Now with Averett Law Offices, PLLC

As of July 26, 2010, I have joined forces with my mentor, Melissa Averett, at her practice, Averett Law Offices, PLLC.  My new contact information is on the home page.  The past few months have been great and I believe that I have transitioned into her office almost completely now.  Once her website is updated, I’ll be closing up shop here and you’ll be redirected to the website of Averett Law Offices, PLLC.

Thanks for visiting!

Happy Holidays!

It’s a quiet Christmas Eve here in Pittsboro. We’ve got a fire going inside and a fire outside. The four dogs are decked out with their holiday kerchiefs and we’ve got holiday music on the stereo. Tomorrow, we’ll head out to spend the day with my parents and my brother. I am truly grateful for all the good in my life.

From my family to yours, have a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Winter Solstice, Feliz Navidad, or just a nice December. May the holiday season bring you peace, love, and happiness.

Sarah

Money and Marriage

Do you know your partner’s credit score?  How much debt does he have?  How much does she have in savings? Do you have a budget together?  Do you know what your partner would do if she won the lottery—spend the money on shoes, clothes, and a new car, donate it to charity, or buy a new home for her parents, or quit her work and travel the world?  Do you know what your partner’s biggest fear is about losing his job?

If you don’t know the answers to these money-related questions, you probably should.

Supposedly, money issues are one of the leading causes of divorce.  Dave Ramsey thinks so and talks about the effect of money issues on a marriage, particularly because of what money means to people.   Other  studies seem to indicate that money issues don’t cause as many problems as reported, in part because of over-reporting of “money issues” as a reason for divorce, instead of honing in on what the money issues really meant for the couple.  No one says, “I am such a tightwad about money that my partner had to work a part-time job just to pay for our child’s soccer equipment,” or “I can’t control my spending so I accumulated a lot of debt without my partner’s knowledge and when she found out

In my experience with divorcing couples, money often seems to be a big issue, either as a cause of the divorce or as a result of the divorce.  I tend to think that whatever money issues a couple had before deciding to divorce are magnified during the divorce process. And, if there weren’t significant money problems before the divorce, divorce tends to wake up those little issues that were never really that important when the couple was getting along. The saver is now a miser.  The generous spouse is now a squanderer.

Heck, the most famous divorcing couple right now is fighting over money in joint accounts, though it doesn’t seem that money was the prime cause for the breakup (so says the media).  But, of course, now that they are fighting, it’s an issue.  Jon took money from the joint marital account and Kate can’t pay the bills without that money.  They had to go to court to get that resolved (through contempt)  and I’m sure their lawyers aren’t working pro-bono on their cases.

Generally, I tend to agree with those who think that money issues are a leading cause of divorce, not so much because of the money itself, but rather what it means to us and the role money plays in our lives.  Even couples with more money imaginable fight about money. How we handle money can be seen as an indicator of our own values. Do you overspend just to keep up with the Jones’ or so that your children have the latest tennis shoes, even if it means paying 25% interest on those new shoes?  Do you forget to pay bills and not tell your partner because of shame or embarrassment?   Do you lie about your income?   Do you donate to charity? Do you like to buy a new car every few years or is it OK to drive a reliable beat-up car until it dies? How much do you spend on gifts for friends and family and why do you spend that amount?  You get the idea…it’s not the money, but rather what we do with the money that poses problems in our relationship with our partner.

So, what can a couple do to minimize conflict about money in their relationship?  It seems communication is the answer. Open and honest communication….the kind where each person puts all of their fears and concerns on the table.  Dave Ramsey talks about how to save your marriage in this economy, primarily by focusing on the spiritual element of money, or rather, not the money itself, but what you do with that money. Other suggestions for improving communication about money including taking time to think about the root cause of the money argument.  Is it really about the bounced check, or is it more about control and trust? If trust is lacking in the relationship, money mishaps are more likely to become a reason for an argument, whereas in a relationship based on trust, the mishap is likely to be received with compassion and forgiveness.

