  But, if they wrote the check to both of them, that is not a good thing to do.  But, if they wrote it to just their daughter, then that is okay.  But, in regards to the documentation for an inheritance, really it is just a question of keeping the paperwork.  You do not want to be in a situation, especially with what we just talked about with the real property or anything. 

You do not want to be in a situation where you are not clear as to the value of what you received.  And the exact assets of what you received.  For example, when we were speaking about the stock, you want to make sure that it is very clear what stock you received.  You just want to have neatly lined out exactly what the value of everything you got and everything that you did, in fact, get and then, I would say, also be very careful if you do comingle it with any other assets.  Have the tracing. 

If you take an asset that you inherit, you know, you inherit some stock, you put it into your brokerage account, keep that statement that showed where it was deposited.  And, if you move it into another account, keep the next statement that shows where it went.  You want to keep in your mind that you may have to prove exactly and show the path of what happened with these assets.  And, so, I would keep all paperwork associated with that.

Bob Salter: I want to follow up on that point when we continue.  We are in a good discussion with Jacqueline Newman on our program.  She is a family law attorney, Managing Partner at Berkman Bottger Newman & Rodd, here in the city.  And, she is sharing with us some insight from her work.  Before we pause for our update and some messages, you mentioned about the idea of avoiding comingling inherited money or other assets and accounts.  And as you are saying that, I am thinking, “Well, if you are doing that, potentially wouldn’t that be something, or couldn’t that be something, which could spark conflict in a marriage or a relationship?”

Jacqueline Newman: It definitely could.  I think a lot of people, you know, it really depends on how you are going to view the inheritance.  So, without a prenup or without a postnup, or without even a discussion as to how somebody is going to view money inherited from a family in the marriage, there are definitely people that take the position that any money that comes into the marriage, regardless of the source, should be considered marital money.  And, it is just more of an emotional discussion rather than a legal one.  And, then, there are other people that say, “This is my family’s money, and it is very important to my family that the money stays directly with me.  We can use it for the benefit of our marriage; but for the most part, it is my money, and I am going to control it.” 

So, I think that that is a really important discussion that people should have just to be on the same page.  And, no one is right or wrong.  It is just a question of everybody understanding how they see it so it does not cause the conflict you were speaking of.

Bob Salter: I did not ask you this earlier because you have used the phrase that probably a lot of us have heard.  We have heard the term “prenup”.  You have used the term “postnup” a couple of times.  What is that?

Jacqueline Newman: A postnup is basically the same idea as a prenup except for the fact that it is the agreement that you enter into after the marriage.

Bob Salter: Okay.  Now, when we talk about a situation where there is not a prenup agreement in place, should titles be kept, let us say “property titles”, should they be just in one name?

Jacqueline Newman: I can speak for New York.  New York is a non-titled state, so in New York it would not really matter.  That said, if somebody inherits something and they do not want to do a postnup, and they want to keep things completely separate and not have any issues, I would recommend that they keep it separate just because if you do put it into joint name, then you are opening the door for people to say that it could have been a gift, it could have been this, it could have been that. 

So, it is easier to keep it in a single name, but the reason I bring up the fact about New York is because a lot of people will believe that if they have a bank account that even has the income that they earn, and they do not have a postnup sitting in their own name, they think it is their money.  And, that is always a big shock for people when they walk into my office, and I say, “Even if it is in your name, just really that is still a marital account.”  So, I always just want to flag that when I say, “Yes, keep it in your own name if it is separate, but if something is marital and you put it in your own name, it does not necessarily mean that now it is separate.”  Does that make sense?

Bob Salter: Yes, it does make sense.  I did not ask you something at the beginning of our discussion that perhaps I should have in pointing to your background, and I mentioned that you had spoken with us once previously.  I do not think I asked you this the time that we spoke before.  Practicing this area of law that you do and you are very experienced in this field, two aspects of this -- one, what drew you to it, and secondly, how complex do the laws get?

