SmolenPlevy Named to 2017 “Best Law Firms”

smolenplevygraphicbestlawfirm

SmolenPlevy is honored to announce the firm’s inclusion in the 2017 “Best Law Firms” list, published by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers. SmolenPlevy is recognized for its outstanding work in the areas of family law, business organizations, and trusts and estates. Firms included in “Best Law Firms” are honored for professional excellence with persistently impressive ratings from clients and peers.

The “Best Law Firms” ranking complements the 2017 edition of “The Best Lawyers in America,” where Jason Smolen, Alan Plevy and Daniel Ruttenberg are recognized. Jason Smolen is honored as Best Lawyers® 2017 Business Organizations “Lawyer of the Year” for Washington, D.C., and Alan Plevy and Dan Ruttenberg are named in the Best Lawyers® 2017.

The U.S. News & World Report – Best Lawyers 2017 Best Law Firms rankings are based on an evaluation process that includes the collection of client and lawyer evaluations, peer review from attorneys in the field, and review of additional information provided by law firms as part of the formal submission process.

The Huffington Post: The Pros and Cons of a Co-Parenting Coordinator

plevydickerson (4)

As seen on The Huffington Post by Alan Plevy and Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson. 

Tensions can run high when former spouses have to work together and oftentimes, divorced couples feel like they are no longer allies. Yet, when they have children, there are numerous decisions that the divorced couple needs to make together. Enter professional decision makers, also known as co-parenting coordinators. A co-parenting coordinator is a neutral third party who serves a divorced or separated couple as a decision maker and a facilitator of communication.

Your ideal co-parenting coordinator is someone who will work themselves out of the job. It is important for parents to learn to work effectively with their ex-spouse and their children, and a good co-parenting coordinator will help the parents not only resolve the immediate issues but also establish a method by which the two parents can resolve future issues by themselves.

Several years ago, there was a notable increase in the number of co-parenting coordinators/counselors and a related spike in the number of problems associated with their use. However, since then, the trend in using co-parenting coordinators has leveled off to a certain extent and parties have become more discerning about what they want from a co-parenting coordinator, including how long they want to pay the fees to employ one.

Co-parenting coordinators are professionals, often psychologists or other mental health counselors, whose role is to help reduce, mediate and settle conflicts between divorced parents on matters regarding their children. Sometimes the coordinator can even be the decision maker if the parents are at an impasse. The role and the limits of what a co-parenting coordinator can do are set forth either in a contract signed by both parents or in the court Order appointing them. During regularly scheduled meetings (or emergency meetings if the contract or Order permits these meetings), co-parenting coordinators serve as an impartial third party to listen to and resolve issues like:

  • Schooling;
  • Visitation and custodial arrangements;
  • Holidays;
  • Camps;
  • Non-emergency medical care; and
  • After-school activities.

Ideally, the co-parenting coordinator listens to both parents and helps the parents come to a decision. The process is intended to avoid the escalation that may result when small issues become larger arguments, and to reduce the delay and legal expenses associated with litigating parental disputes. The role of the co-parenting coordinator is to help parents during that difficult period following a divorce when parents are learning how to co-parent while living in different homes.

During the period when the use of co-parenting coordinators was growing dramatically, they were often treated as a panacea. But unfortunately, co-parenting coordinators do not magically cure the communication issues between the spouses which often led to the divorce. Nor do co-parenting coordinators eliminate the different perspectives and opinions parents have when it comes to various challenges of raising children, like whether the child should go to an overnight camp or when a child should get a smart phone.

Parents have learned that their inability to come to a resolution on issues, like whether the child can bring their pet from one parent’s home to the other’s, or whether the child would participate in a specific activity, was costly in the time and money that was spent in co-parenting sessions. If co-parenting coordinators are used as a permanent decision-making mechanism by parents, parents can spend significant funds during the period between their divorce and when their child becomes an adult.