If you’re not married, but considering tying the knot one day, it is especially important to communicate openly about money before walking down that aisle.  A recent NY Times article suggests that couples share credit reports as well as stories about early childhood memories about how money was handled in their household.   In her book, Intellectual Foreplay, Eve Eschner Hogan provides a series of questions for couples to ask each other and discuss, preferably before getting married.  Some of the questions related to money include:

  • Do you feel competent managing money?
  • Do you trust yourself with a credit card?
  • Do you go shopping as entertainment or as a necessity?
  • Do you have any outstanding debts?  If so, how much?
  • How do you feel about loaning money to family and friends?
  • What are your feelings about prenuptial agreements?  Would you be willing to sign one?
  • If living together, or planning to, who pays the bills?
  • Who makes decisions about major expenses or purchases?
  • If you won the lottery, how would you spend the money?

These may seem like uncomfortable questions to ask your partner, but I’d venture to say that divorce is more uncomfortable.  And, divorce costs both partners a lot  (both financially and emotionally) and tends to put each person in a worse spot financially than before the split. It’s not rocket science-two households are more expensive to maintain than one and divorce attorneys aren’t cheap.

So, to save money on divorce (by hopefully not needing to get one) and meet your financial goals, both personally and as a couple, talk about money and talk about it a lot.  The first time you talk about money and your marriage should not be with your divorce lawyer.

I’m not confused, Monster

I don’t do trademark or copyright law, but my love of good wine and craft beer makes this a topic of particular interest to me.

Wineries and vineyards make a big deal about their labels and names.  Other companies make a big deal about their brand, as well.  One element of trademark infringement is the likelihood of confusion.   It almost always seems like it’s the big company who picks on the little company…and it also seems the big corporation often wins.  However, Starbucks did lose their case against a Korean coffee shop’s logo, but that battle took place in the patent court of Korea.

So, now comes Monster Energy (an energy drink that I’ve never tried) telling Rock Art Brewery in Vermont that the brewery’s use of the name “‘VERMONSTER’ in connection with beer will undoubtedly create a likelihood of confusion and/or dilute the distinctive quality of Hansen’s MONSTER marks.” (quote from link above)

Whaaaaat????  Ok, first of all, Vermonster beer comes in a bottle. Monster Energy comes in a can. Second, Vermonster is a beer, made with hops, malt, and other natural ingredients.  Monster Energy is some jacked up sugar drink, full of all kinds of crazy things. Third, Vermonster’s bottle has a beautiful picture of Vermont and a Kokopelli figure on it (as do the other beers the brewery bottles.)  Monster Energy has an uninspired black background with some scraggly “M” drawn in neon green. Fourth, Vermonster beer doesn’t have caffeine.  Monster Energy does. Fifth, well, you get the point.

I wonder why Monster Energy hasn’t pursued legal action against Ben and Jerry’s Vermonster ice cream sundae, since they probably have comparable amounts of sugar.  Oh, right, Monster Energy’s parent company wants to enter the beer market in Vermont. Gotcha.  Pick on the little guy to help clear the market for a beer you likely haven’t even started working on yet.  Way to gain the respect of craft beer fans. The Twitter hashtag “#monsterboycott” is quickly gaining momentum among the tweeting breweries and beer fans I follow.

Well, I would boycott Monster Energy if I even drank their swill in the first place.  But I don’t, so instead of boycotting a product I’ve never used, I’m just going to do my part to get the word out about this, and ask you to boycott Monster Energy drinks if you do consume them.

Monster, I’m not confused and neither are most people.   We know what you’re trying to accomplish.  There’s a reason I don’t drink your stuff…caffeinated, extra sugary Kool-Aid is not my thing.  I’ll take a Rock Art Brewery Vermonster barleywine, please.


Here are more links about this fiasco:

Another news article

A fellow Vermont brewery asking for a boycott

More boycott

Ask Me a Question

Well, not any ol’ question. But, you can now ask about family law related things on a newly-added section of my website.  I am still in the process of getting more information uploaded, as well as more links added to the “Resources & Links” page, so bear with me, please.

