Family Law Blog

Marriage, Divorce, and Wellness

November 20, 2009

Filed under: Health Care/Insurance,News and current events — Tags: , , , , — Burt & Feldman @ 9:38 am

heart puzzle

I recently read an interesting article on CBSNews.com claiming that divorce is bad for your health.  The article is based on the results of a study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior which found that divorced and widowed adults have 20% more chronic health conditions than married people.

This makes sense to me.  I’ve always heard that married people live longer healthier lives, a fact which is mentioned in the article.  I’ve also heard that pet owners live longer happier lives.  Contentment, happiness and good health go hand in hand.

So it makes sense that any traumatic life event has a negative effect on our mental or physical health.  But the article’s headline, “Divorce May Make You Sick”, seems misleading, because anxiety and strain can come from many quarters.  Whether trauma comes from an abusive relationship, a divorce, a death in the family, or violence of any kind—it is toxic to our health and well-being.  Stress always takes its toll.

Should we stay in a bad marriage just to avoid chronic health problems?  Of course not, it won’t work.  Stress is stress and trauma is trauma. Clinical psychologist Dr. Jeff Gardere agrees; “If you’re in a “toxic” relationship that involves physical or mental abuse or in a relationship where you just can’t get along, it’s best to get out of it because the health benefits of divorce are much better than staying in a bad situation.”

The article makes the suggestion that if you are contemplating divorce you may want to have your doctor on hand.  As preventive care, this may be overkill, but I like to think that my primary care physician is always available when needed, anyways.

And if you’re hoping that a quick remarriage will negate the ill-effects on your health caused by divorce you may be disappointed; the study suggests that remarriage won’t reverse the negative health impact for years.  But that shouldn’t stop you from taking the plunge a second time. “Go ahead and remarry,” says Dr. Gardere, “…you can get better in time.”

I think the lesson to be taken from this is that everyone should take measures to be proactive about physical and emotional health.  Do what you can to reduce trauma in your life.  Remove yourself from violent and abusive environments.  Get counseling if necessary.  Keep an active body and an active mind.  Maintain good nutrition, good friendships and good relationships.  And most of all keep a good attitude – bad things sometimes happen to good people, but it doesn’t mean your life is over.  Sometimes it means your life is just beginning.

Protecting Yourself From Danger: How to Get an Order of Protection

November 13, 2009

Filed under: Order of Protection — Tags: , , , , — Burt & Feldman @ 1:58 pm

lock and key

by Elizabeth Feldman

If you are a victim of domestic violence, you may need an Order of Protection (OOP).  An OOP may be issued before, during or after a divorce.  You must believe, and convince the Court, that there is a threat of violence, danger or harm to you from your spouse, significant other (or a few other enumerated relationships).

You must first decide where to request an OOP.  If you have not yet filed for divorce (or separation or paternity), you MAY be able to request that a Justice Court or City Court issue an OOP.  If you are in the midst of a divorce, you will need to file in Superior Court.  In any case, depending upon the timing, most OOPs eventually get transferred to Superior Court.

The process of getting an OOP is personal and involved. You will need to go to the courthouse and fill out the form.  You can bring a lawyer, but you will need to fill out the form and speak to the judge or commissioner.  The form will ask for specifics, including any evidence of any past threats, assaults, interference, harm, harassment, stalking, damage, trespass, etc., and/or any future potential threats.  The form will ask if you want anybody else included in the OOP, such as a child.  It is usually difficult to include other adult third parties, as they will need to get their own orders.  If you, however, believe that your child is in danger, you may ask the court to include him/her and you will need to state specific reasons.  Sometimes, it can be more difficult to include children.  The form will also ask if you want “exclusive use” of the residence, if you feel it necessary to preclude the defendant (your spouse, significant other, etc.) from returning to the house.  The request may also ask if you want some kind of contact with the defendant, such as phone, e-mail or text.  Often having some way of communicating, especially about children, such as e-mail, where there is a written record, can be helpful.  Finally, the request will ask if you believe the defendant possesses any weapons or guns.

Once the Judge (or commissioner) grants your OOP, you will need to have it served.  A lawyer can help with this process, or the court can tell you how to utilize law enforcement or a process server.  Remember, you CANNOT serve the order yourself.

Once the order is served, the defendant can request a hearing.  The courts usually set the hearing relatively quickly, usually within about a week.  You can bring a lawyer to the hearing.  At the hearing, you will have the “burden” of proving that the OOP should remain in place.  You will be sworn and testify as to the statements that you included in your request for the OOP.  You should be as specific as you can.  The defendant may or may not testify.  The Court may continue the OOP, modify it or dismiss it.

