Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Announcing the "Getting Started" Series of Posts

In the month of January 2012, I will have a series of short posts on getting started on a divorce. The topics will include the following:

1. When should I file?

2. Who should I see? How to choose an attorney.

3. What information will I need?

4. What should I expect?

5. How much will it cost? Hint -- there won't be a specific amount.

6. Should I use litigation or Collaborative Law?

7. How do we tell the kids?

January is one of the busiest times of the year for divorce attorneys. Many people stay together through the holidays and then want to file for divorce right away. These posts should provide some basic information to help you prepare for divorce, but they are only a starting point. Be sure to discuss these topics with your attorney as you get started. Watch for the articles to begin in early January 2012.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

When is the Best Time to File for Divorce?

If you are thinking about filing for divorce, one of the obvious questions is about timing. There is no simple, universal answer as to when the best time is to file. Sometimes, couples may think about, and even talk about, divorce for years and then finally decide to take the plunge. Other times, a quick decision is necessary. Here are some considerations to help you decide, if you are approaching that step.

1. When You Need to File. There are several situations that may lead to the conclusion that you "need" to file now.
  • Safety: If there has been family violence or a serious threat of family violence, you should act. The threat doesn't have to be spelled out. Sometimes, it becomes obvious that a situation is about to turn violent. Or, you may hear something from someone else that contains a credible threat or signs of danger. You should always be careful to protect your own safety and the health and safety of your children. That may require you to file for divorce.
  • Protection of Assets: There may be threats or actual steps to hide or dispose of cash, investments or other assets. In some situations, one spouse will remove all or a significant amount of the cash to "protect" it. Sometimes, access to accounts is changed. If any of these actions have occurred, or have been threatened, you should act to get a court to protect your assets. It's hard to get money back, once it's been spent.
  • Preventing Runaways: Unfortunately, kids often become pawns in divorces. A parent may think that he/she will be able to get control or move a divorce to a distant county by running away with the kids. If you file before the runaway, most judges (at least here in Tarrant County) will not allow one parent to move away with the kids without the agreement of the other parent. If a parent has already moved away, you can usually get the kids back to Tarrant County if you file right away.
  • Access to the Kids: Sometimes, after separation, a parent will just refuse to let the other parent see or talk to the kids without a court order. The parent in control often views the kids as possessions and worries more about how to control the other parent than about the kids maintaining good relationships with both parents.

2. When You Want to File. This refers to the situation where one or both parties have carefully thought about whether to try to save the marriage and have reached the decision that it would be better to end it. Often this follows counseling for one or both parties. That counseling will often help the parties accept the decision to separate and divorce, and the counselor can help the parties plan their futures. Filing at this stage is usually a little easier, but sometimes the other parent hasn't progressed to the point of acceptance, so it can still be difficult.

3. Calendar Considerations. This may come up if there is not an emergency. If there are holidays approaching, many people prefer to wait until after the holidays to separate and file. That is especially true if there are children. You may also want to consider the kids' activities and schedules so that you don't separate just before a big test, a performance or an important game, for example. In addition, you should talk with an attorney to find out if there are any other dates or events that could come into play. For example, the courts are really clogged from mid-July to mid-August with change of custody cases. It is hard to get much court time during that period. Experienced attorneys know when the courts are traditionally busy and can help you plan ahead.

Probably the best approach is to consult with an attorney early when you start thinking about divorce. You will probably have a lot of questions you want to ask, but don't forget to discuss timing.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Post-Divorce Paperwork and Actions

When you are going through a divorce, you are probably most concerned with the terms of the property division and the arrangements regarding the kids, if you have children. While those issues are truly life-altering, there are some other details that you shouldn't overlook as you start your recovery from the divorce experience. Your attorney may or may not discuss what you need to do to wrap up the paperwork and loose ends.

In case that doesn't happen, or in case you didn't pay real close attention, here is a checklist of steps for you to consider and take. These are not in order of importance or in chronological order. You can decide what you need to do, or your attorney can help you decide which you should do.

1. Update your life insurance, retirement accounts and IRA beneficiaries. That is especially true if your ex was the beneficiary. You can check with your agent on what you need to do. If you don't make the change, your ex could receive a big payoff someday. If minor children could be the beneficiaries, you should talk with an estate planner to figure out how to handle that.

2. You should re-do your will, and write one now, if you didn't already have one. You probably don't want your ex to be the beneficiary there either.

3. If you change your name, such as resuming your maiden name, you will need to take a certified copy of your divorce decree and make the changes on such things as:
  • Social Security card
  • Driver's license
  • Credit cards
  • Bank accounts and debit cards
  • Insurance policies.

And there could be other accounts in your name, so keep a certified copy handy.

4. Change the car titles. You should get your car in your name and get your ex's vehicles in his/her name and out of yours. In Texas, there is a form that the County Tax Assessor/Collector has for you to fill out when you transfer a car out of your name. It's a good idea to file that so that red light tickets, parking tickets or toll road charges don't come to you after the vehicle is no longer yours, and you don't want to be responsible if someone has an accident in that vehicle after you really don't own it.

5. Close or separate joint bank and credit card accounts. You don't need to remain liable for your ex-spouse's debts or bad financial decisions.

6. If you plan to use COBRA to continue your current insurance policy from your ex-spouse's health insurance plan, be sure to file the paperwork right away. There is a very short window of time to do that. Afterwards, there's no way to get back in. Check with the company as soon as the divorce is final.

7. Exchange personal property and photos with your ex, if that hasn't already been taken care of.

8. Obtain separate auto insurance, if you don't already have it.

9. Change over the accounts and deposits for your home utilities, if that hasn't been done yet.

10. Check with the Post Office to make sure your mail gets delivered to where you live now and that you don't get your spouse's mail.

If you have other suggestions of steps to take, please share them by sending a comment.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Got Skeletons in Your Closet?

During this Halloween season, we often see skeletons as decorations for parties or businesses or for Trick-or-Treaters. We see so many that they usually lose their fright-invoking powers. It's all in fun for a good time.

However, in other contexts, skeletons in a closet can be a real problem.

What are they?
Politicians and public figures worry that bad behavior may be found out any time of the year. It's sometimes said that everyone has some skeleton in their closet -- something that could be embarrassing, illegal or just private, that they wouldn't want other people to know about. Sometimes the skeletons are from current activities or they might be indiscretions from their youth. Hopefully, the skeletons won't be massive or involving major liability in terms of criminal laws or civil damages.

Skeletons in family law contexts
In family law matters, skeletons sometimes come into play. They can be big or small. Quite often, they get built up in someone's mind so that they appear to that person to be huge, when in fact, they are not a big deal at all. On the other hand, some things really are big deals. Arnold had a huge skeleton uncovered when his love child was discovered. Affairs can become not just a skeleton, but an albatross around someone's neck, to mix metaphors. Criminal activities, financial mismanagement and addictions are all serious issues that can have a major impact on divorces and other family law litigation. In most divorces, there's something each side would prefer to keep quiet or, preferably, unknown. But it always seems to get out!

What should you do?
Rule #1: Tell your lawyer. Don't be worried about whether your lawyer won't like you or respect you. Chances are, your attorney has heard and seen much worse. One thing lawyers hate is to be surprised by the other side. Don't let your attorney
first learn about the skeleton by hearing the other side break the news. Prepare your attorney with all the facts. Believe it or not, attorneys can usually put bad news into context and minimize it, if given the chance. If your counsel first hears some bad news as it is being drug out of you, there's not much the lawyer can do for you.

Quick Summary:

Lawyers Don't Like Surprises!

You need to tell your attorney the bad facts as well as the good ones so he/she has a chance to help you. You need to let the skeletons out of the closet.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Using Technology to Stay in Contact*

*A soon-to-be-obsolete checklist of new tools that you can use to stay in touch with your kids and other family member. (Please help by sending your comments with new ideas!)