So many people have questions about getting divorced, custody arrangements, domestic violence, etc. so I thought I would do what I could to answer some of your questions.  There are other websites that offer this type of service, like Avvo, but sometimes the person answering is not licensed in North Carolina, or they only direct you to read one of their publications.  I want this to be different, in part because I want to make sure you get your question answered as well as one could expect from the internet, and because I think it’s better for y’all to help me create a FAQ section that can help others, instead of me just picking things I think you want to know about.

Read my disclaimers (especially the part about me not being your lawyer until you hire me) and leave your question as a comment on that page. Of course, I reserve the right to not answer your question or any question at all.  And, if I find that people are abusing this, I’ll stop doing it.

Some questions I anticipate:

  • What will happen at my contempt hearing? (Depends on who is allegedly in contempt.
  • My baby’s daddy hasn’t paid child support in a year.  Do I still have to let him see my child?
  • If I move out because I want to separate, can that be held against me later as abandonment?
  • Can I date while I’m separated from my husband?
  • Do I need a court order for custody?
  • How do I get visitation with my grandchild?

You can find the “Ask Me a Question” tab on the right hand side of my website, or you can click here.  I will do my best to not answer every question with “It depends,” or “You need a lawyer.” But, that being said, oftentimes, that is the most honest answer…at least the most honest answer I can give  you over the internet.


New Laws in NC, Effective 10/1/09

How life changes, starting today

A few new laws are now in effect in North Carolina as of October 1, 2009.  I’ve always enjoyed following legislation, and while I don’t immediately understand the importance of some laws, I can appreciate that the reason it has become a law is because it was important to someone for some reason.

Some new laws of note:

  • No more plastic bottles in the landfills.  OK, sounds good enough. Hopefully this will encourage people to reuse bottles and to drink tap water instead of overpriced tap water from another city that comes in a container that fills up our landfills. Maybe it will also mean that there will be more recycling receptacles in public…
  • No more novelty lighters.  Too enticing to children.  Makes sense.  But, will people now make runs to the VA/SC border to buy their novelty lighters?
  • Expanded WIC food choices.  This law expands the choices to include corn tortillas, canned beans, tofu, and other whole-grain products.  It’s about time!  I am often surprised to see the blue applesauce labeled as a WIC item, while some canned beans are not.
  • No more watching TV while driving.  Really???  Who does that?

Now, here are two that I find particularly important (one personally and one professionally—I’ll let you decide which one is which):

  • Beer tastings in grocery stores are now allowed.  Finally!  We’ve been tasting wine in grocery stores for some time, so it’s only fair that beer gets the same opportunity.  What will be interesting is to see what breweries take advantage of this and whether the majority of the beer tastings will be sponsored by the big breweries (Miller, AnheuserBusch, etc.)  Or, will the local craft breweries use this as a way to connect with the community and promote good beer?  Of course, this legislation had its opponents who worry that these tastings will increase alcohol abuse.  I disagree. I’d say that allowing beer tasting in grocery stores promotes alcohol abuse about as much as the sale of beer at sporting events.
  • The timeline for North Carolina’s “heart-balm” torts has been limited.  North Carolina is one of a very few states that allows a spouse to sue “the other man/woman” for interfering with the marriage.  However, under the new law, the jilted spouse/scorned lover cannot sue for affairs that began after the couple separates.  If the affair/tryst/hook-up happened before the marriage dissolved, the scorned spouse can still sue.  The new law also clarifies that the scorned spouse can only sue a natural person, not a company (sometimes attempted when an employer knows of an affair, but didn’t do anything to prevent or discourage it.)

