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Tackling Same-Sex Marriages in a New Era

June 14, 2013 01:33pm  

New York, NY—Steve Mandel, founder of The Mandel Law Firm in Midtown Manhattan, says that for him, a career in divorce law started with doing the impossible.  “My first client, 32 years ago,” he said in a recent interview, “was a man who wanted a divorce, but he also wanted custody of his three kids.  He went to a bunch of lawyers who told him he would not get it.”

Mandel refused to believe that custody was out of the man's reach, and the divorcing father was eventually awarded the custody arrangements he was seeking.  “It changed his life, his children's lives, and my own,” he recalled.  “I realized the impact I can make by helping clients keep their lives together while their marriages are falling apart.  I got into family law because it is a calling—it isn’t something I went into lightly.”

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That passion and dedication has translated into a successful career in helping families navigate the court system and resolve their disputes in times of crisis.  During the years, many aspects of his job have changed—including who can and cannot get married.  “The biggest change right now is marriage equality,” he says.  Mandel is one of the top attorneys representing gay couples in divorces and drafting prenuptial agreements.

For Mandel, these changes, among others, have been a learning experience.  We have stay at home dads, grandparents' rights and surrogate birth contracts.  We never had those 20 years ago.  It is all new, exciting, and challenging, because it is an evolving area of law.”

After three decades in divorce law, Mandel has some advice for couples who have started considering a split.  “Be open, honest, and totally candid.  We consider divorce to be a dissolution of partnership where fault does not matter.”  When it’s time to discuss some of the tough issues with your spouse, he suggests, “Go out for dinner together instead of talking about it at home.  In a restaurant, people have to conduct themselves in a certain way, so hopefully emotions won’t get out of control and something can be accomplished.”

Once the divorce has been discussed, he says, it's time to get down to business.  “Some divorces are simple and come down to math.  In others, I suggest that each spouse creates a wish list, a want list, and a need list.  It's possible that both parties can walk away reasonably satisfied if they each get the “needs” – the get the things that matter to them the most.”

Even if people walk away “satisfied," Mandel cautions that it's rare that both people will be completely happy.  “You have to remember that an agreement is fair when both sides are a little unhappy. 

Today, Mandel says that the biggest trend in divorce is one that many fathers are happy to see: “More dads are seeking and getting custody of children than ever before.  It has to do with parents becoming equally involved in child care and the acceptability of stay at home dads. Courts also see that joint custody is important, as both parents now play a role in raising children.  More people are committing to live near each other so that mom and dad can share time equally.  To me, [joint custody is] more than a change in name, it's a change in the entire concept, that both parents are equally important in the raising of the child.”

Anyone looking for a divorce attorney, no matter where they're located, should do the same types of things, according to Mandel.  “Ask friends and relatives for experiences, have a consultation with several lawyers.  Look around their office. When you come in, do they see you as a person, or a file?  What is the  attorney’s demeanor during the interview?  Because that is what it is. It’s an interview where both parties are looking to see if they are compatible.  There has to be a connection between the lawyer and client.  Is the attorney someone you want as part of your team?”  He says: “A client once told me, ‘I don't know if you are smarter than all the other lawyers, but I know you care more and work harder than the rest.’  You want someone who will fight for you, be in your corner and has your back.”


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