When families split up, there's always a challenge in staying in contact with each other. Mostly, this is an issue for parents, grandparents and children, but it can also come up when parents are trying to coordinate their activities with their children. For our younger readers, these may not be big news. For the more "experienced" readers, this may provide some new tools to help.

Without further ado, here's a list of 10 relatively new "tools" you can use. I will mention some brand names, but I have no financial connection to any of them. They are simply things I have run across that seemed helpful, not too expensive and easy to work with. These suggestions apply whether the family members live in the same city, across the county, across the state or across the country.

1. An on-line calendar. Google has a calendar that is easily accessible and fairly easy to work with. In addition, there is at least one private company, Our Family Wizard, which provides a calendar that is popular and seems to work well. I'm sure there are several more such calendar systems and there will be even more. Just look around on line to find one you like.

2. Texting. This has become very common-place and is close to universal. It completely eliminates the old need to have scheduled times when children had to be home to receive a phone call from their parents. Instead, we can have frequent, short and more normal contact -- once you learn the abbreviations.

3. Cell phones. Similarly, this eliminates formal phone calls and allows frequent and fun informal contact between parents and children.

4. Email. This is probably better suited to older children and certainly for adults. It is easily eclipsing snail mail, but younger kids may choose other systems for their messages.

5. Skype. You can sign up for this and then have visual phone calls with your family and friends. Most new computers will have a camera, or you can easily find a very inexpensive camera to attach to your computer if it doesn't have one.

6. Blogs. It is easy to create a family blog that is not public. You can have it restricted to only specified people (parents, grandparents, children, cousins, etc.) and restrict the password. On the blog, you and family members could report on trips, events and activities. It could be like an annual holiday newsletter, but updated much more frequently. Different people can be given permission to write on the blog, so you can get a variety of personal perspectives. You can post photos as well. There are a number of free platforms for setting up blogs, including Blogger (Google) and WordPress. They are very easy to set up and require almost no technical knowledge. You would want to carefully protect your privacy with the settings.

7. Photo sharing. There are several photos sharing sites available for free, and you can use Facebook and email. Getting in the habit of taking photos with a cell phone (or a camera) and then immediately sharing them with family can be a great way to stay closely connected.

8. Facebook. You can keep up with current events and photos and you can send direct messages to your Friends. Facebook is very easy to learn and use, although you have to watch out for their frequent changes and you should carefully manage your privacy settings. Also, keep in mind that most of what you post will be visible to a large group of people, so think before you post. Google now has a version, so be prepared to work in both systems.

9. YouTube videos. It is easy to set up a YouTube account for yourself and YouTube has videos explaining how to do almost anything. If you need help understanding or implementing any suggestions in this post, just look for a YouTube video to learn how. You and your family members can post videos of yourselves and others, which can make it easy to keep up with each other.

10. Scan and send. Scanners are cheap and easy to use now, so you can capture photos or documents and then send them by email or post them on various sites. If you need to talk about vacation plans, for example, you can send information this way.

How to Get Started:
For more details on these various options, including how to do it, a good starting place would be YouTube. If you want to read about any of these, use Google or other search engines and look up the key words (the titles of the 10 methods, for example).

Now for Your Part:
Please send your suggestions and new tools to share with others who may be trying to maintain a distant relationship. Many of these ideas are not terribly new, but they are new additions to traditional post-divorce communications. I expect there will always be newer and better ways to communicate and your ideas can help many other people. Please send your comments with suggestions and products you have used or learned about. Thanks for sharing!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Planning Ahead for the Holidays

If you look at a calendar, it's only early October, but if you look in a lot of stores, they are running out of Halloween decorations and have had some Christmas stuff out for quite a while. Stores seem to run on a faster calendar than most of us use.

Nevertheless, this is really a good time to look ahead to the holidays coming up in November and December. While we only recently had our last 100 degree day here in North Texas, it won't be long before the weather cools and family holiday disputes heat up. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to minimize holiday stress in divorced or divorcing families. Here are my suggestions:

1. Start by looking at the court order or agreement. While there are some standardized possession schedules we use in Texas, they are often customized, particularly in temporary orders and in Collaborative Law agreements. Often, the schedules change every other year, so you should begin by confirming which schedule applies this year.

2. Give any notices now that are required. Sure, it's early, but it will help you and other family members to start working on scheduling. There's no harm in giving proper notices 30 or 60 days ahead. It will allow adjustments or corrections, if they are needed.

3. Start making travel plans. We all know that buying tickets early usually gets the best prices. Actually, it might have been better to get your November-December tickets back in August or September. Don't wait any longer for the best deals!

4. Start negotiating early if you need to change the schedule or any details. That allows time for the other side to think about your request and time to make changes before their plans are set in stone. Plus, sometimes it takes a while to negotiate, and this gives you the time you may need.

5. Be willing to adjust your plans around the schedule and needs of the kids and the other parent. Being able to compromise will normally result in a bigger pay-back later. Being unwilling to compromise may result in a big pay-back later of a different kind.

6. Meet with your lawyer early for answers and preparation, if necessary. I can assure you that your lawyer will appreciate an early start before the courts get clogged up with last-minute custody and visitation fights. Going to court early, before the holiday season, will give you a better chance of being heard by a judge who has time to listen to you. Sometimes the courts shut down near the holidays and sometimes they get overwhelmed by hearings. If you have something important to be decided, you want the judge to have the time to give you a good hearing.

7. Whatever schedule you end up following, be sure the kids know about it well in advance. It can be fun just telling the kids about what they will be doing. You can set the tone with positive expectations for the kids by being encouraging no matter whether the kids are with you or the other parent. On the other hand, if the kids are facing doing something that is not their favorite, you can help them get over it so it doesn't ruin the holiday. Be careful how and what you tell the children. Take the high road and help them see the positive side.

Take a little time now to review your situation and make plans for the holidays. That will allow you to have a much more enjoyable and less stressful holiday season!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

7 Tips for Dealing with Debt

Even before the current prolonged economic downturn, many divorces ended up focusing on how to manage the community debt. Some married couples are fortunate and keep debt to a minimum, but a more common scenario is that the marital debt is a significant issue to be addressed either in court or in settlement.

If you are using the Collaborative Law process to resolve a divorce, you will probably work with a neutral divorce financial planner. In litigated divorces, we sometimes bring in a financial planner to work with one side in the case, and sometimes each party hires their own advisor. Working with an expert like that is invaluable in analyzing tax consequences and preparing financial strategies for negotiations or for court.

With or without a financial advisor, here are some suggestions to consider in dealing with debt issues in a divorce.

1. Be realistic. Have an outsider, like a certified divorce financial planner, review your situation and make suggestions. Don't over-commit or be over-optimistic. Your lifestyle will probably be lower post-divorce and it may take a while to get back on your feet. If you're in a hole, plan to take some time to work your way out. Don't try to do it overnight.

2. Go solo and end joint accounts, if possible. Don't pay off and close your individual credit accounts. Make payments, but keep them open. On the other hand, try to close out any joint accounts so that you will not be affected by your ex-spouse's future payment history, or lack thereof. You need to separate your finances, just like you do the other parts of your life.

3. Don't rely on your spouse. It may take you a while to transition to full separation and independence, but you should continuously work for that. Your spouse may have good intentions, but things like a job loss, health problems or a new relationship, among other things, can come along, and suddenly financial performance doesn't match their pre-divorce words. As soon as possible, you need to be independent. Get an expert, if necessary, to help you come up with your own plan.