So…be forewarned…turn off the TV while you drive to South of the Border to buy a novelty lighter for your mistress, and if you have a plastic bottle of water in your console to accompany you on that drive down I-95, please recycle it, along with any empty beer bottles that resulted from a purchase of a local craft beer that you would not otherwise have bought if it weren’t for the tasting at the Krojay.  Failure to follow this advice could result in a $500 fine, a traffic ticket, or a lawsuit against you for damages for interfering with a marriage.

Best to wait until after the marriage has dissolved to indulge a mistress with novelty lighters.  And, please recycle.  The next generation depends on us.

Shared via AddThis

Dividing the Family Dog

9024_275095240320_798700320_8757653_6853222_nWhat happens to the family pet when a couple separates?  Shared custody? Weekend visitation for dog park playdates?  Who pays for the vet bills?

The answer really depends on whether the issue comes up in court for a judge to decide or whether it is addressed in a separation agreement.  Courts, including courts in NC, have been divided on whether pets should be treated as property, and therefore, divided as such, or whether they should be treated more like children, with visitation rights and financial responsibility.  A court in New Jersey ordered a couple to have shared custody of their dog, thus indicating the court’s preference to treat the dog more like a child than a sofa.  The tendency in NC is still to treat the dog as property, with one person maintaining control and responsibility of the “property.”

However, there are a few options for separating couples who have pets.  The most common way to formalize an agreement about the family dog is to address custody, vistitation, and financial responsibility of the pet(s) in a separation agreement.  If litigation has already commenced, it may be possible to come to an agreement (often called a “consent” agreement/order) that addresses the family pets.  These agreements become binding on each of the parties and can generally be enforced through the court’s contempt powers.

Unfortunately, some people are unable to come to an agreement, or domestic violence is involved.  Recently, North Carolina enacted legislation that allows pets to be covered in Domestic Violence Protective Orders. Therefore, if a person seeking a protective order has pets, the pets can be covered in the order, including the temporary possession of the pets. This is a big step, considering that many offenders use the family pet to manipulate and abuse their victim(s).

For those of us who have pets, we know that Fido is more than a lamp or a car.  If you are going through a divorce, be sure to ask your lawyer about what you can do now in order to ensure that your family pet is taken care of during this difficult time.


Self-employed and Happy

Self-employed lawyers are the happiest.

I tend to agree. There are definite drawbacks to being self-employed (like being the one who has to decide what type of business paper to use or what charities to support), but I believe the benefits outweigh these drawbacks.

One of the aspects of self-employment that I enjoy the most is the ability to make my business be a representation of my values and my work ethic.  It is my belief that phone calls should be returned promptly and that not every minute needs to be billed.  If I were working for someone else, it would be harder to work effectively knowing that I’d have to bill for a phone call or an email.  Also, I’m a night owl.  I am most effective working in the evenings and later at night.  Needless to say, most law offices don’t work like that (not officially, at least.)

Being self-employed allows me to be a better lawyer.  Being the best lawyer I can be makes me happy.  Well, that and a fresh cup of coffee.

Letter to Prospective Clients

Dear Prospective Client,

If you’re looking for a lawyer, it’s usually because you’re concerned about what rights you may or may not have.  Some people already know they need a lawyer, while others arestill not sure. As your attorney, I promise to be honest with you and to listen to your concerns.  I also promise to keep you up-to-date with what’s going on in your case, and to check in with you on a regular basis to make sure that you’re doing OK and that you don’t have any questions. I promise to be up front about my fees and will do my best to come up with a payment arrangement that we’re both comfortable with.  I promise to fully explain your options so that you understand them and I promise to represent you and your interests to the best of my ability.

If you are contemplating divorce or separation, but are worried about the consequences, contact me to discuss your options.  Often, you have more protection under the law than you’d think. If you’re having problems in your relationships, you shouldn’t have to worry about your legal rights.  It’s my job to do that!

Contact me when you’re ready to let me handle your legal issues so that you can concentrate on other things in life—like watching college basketball (Go Heels!), playing with your children, going hiking with your dogs, or enjoying a nice dinner with friends.

Sincerely,Sarah Carr

Attorney-at-Law

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