Thursday, June 1, 2017

Lessons From a Day at Court


I have heard innumerable people say that the one thing they want the most is to have their "day in court".  They want to spill the beans and tell the truth about everything.  They believe that they will feel better and justice will be served once they have their day in court.

I hear the comments from people who are in slow-moving litigated divorces.  To most of these "day in court" people, the issues are simple and crystal clear, and they are convinced the outcomes must favor them.  No other view is conceivable. 

For the people who are anxiously looking forward to their day in court, I would like to share some reality. I recently spent all morning and into the afternoon trying to work out temporary orders on a case.  It was not a unique experience; I have done it many times before.

Here are some observations from that "day in court":

1.  It can take a long time.  This one was from 8:30 a.m. to about 2:00 p.m., five and a half hours.  I have have had some go all day.  My average is about three hours. We usually work through lunch on those cases.

2.  People can become very irritable. Hanging around and negotiating or being in a hearing or just waiting can be very stressful if one or more of the players is upset.
  • Clients:  You and your spouse will probably be under high stress.  Many people are nervous and don't sleep well the night before.  It is very common for both sides to get angrier as the day goes on. Think how well you and your spouse act when you are tired and hungry!
  • Attorneys:  Sometimes they maintain control, but sometimes they don't.  The other day, the other attorney acted very irritated and that did not help settle the case.
  • Judge:  Often they are very busy and they express annoyance if they are asked to resolve issues like splitting up pots and pans.  Judge prefer making decisions on significant issues and not spending time on issues that mature adults should be able to resolve.
  • Bailiff:  Usually, they are very even-keeled, but sometimes they get snappy.  They don't like wasting time and they don't like seeing their Judge having to deal with insignificant issues.
3.  Both sides may be very unhappy with the results.  The other day, I saw both parties after the hearing/negotiations.  They both appeared to have lost everything! Here are some reasons why that can happen.
  • The facts may not be what someone expected or believed.  People are often mistaken, but they come to believe in an incorrect version of the "facts".
  • There may be stronger resistance than expected on some issues.  Where someone expected a quick agreement, there could be a huge disagreement. The result often is that someone doesn't get something that they had counted on.
  • Someone may be greedy and unreasonable.  It would be great if everyone approached negotiations with an attitude of cooperation and fairness, but it doesn't usually happen.
  • The Judge may have very different ideas about how things should be resolved.  Guess how that comes out!
  • Usually, there's not enough to go around.  Instead of meeting the needs of both sides, Judges or agreements often only partially meet the needs of each side.  Everyone gets less than they wanted or needed.
  • Both sides can't have the same thing at once.  Usually, there's sharing or one side gets less and feels "cheated".  
4.  It's still not over.  Even when you spend a long day at the courthouse, the case is still not finished.
  • Normally, there must be a written order, which may just be a temporary order. The written order will usually take several weeks to finish and get signed.
  • Often, there will be further clarifications needed.  Even though the attorneys and Judge may have spent hours putting together an order, some things may need to be more specific.
  • There are often changes with new provisions.  The attorneys and Judge may not have anticipated everything.  It is normal to make some changes after the fact to cover some issues that were overlooked.
5.  It's expensive.  Think about paying $400 to $800 per hour, or more, for three to five or more hours, for attorneys to be negotiating or in a hearing, or even waiting around to get into court, which is not uncommon.  Can you think of any more efficient or less expensive way to get issues resolved?

Sometimes, you have no choice.  The other side demands a hearing, the Court may schedule a hearing or you may be forced into Court because the other side won't work with you.

Most of time, though, you do have a choice.  At the outset, you should consider using Collaborative Law where you negotiate and agree to not go to court.  Another option if you are in a litigated divorce is to go to mediation which is a great process that is almost always successful. You can also try having the attorneys informally negotiate an agreement.

If you are tempted to want to go to court, think back on these Lessons from a Day at Court.  Having your Day in Court is probably not a good way to get your issues resolved.




Monday, May 15, 2017

Should I Wait or Can I Do it Now? A Short Quiz for People Going Through Divorce --Part 2


Many temptations come up when people are facing divorce.  Many opportunities also come up then.  Depending upon timing, some things are good ideas and others are not.

If you are facing divorce, or already involved in a divorce, here are some situations that commonly arise, along with some suggestions for you to think about when you are deciding whether to do something now or wait. 