4. Close out joint bank accounts. For a while, they might be a way for the spouses to show their trust and commitment to each other, but that changes over time. You both need to be independent. There are plenty of ways with electronic banking to make quick payments and transfers, so you don't need joint accounts. Having separate accounts also improves your security and eliminates any temptation to get financial revenge of the spouse.

5. Refinance you mortgage, if you qualify. You can save money, build separate credit and help your ex-spouse rest easier at night. It also gives you more financial privacy.

6. First, pay off the smaller credit cards in your name. You should also continue making payments on all your cards, but concentrate on the smaller ones and knock them off as soon as you can by making extra payments. Generally, it's usually better to keep the cards open after they are paid off.

7. As a last resort, you can consider filing for bankruptcy. For that decision, you should consult with a bankruptcy specialist. Most family law attorneys in North Texas don't handle bankruptcies. Just like you should hire a family law specialist for a divorce, you should look for a bankruptcy specialist to help you evaluate your circumstances. There are serious consequences to filing for bankruptcy, so consider carefully as a last resort.

Divorce can be devastating on finances, but it doesn't have to be. Careful planning, taking a conservative path and getting expert assistance will help you make the right decisions on debts and other financial issues.

For some additional ideas, see an excellent article called, "Know How to Get Debt Free after Divorce" by Amy Lewis in Ben Stevens' South Carolina Family Law Blog (always a good source) from August 8, 2011.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Fighting for Custody in a Paternity Case

Children are born out of wedlock under a variety of circumstances. Sometimes there's a long-term relationship, sometimes a one-night stand. Sometimes the father is involved all the way and sometimes the father isn't informed until months or years after the child's birth. Some fathers choose not to be involved and try to avoid responsibility. Other fathers try to be as involved as the mother will permit. Some unmarried parents work very well together, some don't get along at all, and others can set up a plan and follow it, even when the parents don't really like each other.

Obviously, there are many different circumstances when a child is brought into the world with parents who aren't married. One factor that almost always appears is a court order to officially establish who the father is and then set child support and terms of access to the child. It will also allocate the rights of parents between the two parents. All together, that amounts to a custody determination.

In most cases where a child is born out of wedlock, the child ends up with the mom who has most of the significant parental rights and has the child the majority of the time. The father usually is ordered to pay child support and has visitation rights. In the future, child support and visitation often become repetitive sources of conflict between the parents.

In a few cases, the father of the baby decides to try to win custody of the child. For the fathers who are considering such actions, here are some issues to consider.

1. Do you really want the responsibility that goes with having primary custody? Or do you just want a lot of time with the child? Do you want decision-making powers, or want to share them, or does that matter to you? What are your underlying goals or needs? These are questions you should answer and discuss with your attorney.

2. Are you prepared to take primary care of a child? Do you have the knowledge and experience to be able to deal with your child's needs in an age-appropriate manner? You can certainly learn, but there are a lot of things you will need to do that you may not intuitively know.

3. How do you compare to the other parent on parenting issues? Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. A judge will be evaluating both parents to determine who has the best skills, experience and attitude for taking care of a child. If possible, you should be able to demonstrate your competence as a parent.

4. If you haven't been the primary caregiver, why should the court switch to you? That's really a key question. Even if this may be the first official custody determination for your child, there is a natural tendency to view it as an issue of whether custody should be modified or changed, if one parent has had significant time where she has been the primary or only parent involved. You need to have some powerful reasons why the court should upset the living arrangements. It's not always best to leave a child where he/she has been, but it is common for a judge to start with a preference to not change a stable arrangement.

5. Ultimately, what is in the child's best interest? That is, absolutely, the bottom-line issue. You need to be able to articulate what the child's best interest is and why you are in the best position to help meet your child's actual needs.

If you are considering fighting for custody for a child born out of wedlock, you should think carefully before you start the fight. Try to figure out what your real underlying interests are. Don't get stuck just thinking about possible solutions. What are your strengths and weaknesses? Are you prepared for a tough, expensive and emotional fight? Think and analyze before you act. Get counsel from wise family members and friends, but lean heavily on the advice of an experienced family law attorney who has seen and been involved in such cases in the past.

Remember to look before you leap!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Choosing a Compatible Attorney

Family law litigation is one of the most serious and important activities you can participate in. A few people try to handle such matters without an attorney, but that is generally ill advised. The issues are rarely simple and common sense often isn't enough to navigate through the court system.

If you are facing divorce or other family law litigation, you have to decide either to hire an attorney to assist you or to take a chance on handling the matter yourself. People who haven't worked with lawyers before often struggle in finding the right attorney for their situation. If you are in that situation, here are some tips for choosing the right attorney.

1. Have your objectives in mind. You need to look at the big picture first. In broad terms, what are your needs or concerns? For example, do you want...
  • A fair outcome: property division, custody, visitation or child support terms that are reasonably equal or proportionate.
  • To punish your spouse. You may want retribution if your spouse cheated on you, which could happen in various ways.
  • An easy divorce. You may not want to fight over things.
  • A cheap divorce. You might need to keep the cost as low as possible.
  • A money-is-no-object divorce. For the record, from my point of view, that is virtually always a mistake. People almost always come to their senses and put the brakes on the spending.
  • To slow down. You may not be emotionally ready for divorce and you may want to slow down the process and draw out the procedures.
  • Get it over quickly. You may be ready to finish the divorce even before it's filed. (FYI -- you can't do that.)
  • Need help starting over. You may have accepted the idea of getting a divorce, but you may not be fully prepared for your new life. Maybe you need time, training, income, new job, a place to live, etc. Starting a new life is not easy.
  • A Collaborative divorce. You may want to work with a Collaborative Law team to have a civilized, private divorce where you find creative solutions to your issues. You would need a trained Collaborative lawyer for this.
2. Get recommendations and research on line. Every attorney should have a web site by now. Look for ratings that are available from various source. Check for useful information on the web site about the issues that concern you. Look at their qualifications. Are they Board Certified? How much experience do they have? If the attorney has written anything that is published on line, read it to get a feel for the attorney. Do you like what you read?

3. Meet with one or more attorneys. Have a clear idea of what outcome you are looking for. Write down questions in advance and take them with you. Observe whether the attorney listens to you or just talks about himself or herself. Make sure there's good chemistry. Do you feel comfortable with the attorney? Make sure the attorney fees are compatible with your budget as well.

  • There are many good attorneys available with different pricing and different approaches. You won't hurt the attorney's feelings if you choose someone else. You have the right to choose whomever you want. You don't have to choose the first one you see or hear about. Shop around. It's OK to interview several and then decide.
  • Make sure the attorney's approach is consistent with what you want. You probably shouldn't hire an attorney who listens a little and then starts telling you what you want.
  • Make sure the chemistry feels right. The intangible factors can make a big difference. If something doesn't feel right, go with that feeling. Likewise, if you feel very comfortable with an attorney, that's a good reason to hire that one.
Finding an attorney who is compatible with you is a key element in obtaining the best possible outcome for you in family law litigation.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Starting Over Later in Life

A common situation for some people, especially Baby Boomers, going through a Collaborative or litigated divorce is the need for one spouse to re-join the workforce. Often, although not always, the wife is suddenly facing the need to earn a living after years of being a stay-at-home mom and raising children. Sometimes she has work experience from years ago, but that is often outdated or she may have lost interest or connection with that career. As a result, the out-of-the-workforce spouse must face the daunting task of reinventing herself in the workplace so she can be self-supporting. Unfortunately, there seems to be little guidance readily available to help people in that situation, and "the law" doesn't provide much help, other than alimony, which is usually pretty limited.

