Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tuesday Tips: Deadlines

Who likes deadlines?  Raise your hands. Sometimes they motivate us and sometimes they are a pain.

Like them or not, we are often stuck with them in life.  If you get into the legal system,  you will run into many deadlines and you really do have to pay attention to them.  There are serious consequences, if you miss deadlines.  Here are a few to watch for:

  • Answer date.  If you are served with papers, they often require an answer.  If you don't respond in time, you may lose.
  • Discovery deadline.  There may be deadlines for sending discovery requests out and deadlines for responding to requests.  If you send it out too late, it may be ignored.  If you answer late, your answer may be ignored.
  • Scheduling order.  This is a court order that contains a number of deadlines.  Be sure you pay attention to it, or you may be in trouble.
  • New trial.  If you are unhappy with the result of a trial, you have a limited amount of time to file a motion for a new trial. 
  • Collaborative Law.  Even Collaborative Law has some deadlines, but they are fairly easy to manage.  After a notice of Collaborative Law is filed with the court, the attorneys have to report every six months about whether the process is continuing, and they have a two-year period where the court cannot impose deadlines or take actions.
Your lawyer is aware of the deadlines and should keep up with them.  If you have questions about timing, be sure to consult with your lawyer.

Bonus Note:  The 60-Day Waiting Period is Not a Deadline -- There is a 60-day waiting period that begins when a divorce is filed in Texas.  NOTHING Happens automatically when the 60 days is up. The 61st day after filing is simply the earliest that a divorce could be granted.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tuesday Tips: Death and Taxes

On April 15, it's easy to remember the old saying that the only things certain in life are death and taxes.

Maybe it's also a good time to remember why people get married (other than the more favorable tax treatment!).  If you are married, talk to your spouse today, or any day or everyday, about why you're glad you're married.  You might get a nice dividend!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tuesday Tips: Don't Threaten Divorce

Just Do It! (As a famous apparel seller used to urge us.)

     Once you start threatening divorce, you start to weaken the bonds of marriage.

     Some people, who want to remain married, threaten to divorce their spouse to get the spouse to change some behavior -- stay home more, quit drinking, pay attention, etc.

     What the other spouse focuses on, though, is that the first spouse wants a divorce.  This feeling becomes stronger as the threat is repeated over time.

     If you want a divorce, go ahead and file, or discuss it if you want.

     If you really want something else, skip the attempted pressure tactics and have a discussion about what can be done to improve a problem area.  Threatening divorce will not solve the problem and will probably result in divorce.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tuesday Tips: No Fooling!

If you are facing going to court for a divorce or other Family Law matter, you need to be aware that most everything is taken seriously in the court system.

Here are some things to remember that are Not Joking Matters!

1.  Notice of Hearing:  When you get a notice of a hearing, that's a real obligation.  You and your attorney will probably have to be there.  If you ignore it, there will be consequences.

2.  Deadlines for Discovery:  If you get discovery sent to you, there will be due dates for your answers.  If you miss the deadlines, you may not be able to introduce or even discuss the evidence later.

3.  Child support payments:  They must be made on time.  If they are late, interest will be added.

4.  Pick up and return times for visitation:  There's no reason to play games with visitation.

5.  The need to update and supplement:  As things change, please let your attorney know right away so your pleadings and discovery responses can be updated.  Otherwise, you may not be able to get into those issues.

6.  Being honest with your attorney:  This is absolutely essential.  We need to even know the bad details so we can be prepared.  The other side will certainly know and use them!

7.  Being honest with the court:  Since the makes so many discretionary decisions, it's crazy to lie to the Judge and get the Judge mad at you. Plus you could be found in contempt, sent to jail and criminally prosecuted.  It's your choice.

8.  Don't hide information:  It will probably be found and it will make you look bad.  Plus, don't forget all the Judge's discretion on issues.

9.  Don't hide assets:  If you hide assets, they will likely be found and you will almost certainly lose them.

10.  Fighting: Remember, the more you fight, the more it costs.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tuesday Tips: Listening Well

Do You Hear What I Hear?

