Monday, December 28, 2009

Staying Ahead of the Curve: 12 Proactive Steps To Take If You Are Contemplating Divorce

I always recommend reading Sam Hasler's Indiana Divorce and Family Law Blog. He is a good source for staying current on family law issues because he writes insightful and interesting posts and also comments on posts he reads on other blogs. He recently wrote about a post he read in the Minnesota Divorce and Family Law Blog that is really appropriate for this time of year. At the same time that many people are making their New Year Resolutions, many other people are deciding to initiate divorce action. I often see a rise in divorce filings in January and February. People get through the holidays and then decide it's time to end their marriage.

For those who find themselves about to start on a divorce, the Minnesota blog has a great post with suggestions on how to prepare. The situations that Jason Brown mentions in his post occur all the time in Tarrant County divorces, and the need to plan ahead seems universal. Here's Jason's excellent article.

"Once you break the news of your desire to dissolve your marriage, interesting things may start happening at your house. Critical records and valuable items of personal property may suddenly vanish. It pays to be proactive to ensure that you have all the information you will need to move forward as efficiently as possible.

"The wasted time and cost associated with hunting down missing documentation can be staggering. We've handled cases where everything from an expensive diamond ring to boxes of business records have taken a bit a 'vacation.' We almost always find them, but not without substantial effort. In cases where they are not found, the Court will impose substantial sanctions and assume the missing evidence is favorable to you.

"To help avoid the mess, we've assembled a list of 12 things you should gather to ensure that you have all of critical information in hand before your spouse has a chance to conceal, transfer or sell items. These include obtaining:

"Copies of financial statements;
Copies of tax returns;
Copies of computer hard drives;
Copies of insurance policies;
Copies of wills and/or trusts;
Inventory of safety deposit boxes, with a witness;
Copies of deeds and/or titles to real property;
Copies of small business ledgers, financial journals, payroll, sales tax returns and expense account records;
Copies of appraisals for art, antiques, jewelry and collectibles;
Record the contents of each room in your home through video;
Copies of retirement account statements; and
Copies of your spouse's pay stubs for the last few months.

"Investing some time in gathering these items will ensure that your spouse cannot take advantage of you during the divorce process. The denial of the existence of an asset is a fraud upon the Court. Once your spouse knows that we have all of the key information in hand, they are far less likely to engage in bad faith conduct and [more likely to] be honest in their disclosures throughout the process."

I can't exaggerate the importance of taking time in advance and copying or gathering all these records. Much of your likelihood of success depends on the information you have. What you believe the facts to be is not nearly as important as what facts you can prove. Having these records will greatly improve your chances of proving the facts to your judge or convincing everyone in negotiations that you are correct and are prepared to try the case, if settlement fails. And that's the best position to be in.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

7 Ways to Wreck Your Kids' Holidays

Even with the bad economy, there's plenty to celebrate and enjoy this time of the year. But sometimes people are just miserable because of holiday stress and family issues. If you have children, this can be a great time of the year. If you have children and are divorced, this might still be a great time or it can be really difficult.

While you can (if you take responsibility and try) control your own feelings and attitudes, many people don't do it and let themselves get swept up in various holiday dramas. We can't control what an ex-spouse feels, says or does, and that sometimes leads to problems at this time of the year. On top of that, there's a natural feeling of disappointment when you can't be with your kids at certain times during the holidays.

Parents have
a variety of attitudes about sharing or not sharing their kids, particularly around holidays. Their attitudes range from very considerate to insensitive to indifferent to the concerns of others, and even to being antagonistic toward others. Some people seem to thrive on conflict. Other people want to avoid conflict. If you're one of those who wants to avoid wrecking the holiday season, here are some quick tips on what you should avoid so you don't ruin it for yourself, your kids and other family members and friends.

What Not to Do:
  • Make last-minute changes in your plans. You can create more havoc and hard feelings if you try to change the arrangements after everyone else has their plans made and travel schedule booked. Ignoring the other parent's plans will certainly create a great opportunity for conflicting plans. Trying to be cooperative well in advance of the holidays is the best way to deal with planning.
  • Be inflexible if the other parent requests a change in the schedule. Things do come up that require new plans. Some parents insist on following the court's order without variation, when the other parent is asking for a favor. Such parents later inevitably have situations arise later that necessitate a change in the schedule. If they haven't been kind to their ex-spouse, they may not be able to convince that ex-spouse when the shoe's on the other foot.
  • Be inflexible and demanding if you request a change in plans. If you are working under a court-ordered schedule, you can change it by agreement or by going to court and convincing a judge. Which do you think is quicker and cheaper? If you think that you can always have your way on visitation issues, you will quickly learn otherwise.
  • Argue in front of the kids about the plans. Mature parents understand the need to keep kids out of adult issues. Arguing and negotiating a holiday schedule should not be done in front of the kids.
  • Short-change the kids, but blame the other parent. If you choose to not let the kids have or do a certain thing, such as attend a family party, don't blame your ex-spouse. If you are convinced that the decision is the right thing, then notify the kids in an age-appropriate way and don't criticize the other parent.
  • Criticize the other parent and the other side of the family. There are many times when a parent is very tempted to make fun of, or put down, the ex-spouse and his or her family. Some people even claim that such criticism is acceptable because it is "the truth". It's not necessary to investigate the truthfulness of the statements, because that's not the real issue. Even "truth" can be hurtful. The concern is that such critical statements are damaging to the children because they realize that they come half from each parent. They likely will take that criticism personally.
  • Compete against the former spouse for the love and affection of the kids. Don't try to provide the best gifts, the best parties or best trips. Children have plenty of love to share and there's just no need to wage a battle over the children.
What to do

