Attorney Heffernan talks about Family Law Matters with Attorney Karin Gerardin
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Welcome to another episode of First off, let’s kill all the lawyers. It’s that 15 century phrase that Shakespeare wrote and was uttered by Dick the butcher, and drew cut a raucous laughs even though there’s a debate as to what the line meant. And line, it still makes people laugh today, when we say first off, let’s kill all the lawyers. So, I’m David Heffernan. I’ve been a personal injury lawyer here in Miami for nearly three decades. And the goal behind this is to introduce you to other local lawyers and talk about various aspects of the law and maybe one by one, start to take a few lawyers off of that kill list. My guest this morning is a good friend, an avid cyclist, who I rarely see in clothes like this. And an excellent lawyer, Karen Jordan, and Karen. Welcome. Good morning, David. Good morning. Alright, so let’s talk about you because when we talk about local lawyers, you’re about as local as it gets, okay. You grew up down here. And then you go to Miami Dade, and then to F IU and then to St. Thomas. That is correct. But there’s a gap in there. So let’s talk about that. Because before you were a lawyer, you had another life.
I did. Before I was an attorney. I was a practicing sports, my massage therapist for about 1112 years, and I worked on athletes such as yourself.
Alright, so how does somebody then go from, from being a sports massage therapist, and everything else to going to law school seems to be not a natural transgression, maybe a little, you know, sort of a 180 jump.
That is true. When I was younger, I had intended to go to law school. And then I went out west and I got married. And I spent a few years living that life and traveling. And then I ended that. And I came back to Miami and I decided, you know, I need to get myself back on track to where I want it to be in my life. And I went back to school, and I continued the education. And that’s where it led me today. All right. So, what drew you to law school, I had always been interested in something that used my mind. I was very happy doing what I was doing. But I didn’t feel like it really used my intellectual assets, so to speak. So, I really wanted to do that. And I did like the fact that you were able to be involved with people, you were able to help people. And at that point, I just really wanted to become a lawyer to go out there and make my own business doing that.
And you did because you didn’t come out and start with a firm or anything else you started your own firm. So, did you go to law school, right?
I did. I’d always worked for myself, I had the joke that if if I worked for anybody, I would probably get fired anyway. So, I might as well just make my business. And I have a business degree. So, my degree from NYU was in business marketing. So, I already had that under my belt, I knew what I needed to do. The marketing is in complete aspect, because you can be a great lawyer, but running a business is a completely separate endeavor.
It’s funny, that’s a conversation I have with a lot of friends. And I think it’s a deficiency in law school. Because I think yes, they train you to become a lawyer. And there are a lot of great lawyers. But a lot of lawyers don’t know how to run a law firm. They don’t know the business end of it.
True. A lot of lawyers that come into law school, they don’t necessarily want to run their own business. They do like, you know, for different reasons. They want to, you know, work where somebody can go in and out and then not have the responsibility of running the business. But for me, I love business. I love running a business. So, I knew what to do. And I can tell you yes, I was working maybe 100 hours a week, the first couple years, you know, moving my own desks, you know, setting up my own accounting. I can’t tell you how many Sundays and Saturdays I spent knowing that learning the law because you do not have a mentor you are learning as you go. It really teaches you the hard lessons that you never forget, especially the first time you go before a court, and you don’t have somebody telling you what to do. And so you learn. It makes you a better lawyer.
No question. No question. I mean, it’s trial by fire. You know? Yes. So, alright, so you open your own firm? And have you always dealt with domestic and divorce and immigration? Is that where the focus started?
No, actually, interestingly enough, in law school, I was more interested in intellectual property law. I had always been involved in music during my younger life. And so, I was geared towards that. And I actually did an internship with Mr. Wolf, who’s a very well renowned intellectual property attorney and I did an internship there. And I found that I would have had to have joined a law firm to do that. And I wasn’t inclined to do that. I actually rented some office space in another attorney’s office who was retiring and it kind of just fell in my lap Believe it or not, Were his older clients moving out were Family Law clients and some immigration clients. And I just took them on. And I learned as I went, and I was involved, and it was a good business, and I delved into it, and I found out that I was very good at it.
