Behavioral Economics and Its Impact on Divorce Negotiations

By Steven Goldman, Esq.

Stemming from my background in finance and business, combined with an interest in psychology, I have always been enamored by the field of Behavioral Economics – the study of psychology as it relates to economic decision-making. Over time, reading and studying Behavioral Economics became a hobby of mine and something I would apply in daily financial decisions.

I eventually began to think about how the field of Behavioral Economics, and understanding how people make decisions generally, could help me in my practice as a family law and divorce attorney. After reading several books written by pioneers in the field (Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman; Misbehaving, Richard Thaler; Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely; etc.) and wanting to dive further into the subject matter, I enrolled in – and recently completed – a Behavioral Finance course through the University of Chicago.

In this blog, I will provide a few lessons about how Behavioral Economics can be utilized in matters of divorce and family law.

First, a primer on Behavioral Economics. An online search will tell you that the average adult makes more than 35,000 decisions per day, with 90% of those decisions made subconsciously. Daniel Kahneman describes two systems for decision-making: System 1, which is instinctual, automatic, and does not require effortful thought processes (e.g., driving, eating); and System 2, which is deliberate, controlled, and requires significant mental energy (e.g., mathematical calculations, deciding on an expensive purchase such as a house or car).

To conserve energy, our minds complete as many decisions with System 1 processing as possible.  Because System 1 acts without deep thought, it relies on heuristics, or biases, which act as shortcuts to influence our decision-making processes. Some examples of biases that I will show in relation to divorce negotiations are as follows:

  • Status Quo
  • Loss Aversion
  • Anchoring
  • Endowment Effect
  • Confirmation
  • Overconfidence

It is impossible to ignore or eliminate our biases, but we can recognize the way they operate and use that to think more clearly with System 2. We can also use what is called Choice Architecture – designing choices and options in ways that influence the decision-making process.

Example 1 – Custody Negotiations

Custody issues are always one of the most difficult to negotiate. One reason is that both parties are strongly impacted by their Status Quo biases. Prior to a separation, each parent is accustomed to living in the same home as the child and now there is a necessary adjustment to two households. Any schedule, regardless of the split, will feel like a loss of time. Loss Aversion is the principle that drives people to protect and preserve what they already have. In this scenario, the entire family used to live in the same home and both parents will feel a strong sense of loss as soon as the child’s time is divided. Parents often have a hard time negotiating a parenting time schedule because it all feels like a loss of time and, therefore, the negotiation will feel like a loss regardless of the outcome.

One way that I support clients through Loss Aversion is to redirect the conversation around the issue of time. Working with a Divorce Coach or Child Specialist, as we often do in the Collaborative Divorce process, provides the parties with an experienced mental health professional to focus on the benefits of co-parenting. An expert is there to guide the parents and explain that a child will benefit from positive co-parenting and that the co-parenting relationship will have a greater impact on a child than a particular schedule. The schedule will still be an important component to the negotiation, but it can be viewed as one piece of the puzzle to address the child’s needs.

Example 2 – Expectations and Financial Negotiations

One of the biggest obstacles in divorce negotiations is overcoming expectations. Expectations are developed as early as a client’s initial consultation that includes a sales pitch and a promise. Unfortunately, legal advice can and usually does shift when more objective information becomes available.

The problem is that the initial expectations become Anchors from which it may be difficult to deviate. Receiving anything less than initially expected will seem like a loss, even if it is an objectively reasonable and likely outcome.

Another issue arises when there are drastic disagreements over subjective financial matters, such as valuation of property. People typically overvalue their belongings, which is known as the Endowment Effect. As a result, it may be difficult to settle a buyout of a house, which carries history, memories, and sometimes serves as a home base for custody-related reasons. In financial negotiations, parties are expected to be rational and value a home based on an objective financial analysis. In reality, one person must receive less than what he or she believes it is worth due to the Endowment Effect. That person then typically uses the money to purchase a new property unaffected by those same biases. The result is the feeling that the person received less for the marital home and acquired something worth less.

One way to assist in financial negotiations is to implement the aforementioned Choice Architecture, which is another way of saying that we can frame choices to influence decisions. One way I have accomplished this in a negotiation is by providing multiple options that account for the biases parties bring into their decision-making.

