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.