Part 1 of this Quiz dealt with property or financial issues.  Part 2 has some financial matters, but it's more about personal relationships.


1.  Should  start dating?  NO!       That also includes:
  • Don't list yourself on a singles dating web site, 
  • Don't get engaged, 
  • Don't have a boy friend/girl friend move in,
  • Don't move in with a romantic interest, and
  • Don't set a wedding date.
Those actions can cause emotional upset to your still-current spouse, which may damage relationships, slow down the divorce and make it more expensive.  They can also open additional financial issues to fight over.  It's not worth it.

2.  Should I introduce the kids to my new dating interest?  Hopefully, you're not dating while the divorce is pending.  Generally, you need to be very cautious about this.  Probably, you should wait until you have dated for at least 6 months and you should also coordinate this with your ex-spouse. Ideally, you and your ex would work with a family therapist to coordinate the timing and wording of how to make that introduction.

3.  Should I change my will or beneficiaries on insurance, retirement plans or anything else?  Normally, there will probably be a court order saying you can't make those changes.  Judges like to keep everything the way it has been.  They would probably order you to change those documents back to the way they were before you changed them. Consult with your lawyer on this, and don't do anything on your own.

4.  Is it OK if I buy gifts for my new girl friend or boy friend?  No.  I know it's not good for your new relationship, but spending community funds on a new romantic interest is always going to cause problem with your spouse and with the Judge.  At the least, the expenditure will probably be added to your column as an asset in the property division. Your spouse will be angry and less cooperative than if you had not done this. It's also possible the Judge could sanction you for violating a court order.  It's not worth the trouble that follows when you get found out, and you will get found out.

5.  Should I give away things I don't need or want?  Talk to your attorney.  The answer will likely be No! You would probably violate a court order and you would probably be disposing of community property.  Don't take a chance on it.

If you are thinking of taking some financial or relationship actions while the divorce is pending, do as our British friends would do.  Stay Calm and consult your attorney.



Monday, May 1, 2017

Should I Wait or Can I Do it Now? A Short Quiz for People Going Through Divorce --Part 1


Many temptations come up when people are facing divorce.  Many opportunities also come up then.  Depending upon timing, some things are good ideas and others are not.

If you are facing divorce, or already involved in a divorce, here are some situations that commonly arise, along with some suggestions for you to think about when you are deciding whether to do something now or wait. (Hint:  you will probably see a pattern.)

1.  Should I buy a house before the divorce is final?  If you do, it will very likely become a community asset which is subject to division in the divorce.  Title companies will usually insist on listing both you and your spouse on the deed and the mortgage company may want to bind both parties to the mortgage, including the party not getting the house.  There will be all kinds of complications.  Of course, some very good deals may go away if you don't go after them immediately.  You should certainly consult with your attorney.

2.  Should I spend large amounts of money?  If you do, you will likely be held responsible for the money and you may have to repay it or count it in your column as part of your community property when things are divided.  There will be a cost to spending the money.  Consult with your attorney.

3.  Should I make new investments?  You should be aware that the Court will probably include in the community property any new investments you make before the divorce is finalized.  That means that they will probably be considered in the mix of the property to be divided upon divorce. Even though you make the investments, they will probably be community property unless you use solely separate assets to pay for it, or they could be part separate and part community. Certainly, consult with your attorney before making any investments.

4.  Should I take a major vacation?  No.  Especially with a boy friend or girl friend. Even without the romance, your spouse may get angry that you are "wasting" assets or doing something he or she doesn't get to do. The cost of the trip will probably come from your side of the spreadsheet. It's not worth the grief. If you think you should go, please consult your attorney.

5.  Should I sell or get rid of any assets?  This is complicated.  Usually, you should avoid selling or getting rid of things unless there's a compelling financial reason to do so and unless the Court or your attorney and your spouse's attorney have both signed off on the deal.

If you are thinking of making some financial moves while the divorce is pending, do as our British friends would do.  Stay Calm and consult your attorney.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Should You Wait to Start the Divorce?


People often struggle with the decision whether to file for divorce.  It's hard to give up on a marriage.  Divorce impacts the kids in many ways.  There are financial concerns and sometimes safety concerns. There are many things to consider when deciding to divorce.

Once a decision is made to get a divorce, the next decision to make is when to start the process.  Again, there are many factors to consider on the timing.

