When trying to plan for a divorce in Texas, you may have your eye on the costs and expenses associated with it. This is completely understandable. We all know that it costs money to get divorced, whether it be in hiring an attorney, filing your case, spending time in the case away from your work, or trying to settle your case before a trial. Finally, the costs of a trial can 'cause the overall expenses associated with the case to skyrocket dramatically.
Nobody liked to spend more money on something than they had to, with divorce not an exception to that rule. With that said, I would like to share with you in today's blog post five of the areas where you may experience hidden costs that may not immediately come to mind when beginning the divorce process. That goes without saying that every divorce is different. I would not expect yours to be the exception to that rule, either. However, there are areas of divorce that I have observed in my years as an attorney where costs may be hidden from sight.
Hidden cost #1: hiring the wrong divorce attorney
When it comes to getting a divorce in Texas, most people will end up hiring a lawyer. You may be determined right now whether or not you need to hire a lawyer. My general advice to people is that if you have children, a significant amount of Community property, or both, you have a greater than average need to hire an attorney to represent you in your divorce.
As with any purchase or investment, the key to understanding what decisions to make and watch decisions to avoid is to find the right product for you. In this case, the product that you are seeking is an attorney in the services' legal representation. The ability to select the right attorney for you in your case is probably the most important decision you will make in your entire case and will certainly influence many of the costs associated with having a lawyer. The devil is in the details when it comes to hiring an attorney, however. You will need to work to ensure that your lawyer is not the only experience in representing family law clients but in representing people in your particular situation.
Fortunately for you, attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are the best way to learn about family law cases and specifically about divorce. There is nothing wrong with bouncing ideas or asking questions of people in your life who have been through divorce before. However, I would advise against relying on the perspective of these folks when it comes to planning and goal setting. For that, you are much better off working with an experienced attorney to at least learn about the process.
I think simply meeting with a qualified and sufficiently experienced attorney for even a consultation can make a huge difference in minimizing the cost of your case. Like anything else in life, we don't know what we don't know. I mean that we can assume all sorts of things about divorce and plan for all sorts of events. However, unless we know whether or not a certain event is likely or unlikely to occur, the difference between having a long and drawn-out divorce can be negotiated and settled rather quickly. Getting good advice from your attorney means that you can put that advice into practice and set reasonable goals for your case.
Rather than pushing hard to accomplish certain things within the difficult and unreasonable case, why not learn from your attorney and be guided by their advice? If you can determine the likely outcomes of the divorce in warrior, facts and circumstances play into those likely outcomes; you can be better served to do what is best for yourself and your children. Not backing down from your goals in a case is a bad thing, but it can end up being a bad thing if you hold positions that you are unlikely to win in court. There is no prize for not backing down on principle if your principles are way far off and not based on reality's terms.
A long divorce means an expensive divorce. If you select the wrong attorney and provide you with advice or a bad perspective, you could end up pushing hard for goals that are nearly impossible to win on. Rather, your best bet is to work with an inexperienced attorney who can communicate reasonable goals to you and help you develop a plan to achieve those goals. Completing this step alone will go a long way towards helping you minimize any unnecessary cost there, even divorce.
Hidden cost #2: trying to represent yourself and not succeeding
The unfortunate truth is that many of the clients that our law office has been fortunate enough to represent over the past few years have been folks who initially tried to represent themselves in a divorce. While nothing prevents you from representing yourself in a divorce, I can tell you that there is certainly a risk to doing so. One of the major risks of representing yourself is that not only could you be taken advantage of by your spouse and their attorney which you may end up lengthening a divorce that could have otherwise been settled or resolved sooner rather than later.
There is nothing necessarily wrong with the idea of representing yourself in your divorce. The Texas family code allows you to represent yourself in divorce just like you can represent yourself in any other type of legal matter. If you go down to the courthouse, you will find many people representing themselves in a whole range of family law cases. However, I would tell you that few types of legal cases are more intricately moving into your life than a family law case. As such, you need to be sure that you are prepared to represent in a divorce before deciding to do so.
Going through with the divorce without an attorney means that you are taking a risk. It's not so much that you can make good decisions about your divorce. It is always advisable for you to have the perspective and advice of an experienced attorney versus not having that type of advice if you were to represent yourself. Bear in mind that an attorney does not make decisions for you in your case but rather helps guide you based on your circumstances. What many attorneys will help you do would be to help you avoid taking positions that you are unlikely to win and help you avoid problems in the day-to-day maintenance of your case.
Keep in mind that the decision-making associated with your case with maintaining deadlines in keeping up with necessary responses to documents filed by the opposing party is just as important in many ways as presenting evidence in a courtroom. Any attorney will tell you that most of your case is spent doing the former rather than the latter. With that said, your best bet would be to understand that what you don't know is as just as important as what you do know. Of course, some people can accomplish their goals without the assistance of an attorney. By the same token, I believe you are much more likely to accomplish those goals with an attorney rather than without one.
