Civility In Family Law: 5 things that can keep your clients on the right side of the line

Set Reasonable Expectations by Educating the Client:
Clients need to know the likely outcomes of the parenting and financial issues based on statute and case law. It is much easier for a client if they know what is likely to happen at the beginning of a case rather than being surprised in court when the judge makes a ruling. It is also more efficient to negotiate final settlements if the client knows the parameters of the possible outcomes at trial.

Client education should begin at the very first meeting and does not end at the conclusion of your case. Completing your job sometimes requires follow-up on important issues that the client likely has no idea how to predict (e.g., opening a file with the Office of Child Support Enforcement so that support payments can start; or completing a Qualified Domestic Relations Order and what to expect when awards from a former spouse’s pension finally pay out).

Lastly, an educated client is easier to work with and more likely to return. If clients recognize your advice as being valuable, worthwhile, and easy to follow, they are more likely to follow your lead as you shine a light on the best path. If you are in the practice of sending out newsletters to keep clients up-to-date, or establishing your social media presence and brand, identifying yourself to your clients as a trusted advisor, (hint hint) during the representation is an important place to start.

Avoid Dramatic & Over-the-top Pleadings:
It can be tempting to turn on the dramatics when drafting a pleading, especially with a set-of facts that get you fired up or maybe where you feel a need to embolden a less assertive client.  I rarely meet a client who isn’t on board with being aggressive in pleadings. But coaching clients to maintain a civilized tone in a Family Law case can reduce conflict between the parties and enhance your client’s image before the court. Focus on the facts and thoroughly explain the facts to the court without too many negative opinions, assessments and judgments.

I like to remind clients that their pleadings are a matter of public record and that potentially anyone can get their hands on them I the future. I ask them if they really want their business “out in the streets” and impress upon them that litigation is a process with a time and place for everything including detailed storytelling, which is best done in the courtroom in front of the trier of fact.

In submitting statements to court, a civil attorney should ask their client to simply tell the court what the person did without all of the pejorative terms. For example, accusing someone of having “violent tendencies” when the person has never engaged in violent behavior is inflammatory. Courts also find unpersuasive extreme statements, like calling someone a “liar” when there is no clear proof of this and stating opinions, such as saying “he doesn’t really care about our children” or “she is a psychopath.”

But what about when these kinds of statements are hurled at your client instead?

Lead By Example -Take the High Road:
One of the most difficult aspects of family law arises when the opposing party or their lawyer engages in high-conflict behavior, such as making insulting statements in court or in pleadings, involving the children, spewing misinformation to third parties, repeating unfounded accusations, providing details of indiscreet behavior to others, calling a person’s workplace, and/or not complying with court orders. The client’s first reaction might be to demand that the attorney make the opposing party or the other attorney stop or perhaps to retaliate by engaging in the same sort of behavior. It is always better to advise a client to “take the high road.”  To reduce conflict and keep matters civil, the Family Law attorney should advise the client that those behaviors do not assist in settling their case and usually make things worse. In addition, those tactics and choices will greatly increase their attorney fees.

Explain and Encourage Alternatives:
Explaining the alternatives to trial can bring a huge sense of relief to the client. Clients should know about these alternative processes so they can make informed choices. Often once the legal process starts, communication between the parties deteriorates quickly and the client has a hard time focusing on where they want to end up.

Parties can participate in a collaborative law process or use early mediation to resolve their family law disputes. The parties can also jointly hire or consult with neutral financial and/or parenting experts. Some options may not be advisable if there has been domestic violence or other issues that would make a cooperative approach unworkable.

Limit Family Input:
To be able to proceed in a civil manner, the family law attorney should limit declarations and involvement of grandparents, parents, and new romantic interests unless absolutely necessary. It is important for clients to understand that when we ask a family member to write a declaration or testify in court for our client, we are likely jeopardizing that person’s future relationship with the other spouse or partner, and as a result their relationship with the children when the children are with the other spouse or partner.

By, Sahmra A. Stevenson, Esq.
S.A. Stevenson Law Offices, LLC
Twitter: @SAS_Law;
IG: SahmraStevensonEsq;
Facebook: @SASLawOffices;






Leaders Leave Legacies:

Most leaders don’t leave legacies. When they leave an organization or other leadership position, their memory leaves with them and their names are never to be mentioned again.  Others leave negative legacies, and we all know who those folks are, even though sometimes we would rather not.  So what about the ones that leave powerful, lasting impressions on others? The ones whose legacies live on well beyond their tenure?

5 Ways To Leave A Positive Legacy:

We live in a culture that is constantly asking “what have you done for me lately?” You may not be remembered long for your results as a leader because success is a moving target.  Next year, next month, next week, there is always another goal to reach whether you’re there or not.

This serves as a gentle reminder that creating a positive impact is more about who we touch than what.  Impressions are deeper when we take the time to connect, develop and inspire.  Caring about this is a higher mission as a leader.

Creating a positive impact doesn’t happen by accident and it does not happen overnight. The following 5 strategies are examples of how you can work towards leaving your own impressions, however meaningful you wish them to be.

  1. People over results

Most of us are familiar with the quote by Maya Angelou… “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” As a matter of fact it’s the first thing that pops up when I google her name, so that seems like a healthy place to start.

In a few months, your team won’t remember whether you hit this week’s goals, some probably won’t even care.  What they are going to remember is how you made them feel while trudging the happy road to victory.  Pay attention to any habits you’ve built when speaking to your team. Are you constantly focused on the business of things, or do you take time to ask “how are you?” A team member that feels you’re invested in their future is more likely to be genuinely invested in yours and the future of your business.