Jacqueline Newman: To answer your first question, it’s actually something I had wanted to do always.  My parents are both psychotherapists, but the big family joke in my house was that I was too aggressive to be a therapist.  So, this is something I have actually always wanted to do.  I definitely put all my eggs in one basket, and I have been fortunate enough, the firm that I am with, my partner, Barry Berkman, was my law school professor.  So, I have been with the firm for 17 years.  I do not even have a resume.  It is the only place I have ever been, and I absolutely, absolutely love it.  I could not see myself doing any other kind of law.  So, I feel very fortunate on that end. 

And, in answer to the complexity, it can become very complex.  Part of the problem is the laws change, so let us just begin with that.  There actually was a huge change in the spousal support law that took place on January 23rd of this year.  So, laws are always changing.  That is one thing.  The other thing that I think becomes very complex is, again, we are dealing with families.  We are dealing with every situation being somewhat different, so it is hard to have a hard fast law. 

It is hard because there is a lot of case law which, just to explain the difference, there are statutes which are the laws that the legislature makes.  And, then, there is case law, which are how a judge will interpret those laws for every specific case.  And, many cases get printed, and that is the other type of law that we will follow.  So, we will read a case and say, “This fact pattern is similar my fact pattern.  Can I use what the judge said enough to make arguments in my case?”  But, it is very hard because, again, every case is different. 

They are like snowflakes and fingerprints, and that said, it does get very complex.  The other thing is that even if the law, even if it is almost simple from a legal perspective, you have so much emotion that makes every case very, very difficult.  But, I find it really challenging, and I really enjoy it.  But, yes, the answer is, “The laws are very complex, and it is very, very hard to make cases end easily.” 

Bob Salter: We talked before, and I want to touch on this now because this ties in, I think, well with where we have talked thus far in our discussion about this idea of the financial abuse that many women suffer in marriage and how it is that they can escape it.  I guess, first of all, realistically, what is the situation like facing women in terms of financial abuse in marriage?

Jacqueline Newman: Financial abuse in marriage, sometimes it is not incredibly apparent, and other times it is.  But, what it is is when somebody, when a husband, and just to throw it out there, it is not always against women.  I definitely have seen cases where the woman may be the breadwinner or the person who controls the money, and the husband is in a financial abusive situation.  For the purposes of this discussion, I am just going to say that, because more often than not, it is the woman. 

Basically, it is when they use money to control them.  And, that is really what it comes down to.  It is pretty simple.  And, a lot of times, one of the reasons that it sometimes looks foggy is that it might just be pouring down traditional gender lines.  You know, you have the husband that goes out and he earns the money, so he controls the money, and the wife is the one who is more in charge of the house and the children.  And, so, it might not even seem to be a financial abusive situation.  Sometimes it is not. 

The issue is to know when it is happening, when the wife in these situations wants to know and be involved in the finances, and the husband says, “No.”  And, then, he allows her an allowance or whatever it might be.  And, that is where I think it becomes, he keeps her in the financial dark, and that is where it could be an abusive situation.  Not always, because again sometimes it is the makeup of the marriage.  Sometimes people are perfectly happy having one person in charge of one thing, and another person in charge of another thing; and, everybody staying out of each other’s way.  And, that is fine.  But, it is when somebody wants to be involved, and they are just being shut out.  And, the reason they are being shut out is for purposes of control, and that is when it is not a good situation.

Bob Salter: How often does that actually occur?

Jacqueline Newman: It is hard to know how much it occurs to the hard extreme where you are really in an abusive situation.  Only because sometimes it is just what they know is what maybe happened in their families when they were growing up, etc, etc.  They do not view it as abusive, and a lot of women do not even think that they have the right to ask what is going on with the finances.  And, that is not necessarily the husband’s fault.  But, this is how their mind works.  I do not know if I would call it an abusive situation because it is not the husband exerting control necessarily because the wife does not think to ask. 

But, to answer your question, I do not see cases that are that extreme that often.  Maybe a couple a year where it is really just…   I had a case once, and this is really to me the quintessential financial abuse situation, where the husband was worth tens of millions of dollars, and he would have his wife who, is home raising the children and she definitely played more of that traditional role, and he would have her account for every dime that she spent to the point of school supplies.  If she bought pencils for her child, she would have to show him the receipt. 

