Thursday, June 1, 2017

Don't Be a Lone Ranger!

When you're going through a divorce, even using Collaborative Law, it's sometimes frustrating.  It may seem like things are moving too slow or too fast, or that things aren't going your way and your spouse if getting whatever he or she wants.

Sometimes, it feels like you don't have any control over your own life. You may feel like the attorneys and other professionals are micro-managing your life, but this isn't your old life anymore.  You are transitioning out of marriage into a single life again.  You will be in limbo while the divorce is pending.  Your spouse is also in limbo.

A good way to handle frustration during a divorce is to talk with your attorney.  You can also engage a private counselor for yourself and over time, that can be very helpful.

Some people, however, choose a less helpful path.  They let their frustration build to a point where they decide to take unilateral action. That can upset their spouse and possibly derail the Collaborative process.

Here are some bad moves that you should not make:
  • Start dating while the divorce is pending.  That's always a bad idea.  Please wait.  It will likely be very upsetting to your spouse, and you will probably add issues about reimbursement for wasting community funds on dating.
  • Suddenly move.  Without notice.  It's worse if there are kids involved.  Even without kids, there are obvious financial ramifications. It probably violates agreements already in place.
  • Take an expensive vacation. You are probably spending community funds and your spouse will probably be unhappy. That makes the process much more difficult to complete.
  • Buy a house.  Without an agreement to spend community funds, there's a major problem.  If there are children, a new house can upset school and other plans.  It can also cause ripples through all the financial issues.
  • Change schools without an agreement.  When parents are not in agreement, this can cause very serious problems and possibly end the Collaborative process.
  • Take a new job.  That can be good or bad. It will certainly change the financial equation.  Even though it's your life, it will create more good will if you discuss the change with everyone in advance.
  • Clean out a bank account.  That can be considered an act of war.  Don't do it.  If you need funds, have a discussion.  If you think your spouse might try to take the money, you need to have a basic discussion about whether the two of you want to us the Collaborative process.
  • Make children's plans that infringe on the other parent's time.  Be respectful with your spouse/co-parent.  The children don't need to be put in the middle of fights between the two parents.  Find a way to work together for the kids' sake. Work with the mental health professional to compromise on sharing the time with the children.

If you get seriously frustrated, please talk with your attorney.  He or she can help you put things in perspective.  Part of the problem may be expectations and your attorney can help you have realistic expectations about how the Collaborative divorce process will work in your case.You can also work with the mental health professional or financial professional to resolve some of the issues.

Whatever you do, don't give up on the process. Please talk with one of the professionals!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Do You Really Want to Settle?

At the start of a divorce, some people think about whether they should try to settle the case or just get ready to fight.  Usually, those people have not been through a divorce and don't know how to settle and don't know the costs of fighting.  In this post, I would like to focus on settling.  The costs of fighting are enormous and the result is not worth the cost in my view.

Why settle?  There are lots of reasons.
  • You can get the case resolved now, rather than letting it drag out for a year or more.
  • Save money.  It costs much less to focus on settling.  Fighting involves having extra hearings, filing a lot of  motions and doing discovery.  Those actions involve a lot of attorney time and fees and they get everyone stirred up. After all of the fighting is done, the parties usually end up settling, but with much less to be divided.
  • You can focus on getting what you really need or value, rather than just ending up with an arbitrary percentage share of everything.
  • There's a chance both parties will be satisfied with the result. 
So, if you're interested in the idea of settling, what can you do to improve your chances for success?
  • Be prepared.  Think ahead about how you want to end up.  Think about how to persuade your spouse to agree to what you want. Gather documents that you will need to negotiate.  Do your homework and come to meetings prepared to discuss the topics that are scheduled.
  • Be open-minded.  There is more than one way to do things.  Be able to consider other alternatives than the one you favor.
  • Work with an attorney.  In a divorce, you are dividing all the family's assets and liabilities.  You are often making plans for the children for the next 10 to 15 years. You need to have an experienced professional to help you figure out your options and make the best decisions.
  • Try the Collaborative process and work with a neutral financial professional (FP) and neutral therapist (MHP).  The FP provides expert assistance to you in handling the property issues.  As well has helping put together a parenting plan when there are children involved, the MHP helps manage the joint meetings to improve communication between the parties. You know how easy it is to get angry at your spouse, or for your spouse to get angry with you, when you are discussing important matters. The MHP is very effective in keeping the peace.
  • Talk often with your attorney.  If you are concerned that the Collaborative process will be, or has become, too stressful, discuss the situation with your attorney.  An experienced Collaborative attorney can help reassure you and suggest actions that can help.
  • Focus on the important goals.  Obviously, some things are more important than others.  Be willing to trade off some issues or other things.
  • Remember the importance of helping your spouse also "win", so you have a "win-win" situation.  Not only does that increase the chances for success, but it will make the post-divorce relationship much better.
For most professionals who work in the family law field, and for most people who have been through a divorce, the choice between fighting or settling is pretty obvious.  Hopefully, if you are facing that decision, you will choose the course that is best for you.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

