Yo Mama (thinks you’re) So Fat…

January 15th, 2010

In this week’s Bintel Brief we tackle tact… Let’s see how we do!

Dear Bintel Brief,

My single, adult daughter is about 40 pounds overweight. I really want her to lose weight — primarily for health reasons, but also for more superficial reasons. I raised her and her siblings to believe that it’s what’s on the inside that matters, and I really do believe that. However, I also believe that losing weight would boost my daughter’s self-esteem, and make her more inclined to socialize and, yes, to date. (I’m a Jewish mother, after all!) Whenever I’ve brought up subject of losing weight, however gently (in the past, I’ve offered to pay for a nutritionist or a trainer or a therapist), she’s accused me of being ashamed of her. I’m not ashamed of her, at all; in fact, I’m very proud of her academic accomplishments and altruistic nature. So how should I go about encouraging healthy behaviors, without offending her or damaging our relationship? Thank you.


Dear WOE:

The love of a mother (and particularly a Jewish mother!) is so strong that when her daughter eats too many potato chips, it is her own stomach that hurts. Indeed, you feel her suffering, so when her weight affects other aspects of her life — like her ability to attract a significant other — you suffer with her. But before you make another offer that she will reject, as she has rejected all of your other past offers, think of this from her perspective.

No one is more aware of her weight issues than she; it is she who walks around in her body all day. She sees models on TV; she sees her slender friends going on dates. The fact that she is overweight is not lost on her. So pointing it out AGAIN to her does not help her come to a moment of clarity, it hurts her feelings to know that despite her accomplishments, her mother still sees her for the plus 40 pounds she is.

You say you are proud of her altruistic nature and her academic achievements. But if you tell her “I am proud of your qualities but I want you to lose weight so you’ll be happy and healthy,” all she will hear “but I want you to lose weight.” You say that you have brought up the subject “gently” in the past.

Think of being overweight like being sunburned. It’s a problem of which the sufferer is well aware. If you pat someone with a sunburn on her sunburned back, she will jump no matter how “gentle” the pat is. At this point, you daughter is very sensitive to your judgment that she is overweight and has told you in no uncertain terms that even the most gentle of prodding is not welcome. If you want to offer help without damaging your relationship, lay off the weight talk until SHE brings it up, then offer to pay for the nutritionist, trainer or therapist. In the meantime, remind her of how wonderful she is, stifling the urge to add the “but I want you to lose weight.” She will eventually understand that you mean nothing but the best for her.

All the best,

Amy and Robin

To Do or Not To Do… That Is the Question

January 7th, 2010

One of the New York Times’s most emailed stories this week has to do with the fattening of women in couples. According to Nicholas Bakalar’s story, Study Says Women With Mate Get Heavier, though many smug marrieds tout the idea that their lives are fuller than those of their sad single friends, it seems “fuller” is really just a code word for fat assed. (Let’s see how smug you are when you’re struggling to button those pants, bitches!)

Anyhoo, why do we care about this story aside from its obvious human interest angle and because it made at least one of us feel a little more awesome about her spinsterhood? Well because it reminded us a lot of the newest question we answered for The Forward’s Bintel Brief. So without further adieu, let’s get to it!

Dear Bintel Brief

I know plenty of couples who have, for various reasons, chosen to partner instead of marry. These couples love each other, spend holidays with each other’s families, own property and pets together and some even procreate —  all without the legal contract. Some couples claim their reasons for doing this are financial, or that prefer not to be bound by an institution, while others value marriage equality so greatly that they wouldn’t think to marry until gay couples across the country can legally do so, too.

The recent split of Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins after more than 20 years together got me thinking: What are the legal ramifications of a non-marriage partnership ending? Are some of the couples I know perhaps destined to face troubles in court if their co-existing, non-state sanctioned relationships ever fizzle? Or, are these couples avoiding potential future legal issues by not walking down the aisle?


