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


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.

Estate Planning: Lessons Learned from the Deaths of Mickey Rooney & Casey Kasem

Jason D. Smolen

Casey Kasem was the iconic voice of American Top 40. Mickey Rooney was a celebrated actor. But as they aged, the news became about their medical, financial and legal end-of-life issues. For Kasem, it was the battle between his children and their stepmother over his care as he suffered from Lewy Body dementia. For Rooney, it was claims of elder abuse against a stepchild, a will that disinherited his children and estranged wife, and a modest $18,000 estate upon his death, despite his 80-year career.

“These cases demonstrate the problems that can occur regardless of whether you’re a celebrity or not,” said SmolenPlevy co-founding Principal and estate planning attorney Jason Smolen. “ The key is to plan so none of your family has to face these kinds of heartbreaking situations.”

Smolen said conflicts can erupt between spouses from second (or subsequent) marriages and children from prior marriages. They can also occur between siblings, especially when one child primarily cares for an ill parent and the others are less involved. In Mickey Rooney’ s case, it was reported that the actor claimed he lost most of his fortune because of elder abuse and financial mismanagement by one of his stepsons. Rooney executed a new will just before he died in which he left the little he had to another stepchild.

“Wills can be considered political statements,” said Smolen. “ If the reports are accurate, Rooney’ s is especially so.” Smolen opined that Rooney may have been sending a message to his ex and his children: They didn’t take care of him, so he cut them out. However, the more important and potentially divisive issue is the decision as to who will serve as caretakers for aging parents.

Smolen said the Rooney case highlights the need to confront these issues early. If one child is going to be the primary caretaker, the decision has to be made as to which child. How much will that child be allowed to spend of the parent’ s assets—and will that access cause issues with the other children? For instance, if the caretaker takes the parent to dine out often, and uses the parent’s money to pay for the meals, will that become an issue that will cause problems with the other children?

Smolen said the Rooney situation also points out the need to update wills, trusts and estate documents. At SmolenPlevy, absent a significant change in the law or a client’s request, the attorneys review clients’ documents with them every three years. Sometimes changes need to be made repeatedly. After all, Rooney was married eight times, divorced seven and separated from his current wife when he died. Each change in marital status should have resulted in changes in beneficiary designations and potentially trustees, and the execution of new advanced health directives and guardianship designations. While Rooney’ s case is extreme, everyone should have and maintain up-to-date estate plans.

Read more articles from SmolenPlevy’s summer 2014 Report from Counsel

Jason Smolen Delivers Sage Advice in the Realty Times


In a recent article in the Realty Times, “The Reality of Realty: Avoiding Promises You Cannot Keep and Debts You Cannot Honor,” SmolenPlevy Co-founding Principal Jason Smolen urges people embarking on real estate deals to avoid making obligations they cannot meet.

By spending time with an experienced attorney before entering into a deal, you can anticipate pitfalls and challenges before they happen, Smolen adds.  With more than thirty years of experience advising real estate clients, he urges his clients to consider two key issues before they enter into a deal:  the potential consequences of making a promise they cannot keep and the recognition that agreements are binding and enforceable.  Also, it’s important to consider potential pitfalls and to carefully consider how debt will be handled within the agreement.  This counsel “levels the playing field and gives clarity to the question of whether or not someone should proceed with a deal,” says Smolen.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Daniel Ruttenberg’s Supreme Court Experience Featured in Northern Virginia Magazine

Daniel Ruttenberg's Supreme Court Journey

It’s difficult to think of a more intimidating situation for an attorney than arguing in front of the United States Supreme Court, but this past April, SmolenPlevy principal Daniel Ruttenberg did just that. Ruttenberg argued the case of Hillman v. Maretta before the nine Supreme Court justices – a challenging undertaking for an attorney who rarely litigates.

The case began when Warren Hillman, a 66-year-old retired urban planner and longtime government employee, unexpectedly passed away in 2008. His then 61-year-old wife Jackie Hillman attempted to collect money from Warren’s Federal Employees’ Government Life Insurance (FEGLI) plan, only to have her request denied. The reason? The life insurance check (which was for over $120,000) had been sent to Warren Hillman’s ex-wife, Judy Maretta, who was still listed as the beneficiary on his life insurance plan. Struggling to make ends meet, Hillman sued Maretta.