Previously, there was no time limit set for the use of a co-parenting coordinator, and parents who had been divorced for years were still required to use the co-parenting coordinator to resolve any disputes. Another problem with the lack of a termination date is that parents are not forced to figure out how to work with each other. Instead, they expect the coordinator to continue solving their problems; this does not encourage parents to move beyond the often dysfunctional relationship they were in at the time of their divorce. Additionally, if the parents and the co-parenting coordinator are unable to reach a resolution, either parent can take the matter to court and litigate the issue, however small, in front of a judge.

Further, the expense of a co-parenting coordinator, who is usually paid for by both parents in equal share to maintain their neutrality, can work to the disadvantage of the parent who has a less disposable income. There are some parents who “win-at-all-costs”, who try to bully the coordinator and their ex-spouse. In some cases, one parent will repeatedly call and email the coordinator, trying to dominate the process and to wear down the coordinator in order to “win” whatever issue is raised in the co-parenting session. There have been parents who have demanded meeting after meeting with the coordinator and presented the coordinator with multiple binders of documents just to run up the costs of co-parenting, hurt their former spouse and to ensure that no resolution is reached.

If you want to incorporate the use of a co-parenting coordinator, consider the following:

  • Before you hire the coordinator, thoroughly interview the coordinator. Find out what experience, education and training they have, what their approach is to the communication challenges of your situation, what their experience and approach is to the needs of your children, particularly if your children have special needs, and what processes they have found to be most effective in resolving differences between parents.
  • Ensure that your former or estranged spouse also wants to use a co-parenting coordinator and that the two of you have similar expectations from the process. This is not marriage or family counseling, nor should it be a place to rehash the issues from the marriage.
  • Set an end date for the use of a co-parenting coordinator – ideally this date is within 3-6 months of their appointment.

Remember that a co-parenting coordinator is a neutral third party whose ultimate goal is to reduce the conflict between the parties and set up a process through which the parents can resolve issues without the co-parenting coordinator’s intervention. Used judiciously, a co-parenting coordinator can be an effective and cost-efficient tool for divorced parents. 

On Air: Alan Plevy Discusses the Effect Divorce Has on Children on NewsChannel 8

There is a lot at stake in the recently announced split between Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt; SmolenPlevy co-founding principal and family law attorney Alan Plevy was on News Channel 8’s Good Morning Washington explaining some of the nuances and complications arising out of their separation.

For instance, reports say Jolie is asking for sole physical custody of the couple’s six children. What’s the difference between physical and legal custody? Plevy explained physical custody refers to where the kids live primarily. With physical custody comes the opportunity and ability to make day-to-day decisions by the parent with whom the child lives. Legal custody is the right to participate in major decisions regarding, among other things, the children’s health, safety, and medical welfare.

Addressing the alleged reports that Brad Pitt is being investigated for child abuse, Plevy explained that if someone files a report, the authorities are obligated to investigate. But Plevy also noted that Jolie’s divorce documents disclose that she is seeking joint legal custody.  This means that she believes that she and Pitt can work together to make major decisions regarding the children’s health, safety and welfare.  It implies that she trusts Pitt’s judgment on those issues. Plevy also raised the point that both Jolie and Pitt are continuously surrounded by security and other supportive personnel.

NewsChannel 8’s Jeff Goldberg and Julie Wright also asked Plevy to explain what was necessary for Jolie to win sole physical custody. Plevy said, “She’s got to prove that he’s impacted the children in one way or the other. There are allegations of drugs and partying, and so forth. But if those incidents took place some place outside of the children’s domain, or where they may be, then that’s not going to have that much of an impact. It has to somehow affect the children.”

Watch the full segment of Alan Plevy on Good Morning Washington above.

Jason Smolen Selected as Best Lawyers® 2017 Business Organizations “Lawyer of the Year” for Washington D.C.

