It’s way too easy to get caught up in wanting to get back at your ex during divorce, even against your better judgment. And it’s refreshing to hear a divorce lawyer say they would prefer their clients not fight over everything, and just focus on what’s most important – the kids. Easier said than done, but this episode offers practical suggestions and ways to stay on track for the benefit of everyone…including yourself.
OUR GUEST – Evan Weinstein, Family Law Attorney
Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS DIVORCE etc… Podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it! We’re T.H. & Jessica.
T.H.: Welcome everybody, and welcome Evan Weinstein to today’s podcast. Evan is a partner at Weinstein Family Law and noted proud husband and father, so he is a family man. He practices in the state of New Jersey as a family law attorney on both sides, mediation as well as litigation if necessary. Welcome to our podcast today.
Evan: Thank you very much for having me.
Jessica: Thanks for taking the time.
Evan: Oh, it’s always a pleasure.
T.H.: What we wanted to dig into today is what are the top three questions people ask you when they walk into your office for a consultation?
Evan: There are two that are the most prevalent by far. The first one is how long is this process going to take? And the second is how much money will it cost me? After that, I would say there are two more, they actually aren’t that close, but they’re the two other most prevalent questions. Number one is will I be able to still drive my BMW when all this is said and done, or take a trip to France, or do whatever? And then the other one would be, will my children be okay after all this is said and done?
T.H.: Isn’t that funny that the kids come after the BMW? I mean, you have to be happy. Mama’s gotta be happy. [Laugh]
Evan: Well, I would say this, the first time that a client comes to see me, they generally are nervous. They are stressed out by being in not the best type of relationship, and they have fear of the unknown because, for most, they’ve never dealt with the process before. And so I certainly can empathize with them. I try to be soothing, but I try to be realistic from the beginning, because it’s okay to have hope, it’s never okay to have false hope. I really take pride in the fact that I’m able to offer my clients good advice from the minute they start talking to me.
Jessica: Do you feel like they’re shocked by your answers in the beginning, because they may be thinking something based on either someone else’s experience that they know, or just lalaland, and then you come in as a straight shooter? What’s their reaction?
Evan: Shock is an understatement. I would say that many people that first talk to me are completely baffled by the process. I really attribute that to both the media and friends of theirs because everyone knows someone who has been divorced. Everyone has family, friends, or whomever, so everyone knows someone that’s divorced. Everyone has a story they share about divorce, and the stories are usually never good. Just, they’re never good. People start seeing me and they already have this kind of negativity, this kind of negative energy. I try to be as realistic as possible, but I always try to demonstrate to people that there is a life after all this is done. They’re going to go forward, their family is going to go forward, and things will change, but they don’t have to be horrible.
Jessica: But don’t you feel if they’re coming in, to some extent, with a negative perspective about it, that you’re going to be managing their expectations up because they’re already coming in with a worst-case scenario?
Evan: Well, no, not really, because a lot of times, people that are coming to see their attorney, want blood. They’re thirsty for blood, so they do want blood.
T.H.: They’re angry, yeah.
Evan: They’re angry. They’re upset. It’s oftentimes, even the spouse that wants to get divorced, if the other spouse does not want to get divorced, the spouse that wants to get divorced really has some anger as well. It’s just part of the process is dealing with the emotions, and trying to separate the emotion from the legal principles. I would encourage everyone that is considering getting divorced to have an honest conversation with their attorney, and also their spouse. I mean, there’s no reason why two people that that once loved each other can’t try at least to work on things as part of their divorce.
T.H.: So those are the questions that you get, but what are the questions that people really should be asking you when they come into your office? You get those other ones, but what should they be asking you?
Evan: If they have children, they certainly should be asking what would be a fair way to co-parent children. That’s a very important question I think for parents to ask. Then another question should be–it’s very common that one spouse feels like the other spouse knows more about their economics, their interpersonal economics.
T.H.: But don’t you feel that’s the truth though in most cases?
Evan: It often is the truth. It absolutely is. What I tell people is that, although we never know all the details of every single financial transaction, through discovery, we should be able to get a pretty accurate sense of how things are. Are we going to be able to account for every penny that was spent during the marriage? No, it’s an impossibility. You shouldn’t be wasting your time and money doing that.
Jessica: Do you recommend they get accountants? Do you work with them?
Evan: In cases where there’s an issue of dissipation of assets, in cases where there are valuation issues, in cases where there’s a discrepancy as to what the standard of living was, or has been, or should have been, yes.
T.H.: Will you explain those terms a little bit more for people in case they don’t know what that means? Valuation, dissipation of assets, what do those things mean?
