Have you ever faced a seemingly insurmountable challenge at some point in your life? Maybe you’ve paid a student loan or a credit card balance in order to meet a financial goal that you had. If you are staring down tens of thousands of dollars in debt it would be tough mentally to think about how long it is going to take you to undue all of the damage done by that loan. Instead, I’m willing to bet that you approached that challenge bit by bit. If you can look at a huge goal and break it down into pieces then the big goal doesn’t seem so insurmountable after all.
That’s how divorce is, as well. I would not recommend that you look at your divorce as anything other than a challenge that will yield opportunities for you and your family. To look at it any other way would be to get bogged down in the details and sheer length of the case. Getting disheartened early on in a divorce is a recipe for disaster. You need to maintain a positive mindset during the case in order to meet your goals and devote the time and attention that this process deserves.
You would not be the first person to have concerns regarding how long a divorce is and what sort of strains may be put on your finances and your relationships as a result of the case. Many people tell me that they feel as though their circumstances are dictating the actions that they take during a divorce rather than vice versa This feeling of being out of control is what I want to help you avoid doing. True, you cannot control every aspect of your divorce but there are elements to a case that are within your grasp.
The future of your case, your life and your family depends on what is decided in a divorce. I do not think that this is an exaggeration. What you know coming into the divorce, what you are willing to plan for during the case, the decisions you make regarding what to do with various aspects of your case are crucial to your being able to set yourself and your kids up for post-divorce successes. It’s not like you have had a lot of time to plan these things out, either. Nobody plans to get divorced for years and years. Most of the time, it is a decision that you arrive at with relatively little time to plan for what comes next.
The decision to hire an attorney: to do or not to do
You do not have to hire an attorney to represent you in a Texas divorce. The judge will not bar you from their courtroom. The district clerk will not refuse to accept your court filings. The legal effect will not fail if you decide not to hire an attorney. However, I think it is a decision that you need to strongly consider, that of deciding whether or not to hire a lawyer to represent you and your interests in a divorce.
For some folks, not hiring a lawyer may be more defensible a decision than for others. Consider the circumstances you most likely are facing if you are a young married person. You probably don’t have kids yet. Your financial assets are limited. Your liabilities (other than say, student loans) are likely limited. The fact is that you haven’t had a ton of opportunities in life to either do things to benefit yourself or hurt yourself. You’re a blank slate. However, you are a blank slate with a spouse. That means you need to give the decision to hire an attorney a couple of different looks.
If you do not have a great deal of things in play during the divorce you may be justified in not hiring a lawyer. If all you need to do is transfer the title to your truck into your name and then get divorced, you may not need a lawyer. In fact, you may find that for the money you are willing to pay there are few lawyers who are willing to take your case. At that point you would need to figure out if you had the time and the willingness to learn how to proceed with a divorce on your own. Ultimately, if your spouse chooses to hire an attorney then you may be pressed into doing the same.
For the most part, however, I think if you are going to proceed with a divorce that you need to hire an attorney. It is a short-term investment for what could be a long term gain for yourself. The issues in your divorce, when taken in combination with one another, are quite complex. The legal system, though not impossible to navigate without an attorney, are quite complex. Where the rubber hits the road is the reality that you likely do not have the time to devote to your case that you would need to represent yourself well.
If you have a full time job, if you have kids or responsibilities then your time is already precious to you. The last thing that you need to do is to have your time pulled in another direction. While your divorce case will have peaks and valleys in terms of a time commitment, the peaks will almost certainly be something that takes up more time than you have available to commit to it. Couple that with the stress of a case and what it can do to your relationship with the people in your life and you will probably find that it is best to interview lawyers and hire one to represent you.
The costs associated with hiring a family law attorney
Attorneys that take on divorce cases (known as family law attorneys) will bill you by the hour. That means that the attorney, their legal staff and other attorneys who work on your case in their office, will charge you an hourly rate when work is done on your case. You will receive bills periodically from the office telling you what work has been done on your case over a period of time and how much you are being asked to pay for the services rendered.
