Whether you are in a situation where a divorce or modification is on the horizon in your life, you need to know that your future case’s success just as much on what you don’t do as it does on what you do. I’m fond of telling clients that it is the mistakes you make in a divorce that end up making more of a lasting impression than anything else. By avoiding mistakes you can better ensure that your case is handled smoothly, timely and without major disruption to the lives of your children and yourself. It can’t be said any more directly than mistakes in family law case will cost you time, money and happiness- in the short and long terms.
We are living in the midst of a global health pandemic due to the COVID-19 virus that has spread to all parts of the world. While there may be a light at the end of the tunnel that is approaching, we still do not know how much longer health the primary concern for our families will be. If anything, we can use this time to focus on the things and people that are most important to us. That may also mean that we have the opportunity to better plan for a divorce or modification case that we know will be filed as soon as the pandemic begins to lessen in severity.
In today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we would like to share with you some tips on how to avoid five important mistakes that many people unfortunately encounter in their divorce or modification cases. If you finish reading this blog post and still have questions about how these mistakes apply to your specific circumstances, please contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed and experienced family law attorneys are ready to assist you via phone or video conference in a free of charge consultation.
Understand the risks of not hiring experienced counsel
Not every family law case requires an attorney’s assistance. It is not required for any family law case that you have an attorney by your side in court, in mediation or merely handling the day to day management of your case. With that said, most family law cases in my opinion would be best served by having an attorney on board. The key points that I would present to you relate to the advocacy skills that an attorney possesses as well as the ability to provide advice on the myriad of issues that you will encounter in a divorce or modification case in Texas.
If your divorce is one that involves no children, no assets, no money and no out of the ordinary circumstances then you could probably handle the divorce yourself. It’s no big deal to Google “Texas divorce process” or something similar and learn the steps to file for and obtain a divorce without the help of a lawyer. If you don’t have a lot going on in your marriage and you merely need to “break up” then a self-propelled divorce may be just what the doctor ordered.
If you are pondering a divorce where children are involved, child support will be necessary, spousal support/maintenance could be on the table or any other detailed circumstances then I would recommend that you consider hiring an attorney. Going into a tricky divorce case without a lawyer is maybe the most significant mistake that you could make. Assuming that because you have gotten a divorce before, work in the legal field yourself or just consider yourself to be a smart person does not mean that you should fail to hire an attorney for any of these reasons. The difference between a divorce where you have an attorney and one where you do not have an attorney can be extreme.
On the other hand, modification cases can be a little more difficult to administer on your own. Because the bar to obtain a modification is higher than the bar to obtain a divorce, I would not recommend going out the process of getting a modification without the assistance of a lawyer. This is especially true given that the processes to file documents, secure hearings and ultimately finish your case may be slightly changed now that we are in a pandemic situation and the courts are not fully opened up for business yet.
Finally, if you decide to hire an attorney you should make sure that he or she is a family law attorney. You will not struggle to find lawyers who will tell you that they are capable of handling your divorce. However, many of these attorneys are general practice lawyers who handle cases that range from wills, personal injury, contract disputes and yes, even divorces and modifications. They do not focus on family law and therefore it is likely that they do not have the experience to handle these sort of matters with an expert-eye.
When you meet with an attorney who is interested in taking your case I recommend that you ask him or her what percentage of their clients are family law clients and how many divorces or modification cases he or she has taken all the way to a trial. The lawyer’s answers to these questions will tell you everything you need to know as far as their willingness to take on tough challenges and see them through to the end. Your case will not necessarily end up in court, but it may. You do not want to enter that playing field without a teammate who has been there before- and succeeded once between the lines.
Do not enter your modification or divorce case with the goal to “settle the score”
It is a normal, human emotion to want to exact some degree of revenge or settle a score with your spouse or ex-spouse. Whether yours is a divorce or modification case, you may be filing the case in order to address a wrong that has been committed against you. Maybe your spouse has cheated on you multiple times and now you want a divorce to no longer be susceptible to their cheating ways. Or, your modification may be needed because your ex-spouse has failed to take your children during her periods of possession for the last few months.
I have no doubt that you are justified in feeling wronged by these type of acts. A betrayal of trust in the first example and a betrayal of your child’s trust in the second example are reasons for you to feel hurt, betrayed and at the very least frustrated. An attorney will not likely be dissuade you from feeling these emotions throughout your case.
What I will caution you on, and something that I believe to be a major mistake that you would be making under these circumstances is to use your desire to get back at your spouse or rectify a wrong as your primary motivator to go about filing a modification or divorce case. The reason why I believe that this is a mistake is based on a number of factors. Not the least of which is that you are unlikely to receive the gratification that you desire from seeing your spouse humbled in the way that you may be envisioning.
Let me present my point in a hypothetical situation. Suppose that your spouse has cheated on you multiple times and in doing so has neglected your children along the way. She leaves for extended business trips that typically run a day or two over the anticipated length. You have your suspicions about what is going on during these trips but have no proof until one weekend you log onto the home computer and see emails coming in from a romantic partner of your spouse. Devastated, you file for divorce the next day with the intent to see her name dragged through the mud and to have the judge throw the metaphorical book at her.
The point I would make to you in this regard is that it is unlikely that your case ever makes it to court. Most divorces settle long before a trial is even an option to consider. I would offer to you that during the pandemic, when court dates are harder to get than ever, that all parties involved would likely be more motivated to try and settle their case to avoid having to go downtown and risk illness.
I don’t think it is a smart move to try and exact some degree of revenge from your spouse by filing for divorce. Truth and justice are not the primary determinants of a successful divorce. Do not create a situation where you will only be “satisfied” or “content” if your spouse is made to look foolish or selfish. It probably won’t happen the way you envision.
Agreeing to settle your case just “to be done with it”
I will not try and tell you that a divorce or modification case will be easy or fast. It could be easy, fast or both. However, when you are in the middle of a divorce or modification it probably won’t feel that way even if yours truly is a relatively easy/fast/both case. These cases can be emotionally draining, financially challenging and downright unpleasant. There’s no use in me trying to tell you otherwise.
Fatigue is something that you may end up encountering in your case. My advice is to stick to your guns on the important issues. You hired an attorney to advise you on the issues of your case, the pace of your case takes and the ability for your case to settle. I am not trying to tell you that settling your case isn’t a good idea.
What I am trying to tell you is that settling your case just because you want it to be over with is almost always a bad idea that you will later regret. Stick with your plan, lean on your attorney and do what you have to do to accomplish the most important goals that you have for yourself.
Combination of mistakes to avoid: not reviewing the final language of your order and not reading the order thoroughly after the completion of your
The final two mistakes that I wanted to mention to you all today are related to one another. When you have negotiated a settlement or gone to trial the important work of drafting a final order still must be undertaken. Whether it is your attorney or your opposing party’s attorney who drafts the language, your lawyer will send you a copy to review before you sign on the dotted line. You need to read the order and ask questions if you don’t understand something that you read. It is not a defense to a violation of the order that you didn’t know that something was required of you.
Even if you have read the order before signing it, you should then go back and read it again after your case has concluded. Become familiar with the language and have a copy on hand if you have questions about a particular issue. I can’t tell you how often it occurs that a client or former client gets caught up in a situation where he or she misinterprets an order and needlessly creates a tense situation with the other parent of their child. Avoid this mistake by taking the time to read the order even after you case is done and over with.
Questions about family law in Texas? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the content 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 over the phone and via video conference. These consultations will allow you to ask questions, learn about the law and develop fact based positions that you can use when deciding upon the next moves (if any) for your particular circumstances.