  1. Connect in person

Because I manage a virtual and mobile practice, technology is a necessity for me on a daily basis. But no matter the advancements in technology that are to come, I don’t believe there will ever be a substitute for actual human interaction.  I’m talking about that good face-to-face, reach out and touch somebody interaction.  People know the difference and appreciate the added effort it takes, especially given that we all have a wealth of alternatives that can probably produce a passable substitute to in-person meetings. Balance is the answer and awareness is the key.  Your positive legacy can only be perpetuated by positive human interaction.

  1. Investing time and money

Investing in the personal and professional growth of your team is fundamental.  When you invest time and, even money where appropriate, your team will be able to have more success and make an even bigger impact.  Ask your team to propose areas they would like to develop and follow-through with making it happen. It’s a win-win all the way around.

  1. Control less; empower more
    With some things, you just won’t know until you let it go. This is true when it comes to leadership and control.  You can’t know what your team is capable of unless you’re willing to let them take responsibility for their work.  This might scare you, but it’s the kind of behavior that separates the boys from the men.

You might be convinced that stepping out of frame will result in everything falling apart. But what if it doesn’t? What if your example is enough. Teach your team to make intelligent gambles, think critically and help them improve along the way. Work will become more enjoyable and less burdensome for everyone involved.

  1. Model behavior you want to see

Your team learns more from watching what you do than from listening to what you say.  Invite them to attend meetings and include them on calls so they can get a feel for what you do and how. Make sure you’re modeling the behaviors you’d like them to embody. Be humble enough to allow them to give feedback, you would be surprised what others can see that you can’t.

Now get to work! Legacies don’t create themselves.

By, Sahmra A. Stevenson, Esq.
S.A. Stevenson Law Offices, LLC
Email:; Twitter: @SAS_Law; IG: SahmraStevensonEsq; Facebook: @SASLawOffices;;




Team Building 101:
If you brand it they will come. But what if they don’t?

If you’re expecting a post about the simple synchronicity between team building and business branding, and all the success I’ve had with it so far you can stop reading here.  What I can offer is a brief account of how a project I had intended to be focused on team building became one that was rich in opportunities for character building instead.  I’ll also tell you why my business, and my resolve to keep I growing and living “without walls” is stronger today as a result.

The backdrop:

Last Saturday I ran a 5K race in Baltimore City, Maryland with my legal assistant Kamilah.  We ran it as a team, though it wasn’t the team I originally had in mind.  Let me tell you why…

Working without walls doesn’t mean working without structure.  So how do you organize a team without the traditional boundaries that define and give structure to team building? How do you create cohesiveness among a group that works predominately virtually and remotely, having little direct or face-to-face contact?  You make the space for bonds to grow….or at least that was what I had in mind when I suggested that my staff run the Baltimore race as a team last week.

There are four of us all-together: myself, my paralegal Sam; legal assistant Kamilah; and intern Fernando.  The idea was clear. We would train separately, keeping track of the number of miles we each ran for three weeks leading up to the race.  Adding some purpose and positivity to the mission, I vowed to contribute $1 for every mile run to a “family pot.”  The pot would be contributed to Kamilah’s efforts to raise money to study abroad.  So that everyone had a chance to profit, I also announced $100 bonuses for the best time ran on the day of the race, and the greatest total miles run in training.  Team shirts were printed, emails with carefully drafted rules and guidelines were sent out, social media posts announcing the mission were posted, hashtags created, etc., …I thought my plan was flawless.

So what happened?

Well…. nothing.  There was no response to my oh so great email for more than a week, and when a response did come it was only one of the team members inquiring as to whether walking was an acceptable form of training.  After 14 days my intern officially went AWOL and stopped returning my texts, and my “gentle reminder” messages to the group seemed to go unread.

It was around this time that one of my least favorite character defects began trying to formulate a response: control. When I’m in that space I find myself in my head, thoughts racing: How can I make them respond? How can I make them see how hard I’m trying? What combination of text, emails and calls will lay the perfect guilt trip trap to make them work towards the outcome I’m so attached to?  I mean I ordered team shirts for Pete’s sake! Where’s my photo finish!?

REALITY CHECK: You can’t make anyone do anything. When we try to defy this rule we ultimately push others away or end up with an outcome that we weren’t looking for and/or that doesn’t last.  I can’t make my team develop a bond just like I couldn’t make them answer my emails. I can inspire, I can lead, I can make suggestions, and I can keep coming bac to the table to try again.

When character defects show up its an opportunity to check my motivations, strengthen my resolve to stay aware of how they influence me and reevaluate the tools I’ve put in place to make sure they don’t take me, or the team, off course. And that’s pretty much what I had to do in the final days leading up to the race.  The most important questions I asked myself over and over were “where are my energies going? Where do I want them to go? Is what I’m wanting to do next a practical use of my time?”

On the day of the race Kamilah was the only person that came out. We ran for 4 minutes and walked the rest of the course. We talked with each other the entire way. She confided in me. I learned about what was going on in her world and how she wants to grow in her role on the team. There was no photo finish and no best time.  Just two people engaged in fellowship and reaching a finish line together.  That’s teamwork.

By, Sahmra A. Stevenson, Esq.
(; Twitter: @SAS_Law; IG: SahmraStevensonEsq; Facebook: @S.A. Stevenson Law Offices)


Mobile Printing: Discover your mobile style to keep your workforce moving

Whether you’re on the road, making a scrap book or just want a printer that’s small enough to move from room to room, there’s a compact printer for you. Grabbing a portable printer isn’t likely to be at the top of your list when packing up for a trip, but you never know when you’re going to need to print a contract, photo or invoice. When the moment calls, you want to be ready regardless if you are printing from a computer, laptop or smartphone.

