http://huff.to/e25oOd.

 

See my post on the Huffington Post online at http://huff.to/guke0B.

We’ve all seen news accounts about the financial nightmare called divorce. You may have heard tales of woe that go something like this: “The Smiths just got divorced and John told me it cost over $100,000 – for each side!”

Such a price tag might draw a yawn or a snicker from the blue-blooded family dynasty members, the technology titans, and the Hollywood elites. But for the vast majority of the so-called “working wealthy” (i.e. those who have been labeled by the taxing authorities as “rich” but who still have to work five to six days a week to pay the mortgage) an expensive divorce would devastate the family’s financial future.

Divorces don’t have to cost the equivalent of a college education, nor should they. So why is it that some do? Why do otherwise rational people consciously choose to put their financial future and their children’s into a potentially terminal nose-dive? The simple truth is that they fail to take ownership of the fact that divorce is not a rational process for the participants. It’s an emotionally-driven one.

People in the midst of a divorce make emotional (read “irrational”) decisions almost as frequently as you or I might accelerate through a yellow light – and with about as much forethought. For example, a judge recently told me about a trial in which the husband took a gallon of white paint and literally walked up and down the wife’s closet pouring paint all over her shoe collection. What was the logical reason for that?

In another case the parties argued over every knife, fork, and spoon in the house, and even placed values on the picture frames – separate from the pictures themselves. At the conclusion of the trial one of the parties filed a motion for new trial because she wanted a lamp that the judge had awarded to the other party. What was the logical reason for that?

Examples like these defy reason because the decisions are rooted in emotion – negative emotion. Left unchecked, these negative emotions tend to manifest themselves in every-increasing acts of lunacy that divorce lawyers call the “crazy cycle.” Once the spouses step onto the crazy cycle the legal meter starts spinning faster than your electric meter. Phone calls, emails, letters, motions, depositions, hearings and trials – they all take the lawyer’s time, which means they all cost you money. What is the logical reason for that?

To make matters worse, the traditional method of getting a divorce, which is called litigation, actually exacerbates the problem by intentionally pitting the spouses against each other in an arena we call a courtroom. In some cases the arena seems to more closely resemble an M.M.A. grudge match than a crucible for truth. Litigation, by its essence, encourages the parties to attempt to destroy each other emotionally and financially. What is the logical reason for that?

Logic doesn’t drive the divorce train. It’s an irrational, emotional process from start to finish. But that doesn’t mean it has to be ugly or costly. Even some of those Hollywood elites are choosing to step off the crazy cycle: http://tiny.cc/zoof0.

If you are facing a divorce, beware of the crazy cycle, beware of litigation, and beware of divorce lawyers who seem a little overly eager to wage war on your behalf. You do have options and you can avoid or at least minimize all three dangers briefly outlined above with a little foresight, quality solution-oriented professional guidance, and some self-discipline. Properly trained and experienced family law attorneys can serve as professional guides through the minefield. They can match clients with financial experts, counselors, or pediatric therapists as appropriate in order to minimize the collateral damage typically wrought by divorce.

If you would like to learn more about those options, including the non-adversarial Collaborative Law approach to resolving family law disputes, please contact us by email or call me at 214-423-5100.

Curtis Harrison is a collaboratively trained family law attorney working for the law firm of Albin | Harrison | Roach in Plano, Texas. He is board certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and serves on the Board of Trustees for the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas.

After sixteen years of practicing family law in and out of the courtroom I like to think I’ve seen or heard just about everything. Of course, that’s hyperbole, but the truth is that clients have a hard time surprising me anymore. And I have noticed over the years that in the midst of divorce the universal human instinct for survival frequently tends to temporarily override rationality, common decency, and even parental wisdom.

Most folks facing the prospect of a separation or divorce feel the extraordinary pressures caused by fear: fear the unknown; fear of the lack of perceived control over the future; and fear of the decisions the other spouse will make during the divorce. These fears drive some divorcing couples to make terrible mistakes that will haunt them and their children for years to come. Some of the mistakes are made long before either spouse consults with a divorce attorney.

In this post let’s start with just the basics. Here are three fundamental things you should not do in a divorce:

1. Don’t Involve the Kids – Although this should be obvious, it is one of the most of the common – and by far the most tragic – mistake that I see couples make. Examples abound: (i) Mom and Dad cannot or will not contain their so-called “adult conversations” (arguing) in the presence of the children. (ii) Dad picks up the kids to take them for the weekend and Mom tells children she will miss them terribly instead of encouraging them to have a great time. (iii) Mom is forced to tighten the budget at home out of necessity while Dad, who has recently moved into a bachelor-pad apartment, starts lavishing Wii’s, off-road bicycles, and trips to Disney on the children.

