MEDIATION

Family LawAs I am sitting here today in Mediation it got me to thinking about what a large role it plays in the domestic or family law litigation. About 30 years ago the legislature passed a law encouraging the use of alternative dispute resolution methods in family law cases. One of those methods is Mediation. Most divorces are referred to mediation and the overwhelming majority of them are settled in mediation. Lots of people have heard of Arbitration such as a forced arbitration clause in a credit card dispute or with Ezekiel Elliot’s ongoing dispute with the NFL.

Arbitration is when the parties present their case to an arbitrator who decides the evidence and renders a decision much the same as a judge. However, Mediation is different because the mediator DOES NOT render a decision. Instead the mediator simply assists the parties find areas of agreement or “common ground.” If the parties are able reach agreement the mediator files something with the court that the parties reached agreement. If the parties do not reach agreement the mediator files something with the court that the parties did not reach agreement. The mediator cannot be subpoenaed to testify.

One of the great things about mediation is that it is confidential. Rather than airing your laundry for the whole world to see in a courtroom you meet privately with your attorney and a mediator and resolve your dispute. Another great thing is you can resolve your case much quicker. According to an article in the Fort Worth Star Telegram last week there are over 60,000 divorce or child cases filed each year in Tarrant County. What ends up happening is they sit on a court’s docket often times for a year as there simply are not enough hours in the day to hear them all.

Perhaps my favorite thing about mediation is that it allows the parties to craft their own solution. A judge is pretty limited in what they can do. They must strictly follow the guidelines in the Family Code. The parties are not bound as tightly. They can decide what is most important to them. They can decide how to craft their solution. I try and most attorneys and judges I know try very hard to do a good job. But no matter how hard we try we will never know your life and your situation as well as you do. I liken mediation versus litigation as the difference between having someone give you a blue Toyota Camry (litigation) or giving you $20,000 and telling you to pick out the car that works best for your needs (mediation). Unless you happen to want a blue Toyota Camry the second option will work better for you.

When hiring an attorney make certain they are familiar with and make mediation a regular part of their practice. I can promise you, you will be happier with the result.

Contact Us

To set up a free initial consultation, contact us online or call us at 844-402-2992. For your convenience, we answer our phones 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We will meet with you evenings or weekends upon request.

MEDIATION

Family LawAs I am sitting here today in Mediation it got me to thinking about what a large role it plays in the domestic or family law litigation. About 30 years ago the legislature passed a law encouraging the use of alternative dispute resolution methods in family law cases. One of those methods is Mediation. Most divorces are referred to mediation and the overwhelming majority of them are settled in mediation. Lots of people have heard of Arbitration such as a forced arbitration clause in a credit card dispute or with Ezekiel Elliot’s ongoing dispute with the NFL.

Arbitration is when the parties present their case to an arbitrator who decides the evidence and renders a decision much the same as a judge. However, Mediation is different because the mediator DOES NOT render a decision. Instead the mediator simply assists the parties find areas of agreement or “common ground.” If the parties are able reach agreement the mediator files something with the court that the parties reached agreement. If the parties do not reach agreement the mediator files something with the court that the parties did not reach agreement. The mediator cannot be subpoenaed to testify.

One of the great things about mediation is that it is confidential. Rather than airing your laundry for the whole world to see in a courtroom you meet privately with your attorney and a mediator and resolve your dispute. Another great thing is you can resolve your case much quicker. According to an article in the Fort Worth Star Telegram last week there are over 60,000 divorce or child cases filed each year in Tarrant County. What ends up happening is they sit on a court’s docket often times for a year as there simply are not enough hours in the day to hear them all.

Perhaps my favorite thing about mediation is that it allows the parties to craft their own solution. A judge is pretty limited in what they can do. They must strictly follow the guidelines in the Family Code. The parties are not bound as tightly. They can decide what is most important to them. They can decide how to craft their solution. I try and most attorneys and judges I know try very hard to do a good job. But no matter how hard we try we will never know your life and your situation as well as you do. I liken mediation versus litigation as the difference between having someone give you a blue Toyota Camry (litigation) or giving you $20,000 and telling you to pick out the car that works best for your needs (mediation). Unless you happen to want a blue Toyota Camry the second option will work better for you.

