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!

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.