Saturday, October 1, 2016

Considering Divorce? Maybe You Should Talk About It



Most people start thinking about divorce long before they talk with anyone.

For some, it takes a long time to reach the conclusion that divorce is necessary.  Sometimes a spouse is doing the same thing, quietly thinking about it, and that may be helpful.

Other times, a spouse may be blissfully unaware and think everything is fine.

If you suddenly announce your intention to file for divorce and surprise your spouse, you should expect a number of possible reactions:
  • Surprise and hurt
  • Anger
  • Fear about the future
  • Striking back with high demands
  • A spouse who wants to hurt and punish you 
There are many reasons for delaying talking about a possible divorce, but the result may be heightened conflict.  Some people react worse than others do to surprises.

To avoid surprises and bad reactions, maybe the key is to find a way to start talking about divorce long before you are planning to file. Naturally, you  need to be  be careful about how your approach the topic. You should also be kind and anticipate your spouse's feelings.

If you just start mentioning that you are considering getting a divorce, there are some downsides to that, such as:
  • Retaliation
  • Giving your spouse time to plan his/her own strategy
  • Hiding of assets by your spouse
  • Your spouse giving out false or misleading information to family or friends
  • Having to discuss the issues with your spouse over and over while you are still together
The best course of action may be to talk with a counselor, maybe including couples counseling.  If you go to couples counseling, you should probably have a separate counselor for yourself.  You could also suggest a separate counselor for your spouse. A counselor can help you figure out the best way to break the news and start a transition to being divorced.

You may also want to consult with an attorney about different ways to handle the issue and how to prepare.  Experienced Family Law attorneys have seen many different exit strategies and can help you decide the best course of action.

Knowing when and how to bring up a possible divorce is very difficult.  Getting professional help is a great way to figure out what would work best in your situation.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Want to be Divorced by the End of the Year?



About this time of the year, some people finally decide that the time has arrived to end their marriage.  Some people want to put off change until after the holidays, but others prefer to end things quickly and cleanly.  They want to get on with their lives.

If you find yourself thinking of how nice it would be to be free before January 1, here are some things to keep in mind.

1.  You really need to file for divorce by October 15.  The main reason is there is a 60-day waiting period required by law.  That means the earliest you could be divorced would be around December 15, if you filed by October 15. That assumes everything goes smoothly.

2.  Don't make it a surprise.  If you suddenly surprise your spouse with an announcement that "It's all over", don't assume it will be warmly received.  You should expect resistance and foot-dragging, unless your spouse has been harboring similar thoughts.  It is likely that you would be better off having discussions with your spouse early on and breaking the news gently.  A surprise could cause an angry, completely uncooperative response.  This surprise announcement rarely goes well.

3.  Have an agreement.  You need to be cooperative and compromise.  Often the cost of a quick agreement is major concessions.  Make sure you think the cost to you is worth the rush to finish before the end of the year.  If you later have second thoughts after the Judge has signed your Divorce Decree, you probably can't undo the terms of the property settlement.  If you don't have an agreement, you won't be divorced by the end of the year.

How To Do It:  Go see a lawyer and learn about your options.  If you have a fairly uncomplicated situation and you are flexible on some issues, you may be able to finish by the end of the year.  Your plan probably won't work, however, if your spouse is surprised, angry or in shock.  Plan ahead and play fair.

Finally, a word of caution:  If you are in a rush to divorce so you can remarry, you better think twice or three times.  Rebound marriages usually don't work, especially if they happen before the ink is dry on the Divorce Decree.  Slow down and live!


Thursday, September 1, 2016

10 Tips for Going to Court


If you are in a traditionally litigated divorce, you almost inevitably will end up in Court for a hearing.  Here are some quick reminders of what you should do.

1.  Dress appropriately.  Business or church type clothing will work. Shorts won't get in the door.  Very casual makes a bad impression on the Judge.  Dress nicely.  Don't show a lot of bling.

2.  Be on time.  They might start without you or they might cancel the hearing, or the Judge could penalize you, if you're late.  Leave home early so you can get to Court on time.  Don't be surprised if there are traffic jams or accidents at rush hour.

3.  Be respectful to the Judge. Don't talk back. Don't look or act mad.  Be very polite to the Judge.


4.  Be reasonable -- even if your spouse isn't.  Think long term and remember the value in getting the case resolved instead of getting caught up in a long Court battle.