Evan: Sure. Okay, all right. I am a businessman, I’m a lawyer, and I have an interest in my law firm. If I were to become divorced, which I hope I never do, by the way, but if I were, the value of my interest in my business, in my law firm, would have to be valued. The only way to determine the value would be to have an accountant, a forensic accountant, come in and value my interest in my firm. They would be looking at financial documents that my firm maintains. They’d be looking at various expenditures from the business if I pay my personal expenses to the business. They’d be looking for various things. They’re trained. They’re trained to look for certain types of transactions, and they’re trained at valuing businesses, and that would happen. If there’s an issue of dissipation of assets, meaning that if one party spent monies for non-marital purposes, and when I say non-marital purposes, I’m saying if they supported a third party for a significant period of time, like a boyfriend or a girlfriend, and they were buying lavish presents or paying rent, or something like that, that would be dissipation. If someone had a gambling problem, or a drug problem, sex addiction, any kind of thing like that–
T.H.: So money spent on something other than the family–
Evan: Other than the family for–now, it’s okay to spend for one person’s benefit. For example, if one party was to have, let’s just say, a country club membership, and they were the only one to use that, and typically that’s an expensive thing to have, or plastic surgery, or something of that nature that only typically benefits just one person, that’s not considered dissipation. It’s spending on non-marital purposes.
T.H.: Gotcha. We should get into that more in another podcast because that’s probably pretty far and wide.
Evan: Yeah, it–well, yes, it’s far and wide, but as a legal matter, it’s really isolated to a very certain type of relationship that someone has with someone else. The other issue that we spoke about is lifestyle. Lifestyle is how you live, how you spend your money, and what type of things you did as a couple, as a family, like traveling or–
Jessica: Getting back to the kids’ stuff for a moment, in terms of–I mean, deciding a custodial situation isn’t always so simple. Depending on where you live, I understand that sometimes the encouragement is towards 50/50, and sometimes that’s just not possible based on who the parents are, etc. But T.H. and I have had conversations a little bit about, well, what are the rights of everybody else when it comes to having access to the kids. If you are divorcing someone, and now, let’s just say, which is not my situation, but if I had full physical custody of my kids all the time, and they only–
Evan: Full residential custody.
Jessica: Full residential custody. And they only saw their dad every other weekend or something like that, but prior to the divorce, his mother would come in and see the kids three times a week. Now, I theoretically could choose, to some extent, right, well, I’m curious, how does that work with the grandparents?
Evan: Okay. There is something called grandparent’s visitation, and there are various case laws nationwide, but they all pretty much follow the same concept that if the grandparent had a relationship prior to the separation, grandparents should be able to maintain whatever relationship they had prior. And so, if a grandmother or a grandfather served as an after-school caregiver, then something like that would be allowed to continue. And in many ways, it would be encouraged because it would be some level of consistency for the child because as with anything with kids, the bottom line has to be whatever is best for them, and whatever is in their best interest. I mean, how can you say no to grandma?
Jessica: Well, so what do you do in situations where maybe like in my specific case, my parents live far away? I live in New York City, my parents live in Florida, they love my kids, they call them all the time, but we only probably see them three or four times a year in person. What would the rights be of grandparents like that where it’d be very easy if they were with my ex, and again, this is not our situation, we’re super amicable but where people or I could put the kibosh on it, “Oh, I’m so sorry, they’re not available that day”, or “That’s not going to work out.” There are ways you can kind of blow them off.
Evan: They would get blown off. They would get blown off, and there’d be very little legal recourse.
T.H.: Because they’re not in-state?
Evan: No, it’s not because they’re out of state, it’s because–
Jessica: They didn’t have that contact
Evan: They didn’t have that ongoing contact on a regular basis. But again, that’s an issue that can be hopefully resolved, not in the courtroom, hopefully through negotiation, through talking, through counseling, through whatever. And typically, if grandparents are living in Florida, or California, or Missouri, and they saw their grandchildren and their children three or four times a year, they’ll still be able to do that. Their families do continue, and there is life with families after this. People find ways to do it. It’s just different, but people find ways to do it.
Jessica: We have a story where the wife was so bitter after the divorce that she ended up figuring out a way to not include the husband’s parents at a significant life event like [inaudible 13:58] and there are things–
T.H.: It’s unbelievable.
Jessica: It was really unbelievable.
T.H.: That was on my side.
Evan: People spend thousands of money on me to try to limit the other side from being part of a bar mitzvah, or a wedding, or whatever, and I always tell them, look, at the end of the day, it’s probably likely in the best interest of the child that both parents, both sets of grandparents are present at a major life cycle event. You’re doing a disservice to your child by not allowing that. And so I generally try to discourage alienating elements of people’s families. I think that many people think that lawyers, especially divorce lawyers, don’t really have a great sense of morality. But I can tell you this is that I am guided by my own mortality, and it means a lot to me. I try to do the right thing. It’s obvious, I mean, I have a job and I have to represent people to the best of my abilities because I did take an oath to do that, but when it’s all said and done is that I do care about people and I care about kids. And I care about kids that are going through the process.