In my experience, that would be, I would think, considered financial abuse because he would basically cut her off if he felt that she bought, and I am not exaggerating this when I say, “too many pencils.” It was a terrible, terrible case.

Bob Salter: In situations like that, one would think well, realistically, outside of divorce, is there any other way to escape from it?

Jacqueline Newman: I would push people in those situations into therapy, because it is not about the money, really.  This is about control.  This is about power.  This is about insecurities.  There is a lot more going on, and I think if they were able to discover what is actually really going on in their marriage and why there are issues, then the money is just a result of it and their relationship with money.  So, I would encourage people if this is going on, in any type of an abusive situation or any type of situation that is where communication has just broken down to the point that a person is feeling belittled, they should be in therapy.  They should be making efforts to try to get better from it.  And, if they truly can not and somebody is in a situation where their self-esteem and everything else is being controlled, then maybe divorce is really what they have to be looking at.

Bob Salter: And, what about those situations where one spouse basically is controlling money but also is hiding money from the other spouse?

Jacqueline Newman: In a divorce situation, we generally find it.  It is actually very hard to hide money.  On TV, it looks a lot simpler than it is.  So, for the most part, in that type of situation, we would find it.  And, if they are hiding it during the marriage, the odds are the person that is not in the financials are not going to know it.

Bob Salter: You say it is actually hard to hide money?

Jacqueline Newman: Yes.  It is not an easy thing.  I say that a little quickly, but unless you are in a high cash business such as maybe owning a restaurant or dry cleaners, or things like that, that could be easier.  But, for the most part, most people, their money is traceable.  If you receive a certain amount of money from your business, let us say, you are a W2 employee, and all of a sudden, you are receiving $100,000 but we know you are spending around $20,000 or $30,000 and all you show in your bank account is $20,000 or $30,000, we know there is a problem. 

You can really go back.  In a divorce, we can bring in forensics.  That would be people that would really do full, full tracing.  We can find most money unless, again, it is a cash business and this is something that someone has been planning for a really long time.  Then, there could be bigger challenges.

Bob Salter: I would be remiss if I also did not ask you about this case that is coming into the news because, obviously, Bill Cosby has charges against him.  He and his wife have been married for 50 years.  One of the questions that has come up is, “Should she file for a divorce to protect her assets?”

Jacqueline Newman: My answer is, “Probably.”  I mean, the issues that they are going to have is that, I imagine his legal bills are going to be exorbitant.  And, that is going to be one of the big issues.  That is going to eat away from the financials.  Even though, if she had nothing to do with this, which I am going to assume for the purposes of this that she pretty much did not, I would at least, representing her, I would argue a marital waste argument, and I would say that all the legal bills and everything associated with this should not come out of her share of the assets.

Bob Salter: How do you do that?

Jacqueline Newman: You basically say that, at this point, marital waste can come up when you have somebody that is spending money on situations that are outside of the marriage, such as possibly drugs, gambling, extramarital affairs, things like that.  Now, while I cannot say that this would be necessarily, I would not guarantee this is the best argument because it does fall a little outside of the scope, my argument would be something like this, that the millions and millions of dollars he is about to spend on legal fees, or already has possibly, I do not think that that should be something that she should be paying for.

Bob Salter: Interesting discussion we are having with Jacqueline Newman on our program.  She is a family law attorney, Managing Partner at Berkman Bottger Newman & Rodd, here in the city; and, she is talking with us about a couple different areas of the field of law that she works in.  You mentioned the fact that in January, you said there was a huge change in the spousal support law.  I wanted to follow up on that.  What changed?

Jacqueline Newman: So what happened is that before this law, all we had was a formula for determining what was called “interim support”.  So, interim support would be from the time that you started divorce action up until the time that there is an actual divorce.  So, there was a formula for that.  That actually did not before, just to give you a little bit of the history, in 2010 when New York became a no-fault state, before that we had no formula at all to determine spousal support and maintenance.  So, in that time, you would look at somebody’s budget and then you would look at what someone could afford to pay, and then you would just have to do a whole analysis for it.  And, courts said that was a lot of litigation because people were arguing about somebody’s budget. 

