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Episode 99 - Celebrity Family Law Issues and What We Can Learn From Them

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Entertainment magazines love to report on 'celebrity' divorces and many love to read about them. Celebrity divorce cases, however, are not much different that any other divorce case. The same four core areas of family law apply equally to every person. What is different is that these cases are chronicled by the media. The net effect is that we are able to discuss and learn from these cases. Tune in to hear Leh Meriwether and Todd Orston talk about the following 'celebrities' and what happened in their cases: The celebrities that they discuss include A-Rod, Bethany Frankel, WWE superstar Charlotte Flair, Chris Pratt, Anna Faris, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, and Columbus Short.

Leh Meriwether: Welcome everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm Meriwether and Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether and Tharp Radio on the new Talk 106.7. Here you'll learn about divorce, family law, tips on how to save your marriage if it's in the middle of a crisis, and from time to time, even tips on how to take your marriage to the next level. Well today, we're doing something-

Todd Orston: We're going to take it to the next level.

Leh Meriwether: Take it to the next level. No, we're going to do a little something different, little something something different, although it's the same at the same time.

Todd Orston: Try not to get too hip, all right?

Leh Meriwether: I guess I'm-

Todd Orston: "We're going to do a little something something."

Leh Meriwether: I guess I'm not as hip as the celebrities we're going to talk about today.

Todd Orston: There you go. Yeah, yeah. We're going to talk about celebrities and the troubles that they deal with that relate to family law and the way I look at it is, they are really, other than maybe bigger money, they have higher incomes, more assets, they're no different than anybody else.

Leh Meriwether: Right.

Todd Orston: And they run into a lot of problems, legal problems, and-

Leh Meriwether: Just like everyone else.

Todd Orston: Like everyone else and they make mistakes sometimes, they do things the right way sometimes, but we can always learn, just like we can learn from every case that we handle, we can learn by looking at some of the issues and some of the things that some of these celebrities went through and are going through right now and hopefully take some knowledge and hopefully avoid the same problems that they're dealing with.

Leh Meriwether: Exactly. All right, well let's ... I know you like this subject and you've ...

Todd Orston: What are you? Yes. As a matter of fact, I should be at home watching TMZ or whatever. I don't have time for this. No, I guess I enjoy it to some degree only that I, again, I like hearing these stories and seeing how issues are being handled, but yeah, let's jump in and let's talk about what I'm saying or calling when is enough enough? A-Rod. Alex Rodriguez.

Leh Meriwether: All right.

Todd Orston: He is paying his ex-wife Cynthia Curtis or he was paying upwards of $115 thousand per month. Sorry, I'm choking up, but combined spousal and child support, all right?

Leh Meriwether: Wow.

Todd Orston: Now keep in mind, when he was playing for the Yankees, he was making upwards of $30 a year. $30 million a year and so since he has left and he is no longer playing ball, he is making a measly, let me just start by saying A-Rod, I'm sorry. $3 million a year. I don't know how you do it, so my heart goes out to you. All right, little dose of sarcasm there, but he's making, whether those are ridiculous numbers to most people or not, going from $30 million a year to $3 million a year-

Leh Meriwether: That's a huge drop.

Todd Orston: A huge, huge, huge drop. All right, so therefore, $115 thousand a month doesn't work anymore.

Leh Meriwether: Right.

Todd Orston: He is trying to modify the support numbers, okay, and he did what we would do, which is he and his attorneys, they went through, they looked at budgets, whatever he says that the actual expenses for the kids should be somewhere between $7 thousand and $12 thousand. I think he was, the last I read, he was willing to pay upwards of about $20, but his ex is demanding $50 thousand a month and is asking for that even though she has another child with another person, is engaged to that person, and she has a master's degree and is able to work, and that's one of the arguments A-Rod is making, that he feels like he's subsidizing the lifestyle of not just his ex and his children, but her whole new family.

Leh Meriwether: Right, including her husband.

Todd Orston: Right.

Leh Meriwether: Her potentially new husband.

Todd Orston: That's right, so when is enough enough?

Leh Meriwether: That sounds like enough to me. Oh my goodness gracious.

Todd Orston: Sounds like a bad James Bond movie name.

Leh Meriwether: Oh, $50 thousand a month. Wow. I could do a lot with that.

Todd Orston: My kids would be very happy.

Leh Meriwether: Yeah, they would probably be spoiled rotten. It probably wouldn't be good for them, actually.

Todd Orston: $50 thousand a month and we've done shows on this particular issue.

Leh Meriwether: Yeah, especially with what was it? Britney.

Todd Orston: Yeah, Britney and K-Fed.

Leh Meriwether: Wanted $60 thousand a month in child support.

