Divorce in the Day of COVID

By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.

This virus has changed the world, and that includes divorce cases.   While divorces are proceeding, they are different now, from beginning to end.

In “the good old days,” the parties and their attorneys would attend Initial Status Conferences in person.   It was the first introduction of the parties to the courthouse.   But now, COVID19 has forced these Conferences to now be by telephone.   A positive is that this new format saves the clients substantial fees and costs.   They are no longer billed for the lawyer’s travel time to and from the courthouse.

Most mediators do not have the facilities to accommodate six feet of separation, and talking for eight hours with a mask is cruel and unusual punishment.   So, mediations are occurring by Zoom.  The mediator is at home, and each attorney and party participate in their own Zoom window.  The mediator assigns the lawyer and client a separate room, so that they are not with the other side.   The mediator then moves between the two video chat rooms.  If agreement is reached, a written document is emailed between the lawyers, and signatures received remotely.

Even the most crucial part of a divorce, a trial, has changed.   I recently had a full day trial by way of WebEx.  The judge was in the courtroom, on our screen, the parties were in their own space and screen, and we lawyers were in our respective offices and screens.   There is a delay in the sound, so an objection required the lawyer to flap his/her arms like a crazy person to get the judge’s attention.  In the courtroom, it is easy to refresh recollection or impeach, by approaching the witness with a document.   This is not so easy on video.   Even harder, one or more participants had trouble hearing every so often, so the proceeding would have to be paused, and the session rebooted, after arms were waived crazily to bring the problem to the attention of the judge.

The proceedings in general are very delayed right now.  Many conferences and hearings that were scheduled during March and April were continued, so the courts are playing catch up.  When trials can resume, jury trials will likely take precedence, pushing divorce cases even further down the docket.

What has not changed is the quality representation that we provide to our clients.  We are open for initial consultations, in-person, by phone, or over Zoom.   We are preparing with clients as we always have.   We are a team with our client, through this virus and after.

Has Your Senior Graduated?

By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.

Despite the crazy times created by the Coronavirus, my son has now officially graduated from high school.   I am so thankful he was able to enjoy a bit of normalcy offered from a true graduation ceremony.   Here is hoping that college in the fall is on and classes are live on campus.

His graduation made me think of a pressing question in post-decree cases:   Does child support continue?

Colorado has two ages that are relevant to children.   Age 18 is the age of emancipation as relates to parental responsibilities, but age 19 is the age of emancipation for child support.   Yet, as is common, the law has a few clarifiers.

If the child is still in high school when turning 19, child support continues until the end of the month following graduation.   For kids who drop out of high school before graduating, but re-enroll, child support resumes upon re-enrollment and continues until the month following graduation or the age of 21, whichever is first.

If the child marries or enters into active military duty, the child is considered emancipated.

If the child is mentally or physically disabled, child support may continue past age 19.

The parties can also agree otherwise, but only to extend child support, not terminate it before the age of 19.

So, you may ask, who gets the child support when the child who is under 19 is off to college.   The same parent who has received support before the child goes to college receives it until age 19.  Another common question is who has to pay for a child’s secondary education.  No one.   A parent can always offer, or the parties can agree in a formal agreement approved by the Court, but there is no law requiring a parent to pay for a child’s college education.

With those answers, I do wish all 2020 senior a bright future!

An Order is an Order, Not an Option

By Sahar P. Safi, Esq.

You did it.  You separated from your partner and your child’s other parent, went through the entire legal case, all the pleadings and motions, the mediation and alternative dispute resolution, the Court appearances and hearings, possibly even had a child expert involved, and now finally have custody orders in place that are in your child’s best interests.  You think it is over, but what do you do when the other parent is not following the orders that were so painstakingly crafted?  Maybe they keep the child during your overnights, or flat out refuse the exchanges.  Maybe they are making decisions without your input when you are supposed to decide together, or they are not permitting the child to have communication with you as outlined in the order.

Colorado law provides effective means by which you can seek enforcement and assistance from the Court to bring the other parent into compliance with the parenting time orders.  This can be done by either filing a Contempt Motion under the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 107, or a Motion to Enforce under Colorado Revised Statutes §14-10-129.5.  While a Contempt Motion has its benefits, including requesting that the Court order the other party to pay your fees and costs and order sanctions against the party violating the parenting time orders, a Motion to Enforce is often the more ideal option.

A Motion to Enforce has priority on the Court’s docket, and Court’s are generally more receptive to this procedural route, rather than filing for contempt, as a Motion to Enforce is perceived to be less hostile and adversarial.  Further, the Court can still order the other party to pay your fees and costs and impose sanctions upon them, but with a Motion to Enforce, the Court has many other forms of relief available to it as permitted under the statute.