They were arguing about what they could pay because all that is a little subjective.  So, the courts said, “Okay.”  In 2010, they put together this temporary formula, which was great.  So, we had a formula, and we were able to go into court and be able to say, “These are the numbers,” and they would just plug it into the formula and, more or less, use with a lot of caveats because there were a lot of ways you could argue around the formula.  But, more or less, you had a straight forward way to deal with this. 

However, after the divorce, you were back to the point that you were before in the fact of understanding what someone’s support should be, to be able to figure out what someone should be receiving in support after the divorce.  So, now, on January 23rd, the courts, the legislature has now put in a formula for the pre-divorce and post-divorce formulas, with maintenance calculations.  So, it is helpful.  There are a lot of issues with it, just from using it in practice.  But, the idea that at least there is a formula, some guidelines for us to work by, that is helpful.  But, there has been a big shift because now we do have something to work with that we never had before.

Bob Salter: Why was it that New York became, as you referred to it, as a “no-fault state”?

Jacqueline Newman: New York was one of the last ones to become a no-fault state.  So prior to 2010, we had to prove grounds in order to get divorced.  Somebody could not just say, “I want to get divorced.”  They had to either claim it be adultery.  They had to claim it to be abuse.  They had to claim it to be constructive abandonment which meant you did not have sexual acts despite the fact that somebody had asked you to.  So, you had to basically, in a lot of situations, people just fell out of love, they just wanted to get divorced.  But, you still had to draft some sort of verified complaint listing all these different reasons why you got divorced.  And, courts could reject them. 

I’ve had a few cases where they just did not see that the grounds were enough, so you almost had to think of more things to say that were terrible about your spouse when all you really wanted to do is say, “You know what, we are not right for each other, but I do not want to bad mouth you.”  It was a terrible thing.  A lot of people moved to New Jersey or Connecticut because they just wanted to avoid having to go through a grounds trial.

Bob Salter: And, what did that do?  What has that done to the volume of cases and also the pace with which cases move through the courts in New York?

Jacqueline Newman: From a volume perspective, it actually has not been, I think people did have a fear that now all of a sudden it was going to “easy” and, therefore, people were going to come running to the courts.  And, it really did not happen.  People were still able to get divorced.  They would just have to go through more.  So, what did happen, it obviously was a little less work for attorneys which is perfectly fine because fighting for these types of things was a terrible thing to do anyway, but it did not speed things up necessarily either.  More often than not, from a practical standpoint, is people would agree to grounds. 

Usually, people would do constructive abandonment just because, as we say, “No one is in your bedroom.  So, nobody knows what is going on.”  That was what people, I would say, did more often than not.  And, now, it is like they did not have to write those types of embarrassing things about each other in a legal document.  So, it does not necessarily speed things up because, unfortunately, what also was going on is that there have been great budget cuts in the courts, and so it takes a very long time to get divorced, just to move the papers through because of the fact that they are so under-staffed.

Bob Salter: Just back for a moment to this Bill Cosby case and, obviously, I need to state the fact that there are just charges against him.  He is not convicted of anything in terms of a formal court of law.  With the high profile nature of the sexual assault case as well as the sexual assault allegations or accusations against him, what impact could that have, or will that have, on a potential divorce proceeding if his wife chose to go that way?

Jacqueline Newman: I think that one of the biggest issues that would come up, the actual sexual assault elements or accusations as we are saying, I do not know if that will have as much of an impact as people would think it would.  Based on the fact that, assuming that he does not go to jail, and assuming that this becomes just really more of a financial element, which it looks like that is what is going to happen, then I would say that only to the degree that there will be, if she cannot argue successfully that the marital waste and any monies that are paid out to any of these alleged victims, and any legal fees, if she argues successfully that that money should come out of his side of the ledger, then I do not think this is going to have a great impact on any divorce proceeding. 

