As a family lawyer specializing in high net worth and high profile cases for more than 35 years, you can imagine that I have seen it all. Representing many celebrities—often involving complex, high conflict matters—I have observed that whatever the salacious headlines, particular facts, and circumstances of each case, there is one important commonality: control.
It is a given that every case I handle will have its share of “issues,” many of which go beyond the division of assets. Frequently, some urgent situation or chronic problem creates a dispute involving the need/desire/obsession of one party to dominate the other. Neither gender has exclusivity when it comes to pursuing, possessing, and asserting control, whether during the marriage, the divorce, or its aftermath. The reality is: Control is prevalent in any relationship. And, when couples are jockeying for it, a legal case becomes a contest. All too often, contests escalate to wars because, by nature, human beings are competitive. Continue reading →
For the past two years, I have enjoyed sharing with you my perspectives on many aspects of family law as they relate to high-net-worth individuals. In this advisory, I want to give you a bird’s-eye view into a conversation I had recently with nationally renowned sports law attorney Jay K. Reisinger, partner at Farrell & Reisinger LLC in Pittsburgh, PA. Jay’s practice focuses primarily on sports law, white collar criminal defense, and complex litigation. It turns out that our areas of legal specialty intersect frequently, as divorce and custody issues present thorny challenges when professional athletes are our clients.
Stacy D. Phillips Jay, how are professional athletes different from C-suite executives in the work you do?
Jay K. Reisinger First and foremost, pro athletes (whether in baseball, hockey, basketball, or football) have exceedingly short earning spans. Unlike top executives whose careers can move upward and outward for many lucrative years, the majority of players make significant dollars for just six to eight years. Not surprisingly, the average pro football player’s career lasts no more than two years. Continue reading →
In dissolutions of high-net-worth and celebrity marriages or domestic partnerships, intellectual property rights, profit participation, residuals, and royalties often represent the most valuable of all the assets. They frequently become a battleground for control. Contracts are typically made over long periods of time, and are constantly renegotiated and amended. Valuing such assets can quickly become a hotly contested issue. These assets require a sophisticated and experienced family law attorney, working with a top forensic accountant, who understands the nuances involved.
The matter of support is often a particularly difficult challenge when the major earner of the couple is a professional sports figure. Because their ability to play and earn at the highest levels is limited to a finite time period, support (both spousal and child)—and custody, for that matter—could change dramatically when the professional’s career ends. The lifetime of an entertainer’s career can be similarly brief or span decades, presenting equally complex implications. These are nuances that must be managed when the income of the earning spouse/parent exceeds the couple’s marital standard of living and/or the reasonable needs of the children.
Child custody is another highly nuanced area of family law, particularly when one or both parents are required to be “on location” or travel extensively for business. The amount of time spent with the children, where that time is spent, the level of child support, the ages of the children—all are factors that impact custody agreements. If a parent’s absence is due to filming away from home, for example, is that parent entitled to makeup time? Are the children to visit on location, missing school, friends and their normal routine? Are the children of an age to fly alone? These sorts of custody arrangements are, in many cases, subject to annual renegotiation depending on the working parents’ professional demands. All too often, these negotiations can devolve into contentious Control Wars.
What is especially difficult about most divorce and custody cases is that this tug of war over control does not begin or end in my office or the courtroom. It may go on for years, long after the divorce decree or judgment of paternity is official. I truly believe that a better understanding of how to mitigate control battles would greatly benefit anyone contemplating or in the midst of divorce, and those who suffer from what I term “divorce residue.” Attorneys, even the best ones, cannot be expected to stop these battles or manage the other party. I have seen, however, that if both parties resolve to diminish the legal, financial, and emotional Control Wars, there is hope for the prospect of healing and peace.
As a family lawyer specializing in high-net-worth and high profile cases for more than 30 years, you can imagine that I have seen it all. Representing many celebrities—often involving financially complex, high conflict matters—I have observed that whatever the salacious headlines, particular facts, and individual circumstances of each case, there is one important commonality: control.
It is a given that every case I handle will have its share of “issues,” many of which go beyond the division of assets. Frequently, some urgent situation or chronic problem creates a dispute involving the need/desire/obsession of one party to dominate the other. Neither gender has exclusivity when it comes to pursuing, possessing, and asserting control, whether during the marriage, the divorce, or its aftermath. The reality is: Control is prevalent in any relationship. And, when couples are jockeying for it, a legal case becomes a contest. All too often, contests escalate to wars because, by nature, human beings are competitive.
Control is a fickle power. It can change hands at the flick of a need or want, or due to external forces (such as employment or health problems), or internal circumstances (such as falling in love with someone else). The battle for control is amplified in most personal relationships that fail, and may not be limited to the former couple. It can also include various personal and business associates and advisors.
Celebrity clients often face the same issues as other divorcing individuals; however, there are important nuances at play. There are issues of income, support, child custody, and legal fees, of course, but not of the garden variety. Often it is precisely these complications that can cause the Control Wars, leading to prolonged litigation and negotiations. There are no cookie-cutter solutions.