Example of Choice Architecture:

Mr. and Mrs. Smith are negotiating the issues surrounding their house and the amount of spousal support to be paid by Mr. Smith.

The goal is for my client, Mrs. Smith, to get the marital home and receive as much support as possible. My client is aiming for Option 3 in this offer.

  • Option 1: Mr. and Mrs. Smith sell the house and each receive $80K ($40K in closing costs, divided equally). Mr. Smith pays $2,000 per month for 36 months in spousal support
  • Option 2: Mrs. Smith buys the house for $100K. Mr. Smith pays $2,000 per month in support for 30 months
  • Option 3: Mrs. Smith buys the house for $100K. Mr. Smith pays $1,800 per month in support for 36 months

Option 1 is completely unacceptable under any objective analysis, but it is valuable because:

  1. The presence of Option 1 shows that a buyout is better for Mr. Smith (an extra $20K), which will immediately narrow the focus between Options 2 and 3;
  2. Even though Option 1 is the higher amount of support for the longer period, it serves as an anchor for both numbers.
    • Option 2 “saves” 6 months of support for Mr. Smith
    • Option 3 “saves” $200 per month for Mr. Smith

There are different benefits to each option, but my guess is that most people would choose $1,800 per month because all support payments are perceived as losses and it is easier to picture a smaller loss for a longer period (Present Bias).

We have therefore constructed options that are aimed at Mr. Smith selecting Option 3, which provides for $4,800 in additional support as compared to Option 2.

Compare the above choices to a typical offer – I want $1,800 per month for a period of 36 months. $1,800 will not feel like $200 savings and 36 months will still seem too long. If I go even higher with my only offer, as most clients wish to do in order to give “negotiating room,” you run the risk of the offer coming across as unreasonable and not advancing the negotiations.  Alternatively, you are negotiating all of the terms and slowing the negotiations to a crawl.

That is not to suggest that Choice Architecture will guarantee success, but that it is designed to account for our biases and instinctual decision-making processes.

Example 3 – Timing of Negotiations

Lastly, whether due to a lack of time, distractions, or even for perceived strategic advantage, settlement negotiations are often saved until just prior to a trial. Objectively and behaviorally, this is one of the worst times to settle a case for several reasons – mainly the following:

  • Confirmation Bias: Through Confirmation Bias, we seek ideas and evidence that confirm our beliefs while reacting negatively to anything that contradicts our beliefs. As a client and attorney prepare for trial, they analyze the information in a light most favorable to their argument. It is likely that they ignore or even overlook the counterarguments. The positions become even more ingrained and the case becomes harder to settle.
  • Overconfidence: Related to and often resulting from Confirmation Bias is Overconfidence. If we continue to support and confirm our beliefs while simultaneously devaluing contradictory information, we become overconfident in our chances of success. A client is less likely to negotiate a fair outcome if he or she is overconfident about his or her chances in Court.
  • Sunk Cost Effect: The Sunk Cost Effect occurs when a person continues his or her behavior because of previously invested resources. Once we are invested in something, we have a hard time giving up on that investment. I have had clients openly admit that they would probably have accepted an offer if it came earlier in the case, but now that so much was spent on attorney fees, they feel it is “worth it to roll the dice” at trial.

    Objectively, the amount spent on attorney fees should have no bearing on whether to accept the deal. Additional attorney fees have no effect on the outcome of the case. Even more puzzling is that proceeding to trial will cost even more money to take the same risks.

If attorneys are aware of these biases, they should be making a concerted effort to gather the necessary data and proceed to negotiations much earlier in the litigation process. Doing so would lessen the impact of these biases on the negotiations and increase the chances of success.

Behavioral Economics clearly plays an important role in the way we think about money and make financial decisions, but its principles also guide the way we make decisions in many other areas of life.

In matters of family law, it is important to have an attorney who accounts for our natural tendencies and considers those in his or her counsel. If you have questions about a Virginia divorce or other family law issue, or wish to discuss a fresh approach to your case, Curran Moher Weis has experienced family law attorneys who can assist you through the process.

