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!

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.

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.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Should We Fight or Should We Talk?

For many people, the title states the choices they see when they approach a divorce (or a divorce approaches them!).

You might as well recognize that talking is the better option.  Here's why.

No matter how angry someone is at the beginning of a divorce, the parties almost always end up talking and reaching a settlement.  In some cases, though, the parties spend a lot of time fighting before they start seriously talking.

Divorce, contrary to popular perception, is ultimately a process of agreement, although many people manage to take detours onto argument trails and delays.  Fighting takes time and money, but some people get blinded by anger or a desire to punish or get revenge for their spouse's bad behavior, which may be real or imagined. In addition, many people wrongly assume that divorce centers around courtroom battles.

Eventually, fighting usually subsides as anger wanes, money is dissipated or the parties face a date in court.  Facing a choice between letting a Judge make all the decisions or making their own decisions on the outcome, most people choose to control their own destiny.

Here's a simplified version of the standard, Texas divorce process:

1.  File a Petition for Divorce.
2.  Get notice to the other party.
3.  Have a temporary hearing or hearings on various matters, or reach informal agreements.
4.  Gather information, either formally or informally.
5.  Negotiate to final agreement, very often in mediation, or in rare cases, have a final trial.
6.  Prepare a Final Decree of Divorce and get it signed by the Judge.

The opportunities to negotiate are numerous.
  • Prior to filing.
  • Immediately after filing.
  • At court, each time there's a hearing scheduled.
  • After the information is exchanged.
  • Informal final terms negotiations near the end of the case.
  • Mediation.
For the best results, I suggest that you:
  • Always be prepared to negotiate -- Get the information you need and make a plan for negotiations to create options to meet your needs.
  • Always be willing to negotiate -- Don't let anger or revenge keep you from doing what's best for you in the long run. 
Negotiating is a sign of intelligence, not weakness.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Starting with Forgiveness

We all have many conflicts in our lives.  Some marriages are destroyed by serious conflicts that aren't resolved. Friendships end and family relationships are damaged because of resentments and hurt feelings.  Relationships in business, school and politics, as well as between neighbors are damaged or ended because of anger and resentments that aren't resolved.

When people get divorced, there are often continuing resentments, hurt feelings and anger even after the divorce is final.  We all know the result of that:  arguments, fighting over issues big and small, stress and continuing bad feelings. 

Keep in Mind:  Fighting--Bad,   Peace--Good.

That's pretty simplistic, but it's true.  I have seen many people continue pointless fighting because one or both of the parties can't let go.  It's costly and it's stressful.  Most people continue their fights by filing motions and going to court  or by acting in ways that will obviously trigger the other side to file something and go to court.

Forgiving and living peacefully will make life less stressful.  That means, among other things, lower blood pressure and a healthier life. It will also save money from being spent on attorneys and court.

Happier parents = happier kids!  It's so obvious, it shouldn't need to be said. For parents who are concerned about their children's best interests, fighting is the last thing they would consider.

So, how do you move from anger to forgiveness?  I'd like to say, "Simple" and then give you a simple, effective way to do that, but I can't. Here are some things I can suggest.

1.  Let a little time pass.  Wounds heal and anger often subsides.  Also, as the parties get used to changes, the problems sometimes will diminish.

2.  Go to a counselor.  There are many different kinds of counselors and they charge different rates.  As a cheaper alternative to a professional counselor, you can talk with a minister, rabbi, priest, or other religious-oriented counselor, and they should be able to talk with you about the importance of forgiveness.

3.  Use Collaborative Law to work out remaining issues.  If the issues are significant, you may want to use attorneys and an MHP to work out solutions for the problems.

4.  Use social workers who work with the Court.  Many larger counties, such as Tarrant County, have a Domestic Relations Office with social workers who are trained to help resolve issues, even post-divorce, regarding children.

5.  Take a co-parenting class with your ex.  Your attorney or counselor can help you find appropriate classes, and some are online now.  If both parties take the classes, they can be very helpful.

