Thursday, November 1, 2018

Preparing for the Holidays with the Kids

In Texas, most divorce court orders have very detailed and explicit plans for how holiday time with the children is divided between the parents. The standard language has been developed over time and is based on common problems and the best solutions that had been developed over the years.

Some of the provisions are a little unwieldy -- not surprising since they came out of the legal system. Still, they provide a good standard for people to consider. Keep in mind that almost every possession schedule order says that the parties can follow any plan they come up with, as long as they agree. The formal order is the backup in case they are not in agreement.

What should you do if you anticipate a possible issue?

1.  You need to start now. The holidays are approaching. In November, we have anywhere from 2 or 3 days off to 10 days off from school and sometimes work. The standard order allows each parent to have Thanksgiving every other other year. In December, in addition to various family gatherings, we have an extended time off from school that extends into January.  Families have different traditions and preferences regarding the holidays and usually can make accommodations that work for both parents. Usually the December vacation time is split approximately in half.

2.  Situations change.  As time passes, circumstances change. There are new marriages, moves, new jobs, new kids and kids may age out -- moving out for college or work or relationships. These changes, or even new events, create a need to sometimes modify what has worked in the past.  The first of November is a great time to look ahead and do some planning if you see the possible need to adjust the possession times for the holidays.

3.  Time to consult.  This is a good time to meet with your attorney if you anticipate you or your ex needing to make some changes in the holiday schedules.  You can get an interpretation of the current order and plan how to approach your ex or how to respond if your ex approaches you.  It is so much better to deal with these issues early in November than to wait until Thanksgiving week or the week the kids get out of school in December.

Holidays are emotional times. Everyone, especially including the kids, will benefit by the parents planning ahead and working together to make any necessary adjustments.

Monday, October 1, 2018

A Fresh Start

There are a lot of difficult and unpleasant aspects to divorce.  How's that for an understatement?

But, you can work to make something positive about divorce.  In any marriage, there are positives and negatives. During a divorce, the negatives become the focus and it's often hard to see anything good coming out of it.

The longer you stay in the negatives, the more depressing a divorce can become. The solution is to shift gears and change your focus, which is often easier said than done.

Here are three little tips to help you start your divorce and post-divorce life in a better direction.

1.  Remember what went well during your marriage. Sometimes, it's hard to remember anything positive, but you should be able to with a little effort.  Maybe there were some fun family events or travel, or maybe you learned some fun or useful skills. Maybe you helped someone else.  Whatever it was, it will help you now to focus on those good times rather than the bad aspects of your relationship. Acknowledging your successes will help reinforce your confidence that you can do good things with your life.

2.  Make a few goals.  You can improve your focus by planning for the next year, two or three years or five years.  If you have difficulty with that much time, plan the next 30, 60 or 90 days.  Make some plans and have something positive to work on that you will enjoy and which you can look forward to. The planning can help you change your attention away from the negativity of a divorce.

3.  Be optimistic.  Work on changing your expectations.  Instead of thinking of all the bad things that can happen, start thinking about the good things that can come your way.  You will see a lot more happy things if you are looking for them. Also, don't hang around with or talk to friends who constantly focus on how bad things are. I'm not suggesting you ignore reality, but I am suggesting you should put most of your attention on good things that are happening or which can happen. It will help make your life happier!

Going through a divorce makes you start over in many ways. You can choose a lot about your outcome in the divorce.  Make it a positive, fresh start!

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Why Does Mediation Work?

In almost every family law case in Tarrant County, TX, and many other places, the Court will require the parties to attend mediation before they can go to trial.

Mediation, as you may know, is a dispute resolution process outside of court. A neutral 3rd party works with both sides to help them reach an agreement on the issues they disagree about. The mediator does not make any decisions or rulings like a Judge. Instead, the mediator asks questions.  The mediator helps the parties look at things differently and helps them focus on solutions.

Mediation is almost always successful.  It sounds like a very simple process, but there are special reasons why it works.  Here are some of them.

1.  Neutral Expert.  The mediator does not represent or work for one side or the other.  The mediator seems to have more credibility with both parties because the mediator is neutral and has special training to gain skills needed to help people compromise and reach agreements with adversaries.

2.  Quicker Answers.  One reason why mediation can be successful is that it speeds up the negotiation process. Either the parties are all in direct communication in the same room or the mediator goes back and forth between separate rooms. Either way, the negotiations go much faster than discussions between attorneys in their own offices in different locations. It is much easier to keep the discussion going when there's little or no delay in waiting for a response.

3.  Focus. Mediations are usually limited to a certain amount of time.  Here, most mediations are for a day or a half day.  As time passes, momentum seems to increase. When people realize they are running out of time, they often get more agreeable and are willing to compromise.  Having the time limits does motivate people to get serious about settling.