Please check out our reviews. You can request a consultation on our website or by calling us at (571) 328-5020.


I Made (or Lost) Money on GameStop Stock ($GME): What Happens in a Virginia Divorce?

By Steven Goldman, Esq.

 

Over the past week, GameStop (NYSE: GME) and other “meme stocks” (e.g., AMC and Nokia) have dominated headlines as hordes of retail traders attempted to squeeze hedge funds and other high profile short sellers, creating a highly volatile market. Within a matter of weeks, shares of $GME rose from approximately $20 to nearly $500 per share before almost immediately crashing back down to less than $100 per share. Fueled by easier and cheaper methods of investing with apps like Robinhood and TD Ameritrade, along with free trades becoming ubiquitous, nearly everyone has a friend or family member that got in on the action. Naturally, some people earned a lot of money in a short period of time while others lost just as much.

As a family law attorney, I expect to receive a lot of questions from clients as to who gets the “winnings” or, unfortunately, what to do about the losses in asset division and other matters of divorce. The following is a primer as to how investment gains and losses are generally treated under Virginia law:

Overview

In a Virginia divorce, investment accounts (including all stocks and other forms of investments held within the account) are assets subject to division if they are deemed to be marital property under Virginia Code §20-107.3. Irrespective of which spouse is the account holder, an account is considered marital property if it was acquired or contributed to during the marriage (with limited exceptions). As with all other marital assets, they are subject to “equitable distribution,” which is to say that they will be divided “fairly and equitably” after considering the factors listed in Virginia Code §20-107.3(E). Booth v. Booth, 7 Va. App. 22, 27-28 (1988).

If an investment account is held in the name of only one of the parties, the statute provides for a “monetary award” that may be payable to the other party in lieu of dividing the account.

How Should the Investments Be Divided?

Generally, passive appreciation from investments is divided in the same percentages as the rest of the account. For example, if an investment account is to be divided equally, then any investment gains would be divided equally as well. This is true even if those investment gains occurred after the parties’ separation because passive appreciation did not necessarily require any additional contributions by either party to earn that additional money.

However, Virginia Code §20-107.3(E)(2) demands consideration of, “the contributions, monetary and nonmonetary, of each party in the acquisition and care and maintenance of such marital property of the parties.” Although every situation is unique, the amount of money earned through active investing post-separation should be considered.

For example, let us imagine that Spouse A had $1 Million in an investment account as of the date of the parties’ last separation and the entire account was marital at that point in time. In January 2021, Spouse A actively traded on the account and earned another $1M from the purchase and sale of $GME. Although Spouse A utilized marital funds to invest in the market, it is at least worth considering the “contributions…in the acquisition and care and maintenance” of such marital property in awarding a greater percentage of the gains to Spouse A. This could potentially result in Spouse A receiving more than 50 percent of the assets from the account.

What About Investment Losses?

Once again, generally, passive losses from investments will not affect the division of an asset. However, let us now imagine that Spouse A had the same $1M in an investment account as of the date of the parties’ last separation, but that Spouse A then loses $500K from the purchase and sale of $GME.

Under the same statute, it could be argued that Spouse A made a “negative” monetary contribution to the acquisition and care and maintenance of marital assets. Spouse A was in control of the assets and took tremendous risk with Spouse B’s share of the funds. As a result, an equitable division of assets may result in Spouse B receiving a greater percentage of the remaining assets.

Further, it could be argued that marital assets were “wasted” or “dissipated” as a result of the risky investments. In considering such an argument, “once the aggrieved spouse shows that marital funds were either withdrawn or used after the breakdown, the burden rests with the party charged with dissipation to prove that the money was spent for a proper purpose.” Clements v. Clements, 10 Va. App. 580 (1990). Gambling and speculative stock trades, in anticipation of divorce or after the date of the parties’ separation, are oft-cited examples of marital waste.

Who Pays the Taxes?

At the end of each year, financial institutions issue a Form 1099, which states the gains or losses incurred throughout the course of a year. All investment income is then claimed on the individual’s tax return for that year. The financial institution will not know whether the account holder is married or getting divorced and so if the parties are to file taxes separately, then only the account holder will be liable for any taxes owed.

