Prior to even arriving at the temporary orders hearing in your family law case, you and your attorney will have discussed the goals that you have in relation to that hearing. Every case is different and your goals will differ depending on the circumstances that you find yourself in. If you have a specific goal in mind or a circumstance that you want your attorney to be aware of you should make sure to directly address that with your attorney. Do not expect your attorney to be a mind reader or assume that he or she just automatically knows what you want to achieve in your case.
What you should be trying to do is avoid a temporary orders hearing in the first place. An agreed temporary order means that you and your spouse were able to come to an agreement on temporary orders prior to a hearing. This means that you all avoided the need to speak to the judge and have him play the role of tie-breaker in your case. Settling your case for temporary orders frequently occurs in mediation but can also occur in informal settlement negotiations between your attorney and that of your spouse.
The main thing to keep in mind is that your agreement needs to be in writing. The most iron-clad agreement would be contained in a Mediated Settlement Agreement. This document is produced by your mediator after mediation has resulted in a settlement. The Mediated Settlement Agreement can not be overturned by the second thoughts of a party. This means that the odds are exceptionally high that what was decided in mediation will end up being the temporary orders in your case- no matter what happens next. That agreement is the basis by which of your attorneys will draft temporary orders from.
No agreement? Proceed directly to a Temporary Orders hearing
If you cannot settle your case in mediation or elsewhere, what you will end up doing is go straight to a temporary orders hearing. This is the situation that we described above where you and your spouse (and your attorneys) will go to court and have him play tie-breaker on the issues relevant to temporary orders in your case. This is a roll of the dice since you do not know how a judge will feel about your particular circumstances on the particular day(s) that you will be in his courtroom. However, without any other options this is what the law allows you and your spouse to do.
Just because the courtroom appearance is called a temporary orders hearing does not mean that it is not a serious affair. On the contrary, for all intents and purposes the hearing will look a whole lot like a family law trial would either for a divorce or child custody case. As such, you need to conduct yourself in a respectful manner. Also, you and your attorney should put in a great deal of preparation in order to make sure that you have all the evidence needed for the hearing ready to go. On top of that, you need to be ready to testify under hostile circumstances.
The court that you are in for the temporary orders hearing may have rules associated with how long a hearing can last for temporary orders, how many witnesses you can call and how long your case in chief may be. This means that you will not have an unlimited supply of time or evidence to present to the court in order to have the judge arrive at a favorable conclusion for your case.
Your attorney should counsel you through these issues, but do not spend a lot of time (in reality, do not spend any time) going through how particular pieces of property should be classified or what should end up happening with your 401(k). These are issues to be determined prior to the conclusion of your divorce. As it stands, you are going to be busy enough as it is going through the issues that are relevant to your hearing. Do not waste time discussing topics that are irrelevant to the current proceeding.
Financial Information Sheet
The Financial Information Sheet (FIS for short) will be one of the first forms that our office will go through with you when you sign on to become one of our clients. This form will allow our office to see how much money you and your spouse earn, how much spousal maintenance you or your spouse will need to pay bills during the case, what your assets and debts look like, and how much burden you can shoulder in relation to the household bills (mortgage, utilities, etc.)
What we like to do is to ask client to include their five most recent pay-stubs along with the FIS. Your tax return will verify your total income levels, as well. If you and your attorney cannot submit this information to the judge prior to your temporary orders hearing you are at a significant disadvantage. For one, the judge requires that it be ready to go on the morning of the hearing. If it is not there then you are in violation of a court request/requirement. How can you expect a judge to do what you are asking him when you cannot provide him with the basic paperwork he needs to reach a decision favorable to you?
Discovery: a lot of work, potentially a great benefit to you and your case
If there were a way that I could tell you that your family law case could be won without having to deal with discovery requests and responses then I would be the first person to do so. There is nothing fun about crafting questions and requests for information from an opposing party. There is nothing fun about responding to similar requests for information and documents from that same opposing party. However, this process can be among the most important in your entire family law case.
You need to learn how to work hand in hand with your attorney during this phase of your case. The fact is that you will not be able to respond to discovery requests without your attorney’s help. By the same token, your attorney will not be able to send in responses to requests for discovery or send out requests for information or documentation without your help. It truly is a team sport. Your attorney would have no way of knowing how much personal property, real property, retirement investments and other forms of property you own without you doing a diligent search to figure all of that out.
Here is the part that I think you will have the most trouble with. If your attorney receives discovery requests from the other side before your attorney has had a chance to submit requests, it may seem to you that you are having to do more “work” than your spouse is. I have had more one frustrated client tell me our side is having to run around and do a lot of work while their spouse is at home relaxing without a care in the world. Is this a justified concern?
It would be justified if your attorney weren’t going to submit discovery requests at all. Sometimes getting this step out of the way early in the process can actually make the rest of your case easy to manage. The other thing to keep in mind is that just because something is a lot of work does not make it unfair or not worth the effort. Your attorney will submit requests to your spouse that will also require a great deal of effort. Take the time to do discovery responses the right way.
Since you know that discovery is a likely part of your case, it would be wise to ask your attorney what you will need to submit. Even if you are not sure where to find particular documents, you can at least begin the search for them. It is much better to do this early in the case rather than to wait until the last minute. This puts you at a disadvantage and may wind up with you having to answer a judge’s questions about why the materials were not submitted on time and in full to your opposing attorney.
Start to collect the documents that you can locate as soon as possible. This only takes a bit of effort and can save you a great deal of time and money later on. Time, because you will have more things to do at the end of your case than you do at the beginning. Money, because you can save cash by doing this work yourself. The other option would be to have your attorney and their staff sort through documents and electronic files in order to hunt down the information that is needed. This will cost them time and will cost you money.
Ask your attorney when he or she will need your discovery responses by. Again, the requests will not be done in some straightforward manner that you will be able to figure out immediately. Odds are you will need to ask your attorney questions about what the requests are and what exactly is being asked for. Your attorney will likely want the documents back in about a week prior to the actual deadline to submit answers to the opposing attorney. You may even be asked to do something again if it was not done right the first time.
Inventory and Appraisement
Similar to discovery requests, an Inventory and Appraisement will take you a great deal of time to complete. It is an inventory of all of the property that you and your spouse own- either as a couple or individually. Identifying the property is step one. Listing the value of the property is the second part of the puzzle. You will submit a copy to the judge and to your opposing party. If you do not submit an inventory and appraisement the judge will be forced to go with the version that your spouse has submitted. This will not be nearly as favorable for you, but may help your spouse out a great deal.
How to wrap up a divorce
By the end of your divorce it will probably feel like you have been involved in your case for years. Odds are the length of your case will be much, much shorter than that but the stress and anxiety of a divorce may cause you to feel like years have been devoted to ending your marriage. On top of that are the doubts associated with the divorce. Have you been fair to your spouse? Did you negotiate or prepare as best you could? What more could you have done to assist your attorney in arriving at whatever settlement figures you came up with?
At the end of the day, you will get a divorce. The terms of the divorce, and how beneficial they are to you, will depend upon how you treat the case for the months leading up to its conclusion. Once your trial is done with or your mediation is complete there are still steps you need to be aware of that could impact your case. We will begin tomorrow’s blog post by sharing some tips that are intended to help you conclude your Texas divorce the right way.
Questions about divorce and family law in Texas? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan appreciate your spending so much time with us this past week as we have gone through numerous tips associated with Texas divorces. If you have any questions about the material that we have shared please 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 ask questions and receive direct feedback about your specific circumstances.