And our response…

Dear TillDeathDoUsPartOrWeDecideWe’reBored:

It is true that not getting married prevents some legal disputes later. If the relationship ends, there is no community property to be divided so what’s yours is yours and what’s your former adored but now abhored’s is his/hers. Under social security laws, a divorced spouse may have rights to the other’s social security payments which the nonmarried ex would not have so that’s something else to fight about.

Here’s what NOT having a marriage license DOES NOT simplify:

1). If you have bought property together, like a house in which both of your names appear on the deed, you will still need to fight (maybe in court) over how to divide it.

2). If you’ve named your non-spouse as a beneficiary on your life insurance policies or your retirement savings plans, you will still need to change the designation even if you were never married to begin with.

3). If you have children together, there will be custody disputes and child support issues to be worked out regardless of the existence of a piece of paper. Anyone who watches Maury Povich will tell you that the baby daddy is the baby daddy even if the baby daddy is not the husband.

4). In some states like California — but not all — there may be a right to non-spousal support (a non-legal term for which is “palimony”).

So to recap: If the state-sanctioned relationship ends, you will be faced with community property issues, social security division under certain circumstances, joint property issues, child support issues, and spousal support issues. If the non-state-sanctioned relationship ends, you will be faced with joint property issues, beneficiary forms to change, child support issues, and non-spousal support issues. So without a marriage certificate, a breakup is slightly less messy.

But there are reasons to get a marriage license that have nothing to do with what happens if the relationship ends, but rather with what happens if the relationship continues. If you have a marriage license, you have rights under the law that nonmarried couples simply do not have. You have the right to receive health benefits under your spouse’s medical plan that is not federally mandated for nonmarried couples. You have the right to make decisions about your spouse’s medical care if your spouse should become incapacitated. You have automatic rights to property and to custody if G-d forbid your spouse dies without a will. And most important, you have the right to get your mother to quiet down already about when you’re going to make this legal. The bottom line is that while a marriage certificate does (slightly) complicate a breakup, it also simplifies a relationship.

Love (maybe),

Amy and Robin

Wait for it…

December 30th, 2009

ugg-bootsYou’ve been on tenterhooks wondering how we’d respond to Worried Jewish Mother, haven’t you? Would we tell her and her Ugg-boot shod daughter to vote with their feet and walk away from a campus where students have a derogatory term for young ladies who consume vast quantities of Starbucks while shopping, texting and wearing puffy coats and furry footwear (and no, the term is not “Olsen Twin”)? Would we tell her she needed to chill out and realize that the girls who dress this way might actually deserve some ridicule? Would we find some happy medium where we remain diplomatic for fear of offending someone?  (That seems unlikely, doesn’t it?)

Well, the time has come to satisfy you! Click on over here for the answer, and then let us know what you think…

Biggest Legal Stories of the Year… Beyond SO SUE ME, JACKASS!

December 29th, 2009

Well, seems our response to Worried Jewish Mother’s question has yet to be posted on the Forward’s website (and now we’re a bit worried we may have pissed off some Jews with our response…).  So in lieu of linking to our answer today, instead we’ll share Amy’s thoughts on the biggest legal stories of the annus horribilis that was 2009.

Here’s our girl on My Fox Philly (and though some might argue the point about the Madoff case, since it technically unraveled in Dec ’08, we think you’ll still have to agree that Amy’s hair looks particularly nice in this clip.):

What’s a Coastie?

December 28th, 2009

Though our response has yet to be posted to the Forward website, we wanted to let our dear readers and spammers know that we’ve not forsaken you! So we’ll give you an advanced peek at the question that we’ve answered for our Bintel Brief guest column.

But first, a bit of a disclaimer (and second, a video fyi): The question, submitted by a reader of the Forward, contains no legal issue and therefore our answer will also be law-free. Granted we realize this takes us a bit out of our depth since we rarely have strong opinions on anything but the law. Yet considering tis the season and all, we think it’s okay for people to take a break from their regularly litigious behavior, including us.

Now, here’s the video you should watch before you read the question:

Okay, now you’re ready for the question…

Dear Editor:
My 18-year-old daughter is applying to
the University of Wisconsin.  We are
Jewish and I understand that approximately
14% of the university’s roughly 30,000
undergraduate students are Jewish.