Todd Orston: Anyone who listened to that show will know where I stand on this issue. Which is-

Leh Meriwether: In other words, K-Fed would not want to hire you.

Todd Orston: K-Fed would not ... I'm not saying I ... all right. I could be hypocritical. I could represent him, all right? K-Fed, if you're listening, I believe in your case. No, maybe not because I am one of those people that I do no believe, when I hear these types of numbers, the spouse part I can understand to a degree, because it's a lifestyle issue and some of that comes into play with child support, but when you're looking at actual expenses of $5 to $7 thousand, asking for $50, I'm getting choked up, it doesn't make sense to me.

Leh Meriwether: Right, so let's break it down. The alimony, when we're talking about lifestyle. I don't know how long they were married, so she got accustomed a certain lifestyle based on a $3 million a year, $300 million a year-

Todd Orston: No, $30 million.

Leh Meriwether: $30 million a year.

Todd Orston: You'll get it right, it's fine. Like I said, my brain goes mush also when I'm thinking about those kinds of numbers.

Leh Meriwether: $30 million a year, I mean, that's a certain lifestyle, but obviously his lifestyle's been reduced drastically. It's been reduced ten-fold, so it's certainly fair for him to ask for ... "Well, I shouldn't keep you at the same lifestyle if my lifestyle has gone down."

Todd Orston: Well, let's be clear. I doubt, and this is just the back and forth that we're going to engage in on this issue, I doubt his lifestyle has changed, because I am certainly hopeful that he saved a couple of shekles, so his lifestyle doesn't necessarily didn't need to change. What changed is his income.

Leh Meriwether: Okay.

Todd Orston: I don't know what he's worth. He could be worth, meaning his assets-

Leh Meriwether: Maybe his $3 million is based on his investments and he's just getting paid $3 million in interest.

Todd Orston: Right, right. I don't know where the $3 million comes from, it could be interest, he could be doing other work like broadcasting or whatever it might be, but the bottom line is, his lifestyle probably hasn't changed and he has a whole bunch of assets, but things like support, issues of support aren't necessarily and usually related to what kind of assets you have in the bank, it is, "What is your income?"

Leh Meriwether: Right.

Todd Orston: The door, at least here in Georgia would be, the door would be open to a modification. Then it comes down to, "Okay, what number would be reasonable?" Because even when we're talking about $7 to $10 or $12 thousand a month, most Georgia courts aren't going to do something like that.

Leh Meriwether: Right, that's a huge number.

Todd Orston: Huge number. $50 thousand a month, I'm not saying it's never happened, but also relatively unlikely, so when I see numbers like that, yeah, I sort of get the shakes because I'm thinking what do you need $50 thousand for ... No, let me change that. What do your children need $50 thousand for, because unless their lifestyle includes ... I don't even know.

Leh Meriwether: Well, maybe a private school that's $10 thousand a month.

Todd Orston: We've talked about this before. Should A-Rod be paying for private school? Yes. Shame on him if he's not. Meaning if that's where you want your children to go.

Leh Meriwether: If that's where he is, but if we were presenting this case in court and we were representing her, the ex-wife, we would be going to her saying, "Hey, I need you to gather together all the evidence of the money that you spend on the children, where it's going." Now, you don't have to itemize in a child support case, like in general, child support's for the children, you don't have to account for it, but in a modification case, in Georgia, this would be asking for a deviation upwards from the child support guidelines based on high income situation, in this case A-Rod, even though he's had a huge, drastic reduction.

At $3 million a year, he's still a high income earner, and so she would have to lay out her basis for $50 thousand a year and the court could easily agree with A-Rod saying, "Well, you don't need this. Your husband makes ... " I don't know what he makes, but maybe makes a half a million dollars a year. Like, "Look, you don't need it." And plus when she does get married ... Well, I don't know if there was a settlement or what state they're in, but in Georgia, if this had been a Georgia agreement and she got remarried, then that would terminate the alimony.

Todd Orston: Right, right, and of course the one thing I don't know or one of the things I don't know is of the $50 thousand, how much would be attributable to and listed as part of the spousal support and how much is child support, but the argument was that that's subsidizing of her life with another family and I got to tell you, that resonates with me.

Should somebody with that kind of income and that kind of assets be paying for the lion's share of children's expenses? Actual expenses? Absolutely. Tennis lessons, dance lessons, private school, those types of reasonable things. But when we're talking about, "Just give me $20 thousand more, $30 thousand more," to me, that's not really going for the children.

Leh Meriwether: At least it doesn't sound that way and we don't know what the actual offers were back and forth, we're just looking at this in general and that's something that we might take to court because if it doesn't have a reasonable basis, it's worth taking your shot with the judge.