How to Find an Experienced Collaborative Attorney

If you are about to start a divorce proceeding and are considering using Collaborative Law, or if your spouse wants you to consider Collaborative Law, you need to think about finding a good Collaborative attorney to represent you.

Referrals and searching on line:
Two obvious starting points are to ask friends, acquaintances or professionals for recommendations or to research on line.  If you get some possible names as referrals, you should naturally check them out on line.

What to look for on line?
  • Whether they are a Board Certified Specialist in Family Law.
  • Whether the web site contains helpful information on Collaborative Law.
  • How long the attorney has been practicing Collaborative Law.
  • Whether the web site clearly shows how and why Collaborative Law should be used.
  • See what groups they are members of.  It's a good sign if they are members of Collaborative Divorce Texas, the state organization, and the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, the international organization.  Both groups promote education and the practice of Collaborative Law and their web sites have good explanatory information about Collaborative Divorce practice.
Referrals and on line searches are good starting points, but it will still be necessary to meet in person with a prospective attorney. An essential element in choosing an attorney is chemistry.  You have got to have a good feeling about the attorney and part of that comes from how well the attorney listens and communicates with you.

In addition, you are probably better off if you work with an experienced Collaborative lawyer.

When you meet with a prospective lawyer, here are some topics you might discuss:
  • How long has the attorney practiced Family Law?
  • How long has the attorney practiced Collaborative Law?
  • How many Collaborative cases has the attorney handled?
  • Is the attorney Board Certified as a Specialist in Family Law?
  • How often does the attorney get continuing legal education in Collaborative Law?
  • Does the attorney speak at Collaborative Law trainings?
  • Has the attorney had leadership roles in Collaborative or Family Law organizations?
Those issues will help you find out if the attorney has been actively participating in Collaborative Law and for how long.

Fortunately, there are a number of good, experienced Collaborative attorneys around.  

Once you have found some with experience, you can decide based on your intangible gut feeling.  If you feel good chemistry and communication, it's probably the right person to hire.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Value of an Experienced Lawyer

Although it might seem obvious, an experienced lawyer brings a lot to the table that a less-experienced lawyer may not be able to match.  There are certainly very good less-experienced lawyers around, but here are some things to look for when you are choosing a lawyer to help with a Collaborative Law case.

1.  Knowledge of the law.  The experienced lawyer will thoroughly know the general Family Law provisions, but will also have a good working knowledge of Collaborative Law.  A less-experienced lawyer may not have had many Collaborative cases and may not be as comfortable in various phases of the process.

2.  Knowledge of what options to consider. An experienced lawyer knows what options are available and can help you decide how to proceed.  Collaborative Law won't work for every case, but it's always worth considering. 

3.  Experience with various approaches in the past.  There are slightly different ways to start a case and different ways to get the spouse to sign on to the Collaborative process. An experienced Collaborative attorney will know for different courses of action what the benefits may be, what problems may arise and what unplanned results may occur.  The experienced lawyer can't anticipate everything, but can help prepare for many things.

4. Comfortable working with the other professionals.  An experienced Collaborative lawyer will be used to working with the neutral professionals and understands their value.  That means the attorney is able to turn over portions of the work to the other professionals, knowing they will do a good job

5. Comfortable working with the other attorney in a non-traditional role.  In litigation, attorneys are strictly adversaries.  In the Collaborative process, they work cooperatively and that is difficult for some attorneys until they have enough cases that it becomes "normal".