When hiring an attorney make certain they are familiar with and make mediation a regular part of their practice. I can promise you, you will be happier with the result.

Contact Us

To set up a free initial consultation, contact us online or call us at 844-402-2992. For your convenience, we answer our phones 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We will meet with you evenings or weekends upon request.

RIGHTS & DUTIES

Family LawTypically the rights and duties of a parent are outlined in Chapter 151 of the Family Code. Those rights include
(a) A parent of a child has the following rights and duties:
(1) the right to have physical possession, to direct the moral and religious training, and to designate the residence of the child;
(2) the duty of care, control, protection, and reasonable discipline of the child;
(3) the duty to support the child, including providing the child with clothing, food, shelter, medical and dental care, and education;
(4) the duty, except when a guardian of the child’s estate has been appointed, to manage the estate of the child, including the right as an agent of the child to act in relation to the child’s estate if the child’s action is required by a state, the United States, or a foreign government;
(5) except as provided by Section 264.0111, the right to the services and earnings of the child;
(6) the right to consent to the child’s marriage, enlistment in the armed forces of the United States, medical and dental care, and psychiatric, psychological, and surgical treatment;
(7) the right to represent the child in legal action and to make other decisions of substantial legal significance concerning the child;
(8) the right to receive and give receipt for payments for the support of the child and to hold or disburse funds for the benefit of the child;
(9) the right to inherit from and through the child;
(10) the right to make decisions concerning the child’s education; and
(11) any other right or duty existing between a parent and child by virtue of law.

In a Suit Affecting the Parent Child Relationship the court will allocate the rights and duties between the parents. Typically many of the rights a parent has at all times, such as the right to receive information from teachers or doctors. Some of those rights a parent only has when they have possession of the child such the right to direct religious or moral training of the child.

Lastly there are some rights that are exclusive to one parent. These are generally going to be the right to make educational decisions, serious medical decisions or to designate where the child lives. Often parents want all of the decisions to be equal. As a practical matter this won’t work.

What happens if your child gets ill and the doctor recommends the child have a tonsillectomy or tubes in their ears and one parent agrees and the other doesn’t? Who makes these decisions? We can require the “primary parent” to have meaningful consultation with the non-primary parent before making the educational or medical decision; thereby protecting the rights of the non-primary parent by allowing that parent to stay involved in the decision process.

It’s not a perfect system, but until all married couples with children never divorce, the rights and duties have to be allocated. If you find yourself in need of an attorney to help you with your divorce, or Suit Affecting the Parent Child Relationship, give us a call.

DIVORCED OR WIDOWED? Words matter

DivorceOne of the common ways divorce litigation ends is with mediation. Mediation is a method of alternative dispute resolution encouraged by the Texas Family Code and the Civil Practice and Remedies Code. In mediation the parties meet with a neutral who talks with the parties and explores the issues to see if there are areas of agreement. It is not binding. The parties are not required to agree. The mediator does not issue a decision, unlike an arbitrator or a judge.

When a mediation results in a settlement the mediator or one of the attorneys prepares a mediated settlement agreement to be filed with the court and from that MSA a Final Decree of Divorce. But what happens when one of the parties dies prior to the entry of the decree? It happens. In the last year I have personally seen it. More than once. More than twice.

According to the Second Court of Appeals in Parker vs. Parker (683 SW2d 889 Tx App – Fort Worth 1985, writ refused) unless the MSA contains a rendition and is signed by the court the parties are still married. Thus, the surviving person is widowed, not divorced. The difference can be HUGE as it was in the Parker case. When parties are divorced if the surviving party is listed as a beneficiary or an executor on the deceased parties insurance or on their will the surviving party is instead treated as though they predeceased the deceased party, and thus, the property of money would pass to the other heirs. But if the parties are not divorced? The property passes to the person the decedent intended to be divorced from.

Contact Us

To set up a free initial consultation, contact us online or call us at 844-402-2992. For your convenience, we answer our phones 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We will meet with you evenings or weekends upon request.