4.  Informality.  Mediations are usually very informal.  Most family law mediations in Texas are done with the parties in separate rooms.  We don't follow the strict rules of evidence or procedure that are used in court. The informality allows the participants to be more comfortable and maybe more agreeable.

5.  Controlled by the parties.  There's no agreement unless both sides agree and accept the terms.  The parties can create unique solutions and have results very different from what would have probably happened in court.  The ability to fashion their own terms of agreement is one of the most important reasons why the process works. For most people, that is greatly preferred to just turning everything over to a Judge who doesn't know or care about either party.

These reasons explain part of the basis for mediation being so successful.  If  you have a family law case, you should plan for and look forward to your mediation!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Should I Wait...?

Sometimes the first step is the hardest to take.

Even if you have been considering divorce for a long time, or even if divorce suddenly seems like a necessity, you may have trouble deciding to start a divorce.  We all tend to stay with the status quo unless we become highly motivated to change.

This is a major, life-shaping decision and you should carefully consider the pros and cons.  You certainly shouldn't be forced into deciding to divorce.

Here are some considerations on either side of the start or stay decision.

Why Stay?

  • You saw value in this relationship in the beginning.  Can you still find value in it now? Can you can re-build the benefits to you?  Maybe the good still out-weighs the bad.
  • You have invested your love, energy and material possessions in the relationship.  You may not want to walk away from it.
  • Leaving may be damaging to your children or other family members. Ultimately, the decision comes back to you, but you shouldn't ignore the "collateral damage".
  • It might be bad timing right now.  Maybe you're not working or your finances are in really bad shape.  With a little time, you could get a job or save up some money.  Your health also might be bad right now.  You may need to time to heal or recover.  Also, there could be some family obligations, such as a wedding, birth or health crisis for someone else. All of these are legitimate reasons to wait.
On the other hand...

Why Now?

  • You can control the initial timing.  You can choose to start now and not give your spouse time to prepare or cause further problems. You wouldn't have to scramble in response to your spouse's surprise move.
  • You are able to plan and prepare.  You can set aside money and resources. You can get control of things that you want from the divorce.  You can plan your living arrangements and figure out what you want to start out with.
  • You can start on a peaceful basis.  If you want to minimize conflict, you can start with a peaceful, even Collaborative, gesture to try to keep the divorce on a less-destructive path.
Ultimately, you have to decide which path makes more sense to you.  However, if you are seriously considering divorce, you probably should take the first step now so you have more control over the process and the atmosphere that develops. A peaceful divorce is certainly a lot better than a surprise, antagonistic one. 

Whichever way you go, good luck!

Monday, January 1, 2018

How to Simplify Your Divorce

About this time of year, many people start evaluating their lives and come to the conclusion that they should get divorces. Or, maybe their spouse has come forward and announced that he/she wants a divorce.  If there's not immediate war, in many cases the spouses can choose a course of action that saves money and time, not to mention stress.

For those of you who don't want to spend your assets on fighting, here are some pointers on how to simplify your divorce.

1.  Don't start a war.  Be respectful and cooperative with each other. Carrying grudges and trying to exact revenge, even in small ways, will lead to anger and fighting.  That costs money and will make for a slower divorce as you end up arguing over more and more small points.

2.  Plan ahead.  How do you want things to end?  You might start off thinking everything will be divided 50-50, but that's often not the case.  If you have special needs, like temporary support or retirement assets or job training or insurance, you should work on an overall plan that helps you end up with what you need, rather than an arbitrary 50%.  Of course, that means you need to be considerate of your spouse's needs as well.

3.  Do it right the first time.  Unless yours is a very short marriage with no major assets and no kids, you need to work with a lawyer.  You may not want to spend the money and you may think you can do it yourself, but you really should at least consult with an attorney and probably hire one.  There's a lot a stake when you are getting divorced.  Like it or not, divorces are usually complicated.  You can avoid a lot of problems down the line by getting help as you go through the divorce process.

4.  Choose the right attorney.  I have written extensively in this blog and the Texas Collaborative Law Blog about how to choose an attorney.  Be sure the chemistry is right and the attorney communicates effectively with you.  Both attorneys and clients have different personalities and strengths.  Make sure the attorney you choose is the best for you and your case. One size doesn't fit all!

5.  Be willing to compromise.  It really helps if you spend some time looking at the case from your spouse's perspective.  It takes two to agree and normally neither of you can force the other to concede. Neither of you will get everything you want.  Work with your attorney to come up with a negotiating strategy that is respectful and strategic. To get most of what you want, be ready to compromise.

If you follow these tips, you can simplify your divorce and avoid getting bogged down in a really bad experience.  In fact, you should be able to have a good result, your spouse is more likely to be cooperative and maybe both of you can be friends (if that's what you want) post-divorce. Good luck!