What can you do to give yourself a leg up in your divorce case? Are there any simple actions that you can take to benefit yourself and your family? What if I told you that the answer to these questions was not as important as the answer to another simple question. That question has more to do with avoiding mistakes than it does with you having to do anything in particular. To that point, I want to ask and then answer this question: what problems are out there in the world that is avoidable and can lead to your achieving a great deal of success in your Texas divorce?
Find an attorney (a good one) to represent you
First things first. You do not need to be represented by an attorney to get divorced in Texas. People just like you file for divorce every day in our state without an attorney and get divorced with no problem. You can find how-to-guides on the internet without any problem. I bet if you go to our website's search bar and type in "pro se divorce" you will find a guide on how to file your divorce in Texas. People will tell you that you will save money by doing it yourself. People will tell you that it's not that tough. As with most things in life, however, the devil is in the details.
True, you don't need to hire a lawyer to get divorced. However, from what I have seen people go through in divorce cases there are many reasons why you should hire a lawyer. Number one, divorces take time. You need to follow the correct procedures in a divorce to get across the finish line. If you are not an attorney you have little chance of meeting all the requirements that the state puts in front of you to have a judge sign off on the divorce. You may be a nuclear physicist, you may be a chemical plant worker, a teacher, a waiter or a gardener. You may have skills of your own to boast about. However, if you don't know how to start and finish a divorce you are at a disadvantage.
I can tell you with confidence that you are at a disadvantage because I talk to folks all the time who have been “separated” from their spouse for a decade but have never managed to get a divorce. When I ask why this is the case, these folks will almost always tell me that they tried to get a divorce eight or nine years ago but life happened and they were never able to finish the process. This isn’t because those folks weren’t smart enough to do it or have some sort of character flaw, either.
The simple truth is that we are all busy. We all have priorities that don't necessarily align with sitting in front of a computer for hours at a time and learning how to get a divorce. Think about your job. Could you explain to me in fifteen minutes how to do every part of your job? No chance at all that you could, I'm willing to bet. The same thing can be said of a divorce. There's no way that you could plop down on the couch and figure out how to file your divorce, provide notice to your spouse, negotiate a settlement, draft a divorce decree and then file all the appropriate paperwork without any hiccups. You may be able to do it, but the odds are decent that you will make a mistake along the way. Mistakes cost time and they cost money.
On the other hand, you can hire an experienced family law attorney to represent you and your interests in this case. Yes, attorneys cost money. Yes, attorneys do not have a great reputation for being fun to talk to or for being able to accept all of your phone calls on the first time around. You will probably not want to get dinner with your attorney after your case is over with just to talk about life. Attorneys are not your friends, and if we are then we are your very expensive friend. Here is what an attorney can do for you, though.
An attorney will see to it that your divorce is filed quickly and correctly. An attorney will provide notice of your divorce to your spouse and either get everyone into mediation as quickly as possible or will get you to temporary orders hearing if there is a critical issue that needs to be dealt with by the judge sooner rather than later. If you can negotiate a settlement on the case in mediation, terrific. You'll never have to see the inside of a courtroom. This saves time, money and stress. If your case needs to go to a temporary orders hearing, your attorney will prepare you for that and prepare your case. You're paying for their expertise.
What seems fair or unfair to you may not be the case. If you have no experience in divorces how would you know what to expect in a divorce? It would be unreasonable to expect you to be able to step in and negotiate a divorce case with as many issues in play as there are in your life. Do you have kids? If so, do you know how much to ask for in child support? Who's going to pay the health insurance for your kids? Is your spouse going to split custody with you or are you going to have the kids with you during the week? If you're a dad who wants split custody how are you going to convince your spouse (or a judge) that this is what is in the best interests of your kids?