Guiding You Through Divorce

DivorceLast month I wrote about all of the Paperwork involved in finishing up a divorce. Among the things you must do is visit with an Estate Planning attorney. Mr. Bailey’s article this month will cover that. I also suggest that you visit with a counselor. Whether secular or a practitioner of a faith tradition I believe counseling is very important in divorce. In fact it is probably just as important as in times of death. Research tells us that the grief is the same in the ending of a marriage as in a death.

An attorney and client relationship is unique. It involves a special trust. The attorney is charged with carrying out (within the bounds of the law) the client’s wishes. But we are also charged with COUNSELING the client. What I have learned over the course of my practice is when you’re grieving you don’t make very good decisions. Things that wouldn’t ordinarily bother you are suddenly over-whelming. I honestly think that is one of the reasons for having an attorney. Yes, we went to school for a really long time to study and learn “The Rules.” But we aren’t emotionally tied up in the case. This is important. It allows us to examine the case dispassionately, and thus, offer you advice based on the law as applied to the facts and not merely what the client may want to hear.

Among the issues, and the reason I suggest a counselor when going through a divorce is sometimes a litigant is tempted to seek their “pound of flesh” from the opposing party for some perceived (or even very real) wrongdoing. My practice has taught me that is a VERY BAD IDEA. Forgive. Forgive till it hurts. Be generous. Assume an innocent explanation whenever your soon to be ex does something you don’t like. IF YOU HAVE CHILDREN YOU ARE TIED TO EACH OTHER FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIVES. Whatever manner you speak of or treat your Ex, your child WILL notice. And they will either love you for loving their mother/father or they will hate you for hating their mother/father. Don’t believe me? Check with any Mental Health practitioner.

When deciding on an attorney to help you with ending your marriage, speak to them about their philosophy. Does the attorney practice primarily family law? I can assure you a lawsuit between a couple of companies is a very different animal than a divorce. The entire course of the litigation is different. Something else to consider is does the attorney practice where your case is pending. I have practiced in Tarrant and Dallas Counties and several of the surrounding counties. Each of the counties are different, sometimes vastly different. Something that might be a good idea in Tarrant County would be a very bad idea in Dallas, or Ellis, or Johnson County.

Interview attorneys. Make sure they have a similar philosophy. Make sure they practice primarily in Family Law. Make sure they practice in the courts where your case is pending or will be filed. LISTEN TO THEIR ADVICE. Then go interview counselors to help you deal with the emotional issues involved with a divorce.

Contact Us

To set up a free initial consultation, contact us online or call us at 844-402-2992. For your convenience, we answer our phones 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We will meet with you evenings or weekends upon request.

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The Paperwork

Family LawAs gut-wrenching as a divorce can be, once the court signs the decree you’re only half done. You have to file paperwork with the Bureau of Vital Statistics, the Texas Department of Public Safety Drivers License Bureau, Social Security and so many others. One of the main things I think people frequently overlook is their will, any family trusts, your insurance documents, and car titles.

I will admit right out of the gate, I am not a probate lawyer. Mr. Bailey is an excellent probate lawyer. From my conversations with him when a divorce happens the beneficiaries, executors, almost EVERYTHING in a will gets treated as though the former spouse died. Add to that some of the property listed in the will may well be community property that was disposed of in the divorce.

As a family law lawyer, I just can’t stress strongly enough once the divorce is final the very next appointment you need to make is with probate lawyer Mr. Bailey. In the last year I have had two clients die either during or immediately after the divorce. Look for Mr. Bailey and I to write an article in the coming months regarding the intersection of family and probate law.

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Collaborative Divorce

Collaborative divorce is an alternative to the traditional litigation model divorce. Meaning, instead of going into a courtroom and having public, emotionally draining, and expensive hearings, you have a series of private, confidential meetings designed to be faster, less damaging and more amicable.

For example, say you own a house and need to decide what to do with it. The first thing that must be done is to determine what it is worth. In the litigation model, both sides hire an appraiser who gives a report. If the reports are vastly different, the Court may appoint an independent appraiser to do a third report. This third appraiser is paid for equally by both parties. In the collaborative model, the parties agree on one appraiser and accept that one report. You have not only saved a great deal of money, you have saved weeks, or even months, of time.