Many wealthy individuals, and especially celebrities, face paternity suits. In these cases, innocent children often become a lever for control. Moreover, if paternity is established, the father could have substantial child support responsibilities, considerable legal fees, and too often, personal and professional images can be tarnished by leaks to the media from the party trying to gain leverage. Sadly, after the dust settles in these battles, the children of such relationships frequently become collateral damage.
Next month, in Part Two of this article, I will share some interesting nuances particular to high profile, celebrity, and high-net-worth divorces and child custody matters.
Who is a parent? Who is not a parent? How do biology, marital status, assisted reproductive technologies (“ART”), availability of formal legal adoption, and sexual orientation figure into the calculus? Can the deliberate action of one parent create a second functional or de facto parent-child relationship in the absence of biological and adoptive ties? Should it? To what extent are the “rights” of biological parents given priority over children’s best interests when determining who will be called a child’s parent? This series of blog posts will summarize the current state of the law and the changes that are presently being urged before the New York courts when weighing whether to recognize parental rights to children who come into adult relationships in ways outside the traditional paths to parenthood.
We have entered a new age in which medical technology and expansive adoption rules have broadened the avenues in New York to becoming a parent beyond the traditional two: the biological “old fashioned” way by two opposite-sex parties who are married to each other or not, and the cumbersome, expensive, and deliberate adoption process by two opposite-sex married persons. In what is certainly a surprise to many people, listing a person’s name on a birth certificate as a parent does not, in and of itself, confer parental status. Problems and inconsistencies arise, especially when applying the existing rules, developed over years by fits and starts, to the new factual and legal landscape related to same-sex couples and their families.
When a child is born to a heterosexual couple as a result of sexual relations, if the heterosexual couple is married, the presumption of legitimacy applies to such child, and no further legal action needs to be taken for both parties to be presumed to have a biological relationship to the child and have equal parental status. If the adults are not married, a paternity case can be filed to establish that the male is the biological father of the child in question and parental rights and obligations, whether voluntarily assumed or not, ensue. Interesting wrinkles and variations upon this rule will be addressed in detail in a future post.
As ART evolved, providing couples the opportunity to have children when one or both of them suffer a biological impediment to doing so the “old fashioned” way, the assumptions about biological parentage conferred by marriage became more complicated. These complexities grew as we entered the age of recognizing the equal rights of same-sex couples to marry and raise families.
In some ways, the New York laws and the cases that interpret them that recognized legal parental status in a changing factual landscape, have been progressive in conferring a status with many rights and obligations and, in other ways, New York has lagged behind the changing times.
For example, New York’s adoption rules now allow for single individuals to adopt, for non-married couples to adopt (both opposite-sex and same-sex), for people who are not in a romantic relationship or shared household to adopt, and for a second person to adopt the biological or previously adopted child of the first person. When the adults seeking to establish a parenting relationship are aligned in their mutual interest to undertake the parenting relationship together, the courts have been liberal in granting the formation of that status, reflecting the public policy that creating more opportunities for legal parent-child relationships to form rather than less generates significantly better outcomes for children.
New York statutes specifically addressing the issue of ART in the conception of a child recognize that it is unfair to children conceived by ART within a marriage to require that the non-biological parent surmount extra legal hurdles for parental status to be created, such as requiring a second parent adoption before the obviously non-biological parent can assert parental status or have such status imposed upon him. The rule now provides for a document to be executed at the initiation of ART procedures, which provides that children born by ART into marriages are the legitimate “birth child” of the “husband” and “wife” for all purposes. But what happens when you have a situation with two “wives” or two “husbands”?
This rule was upheld by a Kings County (Brooklyn) Surrogates Court when a same-sex couple sought a second parent adoption for a child born to one of them during their marriage. The court found a second adoption unnecessary given New York’s new marriage equality statute, because the presumption of legitimacy applied despite the fact that the statutory language refers to the child as the “legitimate child of both birth parents.” But the presumption of legitimacy has not been consistently applied to same-sex couples. For example, inexplicably and without a full recitation of the relevant facts, a New York appellate court recently held that the presumption of legitimacy did not apply to a same-sex couple for a child born during the marriage, stating that the presumption of legitimacy is only a rebuttable biological presumption of parenthood in the parent who did not give birth—which cannot be the case in a same-sex relationship—and not a legal presumption of parenthood. In seemingly cutting out all same-sex marriages from the presumption of legitimacy that has always attached to children born into marriages, this ruling begs the question of whether or not the old concern about the stigma of “illegitimacy” has been held to be less traumatic for a child, by at least some courts, than the “stigma” of having same-sex parents.
So what happens when the ART form isn’t properly signed or is somehow overlooked? What if the use of donor genetic material to conceive is informal (via at home artificial insemination) or, as in the case of same sex-couples, a direct biological relationship to both parents, even when married, cannot (it seems) ever be assumed? What if the couple, heterosexual or otherwise, is not married? Can a different standard be applied to opposite-sex parties than to same-sex parties? Can such a different standard possibly pass constitutional muster? Stay tuned as these questions, which are at the very forefront of the emerging law on de facto parenting presently being litigated in New York’s top court, will be discussed in our next chapter.