So, what should someone do facing that challenge? There are so many unknowns involved, it would be helpful to break up your efforts into small steps. And don't just jump to the end. Work through the process so you know where you are going and know it's the right direction. Here are some ideas:

How to Start a New Career

1. Know yourself. Make an inventory of yourself. Analyze your skills, experience, interests, strengths and weaknesses, tolerance for risk, willingness to be self employed or to work for someone else, training, hobbies, income requirements, comfort with technology and the amount of time available for working. Sometimes, it even helps to ask close friends or relatives what they think might be appropriate for you. They may have some very perceptive observations that would be helpful. You could also see a counselor who can help you identify skills and interests.

2. Research possibilities. Look into various industries and jobs that might fit with your skills, experience or interest. Figure out where some appropriate jobs might be located and what the requirements would be for you to do that work. Will you need training or certification or other qualifications? Is a college degree required? You need to create a target -- the type of job, location, pay, hours, etc. -- so you will know what you are looking for. It will also help you figure out where to look for your job. A counselor may also be able to point you to some resources.

3. Improve yourself. There will always be some things that you can or should do to improve yourself to be more marketable and more productive at work. Here are some ideas:

Research first. Find out what you need to learn and then arrange to get the training. Don't wait until you apply for the job. Get the training now so you will be more marketable.

Be an Intern. That's usually an unpaid position, but the real payoff is in knowledge and experience which might make the difference in getting a job. Find positions in your chosen industry and volunteer to start out for free to get some experience. Sometimes those positions turn into job offers. Even if they don't, you may get a reference or connections or learn how to find a job in the industry.

Get counseling. Work with a counselor or a life coach to make sure you are on the right path and to shore up an deficiencies you may have. You might need help setting priorities or goals, or you may need help getting organized. Sometimes, it just helps to be accountable to someone else who can gently nudge you when you need it.

Get a mentor. Find someone in the industry or someone more experienced who you can contact whenever you need some guidance. It really helps to have an insider on your side.

Volunteer. If you have some free time, volunteer to help an organization that you believe in. You will feel better and it is one more thing to put on your resume. It's much better than just sitting around, and you might make some connections that may lead to a job.

4. Promote yourself. There are many things you can do to promote yourself.
You will need a resume. It should be appropriate to the industry you are interested in. Get some guidance from a counselor, coach or mentor. Research what the prospective employer is used to. Formats and content may vary widely between industries. You want to stand out, but in a good way.

Network everywhere. Talk to everyone about your quest. Join groups. There may be a study group or some other organization of people looking for jobs in your area. Create a group, if necessary. Talking with family and friends and others may lead to the connection you need.

Use social media, if you are comfortable with it. If you don't know much about it, do some research online and learn how things work. (You can always talk to your kids or nephews or nieces.) Sign up for LinkedIn which has become a significant resource for finding jobs or finding employees. You can have a resume on it for free. It's a great way to connect with friends and make new friends. Twitter can also be a way to watch for job openings and to promote yourself. Facebook, if used carefully, can be a good way to reconnect with old friends -- it's networking online. Google + is new, but it will compete with Facebook and will probably also be a good tool for networking. If you have some knowledge about your desired field, you could blog about it and that might be very helpful in raising your visibility.

5. Get your head on straight. Getting started on such a life-changing effort is daunting. If you don't break it down into manageable steps and put deadlines on yourself, it may be very easy to not follow through and to get frustrated with a lack of progress. That is especially the case if you glance over your shoulder and look at the image of the life your spouse is living with his or her established position in contrast to how you are struggling. Instead of looking backward, look forward and picture your goal of a meaningful, productive and rewarding job. Be realistic and remember that you won't get it overnight and it will take some time to build a career. Don't try to do it all alone. Work with someone else for accountability and reassurance.
You may have noticed that this article doesn't provide a quick solution to finding a job when you are starting over later in life. Instead, I have provided a series of steps that can greatly improve your chances of finding the job you want and need. Don't take shortcuts. Get help from others and be flexible. Good luck!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

10 Tips for Enhancing Your Relationship with Your Attorney

Hiring an attorney and joining in litigation (or Collaboration) is a serious matter. I, and others, have written about how to choose an attorney to hire. After you have crossed that threshold, both you and your attorney should work to maintain a good working relationship.

In the interest of better serving clients, here is a list of 10 tips for keeping and improving your relationship with your legal representative.

1. Listen to your attorney. Pretty much, you should tune out your family and friends who are offering their best legal advice for you. Your attorney is better qualified and more experienced.

2. Follow the attorney's advice. Lawyers don't enjoy trying to help someone who won't follow their advice.

3. If you disagree with your attorney, speak up.
If you think the attorney is wrong, speak up and have a discussion. If you think the attorney is wrong too often, change attorneys.

4. Pay your bills on time. You wouldn't work for free. Your attorney doesn't like to work for free. Attorneys have overhead and living expenses, just like you and other business people.

5. Follow the court's order. You really make your life and your attorney's life more difficult if you ignore or violate court orders. If you don't like the order, talk to your attorney.

6. Don't expect your attorney to be a therapist. In Tarrant County, we actually have one very good attorney who is also a very good therapist, but that is a unique situation. You can't expect your attorney to solve your emotional issues, but the attorney can refer you to someone for therapy, as needed.

7. Be on time and get stuff done on time. Time limits are often very important in litigation. There can be major problems if you miss deadlines. Do your part to make sure things are done on time.

8. Have a clear picture of what you want. Of course, that's easy for me to say. In reality, you probably need to talk with your attorney to formulate what your goals and needs are, but your attorney needs to know what you are aiming for.

9. Don't listen to family and friends. Please. They mean well, but they don't know all the facts of your case, and the experience they draw on is different from your situation.

10. Remember -- every divorce is different. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. You need to work closely with your attorney to plan and carry out your course of action. Don't assume that what happened in a friend's divorce will work in yours!

If you follow these suggestions, you should have a good relationship with your attorney. Good luck.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Zen, Running and Divorce -- Life Lessons

There is an interesting blog, unrelated to divorce or family law, that I like to read that's always full of thought-provoking posts. Yesterday's post in the Zen Habits blog, "Ten Life Lessons from a Reluctant Runner" was about life lessons related to running, but I immediately applied the lessons to divorce situations. I liked the article initially because I am a runner (disclaimer: I admit I'm not fast), but I thought the lessons from running could easily translate into ideas to help ease the stress of dealing with divorce and other family law issues.

I invite you to read the original post. Even if you're not a runner, you can probably appreciate her view of life. For this post, I am taking her lessons and applying them in another context. See if this makes sense to you.

"1. Sometimes things that suck are also awesome." Ever hear the phrase, "behind every cloud, there's a silver lining"? It's often hard to see the silver lining when you go through a divorce or other family law conflict, but change often leads to improvement, even though it's painful at the time. Being forced to confront your financial situation may help you plan better for the future and even change course to look for better opportunities.

"2. It's all mental." I don't know that I would agree that a divorce is 100% mental, but how you approach a situation mentally sure does have a major impact on whether it is upsetting to you or doesn't bother you. People really can choose how they will react to difficult situations. Focusing on the negative and thinking about how terrible you have it will not be helpful. It is much better to be looking forward.

"3. There's a discernible difference between pain and discomfort." Some things are major pains and require a re-analysis and new direction. Most things are more at the discomfort level which you can quickly overcome, if you allow and encourage yourself to do so.

"4. Equipment matters -- find what works for you." This is not a direct comparison, but you need to have a lawyer to help you through the legal process and you should make sure the lawyer has the knowledge and experience needed and that there is good chemistry between you and the lawyer. If you try one attorney and it doesn't seem to work out, go ahead and make a change.

"5. Take joy in small accomplishments." All issues are not alike. Keep in mind that not everything is life or death in divorce. Making small progress toward the outcomes you want should be considered a good thing. You rarely make giant-sized progress toward your goals. You should feel good for every small step that goes your way (and don't obsess about the things that don't work out!).

