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!