A Contempt Motion is limited in its sanctions to only imposition of a fine and/or jail time to try and bring the other parent into compliance.  A Motion to Enforce on the other hand, offers more creative methods to resolve the dispute.  Among others, not only can the Court impose additional terms and conditions to ensure compliance with the parenting time orders, but the Court can also require either or both parents to attend parental education programs or family counseling with the noncomplying parent footing the bill, require the noncomplying parent to post bond or security to ensure against future violations, provide the aggrieved parent with makeup parenting time for all that they have missed, order anything else that promotes the best interest of the child, and the Court can even find the noncomplying parent in contempt for their violations of the parenting time orders, thereby incorporating the same sanctions as permitted in a Contempt Motion within a Motion to Enforce.  The statute is quite potent and gives the Court ample tools to deploy in securing enforcement of the parenting time orders so that you are not without recourse if the other parent unilaterally decides not to observe the parenting time orders.

You have made it past massive hurdles to get parenting time orders in the best interest of your child, and, while not something you anticipated, you may have to go back to Court to enforce those orders.  Knowing that there are safeguards and laws in place to help carry out and implement those orders that were so hard-fought can provide you with the reassurance needed to keep the focus where it should always be, on the needs and well-being of your child.

No, Colorado is Not a 50-50 State!

By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.

There is an urban myth out there that Colorado is a 50-50 parenting time state. I have even had potential new clients tell me this is the law.  It simply is not accurate.  Colorado parental responsibilities actions are based upon the best interests of the specific child, with no presumption in favor of a father, a mother, or equal time.

I have been doing this now for over twenty-five years, and while it is true that some custody arrangements end in equal time with each parent, others do not.  What works for some children, and their families, does not work for others.  It is the specific needs of the particular child that matter.

I have been very protective of my personal life, and that of my children.  But now that my youngest is an adult, I have a bit more  flexibility in what I can share.  When I went through my divorce, the children’s father pushed for a 50-50 parenting schedule.  I agreed on an interim basis when he moved out of the marital home.   Our children melted down under that time sharing, and we eventually adjusted so that they were based primarily with me.  While they greatly improved with the new schedule, that period of equal time took its emotional toll on them, especially the youngest.  I am grateful that their father was able to put their needs ahead of his own and transition them to a different schedule that better suited them.  I still regret even trying the equal time, given the negative impact on the children. Our divorce was in a county with a reputation for ordering 50-50 parenting.  However, I knew that was not best for my children and was willing to fight for  them to protect them emotionally and developmentally.   This was tested a few years after our divorce, when their father moved to modify the parenting time to equal.  A neutral child  expert was appointed and we went all the way through trial.  Yes, I have been there,  too.   No changes were made to their schedule, being primarily based with me.  Today, as they are adults, they are successful in their lives – healthy, happy, kind, loving, and excelling in their respective schooling.   A huge part of that success is that we got the parenting time “right” for them.

So, not only do I know the law to not be 50-50, but I lived through it twice, coming out on the other side.  The key continues to be no presumptions.  Instead, the children are to be the focus, not what the parents want or think is fair.  Each child is unique, and the  parenting plan needs to be tailored to that child.  No one size fits all.

 

Who Do You Want on Your Side?

By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.

As I mentally review this year, I see a theme – standup for what is right, and do not allow misplaced attacks.   I am proud that our firm has done exactly this in 2019.

It has never made sense for a lawyer to tell me their critical opinions of my client.   They will obviously not change my mind about what I have formed, myself, about my client.  However, when they do share their aspersions, it educates me as to their entire case and we can prepare our counter.   I rise above, and initially ignore the lack of professionalism while taking notes of their case plan.  This strategy is explained to the client under attack, but it is still difficult for that client to endure.

However, if the criticism continues, I do take a stand and defend my client.  I do not use facts of our case, as those are precious to the case as a whole.  Instead, I challenge the lawyer doing the attacking and insist they cease.   Nine times out of ten, the lawyer questions me and accuses me of lack of professionalism, while defending his or her castigations of my client.   I am tough, and can handle it, for the protection and defense of my client.

This same philosophy can be seen in good parenting.   The parent who takes the high road, does not seek out the nasty lawyer, and takes positions in the litigation that are child focused is the heavy, but the protector.  I will take that client any day.   Sometimes, this means digging in, making the hard choices, and going to trial to get the orders that are in the best interest of the children.   Other times, this means pursuing less parenting time than the parent wants for him or herself, but which is best for the child emotionally and developmentally.

In 2019 I had many a selfless client who put his and her children first, second to their own needs.  One father in particular really stood out to me, as he saw the big picture of his children’s overall success and his future, if not current, relationship with them.   He endured the misplaced aspersions against him, and rose above to do right by his children.   I am proud to have been his lawyer.