"6. Inconsistency is OK." Don't expect things to go smoothly or to flow all in the same direction. If judges are deciding issues, there can be inconsistent result on different issues for a variety of reasons. Don't worry about it.

"7. It feels good to pick up your pace at the finish." Most people are anxious to finalize their divorce once they get near the finish. Don't slow it down by bringing up last-minute, annoying issues that simply prolong the fighting. Keep your major objectives in mind and don't get caught up with minor battles.

"8. But, slow down at the beginning, already." Sometimes, you don't have a choice about how fast you have to act at the beginning, but remember that a divorce takes time. Don't be impatient to finish up something too quickly that will affect you the rest of your life financially and in terms of family relationships.

"9. Play is critical. Always." Don't take everything too seriously. Stop and try to relax and not think about the divorce all day long. Get involved in exercise and physical activity. Volunteer and help others. Do something fun occasionally. It doesn't have to cost a lot of money.

"10. It's OK to trick yourself." Sometimes it's hard to face a big project, and that makes it easy to avoid. One way to attack it is to commit yourself to working on something for just 15 or 30 minutes or an hour. If you stop then, you are that much farther down the road. Often, though, it becomes easy to stretch the time as you discover that the work is not as hard as you thought it would be. The trick is breaking it down into small pieces.

Hopefully, you can apply some of these life lessons as you run or work your way through a divorce or family law issue.

Monday, June 6, 2011

How Can it Take a Long Time to Resolve a Simple Case?

Recently, I was talking with a potential client and we got to the point of discussing attorney fees. She clearly viewed her case as a fairly simple matter, and it could be in some circumstances. I quoted a substantial retainer and she asked why it would be so much for a limited case, which was a perfectly understandable question. I explained that I didn't know how many hearings there would be and she asked how there could be more than one hearing. So I gave her a number of possible scenarios that could lead to delay and multiple court dates. She was surprised, but understood.

Why does a case take so long? Here are some of the common reasons why any family law case may get delayed over a long period of time.

1. It may not really be simple at all. Although a party may think it is uncomplicated, an attorney may look at a situation and instantly see many possible problems that have to be dealt with.

2. One party or the other may have received short notice of a hearing, so the hearing must be reset to comply with the rules or for fairness.

3. A party may need time to hire an attorney.

4. A party may need time to get money to pay for an attorney.

5. An attorney may have a scheduling conflict.

6. An attorney may need time to prepare for an unexpected issue.

7. Discovery of information and records may need to be done before the case can proceed.

8. The case may need to go to mediation.

9. The judge may not be available or may be too busy for a hearing on a given day.

10. Bad weather can cause a postponement.

11. There may be a holiday (federal, state or local).

12. Someone may be on vacation.

13. A witness may be unavailable.

14. Some important details may change.

15. A new witness may have been found and further preparation may be necessary.

16. Someone may be ill.

17. There could be a problem in taking care of a child on a given day.

18. The judge may need or take more time to decide.

19. The judge may order the attorneys to prepare a brief on an issue.

20. A hearing may take longer than planned and the conclusion may have to be reset later.

The above are all legitimate reasons that come up and cause delays in cases. On top of that, the other party may stall intentionally for various reasons, and that's hard to control.

Sometimes, delay helps you and sometimes it doesn't, but you have to be prepared for delays in any litigation. It's just part of the process. Talk to your attorney early if you have concerns about the timing. Good luck in getting your case resolved.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Waiting on the 60-Day Waiting Period

One of the most common misperceptions regarding divorce is the idea that a divorce is, or must be, completed when the 60-day waiting period is up. Under Texas law, the parties must wait for 60 days, beginning with the date they file for divorce, before they can be divorced. Even then, the divorce doesn't happen automatically.

There is actually much more to be done before the divorce can be finalized. That's not to say that the divorce won't be completed just after the 60 days is up. It only means that you can't just file for divorce, wait for the 60 days to pass and then be divorced without further action.

So, what needs to be done? Start by discussing the situation with your attorney. Make sure he/she knows you want the divorce over with as soon as possible. Here are some things that he or she will need your help on.

1. Your spouse must be notified "officially". You can serve papers on him/her or he/she can sign a Waiver and accept the papers. Most people won't sign a Waiver without having the opportunity to see and sign the final papers (decree). Serving papers is less friendly and more expensive. If you are trying to do a quick and friendly divorce, the Waiver is probably a better bet. If you can't find your spouse, talk to your attorney about your options.

2. You need to gather information and get it to your attorney. The attorney wants to make sure everything is properly covered by the final decree of divorce, so it is important that the attorney gets to review the details of your finances. In addition, the children, if there are any, must be provided for: allocation of the powers, rights and duties for raising the children; visitation; and child support. The attorney depends on you to furnish the information and also to state what terms and arrangements you would prefer.

3. If you want a quick divorce, you and your spouse generally need to agree on the details of how to divide things up and how to deal with the children. It's not enough to just turn over information to the attorney. Your attorney can suggest some terms, but you and your spouse need to agree to those or come up with variations that you both agree on. Usually, the more complex the issues, the longer it takes to resolve them. You can help speed up the process by reaching agreements with your spouse.

Divorces are not automatic in Texas. Attorneys can't just file papers and wait for the time to run. We need to get information and suggestions from clients. If you are anxious to get your divorce completed quickly, you need to help your attorney by providing information and details on how you would like things resolved. You can be divorced in just over 60 days, but plan on actively working with your attorney to accomplish that.

Friday, April 15, 2011

How to Find the Best Lawyer in Tarrant County, Texas

Many people apparently are looking for the best lawyer in Tarrant County, Texas. Not just any lawyer, the best lawyer. I know that from some research I have done about what people are asking Google and other search engines. It is certainly understandable that someone who suddenly needs a lawyer to end a marriage would want to find the best one around. It's not only part of our competitive nature, but it's also common sense.

Or, sometimes they want the meanest lawyer. I previously wrote about getting the meanest lawyer -- that's a different discussion! For now, let's discuss how to find the best lawyer, wherever you are. Here are some things to consider.

1. You need to define what makes a lawyer the best one for you. What are the most important qualities that you are looking for? Do you want a business-like personality or someone who is very personable and casual? Do you want a very structured attorney or a looser approach? Some lawyers are somewhat to very abrasive and others are instantly your best friend. You should meet with several lawyers and get to know something about their personalities and approach to practicing law.

2. Another stylistic option is whether you want a decision-maker or an option-developer. Some lawyers get the facts of the case and then start telling clients what to do. Other lawyers help clients develop a variety of options and then assist them in choosing a course of action. Some clients just want to turn over their legal matter to their attorney and let the attorney take care of it. How involved do you want to be?

3. What is the financial range of fees you are comfortable with? Generally, the more experience or more demand there is for a lawyer, the higher the fees will be. More expensive lawyers aren't always the best, but they often are much better than inexpensive lawyers. If your case is very complicated or unusual, you may want to hire an experienced attorney, but make sure you can afford the attorney. Even among very good attorneys, there will be a range of fees that they charge.

4. Do you want or need a trial lawyer or a settlement specialist? Don't assume that you necessarily want to take your case to trial. Likewise, you shouldn't assume that you case will be settled. It is true that most family law cases settle, but some have to be tried. You should consider both approaches and find out how prospective lawyers view your case.

5. Sometimes, location can be a consideration. You generally want to hire a lawyer in your own county, or wherever the suit is located. But, you may or may not have to go to your attorney's office very much after the attorney is hired. Much of the contact between lawyers and clients takes place over the Internet or by phone or fax. However, you probably should hire someone local who is familiar with the local courts, judges and courthouse personnel.