If you believe that you or your children are in danger you will want to take whatever legal steps available to protect yourself.  We can help you get the protection you need. Remember that an OOP is different than temporary orders. If you have questions about either of these, please contact our office.

How Long Does It Take to Finalize a Divorce and Why?

November 6, 2009

Filed under: Divorce Proceedings — Tags: , , , , — Burt & Feldman @ 7:33 am

bxp10437-03

By Sandra Burt

The statutory waiting period for a divorce in Arizona is sixty days, so when I tell clients that they should actually plan on a year to resolve their case the response is often confusion.  Why does it take so long to finalize a divorce?

In truth, the length of time it takes to resolve a case varies; but generally when attorneys are involved there is more complexity to the case and thus more things that need to be done to ensure the parties have a fair agreement.  During the course of the year the attorney and the client are very busy, they are spending that time actively readying the case and pursuing settlement; there is no idle time, everyone is working diligently to create a full picture of the marital financial situation and a full picture of what would be appropriate for the children.  Oftentimes other professionals are consulted as well, to help with some financial aspects of the case, or to address concerns regarding the children and what each parent believes is in their best interest.

I like to think of the family attorney as the head of the fish guiding the tail.  The goal is always to have a complete picture so when the parties are ready for mediation or a trial, all information regarding the children, finances, debts, and values are at the attorney’s fingertips.  Although it may take longer to prepare a case and the long process can be frustrating, in the end the process ensures that the parties and their children are protected.  It is better to spend the time during the initial part of the case gathering information than having to drag the process out even longer at a later date, trying to set aside a final Decree because things were rushed, poorly organized, or missed altogether.

Uh Oh, I Didn’t Expect That: How Medical Surprises Affect Us—Part 2: Health Insurance

October 30, 2009

by Sandy Bregman

Woman reading letter shocked

As I was saying in my last blog, all the debates about healthcare and insurance coverage for everyone these days remind me of some frightening issues I’ve faced concerning health and care and coverage.

In my last post I wrote about my experiences in Africa and the healthcare I received or might have received out of this country years ago versus the care my mother received on the last day of her life.  In this post I’d like to discuss what happens when you get sick and have no health insurance, and what legislators and news commentators are talking about when they say that “many people choose to go without health insurance”.

In addition to being a member of the Arizona Bar I have also been a member of the Oregon Bar.  When I joined the Oregon Bar I was able to obtain their Group insurance with Blue Cross Blue Shield, with good coverage for my family at a reasonable rate.  All went well for ten years or so until I received a notice that the Bar would stop carrying group insurance, but “not to worry” because policyholders would be able to transfer to a private policy at a comparable rate.  When I contacted the insurance carrier in Oregon I was told that they couldn’t help me because my primary practice was in Arizona.  The problem was that this all happened while I was in the hospital, and suddenly I was looking at possible financial ruin for my family.

I was in the middle of what turned out to be a two month hospital stay with three major surgeries, intensive care, continual tests, and the expectation of fourth surgery in the near future… And I wondered, would I still get those things when my insurance was cancelled?  I had great coverage when I went into the hospital.  Would the old policy cover the expenses as part of an ongoing condition and hospital stay until I got out?  Would I be in the hospital with no coverage at all?  Would I ever get insurance again?  Would I be able to afford the doctors, the medicines, the expected and the unexpected continuing medical costs?

An insurance agent we knew was able to get me a decent policy, but the cost was $2500.00 per month.  It was probably our largest monthly bill at the time.  That is a large amount even now, but 10 years ago it was outrageous!  But they accepted my condition as a covered event after the old insurance ran out, so we felt we had no choice.  To not take the policy would have meant we paid all medical bills out of pocket—and they were substantial.  We had co-pays and deductibles, but nothing compared to what the insurance ultimately would pay.  We would pay $30,000.00 a year just for the insurance until we could qualify for something better.  They still wouldn’t make a profit on me for a while.  How we would do it I had no idea.

My experience is very similar to the experiences of those going through a divorce. In a divorce the dependent spouse on the health insurance policy will not be able to remain on the policy.  The children may remain as dependents, but the ex-spouse must either convert to a Cobra policy or make other arrangements.  If you are that spouse and you don’t have access through your own employer or other group to obtain a policy in your own name, you may be looking at getting a Cobra policy.  This is intended to be a temporary stopgap solution when you lose access to a group policy.  But even Cobra is not a viable option for many people.  Those who can’t afford it will have to go without insurance.

