Friday, January 15, 2016

Do You Really Need a Lawyer?

I recently read a divorce article  on line that I really disagreed with. The premise was that smart people didn't need to hire a lawyer to get a divorce.

The author was probably basing her ideas on how divorce works in California.  It may work there, but I still see lots of problems with DIY.  Even in California with their regimented divorce process, there are still many cases where Collaborative Law can be very beneficial.  Here in Texas, there are even more reasons to hire a lawyer and use Collaborative Law.

1.  Texas divorce forms alone are not sufficient in complicated cases.  Where there are children, you want to have enforceable and appropriate orders for access, support and decision-making.   Just taking a chance with on line forms is not a good idea.  If your order isn't drawn correctly, it's worthless at best and potentially harmful to your interests.

2.  It is very common for a party negotiating without an attorney, to get bullied or bluffed into making a very bad agreement.  It could be paying too much or receiving too little support or not getting proper value for some assets or giving up rights unnecessarily.

3.  Incorrect assumptions are often made, to the serious detriment of one of the parties.  In Texas, for example, there's no automatic 50-50 division of assets or liabilities.   Also, retirement assets may be community property which generally should be divided, but they may include some separate property that was earned prior to marriage.  Plus, how do you deal with a house that's just in one party's name?  You need lawyers to help with these issues.

4.  Few couples can work through these problems just on  their own or with a therapist or financial professional.  Mediators can help some, but mediators can't give legal advice.  No matter how smart a person is, a lawyer is important when there are hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars at risk. Most people benefit from the team of professionals used in Texas:  two attorneys, one neutral mental health professional and one neutral financial professional.

5.  You can't rely on a Judge to correct any mistakes you make in negotiating an agreement.  Judges can't give legal advice and they generally won't point out your mistakes unless something is clearly illegal.

Best bet:  talk to a Collaborative lawyer before you start. Discus the different process options  for working out the terms of your divorce. You may decide to do it yourself, but you also find out that you need help.  It's better to discover that at the beginning rather than post-divorce when you are having problems.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Considering Divorce?

'Tis the Season!

For several years, January has been a very popular month to start a divorce.  There are lots of reasons for that popularity, but mostly it seems to come down to the start of a new year being a time for fresh starts.

For those about to suggest a divorce or for those hearing about plans for a divorce from a spouse, it's time to take action.  That's true even if you don't want a divorce.  Doing nothing can be very dangerous.  With that in mind, here are five tips to keep in mind.

How to start -- The best first step is to consult with an attorney.

Yes, you may have to pay a consultation fee, but that is a small investment compared to what may be at stake.  Meet with an experienced family law attorney and find out what your options are.  There are several different processes that can be used to get a divorce, with varying degrees of cost, difficulty and damage. There's no "one size fits all".  You need to consider which way you prefer to proceed. 

Immediate concerns.  You need to think short-term to consider some of the following issues:
  • Who stays in the house?
  • How are the bills paid?
  • What do you say to the children?
  • How do you break the news to your spouse?
  • How can you get along with your spouse while the divorce is pending?

Plan ahead -- things to do before filing:
  • Gather records on your finances.
  • Have control of some money.
  • As odd as it may sound, try to be considerate and nice to your spouse. It's easier and better to divorce a friend than an enemy.
  • Make a plan for where you will live and how you will separate the clothing, personal effects and furniture.
  • If you have kids, plan how you and your spouse can share time and responsibility for the children.
Read up on the divorce process.

There's tons of information on line about divorce, although you should be careful to not read about other states.  Their laws are different and usually don't apply here. There's plenty of Texas information available.

Don't Do It Yourself! 

I recommend against DIY unless you have a very short marriage, AND there are no kids AND there is no property (other than personal effects) AND there are no debts.  If you have any of those, you should also have an attorney.  There's a lot to lose if you don't know what you're doing!
 Good luck, plan ahead and work with an attorney.