Why hold off on starting a divorce?  Here are some reasons:

  • A delay gives you more time to reconsider your decision.  You can make sure it is the right decision for you.  Many people go back and forth changing their mind about whether to go forward.  A slower decision can help you be comfortable with you choice.
  • Your spouse might become more accepting.  There can be an issue if you surprise your spouse by announcing your intention to divorce. Quite often a surprised spouse goes into denial and will promise and do many things to try to talk you out of divorcing.  If you discuss your thoughts early with your spouse, it may give him or her the opportunity to process the idea of divorce and maybe come to accept it.
  • Waiting can give you time to prepare.  You may need to save some money. You may want to gather up things like jewelry, photos, personal papers, financial documents, collections or other things that may be significant to you.
  • Using the time for planning is smart.  For such a major change in your life, you need to think through what you want to do and how you will do it.  
  • It may help to let things cool off.  You may have decided to divorce because of some major arguments.  Even if there is now a good reason to divorce, the process will be a little easier if both parties have cooled off before they are faced with divorce.
  • You may want to wait for a family event before filing.  Events such as graduation, wedding, illness, funeral or holidays could be a lot easier to deal with if you haven't just started a divorce.
  • Delay might give you or your spouse time to get a job.  When both parties are meaningfully employed, it makes a divorce go a lot easier.
Can there be some problems with a delay in filing?  Of course.
  • Your spouse also has time to prepare.
  • Your spouse can work on convincing you to not file for divorce.
  • You might end up postponing the divorce to avoid facing it.
  •  Your spouse might file first and try to take advantage of you. 
You have to decide what's best for you.  There's not huge advantage in being the first to file.  If you and your spouse are talking, you may find out his/her plans in time to go ahead and file, if it is important to you. If you are talking, maybe the divorce will work out a little better. 

My suggestion:  meet with an attorney early on. Find out about the process options.  You and your attorney can decide what's best for you regarding timing.  You should be well informed and be able to tap into your attorney's experience in similar cases to help your decision. Don't over-think it and don't worry.  You can figure out your course of action by planning ahead.  Good luck!


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

How to Impress the Judge


If you have to go to Court, you are likely going to appear in front of the Judge.  You may stand in front of the bench where the Judge sits, or you may be at a counsel table with your lawyer, or you may be on the witness stand.

When you are in Court like that, you certainly want to get as favorable a ruling as possible.  The facts and law matter, but a third factor that can't be overlooked is how you appear to the Judge.  When you are in Court, you are being evaluated by the Judge as well as the other side's attorney.  Making a good impression can help your cause.

Here are some things to keep in mind when considering how to favorably impress the Judge.

1.  Appear reasonable.  You are much more likely to get what you want if you don't come across as crazy or unreasonable.  The Judge is very likely to not side 100% with either party and Judges tend to split things fairly evenly.  If you start out wanting all of the most valuable things or a high percentage in the property division, that may hurt your chances of getting what you want.

2.  Appearances count.  Come to Court in nice clothes, something you might wear to church or work.  Don't be flashy or trashy.

3.  Be Prepared.  It's a good idea, even if you're not a Boy Scout.  Bring what you need.  Don't say you can bring it later; now is probably your only opportunity.  Work with your lawyer to know what you need to bring.

4.  Be under control. That's especially true in front of the Judge, but also true outside of the courtroom.  What you do and say away from Court is often reported in Court, so think about how your actions and words might sound in Court.

5.  Don't interrupt.  If you are in Court, don't interrupt attorneys, other witnesses and especially not the Judge. You're not in charge. Your attorney and the Judge know what's important.  Follow their lead, even if you don't get to share something you think is important.

6.  Don't react or be rude.  Notice that almost every time an attorney loses a ruling, he or she will usually say, "Thank you, Judge."  It is a courtesy.  Your should also be courteous.

7.  Turn off your cell phone.

Going to Court can be very stressful, but sometimes is necessary.  Do yourself a favor.  Be prepared and keep your emotions under control.  Most of all, talk with your attorney and follow his or her advice.  Good luck!



Sunday, January 15, 2017

Looking for Encouragement?


If you are on the receiving end of divorce news, things may look pretty overwhelming.  The legal system is obviously expensive.  Legal consequences of actions in a divorce may last a lifetime.  And, divorce is always difficult for you and your spouse.

