Chicago Family Law Attorney | Why Phaedra of Real Housewives of Atlanta was *not* Outsmarted
Greetings good readers! Thank you so much for reading last week's blog: Top Legal Stories of 2011. We plan to complete the list next week. Can't wait to reveal the number one lesson of 2011! Meanwhile, in reality television land...Yesterday's episode of Real Housewives of Atlanta was interesting to say the least. Besides the other scenes of miscellaneous information and gossip, there was a very important (important for legal purposes) series of scenes regarding Sheree and Phaedra.
For those who are not familiar with the show, Real Housewives is a series of shows about women in different areas and their interactions with one another. The Real Housewives of Atlanta installment is one of the more popular shows. Last night, the main story line of the episode, Sheree, the ex-wife of a former professional football player allowed Phaedra a Georgia attorney and member of the cast, to represent her in her child support proceeding. During the course of the show, there was a scene in which Sheree's ex, Bob, summoned Sheree to court for a child support modification. When they came to court Bob also attempted to hold Sheree in contempt due to items she did not surrender in their divorce decree.
*insert camera angles/dramatic scenes/and suspenseful music*
And at the end of it, everyone (unknowing viewers) were under the impression that somehow, Phaedra "lost." Much to do was made about Bob's Stanford education and Phaedra was "outsmarted." The word "outsmarted" was actually used by Sheree.
Let me make this clear, I know no more about the facts of this case than any other viewer, however, I am able due to my experience in family law to piece together important facts despite outside (read: pointless) information. Sifting through information, is a skill taught in law school that is HIGHLY developed in practice.
So here are the relevant facts as I know it. Sheree and Bob are divorced. As typical in a divorce proceeding when children are involved, child support was ordered. Bob has not paid child support since their divorce has been final. Sheree goes to Phaedra to see what can be done about this, Phaedra correctly explains that Bob is in violation of a court order and he can be held in contempt and even put in jail until some money is paid towards the child support. Sheree says she would not like to pursue that option but does want to do something about getting the child support she is owed. At this point of the story line, Sheree has done nothing more than speak to Phaedra about what she "can" do not what she will do. Incidentally, Bob serves Sheree with a modification. Sheree' officially hires Phaedra as her attorney to respond to the modification but of course also to discuss the back child support. They show up in court, Bob tries to say Sheree is in contempt for not giving him some furniture from the divorce and they are granted a continuance. *there is a time lapse issue but I am under the impression that Bob incidentally ends up serving Sheree before she serves him*
I explained a child support modification in a previous blog. You can read about modifications: here. In short, a modification can be granted due to a substantial change in circumstances. A substantial change in circumstances includes, change of jobs (i.e. income), remarriage, relocation, or additional children. In short, anything that substantially affects one's income and ability to pay. Bob is alleging that he is unable to pay the original amount of child support ordered because his income has changed drastically from when he was a professional football player to now. To be clear, even if a modification is granted, that modification does not necessarily affect any arrearages owed.
When they arrived in court, Pheadra represented Sheree, Sheree was the respondent. A respondent is the person who is responding to the petition. A petitioner would have been the person who called the case in the first place. In this case, it would be Bob. Again, Sheree did not file her case, she was responding to Bob's modification petition. The producers did a not so good job at pointing that out. Furthermore, not necessarily relevant, but one can sometimes tell which side of the case they are on based on what side of the courtroom they are seated. A small yet significant fact that most people would miss. The respondent usually sits on the left and the Petitioner on the right. In the courtroom in this case, that is how both Bob and Sheree were seated. That's how I also knew who was who in the case.
Next, when the Judge appeared she asked Phaedra was she ready to proceed and alerted her to the recently served contempt. A person is in contempt, when they have done something in violation of what the court has ordered them to do. However, when a person is held in contempt they are typically served and put on notice that they are in contempt and are given an opportunity to correct it. If you will notice, Phaedra was unaware that Bob had even done such. He was serving as his own attorney, however, even as a pro se litigant one must know court decorum. And with that know that the court and opposing counsel should be served with information (i.e. his contempt). Furthermore, Phaedra was also unaware of the previous divorce order regarding the furniture (an attorney that is unaware of ALL of the facts cannot be blamed when their client did not tell them all of the facts to begin with). Lastly, they were given a continuance. A continuance means that they were given another date to discuss and respond to the various proceedings. On this new date they will sort out the issues regarding the contempt and the issues for the modifications- which is why they were there in the first place).
So let's be clear, Phaedra was not outsmarted. Sheree could have held Bob in contempt of court but when Phaedra presented that issue to her- she did not want to put Bob in jail for failure to pay support. Secondly, Bob is well within his rights to attempt to hold Sheree in contempt for a failure to give furniture etc from their divorce proceedings. However, that does not yet still erase the child support that he still owes nor does that address his current modification requests.
Another side note, people were making a huge deal about Sheree's apparent financial status (or lack there of). Let's be clear, a child needs to be provided for from both parents regardless of how much money either parent appears to make. Even if Sheree makes substantially more money than her ex, the children are still owed support. Of course the court makes necessary adjustments to reflect both parents income and ability to pay but again, that is something is discussed in the modification proceedings.
If you need to speak to an attorney today regarding a child support modification, contact us today!
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