If she cannot argue that successfully, and the court basically says, “No. These are marital debts,” then whatever that expense is going to be is going to come right off the top of the martial pot.

Bob Salter: And, if they were involved in a high profile and very public divorce, could damaging evidence from that be used in his other legal battles?

Jacqueline Newman: Possibly. I do not think this is going to be as sexy as people think it is going to be from the divorce perspective.  I do not know what really would be coming out, unless she knew, unless she allegedly got him the drugs that allegedly he used on these women.  I just do not think that they are really going to be as intermingled as people would think that it would be.  I think that if she gets divorced, my guess is that if she does a divorce, she is not going to do it in a high profile way.  She is probably going to do mediation and corroborative law or something that is going to keep it under the radar. 

My understanding of her, not knowing her personally, is that she is not looking to air any dirty laundry in public, especially being that so much of it is getting aired anyway.  I mean, they have children.  She seems to be a classy person that really wants to keep her family secrets as secretive as they can be.

Bob Salter: Let us move on to social media because this is such a huge part of people’s lives.  When we talk about divorce, how big a factor is social media becoming in divorce?

Jacqueline Newman: Every day it is becoming more and more.  I am a big advocate of telling my clients to stay away from social media.  Nothing good can come from it, and only bad things can come from it.  And, people are so quick to type these little posts out and do little texts and Twitter and everything, and it is like they are just putting everything out in the public.  And, what I tell people is, “If you are comfortable with whatever you write, me handing that to a judge, then definitely do it.” 

If not, I tell people to stay away.  I joke, and I say, “Get mittens. You cannot type anything, and stay away from all of it.”  Unfortunately, people are hurt and they are going through hard times, and a lot of people feel a lot of comfort with social media, so they do not always follow my advice.

Bob Salter: So, you are telling people, “No Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram.”?

Jacqueline Newman: For the most part, they do not have to be crazy about it; but, they should not be talking about their divorce.  They should not be saying things about their children that in any way can be used against them in their divorce. 

If they want to talk about a great turkey sandwich they make, they had, or they want to talk about recipes, or if they want to talk about what their visions of the stock market, I do not care about that stuff, but I do care when they start saying anything bad about their spouse.  I care when they talk about their children.  And, I care when they talk, and what happens a lot is that you will have somebody who will brag about some great deal they just closed or some new vacation they are going on, or a new car they just bought, and they are making those arguments the same time they are saying they cannot afford to pay for child support.  That is where it could be an issue.

Bob Salter: That would seem to be a bit of a conflict, to say the least.  The reality of the impact of social media, how often do you see this being used when it comes to, let us say, custody cases?

Jacqueline Newman: It definitely is coming up, because what will happen is a lot of times people will post something.  There is actually, and I do not know if you remember, Bethany Frankel had posted a picture of her wearing her daughter’s pajamas, or something like that.  And, I am sure she thought she was being funny, but I can tell you that the judge was thoroughly offended by it.  And, it is one of those things that do I think she meant harm by it, probably not.  But, I can tell you that the judge that they were working on was not happy and found it to be inappropriate and it is just one of those things. 

It was not worth it.  It was not a smart thing to do.  I know Madonna just had issues in the fact that she was posting and making jokes at her son over social media, which I am sure if she was doing it over the kitchen table, would be fine.  But, the fact that she was doing it in front of her millions and millions of followers, it was very upsetting to him.  And, I just do not think that people recognize that when they put something out there how other people are going to interpret it.  I think they look at it just as the way they are interpreting it and what their intent was, but any time you say that even with an email, you cannot get necessarily the full message when you are typing something on a computer.

Bob Salter: Why is it that people just do not seem to get that?  I can understand, to some extent, and I do not want to sound like I am Methuselah here and I am a million years old, but people who are younger, they are in perhaps their 20s or early 30s, maybe they are not as aware, but there are a lot of people who are a lot older than that who, one would think, should know better.