All of these examples, and countless others, place the children squarely on the chess board of the divorce. The parents — whether they realize it or not — have made their own children the pawns in the chess match. And, as we all know, pawns are the most expendable pieces on the board. Don’t do it.

 2. Don’t Make Unilateral Decisions. Cleaning out bank accounts, buying a new car, and leaving town with the kids are all examples of decisions most people would never consider making without discussing with their spouse. Yet, faced with divorce, that little voice in our head we call common sense seems to take a vacation. Making important decisions that affect others without discussing it with them virtually guarantees you a quick trip to the courthouse for a contested hearing. Don’t do it.

3.  Don’t Over-Lawyer. You can tell a lot from a name. I frequently meet with potential clients who have already been served with a divorce suit and I have learned that you can discern a great deal about how ugly and expensive a divorce is going to be simply by looking to see who the other lawyer is. Individual lawyers have individualized reputations, and if a spouse wants to hire a Rambo-style litigator it is not difficult to find one.

Why do people in this day still seek out those kind of lawyers? Fear, grief, and anger are powerful emotions. Those emotions often drive otherwise rational people to make decisions that are not in their own best interests, much less in the best interest of their family. Ironically, folks who seek out the Rambo’s typically do so either to (i) get their “fair share”; or to (ii) get their pound of flesh. There really aren’t any other reasons. The irony is that they will pay a $25,000 initial retainer to Rambo to fight for a larger piece of what is left over after he has picked over the carcass of your estate instead of seeking out an attorney with a reputation for problem solving who charges significantly less. As for getting the pound of flesh, nothing is free: Every pound of flesh you acquire will cost you something. That something could be your children’s emotional well-being, or bitterness in your own heart that reduces your own quality of life for years to come. Don’t do it.

If you would like more information about your options when it comes to divorce, including the Collaborative Law option, please feel free to visit my firm’s website, or you can contact me by email.

Curtis W. Harrison

Collaborative Attorney

Board Certified – Family Law –

Texas Board of Legal Specialization

Albin | Harrison | Roach

5601 Granite Parkway, Suite 400

Plano, Texas 75024

Telephone: 214.423.5100

Facsimile: 214.423.5111

www.ahrlawfirm.com

     

These are uncertain economic times for all of us. The daily news updates toss around scary catch phrases like “double-dip recession,” and “double-digit unemployment.” But for those facing a divorce or a post-divorce modification suit, the sour economic forecast can make an already painful and uncertain future feel more like a double-looped roller coaster.

Take heart, because you still have options. The current soft economy has served to highlight several important reasons why Collaborative Law is the right tool for these times:

  1. In traditional divorce litigation both the husband and the wife can waste thousands of dollars preparing for a contested final trial that usually does not take place. Why? Because the vast majority of litigated divorce case wind up settling prior to trial. In collaborative cases 100% of every dollar spent is dedicated toward achieving the goal of settlement. 0% is spent preparing for trial.
  2. In traditional divorce litigation both the husband and the wife can waste hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars with their lawyers fighting over what documents will or will not be produced to the other side. Why? Because the goal in litigation is to beat the other side; and one way to do that is to resist producing documents and information during discovery in the hope of bushwhacking the other party at trial. In collaborative cases the parties exchange documents freely, informally, and inexpensively. Transparency is paramount. 
  3. In traditional divorce litigation both the husband and wife can waste thousands of dollars by hiring competing expert witnesses to value businesses, trace assets, or make recommendations regarding custody of the children or possession of the children. Why? Again, the goal is to beat the other side and another way to do that is to hire experts to do battle either at the negotiating table or at trial. In collaborative cases experts are jointly engaged and serve as neutrals. They don’t take sides or play favorites. For most cases no more than one neutral financial expert is needed. So there are generally no competing opinions do battle. If a second opinion is desired, they too can be jointly engaged. 
  4. In traditional divorce litigation neither you nor your spouse exercise much control over the process. You have virtually no control over the outcome. Why? Because the judge or jury makes the decisions at trial; and frequently the cases that settle short of trial actually settle as a result of emotional or financial exhaustion. In collaborative cases the spouses control both the process and the outcome. Texas was the first State to pass a Collaborative Law statute that actually strips the courts of the authority to make decisions in a collaborative case. As a result both spouses share an incentive to operate efficiently and effectively. Even if they can agree on nothing else, they can usually agree that they don’t want the lawyers to make off with their estate.