Consider all of these factors, and then think about how I haven't even brought up any financial considerations yet. If you own a business, are deeply in debt because of bad decisions made by your spouse or need to negotiate for spousal support both during and after the divorce it would make a great deal of sense for you to have an attorney by your side. Family law attorneys can make a tremendous difference in your case and can help shape your case for the better. My advice would be to make the short term investment in an experienced family law attorney to benefit you and your child's long term chances at success.
Take your case as it comes and don’t get stuck in the mud
Let me clarify that for you: do not become hard-headed during divorce negotiations. Pride cometh before the fall, as it was said many years ago. What you think is fair at the beginning of the case, and what may be fair at the beginning of the case, is subject to change. Your life does not get stuck in amber like that mosquito in Jurassic Park once you file for divorce. Circumstances change and you need to be able to understand that.
You may be in a better position as your case progresses than you were at the very beginning. What if your spouse continually fails to pay child support or to pick up your kids on time during the temporary orders phase of your case. Suppose that you take him to see the judge and she reads him the riot act about his bad behavior? That should embolden you to ask for more in the way of time with your kids, money in child support and a host of other things in negotiation. By the same token, you may be in a position where you are not able to be as aggressive in negotiation as you thought you would be earlier in your case.
Whatever position you find yourself in and whatever the individual circumstances of your case, you should not be afraid to step forward or step back in your negotiation mindset. Have a set goal for your case is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can hurt you if you are too rigid in your approach to negotiations. Understand that as your case changes you need to change along with it. Just because you are feeling like you were the one who was taken advantage of does not mean that a judge will feel the same way. Step outside of your case and do your best to assess things from the perspective of a neutral observer.
What I will tell you about divorce cases is that many clients begin their case with the idea that they are going to seek the absolute truth on the way to achieving justice for themselves and their children. These are folks that have been done wrong by a bad spouse and this divorce is their opportunity to tell the world about their problems and the difficulties of married life. What I have to tell these people is that divorce is not about the truth or about holding their spouse accountable. Divorce is about dividing up assets and debts. Divorce is about maintaining a strong relationship with your children and ensuring their future success.
You may feel like you are entitled to something in this divorce due to your being treated badly. You may feel like your spouse owes you something or that a judge is guaranteed to see things your way. You may be right about all of those things. However, with the odds that are you end up seeing a judge in your case being fairly low, you are better off thinking about your case from the perspective of how you are going to accomplish your goals through negotiation with your spouse. If there is no way that your spouse is going to agree to your demands, and if you don’t have the facts or arguments to win you those goals in a trial, you are best served by taking a more reasonable approach to negotiations and goal setting in your divorce.
Listen to your attorney and heed their advice
You have hired a family law attorney for a reason. It's not to have someone you know who has to listen to your problems, although your attorney will do this. It's not to have someone to complain to about your spouse, again, your attorney will do this for you if you want. The attorney is there to advise you of the relevant laws and circumstances of your case in order so that you may make good decisions about yourself, your children and your finances.
Listen to your attorney. If he or she gives you advice that you do not like or do not understand, ask him or her questions about the piece of advice. You are not unreasonable if you disagree with your attorney, but to do so without understanding all of the circumstances of your case is foolish. Have your attorney act as advisor and teacher. Learn the law and you will know how to guide yourself in addition to having the aid of your lawyer.
Finally, your friends are great supporters during a divorce. Lean on them to be sounding boards for a lot of issues. However, do not expect your friends to give you legal advice. They may want to. They may have gone through their divorce. Do not expect that they are going to be able to guide you from a legal standpoint. Rely on your attorney for legal guidance and your friends as support figures on a personal level. You can accept their advice with grace, but do not attempt to blend friendly advice and legal advice. Keep these two areas of your life separate and you can avoid a huge mistake many people make in the area of divorce.
More advice on divorce in tomorrow’s blog post
We have more to share with you as far as divorce tips and pitfalls to avoid in tomorrow's blog post. In the meantime, if you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week here in our office. These consultations are a great opportunity to learn more about your case and the law. We provide answers to your pressing questions and direct feedback about your circumstances, as well.