Hey, and up next, we're going to learn why you should be wary with the company you keep.

Welcome everyone, I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston and you're listening to Meriwether and Tharp Radio on the new Talk 106.7. Well, we've been getting into some celebrity situations this show and just examining, because it's public, what's the, paparazzi, is that what it is?

The interesting thing about these celebrity divorces and celebrity family law issues is that they go through things that everybody else goes through and sometimes you hear about this drama and the drama we hear about in some of these celebrity cases is nothing compared to the cases we've actually handled, but it still makes for interesting radio, because they do have certain unique challenges sometimes, like when we were talking about A-Rod situation, he went from $30 million to $3 million, but there are other people out there that go from, like when the economy hit, they may have made $100 thousand and they lost their job and had to replace it with a $50 thousand or $60 thousand job.

We just thought it'd be kind of fun to take some of these celebrity situations where there's public information about them and break them down and talk about them and talk about how they might apply here in Georgia or in your situation and just learn from it.

Todd Orston: I agree.

Leh Meriwether: Well, good. I will say that ... I'll just say this and we'll get to the next examples, but we've handled celebrity cases before, and I won't say names or anything, but what I find really interesting is, so as lawyers, when we write letters out to people, the opposing attorney and whatnot, we think of it from two perspectives mainly. One is we're writing to persuade, to persuade for either a behavior to stop or to consider a settlement proposal or something like that, but we're also writing it because we know in some cases the judge might see it or-

Todd Orston: You're creating a record.

Leh Meriwether: You're creating a record in some situations.

Todd Orston: That's right.

Leh Meriwether: But in the situations of celebrity cases, you have to consider-

Todd Orston: Public opinion.

Leh Meriwether: And how well a paparazzi type newspaper or whatever you want to call it, media source-

Todd Orston: You are so hip. I got to tell you. You are blinding me with your hipness right now.

Leh Meriwether: You can see I don't follow stuff very much, but you have to consider how they're going to take this letter and spin it, because I had that happen to me before. Wrote a letter in a situation, it was sent to ... I thought it was all private, it was sent to a studio, I won't say what network, but it was sent and all of a sudden somebody sends me an email like the next day saying, "Oh, somebody's written about your letter," I'm like, "What?"

I go to the website, I won't say the name, but I go to the website and it says, "And then his letter sent a really mean, nasty letter," I don't know if it actually said like that ...

Todd Orston: But in that deep voice, I mean, yeah.

Leh Meriwether: It was in that deep voice, "Mean and nasty letter."

Todd Orston: James Earl Jones read the letter and ...

Leh Meriwether: Yeah, he did. If you hovered your mouse over it, that's how it sounded, but no. I freaked out for a minute, going, "Wait, what did I put in the letter?" Even though I'd written it just a few days ago.

Todd Orston: Which anybody who knows you and anybody who's listened to the radio show knows, that's not you. It's not your personality.

Leh Meriwether: Right.

Todd Orston: You're not the one that's going to write that diatribe, that vicious letter. To get something like that back, it's like, "Oh my gosh."

Leh Meriwether: What did I say?

Todd Orston: "Was I out of my mind when I wrote that letter?"

Leh Meriwether: I clicked the link and there was nothing mean or nasty in it. It was a statement of a legal position.

Todd Orston: It was a spin. They were trying to spin it.

Leh Meriwether: Yeah, so ...

Todd Orston: Yeah. You're right. There's a dynamic when it comes to celebrity divorces where normally writings that would just be between the attorneys and the clients or potentially for consumption by the court at some future hearing, now you have to worry about public consumption. You have to worry about, "Okay, I've written this letter and they may try to," whatever, gain some momentum on whatever it is they're trying to accomplish by pushing it out into the public and then all of a sudden the public is outraged or whatever the case may be.

Leh Meriwether: Or maybe it's, with certain TV shows, you're like, "Oh, let's drum up some press around this TV show by releasing this letter." At least, that's how it felt.

Todd Orston: All right, so now that we've dealt with your feelings, we're going to go onto the next one and there was a quote by an author, his name is Kenneth G. Ortiz and it is a quote or it is a concept and a statement that really many different authors, many different people have written about, but the way he wrote it, I really enjoyed and really, I liked. "Be wary of the company you keep for they are a reflection of who you are and who you want to be."

That is something that we deal with all the time because unfortunately, people sometimes get in trouble and in this situation, Bethenny Frankel of the Real Housewives of New York City fame and I think she was, I was actually corrected by somebody in our office, that I said, "She got her start there," and they were like, "No, The Apprentice with Martha Stewart. Hello."

Leh Meriwether: Really?

Todd Orston: Yeah.