The way to get a collaborative divorce is by agreement. Once one of the spouses files for divorce, before any hearings are held, the parties can inform the Court that they have agreed to handle the divorce collaboratively. At that point, the divorce is removed from the Court’s active docket. The parties then agree on both the meeting times and agendas in advance. Both child and property issues can be dealt with in a collaborative divorce. The parties are able to move as quickly or methodically as they agree to. They also have the option of being as creative as possible and bringing in any professionals they agree are necessary, for instance, counselors, appraisers, financial planners, etc.

Should the collaborative process fail, both attorneys must withdraw and attorneys must be hired to take the case through the litigation process.

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Collaborative Law

Unlike the traditional divorce process, collaborative law, which originated in Texas in 2001, allows parties to partake in a more civil and individualized process for ending their marriage. In 2011, the Uniform Collaborative Law Act became effective with the goal “to encourage peaceable resolution of disputes, with special consideration given to disputes involving the parent-child relationship, including disputes involving the conservatorship of, possession of or access to, and support of a child, and the early settlement of pending litigation through voluntary settlement procedures.” Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 15.001.

The collaborative law process gives parties the ability to take control of their divorce. In traditional litigation, parties often place blame on one another, whereas in collaborative law, the process is solution oriented and encourages parties to work towards a common purpose. Parties should not dwell on the past or the fault of the break up but rather focus on their future and both individual and mutual goals. In collaborative law, decision making is not left to a judge who is unfamiliar with the family and their unique situation; rather, the parties can work towards a result that will provide the most positive outcome for their specific set of circumstances. Collaborative law allows parties to recognize that, although their marriage may be ending, it is often important to maintain a healthy future relationship with their former spouse for their own personal benefit or for the benefit of their children.

In order for parties to utilize the benefits of collaborative law, both parties must sign an agreement stating they are willing to participate in the process. Both parties’ attorneys must be trained in the collaborative law method and neutral experts, also trained in collaborative law, are included to help with specific portions of the settlement process. Experts may include mental health professionals, child specialists, accountants, financial professionals or other experts in specific fields such as probate or oil and gas. These experts help aid in the process by providing an unbiased professional opinion to any issue where the parties may not otherwise agree. The use of the collaborative team allows the parties to formulate creative settlements that may not otherwise result from a litigation based method.
Since 2001, collaborative law and other dispute resolution methods have increased in popularity, both through parties and the courts, due to the fact that these methods promote an open exchange of ideas and solutions that often result in the settlement of the case. By using these methods, most family law cases ultimately settle before trial, thus saving the parties a significant amount of money and stress that could otherwise result from litigation. Collaborative law allows parties to remain civil and treat each other with respect while going through the often dreadful process of ending a marriage.

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Can’t I just represent myself in my divorce?

At Bailey & Galyen, we are often asked by potential clients if they can simply represent themselves in a divorce. The short answer is yes – our legal system is designed to be accessible to all people, regardless of attorney representation. However, the more important question that people should be asking is “SHOULD I represent myself in my divorce?”.  That has a much more complicated answer.

The Internet has provided our society with unprecedented access to information.  Many people determine that after an internet search, they can competently handle their own divorce proceedings.  However, googling my latest medical symptom does not make me a doctor nor does it make me qualified to operate on myself.  In many respects, representing yourself in a divorce is similar.

For instance, in general, the property and funds acquired during a marriage form the community estate and that community estate is subject to a fair and equitable division between the parties.  While at first this seems like a simple premise, there are many exceptions and nuances in the law that become factors in determining what a fair and equitable division truly is.  For instance, property owned prior to a marriage is generally considered separate property and not part of the community estate.  But what if the community estate contributed money towards the improvement or upkeep of the separate property?  Or what if that separate property asset gained in value during the marriage?  How do you establish a value for both of those situations? How do you divide that value between the parties in a fair manner?

Additionally, the division of retirement accounts is another area that is filled with potential pitfalls.  The transferring of retirement assets is generally done through a separate order called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order which allows both parties to avoid certain taxes and penalties. These particular orders are very detailed and plan specific.  If such orders are done incorrectly, a party risks exposure to unintended penalties and financial problems.