 Your mobile style

Portable printers serve two main kinds of buyer. The first is the business user who works on the road—often, out of a vehicle—and needs a means of outputting bills of sale, contracts, proposals, and other hard copy on a moment’s notice. If your line of work involves visiting clients and getting them to sign on the dotted line, on the spot, a portable printer may be a tool that you didn’t know you needed in your box.

The second is the photo enthusiast or snapshot hound seeking to print from any locale and pass out his or her prints right away. This could also be a photo professional who wants to hand off samples of his or her work. Maybe it’s a scrapbooker who wants to generate quick prints at a meet. Or it could simply be the photo buff in your household who wants to hand Aunt Jeanie and Uncle Joe mementos at the next family gathering. It’s especially useful for shots taken right at the time and made for relatives who are less tech-savvy and thus less likely to print out their own keepsakes from digital files.

Because of these two very different kinds of buyers, portable printers come in two main classes: business-centric inkjets, and photo-centric inkjet or thermal-dye printers. My list takes the best portable printers that can fit into a backpack and squeeze onto a hotel or office desk, and organizes them according to mobility styles. What mobile printer fits your work style?

Best Overall:
Epson WorkForce WF-100

Epson’s WorkForce WF-100 was released a few years ago, but has continued to outshine the competition as an excellent wireless mobile printer. At just 12.2 x 6.1 x 2.4 inches and 3.5 pounds, it’s as lightweight as the Canon, though slightly larger overall. Size aside, the Epson is capable of printing directly from a PC, as well as iOS and Android devices through WiFi connectivity. Printing itself offers both black ink and color cartridges with a rating of 250 and 200 pages, respectively, which is more than enough for printing out the latest invoices, contracts or spreadsheets that might be required on-the-go.

When it comes to true portability, the 20-sheet capacity can handle life on the road by printing 100 black and white pages (and 50 color pages) while operating strictly on the battery. Prior to printing, the Epson requires a brief setup run-through via the small 1.4-inch color LCD display. It’s less than ideal sizing for a desktop printer, but, for a printer built for portability, the LCD display assists with all the necessary functionality.

HP Office Jet 150

HP’s OfficeJet 150 might be a few years old, but this mobile wireless color printer is more than just a battery-friendly printer. It pulls double duty as a copier, too. With print speed of 22 black and white pages per minute and 18 color pages per minute alongside a 50 sheet input tray, the OJ 150 is among the fastest portable printers available in today’s market. At just 6.8-pounds and 14 x 7 x 3.5 inches in space, the OfficeJet 150 offers an excellent machine for road warriors who need a device that’s capable of handling printing on demand without requiring a separate suitcase. The battery life offers up to 500 prints. Additionally, the OfficeJet 150 is ready for up to five black and white and 3.5 color copies per minute. Unfortunately, the 150 does lack WiFi, but it offers Bluetooth connectivity for pseudo-wireless printing directly from a Bluetooth-compatible device.

Best for Portability
Primera Trio

At just 2.6-pounds and 11.4 x 1.8 x 6.5-inches, Primera’s Trio portable scanner tours itself as being the “world’s smallest and lightest portable all-in-one.” It’s capable of printing, scanning and copying documents all while on-the-go in a size that’s compact enough to fit into a messenger bag. The separately purchased battery makes it even more ideal for on-the-go use (the fully charged battery provides up to 350 prints before requiring a recharge). Additionally, the Primera will hold up to 10 pages of standard printer paper at one time, shooting out 3.1 black and white and 2.4 color print pages per minute. As for additional features, the Primera’s ability to copy black and white images at 1.7 and 1.1 color pages per minute won’t make it a speed demon, but that’s a tradeoff for portability. Unfortunately, for the price of the Primera, there’s a bit of a disappointment not to see WiFi or Bluetooth support for wireless printing (you’ll need a USB connection).

Best on a Budget
Canon IP2820

While it doesn’t offer the same compact form factor, Canon’s IP2820 weighs five pounds and measures just 16.8 x 9.3 x 5.3 inches, so it’s still plenty portable. With features such as Quiet Mode, it’s perfect for printing anytime, anywhere without waking up the family or the guests in the hotel room next to you. Additionally, if you’re a Canon camera user, you can sync a captured video with the IP2820 via the included Full HD Movie Print software and turn the results into fantastic looking still photos.

Printing itself happens with a 60-sheet auto feeder that turns out approximately eight black and white and four color pages every minute. Unfortunately, the IP2820 lacks WiFi connectivity, so there’s no printing directly from a smartphone or tablet since it requires a USB connection to a PC or Mac. However, the inclusion of features such as Auto Power On, which automatically boots the printer whenever a photo or document is sent to be printed, is a nice addition at such a budget-friendly price tag

Best for Photos
Canon Selphy CP1200

If printing photos is your main concern, then Canon’s Selphy CP1200 is the absolute go-to printer that’s both stylish and portable. Weighing just 1.9 pounds and measuring 7.1 x 5.4 x 2.5 inches, the Selphy is among the most compact of photo printers that still offers a multitude of print size options. The optional battery handily turns the Selphy into an even more portable selection (there’s enough printing power for up to 54 prints on a single charge). Additionally, the inclusion of WiFi helps enable prints from anywhere in the house or office, plus with features such as AirPrint, printing directly from an Apple device is a cinch.

While the portability of the Selphy is a big draw, the inclusion of prints that are water-resistant and capable of lasting up to 100 years is hard to ignore. Printing itself takes place in around 47 seconds with ink and paper kits that are available to print sets of 18, 36 or 54 photos. All that ink and paper will assist the Selphy with multiple size results including card size (2.1 x 2.4 inches), postcard (3.9 x 5.8 inches), square label (2 x 2 inches) and even a more traditional large size (3.5 x 4.7 inches).