Our daughter is not a “J.A.P.” (Jewish
American Princess), however, she does
wear Ugg boots and North Face outerwear.

I read on the internet that the University
of Wisconsin students are using a new slang
word, “Coastie.”  It represents an out-of-state student who wears East Coast fashion and is a “rich Jewish girl.”  I dislike this term–social label.  There’s nothing funny
about these putdowns of Jewish women.

Should I suggest that my daughter apply
elsewhere?  My choice:  Brandeis.

Worried Jewish Mother

Check back tomorrow for our answer!

Location, location, location…

December 22nd, 2009

Bintel Brief readers in The Forward gave us another great question to answer this week, and this time the subject’s Manhattan real estate, a subject near and dear to Robin’s cold, cold heart.

Here’s the Q and for the A, click below…

Dear Bintel Brief:

My husband and I live in New York City and are getting ready to buy our first apartment. We realize that a home purchase is a sizable financial commitment, and we are preparing to take the plunge.

Adding to what is already a tremendously stressful decision-making process, we are considering buying a building with friends that we would then split into separate apartments. A decent amount of actual livable square footage is hard to come by in a large city when working within a budget, and we feel this would be a smart way to each get more square feet for our hard-earned dollars. I’ve been told we could essentially condo the building or turn it into a cooperative so that each family is only liable for their own apartment. What contractual precautions should we take to ensure everyone is protected? Is this as good an idea as it sounds? Or, are we entering into a minefield that could potentially blow up our friendships?

Click here for the answer to: MIXING REAL ESTATE WITH FRIENDSHIP

Bad Touching

December 15th, 2009

With Mad Men on hiatus, someone needs to bring the conversation back to inappropriate office behavior. So it falls to our intrepid general counsel in residence to discuss the downside of getting handsy with coworkers.

Fass das nicht an!

Fass das nicht an, dude!

In an interview with Rachel Zupack on Careerbuilder.com, Amy talks boundaries and what you need to know about touching coworkers so you don’t wind up getting yourself  slapped with a sexual harassment suit.

Read more here…

Prenup — I Do or I Don’t?

December 14th, 2009

As we mentioned, we’re answering questions for readers of The Jewish Daily Forward’s Bintel Brief this month.

Here’s the first great question, and to see our response, click the  our response link below:

Dear Bintel Brief:

I just got engaged to the man of my dreams. He is five years older than I am, and he comes from a family of means. He also earns a much higher salary than I do. My fiancé recently told me that his parents, whom I adore, want me to sign a prenuptial agreement. I could see that he was really nervous telling me about his parents’ apparent wishes. He also told me that our relationship is more important than money — adding that if I strongly opposed the idea of a prenup, he wouldn’t force the issue (but that could, in turn, cause problems with his family).

In theory, I think all married couples should have an agreement like this. But in practice it’s feels terrible to be asked to sign one. It also makes me wonder what my fiancé’s parents think of me.

What should I do?


Click me for Amy & Robin’s Response…

Getting Our Yentes On!

December 11th, 2009

This month we have the honor and privilege of being the guest advice gurus for the Bintel Brief, a column for the Jewish Daily Forward (which is published in both English and Yiddish!) So if you have a question for us, by all means email us here: bintelbrief@forward.com

Legal Eagles Have Some Advice for Forward Readers

By The Bintel Brief

Sisters Amy Feldman and Robin Epstein, the authors of the new book, “So Sue Me, Jackass!: Avoiding Legal Pitfalls That Can Come Back to Bite You at Work, at Home, and at Play” (Plume) will be the Forward’s next guest Bintel Brief advice columnists.

Feldman is General Counsel at the national placement firm the Judge Group. She is also a nationally syndicated radio correspondent on legal issues and appears weekly on the local Fox morning show “Good Day Philadelphia.” She specializes in employment- and consumer-related issues.