Jacqueline Newman: I tend to agree, and I have told people to stop going on social media, clients.  And, I have said, what seems very obvious to me, they look like I am chopping off their left arm.  I mean, I think that people are very addicted.  I think there is this immediate gratification that people get.  I think that people feel part of a community when they are posting these type of things, and I think there is also this element of not knowing who is seeing it, so it almost feels like you are, you talk about how you can speak more openly to a stranger than to your best friend.  And, there is, I think, that element of that. 

People going through a divorce, it happens almost more because they just feel they want to be understood.  And, I’m sure if they are posting something out to their 10,000 followers, someone is going to understand them.  And, someone is going to give them that connection and validity.  But, it is not worth it.  It is just not a smart thing to do, but people get caught in the moment.  They are not thinking big term.  And, they are not thinking big picture.  And, it is a problem.  It is definitely something that, again, I encourage people over and over again, please do not go on social media and do this because it is an electric footprint.  It is not going anywhere, and courts will see it.  And, it will be twisted and people will just use it against you.  Is that really worth it for the two minutes of satisfaction that you got?

Bob Salter: With the pace of everything being so increased because of this access to information, do you feel that because of social media today that divorces are tending to happen faster than they did in the past?

Jacqueline Newman: I think they are.  I think that a lot of things are happening.  One of the things that people are connecting, the people from their past, in a way they were not able to before, and I think there is a lot of voyeurism.  People are looking at other people’s lives, and I think that, we always say like “Facebook happy”.  Very rarely do you see a post where their child is screaming hysterically in a mall.  Instead, you see the happy pictures.  And, so everybody thinks everybody else’s lives are so perfect, and their marriages are so perfect. 

But, I think it makes people more angry at their own lives.  And, I think that what is also going on is that people are connecting in a way, oddly enough, they are not connecting in a certain way, but they are connecting in another way where if you had, and I am being a little stereotypical, but if you had somebody who is a stay-at-home mom who feels isolated in her own world, then just kind of thought that what she was going through was normal but not knowing that maybe it is not normal, and when they are able to go on social media and see other people that are saying, “No, this is not a good thing, and your husband should not be doing this,” or whatever it might be, even the financial abuse that we spoke about before. 

People might not even know it is happening, and then when you start writing things out to other people, and especially there are so many groups and things like that, they start to see that this is not okay, and I think that is leading to a lot more divorces.  I think people are just realizing that more people are dissatisfied in their marriages than they thought they were.

Bob Salter: And are there cases where a person will use, because sometimes people know their ex’s passwords, they will get access to that person’s profile and potentially, I would think, that could have ramifications back for the person who does that?

Jacqueline Newman: Yes, I would recommend people do not do that. 

Bob Salter: Have you known people who have done that?

Jacqueline Newman: Yes, I have, and I recommend to them that they do not do it.

Bob Salter: That is pretty incredible.  I mean, why would somebody even think of doing something like that?  I just fail to understand that.

Jacqueline Newman: You know, the one thing I say is that when, someone told me this saying once and I think it is very appropriate for people divorcing, they say, “Divorce law and criminal law are very similar.  Criminal law you have bad people on their best behavior, and in divorce you have good people on their worst behavior.”  So, I think that that kind of answers why a lot of people do some of the things that I am sure they would not be doing if they were not going through such a stressful time in their lives.

Bob Salter: Does divorce have to be acrimonial?

Jacqueline Newman: No.  It absolutely does not.  And, one of the things that I am very proud of with my firm specifically is that we offer mediation and collaborative law as alternatives to litigation.  We do litigate as well, but I want people to know that there are options.  You do not have to be having this drag out fight in court that you see on TV.  There are a lot of different ways to do it.  And, I would say the majority of our cases do settle outside of court.

Bob Salter: Our guest is Jacqueline Newman.  Her voice has been with us in this hour of our program.  She is a family law attorney, Managing Partner at Berkman Bottger Newman & Rodd, here in the city.  You have shared an awful lot with us in this discussion.  Obviously you have a great deal of enjoyment with the work that you do as well, Jacqueline.  Thank you very much for providing us with some insights on exactly some of the things that are happening in your field.