Some people are interested in avoiding the drama and conflict during the holidays. If you are one of those, here's some things you can do to improve your chances of having a happy holiday season.
  • Keep a good relationship all throughout the year with your ex-spouse. You may have to hold your tongue occasionally, but the kids will respect you for it and you will have a better chance of getting any needed schedule adjustments or favors that you request.
  • Be flexible and be willing to compromise. There are two sides to everything. Keep in mind that you can accomplish more through cooperation than through battle. And your kids will appreciate a reasonable and realistic relationship between their parents.
  • Demonstrate mature behavior for kids. This will help your children learn to deal with adversity and it will help earn their respect.
  • Listen and think before you speak out. Don't just blurt out an emotional response in discussions with your ex-spouse. Take a deep breath, listen to what your ex is saying and then think through your response before you answer. It will help avoid a lot of hurt feelings.
Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Be Careful What You Say, Text and Write!

At the risk of bringing up a subject that many people are already tired of, the recent highly-publicized woes of a famous golfer clearly illustrate some of the issues I have written about before. As most people who have been paying attention are aware, Tiger Woods' predicament revolves around extra-marital relationships that appear to have been substantiated by his own texting and voice mails.

We will probably see and hear more in the coming weeks and months, but there has already been quite a bit of publicity about some text messages and voice mail. It's hard for Tiger to deny what's spoken, not just in his own words, but by his own mouth. When voice mails are saved, they can become evidence in court or in court cases.
And the texting seems to add further proof.

Tiger's image and reputation are taking quite a hit and it looks like the controversy will end up costing him some of his endorsement income. There's a lot of money that is at stake.

I have previously written (here and here) about how emails, texts and voice mail can be and are used in court. It's powerful evidence.

The lesson is clear. Always remember that anything you write or say or do may be recorded and then presented in court. Make sure that you say and do appropriate things that you would not mind showing up in court or in the public media. Think before you speak or write.

Even if you are not Tiger Woods, there will always be people who will use your words and images against you, if you give them the opportunity. It's your decision. Think before you speak, write or act.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Five Quick Lessons from Tiger's Crash

It is pretty hard to ignore the firestorm surrounding Tiger Woods, and I won't, but maybe we can all take some positives from his situation. Here are some lessons that we can all try to remember and apply if we ever get into a family crisis. I'm not here to defend one side or the other, or to determine exactly what the facts were. Instead, I suggest that we use this as an opportunity to learn and to think about how we might act if faced with any crisis.

Lesson 1: If you realize you are involved in a seriously escalating argument, leaving is often the best strategy. Let both sides cool off. Avoid physical contact or threats. Let a little time pass before you re-contact the person. If you leave, drive carefully.

Lesson 2:
Apologies may help. A sincere acknowledgement of fault and request for forgiveness may help avoid escalation. It's not a free pass, but it can help minimize the damage.

Lesson 3:
Practice forgiveness. If you think you are the victim, at some point you have to decide whether to wipe out a relationship or salvage it. You should think carefully about it. If you see reasons to continue a relationship, then you may need to be forgiving. That doesn't mean there are no consequences for bad behavior. It just means that there are limits to the consequences.

Lesson 4: Remember there are always at least two sides to every story and every argument. It's very rare that all the fault lies on one side of the issue. Be ready to accept some responsibility. It helps to try to put yourself in the other person's shoes for a while to try to understand their point of view.

Lesson 5: Think carefully before you start telling the world, or the local police or press about what is going on in your personal life. Even a dull story may become prominent on a slow news day. Think before you speak. No matter how bad the other person has been, you may gain more by keeping control over the dissemination of news. If it is a serious situation, it would be a good time to consult with an experienced lawyer for evaluation and advice. Don't try to do everything on your own. With all the new media outlets, news can spread unbelievably fast. Get some advice before you go public.

People in difficult relationships probably spent a lot of time thinking how they would react if they had been in a situation similar to the one faced by Tiger and his wife. If you might get caught up in something like that, it would be a good idea to try to think ahead to the various consequences of your behavior and to consider your options. Better safe than sorry!