If you haven't been thinking and planning for a divorce, suddenly confronting the situation can be frightening and confusing.  You may be wondering what your first step should be, what to expect from the court and what will it all cost.  Those are all reasonable questions. 

You have a choice about where you get information to answer your questions.  You can talk to friends, you can look on the internet or you can go see a family lawyer.  Not surprisingly, my suggestion is to see a family lawyer. 

Your friends may have good intentions, but they don't usually know the law and what happened in their case may not apply in yours.  The internet sometimes has good information, but often people start reading articles about divorce in California, New York, Florida or some other state.  Laws vary from state to state, so what is good advice in California might not make any sense here in Texas.

So, where is the encouragement?

1.  You have choices in attorneys.  There are many attorneys in Fort Worth and Tarrant County, Texas, who are very good at handling divorces.  You can choose one in your price range and you can get one with experience appropriate to your case.  Some cases don't need highly experienced and expensive attorneys. Others may need an attorney with special experience or training.  In addition to focusing on experience and cost, you should meet with the attorney and decide whether the personal chemistry between the two of you works well.  If it doesn't, check other attorneys until you feel really comfortable.

2.  You can affect how much fighting there is.  Each divorce is different.  Some people go looking for a lawyer who will be a shark, rake the spouse over the coals or otherwise inflict pain on the other side.  I don't believe that is productive in the long run, but there are lawyers around who will happily accommodate that request.  But watch the fine print:  all of that battling is very expensive.  Don't assume your spouse will have to pay for everything. 

You can choose to spend your money on lawyers or you can keep it peaceful and have more money to divide up.  It's your choice.

3.  You have a choice of processes.  You can possibly work out an informal agreement with your spouse, you can go into traditional litigation or you can choose Collaborative divorce.

Informal negotiations are good if there's little to discuss. 

Litigation is the most common process, but relies on standard guidelines for children's issues and it usually involves costly Discovery if there are significant assets.  While most cases usually settle before trial, litigation is divisive, slow and expensive.

Collaborative divorce is my preference, but it won't work for everyone.  Some people just insist on fighting and going to court.  Collaborative is great where there are serious issues, including custody, sharing parenting time and responsibilities and dividing complex assets.  For a lot of information about Collaborative Law, check out my other blog, the Texas Collaborative Law Blog.

What should you do?  Go talk with attorneys and explain your financial situation and any concerns about kids or preferences or needs on property division.  Be sure to talk with an attorney who is an experienced and trained Collaborative Law attorney so you can get accurate information on that option.  Good luck!





Thursday, December 15, 2016

Good Financial Manners

In every divorce, there is disappointment.  Often, one or both parties don't like rulings or even some agreements that are reached.  They feel like they were treated unfairly or they may feel stuck in a situation that no longer works financially.  Circumstances may have changed and a difficult situation has become impossible. 

Sometimes, people decide to be a little passive-aggressive and mess around with the finances just to irritate their ex- or soon-to-be-ex spouse.  There are some bad ideas that will not help in the long term, that could get you into trouble.

Here are some simple steps you can take to keep the financial peace and stay on better terms with your former significant other.

1.  Pay the correct amount.  If you are ordered to pay $623.57, please pay that amount.  Cutting back a little bit is not allowed.  Do what you are ordered to do.  Judges don't appreciate failures to comply with their orders.

2.  Be on time.  If the payment is due on the 1st or 15th or any other specific date, make the payment on or before that date.  You might end up paying interest or attorney fees for some late payments.

3.  Don't make changes without an agreement or order.  You cannot just decide to adjust an obligation on your own.  You will likely end up in court on the wrong side of an enforcement action.  If you want to make changes, it's best to get an agreement and put it in a new order that is signed by the Judge.

4.  Don't threaten to withhold money.  It will produce an angry response and nothing helpful.  It's better to address pending issues directly, rather than indirectly by threats.  If you withhold payments that are due, that will probably get you in trouble with the Judge.

5.  Don't write insults on a check or letter for payment.  Those look particularly bad when presented in court.  You may momentarily feel good about getting revenge, but it makes you look petty and childish in court.  It's a bad idea, but I still see it occasionally.  It never works well.

If you will follow the advice above, you should have a less contentious time in court and you can save yourself time, money and aggravation.  Good luck!


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!