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!