Hopefully, if you are caught up in conflict, you can break free and help yourself by showing forgiveness.  It will help you and your whole family.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

What are Your Divorce Options?

If you are looking to get a divorce, there are many decisions to be made.  Among them are the type of process you will use.  Yes, there's more than one way to get a divorce.

1st Decision:  Lawyer or No Lawyer?
Hopefully, you will go see a lawyer and get advice, but you do have the option of representing yourself.  While there are free or low-cost forms available to do your own divorce, you should carefully consider your decision.  There are some circumstances where it is difficult to afford to hire an attorney, but I do recommend that you find a way to hire one unless yours is a very short marriage and you have no children and no significant property.

2nd Decision:  You have a range of processes for handling divorces.  How do you want to approach this?
  • Kitchen table.  At one end, there is negotiation around the kitchen table, a very informal way of coming to agreements.  In some cases, that works out well -- short marriages, no kids, few assets and a civil relationship between the parties. Hopefully, both parties know all the financial facts and understand them.
  • Mediation. Another option is mediation, with or without attorneys.  I have seen enough non-attorney agreements to believe that you really need to have an attorney present at the mediation or at least the advice of an attorney throughout the process.  Otherwise, the result may be appealing but not workable. 
  • Litigation.  This is the default approach where the parties file suit and go to court.  They have temporary orders hearings and go through a formal Discovery process to request, receive and exchange information and documents.There are often multiple hearings and various pleadings generated.  Eventually, if the case doesn't settle by discussions between the attorneys, it will usually go to mediation.  If that fails to settle the case, trial is the final step.
  • Collaborative Law. Finally, there's Collaborative Law where the parties each have attorneys and agree to not go to court.  Instead, they conduct a series of meetings and work with a neutral therapist and neutral financial expert. The parties work cooperatively with the experts and their attorneys to gather any information needed and then work out agreements based on their specific needs. A lot of the preliminary work is done by the neutral experts which saves money and produces quality results.
How do you decide which process to try?  Talk with an attorney and figure out what best meets your needs and abilities. Be aware that some attorneys don't do Collaborative Law and they may try to steer you away from it.  Make sure you are meeting with a Family Law attorney who actually handles Collaborative cases. You can ask how many Collaborative cases the attorney has handled and when the attorney has attended training for Collaborative Law.

While Collaborative may not work for everyone, if the attorney tries to talk you out of using it, go to a different attorney for a second opinion. You may decide to not use Collaborative Law, but you should at least get good information when you are deciding.

Keep in mind that there's no single right answer on how to proceed.  Do yourself a favor by researching processes and attorneys ahead of time, if you can.  Think about how you want the divorce to end up, and then choose the best process to meet your objectives.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

What if You Don't Like the Judge's Ruling?

When you turn your case over to a Judge for a ruling, there's about a 50-50 chance that you will be disappointed or upset by the result.  No matter how right you believe you are, the Judge may see things differently and rule against you.  After years of experience, I think I'm pretty realistic, but I still get surprised when a Judge's ruling is issued.

So,what can you do if you don't like the Judge's ruling? Here are three of my rules to think about.

Rule #1:  Don't tell the Judge.  Some people get incensed by the unfairness,  baselessness or stupidity  of the Judge's decision and they want to immediately speak up and argue with the Judge.  That works about as well as arguing with a baseball umpire or a referee in football or basketball.  It's not going to change the result and could get you thrown out of the game (held in contempt and sent to jail).  Let your attorney handle it!

Rule #2:  Be able to handle adversity.  Remember the old Rolling Stones song, "You Can't Always Get What You Want"? That's a true statement that people in the midst of a divorce often forget.  Judges have a lot of discretion on most issues in a divorce.  There are no guarantees of outcome when you go to court. Judges almost never rule 100% for one side.  Be prepared to lose some issues. If you get an adverse ruling, your lawyer can help you figure out the best way to handle it.

