Sunday, October 27, 2013

When Should I File for Divorce? Timing is Everything

The phone always rings in January.

The end of the holidays can be exceptionally poignant and thought provoking for those whose marriage is in distress.

There's many reasons--postponing a difficult process until after the holidays in order to spare the angst, a New Year's resolution, or simple exasperation--the holidays can bring out the worst in troubled spouses.  A found gift receipt for jewelry that wasn't under the family tree is another. 

If the goal's to speed up the process, it's helpful to have a case coded with an earlier year.  Judges rarely schedule only one case per day, unless it's a firm trial date.  Thus, when those first trial notices go out from two to four months post-filing, the case with the oldest date gets the most attention.  Judicial dockets are monitored by the county and state, and the trier of fact is typically protective of her statistics.

Some folks are calculating in their choice of timing.  Service immediately before an out-of-town trip can give both sides some "cooling off" time.  Others demand service just prior to a special event, a birthday, an anniversary or even Valentine's Day.  Just make certain the kids aren't home.

Your spouse may never forgive nor forget timing which is perceived to be vindictive or embarrassing.  Divorces are costly and emotional enough without adding insult to the injury to the family.Offer her the opportunity to be served in a humane fashion rather than sending Bruiser to the office holiday luncheon.

It's best to chose a time that's right for you, without trying to make a barbed statement.

Unless there's the immediate fear of physical injury or asset dissipation, shortly after filing for divorce, it's best to sit your spouse down and reveal that you've begun the process--and why.  Give him the opportunity to reel from the blow before expecting any solid responses.

Again, timing IS everything, both emotionally and strategically. 

What's your New Year's resolution?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Why Is My Divorce Taking So Long?

Kim Kardashian made my job so much easier.  If the queen of reality television couldn't hasten along her divorce with a throng of Hollywood lawyers and a millionaire hip hop baby daddy, who could?   A couple together for only eleven weeks were in litigation longer than they shared a bed.

Clients exhausted from the fight often sigh in frustration. Can't you make her settle?  Make him come to the table!

If I could, we'd have to install a deli number system in the lobby

I can ring the dinner bell but I can't make 'em clean their plates.  Cases don't settle quickly for a host of varied reasons. A distracted, busy or greedy opponent, a spouse who can't let go, a judge whose docket is backed up, or insoluble problems like too much debt and not enough assets.

Sometimes your partner just needs to catch up. Rarely does a couple arrive at the divorce off ramp at the same time. We all travel at different emotional speeds.

Be prompt in providing financial information, stay in touch and if things seem unbearably snarled, set up a face to face meeting with counsel to help move your file to the top of the pile.

Ask about setting up a four way meeting with the other side if the time is ripe.  Find out if it's time to consider mediation?

Keep your attorney informed but don't oversaturate.  Pay your bill on time.  Given limited hours each day, the paid up client's likely to get quicker attention.

Eventually all cases resolve by settlement or trial.  Like those times when it seems the traffic will never clear, remember that no one spends the night on the freeway--we all get home in due course.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Is My Spouse Cheating on Me?

Is my husband or wife cheating on me?  If you're asking the question, the answer is likely "maybe."  What to do about it is far more complicated.

Cheating's not always the death knell of a marriage.  Spouses with the ability to move forward can overcome the heartbreak of betrayal, but it'll take major work by both partners.  Still, it's hard to be rational when faced with treachery.

As a divorce lawyer, I keep a list of good marriage counselors in the top drawer.  It's surprising, but sensible, that I'd receive a few calls each month for advice on how to fix a marriage, rather than end it. 

Cheating is rarely the lone culprit in the demise of a relationship. It's often preceded by indifference, distraction, entitlement or impulsivity.  Rough waters, but at times navigable.

Resist the urge to react with haste unless the pecuniary estate is imminently in jeopardy.  Take a very deep breath.  Do not let the avarice of another determine the future of your family.  It's your decision, without manipulation. No matter the outcome, a clear head is needed for the emotional and financial issues which loom ahead.  Meet with a professional. Don't try your case in the court of public opinion.  Once your business is on the street, it's impossible to get it back.

Unsure if it's happening?  The physical signs haven't altered in the past three decades.  Sudden change in grooming and appearance, short trips to see old friends or cousins whom you've never met or not heard from in years.  Far more late night meetings.  Complaints of needing space. Long walks with Fido, cellphone in pocket, distracted texting and the need to take emergency calls on Grandma's deck during Christmas dinner.  "It's not you, it's me!."  No kidding.

Gather as much information as possible but keep the brakes on.  The details are only hurtful once the affair is confirmed.   With the tracking ability of cell phones it's nearly impossible to obliterate the trail of communication.  For heaven's sake, don't hack in.  Cell data is carefully catalogued by the provider whether or not your statements are itemized.  An experienced lawyer knows exactly how to legally get the information.

Anger is unavoidable, but it's destructive to the potential of reconcilliation, and moreso to your children, no matter the age.  It's not fair, but the blame is rarely unilateral.

Adultery is the emotional equivalent of a grenade toss into the center of a  family.  It exacerbates strained relations and places focus on the symptom rather than the cause of marital distress. The cheating spouse may have travelled a long, lonely and agonizing road prior to their daliance, but the wronged half is now forced to make complex financial, legal and personal decisions whilst reeling from betrayal.  It's like drinking a fifth of whiskey then operating a bulldozer. 

Hot coffee and a night's sleep don't help restore order, either.  It's nearly impossible to find a friend, relative or confidante who's far enough removed from the mess, or without a personal agenda or bias.