At the outset of your case, your attorney will probably ask you to pay what is called a retainer. A retainer will commit your attorney to work on your case. The retainer can be thought of as a “down payment” like you would make on a home or a vehicle. Between the retainer and periodic payments to the lawyer, you will have most of the costs of your case covered.
You should be aware that factors like how complex your case is, whether you are asking the attorney to pick up your case after it has already started, the location of your case (whether the lawyer has to drive a great distance for hearings, mediations, etc.) as well as the experience of the attorney will all factor into how much the lawyer costs per hour to hire. It is your job to interview attorneys and then weigh all of these factors before deciding which (if any) you would like to hire to represent you.
What information should you have handy when you decide to start interviewing lawyers?
The decision to hire a divorce attorney is not one that you should take lightly. It is ok to go into a meeting relatively unprepared but you are doing yourself a disservice in many ways. You can get a lot more out of these meetings if you come in prepared to ask questions and answer questions that the attorney may have for you. In fact, I have some information that you should probably begin to collect before seeing the first lawyer you are interested in hiring,
You should know your spouse’s date of birth and those of your children, as well. Where you were married, the date on which you were married as well as the date on which you and your spouse separated or ceased to live together as husband and wife. These bits of information may seem unnecessary for an initial meeting but they will be necessary to draft and file the initial pleading in a divorce case- the Original Petition for Divorce.
Next, if you and your spouse have a prenuptial or nuptial agreement then should bring a copy for the attorney to see if he or she has any questions. These property agreements can make a divorce case a lot more streamlined but the attorney may nevertheless have questions that only the agreement can answer. A copy of the agreement will be attached to the Original Petition or incorporated within the document, as well. So he or she will need a copy sooner or later.
As for information that will be more critical to your case after you hire an attorney you should have your and your spouse’s employer address and other information available. How much do you earn yearly? How much does your spouse earn? What sort of retirement benefits are out there for you and your spouse? Do you have any workplace benefits or insurance policies that are unique? Be sure to come in with this information, as well.
What are the really, really important questions to ask in a Texas divorce?
Not all questions are created equal when it comes to divorce in Texas. Your lawyer will help you work through these questions at some point but it pays to think about them before you meet with him or her. For starters, think about your kids (if you have any under the age of 18) and how the divorce is going to impact them. What do you want to see happen in regard to custody, visitation and child support? Do you intend to keep the kids on a full time basis and your spouse to have visitation? Will you need child support? Have you filled out a budget to determine what your household needs will be after the divorce?
What about health insurance for the kids? You or your spouse will have to provide health insurance for the kids. The judge will not sign off on your divorce decree until it contains the agreement or orders regarding health insurance. Private health insurance that one of you provides, work-provided plans or reimbursing the state for Medicaid are the most likely options. What insurance is place right now for your kids? Do they have any special medical needs? Consider these factors before you wade into your divorce waist deep and don’t have an opportunity to spend the time to do so.
Will you need to ask for spousal maintenance after your divorce. Spousal maintenance is commonly referred to as alimony in other states. This money would be paid by your ex-spouse to you after the divorce in order so that you can meet your minimal, basic needs. You must have been married for at least ten years in order to be ordered spousal maintenance in Texas (absent a recent history of family violence). Otherwise, you are limited in terms of how much money (20% of your spouse’s gross monthly income) you can be paid for how long (typically less than five years). This factor goes back to the budgeting issue that I brought up earlier, as well.
More items to help you prepare for divorce will be found in tomorrow’s blog post
We will continue to discuss this topic in tomorrow’s blog post before moving on to cover some do’s and don’ts for Texas divorces. Please stay tuned and join us tomorrow.
In the meantime, if you have any questions about the material that we covered today 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 where your questions can be answered and concerns addressed directly. Thank you for your time and we hope to be able to serve you and your family in the future.