Leh Meriwether: Okay.

Todd Orston: I mean, well, hold on, you're asking me-

Leh Meriwether: Shows you how hip you are.

Todd Orston: Yeah, I have not verified that. That's what I was told. But anyway, Bethenny Frankel, she's in a pretty significant custody fight with her ex, Jason Hoppy, and Jason wants to maintain a joint custody arrangement. Bethenny, on the other hand, is fighting for primary custody and decision making authority. Now, Bethenny, I'm going to go as quickly as possible, Bethenny's on-again-off-again boyfriend is a man by the name of Dennis Shields. God rest his soul, Dennis passed away in Trump Tower in his apartment. They did not do an autopsy, but there is a belief and concern that it was due to drugs.

Leh Meriwether: Because he was only like 51 or something like that, right?

Todd Orston: Yeah, so the long and the short is, Mr. Hoppy is now trying to or did try to use that information and basically, the position that he was taking was, "Well, if that's your friend and you have left our child or children alone with him, he has literally babysat, and now it turns out he's a drug user and he died potentially of an overdose. What does that say about you and the company that you keep and the company you allow around our children?"

Leh Meriwether: Our children, yeah.

Todd Orston: Now I will say, cutting to the end, but there's still a lot to be learned from this. They went to court, judge rejected that argument, and I think rightfully so. Was like, "Look, I'm not going to hold against her the fact that while he was on his own, in his apartment, maybe he did do drugs and he did die from that, that has nothing to do with her as a mother."

Leh Meriwether: Right.

Todd Orston: All right, but these types of issues come up all the time where people do things, hang out with different people, bring those people around the children, bad things happen, and it does get used against you.

Leh Meriwether: You know, yeah, because we've seen it in the termination cases where a parent's rights are being terminated because of certain behaviors, and we have seen the state of Georgia intervene in certain situations where perhaps a parent, a mom, was in a relationship with a man that was physically abusive and doing drugs and because she would not leave the home with the children, the children were witnesses to this. The state of Georgia came in, DFCS came in and removed the children from mom because of that relationship. Then when she didn't terminate that relationship and she continued to live with that person, they actually brought action to terminate her parental rights.

Todd Orston: Well, because it does then become a reflection of who you are and who you want to be.

Leh Meriwether: Right.

Todd Orston: And I understand that we could have ten more shows about people in abusive relationships and their reluctance to leave that abusive relationship, so I get it. It can be incredibly difficult, it could be not even short of a type of drug addiction that you just can't beat. Out of love, out of whatever feelings, you don't want to leave that person.

Leh Meriwether: Financial reasons.

Todd Orston: Right, so I get it, I understand the hardships, but when you surround yourself by these types of people, I've had cases where people are having parties where they were like sex parties, I mean horrible behavior, and children were in the house.

Leh Meriwether: Oh, geez.

Todd Orston: And some of those people were coming back to house at other times and it bothered the kids, obviously, and I'll tell you who it really bothered, the judge. You got to be careful. I mean, if there's a lesson to be learned here, it is understand that this kind of behavior, even if you're not the one doing drugs, even if you're not the one engaging in that harmful behavior, if it's even possible that that behavior could influence or affect your children, it can be used against you.

Leh Meriwether: Yeah. Even if, like in that situation, it was an on-again-off-again boyfriend, the death occurred away from the children. The point is, the learning lesson from this is, look. If there's someone that perhaps lives a certain lifestyle that's not conducive around parents, it's not a good idea, maybe you shouldn't be associating with them. I mean, I know that may sound harsh, but it could end up with you having to defend yourself in court. Especially if you've got a contentious relationship with your ex-spouse and you've got children.

Todd Orston: Yeah, I mean you've got to be careful. That's, again. The takeaway is it's not just what you're doing, it's the people that you are friends with, what are they doing, and is their behavior potentially going to impact the children? Because if there's any possibility of that, and if you have a litigious spouse or somebody who is not afraid to go to court and bring you back in front of a judge to deal with the issue, understand that the judge could go one of two ways. Like in the Frankel case, "No, sir, I'm not going to hold that against her," but maybe the other way, "Yes, I think you spending time and having him babysit and now it turns out he's a drug abuser. Yeah, that's a pretty poor choice as a parent."

Leh Meriwether: Hey, up next, we're going to learn why sticks and stones may break some bones, but words can result in a lawsuit.

Welcome everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether and Tharp and you're listening to Meriwether and Tharp Radio on the new Talk 106.7. If you want to learn more about us, you can always check us out online Let's get back into it.

Todd Orston: Yeah. Before we do, I do have to say one thing. I am notorious for speaking with my hands, but I do like on the radio how when you say, "And with me is Todd Orston," you point to me. Just so the listeners can hear you pointing at me. I mean, I'm the only other person talking.