Thus, rely on the advice and counsel of well trained professionals during the maelstrom.  Don't react violently or irrationally; do not sit the kids down and reveal all gory details; don't try to shame him into submission; don't hack her email; don't drunk dial the rogue's spouse; don't take out a billboard and don't stomp over to the hussy's home for a cleansing confrontation.  The fallout will only reflect badly on you, and it won't be impartial nor pretty. 

A good life is the best revenge, with or without the wayward partner, so let the forgiveness begin.  

Related Articles of Interest on Divorce and Custody:

The D Word -- Should I File for Divorce?

The Toxic Spouse and the Accomplice Lawyer

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Toxic Spouse and the Accomplice Lawyer -- The Perfect Storm

There's no magic wand in my business.  I can't conjure up a way to accelerate the process nor make a spouse settle, and I can't always get the judge to see your point of view.  If I could pick one magical power, besides the ability to fly, I'd make those lawyers who exacerbate the already agonizing process disappear.

But I can't.  I can explain the dynamics to allow a realistic assessment of the potential damage, I can empathize, I can rail right alongside, I can even get snotty with them, but I cannot make the rogue go away--although eventually many do.  Just not soon enough.

The accomplice lawyer takes hold of a vulnerable, angry or simply disturbed client and for reasons percuniary or personal, runs the litigation like a tangential trainwreck, to a family's great expense.

A word of caution.  Trying to explain to the spouse who is also the opposing party in litigation that their attorney's costing both sides excess time and money--only makes the reprobate far more attractive.  The litigant who allows their lawyer to poorly run the show may be getting some sadistic satisfaction, but likely just doesn't know who to trust.  Most folks in domestic litigation have never hired a lawyer nor seen the inside of a courtroom.  A charming scoundrel may upsell their abilities and fluff up the outcome.  Bad combination for the vulnerable litigant.

One good lawyer told me of an "aha" moment he experienced while in the midst of battle with a particularly onery opponent:  "He was like wrestling with a pig in the mud, when I realized that the pig was enjoying it!"  That happy bovine may be your spouse, the attorney, or both.

What to do?  Keep your eye on the ball, and don't try to control the behavior of the opposition. 

Avoid that which will worsen the circumstances-- bad behavior of your own, allowing the offender to push you to the point of frustration which manifests itself in physicality, threats or avoidance of orders--because then they've GOTcha.  And believe me, they'll exploit it, embellishing at each opportunity a silly solitary incident, thereby negating their own bad acts--all because of a drunk dial in the middle of the night, or tipping over his curbside garbage can in anger.

Let the process just happen, don't try to control or manipulate the other side, even if they seem not to have everyone's best interest at heart.  The good news is that these rascals are rare.

Eventually, everyone gets through it.  Hopefully a bit wiser, but poorer.

Thus, chose a captain wisely, and if something just does not feel right, trust your gut and jump ship. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The D Word -- Should I File for Divorce?

At the end of most interviews, the overwhelmed soul seated across the desk gazes back through dazed lids and asks "what d'you think I should do?"  The answer's rarely straightforward.  If there's abuse or addiction it's easier to advise that someone to proceed.  In most cases it's not.

From a purely business standpoint the decision to dissolve is hardly the best choice.  Supporting two households with the same budget just doesn't add up.  Dividing an already strained estate causes a sodden ship to sink lower.

Yet the one who's sought my advice on a life changing decision is usually caught up in the throes of grief, betrayal, confusion, or infatuation with another.

Thus the D word.  Divorce.  The decision is purely personal, No one can decide but the one whose life's about to change drastically. 

One lawyer begins by asking clients "If you take the children out of the equation, would you still be with this person?" That's a good place to start, but children cannot be easily taken out of the equation, because your life and, more importantly, their lives, are about to be altered forever.

There's no formula for an emotional decision.  It's surgery with a butter knife.

What causes a marriage to break down only complicates the process of breaking up.  The traits that set your teeth on edge are only exacerbated when a spouse has no further interest in containing them.  He'll now always wear his sunglasses indoors at night.  She'll leave the garage door open on purpose.

The purpose of this article is not to encourage nor discourage folks from the process.  No one goes through the agony of divorce without some hope that there's a better life waiting on the other side--eventually.  There often is, especially for the good spouse who didn't want in in the first place. 

From decades of experience, my best advice is to visualize:
  • Realistically picture what life would be like for you a year, and then five years ahead without your spouse in your daily life. Not so much in a monetary sense, but in a personal and pragmatic sense.  Waking up without the kids in the house for a significant period of time, or knowing that they will wake up some morning in a household which does not include you.  This goes for both parents.  Even the most basic visitation takes the little ones out of your home for ninety to one hundred days each year.   It is life altering for everyone.
  • Can you live with what you cannot change?  Chronic spenders don't ever become frugal.  Entitlement rarely transitions to gratitude.
  • Can you not live with what you cannot change?  This is more complicated.  Some people are just not easy to manage from afar.  Those with even slight personality disorders kick into higher gear when challenged.  If your spouse is basically stable and loving, those traits will resurface eventually and the two of you can co-parent once the dust settles. If not, it's gonna get worse.
  • Would a delay make it more likely that your children would be protected from the vehemence your spouse is capable of heaping upon everyone when challenged?  Clients have told me that they waited until their children were old enough to distinguish truth from embellishment in order to secure their relationship.  It sometimes is well worth the additional investment of time, but even teens approaching adulthood can be influenced by a toxic spouse.
It's not just a tough call, it's one decision, when made, which will change the course of several lives. 

It's never made lightly, it's never easy.

But, as my uncle used to say, "If it was easy, everyone would do it."