Monday, December 20, 2010

Getting a "Quiet" Divorce

There are quiet divorces and then there are the ones you hear too much about -- the celebrities with their binges and affairs caught on film, tape and the Internet, and your friends and relatives who go through the gauntlet fighting against all odds against the most overbearing spouse imaginable. You hear the horror stories all the time, but it doesn't have to be that way.

Collaborative Law is one way to have a quiet, peaceful and civilized divorce or resolution to another family law issue, but sometimes you can have a low-key litigation experience if the parties show maturity and stability to cooperate to end or change a relationship that isn't working. Many people start out with almost everything agreed. They may not need the full menu of legal services employed to work through a difficult and contentious divorce.

If you and your spouse are on fairly good terms and want to work together informally, Collaborative Law may be a good option, but it may not be needed in some less complex or mostly-settled cases. If you are in that situation, you should talk to an attorney about the following:

  • Use minimal pleadings and don't make inflammatory allegations. You don't have to have a temporary restraining order or a temporary hearing. Discuss the situation with your attorney and determine the minimum that is needed.
  • Insist on limiting your court appearances. You may not even need to appear in court to get the final decree signed.
  • You don't necessarily need a deposition taken of your spouse, especially if everything is worked out.
  • Likewise, you don't need formal, written discovery. Attorneys have numerous ways of gathering and sharing information.
  • You can control the timetable, if everything is agreed, although there is still a 60-day waiting period in Texas.
  • You also control the terms. Most judges will approve agreements made by the parties as long as the terms are written in a way that makes them clear and enforceable.

Not every divorce or family law procedure needs to be handled the same as all others. As the party most affected by the process, you have the right to tell your attorney to limit the steps you follow. Have a frank discussion and make sure that you do not just blindly follow an attorney's advice to do everything a "standard" way. Standard isn't always the best.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Dealing with Depression

I'm no therapist, but...

Unfortunately, depression seems to be becoming more common-place during holidays, especially when there's a divorce or other family law procedure pending or recently completed.

The fact that depression isn't discussed much in most divorce and family law cases doesn't mean that it's not a significant factor in many situations. When people think about, or discuss, how people act during a divorce, it's very common for one or both parties to be described as angry. Sometimes more colorful terms, often describing personality disorders, are tossed about. But aggressive actions by a party often mask an underlying depression.

Depression is an under-treated condition that is actually pretty common in divorces. At different times, almost everyone going through a divorce will experience feelings of depression. The good news is that it's not necessarily a permanent condition and there are some things you can do to minimize or avoid depression. recently had an excellent article entitled "10 No Cost Strategies to Fight Depression". The article wasn't about divorce, but I thought the suggestions were excellent (but remember that I'm no therapist...) and they could very easily apply to the divorce context. Here's what they suggested:
  • Don't blame yourself.
  • Talk about it.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Postpone major decisions.
  • Take care of your health.
  • Maintain a daily routine.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol.
  • Try to sleep well.
  • Don't overschedule.
I would add a corollary: If you think you may be depressed, please tell your lawyer so that s/he can either help you find a counselor or can work out a strategy to compensate for the issue.

The suggestions sound pretty simple, but it is sometimes hard to admit that you are depressed and it may be hard to put aside anger so that you can think rationally. If you sense you are experiencing some symptoms of depression, get help. Seeing a real therapist (not me), staying physically active and maintaining good health can get you started on the road to recovery. Depression usually won't go away by itself. If you avoid treating your depression, it can overcome you and cost you a lot in your divorce or other family law matter. When and if you are depressed, you probably aren't functioning very well and others, maybe including a judge, will notice, and that can affect the outcome of your case.

By the way, even if you aren't depressed and even if you aren't involved in a court case, following the 10 suggestions above will still benefit you by allowing you to be happier and healthier.

If you know of any other effective ways to deal with depression, please add a comment below.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What You Should Tell Your Attorney

Most divorces and other family law issues don't wrap up in one or two or three months. Unfortunately, the issues involve complicated and changing facts that take time to uncover and understand. Attorneys and clients must work together closely and communicate well, and that usually happens. In a surprising number of cases, however, some highly relevant information is not conveyed to the attorney.

Some Matters That Should Be Disclosed to Your Attorney
  • You are buying or selling a house, or if you are moving.
  • You are having surgery.
  • You lost or will lose your job, or you are starting a new job, or your pay has changed.
  • You are getting counseling, or you stopped or never started counseling that was ordered by the court or expected by your attorney.
  • Your arrest or criminal history.
  • You are dating or have a boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • You have a roommate.
  • There has been a significant financial change.
  • You have been served with legal papers.
  • You are being threatened with litigation.
  • You have had an argument, or made an agreement, with your spouse.
  • You plan to dispose of some of your assets or your spouse's assets.
That is not a complete list. When in doubt, tell your attorney.

Problems The lack of communication can result in problems when the news comes out, which it inevitably does. Some of the results can include:
  • Violations of court orders that could have been avoided. Timely notice to the attorney might have enabled the attorney prevent the action or minimize the impact.
  • The client's attorney being caught unprepared in a hearing when the issue is brought out in front of the judge. It is usually better to volunteer the unflattering information instead of leaving the impression that you are trying to hide something.
  • The other party or other attorney becoming upset because of the unilateral action. That often can be prevented or minimized. When the other party is upset, you can count on less willingness to be reasonable or settle on other issues.
Why don't clients inform their attorneys?

Attorneys sometimes have a hard time understanding why their clients don't tell all. In reality, there are many different reasons why it can occur. A few of them are:
  • Embarrassment. Clients are human, too. They don't want their attorney to think badly of them. They may hope that no one else discover the silly or stupid or malicious thing they did. Unfortunately, word almost always gets out.
  • Avoidance. A client may fear the response or rebuke that is expected when a course of action is proposed. They want to avoid the unpleasant experience, so they just don't talk about it.
  • Not thinking. Some clients just don't think it matters if they do certain things or they forget about some things. It's no big deal to them.
  • Desire to save money. Clients know that it costs them to talk to their attorneys, so they decide to save the up front attorney's fee costs, not thinking that the situation can turn into a bigger problem.
  • Secrecy. They may fear that the attorney will tell. Sometimes, clients know something is wrong, but they want to do it anyway. To protect themselves, at least in the short term, they try to hide the action from their attorney. But, the facts will usually come out anyway.
What's the Solution? Talk to your attorney and let him/her figure out how to best handle difficult or embarrassing facts. Let your attorney advise you on what actions to take or to avoid. It's really pretty simple.