Jessica: And so, do you often, maybe the word isn’t often, but I mean, how often do you feel you’re in there and you’re fighting for something and you’re like, you’re doing the wrong thing.
Evan: I personally hate arguing about the personal property like dishes, stuff like that, like furniture. I didn’t go to law school to learn how to do that kind of thing. That’s not something that I enjoy doing. I don’t think I’m trained necessarily for that. And so I try to discourage things that I believe are taking away from the serious issues that people really do have. There are a lot of serious issues in a divorce. People should not be spending their time, money, and energy on minutiae. No one wants your used furniture, no one.
T.H.: It becomes a power play. I know how I’m going to stick ‘em. I’m going to take that painting, or I’m going to take his mug, or I’m going to–the emotional part of a divorce, I mean, I truly believe it, if there was a way to cut out the emotion and just handle your business, it’ll be a hell of a lot cheaper. You’d be able to say it’ll be inexpensive, it’ll be done any year, and you’ll have all the answers that you’re always hoping to give somebody if they weren’t so emotional. It’s totally normal to be emotional, but divorce sucks, and it’s hard.
Jessica: You’re so right. It’s such a power play because someone was just telling me recently about how when they got divorced, it was a guy telling me the story, and when they got divorced, they had worked it out that they both wanted the house, and she ended up getting the house. And as soon as it was over, she sold the house. She just didn’t want him to have the house.
Evan: Oh, no, it’s a power play.
T.H.: And it’s such a waste of time. I have the same situation. I know someone who had a boat, and she never used the boat. She never even knew where the boat was. But in the divorce, she had to have the boat.
Jessica: It is such a common thing. What both of you are saying, is so common. It is so common in fact, that I spent this morning spending two hours in mediation where stuff like that was going on. I mean, this is an everyday thing, and I try my best right from the beginning of any kind of meeting or any kind of interaction that we’re talking about what I consider to be non-issues, and I try to control the situation by saying we’re going to resolve it this way. There’s no reason not to. I try to guide the process in a way that I think is fair for everyone, and it really minimizes the acrimony. There are various ways to do that. I mean, if two people are looking to get a pound of flesh, and if there’s a way of somehow making it more neutral, then I’ll propose something that’s neutral. Like, for example, if two people are arguing about a car, and if they have a 15-year-old child, you can just say, well, don’t you want this car to go to your child? And so maybe that’s a solution. There are always solutions that exist. There are always fair solutions that exist. I try my best to steer things in that direction.
Jessica: What do you feel like are your standard parameters in terms of talking to people about when it comes to dealing with the kids and the family, the pets, and things like that? Do you feel you have a standard type goal? I mean, obviously, the way that you’re navigating in every situation is going to be different, but do you feel you go in and you’re like, okay, this is the plan for all of this? What would that be?
Evan: When it comes to kids, there’s never one perfect solution because kids are so unique, and they’re so special. They’re so important to people that you can’t generically say that this is a good thing for every kid. But what I like to do is I always try to look at things from the child’s perspective, and then take it from there, and then relate my client’s perspective to the kid’s perspective, and try to mesh the two. Then I try to mesh the other parent’s perspective. And that, I think, is a good thing to do when it comes to children because they shouldn’t be the ones suffering, because of their parents.
T.H.: Right. And in the end, you want your kids to be okay, and you get caught up in your bad behavior and lose sight of the fact that there’s collateral damage from this.
Evan: Yeah, I mean, I think every parent–I mean, there are some parents that don’t share this philosophy, but I believe that most parents want their children to grow up to be well adjusted, healthy, happy people, and productive people, people that are going to make a difference in society in whatever they choose to do when in their lives. It’s the cases where parents don’t want their children to have that kind of future that it’s concerning because they are putting their own self-interest ahead of their children. That’s a no-no for me.
Jessica: You had written something about child support, which obviously is a huge issue when it comes to divorce and navigating that. I don’t know what it’s like state to state. I know in New York City, in particular, it’s based on a formula up to a salary–
Evan: I don’t mean to interrupt, but I think most states have some type of formula that they’ve adopted. Whether it’s a percentage of your income or a percentage of the differentials of various things, there’s some type of formula. But the bottom line is that there’s usually a cap on how much child support someone should pay. There’s something called the three pony rule is that no kid should ever have three ponies. There’s some kind of limitations on that. The recipient spouse is always going to get some benefit from receiving child support. That’s a concept that is hard for many payor spouses to grasp. I can understand why, but there’s no way around it. Everyone has an obligation to support their children. Both the mother and the father have an obligation, and so there’s going to be that incremental benefit that the recipient spouse gets. There’s no way to separate the parent from the child. Parents live with their children.