Leh Meriwether: It's for our YouTube audience.

Todd Orston: Oh, got it. And again, there's two of us, so I think process of elimination. They can figure out I'm the other guy.

Leh Meriwether: Just making you feel uncomfortable.

Todd Orston: Okay, Leh. Sticks and stay may break some bones, but words can result in a lawsuit. WWE Charlotte Flair, daughter of wrestling legend Ric Flair, back in the day when I watched wrestling many moons ago. Rick Flair. He was fun to watch.

Leh Meriwether: Rowdy Rodney Piper?

Todd Orston: Yeah ... Well, yeah. I was never a big fan of ... Yeah, Mr. Piper, but they are both being sued. Rick and his daughter, Charlotte, wrote a book and it was, I believe, I haven't read the book, but like a tell-all kind of book. In the book, part of what they wrote about is Charlotte was critical of her ex-husband Ricky Paul Johnson and she said some not-so-nice things about him including allegations that he is impotent and needless to say, Ricky was not happy.

Ricky could've done a couple of things. He could've said, "Er," and that's about it. He could've written a stern letter, "Don't do it again," or he could've done what he did, which is, he filed a lawsuit basically claiming that the allegations are false and on top of that, that they've caused him and his family significant embarrassment.

Okay, so what's the takeaway here? The takeaway obviously for most people is, if your spouse writes a novel and publishes it and it has some negative things, sue them. That's not the takeaway. The takeaway for most people is be careful what you say publicly and usually it's not going to be in the form of a novel. It's going to be in the form of Facebook or Instagram or whatever.

Leh Meriwether: YouTwitFace.

Todd Orston: Yes, that's ...

Leh Meriwether: When YouTube and Twitter and Facebook all combine, it'll be YouTwitFace.

Todd Orston: YouTwitFace. Okay, so if you post something on YouTwitFace, be ready for there to be some kind of a repercussion. Some kind of-

Leh Meriwether: Potential legal action.

Todd Orston: Yeah, and it could be used against you in many different ways, but at the very least, be ready for it to cause drama.

Leh Meriwether: Yeah, because most parenting plans that you see around the country, so I think this is ... I am pretty sure this is universal. I can't swear to it, but I'm pretty sure most states now have-

Todd Orston: Non-harassment type ...

Leh Meriwether: Have a clause in there that says neither party shall speak ill of the other party-

Todd Orston: No disparagement.

Leh Meriwether: Disparage the other party, particularly in front of the minor children.

Todd Orston: Right.

Leh Meriwether: Often the children are connected on these social media feeds, and so one parent will say something bad about the other parent and boom, I mean, you've got evidence right here in your social media feed that you have violated a court order, and there have been situations where the judge threw the person in jail. They said, "Well, not only did you violate my court order, you did it blatantly. You sent it to the whole world. It was as if you didn't care if I would see this." Sometimes the judges will take a personal offense to it because from the judges we've spoken to, they look at it as their job is to protect the children during this process.

They will take it, some will take it personally and say as a punishment, which they can do this, "You need to spend a day in jail." Man, you do ... Especially in some counties, you do not want to do that.

Todd Orston: Really are there some counties where it's a nice afternoon spent in jail?

Leh Meriwether: It might be. I don't know.

Todd Orston: That county, no. But over here, oh, it's lovely. Massage in the afternoon, little cucumber slices for your eyes. It's wonderful.

Leh Meriwether: You never know. But there are some that are worse than others.

Todd Orston: Yeah, I'm sure.

Leh Meriwether: There's some where you just sit there twiddling your hands and there's others where you're sitting there and the guy next to you just got his jaw punched off.

Todd Orston: I don't know what shows you're watching.

Leh Meriwether: No, actually that happened to one of our clients. He was, he-

Todd Orston: His jaw was punched off?

Leh Meriwether: No, the person sitting next to him, they got into a fight and the guy's jaw was hit, he was hit so hard that his jaw was broken, dislocated from his head. It was disgusting.

Todd Orston: You know what? If this was an intervention, you've just talked me out of going to jail ever, so thank you. It worked.

Leh Meriwether: Good, I'm glad.

Todd Orston: I am scared straight right now.

Leh Meriwether: Don't want you to ever got to jail.

Todd Orston: The takeaway here isn't, and I've also had cases like that. I've cases with people taking pictures giving the finger. I've had pictures of the new girlfriend holding the child and talking about the child. "Oh my baby girl," or my this or my that. And that kind of behavior, first of all, it's going to stoke a lot of emotion. It's going to create problems no matter what.