Epstein is a journalist, author and a contributor to the public radio show “This American Life.” She served as the head writer and on-air sidekick for “Clued In,” — a gameshow for teenage girls, and teaches sitcom-writing at NYU. She is the author of 13 published children’s books, and co-wrote the novel “Shaking Her Assets” (Berkeley Trade, 2005).

If you have a question for the Bintel Brief, email bintelbrief@forward.com. Questions selected for publication will be printed anonymously. New installments of the Bintel Brief are published Mondays at www.forward.com.

Contract Based on Mutual Mistake

December 9th, 2009

There is nothing not to love about the Tiger Woods story. Right about now, both he and his wife are likely the most popular people on the planet as chosen by their respective gender populations. There is no man on earth who doesn’t want to be Tiger right now–the best athlete in his sport in the world, a billionaire, married to a swimsuit model, and, it turns out, a man with a bevvy of cocktail waitresses standing at the ready to be summoned to Vegas at his whim.  As for the lovely Mrs. Woods, let she who has not cast a 9 iron in anger into the back of her cheater’s Escalade cast the first stone.

       The legal lesson to be drawn here has nothing to do with cooperating–or not–with a police investigation, domestic violence (sorry, dour ideologues), prescription drug use, or even the value of prenuptial agreements.  Instead, it has everything to do with marriage as a contract based on mutual mistake, and therein lies the lesson to us all. Because there is no doubt that when he got down on bended knee, Tiger’s proposal was likely full of the usual brief but romantic platitudes of the “I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you, will you be my wife” variety.  Her part was, if any words were spoken at all, likely limited to either “yes” or “I love you.”   

 Not to bring down this Hallmark moment, but marriage is a contract plain and simple. It’s why you get a certificate.  The difference between marriage and living together is, in addition to less nagging by your mother, a set of legal obligations related to property ownership and distribution.  In it’s brevity, Tiger’s proposal–like every man’s–was not nearly explanatory enough.  Because he meant “Be Mrs. Tiger Woods and live in the big house with me when I’m not in Vegas.”   And she thought he said, “Be Mrs. Tigers Woods, and I will forsake all others.”

So let’s replay Tiger’s proposal the way it should have gone:

“Elin. I love you. From the moment I saw your beautiful smile I knew that I wanted to be married to you for the rest of my life.  To me, that means that you will be the only Mrs. Tiger Woods.  You will live a giant house with me and have every material comfort you desire. We will have beautiful babies together.  And we will fight, as all couples do, about whose parents we spend Thanksgiving with, why I can’t figure out how to use a hamper, and what color we should paint the entry hall.  But we will not fight about my jaunts to Vegas. Because let me make this perfectly clear:  I was a total geek in high school.  I studied and that got me into Stanford. And I played golf, and that ultimately made me a billion dollars, a part of which I will share with you. But what it did not get me was any pussy because golf used to be a sport reserved for middle aged white men in pom pom caps and argyle socks until I came around and made it cool.  And now that I did, I am going to make up for lost time. Don’t get me wrong, there is no Vegas cocktail waitress that I want to raise kids with, spend weekends out of bed with, or sit in a rocking chair on the porch of the old age home with. Those priveleges will be reserved solely for you.  But you gotta know that those Vegas cocktail waitresses will get a few hours of my time, and I will hit that.  This is what I mean when I say, please marry me.  If you say “yes” or “I love you” or nod your head vigorously, then please take this ring and be my wife. But if this is not the deal you have in mind, put down my golf clubs and keep the 9 iron away from my Escalade.”

So I argue for a far less romantic but ultimately much more sound form of full proposal disclosure. The one where he says: You’ll be the only Mrs. Smith, but I am not going to go blind.  So please don’t gain 50 pounds and stop desiring me because I will find someone who will.  And the one where she responds: I love our active life together. If, two years into this marriage to which you refer, you should find your one hand on the remote and the other in your pants from 5 pm every  Friday to 9 am every Monday, that’s not going to cut it.”  Hallmark will still make its money on Valentine’s Day, when we all pretend that we don’t know each other as well as we actually do.  But if it cuts into the divorce lawyers’ money, so be it.  Too late for Tiger, but there’s still hope for you…