T.H.: Explain what child support deals with exactly. Explain what it is for people, so they understand the–
Evan: I would say that basically, child support is a contribution from a spouse that either has a higher income or significantly more assets to the spouse that would have less income and/or fewer assets, or both. It’s an amount of money per month that’s used to cover certain expenses that are recurring, like your housing, like transportation, and certain personal expenses as well like clothing and food and–
T.H.: Haircuts, yeah.
Evan: Haircuts, doctor’s appointments, stuff like that. Tutoring, something like that maybe. Tutoring generally is considered an add-on, but there should be a percentage paid by both parents.
T.H.: So that everybody is aware, child support is financial. [Yes] It’s not the time you spend? That’s something–
Evan: It could be related. There could be a component that if you spend more time, meaning if the recipient spouse is spending more time than the payor spouse, there could be more payment paid to the recipient spouse because of the amount of time and the amount of cost they would incur. But yeah, it’s a function of the parenting time plan and the economics.
Jessica: And always something that people are always arguing about. I’ve heard multiple stories of people trying to go back to the courts and have adjustments made based on their tax returns from the prior year, or a dip in salary. Although actually, as we’re talking about it, I wonder if post-pandemic, if a lot of child support arrangements are being modified based on the fact that a lot of people’s jobs and incomes must have changed during the last couple of years.
Evan: I was to anticipate a boom in my profession, so to speak, in my kind of niche as a lawyer. I think there will be a lot of modifications to both child support and alimony in the foreseeable future because I think most financial experts are predicting some kind of change to the economy. I hope personally, that there is no change to the economy and that things stay relatively healthy. I’m not looking for bad things to happen, even though it may help my business. But I think there will be a lot of those issues if there’s a significant change to the economy. I find that to be unfortunate. What people should also know is that when it comes to the modification of support, whether it’s child support or alimony, they’re actually very costly legal proceedings.
T.H.: That’s what I was saying. You have to decide if it’s really worth it.
Evan: If a family is suffering financially, a great alternative to traditional litigation over the change of circumstance would be to pursue that issue in mediation. It would make more sense than wasting money on the legal process. Now, the legal process has to be a certain way. There are rules, there are procedures, and that’s never going to change because fairness demands certain things happen. In mediation, you’re able to control that and tailor certain rules to the benefit of the litigants.
Jessica: Yeah. As always, we have so much more that we can continue this conversation with. I hope that you’ll come back to do a part two because I feel like we haven’t even scratched the surface when it comes–
Evan: I enjoyed myself. This was fun for me. I mean, I enjoy my job, so I enjoyed talking about my job. I hope that doesn’t come across as being pompous, or hoity-toity, or whatever, but–
Jessica: No, listen, I’d rather go to a divorce lawyer that’s not bitter about the process and has been in it so long and is sick of it, and who still enjoys being able to make a difference in people’s lives. If you’re coming from a good place–
Evan: I enjoy it. It means something to me. I’m a second-generation divorce lawyer, and this is what I do. I didn’t always think I would end up being a divorce lawyer. From the time I was 10, I always thought I was going to be a lawyer, but I took family law in law school, and I’m sure we’re running out of time, but it made a big difference. It made a big impact on my life, and so now I pursue family law.
Jessica: Well, that’s wonderful. Go ahead, T.H.
T.H.: What’s the one thing that you want our audience to know?
Evan: That I care about my clients and that they do have a life after all this is said and done, and that I am interested in trying to develop that for that from them, that next step in their lives.
Jessica: Love it.
T.H.: That’s the kind of lawyer you want. Someone’s who’s on your team and has your best interests at heart, honestly, not just how much money they’re going to bankroll waiting for the judge to see you. Those are things to keep in mind.
Jessica: Thank you for that Evan and all of your contact information will be on our site on www.exexperts.com. For anyone listening, Evan’s licensed in New Jersey, and you can go check out all of his information at www.exexperts.com. Subscribe to the podcast, keep listening, write in your questions, anything that you want us to talk about, or anything you want to know, and we’ll see you next time.
Goodbye: For everyone out there listening, if you know anyone at all who would benefit from what we talked about today please share this episode and everything exExperts. Be sure and click to subscribe to the Podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen to your podcasts and please follow us on social media @exEXPERTS Divorce etc… on Instagram and Facebook and YouTube and our website at www.exexperts.com. Thanks for listening!