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Family Law TV- “Untying the Knot” Episode 1

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Family law made it’s reality TV debut last night as Bravo aired it’s new show, “Untying the Knot.” I should provide a disclaimer before you read any further that 1) I am a Bravo TV-a-holic. It is my guilty pleasure and I watch pretty much every show they produce; and 2) I am a huge law nerd who loves anything related to my field of speciality. For me, this show is a marriage of the two (pun intended).

In case you aren’t familiar with the show’s premise, the thirty-minute program centers on divorce lawyer and mediator, Vikki Zeigler, who spends the span of the show with one couple going through their divorce struggling to find the best possible split of assets. She wears more of a mediator hat than that of an attorney, but she still provides legal quips.  Bravo obviously makes this process more intriguing by finding super hot couples with exotic items to divide.

When I sat down to watch, I was most interested to see how the niche of family law would be portrayed. Would it be somewhat accurate or dressed up for the bright lights of television? While each state has it’s own unique set of family laws (or a family of laws) a show like this one can still make accurate representations if done correctly. I was also interested to see how Attorney Zeigler, who practices in New York and New Jersey, applied the laws of her state and how that compared to Pennsylvania and how I would handle a case for my clients.

In this episode, we meet Jacques and Mira Theraube. They are separating after 6 years of marriage and have mostly been able to divide their big ticket assets on their own. They called Vikki to help them with 3 key items: an apartment in Paris, the wife’s wedding ring and Buddha sculpture. Yep, a Buddha Sculpture. This articulates one of the main hurdles I see all the time with divorcing couples- an emotional attachment to an item not traditionally valuable but that is invaluable to both parties because of what it represents.

Attorney Zeigler is clearly centered as a mediator in this show because there was no mention of attorneys, conflict of interest or whether she would be representing one party or the other. She employs a three-step process when dealing with her clients:

1.  The Consultation- Vikki makes house calls where she gathers information about the couple, what went wrong in their marriage and what assets are in dispute.
2. The Appraisal- Vikki uses the help of renounded araisers and brothers Mark and Michael Millea, who come in and assess what is being split.  They then report back to Vikki to help her as she makes her recommendation.
3. The Mediation- Vikki sits the couple down to give it to the straight and reveal how she suggests the assets are divided.  She also provides some legal insight to help couples realize that they may not get a better outcome from the courts.

In this episode we see some classic fmaily law client behavior- a wife who thinks she is automatically entitled to a 50/50 split despite other contributing factors.  And a husband who does not understand why he is the only one writing the checks being pumped like an ATM.

Vikki handles the situation exactly as I would have.  She balances the principles of equitable distribution (New York and New Jersey apply this form of division as does Pennsylvania) and recongizes that emotions are at the root of this dispute.  

Her ultimate award gives the husband possession of the Paris apartment, but splits the net worth of $200,000 in half between the parties; she awards the wife possession of the wedding ring but gives husband a 20% credit of its value; and after finding out that the Buddha is not worth the $10,000-$15,000 the couple thought she awards the statue itself to the husband who did more of the leg work to aquire the piece.  The parties signed the agreement and walked away.

In assessing what Vikki did, I would have to agree with the reasoning and ultimate suggestion.  I also appreciated the way she dealt with the clients with a level of sensitivity but also in a no-nonsense manner.

I am definitely looking forward to the next episode!

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