When a client meets with an attorney for the first time, the client is often stressed and emotional.  That's natural. Many clients have later reported that they can't remember what was said or done at the meeting.

If you're that client, what can you do?  There are several things you can try.

  • Make a list of questions and issues before the meeting.
  • Tell the attorney that you are nervous and may need help keeping everything straight.
  • Make detailed notes of the discussion. 
  • Put away your phone so you aren't interrupted.  
  • Concentrate on the discussions we are having.
  • Ask questions and get clarifications as you go.
  • At the end, review the issues and answers with the attorney.
If you really work on your listening skills, it will help you achieve whatever legal goals you have in mind.  (Of course, you will have to act on the discussions as well.)  Good luck!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Tuesday Tip: It's All in the Timing!

Planning Ahead

Save time and avoid phone tag.  Avoid wasted money.  How, you may ask?

Check with your attorney about when the best time to call would be.  Good attorneys (and even bad ones) get busy.  They have court appearances, they meet with clients, and they prepare for court and other activities.

You may discover that your attorney is not always sitting by the phone, waiting for you to call.

How can you plan calls so that they have a good chance of getting through?

Ask the lawyer or the legal assistant when a good time to call is.  They may have an answer and it could save you a lot of time. You might even ask to set up a telephone appointment that shows up on the calendar.

It could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tuesday Tip: Efficiency

Avoiding Phone Tag

Everyone knows how unproductive telephone tag is, not to mention frustrating.  At one time or another, we all get caught up in calling, missing the other person, leaving a message, waiting for a return call and missing the return call, and then starting over.

Here are three things you can do to short-circuit phone tag.  (1) Leave a specific message .That is, say what you were planning to say.  Don't stop after name and number. (2) Talk with your attorney's assistant if the attorney is not available.  Often, the assistant can answer your questions.  (3) If the assistant can't immediately answer your question, let him./her call you back with the answer or information you need.

Don't get locked into the pointless exercise of telephone tag!  Save time and money.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Tuesday Tip: Phone Calls

Plan Ahead

If you want to save some time and money on your divorce, plan your phone calls to your lawyer before you pick up a phone. Organize your thoughts.  Write down all the questions you can think of.  Try to figure out solutions ahead of time and then you can discuss them with your lawyer. Sometimes it's hard to reach your attorney by phone, so make each call count!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Want An Amicable Divorce?

The stereotype of divorce is a bitter fight between former lovers who now hate each other.  That is an image that often shows up in movies.  While that is what happens sometimes, a more common situation is two parties who have grown apart or who are tired of fighting, whether it's over almost everything or over just a few issues.

What I'm seeing more of is people looking for an "amicable divorce".  There's no single definition of that term, but generally it refers to a divorce where the fighting is minimized and is relatively civil when it occurs.  While that may not seem normal to some people, it is actually pretty common.

Here are some reasons why someone may be looking for an amicable divorce.  The parties ...
  • agree that they only want to use 1 attorney, usually to save money, but sometimes just to avoid fights brought on by the second attorney.
  • don't want to make the divorce into a big fight.
  • need help figuring out a few things even though they have worked through most issues.
  • want to hold the costs down.
  • want a fairly quick divorce, or at least are not opposed to it.
  • have just grown apart over the course of a long-term marriage.
  • still love or care for each other.
  • have kids (sometimes grown) and they don't want to upset the kids.
  • believe in fairness.
  • sometimes, mainly are looking for an attorney to act as a scribe to write up the papers based on their agreements.
So, how can you and your spouse get an amicable divorce?

Rule #1:  choose your attorney wisely. Some lawyers don't believe in amicable divorces.  Look for a Collaborative attorney.  He or she will be more open to customizing and creating new solutions.  Plus, a Collaborative lawyer will already be attuned to a peaceful resolution.

Avoid any lawyer you don't feel comfortable with.  Avoid non-refundable retainers.  Also, if someone insists on a course of action that you don't want, for example having a temporary hearing, or tells you exactly what to do or how everything will go.Some lawyers don't listen to their own clients.