SmolenPlevy is pleased to announce that Co-Founding Principal Jason Smolen is honored as Best Lawyers® 2017 Business Organizations “Lawyer of the Year” for Washington, D.C. SmolenPlevy Co-Founder Alan Plevy and Principal Dan Ruttenberg, JD, CPA, LLM are also named in the Best Lawyers® 2017. Plevy and Ruttenberg were selected by other leading lawyers from the Washington, D.C. area in the categories of trusts and estates and family law, respectively.

The Best Lawyers in America© is the oldest peer-review publication in the legal profession. It recognizes attorneys in 128 practice areas from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. For each location and specialty, the individual attorneys with the highest peer-reviews are recognized as “Lawyer of the Year.”

The attorneys will be featured in the 23rd edition of Best Lawyers in America©, which will be published later this year.

On Air: Dan Ruttenberg Shares Estate Planning Tips for the Elderly

Preparing in advance is vital if you want to protect your assets and have a say in how they are passed on. SmolenPlevy Principal Dan Ruttenberg, JD, CPA, LLM shares estate planning tips on local TV show, Senior Living in Alexandria.

“Legal documents are tools to address issues,” Ruttenberg tells Senior Living in Alexandria host Jim Roberts. It is important to have documents that keep you covered in case of death or disability. Particularly in the event of a disability, you want to have confidence in who is making decisions on your behalf.

What happens if you don’t have an estate plan in place? That will depend on the circumstances at the time — Ruttenberg explains important estate planning tips, including how to avoid probate in the complete segment above.

The Huffington Post: 5 Reasons For a Prenup

SmolenPlevy-Dickerson-Plevy-Reasons-PrenupAs seen on The Huffington Post by Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson and Alan Plevy.

5 Reasons For a Prenup–Even if You Aren’t a Celebrity

There’s nothing classically romantic about prenuptial agreements. Most couples willfully avoid them because they don’t want to ruin their blissful idea of a marriage lasting until death do they part. But they can learn from the long list of celebrity splits about what can happen when you don’t have a prenup. In one of the most expensive Hollywood divorces, actor/director Mel Gibson reportedly paid $425 million to his ex, Robyn Moore.

Recently, actress Kaley Cuoco, the 30-year old star of the Big Bang Theory and one of TV’s highest-paid performers, split from tennis player Ryan Sweeting. Because of a prenuptial agreement, he reportedly will only get a lump sum of $165,000 and $65,000 for legal fees.

But you don’t have to be a celebrity to benefit from a prenuptial agreement. Without one, divorce litigation can become costly and complicated. More importantly, a premarital agreement often forces couples to discuss in detail uncomfortable financial issues that they might otherwise have ignored. It is challenging to discuss what debt a person brings to the marriage and the basis of the debt – especially if it is consumer debt, like credit cards. Disclosing a prior bankruptcy can be more difficult than disclosing a prior marriage. A premarital agreement, no matter who brings it up, opens the door to those conversations.

Here are some reasons prenuptial agreements can be useful for couples.

Second marriages/blended families: Often, people have continuing obligations to their prior spouse or to children from a prior relationship. Premarital agreements can determine which assets will be protected or allocated for the children of a prior relationship, and which assets will be safeguarded for the new spouse. Premarital agreements can also protect the new spouse’s assets from being used to pay the arrears or debts arising out of their spouse’s prior marriage.

If you own a business: Young entrepreneurs rarely imagine a divorce being one of the biggest threats to the stability of their business, but it can significantly impact cash flow, ownership, and productivity. Regardless of whether you started your company before marriage, a spouse may claim a portion of the business appreciation or income. Prenups can classify which assets are separate or marital. This means you and your intended spouse can agree that your business will be considered your separate property and not subject to division upon divorce.

Death or disability: While most people think divorce when they hear about premarital agreements, such agreements can also protect your assets in case of disability or death. Premarital agreements can prevent, or provide a remedy if an estranged spouse retitles or liquidates assets during their spouse’s disability.