The Selphy also includes additional features to further personalize each print. You can create a collage directly from the printer with a 2.7-inch display guiding the way and even print Facebook and Instagram photos directly from a smartphone or tablet with Canon’s optional Selphy app.

Best for Home Office
HP Deskjet 3755

At 5.1-pounds and measuring 15.86 x 6.97 x 5.55 inches, the HP DeskJet 3755 won’t feel as mobile as our overall winners, but its positioning by HP as an ultra-compact all-in-one is worth noting. Far smaller than most traditional desktop printers, the HP won’t fit comfortably into a backpack, but if you’re on a road trip and want something powerful without compromise, the 3755 is perfect for sticking into your car, setting up at a hotel or coffee shop and printing before that big meeting. Additionally, printing using a smartphone or tablet is offered through a variety of methods, including WiFi, HP’s reprint app and Wireless Direct, which offers a direct connection to the printer in the absence of any WiFi signal.

If its size doesn’t win you over, it’s 50 percent savings on traditional ink costs just might. An optional subscription even allows your printer to detect when it’s low on ink and place a new order before you run out altogether. Setup out of the box is a snap, too. Just pull the printer out, power it on, connect to a device and print away. As for prints itself, the 3755 offers a respectable eight pages per minute for black and white prints, as well as 5.5 pages per minute for color copies.

Best Multifunction
HP Officejet 250

If you’re looking for the most feature-rich portable printer money can buy, the HP OfficeJet 250 is your best bet. While its price tag might cause you to do a double take, the OfficeJet 250 is portable printing whenever you need it. Just stick it into a backpack or suitcase and you’re ready for on-the-go prints. Beyond printing, the OfficeJet 250 takes the portable printer feature set to another level with all-in-one features such as scanning and faxing in package that’s just 6.5 pounds and 7.8 x 15 x 3.6 inches. Even with a small size, the OfficeJet 250 delivers added portability with a battery for up to 500 prints when disconnected from a power outlet and a two-inch high-resolution display for selecting the appropriate-sized print.

The HP has a 10-page automatic document feeder and 50-sheet capacity that produces both letter and legal-sized prints up to 8.5 x 14 inches. The included black cartridge is capable of 200 pages and the tri-color cartridge lasts for around 165 pages before requiring new ink. HP also sells a separately purchased XL version of the OfficeJet 250 ink cartridges bumping the page results to 600 and 415 pages, respectively. With added features such as WiFi and Bluetooth, printing from a smartphone or laptop is easy courtesy of HP’s native ePrint app available for both Android and iOS.

By, Sahmra A. Stevenson, Esq.

S.A. Stevenson Law Offices, LLC

Email:; Twitter: @SAS_Law; IG: SahmraStevensonEsq; Facebook: @SASLawOffices;;



Love tolerance and compassion are the watchwords:

Meet Charley & Lucy. Charlie is a 94 yr old WWII vet and POW survivor. He was captured by Hitler and freed by General Patton. Lucy is a retired nurse who is wheel chair bound after rescuing a man before he jumped to his death from a hospital window some years ago. Truly a ride or die pair, the couple was referred to me after visiting with a colleague who’s office was not wheel chair accessible. 

In May I met with the couple in their home to start working on a joint living trust and pour over wills for their estate plan while they told me some amazing stories about their awesome life experiences. Remarkable evening indeed! Since then there have been a few ups and downs including a medical scare that required executing some temporary estate documents and taking an unexpected trip back out to the residence.

What I admire about Charley and Lucy is that the quality of their partnership is reflected in their presentation and poise.  I’ve now been over to their home about four times and each time that I’m there I’m greeted by a proud and very well put together pair.  I particularly like Lucy’s taste in patterned dresses along with her pearl necklaces, and Charley’s collection of sweaters and bow-ties.  I recognize that it must take the two of them several hours to prepare for my visits, something they don’t have to do at all. Neither can walk without assistance which means they have to assist each other.  Neither can balance without outside help, which means they must take turns offering support. I imagine it must be a process that requires the continuous demonstration of love, tolerance and compassion as each one struggles to help the other.  The narrow hallways of the one bedroom apartment can barely accommodate Lucy’s chair.  Turning around in one of the many many tight spaces is a 5-10 minute ordeal. Having witnessed the challenges with mobility first-hand, it is a mystery to me how some of it is even physically possible at all. Yet the couple manages with grace.

After a few times, it became quite clear to me that the effort that has gone into preparing for my visits is inspired and fueled by the values and commitment that these two share as a couple. As a family.  I think it must be their shared commitment to those values and to each other that makes the impossible possible.  And I think it must be their consistent practice of showing love, tolerance and compassion that has allowed them to perfect the process and make it look so easy.

We aren’t born knowing how to relate to or live with one another. We all come from and end up in very different #family situations. Some are easy to navigate and some are not. Love, tolerance and compassion seem to be the watchwords. When they are applied our challenges don’t disappear entirely, but if we’re consistent we might manage to smooth out some of their edges with a little touch of grace.

#SASLaw #WillsOnWheels #happyfamilies #familyfirst #yourhappyfamilylawattorney

Building Tax-Proof Divorce Instruments: How IRS Recapture Rules Can Impact Your Clients Settlement Agreements

Most, if not all family law attorneys are familiar with the alimony recapture rules.  Their intended purpose is to safeguard against the abuse of the tax structure of alimony (in some jurisdictions referred to as “maintenance” or “spousal support”) by improperly labeling non-deductible property settlements as deductible alimony.  Not all abuses are intentional however, and it is easy to overlook the potential for future conflict when drafting divorce instruments. This article will discuss the impact of the alimony recapture rule, as well as tips and pitfalls for practitioners on the subject, after a general discourse on the framework for the Federal tax treatment of alimony.