Remember, almost no divorce is inexpensive, but you save money by not fighting.  If you have assets or children or any difficulties, there will be some cost associated with it.  Divorce is normally not cheap, but an amicable divorce should cost much less than a divorce with a lot of fighting in it.

Stay on good terms with your spouse. That saves money.

Be able to explain how the deal meets your spouse's needs as well as yours.  The deal must be mutually beneficial if you want to keep the divorce amicable.

Good luck!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Great Expectations: What Do You Have in Mind?

A lot of people contact my office to find out what they can get in a divorce.  That's such a broad question, it's hard to answer.  I normally respond with another question:  What do you want? As a starting point, I think it's better to focus on what's important to you and to not waste time on things you don't care about.

One skill I have learned (one of many, actually) from Collaborative Law is to really focus on my client's needs, interests and goals from the outset.  While some attorneys still prefer to take charge and tell their client what to go after and how to do it, I like to start by finding out what's truly important to my client.  That often involves digging down below the surface to understand why different issue and outcomes may be important.  I don't just make a superficial list.  I work with my client to make sure important and relevant goals are what we are seeking.

Here are some typical approaches we often hear.

1.  For some people, I hear that they want to get the divorce over with as cheaply as possible.  While I believe in handling a case in as cost-efficient a manner as possible, divorces with significant issues involving children or assets are rarely cheap.  Unless both parties are determined to agree on everything and not fight, there will be significant expenses.  There are ways to cut down on some expenses, especially in discovery and in having multiple hearings, but you have to weigh the need for information or court direction versus the cost involved.  In general, you should have discussions with your attorney at the outset and throughout the case about the fees so you are  informed about the amounts being charged and the need for the attorney activities.

2.  In a related vein, clients will sometimes want to get the divorce over with as quickly as possible. That is often a bad idea.  It is usually accompanied by major concessions by the party in a hurry and sometimes shortcuts are taken where discovery isn't fully developed to make the other party confirm some facts or issues.  The result either way is usually the party in a hurry comes out on the short end of the stick.

3. Some people are most interested in getting certain assets or outcomes.  That could be determining that financial support will be necessary for a while post divorce.  It could mean that certain retirement assets are important because the client will not be in a position to build up such an account in the future.  The important issue could be getting as much time with the kids as possible.  When there are significant issues like those, a party should probably not be looking to take a standard solution or just let the Judge decide. If you are in this situation, remember not to tip your hand and let your spouse know how important the issue is to you.  It could put you at a disadvantage in negotiating.

4.  Having a friendly, respectful divorce is very important to some people.  That might lead to using Collaborative Law.  If not, it is still sometimes possible to have a friendly divorce if both parties and the attorneys want to do so.

5.  Some clients want to take a business-like approach to divorce.  They want to cover all the bases and do things right.  They are methodical and not too emotionally involved.  That can be a very good way to proceed, but it's hard to take the emotion out.  If both parties want that approach, it can be very calm and efficient.  If one party is emotional and angry (yes, it happens sometimes!), it makes it hard to deal with everything like a business decision.

6.  Unfortunately, sometimes one party wants to punish the other party.  While there is usually good reason on some level for that attitude, the result is usually delay and a great deal more cost.  It is generally a waste of time and money, but a lot of attorneys won't explain that.  I prefer not to get involved in that approach because it costs the client more, doesn't usually improve the outcome (especially considering the extra attorney's fees involved) and in the end, both parties are unhappy.

7.  Some people will say that they want a certain outcome "as a matter of principle".  They will often say they don't care what the cost is.  Unfortunately, the cost usually becomes a factor and those people end up very upset because of how expensive the divorce has become and how little they got out of the divorce.  It almost never ends happily. When people start talking about principle, they need to pause and think about it and what the principle may cost them.  It's a good discussion to have with their attorney at the outset.

An attorney who tries to control the divorce case often has problems because the attorney makes a number of assumptions which may not match up with the client's needs and expectations.  If you are looking for an attorney, I recommend that you find one who will listen to you and help you define and pursue your specific needs and interests. Listen to the attorney if he/she says your objective may be a bad or costly idea. You will be much happier with the result.