The way the court's going to look at it also is, especially if this is a parenting situation. How is that good parenting? How is that good co-parenting? If you're going in front of a court and there's a custody fight over something, why is the court going to believe you, who is sending pictures with your middle finger up, or saying horrible things about your former spouse or the parent of your child? Why would the court believe that you have any ability whatsoever to co-parent?

Leh Meriwether: They won't.

Todd Orston: As much as you think it's going to make you feel good to send those kinds of communications, take it from us, because this is what we do. When the attorney gets their hands on it, it will be used against you and the consequences could be pretty dire. Maybe not your jaw falling off or a lovely day at a jail spa, but it can definitely impact you.

Leh Meriwether: Yeah, I don't think a lovely day at a jail spa would be motivating for someone.

Todd Orston: All right, let's go on to the next one.

Leh Meriwether: All right.

Todd Orston: All right, when the judge ain't a judge. The use of private judges or arbitrators to resolve legal matters.

Leh Meriwether: All right.

Todd Orston: Here, Chris Pratt and Anna Faris. They've apparently finalized their divorce and other celebrities, especially in California where this is pretty common, have also used private judges. But basically it's the same thing here where what we call an arbitrator.

Leh Meriwether: Right.

Todd Orston: And what you're doing is you are divesting the trial court of its authority to make these decisions by voluntarily giving it or putting into the hands of a private individual and there are some benefits there.

Leh Meriwether: Yes.

Todd Orston: Some potential downfalls, all right, and you have to be very careful. Can you submit issues here to an arbitrator? Yeah.

Leh Meriwether: In Georgia, yes.

Todd Orston: Absolutely.

Leh Meriwether: Including child custody, which you couldn't always do. I think in 2007 or '08 they changed the law so a private arbitrator could decide child custody issues.

Todd Orston: Yeah. Now, would that still have to be basically approved by the sitting trial court judge?

Leh Meriwether: The final order would be.

Todd Orston: Right, correct.

Leh Meriwether: But my understanding is they tend to not, unless there's some clear abuse of power or something like that, abuse of discretion, but it would be kind of like any other appeal.

Todd Orston: Yeah, so some of the benefits are you can set the time table and on top of that, there's some more privacy, especially when you're dealing with celebrities and they're like, "Anything we file, anything we do, it's immediately ... " Basically, the cleric gets filed, it's public record. But-

Leh Meriwether: The proceeding itself is private.

Todd Orston: That's right.

Leh Meriwether: A court reporter can't show up ... A court reporter. A reporter can't show up in the courtroom-

Todd Orston: The paparazzi, as you keep talking about.

Leh Meriwether: The paparazzi. They can't show up and take notes of what's going on and immediately write an article about it. It's going to be a private setting, they're going to be able to shut the doors and the other great thing is, so our courts get really backed up, so it can shorten the process, because we've seen situations where the cost of the trial became more because we were putting on a trial calendar in October, so we made sure we were all ready, we subpoenaed all the witnesses, but it got continued in November.

We do the same thing in November, it gets continued to December. We've had cases like that where it went six months before we finally got to try the case, and unfortunately we had to build a client each time to prepare for the situation.

Todd Orston: Yeah. Some of the preparation you don't have to redo.

Leh Meriwether: Right, the-

Todd Orston: But what people don't often times understand is that there's automatically going to be some level of preparation you need to do. When a month goes by, you have to do some prep work if the next day is the trial and if it gets postponed for the next 30 days, there's some level of preparation you have to do.

Leh Meriwether: If you have witnesses, you got to reach out to the witnesses again. You got to court date, all that stuff. There's a lot of effort behind the scenes in getting ready for trial.

Todd Orston: You can avoid all that.

Leh Meriwether: Avoid all that with arbitration because you, the lawyers, and the arbitrator to pick the dates that you're going to be available, it's just set in stone. 99% of the time, unless someone gets sick, it's set in stone. Your witness, very informal. The rules of evidence are often a little bit relaxed and-

Todd Orston: Yeah. Now, I will say just very quickly before we go to break, some of the cons though are you're taking it away from a judge who handles these matters on a daily basis and putting this in the hands of someone ... Now, granted. If it's someone, a former family court judge or someone where they know, then that's great. If you're putting it into the hands of somebody who doesn't have that level of experience, you don't know what you're going to get and they may make good decisions or they may not.

Leh Meriwether: Yeah, and you just never know. Now, hopefully your lawyer will know if this person, and sometimes a lawyer, fellow family law lawyer, and so that, you have to make the decision, is this going to really help my case?

Up next, we're going to hear about a sobering tale about sobriety. Todd, while we're on a break, let's take a moment to speak just with our podcast listeners.