6.  Knowledge of negotiating skills.  While some litigating attorneys are also   good negotiators, most often they are not well trained in negotiating.  They have to re-learn negotiating based on the interests of the parties, rather than by staking out extreme positions and negotiating toward a middle point, like car buyers and sellers do.  Focusing on the interests and needs of the parties can result in much more satisfying agreements for both parties.

7.  Knowledge of communication skills.  An experienced Collaborative attorney usually learns a great deal about communications.  It starts with how to analyze the situation, including the relations between the parties and their styles of communication.  The experienced attorney can help you learn what to say to your spouse, how to say it and what not to do.  It would have been nice to know that at the start of the marriage, but it also helps now because there will always be some connection between you and your ex-spouse.

When it's time to hire a Collaborative lawyer, you should shop around and find an experienced Collaborative lawyer you are comfortable with.  My next post will talk about how to tell if the attorney has good experience that will help your case be successful.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

How to Slowly Prepare for a Divorce

Having Time to Think and Plan
If you are not in an emergency situation or under pressure to make quick decisions, you can actually prepare for a divorce that can be fairly rational.  That's not to say that you and your spouse will not act irrationally from time to time.  That happens. For some people, there is an opportunity to research and plan so that going through a divorce is not just reacting to a sudden situation.

If you have time to prepare, here are some suggestions for how to start on a divorce.

1.  Do you have some money?  If not, you need to accumulate some or find a source to lend money to you.  Not only will you have to pay legal expenses, but you will have to find a way to financially create and support two households out of one.  There will be all kinds of new expenses.  Even though you may hate to do so, you may have to borrow money from family or friends or banks.  Keep your options open.  If someone offers to help, don't turn them down.

2.  Do you have a place to live?  You may be able to continue sharing a residence with your spouse while the divorce is pending, but you probably won't want to.  Or, your spouse may want to move out.  Can you afford to keep your current residence? Or, can you afford a new residence?

3.  Do you have a way to protect your children?  You may have a mature, cooperative relationship with the other parent, but you may not.  Hopefully, you can lay the groundwork to start a cooperative parenting relationship with your spouse. You don't want the kids to be a pawn between the adults in your divorce.

4.  Do you have a way to support yourself?  If you aren't working, you need to find a job or start updating your training.  If at all possible, you need to be financially independent.  If that's not realistic, at least find a job or upgrade your job or skills.

5.  Do you have a plan for the future?  You need to think ahead about starting over in every facet of your life.  Don't fall into just reacting to what's going on with a divorce.  Do some planning and get help setting up plans and goals.

6.  Have you discussed divorce with your spouse?  If you can, and it wouldn't spook your spouse into over-reacting, you should gently bring up the topic.  Chances are, your spouse has been considering it also.  On the other hand, springing a surprise on the other spouse can create a lot of anger, which means you have a more difficult and expensive divorce.

7.  Will the split be peaceful?  Some are and some aren't.  You need to try to figure that out.  That's useful information to share with your attorney since it will probably determine how the divorce starts.

What to do:  Research attorneys and find someone nearby who does Collaborative divorces.  Work with an experienced Collaborative attorney if you want to keep things private and peaceful.  Good luck.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Comparison Shopping for Attorneys

When people are considering filing for divorce, they usually start to think about  hiring an attorney. Unless someone knows a family law attorney or has had experience with many attorneys, it may be hard to get started in choosing one. For the people who may feel a little lost, here are some tips on how to find a good lawyer to help you with your case.

You may want to consider the following when researching attorneys:

1. Experience.  You probably want someone who has handled cases similar to yours in the past.  While each case is different, and outcomes may vary from case to case, it does make a difference if the attorney has worked on the same or similar issues in the past.

2.  Chemistry.  This is something that you may or may not feel after talking and meeting with the prospective attorney.   If you are uncomfortable with or dislike the attorney, do yourself (and the attorney) a favor and walk away.  On the other hand, if the attorney listens well to you, speaks in language you understand and appears concerned about you, that might be a good attorney for you.

3.  Information Available.  Does the attorney provide information for you, either in person, on the web site or by sending information to you?  Can you learn about the process you are starting into?  You are probably better off if you have more information available so you can mentally and emotionally prepare for what's ahead.