Ultimately, your decision should consider a number of factors. Chemistry is a key element. Does your personality fit with the attorney's personality? If you don't get along with or like the attorney, don't hire him or her. Look up the attorney on line and combine that information with your observations. Don't go just on reputation. Go with your gut feeling on whether this will be the best lawyer in Tarrant County for you.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Time to Plan Your Summer Visitation Schedule

This is a brief Public Service Announcement.

Attention all Texans with a Texas standard visitation schedule! If you read your summer schedule section, you will probably see that you have to notify the other parent of your desired summer possession schedule by April 1 or April 15, depending on whether you have the right to choose the primary residence of the child. If you don't have primary custody/possession of the child, you probably are required to notify the other parent by April 1. If you don't do so, you will probably have have the child for the month of July.

Please read the language of your court order very carefully. Sometimes the language is customized and the dates and other details may be different from the standard provisions.

If you have a standard Texas visitation schedule, and if you have primary custody of your child, you probably have until April 15 to designate your summer possession times.

Please read the language of your court order very carefully. Sometimes the language is customized and the dates and other details may be different from the standard provisions.

There are two lessons to be remembered here: (1) Dates and deadlines in court orders are important and may limit your choices, so you should plan ahead. You can act before the deadlines. (2) It is important to read the exact language of your court order and follow the directions. Don't guess or make assumptions about what your order says. Read it and then act.

The Good News:

Of course, you and the other parent can agree on whatever time-sharing arrangement for the summer that you want. Be creative and you can figure out how both parents can enjoy the summer with your child. How ever you do it, have a great summer vacation with your child!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Can You be a Friendly Parent?

While scanning the Internet the other day, I ran across an interesting article in "The Australian". I don't remember how I got there, but it was fun reading about what was going on in Australia in the realm of family law.

While I don't have all the context of Australian law, it is apparent that some revision of their family law statutes is being considered. The article mentioned what they referred to as the "friendly parent provision". It appears that judges in Australia will consider, in making a custody decision, whether each parent has been cooperative or "friendly" with the other parent. An uncooperative, unfriendly parent apparently will be at a disadvantage in a custody fight.

While Texas and probably all other American states don't explicitly list that as a statutory factor to be considered in a custody fight, being a friendly parent certainly is an important component to be considered. It is clearly a factor considered by many judges and I have seen it have a major effect on custody decisions.

Why Being a Friendly Parent is Important
  • It can help minimize stress for both parties and the children. Naturally, the less fighting there is, the less stressful the situation will be. Even if the parties disagree about some things, they can do so respectfully and at appropriate times and places. They can still make changes in their schedules with the kids and share information about school and the kids' activities, even if there are some underlying tensions. Kids don't need to participate in or observe their parents' disagreements.
  • Parents can teach kids how to behave as adults by modeling good behavior with each other. There will always be some disagreements between parents and kids, and parents need to be able to count on each other and work together to provide a safe and secure environment for their kids.
  • Cooperative parents can maximize their "quality" time with their kids. Instead of fighting over turf or trying to be inflexible to maintain control over the situation, parents can arrange to adapt their times with the kids to meet work, travel and family schedules. If a parent must work on a weekend, it makes sense to trade that time for other time when the parent will be available to be with the kids. Everybody has conflicts from time to time that can't be avoided. Being flexible with the other parent will create goodwill, future time trades and better times with the kids.
How Can You be a Friendly Parent?
  • Be willing to changes schedules. Be flexible. Don't just insist on following the rigid court order.
  • Don't keep strict score of who has the most time with the kids. Recognize that not all time is equally valuable. Make sure that the kids have valuable time with each parent.
  • Figure out what the kids really want or would want. Keep their best interests in the forefront.
It looks like we could learn a lot from our friends in Australia. Being a friendly parent will pay dividends, not just in "winning" custody, but in raising children in the best possible environment.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

IRS Forms and Information Resources

Jeanne M. Hannah is a family law attorney in Traverse City, Michigan who has written an excellent family law blog for a number of years. She recently gathered links to a number of IRS tax resources and publications and published them in her blog. The following is the text of her post of March 14, 2011:

The IRS has released updated publications and forms that help divorced and divorcing people understand and deal with these issues:
  • income tax filing status
  • the right to claim tax exemptions
  • how to protect against tax liabilities arising from FOC intercepts of tax refunds on joint returns when, in fact the intercept is for child support arrearages of only one spouse and some of the tax refund belongs to the other spouse.
  • how to claim "innocent spouse" relief from liability caused by unreported income by the other spouse are now available.

See, in particular, IRS Publication 504 Divorced or Separated Individuals [January 10, 2011]

Other recently published and/or updated publications or IRS Forms that family lawyers' clients will find helpful and informative are:

Injured Spouse Relief: IRS Form 8379 is filed by one spouse (the injured spouse) on a jointly filed tax return when the joint overpayment expected was applied (offset) to a past-due obligation of the other spouse (e.g., a tax intercept for unpaid child support arrearages. This is how the injured spouse recovers her tax refund. See also the instructions for using Form 8379 here.

IRS Publication 971. How to Claim Innocent Spouse Relief. [Revised February 2011]

Innocent Spouse Relief: IRS Form 8857 is used to request exemption from tax liabilities cause by the under-reporting of income by the other spouse on a joint return filed during the marriage. See also Instructions for Filing Form 8857

Other recently revised publications of interest to those recently divorced or divorcing are these:

Publication 501: Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information [Published January 5, 2011]

Publication 544: Sales and Other Dispositions of Property, including transfers to spouse, rollovers or retirements accounts

Publication 555: Community Property, including information about how to handle income from separate property [Revised December 2010]

Publication 590: Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs) [Published February 3, 2011]

This should be useful information for anyone going through a divorce, considering starting a divorce, staring at an impending divorce or recovering from a divorce. For other interesting and helpful information, you can check periodically on Ms. Hannah's blog, Updates in Michigan Family Law. I highly recommend her work.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Starting with the Small Stuff

There's an old saying that has application to negotiations as well as other life issues. "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time." In other words, don't try to take on the whole task all at once. Take it a step at a time.

Seth Godin recently had a post on his blog that got me thinking about negotiations. His point was that people shouldn't start with fighting the impossible battles first. You should start with smaller battles and have some wins before moving up to the more difficult fights.

In many contexts, we are often admonished to "don't sweat the small stuff". That's usually good advice, but in negotiations, it sometimes works out better to start with the small stuff instead of the overriding issue that will eventually have to be resolved.

I have had many clients who insisted on starting on the biggest, most difficult overriding issue in negotiations to test the willingness of the other side to "be reasonable/realistic/fair", etc. These clients didn't really expect to reach agreements, whether the case was in mediation, Collaborative Law or just plain negotiations between the parties or attorneys. They say they don't want to waste time negotiating if they the other side isn't committed to doing the right thing.

Such an approach ignores the need to build a road to reach the goal they want. The road requires a foundation and planning. Roads are usually built in small sections, rather than building the whole road all at once.
Negotiations in family law cases also require a foundation and planning, working a section at a time.

In a custody case, the parties may be able to come to agreements on how to share the powers, rights and duties of parents, even where they can't immediately agree on who should have "primary custody". (Part of the underlying problem may be the use of certain labels that make one parent appear to be inferior to the other, but that's a topic for another post.) If the parents will spend some time reaching agreement on the sub issues, such as the parental decision-making powers, how they share time with the kids and sharing involvement with extracurricular activities, for examples, they may not have such a big issue remaining.

When the parties have to negotiate property division terms, there will always be some assets that are pretty easy to divide, and that can make a good starting point. Beginning with some simple decisions can help build momentum that can lead to more progress on the bigger items. Working on furniture and personal property, or the IRAs that are in each party's name, can be a low-conflict point where they can readily agree. As the smaller items are eliminated, sometimes it becomes easier to resolve the other issues because the end is in sight.