5.  Don't volunteer information.  Just answer questions directly and briefly. Volunteering information almost always leads to trouble. The Judge and attorneys may view things differently than you do, and that may mean trouble for you if you say the wrong things.

6.  Bring the information you need. Bring all the documents and other  information you need for the hearing. They won't stop the hearing and let you go home or to your vehicle to get something.

7.  Control your emotions.  Don't show anger and don't get a big grin if you think you won something.  Stay calm and let the Judge and attorneys manage things.

8.  Expect delays and resets.  It's very common for the Court to move slowly through the cases.  Everyone takes longer than they say they will.  Cases get reset all the time for lots of different reasons.  Don't be surprised or get angry if there are delays and the case gets reset until later.

9.  Don't expect a scene from a TV show or a movie.  They aren't realistic.  Pay attention to what your attorney tells you.

10.  Prepare with your attorney before you go to Court. You can meet with your attorney and discuss what to expect and how to handle questions.  You can also find out what information you need to bring.

If you will follow these suggestions, your date in Court should be a lot more comfortable!



Monday, August 15, 2016

Getting Expert Help


Divorces can be simple, somewhat complicated or very complicated.  At a time when more and more people want to "Do it Yourself", some people seem to act as if their divorces were simpler than they are  You have a simple divorce if the marriage is very short, there are no kids and almost no property has been acquired during the marriage.

If you have a long-term marriage, kids, retirement assets, investments, a house, other significant assets or debts, you have a somewhat- to very-complicated divorce.

My suggestion is that you think long-term and get some help if you have a complicated divorce.  You don't necessarily need all of the following in every case, but you should get whatever help will benefit you.

1.  Attorney.  If you are in the complicated category, you need an attorney.  You want to get the paperwork right and you don't want to overlook or mishandle important legal issues. It's not such a great trade off to save money on the attorney fees initially, but then have to spend the money later trying to fix something.

2.  Mediator.  Mediation is a great process for resolving disputes.  It is used in almost all divorces at some point.  If you can't directly negotiate a settlement, which is normally the case, mediation gives you a safe, effective means to come to an agreement with the help of a neutral mediator.

3.  Counseling.  Sometimes, you can get back together through counseling, but more often the real value of counseling is that it can lead to peace.  You can learn to live with your situation better and maybe avoid fighting with your ex.  Counseling is a good investment for both parties, even if you're not "crazy".

4.  Financial Advisor.  We use them in almost every Collaborative Law case, but they are also very helpful in litigated/negotiated divorces where there are retirement assets or other significant assets.  Why not look for beneficial ways to divide things so you can save some money?  Just splitting everything in half is often not the best result for both parties. 

5.  CPA.  In many cases, it helps to have a CPA review a settlement proposal before it is locked down. There may be unexpected tax consequences or just a better way to do things that could save taxes.  It's not very expensive to get peace of mind or possibly save some money.

There's no "one size fits all" solution for how to do a divorce.  The amount and type of help you need depends on the circumstances of your case.  If you don't have a simple divorce, you should consider the experts above and hire the ones who can help.  It can save money and give you peace in the long run.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Why Cases Aren't as Simple as You May Think


Some people get caught up in the "Do it Yourself" movement and decide to represent themselves in a divorce.  After all, how hard can it be? They're thinking:  Texas is a 50-50 property state, so you divide everything equally.  Then you use standard visitation and child support guidelines. You just write down what you want and the Judge will straighten out any problems and then grant the divorce.

Now, back to reality. Life is complicated.  The more assets you have, the more important it is to use a lawyer for a divorce.  If there are children, there are many important issues other than child support and visitation.  Judges don't fix your mistakes.

Here are some issues you may need to consider.

1.  There are parental rights, powers and duties that have to be allocated between the parents.  Some can be shared, some might work with consultation between the parents, some might need a tie-breaker if the parties can't agree, and others are usually controlled by just one parent. These can decide the outcomes of some very important issues.  You need knowledgeable guidance on them.

2.  There are many different variations in the possession (visitation) schedules for the kids.  You have to come up with something that both parents accept and use language that is specific enough to be enforceable in case of future conflict.

3.  Child support can have some issues as well.  Is is really necessary?  Should you use the guidelines or try something else?  Will the Judge approve something else?  How to you calculate it?  You also have to use correct and specific language in creating the order.

4.  What do we need to divide?  What is separate property (which the Court can't divide) and what's community?   Are there any tax consequences? Can all assets be divided?  If not, what do you do?