The Alimony Recapture Rule:
To guard against property settlements being disguised as alimony, the Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) contains a three-year rule pertaining to the excess front-loading of alimony.  Retrospective in nature, the rule applies only to alimony paid during the first three post-separation years, where the first post-separation year is the calendar year in which the payor spouse first makes payments to the payee spouse under an applicable divorce or separation instrument.[1] Alimony recapture may result from a change in the divorce decree or separation agreement, a failure to make timely alimony payments, a reduction in the payer’s ability to provide support due to job loss or other financial or non-financial reasons, a poorly drafted alimony award, or a reduction in the recipient’s support needs.

Alimony in General:
Before digging into the complicated nature of excess alimony payments, it makes sense to review the criteria that must be met for alimony to be considered taxable/tax-deductible.  Alimony is (i) the payment to a spouse or a former spouse; (ii) in cash; (iii) under a divorce or separation instrument; (iv) while spouses are living separate and apart; (v) with payments that cease upon death of the payee; and (vi) while spouses are not filing joint income tax returns with one another.[2]

A “divorce or separation instrument” includes a decree of divorce or separate maintenance, a written separation agreement, or any court order (including a temporary or interlocutory order) requiring a spouse to make payments for the support or maintenance of the other spouse.[3] It is important that practitioners distinguish state and local definitions, rules, and requirements from those mandated by the Internal Revenue Code (“Code”) when drafting settlement agreements, establishing positions, or making arguments in court to ensure that a divorce or separation instrument comports with the Code and avoid future negative tax ramifications for clients.

Third-party payments can be considered as deductible alimony if they are made on behalf of the payee spouse. Examples of third-party payments include: medical expenses, housing costs, taxes, tuition and life insurance premiums on a policy own by a spouse.  Payments must also be made in cash, including check or money order.

Not all payments to a spouse or former spouse can be considered alimony.  For instance, voluntary payments or payments not made pursuant to a divorce or separation instrument do not constitute alimony. Transfers of services or property, including debt instrument or annuity contract executed by the payer, do not qualify as alimony. Child support, noncash property settlements, or payments for the use or maintenance of the payer’s property do not qualify as alimony.[4]

Practicing attorneys should focus on the parties’ treatment of payments as opposed to the cause of a potential alimony recapture issue. Whether payments pursuant to a divorce or separation instrument are intended as child support, non-taxable alimony, cash payments in lieu of property, any combination of alimony and these types of payments, or otherwise, the only way to prevent improper tax reporting by parties or unintentionally being subject to recapture is by careful drafting and clear definition of the terms of an agreement.

Intentional Language and Clear Designations:
A simple way to help you clients stay out of conflict is to be clear when addressing what is non-alimony.  For example, spouses may designate that otherwise qualifying payments are not alimony, by including such a provision in the divorce or separation agreement. Such an agreement may be made at any time, so long as it is in writing, signed by both the payer and the recipient, which refers to the divorce or separation agreement and states that payments are not deductible as alimony by the payer and are excludable from the recipient’s income.

In cases involving payments toward both alimony and child support, it is important to advise clients that if both alimony and child support payments are required under the divorce or separation instrument and the payments are less than the total required, the payments apply first to child support and then to alimony.[5] A payment will be treated as specially designated as child support to the extent that the payment is reduced either: (a) on the happening of a contingency relating to a child, or (b) at a time that can be clearly associated with such a contingency. A contingency relating to a child commonly includes the child becoming employed, dying, leaving the household, leaving school, getting married, or reaching a specified age or income level. A payment clearly associated with a contingency relating to the child occurs only when (1) the payments are to be reduced not more than 6 months before or after the date the child will reach the age of 18, 21, or the local age of majority, or (2) the payments are to be reduced on two or more occasions that occur not more than 1 year before or after a different child reaches a certain age from 18 to 24, which is the same for each child. [6]

Recapture Arithmetic:
Due to the formulaic nature of the IRC Rules, the amount of alimony to be recaptured, if any, can only be determined after the third post-separation year.  The mathematics work in reverse order.  That is, excess alimony payments in the second post-separation year are calculated first, and excess alimony payments in the first post-separation year are calculated second.

Excess alimony payments in the second post-separation year are equal to the amount by which alimony payments in the third post-separation year fall short of alimony payments in the second post-separation year, but only to the extent that such shortfall is greater than $15,000. For excess alimony payments in the first post-separation year, the math gets a little more complicated. Excess first year payments are equal to the amount by which the average of third year payments and un­ recaptured second year payments falls short of first year payments, but again only to the extent that such shortfall is greater than $15,000. Excess second year payments are then added to excess first year payments to arrive at the amount recaptured in the third year.[7]

Avoid Excess Front-Loading:
The focus when drafting divorce instruments should be on the avoidance of unintentional front-loading.  As a general rule, parties can steer clear of the recapture rules if they can ensure that (i) alimony payments in the second post­ separation year do not exceed alimony payments in the third post-separation year by more than $15,000 and that (ii) alimony payments in the first post-separation year do not exceed alimony payments in the second post-separation year by more than $7,500. Also, the later in the year alimony payments commence the less likely itis that the recapture provisions will apply.[8]

Practical Tips:

  • It is helpful to keep in mind that the recapture calculations are based on actual payment dates, so failure to make scheduled payments consistently and on-time can subject the parties to recapture, even in the face of efforts to avoid at the time of drafting.
  • The Following types of alimony need not be considered for the purpose of the recapture calculations: (i) payments pursuant to temporary support orders; (ii) payments that fluctuate and are not in the control of the payor spouse; (iii) payments that decrease due to the death or remarriage of the payee spouse before the end of the third post-separation year.
  • When designing provisions intended to be tax-deductible by one party and taxable to the other party, practitioners should carefully and explicitly describe the tax treatment for the specific payments referenced, ensuring that the description conforms with the requirements of the Code. A recapture issue could potentially be caused by the intentional or mistaken reporting of one or both parties. In representing the best interests of clients, the goal should be to eliminate the possibility of misreporting with clear terms.
  • Practicing attorneys must always be conscious of the possibility that parties might form a post-judgment agreement for modification of an order or judgment which results in a reduction in the payments without a separate, subsequent court order or judgment.

