Advancements in Family Law with Celebrity Lawyer Peter Walzer
[Source: Family Lawyer Magazine]
Celebrity lawyer Peter M. Walzer, who is ranked a best family law attorney in California, discusses notable changes in family law – and some predictions about how the future may unfold in Family Lawyer Magazine
Advancements in Family Law: A Roundtable with the Current and Two Past AAML Presidents
Sharon Klein: We have the current president as well as two past presidents of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, Cary Mogerman, Maria Cognetti, and celebrity divorce lawyer Peter M. Walzer. How has family law changed over the past 10 years – and what do family law firms need to do to adapt, evolve, and prosper in the future?
Peter Walzer: Adaptability is key. We’ve learned that in the last 10 years, especially in the last two years with the pandemic. We’ve had to adjust to Zoom everything: court appearances, mediation, client interviews. In addition to the technological changes, the practice of family law has become very specialized, and we need to bring in many other professionals to handle complex family law cases. For example, we’ve had to bring in corporate lawyers to deal with entities holding limited liability companies and estate planning specialists to deal with the children and other stakeholders in the family businesses.
There have been major tax law changes in the last few years. The elimination of the alimony deduction has caused tremendous changes in how we look at, build, and arrive at settlements. The tax issues are getting even more complex in the division of property. We need a team of lawyers to handle a complex family law case.
Sharon: The elimination of tax-deductible alimony payments can be a trap for the unwary. That advantageous tax treatment is grandfathered for people who divorced before 2019. But prenuptial agreements (prenups) signed before 2019 are likely not grandfathered. Even if a prenuptial agreement was signed with the assumption that the alimony would be deductible, that’s likely not going to be the case, and that’s a big deal.
Peter: That’s so true. Of course, you need the cooperation of the judge who’s going to issue the alimony order and recognize that it would need to be adjusted for the non-deductibility of alimony.
Sharon: From a financial perspective, there’s a greater awareness of how important it is to take a team-based approach when advising clients.
Peter: If the assets are in trusts and in corporations, the tax consequences are not always clear to family lawyers. We need the expertise of tax lawyers, forensic accountants, tax accountants, real estate specialists, and more to help us engineer these transfers. And when people have their assets in irrevocable trusts, it’s much more difficult to divide them – and the divorce court may not even have jurisdiction over these assets.
Sharon: There have been a lot of changes during COVID that have affected culture, spirit, and connectivity.
How has the practice of family law changed over the past 10 years, and what needs to change in the practice of family law as we look toward the future?
Cary: If we’re talking about the craft of lawyering and representing people in the dispute, we’re trying fewer cases today than we were 10 years ago – which is good for clients because if we’re not trying cases, we’re settling them.
Maria: Ten years ago, we didn’t have technology in our courtrooms; now, it’s a rare courtroom that doesn’t have it. COVID really highlighted the parenting differences between co-parents.
Sharon: How has your clientele changed in the last 10 years, and how do you see it changing in the future?
Maria: When email caught on, clients started to expect a fairly quick response. But now they text you day and night. I had someone who texted me all day on a Sunday, and each text would say, “Please respond in 10 minutes.”
Ten years ago, when someone didn’t like you, they might post a nasty comment on Facebook. Now, they can give you a bad review on Google and it is there for all time.
Sharon: It’s across all industries. I believe clients want to know how much you care before they care how much you know.
Peter: We are a concierge service. We charge a lot of money, and our clients expect the immediate return of a text, email, or call. If one team member is out of commission, another will step forward. We’re like emergency doctors – there for them when they need us.
I want to address social media from an evidentiary point of view. Clients are posting evidence of what they’re doing to each other on Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and messaging, texting, and WhatsApp. I say my client didn’t do something, and the opposing counsel presents Facebook posts showing they did. Of course, lawyers have to distinguish between what’s real and what’s fake; the authentication of texts or posts on social media has become critical.
Peter Walzer is a top family law attorney and the founding partner of the Southern California law firm Walzer Melcher & Yoda, LLP in Woodland Hills. He served as president of the AAML (2018-2019) and is the past chair of the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Family Law Section.