Alright, so let’s delve into it. Okay, because this is one i think that’s always an interesting topic, just because it’s either affected everybody personally, or affected someone they know. divorce. I mean, it’s, it’s, you know, we’re over the 50%. Mark, I think, and most marriages are sort of almost set up to fail. It’s a begins now. So, let’s talk about divorce law and sort of trends that you see in that, and I want to talk about the pandemic as well, and how that’s affected. But what was the appeal of doing domestic work,
or domestic work is very personal, I find that I am a very personal attorney. When my clients come to me, I am not afraid to ask them the hard questions. I know what they’re going through. I mean, I’ve been divorced. I’ve also my parents were divorced. I know what that’s like. And so I really personalize it. And I think that people coming in understand that, that they can tell me what is going on. I’m also a very strong person, when a person comes in, and they’re not quite sure I’m able to guide them and let them know that it’s okay to tell me those personal things that I’ve heard them before, and that I can help them. And I think that puts them at ease. And it makes me feel good to be able to do that.
Right? Do you tend to represent more husbands more wives, or it’s whoever comes in, because I know some lawyers sort of, I don’t know that they gear it that way? But it just winds up there. Oh, that’s view if your wife, you should go see this lawyer, you know, if your husband, you need to go see this lawyer.
Interestingly enough, I have a pretty 50/50 ratio. Some of the trends that I’ve noticed over the years is that the fathers have been having, getting more time sharing, you know, right now we started equal time sharing. Before many years ago, the presumption was that the mother would get them majority time sharing, the father would have to fight for that. Good thing is that now the premises that it starts at equal. And interestingly enough, I have a lot of fathers who actually majority time sharing now. So I’ve noticed that switch, and I’m not sure if it’s because of the economics and more women are taking charge and going out there and doing, you know, businesses and work, or I don’t know, but I’ve noticed that shift where the fathers are actually having majority time sharing, but I do represent equally both mothers, fathers, husbands and wives and do not have a majority of one or the other.
You’re in that delicate balance, you know, there’s a thin line between love and hate, you know, for a reason, because things are very passionate, either way. And so, you see a lot of times in divorce, how do you deal with the aspect of, you know, I want to hurt this person? Now, you know, in other words, I mean, I want a pound of flesh I want? And how do you sort of get that separated to say, really, it’s a business transaction, we’ve got to get it boiled down to that.
I think a lot of times, it depends on if the representation on the other side is as equally level headed. Because Don’t forget, there’s a lot of moving parts in a divorce, you have your client, you may or may not have children, you have extended family members, if it’s a post modification, after divorce, you might have a new spouse involved. You have opposing counsel, and then you have the judge. So there’s a lot of moving parts in a divorce. And you also see people at their very worst, you don’t see them at their best. And in order to get them to how do I say talk them off the ledge A lot of times, right, you really have to take them aside when they get emotional. And they get over the top. And you have to look at them and say, if I were to go into court with this, this would not work, this would not fly, you would lose and I don’t want that to happen to you. So, take a step back. take three deep breaths, right, and let’s do it together. And I’ve actually done that with my clients. And let’s think about what you’re saying. So I think that helps. And I think having the background that I have in doing even the therapy, you know, allowing people to just take their moment, and then move on from there is really helpful in divorce because it’s so emotional and it feels like the bottom is dropping out. And I have to tell them, the bottom is not dropping out. It may feel like that but it will come back.
Right. Okay. How do you deal with the delicacy of when you have kids involved? I mean, that’s, I think, the most difficult and we often see it portrayed the kids sort of become pawns, you know, and they’re used as weapons toward the other spouse. So how do you how do you kind of try to neutralize that and try to protect particularly young children in what’s an extraordinarily stressful situation?
Yes, that is an extraordinarily stressful situation for both parents, I think the most important thing that I have to look at is what is in the best interests of the child. And that is the standard that the courts look out. And at a certain point, the judge or whoever is administering the law over that case, will look at both parents and say, I really don’t care, I’m thinking of your child. So again, I try to step back, and I try to look at that parent, if I represent them, and I say, you know, is this good for your child, you know, maybe the other person isn’t an ogre. Or maybe the person is and you do have to step in and file an emergency motion and protect that child, which is often the case. So it each part of the case, whether you’re doing the analysis, or whether you’re actually in the case, you have to remind your client, you know, are you being over the top, you know, is the judge may be going to admonish you and say, you know, ma’am, or Sir, this is not in the best interest of your child, the other parents should have time sharing, or otherwise. And I think you have to walk them back from that and remind them of what is going on.
We went through, and there was a great meme I saw yesterday, it’s a guy running and he says me still processing 2020. And there’s a guy right behind him that says 2022, just four months away. You know, we sort of went through 2020, in this pandemic and into 2021. And it’s all kind of been a blur, but and we’ve seen a lot of different aspects. Obviously, bankruptcies have skyrocketed and everything else. But what about the impact on divorce, when you’ve got people now sequestered during lockdown, things like that? What have you seen as far as trends going in divorce?