We have had to make some tough decisions in cases, decisions that reflect directly on us as lawyers.   We have sought recusal of judges, which is very uncommon.   However, for the benefit of our clients, we must make the hard decisions, and were successful in the recusals.   These efforts were not without discomfort, as opposing counsel attempted to place the negative spotlight on us, versus the judges who ultimately recused themselves.   However, the client’s interests, not our feelings, are paramount.

Is this not why a person retains a lawyer?  To defend them?  To guide them?   To protect them? To help them to get the best outcome even if uncomfortable for the lawyer?

So, as I look back at 2019 and forward to 2020, if I were looking for a law firm to represent me, I would want The Law Offices of Brenda L. Storey on my side!

Thankful

By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.

I just want to take this opportunity to thank each and every client, former and current, for entrusting your case to us. Being involved in a legal proceeding is one of the most difficult times through which people will go. We are honored to assist our clients through the process, and help them to move forward. We have been blessed by such wonderful clients over the years, and do not take them for granted.

I also want to thank our staff. Office Manager Pamela Osse is a key player behind the scenes, keeping the office running. My paralegal, Emily Ploch, is the first professional that has been able to keep up with me. Additionally, her organization and attention to detail are part of why our cases run so smoothly. Our new addition this year, Associate Attorney Sahar Safi, has added an excellent option for quality representation at an incredibly affordable price.

We wish you a very happy Thanksgiving, and hope you all know we appreciate you.

A Confession, or Two, and an Epiphany

By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.

I am a closet pageant queen.  There, I said it.  From the age of 16 until I turned 21, I coveted a sash and crown.  Then, when I entered law school at the age of 22, until now, at the age of 50, I hoped no one would know of my pageant past.  I mean, how can a beauty queen lawyer be taken seriously?!?

But, after practicing law for 25 years, and hitting the big 5-0 milestone earlier this year, I have come to embrace this past.  I realize that this is actually something about which I should be proud, not ashamed.  So, why do we as humans do this?

Plain and simple, people are mean, and people are judgmental, and people are hurtful.   It is a natural protective mechanism to try to avoid exposure to anything that could harm us.  And while I was able to keep hidden my pageant queen past, I have not been able to avoid other areas of emotional challenges.   Like everyone, my life can be tough and there is no escaping that.

I absolutely love what I do for a living.   I revel in helping others, and leaving them better than I found them.   However, divorce law is difficult.   It is extremely difficult.  In addition to all the areas of law we must know, and the Rules, this is a highly emotionally charged arena.  Opposing parties can get very angry at their spouse’s lawyer.  The clients can  reach their breaking point, and end up taking it out on their lawyer as a safe haven.   The worst part of this area of  law, though, is immature, ego-driven opposing counsels who use personal attacks.   I did not go to law school and incur hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans to be personally attacked.  Yet, it happens.

I am one tough cookie.   I can handle whatever is throw at me.  I am also very protective.  I do not want my staff impacted and I will not allow them to worry.   That is my job.   So, I try to stay two steps ahead and strive to be the smartest in the room, as I brandish my tough exterior to the world.

However, a country song that I heard on the radio really resonated with me.  It in fact led to an epiphany for me.   It made me realize that the world will not end if I start showing what is under my skin.   And if I continue to try to keep up this strong façade, my health will suffer.

Homecoming Queen?

Sung by Kelsea Ballerini

Hey homecoming Queen
Why do you lie?
When somebody’s mean
Where do you hide?
Do people assume
You’re always alright?
Been so good at smiling
Most of your life

Look damn good in the dress
Zipping up the mess
Dancing with your best foot forward
Does it get hard
To have to play the part?
Nobody’s feeling sorry for ya

But what if I told you the world wouldn’t end
If you started showing what’s under your skin
What if you let ’em all in on the lie?
Even the homecoming Queen cries

Hey homecoming Queen
How’s things at home?
Still walking on eggshells
When that curtains closed
Did your Daddy teach you
How to act tough?
Or more like your Mama?
Sweep it under the rug

Look damn good in the dress
Zipping up the mess
Dancing with your best foot forward
Did you want the crown?
Or does it weigh you down
Nobody’s feeling sorry for ya

What if I told you the world wouldn’t end
If you started showing what’s under your skin?
What if you let ’em all in on the lie?
Even the homecoming Queen cries

Yeah, what if I told you the sky wouldn’t fall?
If you lost your composure, said to hell with it all
Not everything pretty sparkles and shines
And even the homecoming Queen cries (Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh)
Oh yeah
Even the homecoming Queen cries (Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh)
(Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh)

Hey homecoming Queen
Why do you lie?
When somebody’s mean
Where do you hide?