Todd Orston: Great idea, Leh. First, thank you for listening. If you're a client of ours, thank you for taking the time to educate yourself. It really helps us help you.

Leh Meriwether: And I wanted to thank those that recently took a moment to review our podcast. We really appreciate it. If you feel like you're gaining a value from this show, please take a moment to post a review. The reviews help others find the show, which allows us to help even more people.

Todd Orston: And if you're not sure how to post a review, our web master's put together a simple explanation on our web page. You can find it at That M as in Mary, T as in Tom

Leh Meriwether: Welcome everyone, I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether and Tharp and you're listening to Meriwether and Tharp Radio on the new Talk 106.7. I'm laughing because Todd's making these strange hand gestures.

Todd Orston: Well no, not strange. I'm pointing at you. People are going to be listening going ...

Leh Meriwether: "Who's Leh?"

Todd Orston: "Is he throwing gang signs? What is he doing?"

Leh Meriwether: Oh my. If you want to read more about us-

Todd Orston: Hi, I'm Todd Orston and with me is Leh Meriwether. Right there.

Leh Meriwether: I'm very ...

Todd Orston: Expressive.

Leh Meriwether: Expressive speaker.

Todd Orston: Got it.

Leh Meriwether: If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at

Todd Orston: All right, sobering tale about sobriety. Last segment, we have a lot to get to, so I'd really like you to take this a little more seriously. Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner. Anybody who's read any of the news, celebrity news, he's really been struggling with sobriety issues and I got to tell you. The way that Jennifer Garner handled it, and again, I'm not her attorney, I don't know the ins and outs, I don't know what was discussed behind closed doors, so I could be very wrong here.

She actually tried to postpone the issuance of any kind of a final order until he became sober and was more stable, okay? And a lot of cases, I think you can attest to this, that's not the case.

Leh Meriwether: No. They push to get to trial while the person's down.

Todd Orston: That's right, and now I will say my understanding is that he did reach a level of sobriety where she was willing to discuss terms, but those terms are still pretty strict. My understanding is that it is going to be monitored or supervised parenting time just to ensure that he is sober and that the kids are protected.

Leh Meriwether: But you know, from a standpoint of a co-parent, that's great because taking advantage of the person that perhaps they're in a facility and they're getting treatment or something. Taking advantage of the situation, situation, try to force a hearing. Yeah, maybe you win the case on a short term basis, but you're probably hurting your children because at the end of the day they need their moms and their dads. They need both their parents there to be a part of their life and the best thing you can do for you children is to give your, I guess ex-husband now, some grace so that he can get better.

I mean, that also takes off the pressure of the divorce and allows him to focus on getting better. I've had those situations where thankfully the other side, my client may have had an alcohol issue. Thankfully the other side said, "Hey look, can we put the case on hold while he goes, if he goes into treatment?" That was their offer, actually. "If he goes into treatment, like a 30 day treatment plan, we'll put a pause on the whole litigation. We just want him better." And boy, we jumped on that. I had to talk to my client, explain why this was such a great deal.

Todd Orston: Yeah, but if you're in the throes of an addiction issue, then they may not be very accepting.

Leh Meriwether: And sometimes there's this fear that, "Well, if I go in there, then I'm admitting I have a problem." Like, if someone's filing for divorce over alcoholism, you probably have a problem.

Todd Orston: Well, and on top of that, there's probably a large amount of evidence already out there to establish that you have the problem. I understand, we make the argument all the time about, is it creating some kind of a precedent that could be used against you? I get it, I understand, but sometimes you have to balance. What is more important? Getting you the help that you need to get you better, to get you healthy so that you can have a healthy relationship with your child or children, or pretend like there's not a problem, don't get any help, and they're still going to have plenty of evidence to show that you have a problem.

Leh Meriwether: Exactly. All right, well, the other problem we're going to have is we're going to run out of time.

Todd Orston: We are, we are, so stop talking so I can keep going. This one I'm going to call. Let's agree what is mine is mine, what's yours is yours. The rising popularity of prenuptial agreements.

Leh Meriwether: All right.

Todd Orston: All right, we're done. Moving on.

Leh Meriwether: Next one. Just kidding.

Todd Orston: Prenups are on the rise, okay. My understanding is that there was one attorney poll that was conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and 62% of attorneys said they've seen an increase over the last three years including an increase with millennials in the use of prenuptial agreements.

Leh Meriwether: And we've definitely seen an increase in it, so it's not just for the celebrities that are doing them, you hear about those ... I mean not kind of. You hear about those frequently. What you don't hear about is all the other people that are starting to do them more and more.