“Meme stock” activity saw a lot of people buying and selling their investments in the same month. Any stocks held for less than one year result in “short-term” capital gains and losses, which are taxed at the same rate as ordinary income. For high-earners, the tax consequences for short-term capital gains will be substantial.

Once again, Virginia Code §20-107.3(E) provides that “tax consequences to each party” is a factor to be considered in the division of marital assets. This is to say that if Spouse A is required to pay a monetary award for Spouse B’s share of the investments, capital gains taxes should be calculated into the award because Spouse A will be left with the entire tax liability.

Conversely, capital losses will have been accrued in the scenario where Spouse A lost $500K from the purchase and sale of stock. Capital losses may be quite valuable because they are used to offset gains from the sale of other assets or, if there is a net loss that year, deductible against ordinary income up to $3,000 per year. See I.R.C. §1211

For example, let’s consider that Spouse A lost $500K from the purchase and sale of $GME but the parties also have $100K in capital gains from the sale of investments in a joint brokerage account. During that year, the capital losses can be used to offset the $100K in capital gains so that no taxes are paid on the investment income from the joint account. Spouse A will also have $400K in “capital loss carryover,” which can be used to offset gains in future tax years.

Capital loss carryover, especially in a situation described above, is a significant asset that must be considered when dividing assets in a divorce. See Attiliis v. Attiliis, 2009 Va. App. LEXIS 261 (2009). If the capital loss carryover is not considered, Spouse A will have $400K in losses to offset future gains, which has the potential to be worth well over $100K in future tax savings if Spouse A is a high-income earner.

Conclusion

If you or a spouse have engaged in volatile stock trades, it is important to consider the consequences this may have in the division of the assets used for trading – whether that be tax implications for capital gains or how to consider the value of capital losses.

If you have questions pertaining to your Virginia family law issues, it is recommended that you obtain legal and financial advice from professionals prior to and throughout the divorce process. Curran Moher Weis has experienced family law attorneys who are skilled in financial matters and can work with your financial advisors to plan for your best course of action.

You can request a consultation here on our website or by calling us at (571) 328-5020.

 

All investments involve risk of loss. Nothing contained in this website should be construed as investment advice. Any reference to an investment’s past or potential performance is not, and should not be construed as, a recommendation or as a guarantee of any specific outcome or profit.

 

The information contained within this article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for obtaining accounting, tax, or other guidance from a licensed tax professional.

 


Marriage Story on Netflix: A Virginia Family Law Attorney’s Perspective

Marriage Story on Netflix: A Virginia Family Law Attorney’s Perspective

By: Steven Goldman Esq.

This past weekend marked the much-anticipated release of the Netflix film, Marriage Story, which, conversely, tells the story of the end of a marriage. The movie tells a disheartening story that, unfortunately, is all too common to family law practitioners. As I watched, I was easily able to associate each of the attorneys, portrayed incredibly by Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, and Alan Alda, with attorneys I interact with daily. Similarly, the divorcing couple, played by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, expressed emotions that many of my clients have communicated to me over the years. It was an ugly birds-eye view of the emotional struggles and havoc that family law practitioners see in the litigation process. It is also an important and insightful directive for family law attorneys to provide better, more supportive options for their clients.

***Spoiler alerts for the rest of this article, but read on if you want to read my review and comparison of the movie to real-life experiences***

 

In the opening scene of the movie, Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) are reciting many of the positive traits each saw in the other before and throughout their marriage. When they finish, we learn that the exercise was promoted by a mediator at the beginning of the separation. While it is clear that Nicole is struggling with the emotional impact of the process, the mediator tells them of the importance of remembering the positives of the other person. He tells them, “this is a person you had great feeling for and maybe you still do in many ways.” I find that many clients walk in the door wanting and hoping for an amicable divorce, a positive relationship for the future, and the ability to co-parent with one another. Unfortunately, many attorneys quickly steer clients towards litigation tactics and other strategies that, while sometimes effective in court, immediately widen the wedge between spouses. When facing a spouse in litigation, it becomes easy to forget what each person wanted in the first place.

