Tuesday, September 25, 2007

And You Thought YOUR Divorce Was Expensive?

"Not all my clients did badly in their divorce settlements. Some of them even wound up with small fortunes. Of course, they started out with large fortunes".
(Monroe Inker, Boston divorce lawyer)

Monroe Inker, who died last year at age 80, was probably the most successful divorce lawyer of his generation. He represented famous people like Norman Mailer, Joan Kennedy, and Boston Celtics star Rober Parish, along with less-famous---but often wealthier---corporate CEO's, real estate moguls, trust fund heirs, or their spouses. I thought of his remark today when I read about a decision in a lurid divorce case I had been following for the past several months---a case that generated a total of over 13 million dollars in attorney fees and expert witness costs.

The case involved travel-industry magnate Peter Tauck (Tauck World Discovery) and his wife, Nancy, of Westport, Connecticut. Prior to the divorce case, Peter Tauck had a net worth of about 55 million dollars. But after 86 trial days (believed to be a world record in a divorce case), during which nearly 100 witnesses testified, about a quarter of his net worth was wiped out by the attorney fees and costs alone. And although the judge's 132-page decision is by any standard a "victory" for Peter Tauck (Nancy got shot down on virtually every issue she raised, including custody of the four children), he is still required to pay her $33,333 per month in alimony for six years, $20, 833 a month for two years after that, plus lump-sum payments over five years totalling twelve million dollars!

While I doubt that neither Mr. nor Mrs. Tauck will ever have to apply for food stamps, their case illustrates the futility and absurdity of "battling it out" in divorce court. Even the winner loses, big-time. And most lawyers, despite the fees they earn, feel that cases like this are harmful to the parties and their kids, and a waste of judicial time and resources. Peter Tauck's lead attorney, Tom Colin, said that the best part of the ruling was on page 132: the judge's signature. "It means it's over...This was the most intense, contentious case I've been involved in, without a doubt".

It's interesting to note that Monroe Inker, the Boston lawyer I mentioned, gave up his thriving divorce litigation practice while he was still healthy and active, and for the rest of his life devoted his professional efforts to divorce mediation. As I explain in my book, mediation puts the decision-making in the hands of the husband and wife. With the help of a skilled mediator, the process forces the couple to come up with solutions that make sense for them and for their children. It creates an atmosphere of co-operation and respect, and, incidentally, may save the couple a lot of money and anguish.

I'm not saying that mediation works in every divorce case---from what I've read, the Taucks were so hostile to each other that they couldn't be in the same room together without an armed guard present---but if the parties have any degree of rationality at all they should give it a try. It is entirely possible, the Tauck case notwithstanding, to divorce with dignity.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Have You REALLY Kissed Your Spouse Lately?

"Kissing can be more intimate than intercourse"
(Dr. Sandra Scantling, certified sex therapist)

I'm a big fan of Dr. Sandra Scantling, who writes a popular column on sex and relationship issues for the Hartford Courant (which are archived on her website, www.drsandy.com). But when I first read those words, I was a bit skeptical. After all, aren't intimacy and intercourse virtually synonymous? (You will still hear people say, "We were intimate", as a euphemism for "We had sex").

But when I thought about it more, I realized that Dr. Scantling was absolutely right. What can be more sensual, more expressive, more intimate than a kiss? In fact, shortly after I read Dr. Scantling's column on kissing, I read a Chicago Tribune interview with someone described as a "lifestyle coach for swingers" (interesting job title), who said that the number one ground rule for swingers' parties is No Kissing. "It's just too intimate" for even swingers to handle, the coach explained.

Actually, I might re-phrase Dr. Scantling's words to say, "Kissing should be more intimate than intercourse", because, unfortunately, in the typical mid-life marriage, kisses are anything but intimate. The long, wet, passionate kisses of our single days are quickly replaced by the perfunctory peck on the cheek. Why? Do we think that we don't "need" to kiss if we have sex? Do we think that kissing, like holding hands, is somehow unseemly if we've been together for years and years? Are we just plain thoughtless and lazy about showing affection?

Whatever the reason, we need to break the peck-on-the-cheek habit, or at least reserve it for those times when we'd be truly embarrassed to have other people see us kissing in a more passionate manner. (And even then, you're really setting a good example for the repressed married people of the world).

Because the best way to break a habit is to replace it with another one, start today. When your spouse comes home tonight, give him or her the kind of kiss you used to give. Do it again after dinner, and before you get into bed. As Dr. Scantling says, "Let's return kissing to its rightful place in lovemaking. Dare to be as intimate now as you were then...and never underestimate the power of a kiss".

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Off-Ramp to Adultery

"He claimed he was at a business meeting in Pennsylvania, but I have the E-ZPass records to show that he was in New Jersey that night".
(Lynne Gold-Bilkin, Pennsylvania divorce lawyer)

In the "Thinking About Affairs" chapter of my book, I discuss how technology can make extramarital sex easier to arrange but also easier to detect. You can, for example, send a furtive 2:00AM e-mail to your lover while your spouse is asleep, and then immediately delete it. But how do you know that your lover is as careful to delete the message on her end? And how do you know---until it's too late---that your spouse has not installed one of those programs on the computer that silently records every keystroke, including passwords?

Along the same lines, I recently read a rather chilling newspaper article about E-ZPass records being used as evidence of adultery in divorce cases. In case you're not familiar with them, E-ZPasses are used in many Northeast and Midwest states to allow drivers to bypass the usual toll booths on bridges and toll roads. Typically, the prepaid pass is attached to a car's visor or rearview mirror and sends an electronic signal to an antenna at a toll plaza. Once the driver cruises through the E-ZPass lane, he normally doesn't give it a moment's thought until the next time he's entering or exiting a toll road. However, whether he knows it or not, every time the pass is used a record is made of when it was used and where it was used. And, in most of the states that have E-ZPass, those records are "discoverable" in divorce cases.

People who choose to have affairs have always had to work hard to cover their tracks. But today, there's virtually no way to eliminate the risk of exposure. As with E-ZPasses, the most dangerous risks are the ones no one even thinks about. We take cell phones for granted, but cell calls can be intercepted and monitored, and someone can---intentionally or otherwise---use their cell phone to take a picture of you and someone you shouldn't be seen with. And just because you threw out the itemized call list as soon as the cell phone bill arrived, doesn't mean that it won't be reproduced and turned over to your spouse's divorce lawyer a year or two from now.

I'm not trying to tell you how to live your life, but I am saying that if you think you can conduct an affair for long without getting caught, think again. Big Brother is watching.