What followed was several years of trials and appeals culminating in Ruttenberg’s argument before the Supreme Court in April 2013.  Read the full article, “The Case of the Preemptive Strike and the Wronged Widow” in the December 2013 issue of Northern Virginia Magazine, on newsstands now.

SmolenPlevy Makes Headlines in Mason Law News

As longtime supporters of the George Mason University School of Law, several SmolenPlevy attorneys are mentioned in the Summer 2013 issue of Mason Law News, a newsletter for alumni, students and friends of George Mason University School of Law:

  • Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson, SmolenPlevy Principal, welcomes new members to the the Board of Directors, recaps recent law alumni events in New York, Philadelphia and Richmond, VA, and thanks donors in her final message as president of the George Mason University School of Law Alumni Association.
  • In the  2011–12 Law Firm Challenge, SmolenPlevy gave the largest sum in combined contributions from alumni.
  • Principal Daniel Ruttenberg is profiled for his argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Hillman v. Maretta in April.
  • SmolenPlevy is also recognized for its bronze-level sponsorship of the 16th Annual Judicial & Legislative Reception, the law school’s most heavily attended and popular event of the year.

To read about SmolenPlevy in the Summer 2013 issue of Mason Law News, click here.

In the Media: SmolenPlevy Attorneys Note Effect of Recovering Economy on Rise in Divorces in Virginia Lawyers Weekly

SmolenPlevy attorneys Alan Plevy and Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson provide insight into the increase in divorces in a healthy economy in the September 2, 2013 issue of Virginia Lawyers Weekly.

Plevy and Dickerson were among the first attorneys to notice the trend of couples holding off on filing for divorce when the economy began to struggle in 2009.  Couples stayed under the same roof during the recession because 401(k) plans, stocks and home prices were so low they could not afford to split.

Roughly four years later, things have improved for couples wanting a divorce.

“People couldn’t even think about divorce before – they were just focused on survival,” says Plevy. “Now the economy has changed with people being able to refinance and a lower unemployment rate.”

Dickerson noted a silver lining from the recession: the economic downturn forced couples to be more civil and practical. “If both people are worried about how to pay the utility bill, then they were more respectful of each other in the process.”

To read “Till Death do Us Part…Or the Housing Market Rebounds,” click here.

In the News: Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson in Huffington Post

SmolenPlevy’s attorneys were among first to discuss the negative effects of social media on divorce and custody battles. But in a just posted Huffington Post article, Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson, SmolenPlevy Principal, explains how social media can be used constructively by divorcing couples, especially when it comes to their children.

Dickerson suggests that by logging on, you can keep up with your children’s friendships, activities and interests through postings, pictures and videos. Websites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram give insight into your child’s thoughts, moods and day-to-day experiences in a way that speaking with them for 10 minutes in the evening does not. Skype and Google Hangouts allow you to see, hear and talk with your children in real-time and can serve to augment in-person visitation or help you to keep in contact with children who may not be local.

Social media can also help reduce interference by the other parent and give you the ability to establish a relationship more directly with your child, says Dickerson.

In the News: Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson Interviewed on the Positive Uses of Social Media during Divorce

SmolenPlevy’s attorneys were among first to discuss the negative effects of social media on divorce and custody battles. But now, in a just posted interview, Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson, family law attorney and Principal, explains how social media can be used constructively by divorcing couples, especially when it comes to their children.

Dickerson suggests by logging on, you can keep up with your children’s friendships, activities and interests through postings, pictures and videos. Websites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram give insight into your child’s thoughts, moods and day-to-day experiences in a way that just speaking with them for 10 minutes in the evening does not. Skype and Google Hangouts allow you to see, hear and talk your children in real-time and can serve to augment in person visitation or help you to keep in contact with children who may be located in another country.

Social media can also help reduce interference by the other parent and give you the ability to establish a relationship more directly with your child, says Dickerson.