As a mediator and collaborative practitioner, one of the first tasks I ask the parties to complete is a joint list of “Goals and Interests.” This list often consists of the reasons the couple chose mediation or collaborative law in the first place. The following goals are quite common: to ensure that the divorce process does not negatively impact the child; to have a smooth, efficient, and cost-effective process; for both parties to be financially secure in their new homes; and to achieve a fair result. Those “Goals and Interests” are posted on the wall of every meeting thereafter as a reminder as to why they are there and what they are truly aiming to achieve, regardless of how difficult an issue or future meeting may seem. If I had to guess, even those who litigate are hoping for those same results.

Unfortunately, divorce can be one of the most stressful events in a person’s life. One’s goals can be easily forgotten. As Charlie’s attorney tells him, “You know what they say, criminal attorneys see bad people at their best and divorce lawyers see good people at their worst.” I have often used this quote in my career as it is truly representative of what I see on a daily basis. My client’s spouse is hardly ever a bad person, but whether due to the emotional stress of the situation or as a result of receiving bad advice from a friend, family member, or attorney, that person may take certain actions that make the situation all that much worse. I view it as my duty as a family law attorney and counselor to try and prevent that behavior.

The attorneys in Marriage Story often do the opposite. They are so consumed with the idea of “winning” for their respective clients that they end up pushing the couple into an aggressive divorce that impacts their relationship with each other and their child. Eventually, after finally reaching a settlement (and likely tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars later) Nicole’s attorney tells her, “And whenever Charlie is in L.A., I got the custody breakdown to be 55/45…I tweaked it at the last minute. I just didn’t want him to be able to say he got 50/50, bragging to his friends.” When Nicole says she doesn’t want to do that, after often describing Charlie as a wonderful, devoted father, her attorney tells her, “Take it, you won.” Attorneys, whether it is because they are competitive, trying to pad their own resumes, earn more money, or truly think they are getting the best deal for their clients, can do a lot of damage in a divorce.

I believe Laura Dern played the role of Nicole’s attorney as someone who thought she was doing the best for Nicole. She came off as compassionate, but only to her client. When in Court, she minimized Charlie’s role in the child’s life and argued that Charlie was neglectful in caring for the child. Charlie’s attorney accused Nicole of alcohol abuse and argued that she put the child’s safety at risk. Consequently, Charlie and Nicole appeared embarrassed, sad, and powerless. Nothing being said was necessarily untrue, which is a credit to the powerful lawyering skills displayed by both. However, it took each of those situations completely out of context in order to improve the client’s position in a custody battle. As a result, it made it difficult for the couple to trust one another, which is pertinent to co-parenting. This is one of the greatest failures of the litigation process.

At the end of the movie, as Charlie and Nicole are in the next stage of their lives, they are seen together trick-or-treating on Halloween. When their son slumps over on the sidewalk, exhausted after a long day, Nicole offers for Charlie to have the night even though it is “her” night. Throughout the divorce process, no matter how inconvenient it may have been, each refused to relinquish a minute of parenting time. Now, they were putting the child first. This is the outcome parents strive to reach. It is usually #1 on the list of “Goals and Interests.” It shouldn’t be so hard to get to that point and it should even be possible during the divorce process.

The movie did have some minor flaws and inaccuracies. It was personally frustrating to watch the jurisdictional chess match over custody when, for a short-term move, New York would have had a superior claim to the case under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act because the child had not yet resided in California for a period of 6 months.

There were other moments that I thought were overly dramatic and the attorneys, at times, a little over-the-top with their strategy recommendations. Overall, however, I believe Marriage Story accurately depicted the ugly nature of divorce litigation. I also see the silver-lining in portraying divorce in this way. Parents do usually start off wanting what is best for everyone involved, especially their children. They eventually get to a place where they want that again. It is incredibly important to maintain that perspective throughout the process as well, regardless of the reasons that led to the divorce. In other words, I saw Marriage Story as a ringing endorsement for collaborative law and mediation, which is what I believe any person going through a divorce needs to hear and needs to consider.

 

Follow the Curran Moher Weis blog for additional insights on divorce and family law matters. Contact us here to request a consultation on collaboration, meditation and other divorce processes we can support you in here.


The Hague Convention: International Custody Disputes and Steps to Keep Your Children Safe

By: Steven Goldman, Esq.

