Monday, September 1, 2014

Who Do You Want to Decide Your Future?

Here's a simple rule for divorces:  Despite what some people think, divorces are not simple or clear cut, unless there are literally no kids and no assets.  That eliminates cases where there kids, but you think you can agree on everything; they are still complicated.  That rule also eliminates cases where there's a retirement plan, real estate, debts, jointly owned assets or many other complications.

For most divorces, that means that someone has to make some decisions.  The possibilities are you, your spouse, you and your spouse together or a judge, in most cases.  So who do you want making the decisions?

1.  You?  That would be easy, but it's not likely your spouse will agree.

2.  Your spouse?  You wouldn't want to agree to let your spouse make all the decisions.

3.  You and your spouse?  That might work, depending on how you do it.

4.  A judge?  Most people, when they really think about it, don't want a stranger who doesn't know them or care about them making decisions to determine their financial and parenting futures.

So how can you and your spouse keep control of the decision-making?  Here are three options:

1.  On your own.  This sometimes works, but the most common outcomes are lop-sided agreements where one party has taken advantage of the other, or the parties get mad at each other and the discussions blow up.  You are lucky if this approach works, but someone is probably going to be taken advantage of.  If this approach doesn't work, you still have two other options.

2.  Mediation.  Mediation is a great process, but parties can still be taken advantage of if they don't have attorneys.  I am a mediator and strongly believe in the process, but everyone needs to be prepared and the parties really benefit from working with an attorney before and during mediation.  Without attorneys, the parties may overlook some important rights, issues or solutions.

3.  Collaborative law.  This is a process that requires that the parties have attorneys from the outset, but everyone also agrees to not go to court.  They agree to have a series of meetings, to work toward announced goals, and follow a logical process of working through issues to reach agreements. In Texas, we usually bring in a neutral therapist and a neutral financial advisor to help both parties. They actually help the process move along more smoothly and efficiently.  For complicated matters, this is the best process, in my view.

Consult before you commit.  If you are faced with a divorce, you should meet with an attorney to discuss the issues, even if you plan to not hire an attorney to represent you.  It would be a good opportunity to discuss the above options and pick out what works best for you.

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