In the debate over health care some will claim that these people “choose” not to take Cobra or to get health insurance.  But what choice do you have if outrageously expensive policies are forced on you by circumstances?  We all have expenses to be paid:  housing, car and gas, food, utilities, and children’s needs to mention only the most obvious.

Where does health insurance fit in the budget?  If you are healthy and have been in the past you may “choose” to pay for car insurance and gas to get to work every day rather than pay for health insurance, but it is a gambler’s game.  None of us can ever know when we—or our children—may need extensive health care.

Even if we were to vote for universal health insurance or healthcare in our country, there are a plethora of problems that will remain.  They are here now.  But we have to start somewhere and we have already taken so very long to get started.

Uh-Oh, I Didn’t Expect That: How Medical Surprises Affect Us—Part 1: Health Care

October 23, 2009

Filed under: News and current events,Personal — Tags: , , , , , , — Burt & Feldman @ 6:41 am

by Sandy Bregman

hospital bed

With all the debates about the President’s goal for universal healthcare coverage and the different opinions as to how we can accomplish that— or even if we should — I’m reminded of some very frightening issues I’ve faced regarding my own health care over the years.  Some of my experiences have been in American hospitals, and some have been in foreign hospitals.  Here is my story.

In the 1970’s I was in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone, West Africa.  I lived in Kenema, the capitol of the Eastern District.  Other than by population standards it was a small town.

There was one government hospital and one private hospital/clinic, which was owned and run by Doctor Banya , a local man and good friend of ours, who had been educated in the West.  It was rare at that time for an African doctor to run his own hospital.  There was only one other private hospital in the country owned and run by an African doctor; neither doctor had been educated in his own country.

One morning I was alone in the house with Mohammed; a man who cleaned, shopped, cooked and lived at the house with us.  I had just finished breakfast when I started to shake and feel faint.  I called for Mohammed.  Because we had no transportation he went out looking for help.  The only vehicle nearby was a large noisy motorcycle owned by a neighbor who was loud and argumentative.  My impression of him had been that he was a big bruiser of a bully, but when Mohammed asked for help he was there immediately, helping Mohammed carry me to his bike.  I was now too sick to hold myself up.  The neighbor held me with one arm and used his other hand to steer the motorcycle.

At the hospital there was no “triage” and no waiting.  I was taken to a bed right away and given immediate and excellent care.  No one asked about payment—perhaps they simply thought the U.S. Government would take care of its own.  Nobody ever asked what was in it for them to help me, and never asked if I was worthy of their help.  They simply gave it willingly and gracefully. Without their quick actions I might have died.

The conditions in Africa were not easy: the weather was intensely hot and humid, and air conditioning was unheard of, the hospital itself was basic. But the care I received was excellent and pleasant; the facilities were kept spare, clean and well-ventilated with fans.  I was able to spend two weeks in the hospital bed recovering.

When the doctor worried that I may have contracted Lassa Fever, a new and fatal disease that had just been identified in a neighboring district he took action immediately. One day I awoke to find the doctor, a nun from the hospital in the neighboring district, and a doctor from Atlanta’s Disease Control Center surrounding my bed, asking questions to determine if I fit the profile.  As serious as it was I was relieved to find out that I only had a bad case of Malaria.

When I needed my blood tested at the government hospital, again my doctor was on top of the situation. He gave me a needle and told me to insist that it be used by the hospital – because they reused their needles on patients and I couldn’t be sure to get a new needle.

Compare this story to an experience I recently had here in the U.S.  My mother was sent to one of the city hospitals for tests on her heart.  We waited and waited, but several days later the tests had not yet been done.  By the time they finally were scheduled my mother had abdominal pain so severe she refused to have the tests or to see anyone.  The next morning we went to the hospital and found that she had been taken off her pain medicine, was hallucinating and in excruciating pain.  The nurse didn’t know why.  We asked to speak to the Doctor.  She put in a call.  We checked with her regularly and each time she called for the doctor again.  The doctor wasn’t in but his Physician’s Assistant was in the hospital and would come to see us.  My daughter saw the PA pass our room a few times but we could never find her down the hall.  She didn’t come in until about 3 P.M. with an apology and the comment that she had “more urgent” cases.  She agreed that it was unacceptable for Mom to have no pain medication and she would order some right away as well as a visit from the Pain Management Team.  Again we waited. When no medicines came we checked with the nurse and discovered that no medicine had ever been ordered.  The PA left it up to the Pain Management Team, who had not been told it was urgent, and who would come when they were ready.  They never came.