These are just a few of the economic advantages the Collaborative Law model offers over traditional divorce lawsuits. In addition, within the collaborative case there are ways to use the model more efficiently and cost-effectively in this soft economy. If you are considering a collaborative divorce or modification, you might consider discussing with your attorney ways to fine tune and streamline the process. Here are a few options to consider:

  1. Have everyone review and sign the Participation Agreement (and other documents needed to enter into the collaborative model) in advance of the first joint meeting. Why? It saves time (i.e. It saves money). And this leaves more time to discuss substantive matters during the first joint meeting.
  2. Insist on the use of a neutral communications coach (a mental health professional with special collaborative training). There are several advantages to this approach: (1) This person proctors the joint sessions instead of the lawyers. As a neutral who is specially trained in the art of effective communication, this person can foster greater confidence in the process, more constructive dialogues between the spouses, and higher productivity both during the meetings and outside of them. Increased productivity leads to a shorter process, thereby saving both spouses money. (2) This person can work with you and your spouse in offline meetings without the attorneys to explore and develop a parenting plan. Once again, this is a potential time-saver and – that’s right – a money saver. 
  3. If property identification or valuation will be an issue, agree to use a single, collaboratively-trained neutral financial expert. This person can serve as the focal point for all document exchanges and can both assimilate and analyze financial data more effectively than the lawyers.  Further, unlike the communication coach, the financial neutral may not need to participate in every joint session. For example, if the topic of the joint session focuses on the parenting plan, the financial neutral can be given an unpaid holiday. 
  4. Plan ahead to capture any unused joint meeting time. Usually, there is a fixed agenda for each joint meeting and each meeting is scheduled to last for a fixed period, such as two hours. With a little planning and coordination, if you get through the agenda early you can reclaim the remainder of the budgeted time by moving directly into an offline discussion with the financial neutral, the communication coach, or even your own attorney as needed. This is yet one more way to maximize the efficiency of an already efficient process. 
  5. Do some of the legwork in your case. Gathering and organizing documents take time. Lawyers charge for time. Save them time and save yourself money by helping them with your case. As an added benefit you will learn more about your own case than you would otherwise.

The current economic climate may be tenuous and the future unknown. But if you are facing a divorce you need not climb aboard the litigation roller coaster. Even in this uncertain climate couples are increasingly choosing to keep control over the process, the costs, and the outcome by choosing the Collaborative Law method. If you would like more information about Collaborative Law please feel free to visit my website, or you can contact me by email.

 Curtis W. Harrison

Collaborative Attorney

Board Certified – Family Law –

Texas Board of Legal Specialization

Albin | Harrison | Roach

5601 Granite Parkway, Suite 400

Plano, Texas 75024

Telephone: 214.423.5100

Facsimile: 214.423.5111

www.ahrlawfirm.com

     

In traditional divorce cases, Texas law imposes presumptive child support guidelines, which attorneys and judges apply and enforce religiously in the vast majority of cases. Exceptions are rare and when they do occur it is usually because the parties themselves agree to vary from the guidelines. The guidelines are the product of a “one-size-fits-all” approach to meeting the financial needs of children being raised by their divorcing parents.

The obvious problem with that approach is that children’s financial needs can vary as greatly as their shirt sizes, which means that in some cases children are not receiving sufficient support to meet their minimum monthly needs while in other cases the parent receiving support is using it to sock money away for a trip to Disney.

For those divorcing (or divorced) parents who are truly more concerned with finding a support solution that is actually designed to fit them and their children like a custom-tailored suit, why stick with the traditional guideline model? It doesn’t fit everyone and it never has. Instead, consider some of the options that are available through the Collaborative Law model. Scott Clarke, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, and I recently wrote a blog specifically addressing those options on the Collaborative law Institute’s website. Here is the link to the article: http://bit.ly/b2759k.

There is also more information about collaborative law available at http://www.friscolaw.com/Collaborative-Law.shtml.

Curtis W. Harrison

Board Certified — Family Law — Texas Board of Legal Specialization

Albin | Harrison | Roach

www.friscolaw.com

Support is often an emotional issue in family law cases. Litigants often take polarizing positions as a defensive measure based on the fear of an uncertain outcome. In contrast, divorcing couples in collaborative cases can avoid that fear-based reaction and negotiate based on their true interests because they are empowered with the knowledge that the end result will meet their own needs as well as the child’s needs. Thankfully, there are options: http://bit.ly/b0gyoQ.

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