Debt: Some couples may have more debt than assets. Couples with significantly different debt loads can protect themselves in the same way as couples with vastly different wealth. The couple can agree as to which debt shall be considered a separate, non-marital obligation and how the income of the couple will be allocated during the marriage as to the payment of that debt.

Inheritances: If one or both spouses expect to receive an inheritance over the course of their marriage, a premarital agreement can protect it from division upon death or a divorce. Family heirlooms can also be specified to remain in one spouse’s possession.

The Huffington Post: Common Post-Divorce Life Changes

SmolenPlevy-Dickerson-Plevy-Life-After-Divorce-Changes

A parenting relationship does not end when the divorce proceedings do. SmolenPlevy Principals Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson and Alan Plevy share six common post-divorce life changes with The Huffington Post.

Life After Divorce: 6 Common Post-Divorce Life Changes

Circumstances change over time and affect the continued workability of the original arrangements and create issues to which you have to adapt. Children grow older and their needs change. Either or both of the parents often find their lives become significantly different than they were during the original proceedings.

Here are some of the most common post-divorce life changes and how you can prepare for them.

Remarriage: A new marriage, for either or both divorced parents, can mean lots of changes — especially for their children. Will the new marriage lead to relocation? How well does the child interact with the new spouse? Older children might feel displaced by infants or other children new to the household. Planning the introductions, staggering the combining of families and working with the other parent to help the children adapt to the changes can make the transition from a single parent household to a blended family easier for the children.

Read the rest of Dickerson and Plevy’s suggestions on The Huffington Post

On Air: Daniel Ruttenberg Shares Why You Should Have a Will in Order on ABC 7

A court confirmed that music superstar Prince died without a will, which leaves complicated questions about who inherits his vast fortune. There are at least six siblings, including half siblings, who may inherit, and the confusion is just starting. In an interview on ABC 7, SmolenPlevy Principal Daniel Ruttenberg explained the problems that may occur when you die without a will, and why it’s vital to make sure that doesn’t happen to you.

Ruttenberg explained that without a will, Prince could not direct where his assets should go. “I think that’s a travesty,” said Ruttenberg. Often, people avoid estate planning because they don’t think they have enough assets. But Ruttenberg said you don’t need to own much to learn from Prince’s mistake — plan now and prevent the heartache and need for the court’s intervention after you’re gone.

A will can dictate to whom your money goes, protect your children’s interests in their inheritance and help avoid taxation. News reports predict Prince’s siblings will split the multi-million dollar estate, but Ruttenberg indicates that someone who claims to be Prince’s child could trump all of that.

Ruttenberg told ABC 7’s Kimberly Suiter that whoever does inherit Prince’s estate isn’t necessarily going to be better for it. Sudden wealth has its own set of problems, and many people who inherit a fortune overnight end up blowing it all quickly. They can end up broke, homeless, and in a worse position than they were before getting the money.

Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson Named Top 100 by Virginia Super Lawyers

Kyung Kathryn Dickerson

SmolenPlevy is pleased to announce that Principal Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson has been named one of the Top 100 Virginia Super Lawyers and Top 50 Virginia Women Super Lawyers in 2016.

This is the second time since 2014 that Ms. Dickerson has received these honors. The annual selections for Super Lawyers are made using a multiphase process that includes a statewide survey of lawyers, an independent evaluation of candidates and peer reviews by practice area.

Four SmolenPlevy Attorneys Named to 2016 Virginia Super Lawyers & Rising Stars

 

2016 Virginia Super Lawyers

SmolenPlevy is pleased to announce that Principals Alan Plevy, Daniel Ruttenberg and Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson have been named 2016 Virginia Super Lawyers. Additionally, Associate Joshua Isaacs has been recognized as 2016 Virginia Rising Star. Both honors are awarded to no more than five percent of attorneys in each state.

Super Lawyers is a rating of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The annual selections are made using a multiphase process that includes a statewide survey of lawyers, an independent evaluation of candidates and peer reviews.