Alimony recapture is avoidable with proper planning, legal counsel and aforethought.  The most important family law attorneys should be concerned with is their familiarity with the IRC Rules and their potential impact at the time of drafting.

By, Sahmra A. Stevenson, Esq.
S.A. Stevenson Law Offices, LLC;
Twitter: @SAS_Law;
IG: SahmraStevensonEsq;
Facebook: @SASLawOffic

[1] See, I.R.C. §71(f)

[2] See, I.R.C. § 71(b) (To qualify as alimony under section 71 of the Code, the payer and recipient must live separately, the payment must be in cash, the divorce instrument must not designate the payment as not alimony, the spouses may not be members of the same household at the time the payments are made, there is no liability to make any payment after the death of the recipient, and the payments are not non-deductible child support)

[3] I.R.C. § 71(b)(2). Amendments to a divorce or separation instrument are generally not retroactive for federal tax purposes, unless to correct an error to reflect the parties’ original intent.

[4] Id.

[5] I.R.C. §71(c)(3)

[6] I.R.C. §71(c)(2)

[7] “Avoiding Alimony Recapture,” by, Jeffery Capron and William C Foote. Maryland State Bar Association, Section of Family and Juvenile Law Newsletter and Family Law News, October 2008.

[8] Id.

IN A PINCH _ Mini-Emergency Kits

It didn’t look like much to me at first glance, but the Mini-emergency Kit turned out to be a big surprise in a very tiny package. The kit is small enough to disappear in the palm of your hand (3.5” x 2” x 2”). Naturally you’re going to be a bit skeptical that all 17 personal care items that are inside will actually helpful when you’re in a real jam.[1] But just wait…

I was excited to take mine on a test drive when I went to Miami in February for the American Bar Association Midyear Meeting. Here’s what I found:

Overall Practicality. Overall the kit is extremely practical, whether of him or for her, it’s small enough to tuck in a purse, medium sized clutch or men’s wear suit pocket. The design gives a sense of integrity and I felt comfortable pulling it out in public. It didn’t appear to give away its contents or draw attention of anyone nearby.

Reusable Necessities.  Among the most useful were the emergency deodorant, stain remover and nail polish remover towelettes that were so convenient and concealable.  The wipes come wrapped in an easy tear foil that can be pinched to reseal and tucked back in the miniature bag.

Covering the Basics. The items I did not expect to need became handy to friends along the way.  Clear nail polish to stop a stocking run, a safety pen lent out to resolve an issue with a sagging hem line. I didn’t need the earring backs that came in the same packaging as the mending kit, but I can see them coming in handy.[2]

There was also hairspray, which leaked a bit and couldn’t have done much to hold my hair, clear plastic hair ties, a nail file, a back-up tampon, double sided tape, lip balm that smelled like jolly rancher candy (Yum!), breath drops, 2 aspirin, and a miniature Band-aid that could have maybe fit a 5 year-old child.

Room To Modify. The bag is made of quality materials and is clearly intended to be used time and time again.[3]   The list of items included is comprehensive, but not exhaustive. One suggestion I would make is to modify and supplement the contents of your mini-emergency kit to suit your personal likes and needs.  There is surprisingly room to do this at the time of purchase, but as you use items and make more room available you’ll have the opportunity to customize you’re the contents of your kit. While the online store offers refills of the originals, I found it more pleasing to add-in my own finds along the way. I went with a regular size nail clipper, 2 no-tear hair-ties strong enough to hold a high pony-tail, and lotion, which I was surprised was not included at all.


[1] Miniemergency kits are available for her and for him. HER kit includes items like, double-sided tape, a safety pin, a mending kit, 2 earring backs, dental floss, clear nail polish, an emery board, nail polish remover, stain remover, hair spray, clear hair elastics, a tampon, pain reliever, breath freshener, and lip balm. Packaged in a tiny, metallic zip pouch. HIS kit includes essentials such as Band-aids, Safety pin, Deodorant towelette, Pain reliever, Double sided tape, shaving gel, small razor, hair combs, Stain remover, Breath freshener, after shave, Dental floss and hair gel.

[2] Eraser backs might also be just fine in a pinch though.

[3] I was delighted by the variety of styles available online at

The Precarious Nature of the Emergency Custody Hearing: A Closer Look

 What’s an “emergency”?

There are many serious circumstances which may arise that would justify pursuing an emergency temporary change of child custody. Where the threat of harm is great enough, these emergency orders are sometimes undertaken during “ex-parte” proceedings, which means the other party isn’t present for the hearing.

Emergency relief in these scenarios is intended to protect children who are subjected to or are otherwise threatened with serious harm or child abandonment.  Examples of circumstances which may necessitate an emergency change may include:

  • Allegations of physical or sexual abuse.
  • Threats of same.
  • Abandonment of the children.
  • Some measure of custody was awarded to a convicted sex offender.
  • Allegations of substance abuse which put the children in danger.

