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On The Hot Seat

Divorce lawyer turns to unusual forum: blogs

(Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff)
By Beth Healy
Globe Staff / August 9, 2009

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Attorney Nancy R. Van Tine has practiced divorce and family law at the Boston law firm Burns & Levinson since 1989. At age 64 - and married for 44 years - she started a blog in February, www.massachusettsdivorcelawmonitor.com, to reach clients in a new way. Van Tine spoke recently with Globe reporter Beth Healy about the blog and about divorce in a recessionary economy.

There are a number of websites out there on divorce. What made you decide to jump in?

I haven’t done anything but divorce law for 30 years, and I’ve been pretty busy for most of those years. It’s always been word of mouth. But then it was like a light bulb coming on: The Internet is the new word of mouth. So I started researching and looking at other blogs and looking at what was out there. I found as I was doing it that it’s a huge amount of fun . . . the people you meet - and you actually do meet people out there. I was told when I started that there wouldn’t be much commentary because of the nature of a divorce blog. But I find I get e-mails. It’s been like opening a door to a whole new world.

Lawyers often look at things objectively, in strict legal terms. But in blogs, writers tend to take a side. How are you finding that?

You often hang yourself out there as a litigator. You pick a side and you advocate. You can see that my opinions come through loud and clear. I wanted to add value; I didn’t want to just be out there marketing. I wanted to give practical, simple information that sometimes even people who have lawyers don’t know - like what happens when you got to court. The kind of thing that we, as practitioners, might not think to tell our clients.

In the past month, you’ve blogged and posted news stories on issues ranging from ex-spouses breaking into e-mail accounts to Michael Jackson’s children and the economy’s effect on divorces. How do you choose your topics?

If something strikes me as interesting, I just talk about it.

You said your practice has been very busy this year. What do you think is driving the activity?

I’ve always thought that divorce was recession-proof. There’s always been a slight uptick. My husband has a saying, ‘When the wolf comes in the door, love flies out the window.’ As my career has evolved, the people I deal with have more wealth. If you are in a position where you have real estate or stock or options or a family business, and you want to buy out the other side, now is a good time - if the business is worth less in this economy, and you anticipate it’s going to be worth more.

When the economy is bad, are divorces any uglier or, conversely, easier? Is there any rule of thumb?

No. Divorce is tough anyway. And when you think about it, these are people who cannot live together. Why should you expect them to easily divide property, or even more difficult, divide parenting? It’s a painful, painful process. It’s always, at some level, raw.

What do you advise people who want to divorce but are concerned about the economic impact they’ll experience?

For one thing, I try to be very direct about how painful and difficult it is. Whether you are rich or poor, the economic impact is huge. If you’ve been married a long time, generally it’s a 50/50 split of assets.

I try never to advise people about the life choices they must make. I try just to present the parameters of the practicalities of what they will face. I can’t say to somebody, ‘OK, get rid of him,’ nor would I want to. The only time I do say something like that is if there is violence going on, which I think economic pressure can sometimes increase.

How often do you try to blog, and who are you trying to reach?

I try to post at least two times a week, maybe three. It is a big commitment in terms of time. I’m trying to reach people who are contemplating divorce or are in the throes of a divorce. I want them to be in Massachusetts, because divorce is state-specific and that’s the only law I know. What I found interesting is I had a post on international divorces way back when, and I’m still getting inquiries on that.

You say you’re tracking an average 75 hits a day on your blog?

It’s been steadily increasing. We had more hits in the first six days of July than in the first two months of the year.

What advice would you give people who hope to avoid divorce?

Kindness and honesty and practicality and respect for the other person. But if one person wants to get divorced, there is really nothing the other person can do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone across from my desk saying, ‘Joe or Susie asked me five years ago to go to counseling and I said no, and now they’ve asked me for a divorce.’ When one of the people thinks there are enough problems to go to counseling, listen to that and honor that when that request comes.

The other thing I’d say is that relationships were once designed to last 20 years, but now people are living longer. Some just aren’t designed to last that long. Some relationships are great during the younger years and just don’t work out later on. From the time you’re 20 to the time you’re 40, you do a lot of growing, and from the time you’re 40 to the time you’re 60, you grow a lot more. If one side wants to opt out, don’t beat yourself up too badly. I’ve been married 44 years, but I don’t consider that a credit to me or my husband. We got lucky.