4.  Location.  In Collaborative cases, location is not too big of an issue.  Usually, I recommend having an attorney in the same county.  There usually is not much reason for the attorney and client to meet frequently at the attorney's office during a case. When a Collaborative case starts up, the professionals and clients usually pick the most convenient place to meet and schedule meetings for that location.  That decision is affected by where all the professionals office and where the parties live and work.  Considering all that, the meeting locations usually can be convenient for all.

5.  Cost.  Unfortunately, no attorney can give a guarantee of the total cost of the process.  You can find out the attorney's hourly rate and retainer amount, as well as get a general idea of what the other professionals will likely need for retainers.  You should remember that experienced attorneys will probably be more efficient than less experienced ones, but there won't be a great deal of difference.  Overall, the differences in cost between attorneys will not be substantial.

There is more information available than ever before about attorneys through the internet and various means of advertising. Still the most important step in hiring an attorney is a face-to-face meeting to check each other out.

One Final Word:   Ask the attorney how many Collaborative cases he or she has has handled through completion.  If they have not done any, there is likely a problem.  If the attorney you are meeting with tries to talk you out of using Collaborative Law, that attorney is probably not a real Collaborative lawyer.  Some lawyers advertise that they do Collaborative Law, but they always talk prospective clients out of using the Collaborative process. If you are interested in a Collaborative divorce, you need to talk to a real Collaborative attorney.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Is Collaborative Law Safe Without the Injunctions?

In almost every divorce, Collaborative or litigated, there is mistrust between the parties.  Often, one or both parties feel vulnerable and at risk of being taken advantage of. Fortunately, Collaborative Divorces have safety features to protect the participants.

Here's how some parts of the Collaborative process provide extra protection.

"Code of Conduct"
In divorce litigation, one of the first steps normally taken is to get a temporary restraining order (TRO) issued and schedule a hearing for a temporary injunction that would continue in place until the final divorce is granted.  In some counties in Texas, there are "standing orders" that are automatic mutual temporary injunctions that apply immediately to both parties when the divorce is filed.

Regardless of which way the orders come into effect, there are restraints on the parties financially and socially that go into effect very quickly in most cases.  That is not necessarily the case with Collaborative cases, which concerns some people.

To address those concerns, in Texas, the Collaborative community has created a standard Participation Agreement that is signed in every case which has similar language limiting what the parties can do after they sign up to use Collaborative Law for their divorce. In Collaborative Divorces, the "Code of Conduct" attached to the Participation Agreement provides protection and rules to manage financial and other matters while the divorce is pending, and it becomes effective at the very start of the case when everyone signs the Participation Agreement.

Extra Set of Eyes
In most Collaborative Divorces, a neutral Financial Professional (FP) works with the parties to gather, organize and interpret the financial data for the married couple.  The FP is trained in divorce law and financial analysis and planning.  A major job of the FP is to help the parties gather the relevant financial records and organize them into a spreadsheet that is used by everyone.  The FP normally looks at tax returns and financial statements to help determine what the assets and liabilities are and what their values are. 

In a litigated divorce, there is no neutral financial expert playing that role. The Court relies on the parties to produce the financial data, which sometimes results in incomplete or misleading information. 

In Collaborative cases, the FP is an extra set of expert eyes for both parties helping to gather and check the information provided.  That saves a lot of money by focusing on the most relevant information and avoiding duplication and overlap. If any additional information is needed, the FP will request it immediately.  If there are any questions about the financial information, the FP takes the lead in getting clarification or additional information.

Obligation to Correct Mistakes
In litigated divorces, if a party makes a mistake, there's often no obligation for the other party to bring it to their attention or to correct it. 

In sharp contrast, in Collaborative Divorces, if a party or professional discovers a mistake, there is an obligation to bring it to everyone's attention and correct it. That makes Collaborative a much safer process for the parties because they are less likely to be disadvantaged by a mistake.

Unique Provisions Improve Safety for the Parties
Because of these provisions, the Collaborative process has proven to be a safe alternative to litigation.  A temporary injunction is no magic shield that can prevent all misbehavior.  With the Collaborative Divorce provisions, there are more weapons to fight misbehavior and dishonesty, so the process is certainly worth serious consideration.