Philip Seymour Hoffman: What can we learn from this family tragedy ?

Focused on the Heroine

It has been widely publicized over the last few days, that the talented actor and director Philip Seymour Hoffman died of an apparent drug (heroine) overdose in his New York apartment three days ago on February 2nd 2014. Like many of you I was shocked by this, having just watched him in Money Ball a few days ago. Stories like this seem to evolve in the media. Initially the story covered the actual events of the death. After the death was thoroughly reported on, then the coverage inevitably shifted. Over the last 24 hours or so, it seems like the media has focused in on the heroine part of this story. Headlines today are focused on whether or not other chemicals had been cut into the heroine found in his room, or whether the police had arrested the dealers who provided drugs to Mr. Hoffman. Other stories have focused on this story as an illustration that heroine use in our country is a bigger problem than previously realized.
Was drug abuse his coping method?

For me the underlying story here is not the drugs. As a family law attorney, I am interested in what the context was for Philip Seymour Hoffman’s drug use (interestingly, as I researched for this article I discovered that Hoffman’s mother was a family law attorney and judge). Media reports indicate that Mr. Hoffman had recently separated from his girlfriend, and the mother of his 3 children. Was there a connection between the stress of this break up his family and his drug use? Or, was the drug use the cause of the break up? We may never know the answer for sure, but I can tell you that from my experience, the break up of a family, especially a family with children can be a tremendously stressful life event. Surprisingly so. I have seen many men who are recently separated from their wife and children be blindsided by the onset of stress that follows. They may think they are prepared for it, but they quickly find out that considering the experience and actually going through it, are two different things. I am told it is awful. I am not certain that this stress is what led Hoffman to fall off the wagon, but I do know that in general, the type of stress brought on by these sorts of traumatic life changes is the type of stress that sends people running for relief or a means to cope.
Find someone who wants to help

As a family law attorney, this story reminds me that I need to keep a good eye on my clients who I know are going through a traumatic break up of their family. Family law attorneys will often have a front row view of these events, and consequently they are in a position to detect signs that their clients are not successfully coping with the changes. A good family law attorney will be more in tune with his / her clients and will be observant of how they are coping. This is why it is best to hire a family law attorney who actually cares about you and your life.
Support Systems

This also speaks to the need for a good support system. In my experience, clients who have support from family and friends tend to cope better with these types of life changes than those who don’t. In my mind’s eye I can see Hoffman alone in his New York apartment and it screams of pain and loneliness. Again, I am speculating here, but it fits a pattern. Of course, the break up of his family is clearly not the only cause here, as we know that Hoffman was a recovering addict. But these types of events never happen in a vacuum. Our lives are a confluence of causes and effects all of which combine to render the result of our lives.
Don’t hesitate

If you are dealing with difficult family law, divorce, or child custody issues, it is important that you take the proper steps to enlist the very best help available to you. Having a great family law attorney, who cares about you, and your children can be a tremendous source of support and a relief from stress. If your family life is beginning to unravel, seek help early, as the stress can pile up quickly, and once we are severely stressed our judgment diminishes and we are less likely to make good decisions.

Divorce Settlement Agreements Often Need to Be Creatively Drafted

Music Mogul and American Idol Star Simon Cowell is being included in his girl-friend Lauren Silverman’s Divorce Settlement Agreement (also known as a Marital Settlement Agreement). This agreement demonstrates just how creative these things can get in order to accommodate the goals on both sides of the marriage.

Apparently in this settlement agreement, Lauren Silverman agrees that if Simon Cowell comes near her son (not a son with Simon, but a son with her ex-busband) Simon will pay the ex-husband $50,000. Further, the settlement agreement indicates that upon 3 violations of the stay-away provision, Lauren Silverman forfeits custody of her son, to her ex-husband. As, if that weren’t interesting enough, apparently the Divorce Agreement also indicates that both sides agree to make sure that no one other than the child’s biological parents is referred to as he mom or his dad.

All of this serves to illustrate just how creative you can be in your divorce agreements. The reality is that divorces can get very complicated as children, money, property, and debt are being split up. In these situations it is inevitable that both the husband and the wife have different goals, and agendas. In our practice it is common to work with a husband and wife going through the divorce process and their starting points are miles apart. This is where is becomes critical to have an experienced divorce attorney who knows how to identify the goals of each side, and then is not afraid to get creative to fashion and agreement which meets the needs of both sides. The further apart that each party is from the other, the more creativity that will be necessary to find a way to satisfy each side in the divorce.

We had a recent Victorville Divorce Case in which we ended up drafting a Marital Settlement Agreement that worked out a complex schedule for each side to have ” custody” of the couple’s animals. We literally had the family dog and three cats spending time with each party to the divorce weekly with the dog going to the wife’s house on Wednesday Mornings for “play dates” with the neighbor’s dog. The bottom line is that a skilled divorce attorney who is willing and able to think creatively will be more likely to fashion a remedy that is acceptable by both sides and effectively settles the divorce.