5.  How do you handle health insurance?  Can one spouse provide it for an ex-spouse?  If so, how?  How do you set up the health insurance for the kids?  Who pays what?

6.  Can we divide retirement accounts?  If so, how?

7.  What do we do with the house?  One party keeps the house -- how do you get the other spouse's name off the mortgage?  Can you refinance the house?  Do you want to sell it now?  If so, you need detailed plans for that.  What do you do with the proceeds?  What if you can't sell it?  What if your ex-spouse won't sell it?  There's a lot at stake with the house.

These are only some of the issues you may face in a Do-it-Yourself Divorce.  If you have children,  more than a little property or a marriage longer than a year or two, you definitely need a lawyer to help make sure you don't make a mess of your financial and family futures.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Tips for a Tough Time in Your Life


You can't avoid being upset when you're going through a divorce.  You can figure out how to deal with the anger and sadness you are experiencing.  There are many possible steps you can take, but here are five that should be helpful in any divorce situation.

1.  Stay busy.  Don't just sit around and mope.  Get busy helping your lawyer to get the best deal possible for you.  Your help is absolutely necessary and it will help you feel better.

2.  Accept help from professionals.  You need a lawyer to advise you and you may need a therapist to help work through the emotional side of the transition.  You may also need a CPA or financial planner to help you understand your finances and to help you plan your financial future.

3.  Tune out advise from friends once you get started.  Many times, well-meaning friends can lead you astray by giving advise based on their divorce or what they have heard about someone else's divorce.  Every case is different and the others' divorces may have taken place in other states under different laws.  It can be very dangerous to make decisions based on amatures' advise. Please rely on your attorney and your financial advisor. [Tune out the internet, too, for similar reasons.]

4.  Consider this a business transaction.  If you can be business-like in making decisions in your divorce, you will end up much better than if you just react emotionally and let that control you. Let the rational you be in charge and you will appreciate the results.

5.  Pay attention to you health.  Get plenty of sleep.  Exercise.  Eat well.  Many people going through a divorce stop eating, don't exercise and have trouble sleeping.  You need to be healthy and alert to help your attorney as you work through the divorce. Take care of yourself so you can come out in good physical, as well as financial, shape.

Take these steps so you can remain in control of your own life!


Friday, July 1, 2016

What to Do if the Judge Starts Asking Questions


It seems like in about every case that involves a hearing in Tarrant County, the Judge will ask questions of the parties and sometimes other witnesses.  You need to be prepared to answer properly and respectfully.  Here are some tips to keep in mind.

1.  Be polite.  Yes sir and yes ma'am sound good to the Judge.  Be on your best behavior.

2.  Answer directly, but don't volunteer.  Your attorney can help out by following up with questions, if necessary.  Often, no one wants to know what you think is important for the Judge to know. Let the Judge and your attorney decide what additional information is needed.  You might blurt out something that makes you look very foolish.

3.  Watch your body language.  Don't cross your arms over your chest.  Don't frown.  Try to look pleasant and interested.  You can lean forward a little.  Your attorney may whisper for you to change your posture or expression or arms if they convey the wrong message.

4.  Be reasonable.  That may mean being willing to share time, responsibility or something else.  Be flexible and cooperative.  Judges like that.

5.  Speak up, but not too much.  Don't get loud and obnoxious.  Make sure the Judge can hear you.  Speaking softly can make you seem unsure of your answers.  Speak confidently.

If you follow these tips, you can do well in court if the Judge starts to ask you questions.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Is Expensive Legal Help Worth It?


Choosing the right attorney to help you with a legal problem is almost always a difficult decision.  Part of the problem is that there are so many attorneys to choose from.  Cost is just one consideration, but often a major one. 

If you are given the names of two or three attorneys who are recommended, how do you choose the best one for you?  Ultimately, chemistry, or your gut feeling, may be the most important factor, but cost is still involved.

When you are deciding to go with the more expensive attorney or the more affordable one, here are some points to consider about the value you may get with the more expensive attorney.

1.  The attorney and staff will probably be more experienced.  Usually, attorneys raise their rates over time as they gain more knowledge and experience.  That will probably, although not always, translate into better representation.

2.  You should receive more personal attention.  That should lead to customized solutions to problems.  You can ask questions, always a good idea, and get thoughtful responses.

3.  The case should move along.  The attorney and staff should be efficient because of their experience, so they should know what to expect and how to respond to issues.