By 6pm my Dad, 81 and recovering from the flu, was worried about getting back to his home over an hour away.  It was March, getting dark, a blizzard was expected, and we could not stay at the hospital.  Eventually we took Dad home, but ended up driving back to the hospital at 11P.M, fighting the blizzard.  Mom died in the middle of the night.

I have a lot of feelings surrounding these events.  I feel guilty at times.  I feel angry and frustrated at the Doctor and his P.A.  I know they meant well and were doing their best, that the situation was a combination of bad moments, bad choices and tragic results.  Unfortunately in the last five years of my parents’ lives my family experienced many other upsetting experiences regarding their health care.

Now there is another aspect to my experience in Africa—my experience at the other hospital.  I remember a long building with a surrounding porch.  People lined the walls waiting to see doctors.  Some were mothers who had carried their sick babies and children on foot for miles to get medical help; many of whom would end up carrying their dead children miles home again to be buried.  Patients in beds filled the porch, overflowed into the corridors and down the stairs into the grass.

I realize that I was lucky to get the excellent care I did in Africa… but my mother was not so lucky right here in the United States.  Although I would not choose to get health care out of the United States, I know that that does not necessarily mean we have a good system.  We have good technical health care.  We have good people with good training.  But we have a serious breakdown in the system.

Is this broken system what we are willing to accept?  The bottom line should be the care of the patient, of the person; not rules or policies or other concerns. Our “Humanity” is in how we treat each other in our interactions, in the care we give face to face; it is not in our rules or policies or on something we list on a piece of  paper. When those rules and policies become more important than people, when they keep doctors from fulfilling that first and most sacred of oaths, “do no harm”; shouldn’t something be done?

You And Your Lawyer

October 9, 2009

Filed under: Divorce Proceedings,Personal — Burt & Feldman @ 9:34 am

by Sandy Bregman

handshake

Many years ago, before I was a lawyer, I was going through a divorce after fifteen years of marriage.  I had a four year old daughter and had just been diagnosed with a medical condition that could have been disabling.  I did not have the work skills to support myself and my daughter.  I was scared and vulnerable.

I was referred to a lawyer who I was told “never loses.”  This sounded good at the time, but today, with the experience I have, I know how little meaning that phrase really has.  There are so many issues addressed in a divorce that “win-lose” has no meaning.  Whether you come out ahead or behind on any given issue depends on many factors, some of which you have absolutely no control over. The same elements affect your spouse.  You won’t get everything you want, and neither will your spouse.  The law and community property determine a lot of issues, and no one comes out of a divorce as strong as when they began.

In spite of his glowing recommendation, I was uncomfortable with my lawyer from the very start.  In fact, I didn’t like him much at all.  He was arrogant, and not especially empathetic or understanding.  My life was only a business to him.   I didn’t like him, but I didn’t know anyone else.  I felt lost.

Because I’ve been through divorce from the other side, I know what kind of service I want to provide. I believe a good divorce lawyer listens to your story with interest, patience and understanding.  A lawyer must know your whole story to truly be your advocate, as there are many seemingly small details that can make a substantial difference in the divorce process.

And divorce is a process, often a lengthy one. It is not only legal but personal:  the death of one stage of life and the birth of another.  This is why Arizona law requires a minimum waiting period of at least 60 days from the service date of a Petition to the final divorce.  You must have time to mourn the loss before you can embrace your new life, and your lawyer should play a role in helping you.

Fortunately, I landed on my feet after my divorce, but it was hard. I was a single parent, going to school full time, and handling two to three jobs at a time.  I thought often about how helpful it would be to have a community for single parents, helping them get back on their feet and make a better life for themselves and their children.

That is my vision for this blog, to provide a community of support and empathy, experience and advice – a comfortable place to share your thoughts and fears about what is happening, and ask questions of those who have been through it already.  I welcome your thoughts and comments and I invite your questions. I will use my weekly blogs to answer your questions and address any other issues that I know to be of interest or importance.  I know there are many common concerns and fears out there, and I know I can help.

If you would like more personal legal advice, please call or email and I will be happy to provide you with the help you need.

In the meantime, take one day at a time, and may it be a good one.

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