Similarly, when dealing with taxes, retirement, debts, investments or many other issues, it makes sense to start with the small, easy-to-agree-to terms. Momentum develops and sometimes a little good will is created when each side sees the other side sacrificing or at least being reasonable.

When you are starting to negotiate a settlement in a family law case, your chances for success will be enhanced if you plan ahead and start work on some smaller issues so that your successes will build momentum to help with the bigger issues.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Having an Exit Plan

For a variety of reasons, some people get surprised or ambushed by the news that their spouse wants to get a divorce. No matter how unhappy a spouse may have been or how many times one or both spouses talked about divorce, it is not unusual for a husband or wife to be taken off guard by the announcement that their spouse is leaving and filing for divorce.

If you get hit by the unexpected news, or if you see it coming, you probably immediately start wondering what to do. Taking a rash or dramatic action is probably not in your best interest. Instead, you should take some small, defensive steps and allow yourself time the think and the opportunity to get expert help.

From an entirely unrelated source, the Attorney at Work blog, I recently saw an article about what an attorney should do if facing a loss of a job. The suggested emergency exit plan for an employment situation easily translates into some useful steps for someone to follow who is "losing" their marriage. Here are my slightly modified suggestions for an immediate exit plan in case of impending divorce:

1. Gather your legal documents. It's never too early to gather up what you can, make copies and then put them in a safe place, which could be with a friend. Even if your spouse is just "thinking about" getting a divorce, it would be wise to get all the financial records you can while you have your greatest access to them. Waiting is not a good idea. Documents tend to disappear.

2. Get a referral for a divorce lawyer. While you still have some time, seek out recommendations from friends and other people you respect. Do some research on line. Look at web sites and blogs to find out about what to expect in the process and to get a feel for how the author would approach a case. You can look at on line directories and rating services to get more information about possible attorneys.

3. Control and limit what you say. That is true about face-to-face discussions (don't escalate arguments), as well as on line opportunities, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or listserves. Also, be very careful what you put in writing, including by texting. It's easy to do audio recording anywhere and to take movies and photos anywhere. You should always think about how what you say, do or write would appear if presented in court.

4. Protect personal information. That includes information on computers, laptops, telephones, etc. Don't leave personal information accessible. Use passwords and don't leave the hardware lying around.

5. Breathe. Remember the airline announcements just before takeoff when the flight attendants tell you to put on your own air mask ("in the unlikely event of an emergency") before you put your child's mask on him/her. In any crisis, it sure helps to stop for a second and take some deep breaths. It will help clear your head and reduce your stress level.

These are all helpful suggestions for a sudden potential divorce emergency, but the original article also has good ideas for anyone facing a job loss, an unfortunately all-too-common occurrence. Anyway, while you are initially searching for answers and starting to come up with a plan, these suggestions are a good starting point.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How to Save Money in a Divorce

Divorce and other family law issues really are tightly connected to emotions. They are obviously very personal and usually involve some hurt feelings. People do go through stages of grief when a relationship ends, and that makes it tough for a while for most people to operate effectively. Some people, however, have anger issues that make it almost impossible for them to function rationally in some situations. The anger may be triggered by financial consequences of their situation, or by perceived slights or the loss of relationships. Others are upset because of new responsibilities they must assume, or by their loss of assets they worked hard for, or maybe just by change itself.

Whatever the cause, it is often difficult to deal with family law issues on a rational basis. Because of anger or other emotional issues, people have trouble dealing with the big picture and often end up focusing on small details. Some people keep score, tracking their wins and losses as if every action were equal to every other action.

Even though many people do not understand this, family law cases are not competitions. It is possible for both parties to win or to lose in a divorce. If you add in children, both parents and the children can all win or lose. It is not necessarily a situation where there must be one winner and one loser. If you operate on a minute level and agonize over how to split the pots and pans, then you can have a "winner" and a "loser" regarding who ends up with the 6-inch sauce pan. On the other hand, if there is a focus on providing two homes with some pots and pans, keeping in mind that they are replaceable, it is possible for both sides to have an adequate set to start.

On an often more emotional issue, paying child support, how the parents approach the issue makes a huge difference with satisfaction in the outcome. If they have a common goal of providing adequate support from both parents to keep the child's standard of living as similar as possible to the pre-divorce standard, the parents can probably make an agreement that's satisfying or acceptable to both sides.

Some people start keeping score and believe that their case is a disaster if some rulings by a judge go against them. Some people will start to see a trend when two or three small issues don't go their way. Rational people know that they will win some and lose some, and that not all issues are as important as others.

The Lessons

1. You can waste a lot of money focusing on the small things.
If you insist that your attorney fight over every small thing, it will be expensive. It's easy for an attorney to stay busy preparing letters and pleadings, making phone calls, and negotiating over pots and pans or small sums of money. (It's not fun for the attorneys, but it's easy.) In reality, you are better off financially putting your time and money into achieving your higher level objectives, such as getting an adequate share of the retirement assets, providing funds to pay for your child's college expenses or getting the house sold so each party can purchase their own home, for examples.

2. Fighting over the small stuff unnecessarily increases your stress level. Stress isn't good for you, but many people ignore that and plunge right into battles over minutiae. It's not worth damaging your health over small issues. It's easy to get lost in a jungle of small, but intertwined, issues, and you can easily get stressed out, if you're not careful.

3. If your attorney tells you to focus on the big picture, that's good advice. Your attorney is more objective than you and is in a better position to judge whether you have gotten bogged down in the less important issues. It's easy to get distracted and get off course, so pay attention to your attorney. If you have a vague feeling that things aren't going your way and you aren't "winning" enough, please talk to your attorney about it. Your attorney should be able to help you keep things in perspective.

You know the old saying about not being able to see the forest for the trees. There is a lot of truth to that. It can be costly and stressful if you get off track and don't focus on the big issues. You're a lot better off financially and health-wise if you look at the big picture instead of letting yourself be distracted by smaller issues.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What to Do if You Get a Bad Result

Most people, once they reach a certain age and maturity level, realize that there's not always a happy ending and that they don't always get what they want. And sometimes I would have to disagree with the Rolling Stones who famously said that if you don't get want you want, you'll get what you need. Unfortunately, sometimes there are just bad days and things don't go well for you in court or in negotiations. If you find yourself in such a situation, what can you do or what should you do? Here are some suggestions.

Prelude: Keep in mind that bad results are rarely fatal. As bad as things may be or seem to be, soon things will get better. Time passes and you begin to work out of the hole you may be in. Take some deep breaths and try to put the situation in perspective. Get some help from a non-depressing friend. (We all know some "downer" friends who always see the glass half empty. Don't go to them for support.) Sometimes, experiencing a real let-down opens up new points of view that can help you change directions and may lead you to great improvement in the future. In addition to this attitude recalibration, there are some steps you can take in the legal arena.

1. Have an attorney review the situation right away. You should act quickly because there are often deadlines of 7 or 30 days, or some other time period, for you to take action. An attorney can tell you if the "bad result" is normal or is something that should be attacked, or if any action is cost-effective. Find out what your options are.

2. Get a second opinion. Do it all over with a second or third attorney to make sure you have a thorough review and understanding.

3. You might file a motion for new trial or a motion to reconsider. That is a way to bring everything back before the court, but you should have something new to add to the hearing: new facts, new law or new analysis. You may have to file a motion for new trial if you want to appeal.

4. You can appeal. There are different types of appeals provided in family law situations. Some matters go to a court of appeals, and that's very expensive and time consuming. Other appeals are less formal and can go back to the district court. Your attorney can advise you about these choices.

5. Consider a motion to modify. That might require some passage of time and a change of circumstances, but the delay may help you gather information to support the need for change, and it would also give you time to raise money to pay your legal fees.