The most alarming problem with “do-it-yourself divorces” is that oftentimes a mistake made in the division of property or retirement accounts cannot be fixed after the divorce decree is entered.  One of the most difficult tasks that seasoned family law attorneys face is having to tell someone that his or her divorce decree is incorrect or somehow faulty but there is nothing that can be done about it.  Many people assume that the judge or someone in the district clerk’s office will assist them in completing their divorce.  However, neither the judge nor anyone employed by the courts can give litigants legal advice.

When considering your options in a divorce, please carefully contemplate your need for legal representation. Divorce is a complicated process and it is important that you invest in yourself and  in preserving your post divorce life.

 

 

 

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Same Sex Divorce in Texas

 

Now that the Supreme Court has recognized the nation wide right for same-sex couples to marry, the next question that could potentially face same-sex couples is how to dissolve a marriage that is no longer functional.

The answer is simple – divorce!

There are no special rules to govern same-sex divorces. Once either spouse has made the decision to file for a divorce, the divorce process is the same for everyone. Once a divorce is filed there is a mandatory “cooling off” period that every divorcing couple in Texas must wait out. That “cooling off” period is sixty days. Once sixty days have passed, if a final agreement has been signed by the parties, then the divorce can be finalized through a prove-up hearing where the agreement is entered into the record of the Court and the Final Decree of Divorce signed off on by the judge.

The process sounds deceptively simple; however, many same-sex couples are not familiar with Texas community property laws and what these laws mean in the event of a divorce. Just like any couple, a same-sex divorce in Texas is granted from the date of marriage through the date of divorce. This applies regardless of where a couple was married and whether his or her marriage was even recognized by the State of Texas at the time the marriage ceremony was performed. Same-sex marriage is now recognized by the US Supreme Court and the Federal Court system and with that ruling comes recognition of same-sex divorce.

The easiest explanation of community property laws in Texas is this – everything from the date of marriage through the date of divorce is equally owned by both spouses. This means anything earned or purchased during the marriage both spouses have an equal claim to. For instance, regardless of what bank account money is deposited in and whose name is on the account, 100 percent of the funds placed in that bank account during marriage are then divisible on divorce. If a couple buys a house together, then any equity in the home is payable to both spouses on divorce.

Texas community property law states that the marriage estate is to be split equally between the spouses on divorce; however, there are mitigating circumstances that could see one spouse awarded a greater than 50 percent portion of the community. In addition to community property, any property owned prior to marriage or purchased under specific conditions during the marriage, is considered the separate property of the spouse.

Due to the legal complexities of dividing property between spouses at the time of divorce, consultation with a divorce attorney is a must. If you are facing divorce, contact us for a free consultation today!

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Property Issues in Divorce Involving Military Personnel

In my article, YOU STAND FOR US; WE STAND FOR YOU, it was noted that military personnel are not immune from the tragedy of divorce; and like civilian divorces, the same property issues arise, but with some different rules. What I am focusing on in this article is RETIREMENT and post divorce entitlements for the non military spouse (“Former Spouse”).

For sake of brevity, I’ll refer to the Servicemember as a soldier.

A soldier is entitled to a pension (a Defined Benefits Plan) based on the number of years of satisfactory military service, generally the completion of 20 years. Until 1983, federal law was silent on the power of the State courts to divide military pensions. However, in the 1981 McCarthy case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution prohibited the division of military retired pay as a community property asset. In dictum, the Court indicated that Congress could change that by appropriate legislation. Taking the hint, Congress enacted the Uniform Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act of 1983 (“USFSPA”). That Act gave divorced spouses the right to share in the military retired pay in proportion to the number of years of the marriage during the soldier’s years of satisfactory military service.

The soldier is generally required to serve a minimum of 20 years, and the retirement age is not as critical as the total number of years served. The retirement benefit at 20 years is 50% of the Base Pay at the date of retirement with the maximum benefit being 67% at 30 or more years of service.

In Texas, the Former Spouse would be entitled to 50% of the military retired pay based on the number of years of marriage during military service. This also is applicable to the weekend warrior, the Reservist. Unlike the active duty career soldier, whose military PENSION is based a minimum of 20 years, the reservist is based on the total number of points that will equate to twenty years. However, the Former Spouse’s share is still calculated the same way.