Many of our clients have told me over the years that by representing themselves without an attorney at the beginning of their case, these folks lost time and motivation to accomplish their goals. This can set you back on a financial and emotional level that may be difficult to recover from. My advice would be to avoid putting yourself in that situation by hiring an experienced family law attorney with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan before your case even begins. From there, you can be guided in how to proceed with your divorce correctly and learn to make decisions for yourself that will not cost you money.
Hidden cost #3: negotiating based on principle rather than on circumstances
When it comes to your divorce case, it is much more likely that you will be settling your case based on negotiations rather than on evidence presented to a judge. Whether in mediation or informal settlement negotiations with your spouse, the greatest likelihood is that your divorce case was to end with a settlement of some sort rather than in litigation. This is a positive given how expensive trials can become. What that said, there is a big difference between negotiating your case based on the facts and circumstances as they are than on what you considered to be right or just.
There is little doubt that many of you who are reading this blog post feel like you have been wronged in some way leading up to your divorce. Your spouse took advantage of you or did something that causes you to feel like they have not treated you fairly. As a result, you want to take those circumstances and apply them to how you negotiate your divorce without considering how a court is likely to view those same circumstances. For example, if your spouse cheated on you at some point in the marriage, you may be asking for all of your Community property and sole possession of your kids based on this occurrence.
You may believe that this bad act on the part of your spouse will trump every other action or circumstance involved in your case. While I am not here to tell you that their actions were good or positive by any means, what I do need to share with you is that how you view certain circumstances in your case may not be the same way that a court views them. As such, you should be careful about negotiating your divorce based on what I like to call the Superman factors. What I mean by this is that Superman fought for truth, justice, and the American way. These novel concepts are important but remember that they are based on a cartoon. Your life is not a cartoon, and you cannot necessarily afford to negotiate in the same way. Rather, I recommend that people negotiate strongly based on the specific circumstances of their life and, just as importantly, how a judge would be likely to rule on those same circumstances.
Ultimately, it doesn't matter how you view your circumstances; all that matters is how a judge would be likely to view them. If it becomes abundantly clear to you that a judge is not likely to be your circumstances in the same way you do, then you should be wary about proceeding into your case with a particular mindset. Whether that perspective comes from your attorney or an experienced mediator, you should take their opinion for what it's worth; just because you don't believe that something is right does not mean that it will not happen to you in your divorce.
For example, it is entirely plausible that your family court judge will not view your spouse's infidelity as being as important to your divorce as you might. Even though the divorce may hurt your heart a great deal, it may cause you to be enraged just at the thought of the act; that doesn't mean that a family court judge would necessarily rule in your favor based on a Community property division or child custody decision. It is important to keep the circumstances of your case in mind when you want to go shooting rather than basing how you negotiate on your opinions about what justice demands.
Hidden cost #4: going to trial
There is nothing wrong with going to trial in your divorce. Based on the statistics, around 10% of divorce cases go to trial in Texas. While it is far from a sure thing that your case will go to trial, it is still an outcome that you need to be aware of. Going to trial is not the time commitment necessarily but the money commitment that you incur. If you are going to trial over something critical to your life or over something well justified, then that is one thing. Going to trial over a subject that is not critical to your life or is based on something you are not likely to win is another thing.
Simply put, you need to be sure that you are not signing up for a trial that could be avoided or is not worth the cost to you. Value and worth are subjective, and you need to explore the value of your cases and the worth of going to trial with your attorney. If you realize that the subject matter your divorce trial would center around is unimportant to you, you should not go even if you have to give something up that you want in mediation. Live to fight another day and live to spend your money on an outcome that is more important to you.
Hidden cost #5: getting a worthless divorce order
Finally, I want to point out that getting what you want in a trial or a mediation is only the first step in the battle. The second step is to translate those victories into a final win in your final orders from the divorce. You need to be able to ensure that the final decree of divorce in your case accurately states the judge's orders or the terms of your settlement for mediation. If not, you may wind up in a situation where your final orders are not worth the paper they're printed on.
Many people going through a divorce don't think of it this way. Still, the whole purpose of getting a divorce is to have final orders that wrap up your case and allow you to gain a final decree of divorce that is enforceable in the future, just like an enforceable contract is not worth anything to you, so do our final decrees of divorce which have no enforceability in the future. You and your attorney need to spend a lot of time reviewing your final divorce decree before signing to ensure that the orders are enforceable and match up with what the judge said in trial or what you agreed to in mediation.
Questions about the material contained in today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
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 consultation six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn as much as you can about the world of family law and to find out how your circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.