Rule #3:  Maybe you can still get what you need.  (Again, from the  Rolling Stones.)  You may have to make the best of the situation, and maybe that will turn out to be enough.  Usually, there's more than one way to do things and your attorney can help you figure out alternatives. Your new plan may not be as nice and easy as what you envisioned, but you can make it work.  Don't be discouraged.  Just keep thinking of other ways to meet your needs.

Generally, it's better to work out agreements outside of court.  If you get stuck and have to go to court, be prepared for things to not go your way.  Let your attorney take the lead and be willing to try new ways to meet your needs.  Good luck!

Monday, February 22, 2016

How to Avoid Financial Mistakes in Divorce

If you are facing a divorce and are worried about how you will come out financially, you are not alone!  Most people who think about their future want to make sure that the divorce process works to protect them from being taken advantage of and from missing out on something they are entitled to have.

Karen Covy has an excellent blog and website  that discuss various aspects of getting divorced. In a recent post, she wrote about "10 Financial Mistakes in Divorce You Don't Want to Make".  She listed 10 important issues and it turns out that  Collaborative Law is an effective process to address each of them.  Here are her issues:

1.  "Not taking the time to do an accurate post-divorce budget BEFORE you settle!" 
We normally use a neutral financial professional for both parties and one of the standard steps is to prepare a budget for each party for after the divorce.  That helps everyone address the needs of each party as we work out a financial agreement.

2.  "Not insisting on getting all of your (and your spouse's) financial documents."  In Collaborative cases, we start with getting the current statements for all financial accounts and then get any other prior statements that are really needed.  We don't request statements just to request them.

3.  "Not getting assets valued."  If an asset, like a house, business or painting (or anything else) needs to be valued, we get a neutral expert for both parties to do the valuation.  If it doesn't matter or if the parties agree on the value, we don't spend the money to get a valuation.

4.  "Not looking at (and understanding!) all of your financial documents."  One of the great benefits of Collaborative Law is having the neutral financial professional who gathers, studies and organizes the financial records.  Either party can discuss the finances and get help understanding them.  The finances are also discussed extensively in joint sessions.

5.  "Relying on your lawyer to do everything."  In Collaborative cases, we make sure the parties are very active and participating in the preparation and in the discussions at joint meetings.  Most often, we have the parties meeting, without the lawyers present, with the mental health professional on children's issues and with the financial professional on financial issues.  There is a lot of work done without the lawyers being present.

6.  "Not understanding how taxes will affect your support and settlement."  We also discuss taxes and can arrange for a neutral tax expert if specialized knowledge is necessary. When we discuss alimony and property division, taxes are always a consideration.

7."Forgetting about the long term."  Collaborative professionals are very aware of the long-term implications of the negotiations and we can do projections into the financial future.  Considerations for retirement income are always very important.

8.  "Not thinking about insurance."  We look at insurance as an asset and also as a safeguard.  Insurance can be considered in the context of a long-term plan, but it's also the back-up for financial obligations that may continue after the death of a party.

9.  "Sacrificing your own financial security for your children." We try to be as realistic as possible in working out agreements.  There are many different ways to pay for the children's expenses and Collaborative Law provides more flexibility than Litigation does.  It is possible to protect your own financial needs while making sure the kids are provided for.

10. "Making settlement decisions out of exhaustion."  In Collaborative cases, we have a series of meetings, usually an hour and a half to two hours long.  In mediation in Litigation cases, the sessions are usually a half day or a whole day, which can be exhausting.  In court, you are likely to spend a half day to several days or a week.  Collaborative Law provides a safe, measured process without the pressure to get everything done at once.