There are some unique quirks or Rules to this military pension system that is critical to property division considerations. The first Rule is the 10 year rule. Under USFSPA, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (“DFAS”) is not required to garnish the retired military personnel’s retired pay for the benefit of the Former Spouse unless the marriage was ten years or longer as of the date of the divorce and overlapped 10 years of military service. In that case, a State Decree of Divorce ordering that the Former Spouse’s share of the military retirement be withheld from the military retiree’s retirement pay would not be honored.

The second Rule is that a Former Spouse may also be entitled to 55% of retiree’s monthly retirement pay as a lifetime annuity upon the death of the retiree. This annuity is known as the Survivor Benefit Plan (“SBP”) and is clearly a valuable entitlement for a Former Spouse. However, the retiree must make the selection to pay for the SBP and designate Former spouse as the beneficiary at the time of his retirement. Some don’t because the SBP payment is taken out of the retirement pay. The Former Spouse may lose this right if she remarries before her 55th birthday; yet, if she divorces later, she may be reinstated. Go figure.

The third significant Rule is the 20/20/20 Rule. As of the date of the divorce, a marriage of 20 years; a military service of at least 20 years and the 20 years of marriage overlapped those 20 years of military service by the soldier. If the Former Spouse meets this Rule, the Former Spouse may be entitled to lifetime TRICARE (health care) and commissary and exchange benefits, as well as the appropriate portion of the retiree’s retirement pay and the SBP. This is a valuable right that can be a part of the negotiations, especially in light of the relatively young age of military retirees compared to civilian retirees.

But what is the Rule if the there’s not 20 years of overlapping marriage? The 20/20/15 Rule comes into play. 20 years of service and 20 years of marriage with more than 15 but less than 20 years of overlapping marriage. The SBP and the proportionate share of the retirement pay is still available, but not commissary and exchange privileges. TRICARE is only for one year after the divorce is final. There is, however, a post TRICARE health insurance plan that can be purchased by the Former Spouse that very similar to TRICARE. Like COBRA in the civilian world, it has a short life span and in this case only 18 months. However, relatively speaking, it is much cheaper than COBRA. Thus, the retiree gets TRICARE for Life; the Former Spouse gets TRICARE for one Year (possible 36 months).

The 10 year Rule, the 20/20/15 Rule and the 20/20/20: all have significant impact on the division of military retirement issues. Also, the SBP is a part of the property settlement picture. Obviously, when dealing with a divorce involving military personnel, these issues must be explored as soon as possible in the process.

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Relocation Geographic Restrictions

By Texas Family Law Attorney, Doug Wright

There is a presumption in our State law that in a custody order the court will require that the child/children’s residence be restricted to a geographic area. The courts typically restrict the area to the county where the order is entered and it’s contiguous counties. If one of the parties later seeks to have the residence restriction lifted the case law suggest that there are certain factors that the court should consider.

  1. The distance involved;
  2. The quality of the relationship between the non-custodial parent and the child;
  3. The nature and quantity of the child’s contact with the non-custodial parent, both de jure and de facto;
  4. Whether the relocation would deprive the non-custodial parent of regular and meaningful access to the children;
  5. The impact of the move on the quantity and quality of the child’s future contact with the non-custodial parent;
  6. The motive for the move;
  7. The motive for opposing the move;
  8. The feasibility of preserving the relationship between the non-custodial parent and the child through suitable visitation arrangements; and
  9. The proximity, availability, and safety of travel arrangements.

The answers to these factor could determine whether or not the Court allows relocation with the child/children.

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Family Law Matters

So you Find yourself Involved with an Ex-Murderer?
(Or How I Became a Paramour/Step-parent, in Multiple Easy Steps.)

You found the woman or man of your dreams, and he/she came with a matched set of lovely children – and the ex-parent as an accessory piece. What now?

If you haven’t been through a divorce or break-up-with-children yourself, there are some things that are vital for you to know. First of all, you, the newcomer, are one of two things in the world of family law. You are either the Paramour (GASP! Well, I never!) or the new step-parent. Neither title is particularly flattering, but there are things you can do to make yourself more appealing in the role.