Well, real briefly, I’ll take everyone back to that time, we know we’re used to going into court, we’re used to represent our clients in front of the jury, the lawyers and judges in the whole system was shut down, we had to learn how to do zoom, we had to learn how to present our evidence. I’m also a certified Family Law mediator. And we were learning how to do mediations via zoom. You know, life didn’t stop. So, I can come in the court system in Miami Dade County, because they did they did come up to speed and they were exceptional. So that being said, during that timeframe, as far as a family matters, were concerned, if the parties were already separating divorce, we had the time sharing issues of you know, who was going to have them during the pandemic. Some parents could agree, and some parents couldn’t during that time, we did the best we could I mean, there wasn’t a point in time where some parents did not see their child for a portion of time whether the parent was sick, and the other parent was healthy, or whether the child was sick or not in school and had to be homeschooled. Yes, it was pandemonium if I can, you know, use that word. But it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. We controlled it. People were dealing with a lot. And they were trying to work together that time.
Yeah, we’ve talked about it in some other shows. And I really do think that the judiciary for Miami Dade was out in front, then quickly went to zoom, they went for different they were trying different ways to have jury trials. And always And surprisingly, you know, at least in the civil end of things, were able to continue to move cases. And so, you know, a lot to be said about that. And we’re far from it yet. I mean, unfortunately now, you know, yes, we sort of reopened the courthouse except now they’ve condemned the courthouse because it’s falling down. And it’s an unsafe building. So we have judges ready to work and lawyers ready to work. We just don’t have a courtroom to go to anymore for a while.
Yeah, I have to tell you the funny stories is that everybody knows what dogs they have now. Because you know, you’re in a courtroom and you think it’s a courtroom. But actually, it’s the backdrop of the judges, right. And then your dog barks and then their dog barks. And then before you know it, you’re showing everybody your dogs. So it’s actually personalized people in a way that I don’t think would have happened before. It’s made us kind of realize that although we are judges, we are attorneys, you know, we are even the litigants, you know, we all have lives, and we all you know, our people, we shouldn’t be feared as much. And I think one thing that pin them did positively was bring that out more. And, and you know, I now know what judges dogs are looking like, and it’s personal.
Absolutely. I mean, I had I had a young lawyer and got to know her and we’re taking the deposition. And you know, she’s homeschooling kids and this not and, you know, how are you doing? Well, I’m failing first grade virtually, but I’m doing okay in third grade because she’s trying to practice law. She’s trying to keep both our kids in front of their computers while they do it. So, it’s been an incredible strain. But I think it’s a testament to, again, the human nature and the ability to adapt to these things. And, and I think the legal community has done a good job with that. And yes, but yeah, so I’ve met lots of kids and dogs that I didn’t know they had. Exactly,
exactly. I think one of the things that people forget is that during the process of divorce, that both people have feelings and emotions, and that the lawyers also have feelings and emotions. And also, you know, we’re dealing with a lot of plates in the air. And they that they don’t realize because I understand they’re encapsulating what they’re going through. And so, I tried to explain to them how the system works. And I think it’s important for people to know how the system works. In so many times, I have a client that maybe had a prior lawyer, and they said, I walked into court, I had no idea what was going on. I had no idea why was there no idea, you know, and so it’s really incumbent upon us as specifically Family Law Attorneys, when there are emotions. And there are children that are properties involved, their life savings practically sometimes, is that you break it down, I’m going in for this reason, this is what’s expected of you. This is what you need to know, this is how you need to prepare. And that’s really important because you’re nervous, the client, not nervous, but the clients, they don’t know what’s going to be asked of them. If it’s a trial, and there’s cross examination. You know, you need to prepare your client to be bombarded maybe with them pleasantries. So I think it’s important for the lawyer to prepare your client to also know that there’s been mediation available, which is a wonderful tool. I mean, as a mediator, I try to always support that and say mediation is a tool that can alleviate not only the cost, which is a high cost, right to divorce, or any part of the family law process. You know, it’s not insurance related, we can’t take a settlement, it is basically out of your pocket or out of the other party’s pocket. So, it’s important to know you have to find other ways to solve the problem and that this is a bubble in time of your life. It is not your whole life, that it This too shall pass. And that you can go on to do the least amount of damage to yourself and others during the process
was one of my favorite bumper stickers years ago. And it’s a little dated, but years ago, bumper sticker said love is grand divorce is 50 grand. So it’s, it’s it is an expensive process. One of the things that I had read articles about and would like your thoughts on is the collaborative process now? Is that something you see that’s going on? And can you explain how that works?