As the outcomes of emergency hearings vary from county-to-county, the consideration as to what rises to the level off exigent circumstances cannot be captured in one easy explanation.[1] There is no clear definition available under Maryland Rule 1-351 governing the Maryland Rules of Procedure for Ex Parte Applications, and the standards applied are appropriately determined on a case-by-case basis.[2]

Generally, the court requires that the motion only be filed under circumstances that require immediate intervention. Emergency relief will be denied unless there is a sufficient showing that there is an imminent risk of substantial and immediate harm or harassment to a party or minor child or that there are circumstances which the Court believes require immediate intervention. The view that an existing “emergency” requires a showing that there is some sort of “blood on the floor” is still widely favored and a difficult burden to overcome.

The following are not considered emergencies (though determinations are made on a case-by-case basis)

  • Changes of custody in order to enroll children in school.
  • Unsubstantiated threats to remove children from the jurisdiction.
  • Financial issues.
  • Visitation issues.
  • Contempt.

Practice Point: In the event the Court does not find an emergency, you may request, and the court may grant instead, an expedited Pendente Lite (temporary) hearing to determine custody or visitation. If the judge presiding over your emergency hearing is unable to act upon your request additional pleadings should be filed with the court.

What must be filed?

If faced with an emergency situation, you can file a petition for the emergency temporary change to an existing court order.  It is important to remember that in order for the court to consider your emergency petition, the case must be open and an issue must be pending. If the case is closed and there are no pending matters, the court will not hear a petition for emergency relief until the status of the case has been updated.

What about when your client’s “emergency” arises before any order is in place? In that case the complaining parent must also file a Motion for Custody or other pleading placing custody at issue (e.g., Complaint for Absolute Divorce) at the same time the emergency motion is submitted for consideration.

Satisfying the Notice Factor:

Another factor contributing to the precarious nature of the emergency motion is it’s notice requirement. There is no mistaking the specificity and intent of the Maryland Rules on this point of practice.[3] Maryland Rules of Procedure at Chapter 300, Amended Rule 1-351(b) lays out the requirements a party must satisfy as to notice and reasonable efforts to contact the opposing party in a case.

“(b) the moving party has certified in writing that all parties who will be affected have been given notice of the time and place of presentation of the application to the court or that specified efforts commensurate with the circumstances have been made to give notice.”

The rules are clear that where the Court is unable to find sufficient notice, no relief can be granted to the moving party. Notice must be given within 24 hours of the requested haring and must state the proposed time, date and location where the hearing will take place. In Baltimore County, emergency hearings are only heard on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 1:30pm. The Baltimore City Circuit Court webpage goes a step further in spelling out the moving parties’ responsibility to give notice, posting in bold-face font type that “[i]t is counsel’s responsibility to contact opposing party or counsel for the opposing party…the proposed date and time…”

What becomes difficult to determine in actual practice, is what the court will consider as a “reasonable” effort on the part of counsel to give the other side notice and an opportunity to be heard on the moving parties’ pleading. It is difficult to propose to an aggrieved parent, the practicality of attempting delivery by certified mail, and often times the situations present themselves with a set of factors which make contact with the Sherriff’s Office or a private process server a pointless pursuit.  So what then?

The answer seems to be, simply do everything within your power, legally and ethically, to make the opposing party aware off your intent and actions in the case.  If you can get the other side to show up at the date and time of your hearing, no matter the methods used, you’re halfway to victory.

Author: Sahmra A. Stevenson, Esq is family law practitioner at S.A. Stevenson Law Offices, LLC. Phone: (301)795-2728;  Email:;  Twitter: @SAS_Law; IG: SahmraStevensonEsq;]

[1] Online resources for the state courts in Vermont refer to an emergency as being “[a]ny relief sought for which, through circumstances beyond the control of the applicant, there is not enough time to give the notice required by the Rules.”

[2] Online resources for Pennsylvania state courts opine that “[a] motion for expedited hearing or an emergency motion is filed whenever movants, in order to avoid irreparable harm, need the requested relief in less time than is normally required by the Court to receive and consider a response. This motion must specify the reason(s) why expedited consideration is necessary and the motion for which you are seeking expedited consideration must be attached as an Exhibit.”

[3] See, Maryland Rules of Civil Procedure 351(b)

Getting Your Client To Happy:

After what proved to be a lengthy, but very fruitful mediation this morning, I feel compelled to share some notes about what I think worked well for the parties in today’s case.  As an attorney attending a mediation, there are only so many factors you have control over.  You’re not running the show, and neither is your client. Preparing your client, physically, mentally and emotionally for what they are walking into is an essential part of getting them to happy.

HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely (bored), Tired

Its your job to make sure that your client is prepared before and on the day of the mediation. A mediation can take anywhere from one to four hours (in one sitting) depending on the mediator and the issues in the case.  Never let your client get too hungry, angry, lonely (bored) or tired.  A sign of any of these emotions is a direct signal to you as the advocate to HALT the mediation process. Ignoring these signals may lead to poor decision making or a break-down in the communication process. Wasted time is wasted money for your client. While it is common sense to tell your client to eat and sleep the day before, going the extra mile is what is going to get your client to happy. I keep Kind bars, bottles of water, 100 calorie nut packets and peppermints (the sent off peppermint is invigorating) in my bag and I check-in with my client every 45-60 minutes to get an idea of how they’re feeling.