When parents divorce or break-up, the world they, and their children, were accustomed to is gone. Mom and dad no longer live together, and one or both of them are now dating or even moving in or getting married to someone else. Where kids and parents used to deal with one household, they now have to deal with two. If you are the new paramour or step-parent, you are bound to be stepping into a minefield that can explode in a number of emotional upheavals on a frequent basis. Normal folk will try and figure out a way to make this all better… but what IS the best course of action?

Accept something right from the start of one of these situations – if you are the Paramour/Step-parent you are frequently demonized simply because you exist and are involved with Mom or Dad. This can be true even when Mom and Dad have been divorced for a while, so imagine the tensions when Mom and Dad are still in the middle of the divorce.

So what is a helpful Paramour/Step-parent to do? Move away from the wreckage, folks, nothing to see here. Really, all kidding aside, sometimes the only thing a smart person can do is remove him/herself, as much as possible, from altercations between the parent and the child, or the parents themselves. This is no easy thing sometimes, particularly if your new beloved is trying to get you to intervene/help him/her with these relationships.

Paramours and step-parents can be stabilizing forces providing a haven of safety and support for their significant other and the children, if the right attitudes and tools are employed to help smooth that transition. There is a family stabilization course, called “Children In the Middle,”
(www.childreninthemiddle.com) that is frequently required by family courts, which is inexpensive and has a curriculum designed to aid families in transition. Similar tools can be found in your community, or via the internet.

Finally, a thick skin may be the most appealing asset you can bring to the table, current beauty-cream marketing notwithstanding. An alligator skin may not be pretty to look at or soft to the touch, but it is mighty effective at protecting the alligator’s insides.

Time Is Money

Dealing Successfully With a Divorce Attorney

Star Telegram, April 16, 2006

Dealing with divorce and divorce lawyers is not much different than taking a trip without first plotting out the route. If you go to a matrimonial lawyer without specific objectives or goals in mind, and think he or she can fix it for you, you’ll be disappointed. Given a specific set of facts, lawyers are trained to apply the law and advise clients about ways to attain specific goals – or at least some of them.

Here are some basic guidelines:

1. Gather as much of your financial and other information as possible before you go to see your lawyer. This includes tax returns and schedules, financial statements, budget documents and the like from at least the last five years.
2. Make sure your fee arrangement is in writing, that you understand it before you sign, and that everyone understands how you will pay your bill. Generally, lawyers are not allowed to take a percentage of what is recovered for you in a divorce case, so expect to pay by the hour.
3. Since you won’t always need to talk to your lawyer when you have questions, meet and get to know the paralegal or secretary so you can give and get information billed at lower rates.
4. Write out your questions, then make an appointment with the lawyer and take notes about what you’re told.
5. If there are billing questions, talk to the billing clerk or the secretary who handles this aspect of the business. The lawyer should be the last resort.
6. Photocopies made at the lawyer’s office may cost you 25 or more cents per page, sometimes plus the time of the person making the copies. So for numerous copies, consider making your own at copy shops to save money.
7. If you don’t understand something, ask. And if you have a problem with the way your lawyer is handling your case, also ask. Don’t allow the issue to fester.
8. Your lawyer should keep you reasonably informed about the status of your case by sending you copies of what goes out of the office. Then you’ll be less likely to make emergency calls. Remember: Spur-of-the-moment calls just to find out what’s going on can get expensive.
9. Don’t second-guess your lawyer based on the advice of friends and family. But if you feel strongly about a point, seek a second opinion. Let your lawyer know you feel this way.
10. Remember that your lawyer works for you. After you have been fully informed and have reviewed your options, you and your lawyer should decide upon a course of action suitable to your situation.
11. Don’t be surprised if your case takes time to get resolved. Although everyone is in a hurry to complete his/her case, you will have no control over scheduling issues that can keep your case in limbo for a long time.
12. If your lawyer promises or guarantees you a result, get another lawyer

– Jan Collins, a writer and editor, and Jan Warner, matrimonial tax and elder-law attorney.

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