6. Try working with your (ex)spouse. Sometimes, people can be reasonable and recognize that a result isn't right or won't work. Sometimes they want to avoid the cost of litigation, so you may be able to work informally with the other side.

7. Consider using mediation or Collaboration. If you and your ex can't work well on your own, maybe having a mediator would help, or you could enter the Collaborative process, with each having your own attorney and other neutral professionals as needed. It doesn't necessarily take a war to undo a bad result.

Postlude: Part of the problem may be your perception. Make sure that your expectations are realistic. When you are talking with attorneys and other trusted advisors, ask whether they think you are being realistic. You may be asking for something that is way out of line. Do a reality check.

As you can see, there are several options for you to consider if things don't go your way. Don't overreact. Stop and think before acting. Get some good advice and then follow through. Good luck!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What to Do if Your Spouse Files for Divorce

At this time of year, once the holidays are over, many people decide to begin the process of divorce. Sometimes, their spouse either doesn't expect it or is in denial or doesn't want to get divorced. This post is for those people who are reacting to a situation out of their control -- when their spouse files for divorce. If you find yourself in that position, here's what you can do.

1. If you see it coming, start preparing. Gather records, get control over some financial resources: cash, accounts, credit cards. You need to have some financial resources under your control that you can depend on. Cash and credit cards are very helpful, but cleaning out the accounts and leaving nothing for your spouse probably will hurt you in the long run. You will need to think about the respective living arrangements for you and your spouse. If you have kids, how will you take care of them, pay any necessary bills and share time with them with your spouse? Don't just sit around, start planning and anticipating. Get some help from friends and professionals.

2. If you didn't see it coming, start preparing, but move faster. If you have to play catch-up, do so. You still need to do a lot of planning, even if you get surprised. Start as soon as you can.

3. Research your options. Collaborative Law is always worth considering. (See some of my other posts or my Texas Collaborative Law Blog.) You might have to go into litigation, but mediation is usually an effective way to resolve cases. Talk to an attorney about the best way to proceed.

4. Decide what's important for you. Figure out what you would like to end up with. That includes financial assets, kid issues and any other concerns you have. Spend time at the start of the process to determine what you want and you will have a better chance of being satisfied. Just defaulting to "half of everything" and "standard" possession or child support may not be in your best interest. Think about it and discuss the issues with your attorney and counselor (if you have one).

5. Select an attorney. Look for experience, training, cost and chemistry. Find out how much experience your prospective attorney has with the issues of your case. Is the attorney a Board Certified Specialist in Family Law? Does the attorney have any special training for Collaborative Law or other special needs for your case? Make sure the attorney is affordable. It doesn't benefit you or the attorney to hire the most expensive attorney and hope that you will somehow be able to afford him or her. There are many fine attorneys at different price ranges. Finally, and maybe most importantly, make sure you and the attorney have good chemistry. If you don't feel comfortable and can't communicate well with the attorney, go to someone else, no matter how great the first attorney is. There are plenty of attorneys around and you should be able to work with one you like and feel comfortable with.

I realize that not everyone is willing or able to make the decision to get divorced. If you are someone who's had the decision made for you by your spouse, hopefully these suggestions will help you come up with a plan for response. These are not original, secret or complicated ideas. They are meant to help someone with a sudden need to deal with one of life's most difficult situations.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

How to Start a Divorce

Because it's January again and many people are thinking about divorce, it may be helpful to have a brief review of what someone can do to prepare to file for divorce. Some people don't really plan ahead. They just go see a lawyer and turn everything over over to the lawyer to file and come up with a plan of action. Other people may want to do more to have a greater chance of a favorable, or at least acceptable, outcome. Here's what can be done:

1. Start by determining what you what to end up with. What are your goals, needs and interests? The easy way out is to say that you want what is fair or you want a 50-50 split, but that's really superficial and may leave you short-changed. Everybody is different. What's "fair" to someone is not fair to someone else. There may be certain assets that are more important to you than to your spouse. Maybe you need cash now to pay for some immediate expenses, or maybe you need extra retirement assets. If there are four automobiles, you may just need one, not two. Maybe some collections or artwork are more meaningful to you. Whatever the situation, you will feel better and be better off after the divorce if you decide early what your objectives are.

2. Select a method. You actually have choices. You need to decide whether you want to use Collaborative Law, litigation or just try to work out things with your spouse over the kitchen table. Maybe mediation appeals to you. Investigate the options and choose the way that works best for you. In researching the possibilities, make sure that you speak with an attorney with significant training and experience in the different methods. Hint: not all attorneys are trained and experienced in Collaborative Law. For an opinion on that approach, you should make sure the attorney has had experience in handling Collaborative cases.

3. Prepare. Gather records and information about your financial estate and be familiar with any issues regarding your child and your spouse. For a handy checklist, see the prior post from January 2, 2011.

4. Meet with your attorney. Early. It is important to see the attorney before things get heated up. Your attorney will appreciate having time to prepare and you will have more options on how to proceed. You will have time to gather or request records and you can plan different options for where you will live and how bills will be paid.

5. Take the first step. File, set a hearing (if needed) and serve the papers (or hand-deliver them, if that will help). It is generally advantageous to be the one to file first. Once it is inevitable that the divorce will take place, you will be better served by being active and getting things done at your convenience.

These suggestions are not meant to talk you into a divorce. Whether you decide to divorce is an separate and very personal matter. You should carefully consider all the circumstances in your life and in most cases, you should meet with a counselor, alone or as a couple, to get some perspective in evaluating your situation and maybe to get some help in resolving the issues you are facing. Only after careful consideration should you begin the process of divorce. Once you commit to the choice of divorce, you should then follow the above steps.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

10 Things to Do to Prepare for Divorce

At this time of year, many people start thinking seriously about filing for divorce. When you decide you need to see an attorney to discuss that prospect, here's a list of things that are helpful to attorneys when they are getting an overview of your case.

  • Personal household budget with supporting documents. Your attorney needs to know the average monthly amounts for all of your usual expenses. Copies of the latest statement for each bill would be helpful.
  • Income tax returns. Please provide the complete returns, with all schedules and attachments, for the last 3 years.
  • TAD appraisal. You can get and print off the latest appraisal of your real estate from the Tarrant Appraisal District on line.
  • Bank account statements. It is helpful to have your bank records for the last 3 years for every bank account of any type, checking or savings or other, for you, your spouse and your children. You can probably download those from your banks or go to the bank and get them. You need information for every account that you or your spouse have a connection with.
  • Pay stubs. You should bring pay stubs for you and your spouse for the last 6 months, or some other record showing the pay checks for that time period.
  • List of debts. Please prepare a list of all the debts you are aware of, including but not limited to, mortgage, car loans, leases, credit cards and other loans. The list should include the total balance for each and the monthly payment amounts.
  • Medical insurance card and information. Please bring a copy of your insurance card and any information you have about the policy, specifically about the coverage and cost.
  • Personal property information. It helps to have a list of the personal property (such as furniture, household items, personal effects, etc.) that you want on an immediate and temporary basis. Think about what you need every day.
  • Internet presence. Please make a list of all web sites and social media sites used by you and your spouse, and the names and passwords, if you know them. This should include Facebook, YouTube, My Space, LinkedIn, Twitter and other sites, including any blogs. Do a Google search on yourself and your spouse and then download the results.
  • Special needs. Please tell your attorney if there are any special needs that you or a family member have.
If you bring all this information to your first meeting with a lawyer about a divorce, you will be much more helpful to the attorney and much better prepared for court or negotiations.

Bonus item: If you can think about what you would like to end up with and what your goals would be, that can be a very big help for you and your attorney. Take a little time and bring some ideas in writing. Everyone can benefit from planning ahead.