Custody disputes, when not handled effectively, are some of the most difficult, heart-wrenching and financially draining situations a parent can encounter in a domestic relations case. Litigation is expensive, emotionally taxing, and often results in at least one parent believing that his or her role in the child’s life has been marginalized.

International custody disputes raise the stakes even higher because court orders from the United States may not even be recognized in other countries. If your child is traveling or residing within a country, with the other parent, and that country does not recognize your court order, that country’s judiciary system will do nothing to return your child to you in the United States.

How can that be? In which countries could this occur? What steps can be taken to prevent this from happening?

First, a framework to understand the rules that are currently in place:

1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction

More commonly referred to as the “Hague Convention,” this treaty was signed by a number of countries to assist one another in cases involving child abductions. Without the treaty, sovereign nations cannot interfere with another’s legal systems, judiciaries, or law enforcement, and so child custody orders are unenforceable. However, the Hague Convention sets forth the following rules for all signatories:

  • Each country must have a Central Authority, which is a main point of contact for parents and other local governments involved in abduction cases. Central Authority is responsible for helping locate abducted children, encouraging amicable solutions to parental abduction cases, and facilitating the safe return of children as appropriate.
  • Countries are expected to conduct expedited proceedings of Hague Convention applications. Courts must explain delays if it takes more than 6 weeks.
  • If custodial rights were violated when the child was taken from the child’s home country, a custody order is not necessary to begin Hague Convention proceedings.

In order to commence Hague Convention proceedings, a parent must show the following:

  • The child is under the age of 16
  • The child was “habitually resident” in one convention country and wrongfully removed to another convention country
  • A person can only have one “habitual residence,” which pertains to the customary residence of the child prior to the removal. Habitual residence can be altered only by a change in geography and the passage of time, not by changes in parental affection and responsibility, nor the child’s citizenship. See Friedrich v. Friedrich, 983 F.2d 1396 (1993)
  • The place where a person had been physically present for an amount of time sufficient for acclimatization and which has a degree of settled purpose from a child’s perspective. See Feder v. Evans-Feder, 63 F.3d 217 (1995)
  • Removal or retention of the child is wrongful (i.e., a violation of custodial rights)
  • A “violation of custodial rights” is a breach of custody attributed to a person under the law of the State in which the child was habitually resident immediately before the removal or retention
  • At the time of removal or retention, those custodial rights must have been actually exercised, or would have been exercised but for the removal or retention
  • The Hague Convention was in force between the two countries when the removal or retention incurred (a list of all countries that are partners to the Hague Convention can be found on the websites of the Hague Conference and the U.S. Department of State).

Compliance with the Hague Convention

One must not assume that a partner to the Hague Convention will immediately comply with its responsibilities. For example, in May 2018, the U.S. Department of State cited Japan as one of the countries showing a pattern of noncompliance with the Hague Convention. It found that “22 percent of requests for the return of abducted children under the Convention remained unresolved for more than 12 months.”

Further, it found that the enforcement process is “excessively long” and it is “very difficult to achieve enforcement of Hauge return orders.” The U.S. Department of State issues an Annual Report on International Child Abduction in which it summarizes the status of all signatories to the Hague Convention.

Notwithstanding the issues surrounding noncompliance with the Hague Convention, there are legitimate reasons for denying the return of a child to his or her country of habitual residence:

  • If there is a grave risk that the return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm, or otherwise place the child in an “intolerable situation”
  • The child objects to being returned and has attained an age and maturity at which the court can take account of the child’s views
  • More than one year has passed since the wrongful removal and the child has become settled
  • The party seeking return consented to or acquiesced to the removal or retention
  • Return of the child would violate human rights
  • The party seeking return was not exercising rights of custody at the time of the removal

Steps to Prevent Your Child’s Wrongful Removal/Retention

For these reasons, it is prudent practice to be very specific about international travel when drafting a custody agreement. International travel requirements will be extremely helpful in pleading for the return of a child under the Hague Convention as they will help show that a party ignored specific protocols and that, therefore, the removal or retention of the child was “wrongful.”