Preparing An Inventory:

It’s easy to point the finger -that is, it’s always easy for our clients to tell us what it is the other party did, or is doing, wrong.  Identifying grievances is essential to finding solutions, but what about your client’s liabilities?  Just before walking into a mediation I sit down with my client to take an inventory.  I ask them to tell me in their own words where they think they could have done better working with the other party up until that very present point in time, leaving out any mention of any harms inflicted on them.  As facts and information come to light during the mediation, I revisit the inventory during breaks.  Keeping my client focused on the things that he or she has control over, mainly themselves and their own actions. When a client can successfully maintain an awareness of their role in a conflict, they are able to contribute to the process of finding a solution in a more meaningful way. Drawing from this sense of self-control also seems to help my clients stay calm when conflict arises.

Mediator Synergy:

Mediator synergy can go a long way to help with the flow of your session.  If you’re in a position to choose a mediator for your case, its helpful to keep your client’s temperament, life experiences and personal viewpoints in mind.  For example, if your client is a female victim of domestic violence, she might be more comfortable working with and taking direction from a woman in high-stress situations.  I might be inclined to choose a male mediator in a scenario where my client Father feels manipulated or taken advantage of by his child’s Mother.  Especially where opposing counsel might also be a female, and a meeting with all the parties would put him at, what he would perceive to be a 4 to 1 disadvantage. It’s not your job to judge, understand or cure your client’s issues, but you can predict how their issues and perceptions might get them tripped-up and discretely remove those obstacle from their paths. In some jurisdictions, parties are not given an option when a mediation is court ordered.  In these scenarios the best option is to do your homework, anticipate any personality conflicts in advance, and prepare your client accordingly.

Getting your client to happy, and keeping them there, requires more than just lawyering.  The client that keeps coming back is the one that believes in you as the solution.

By. Sahmra A. Stevenson, Esq. ( @SAS_Law; IG: SahmraStevensonEsq; Facebook @SASLawOffices)

One of the most beautiful things about having an office without walls is all the places it allows me to go while remaining connected with my clients. During one of my most recent journeys I traveled to Atlanta, GA for a Professional Success Summit hosted by the American Bar Association’s Section of Litigation and found myself surrounded by some of the most venerable trial attorneys in the country and a wealth of valuable information. Here is some of what I took away….

On the morning of Wednesday, November 16, 2016, a warm and anticipatory buzz was in the air. Conference attendees once again packed themselves into the first-floor ball room at the Ritz Carlton Buckhead in Atlanta, Georgia for a third and final day of presentations. Conference schedule materials listed the nine-o’clock hour as slotted for a panel presentation on “The Intangibles: Self-Investment, Branding and Coaching.”
Branding and brand management have become increasingly recognized value creators for any individual, or business, seeking to grow and succeed in the legal field. This makes them a career and business management priority. Aware of this phenomenon, the audience sat at attention ready to soak-in what was coming next. As ABA President Linda Klein wrapped up her remarks, the morning’s panelists, Janice P. Brown and George K. Schell, were introduced. What followed was a thoughtful and energetic presentation, exploring the nature of brand, and insightfully intertwining it with an understanding of the concept of leadership responsibility.

Personal Branding & Self-Investment:
“Personal branding is how you are talked about when you are not in the room,” Ms. Brown presented some of the bottom-line truths about personal accountability when it comes to building and maintaining your professional mark, reputation, and credibility. Digging even deeper, Ms. Brown intimated some additional branding principles reminding participants that “you must be consistent to be effective” and that “once people see you being inauthentic, you potentially lose their trust,” adding a new layer to the concept of branding as a conscious daily practice.

Through consistent and deliberate practice, we play an active role in ensuring that we are presenting an authentic self in our daily interactions. To do this, we must begin with intention and vision. “The most critical component of anything we do is how we feel about ourselves” Janice stated. She went on to provide a list of three important parts of maintaining a clear vision (i) dispelling negative and limiting beliefs; (ii) replacing them with positive affirmations; and (iii) changing your beliefs to meet your vision.

When the goal is changing another’s already formed perception of you or your brand, your success will be largely determined by your willingness to make the first move, be authentic and remain consistent. A perfectly timed power-point slide drove Ms. Brown’s point home. It read, “If your solution to the problem is that somebody else needs to change, then you’re doomed.”

Leadership of Self:
The concept of personal branding as a responsibility to exercise awareness of how others view us, our business, and ultimately our work-product, flowed seamlessly with Mr. George Schell’s discussion on leadership of self.

“We all have an obligation to our organizations to conduct ourselves as leaders every day,” said Schell. A statement that rang true to all listeners whether government, private, large firm or small. “Employees have to live up to the leaders they are watching represent them,” he went on to share.

Mr. Schell explored the importance of flexibility, growth and modeling accountable behavior by encouraging attendees to start taking a self-awareness approach to managing failure.

Addressing the audience, Schell instructed the group to “[l]ook in the mirror.” He encouraged listeners to begin with looking at their own actions, (and inactions) while making note of what they bring to the table, both positive and negative. Mr. Schell gregariously explained to the attentive crowd, that admitting our mistakes, and communicating failure, while keeping a keen eye and open mind out for the “good” in a situation is empowering. It gives us the ability to turn any tragedy in to a triumphant victory, known to some as a “teachable moment.”

“It’s all about the humans,” he joked with the crowd on several occassions throughout the morning presentation. He left the audience with three points to consider for modeling accountable behavior: (1) Empower and inspire -by demonstrating a willingness to be (i) adaptable (ii) accountable and (iii) real; (2) Listen -talk less; and (3) Have fun.

Janice P. Brown (Brown Law Group) is based out of San Diego, California, and can be reached at brown@brownlawgroup
George K. H. Schell (Coca-Cola Company; Council of Better Business Bureaus) can be reached at
Author: Sahmra A. Stevenson (S.A. Stevenson Law Offices) can be reached at (@SAS_Law; IG: SahmraStevensonEsq)