Todd Orston: Yeah, and where it becomes very interesting. A celebrity divorce where there's a lot of property, that case could take, sometimes you hear about cases and years later they're still fighting and then you hear about Chris Pratt and Anna Faris and they've had some disagreements about custody and what that's going to look like, but for the most part they had a prenup and the property issues were resolved.

Leh Meriwether: Through the prenup, so they agreed ahead of time how they were going to divide up their assets and their liabilities.

Todd Orston: So as opposed to years of litigation, all right, it's basically a, "Oh yeah, that's right. That's mine, that's yours, we're done."

Leh Meriwether: And so they went to arbitration just over the custody issues?

Todd Orston: That's right.

Leh Meriwether: Which created a shorter trial or even a private arbitration is still going to shorten the process and make it less stress on all the parties, it's going to make it less expensive, and especially when you have those situations, perhaps a second or a third marriage, it can be a really good idea.

Todd Orston: Yeah, so we absolutely believe in and understand and embrace the value of prenuptial agreements because we obviously, it's part of what we do. The litigation. We see what happens when parties don't have a prenup and the fight ensues and you are basically caught up in potentially months and months, sometimes years, of litigation over these property issues that maybe could've been resolved had you entered into that agreement at the very beginning. And I understand it's difficult-

Leh Meriwether: We need to do a whole show on prenups.

Todd Orston: Yeah, yeah.

Leh Meriwether: Yeah, add that to the list.

Todd Orston: Yeah, we have a long list. All right. Let's move on to the next one. Not showing up for a scheduled hearing is a bad, bad option.

Leh Meriwether: It is?

Todd Orston: Yeah, I know, it's going to come as a surprise.

Leh Meriwether: I thought if you just didn't show up, they couldn't go on without you.

Todd Orston: Yeah, no. That's pretty much not at all the way it works.

Leh Meriwether: I'm just kidding. They can absolutely go on without you.

Todd Orston: Yeah, so movie and TV actor Columbus Short, formerly of the TV show Scandal, is in some hot water, all right? He was scheduled to appear in court as part of divorce proceedings. His wife appeared, her attorney appeared, his attorney appeared, but somebody was missing. Mr. Columbus Short decided for whatever reason not to appear and the court did not like that and in this situation the consequence was pretty severe. The court apparently issued a bench warrant. Basically what that means, for listeners is-

Leh Meriwether: That's a really upset judge.

Todd Orston: That is telling law enforcement to go and pick him up and place him in custody.

Leh Meriwether: Mm-hmm (affirmative), where someone's jaw might get knocked off.

Todd Orston: Exactly. We'll do another show on that, add that to the list. It is a bad idea for many, many, many reasons. If you are called to court, it is not a suggestion. It is not the court saying, "Hey, if you've got nothing better to do, why don't you stop by? I'm going to be here."

Leh Meriwether: Come on by. Let's talk about the rest of your life.

Todd Orston: Exactly. It is an order and if you violate the order, different judges handle it differently, okay, and there are different types of sanctions. Some are incredibly severe and some aren't.

Leh Meriwether: There's even cases where like, especially if it's a final hearing and you don't show up, the other side gets to present all the evidence they want and you're not there to refute it and the court can basically hammer the person that doesn't show up and give the other side almost everything.

Todd Orston: Yeah, I had a case once where my client was living outside of the jurisdiction. He was actually out of the country and he basically had to decide whether he was going to come in for a contempt being brought against him and he feared what the consequence and what the findings of the court would be if he showed up for the hearing and so he did not show and the judge was super happy.

Leh Meriwether: Did you show up?

Todd Orston: Yeah, I showed up and the judge was nice enough, this is in Cobb county, was nice enough to allow me to say a few things and then finally was like, "all right, well, Mr. Orston, nothing you're saying is evidence, so are you done? You're done, great," and the other party basically got what they asked for, but other sanctions can be a dismissal of your complaint or a dismissal of the answer that you filed. It can result, like we've already talked about, in an arrest warrant being entered. It can, like you were just talking about, not showing up, they go forward with the hearing and whatever the party wants they gets.

Leh Meriwether: They gets.

Todd Orston: I was going to correct myself, and I'm like, "I likes how that sounds." No, so showing up or not showing up for court, bad idea. If you have to go, go, and the better plan is bring somebody with you, like an attorney, who can help you, can give you the advice you need so that you don't get taken advantage of and hurt in the process.

Leh Meriwether: Which we don't want to have happen to anybody.

Todd Orston: That's right.

Leh Meriwether: Hey, everyone. That about wraps up this show. Thanks so much for listening. If you want to review us, you can go online to to learn how to review our show. Thanks so much for listening.

Speaker 3: This audio program does not establish an attorney/client relationship with Meriwether and Tharp.