Here are a few tips to help safeguard your family:

  1. The agreement should require advance notice of travel, a complete itinerary for the travel, including an exact return date, and means to communicate with the other parent and the child during the travel. If a party wishes to differentiate travel to countries that are signatories to the Hague Convention and those that are not, that must be included in the agreement as well;
  2. The agreement should also reference control of a child’s passport during periods of non-travel and a process for transferring the passport prior to travel;
  3. When traveling internationally, always carry a certified copy of your custody order. Bring a digital copy with you as well, for convenience, but do not rely on the digital copy as an official record; and
  4. If your child custody matter is being litigated, those specific terms should be argued, with reasons to support the inclusion of those terms in the final custody order.

If you or your loved one is faced with this frightening experience, please immediately contact your country’s officer, as well as a local domestic relations attorney with experience in international custody disputes, and begin filling out a Hague Application at the U.S. Department of State website.

If you need assistance beginning the process, have further questions about your child’s international travel, or simply wish to draft a comprehensive custody agreement that covers all aspects of international travel, the experienced Virginia divorce and family law attorneys at Curran Moher Weis are here to help you throughout the process.

Contact us to set up a consultation on our website, or by calling us at (571) 328-5020. Consultations are available in Fairfax and Alexandria, Virginia.


How a Collaborative Divorce Can Save You Thousands

Over the past number of years, the family law landscape in Virginia has changed quite a bit. Before the 1990’s, there was only one true option for a couple seeking a divorce – go to court and have a judge decide the outcome. This method has obvious drawbacks: preparing for court and sitting through a trial is incredibly stressful, especially when your children are the subject of the proceedings; the process is long and arduous, often taking about one year from the date someone first files for divorce; the costs can be exorbitant. While to some this may be worthwhile and even necessary, most divorcing couples hope for exactly the opposite.



Effects of the House’s “Tax Cut and Jobs Act” on my Divorce and Divorce Agreement

Virginia alimony reform

On November 16, 2017, the House passed its “Tax Cut and Jobs Act,” setting the stage for the biggest tax reform legislation in decades. For more details on the bill, feel free to peruse the analysis performed by your news-provider-of-choice. While passage by the House does not guarantee anything as of yet (the Senate is still working on their own tax reform bill), tax reform certainly appears likely by the end of the year.


FAQ about Prenuptial Agreements in Virginia

virginia prenuptial agreements

prenuptial agreement costs

As we pass Memorial Day and inch closer to the summer, we all look forward to warm weather, trips to the beach, and hopefully a vacation. This weekend also marks the unofficial beginning of wedding season. A joyous time indeed but, as a family law attorney, this is also when I start receiving many questions about prenuptial agreements.

As ominous as that may sound, I can personally vouch for a 100% success rate in negotiating prenuptial agreements which means that all my clients celebrated a wonderful wedding and rode off into the sunset ready to embark on a much-needed honeymoon. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t traps and pitfalls to avoid along the way. The following are some frequently asked questions I have received throughout the years, as well as a few tips towards successfully navigating the negotiation process:


3 Strategies to Keep Your Virginia Divorce Out of Court

How to settle a divorce out of court in Virginia

Everyone has heard the horror stories of divorce. Perhaps you have a friend who had to liquidate a child’s college fund to pay for his attorney. Another spent the better part of two years battling over custody of a young child. Yet another got an unfair decision from a “bad” judge. The stories are countless. However, most of these stories stem from litigation.

When two parties go to court to resolve a dispute, they guarantee the following outcomes:



Hiding Assets in a Virginia Divorce is a Game No One Wins

hiding assets in virginia divorce

In anticipation of a divorce, most attorneys will advise their clients to gather financial documents and make a detailed list of their assets. Attorneys may even advise a client to secure up to 50% of the couple’s liquid assets (e.g., transferring money from a joint account to an individual one). The rationale behind this aggressive strategy is that the other spouse cannot dispose or hide assets to which he or she does not have any access.

Logically, the other side of the coin seems to be that it would be advantageous for a spouse to hide or squander those very same assets before they are divided. If a spouse does not know a particular asset exists, or it has already been spent, that asset cannot be divided. However, court rules and procedures, as well as improved investigative techniques, have made this a risky endeavor.