Okay, I have thoughts about the collaborative process, I hopeful, but in the end, it can start a collaborative, and then it typically doesn’t end in a collaborative fashion. And then the collaborative lawyer has to withdraw. That’s part of the process, if you enter into collaborative agreement for that type of dissolution of marriage. Typically, my experience has not worked. That’s just my experience.
It is an interesting concept to me, because, as you alluded to, so you can hire a lawyer, both sides can have lawyers, but those lawyers have to agree that they won’t go on with litigation if you can’t deal and resolve it through the collaborative process. So in theory, it sounds good. But you’re saying
I’m saying if you have an agreement with your party, just get a lawyer and have an agreement, write the case, I mean, you don’t really need to go through all the collaborative process. And that’s just again, not taking away from collaborative attorneys of their process. But that’s something that works in their system. But from my you know, 23 years of being an attorney and Family Law, I have found that if you do have an amicable divorce, just create a settlement agreement, right? Go through the easy process, and then it’s done. Because at that point, if you do have that, and it does fall by the wayside, you keep your attorney, you then it becomes litigation, and then you move on is you don’t have to start all
over to restart. Right, right. Right. Okay. So we talked about divorce, let’s talk about the byproducts of divorce, the other aspects of domestic law. And I’m sure the pandemic has had a big effect on this, people lose their jobs, or people are now working at home, or they’re not making as much money or they voluntarily changed and did something during the pandemic. How does that all get affected? And what happens then to the agreements that are in place?
Yes, modification, I would say it’s a substantial part of my practice. And for the viewers a modification is when you have maybe a final judgment of divorce, and a marital settlement agreement or mediated settlement agreement. And through substantial changes, there needs to be a post modification of that agreement, so that you can start from a different point in place of your life. And there has been many of them a lot of that going on. Now. What happens with that is if somebody has lost their job, and it’s long term, then we have to go back in and assess is this long term was a voluntary? Was it involuntary? So there’s a lot of parts that go into it. Also, did one party have to remove a child from school for various reasons? And then do we have to modify where that child now is going to school if there’s no agreement, or if one party was forced to move, so the modifications can be just as difficult as the actual divorce sometimes It’s another process, it’s very similar to to the actual beginning of the divorce, except now you have to show why things have changed. But I encourage people to do a modification. Because if it’s not working, and your child is five or six, you’ve got a lot of years to deal with that the way it is, it’s not working. So go ahead and make that move if you need to.
What about other aspects of things, custody battles that arise maybe after the divorce? So, you know, we’re going to share custody or whatnot. But then there’s now accusations against one spouse with that child? How does that all get impacted and how the parties deal with it?
Very, very difficult. I’m sure. It’s, it’s a, it’s one of those cases, and one of these areas of family law, that has to be tread on very carefully. The allegations are serious. You know, a lot of people get angry, especially with domestic violence, you know, people make accusations because they didn’t get what they wanted, or, you know, it did happen. So, you know, you really have to vet them. And you really have to question your client, you have to know that what you’re doing is something that you feel is not frivolous to the court. And I think that’s important for the attorney to make sure that you, you talk to your client, you find out if this is correct, because it does have an impact on the other party’s job, on their livelihood on their time sharing. And, and I speak to other lawyers, when I say that not only the clients, that you have to be realistic, and not make false allegations. That being said, as far as a child custody, you do have to again, make sure that the best interests of the child are front center. And that’s what the court looks at. So, you want to make sure you pick that apart as well. Because you don’t want the person to go forward and perhaps jeopardize what they have in their current time sharing if they’re unreasonable, because the judges don’t look kindly on that, right. So, we want to make sure our client has a reality check while we go through the process. If it is realistic, and it is something that should be done, then we go for we file our petition for modification, we set it before the court, and we have a litigation we have to or modification as through mediation. So, it’s another whole portion of the whole new case, basically, I deal a lot with military law, My office is south. So, I’m very close to the airbase. And the relocation is a lot, you know, we do a lot of relocation cases. And that has a whole different structure of law that you have to attach to it. So again, you have to make sure your client has a realistic expectation of what will occur and explain to them and if they have all the criteria, then you move forward with it.
So you say military law, is that separate and distinct? I mean, they have their own body of law that controls
in many aspects. They do. Okay, not all but in many they do. There are specific provisions that deal only with Military Divorce, regarding a pensions, regarding you know, insurance, regarding relocation. I’ve represented people who’ve been overseas in Japan, I’ve done trials via zoom, you know, people are in other countries. So, the whole relocation process may be a little different with that and other aspects. It’s still a divorce, but there’s just some different legal ramifications for that and actually different laws that come into play. Interesting.
Alright. So, what advice do you have for people that are contemplating divorce?