So here is another confession.  I was my high school homecoming queen.  And I was the state homecoming queen – that’s right, Miss Colorado Homecoming Queen.   And I am now admitting that even this homecoming queen cries.  When somebody is mean to me, I am no longer going to  hide.  I am not going to just let people assume that I am always alright.  I am not going to just play the part.   The world is not going to end if I start showing what is under my skin.  In fact, I will be happier and healthier.  So, yes, world, even this homecoming queen cries!

I do hope that any of you who are reading this will look inside yourselves, as well, and see, that it is okay to show your vulnerability.  It is okay to ask for help.   It is okay to cry.   We can cry together.

A Name Change Post-Decree?

By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.

Outside the divorce arena, a name change requires background checks, jumping through hoops and red tape.  The country music group Pistol Annies has a catchy song about changing a party’s name as a result of a divorce.  They are really right on, as it does take a judge to get a divorce, and it does take a judge to get a name changed back as a result of that divorce. Here are the lyrics:

It takes a judge to get married, takes a judge to get divorced
Well the last couple years, spent a lotta time in court
Got my name changed back (yeah yeah)
I got my name changed back (yeah yeah)
Well I wanted somethin’ new, then I wanted what I had
I got my name changed back (yeah yeah)

Well I’ve got me an ex that I adored
But he got along good with a couple road whores
Got my name changed back (yeah yeah)
I got my name changed back (yeah yeah)
I don’t wanna be a Missus on paper no more
I got my name changed back (yeah yeah)

(Here we go)

I don’t let a man get the best of me
Spent an afternoon at the DMV
Got my name changed back (yeah yeah)
I got my name changed back (yeah yeah)
Now who I was ain’t who I be
I got my name changed back (yeah yeah)

(That’s right)

Well, how to win when you play the fool
That’s somethin’ they don’t teach in school
I played to win, lookin’ back is funny
I broke his heart and I took his money
Got my name changed back (yeah yeah)
I got my name changed back (yeah yeah)
Well I don’t wanna be a Missus on paper no more
I got my name changed back (yeah yeah)

I got my name changed back
I got my name changed back
I got my name changed back
I got my name changed back
I got my name changed back
I got my name changed back

Yeah, yeah!

While a name change can be sought during the divorce or legal separation proceeding, it is never too late.   Colorado has a statute that makes a name change post-decree very simple.  At any time at all after the entry of a decree of divorce or legal separation, a party can seek restoration of a prior full name.  All that is needed are a verified motion and affidavit, filed in the same case as the divorce or legal separation.  The standard is very easy:   That the restoration of a prior full name is not detrimental to any person.  An added bonus is that the request is ex parte, meaning the other party does not to have notice and does not get a say in the request.

So, if you want to get your name changed back, you can get your name changed back rather easily, yeah, yeah.

Ms. Storey’s Podcast regarding 50/50 parenting

Aikido vs. Aggressive Representation

By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.

A client recently told me I was like an Aikido Master.   Before getting offended, I thought it best to look up the definition of “Aikido.:  Aikido (Japanese: 合気道 Hepburn: aikidō) (Kyūjitai: 合氣道) [aikiꜜdoː] is a modern Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba as a synthesis of his martial studies, philosophy and religious beliefs. … Aikido is often translated as “the way of unifying (with) life energy” or as “the way of harmonious spirit.”

Now this I took as a compliment.

The belief behind this art is that fighting and endless conflict are never the answer. This is true in all aspects of life, including during a domestic relations legal case.   Many potential new clients ask if our firm offers aggressive representation.   We are quick to say no, and then explain that such representation ultimately will get the client nowhere, their relationship with the future ex-spouse further damaged, and increase the legal fees.   Further, Courts do not like aggressive tactics, causing even more backlash for the client.   Rather, assertive and smart representation, that focuses on the facts rather than making personal attacks on the other party, that limits the engagement and ultimately resolves the conflict, without causing harm, is the greater path.

I like to explain to clients that if opposing counsel is not of like-mind, and instead personally attacks my client with digs, labels and allegations, I will not respond in kind.   Again, if I were to engage it would get the parties, and their case, nowhere.   With my client introducing me to “Aikido,” I have learned that this philosophy of mine in squarely within Aikido techniques—which “are purely defensive, we never meet force with force. Instead, we learn to redirect an aggressor’s attack, leading to a peaceful resolution.”   Yes, that is exactly it!

This martial art thinking is something that can and should be adopted in all parts of our lives.   It is, has been, and will continue to be part of my legal representation of each and every client.   Just breaking down the name even inspires me, and I hope it does you as well.  ‘Ai’ (harmony, love, collaboration) ‘Ki’ (power, energy) ‘Do’ (way or path).