4.  There should be quality staff supporting the attorney.  That's very important, but service can be more efficient and you may save some money by having an assistant handle certain steps in a case.

5.  The attorney and staff should be willing to do all necessary work.  Sometimes lower-charging or flat-fee attorneys cut corners because they aren't getting paid for extra work.

When you are hiring an attorney, there are many factors to consider.  Cost is one of the primary ones. My suggestion is to not automatically write off an expensive attorney, as long as you can figure out a realistic way to pay the fees.  You should commit only to what you can afford.


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Collaborative Law Compared to Mediation: Which is Better?


Mediation.  Both Collaborative Law and mediation are dispute resolution processes.  Mediation is commonly used in divorce litigation and in other contexts.  I am a mediator and I strongly believe in the value of mediation.  It is great for settling litigated cases of all types.  Almost every divorce case, and most other family law cases in Tarrant County go to mediation before the Judge will consider letting them go to trial, and almost all will settle in mediation. 

Collaboration.  Collaborative Law is a great process for settling divorces, but it approaches settlement entirely differently.  While mediation occurs late in the process, often just before a trial date, Collaboration begins at the start of the case.  There are a series of relatively short meetings in Collaborative, rather than one big day of mediation. 

There are some other significant differences between the two processes.  Here are some to consider.

1.  Mediation relies on a sole mediation usually, while Collaborative Law utilizes a team approach with a neutral therapist and a neutral financial advisor.  In addition, in Collaborative cases, the attorneys commit to a different role, working together to make sure no one is taken advantage of, than they follow in mediation.

2.  There are essentially different goals.  In mediation, the bargaining often involves staking out extreme starting positions so the parties can move to an acceptable middle ground.  In Collaborative, the parties explain their goals and needs up front and then both sides commit to helping the parties each meet their goals.

3.  In Collaborative, the parties freely share information; in mediation, the parties generally get their information through Discovery and often use motions and hearings to get information.

4.  In Collaborative Law, the parties agree at the beginning to not take advantage of mistakes.  In Mediation, that's not the case.  The parties have to look out for themselves and be as careful as they can be. Mistakes happen in litigation and mediation and it's too bad.

5.  In Collaborative, single, neutral experts are routinely used.  That only happens occasionally in litigation and mediation. The parties work together with their experts in Collaborative.

What all of this means is that Collaborative Law is a safer, more flexible process that is tuned to the needs of both parties.  If you are using litigation for a divorce, get to mediation as soon as possible so you can get the case settled.  If you are just starting on your divorce, look seriously at using Collaborative Law for a better process and a better result.



Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Hidden Costs of Cheap Legal Fees



When you're looking for an attorney to hire, you're probably doing doing a balancing act.  You want to get the best possible attorney, but many people are concerned about keeping the attorney's fees as low as possible.

To complicate matters, there's not always a direct correlation between higher fees and quality of attorney.  Most often, more experienced attorneys charge more and probably do a better job than less experienced attorneys. But, that's not always the case.

When you're choosing an attorney, you have to find the right combination of experience and affordability.  Chemistry is probably the key to focus on.  Make sure, regardless of the cost, that the attorney makes you feel like there's a good fit.

For those who focus almost exclusively on paying the lowest attorney's fees, here are some thoughts to consider.

1.  You're going to end up with a much less experienced attorney.  Now, you may get an attorney who has adequate experience for your needs, and that's what you should aim for. A lack of experience may translate into missed opportunities for settlement or for new approaches.

2.  Watch out for a high-volume practice.  If your attorney charges  very low fees because he or she handles a high volume of cases, you are probably not going to get much attention.  You may be adequately represented, but you may well feel very uncomfortable with the lack of contact with the attorney. You will be one of many clients. 

3.  You may end up with standardized or guideline orders.  Your case might benefit from personal attention and extra preparation, but you're not likely to get them from a low-cost attorney.

4.  There may be a turnover in attorneys and staff in a low-cost law firm.  If they aren't charging clients much, they usually don't pay their attorneys and staff much, so there's frequent turnover as employees look for better-paying jobs.

5.  You're probably just paying for minimum efforts.  Low pay = low effort.  If your case has some unique details (and whose doesn't?), you may not get your needs met.

Think hard and pay attention to the chemistry between you and any prospective attorney.  Money is a realistic consideration in hiring an attorney, but don't let it be the only one.