Well, I always like to say I’m a big believer in marriage, and I’m a big believer in divorce. You know, marriage. Again, I have to remind people marriage is a contract. You know, people don’t like prenuptial is what I say when you say I do, you’ve entered into a prenuptial dictated by the laws of the state of Florida. Well, that’s true. That’s an interesting point. You have already without knowing entered into prenuptial agreement, right. So if you want to get really romantic draft your own prenuptial vows. People don’t know that. So what I what I’m saying about family law and divorce in general is, you know, try to try to go to counseling. I’m a big believer in marriage counseling, if there’s no domestic violence involved in anything that was serious in nature, and try to see if you can work that out. If you can’t then find the right lawyer. You know, make sure that it’s explained to you divorce is a personal matter. I mean, my life will go on your life, right? So you have to like your attorney, you have to trust your attorney. You have to feel like you’re being represented in divorce should be contemplated very seriously, on behalf of the children, but go for it. If you feel like this marriage is not working for you. And it’s it’s an emotional business, as I like to call it. It is to people coming into partnership, and in various degrees, whether it’s financial, whether it’s emotional, whether it’s childcare, and once you separate, your life is different. So prepare yourself for that and Get your ducks in a row. And, and, and be honest about it, don’t try to manipulate the process because in the end, it all comes out in the wash. So make it simple, make it straightforward. You know, this is your child, this is somebody that she was loved in the past, and now you don’t. But okay, let’s be human. That’s why I try to tell my clients.
Well, it’s good advice. And I do the same, obviously, personal injury people are dealing with tragedy, or wrongful death cases, is find a lawyer that you can ever relationship with, because it’s going to be a long term relationship. I mean, these you know, it’s not okay, here, bam, you know, file three things, I’ll see you, we’ll have a phone call, that’ll be it. It’s a long, most times pretty drawn out, litigious process. And so having somebody that you can communicate with, that you’re comfortable with, I think is extraordinarily important when they pick a lawyer. And let’s talk about one other aspect, because you said, You’re a certified mediator, okay. I’m a big proponent of mediation. We had Stan Blake on a few weeks ago, who was one of my favorite one of my favorite people. But, you know, one of the top Circuit Court judges for so many years, and now he’s a fantastic mediator, have used him and he just brings that whole skill set to it. And it is amazing sometimes how cases you think, really have no shot of getting resolved, but you get everybody in the same room virtually or otherwise. And things happen. So in the divorce context, talk about those mediations,
in the divorce context, being a mediator, it’s a very active process, especially via zoom, right? You have to be a technological wizard at best. But in general mediation is you really, as a mediator standpoint, you have to listen. And you have to, again, manage people’s expectations. It’s a confidential process. So you have to be very wary of going from one side to another, if you’re in a caucus, which means that you’re with one separate party and their attorney or alone, dealing with that. So it’s a respectful process. And that is one main component that I start with in my mediations is a respectful process. And it’s here, if it’s an opportunity for both of you to maybe take a step back and realize that in the end, you don’t have control, if you go before the judge, right now you have control. So let’s manage those expectations. And let’s get forward a plan that both can be workable for both parties, you have to move each other to the middle, as best as you can. And again, as you know, everybody says mediation successful with the neither party is happy, nobody’s happy. And then again, again, the confidential processes, definitely play mediation, it can take hours, it can take two hours, it can take 10 hours. And again, I think the most important thing as a mediator is to be confident in yourself, and what you’re proposing to each party, and also being secure that the people know that what they’re telling you is definitely not spoken about unless you give consent, right and that you can go to the other party and let them know if you just cannot agree then we can agree partially on certain issues, especially family all you can have child timesharing agreed upon but not property division or equitable distribution Do you know? So in family law, we can bifurcate things and a portion of it have it agreed to and a portion of a go before the court. So that’s important to know, if you’re a little hesitant, you have control, and you can do this in different ways. And that’s as far as mediation is concerned. I think I really, very, you know, I think it’s a great, great part of divorce law and an opportunity for people to settle their case.
Well, there you go. One more hopefully, that we can take off the kill list. Karen, it’s it’s really been a pleasure. It’s an area of law that I know little or nothing about, but is so critical, as I said, because we all know, either direct close impact a family member friends, and I get calls all the time, you know, hey, I’m thinking about getting divorced, who do I talk to, you know, and finding that right lawyer I think is critical. So hopefully, that’s when we can take off the kill list. Next time. I see you probably in cycling gear and we’ll be out in heat somewhere. But pleasure to see you in this environment. hope you all enjoyed it. And we’ll be back next week with another episode of first off let’s kill all the lawyers.