Bottom Line:  If you have serious financial concerns, be sure to investigate Collaborative Law.  Talk with an experienced Collaborative lawyer.  You should get a second opinion if an attorney mentions Collaborative Law on a web site, but then spends the consultation time trying to talk you out of using the process.  With a lawyer like that, be sure to ask how many Collaborative cases the attorney has actually handled.  Before you decide, talk with a real Collaborative attorney.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Starting Over After 50

There seems to be a lot of discussion about people over 50 years old getting divorced now.  Of course, there are a lot of Baby Boomers who are still alive and in relationships.
  • Many of them are suddenly facing a divorce they hadn't planned on.  
  • The flip side is that many Boomers have finally decided to go forward on the divorce they kept thinking about, but which they just couldn't face.  
  • And some couples in second or third marriages are also facing divorce as they pass 50 years of age.
All of these people face somewhat similar circumstances.  If you find yourself in such a situation, here are some suggestions to help you get through the process.

1.  Shock or relief.  The first stage, after at least one spouse decides to leave the marriage, is shock, if the other spouse somehow isn't expecting it, or relief, if the spouses have been discussing the decision openly until one or both commit to ending the marriage.  It's a difficult decision for so many reasons.  Once that decision is made, both parties need a little time to let it sink in.

2.  Fear.  A common second emotion is fear about the future.  Past plans come undone.  Finances get stretched thin and new arrangements need to be made. The need to work may put off retirement and will affect spending.  Relationships with grown and nearly-grown children may change and will probably be a little awkward for a while.  So many things that are taken for granted suddenly have to be changed.  There's a lot to be concerned about.

3.  Recognizing opportunities.  With the changes comes some new freedom to change course and try something new. Most people at 50 will still have 30-40 more years to live. You can move to a different job or another town or a new neighborhood.  You might downsize and streamline your life.  New hobbies and activities are possibilities.  You can also make new friends.

4.  Start with small changes.  With so many new and different directions you can take, don't go crazy and completely start over.  Generally, you will be more comfortable with adding small changes at first and then making bigger changes as you get used to new arrangements.  Everyone needs some stability which can come from some carryover aspects of your life.  Especially -- Don't rush out and get remarried.  Take your time and get to know the person.  There's plenty of time!

5.  Expand your horizons.  Use this opportunity to try completely new things that maybe you couldn't do while you were married.  You don't have to re-create your old married life.  Try some new interests and make some new friends.  Take some classes.  Reconsider your assumptions about how you want to live your life.  This could be the beginning of an interesting new life.  If you don't want to do a lot of new things, you still can have a fresh start to some old activities.

One other thought:  If you are facing divorce after 50, you should look into using the Collaborative Law process for a civilized, less-destructive divorce.  Be sure you talk to a trained Collaborative attorney who actually handles Collaborative cases.  Collaborative Law won't work in every case, but it will in a great number of them.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Are You Ready to File?

With the holidays behind us, you may be ready to file for divorce.  Of course, it's one thing to be emotionally ready and another to actually file.  Here are some practical considerations if you think you are ready to file for divorce.

1.  Decide on the timing.  You have already made it through the holiday season and that's usually a good idea.  Now, you need to think about whether you have your life in order.  Do you have a job?  Do you have money available to pay for the divorce?  Do you have information on the finances?  Do you have your personal effects secured so that they don't happen to "disappear" later?  Have you planned where you would live and how you would pay your bills? It's important to plan ahead for many different issues.  Don't start until you are ready.

2.  Decide on the process.  You need to know that, even though every divorce must be filed at the courthouse, you can work through reaching the final terms in a variety of ways.  In extremely rare cases (when both parties are friendly, knowledgeable and cooperative), you can just negotiate directly with your spouse and reach agreements.  At the other end of the spectrum is the standard litigated divorce, which is often the most contentious and expensive approach.  In between is the relatively new process of Collaborative Law in which the parties work out an agreement through a series of meetings out of court.  You can read up on the options and you should probably talk to a trained and experienced Collaborative lawyer.

3.  Find and meet with an attorney.  Although many people are opting for the "do it yourself" approach, that is probably not your best bet if you have children or assets, including retirement plans, real estate or investments, among other things.  Unless you have had an extremely short marriage or you have no assets, you probably should at least meet with a lawyer.  My suggestion would be to meet with an experienced Collaborative Law attorney to find out your full range of options.

Good luck getting started!