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!