Dads Can Do It Too- Being Primary: Guest Blog from a Former Client

Dads Can Do It Too- Being Primary: Guest Blog from a Former Client - Images Licensed via Creative CommonsI am a dad of 3 daughters. No big deal, right? There are lots of dads with daughters. I am single. Still no big deal. With the divorce rate so high, there are plenty of divorced dads with daughters. Between my 3 daughters, there are 2 mothers.  Daughters 1 and 2, one mom. Daughter 3, a different mom. Nothing uncommon about that. “If at first you don’t succeed….”

All 3 of my daughters live with me full time. I am the primary parent, and in the case of my little one, I have sole custody. Is that common? Not so much. Is it a big deal? Not to me. But it might be to others, depending on their perspective.  Being primary is not a trophy, and being non-primary is not a cause for shame.

Susan B. Anthony’s dedication to the rights of woman was a big deal to those who wanted to limit women’s rights. African American woman Claudette Colvin – at the age of 15 – was arrested for refusing to abide by the bus segregation law which stipulated that ‘colored’ passengers must sit at the back and leave the front seats for white passengers. That was a big deal to many white folks back in 1955 when teenager Claudette was arrested. By the way, the Rosa Parks incident occurred 9 months later.

So, if it is a big deal to you that this male, single dad is raising 3 daughters full time, then the requisite follow-up question is, “Why?” If it is just because it is uncommon, awesome. If it is because “moms are supposed to raise children, not dads…” or any other expression of female/mom entitlement… then let me say this.

Believe it or not moms, I get it.  I love you, remember? In fact, I honor you. I praise you. For many decades, you have given more of your lives to your children than dads. This is especially true with single moms. So single moms and moms, believe me when I say that I hold in the highest regard for the sacrifices you have made for your children. But today, there is opportunity for a change. There is a method wherein moms and dads can realize equal parenting opportunity.

  1. Working men and women – many of whom are single mothers and fathers — need equal rights and equal pay in the workplace. I am not exactly sure where this stands today. I suspect there is still some disparity, but I do believe it is headed in the right direction.
  2. Working single fathers and mothers need to receive the same treatment from their employers when they have to say “My kid is home with the flu, and I am going to have to miss the next 4 days.” I can only speak for my own personal experience, bur both my current and past employer have been very understanding in this regard.
  3. Single dads need to step up their effort in the raising of their children. I think there is still some imbalance, but this is definitely changing. All of my daughters have multiple friends that live with their father. What is really exciting, is that the arrangement was decided by both parents. The mom and dad chose together what would be best for their children. Wow! When I was little, I only knew of one kid that lived with her dad, and that was because the mother had passed on.
  4. Single moms need to be willing to let #3 happen. Mom-entitlement-beliefs that answer the “Why not dad?” questions with “Because I am the mom…” have no place in this emerging, gender equal-opportunity society. It is time to place those beliefs to the side.
  5. And finally, single fathers and mothers need the same legal backing to raise their children. I am living proof that this is in place!”

I am blessed with the privilege of raising three amazing daughters, separated by no less than five years between each. I have one that just graduated from high-school, one that is about to begin elementary school, and one in middle-school. None of my daughters will ever share the same phase of “girlhood” at the same time. Thus far, I think that is a good thing.

I differ from my ancestors. I don’t spend all day chopping down trees for building materials and warmth or hunting bison while my family stays home.

I will remind you again — It wasn’t that long ago when women were not allowed to vote or people were legally owned as slaves in our country.

We live in a different time. The traditional gender lines and parenting roles are disintegrating. More women are working, and more fathers are willing to raise their children.

It is becoming more acceptable for men to wear pink and women to “wear the pants” in the family. Do we still have a way to go? Yes, but change occurs only when it is demanded. Fathers must insist society support our active participation in the lives of our children.

I am writing this on MLK day. In honor of this great man that offended many with his dreams. Here are some of my dreams.

 I have a dream, that fathers will carry the same sense of duty to raise their children as the countless number of moms have for centuries.

  1. I have a dream, that moms will willingly relinquish the primary role to the father, when it is in the best interest of the children

2. I have a dream, that moms and dads that are going through the very difficult process of marriage dissolution, jointly decide which parent is in the best position to provide the primary needs of the child.

 3.I have a dream, that after the primary-parent decision is made, that moms and dads work together to be amazing co-parents, for the sake of their children.

Our children are not a prize. Our children should never hear derogatory statements made about the other parent by either mom or dad. Our children are not tools to use in pursuit of Machiavellian goals. The end does not justify the means. That kind of “love” is kind of sick.

Our children are to be loved by both single moms and dads. The very same two people that created them. When they hear that there is something wrong with either mom or dad, that translates in to them thinking “there is something half wrong with me.”

I wish I could tell you that my story involving my youngest was one of those “dream” stories. It was not. It was hell. But it was a hell that I would go through again and again to save any of my children from irreparable harm. I had to use litigation. Trust me, it was a last resort. But eventually, I realized that “mom” was not capable of performing the very important duties of primary parent; an arrangement that we agreed upon in good faith when we divorced. So I chose to save my daughter, and give her the opportunity for a better life.

There is change within the air. I am proof that the courts are less opinionated on the mom/dad thing based on “how it has been in society before.” In my case, the courts focused on the actions of the individuals. And it was determined that I was the best place for my daughter.

There is also an abundance of mental health services available. I live in Collin county, and I have access to fabulous child therapist. I requested to the court that my daughter see a play therapist to learn coping skills; the court granted my request. During the litigation process, I requested that a social study be done by a court appointed Guardian Ad Litem; the court granted my request. And most recently, I requested that the court appoint a parent facilitator, to help me and “mom” get our proverbial “word that rhymes with hit and starts with sh” together; the court granted my request. I gladly attended a 9 month class ordered by the court, on Healthy Alliance Building; for me personally, it was eye-opening.

In the end, whether you are the primary parent or not, it does not matter to your children. What does matter is your active participation in their life.  Just be involved, be very involved their life. It matters a lot. It is the gift that keeps on giving.

I want to have as healthy a relationship as possible with “mom.” That does not mean we are “BFF’s.” Currently, I am pretty sure she loathes the very ground I walk upon. Does that matter to me? Nope. I can still act loving, and pursue that healthy alliance regardless.  It is actually pretty easy, when I keep my daughters as my point of focus. I do it for them, not for “mom.”

JG a.k.a dad of three winds.

 

Why Collaborative Law Makes Sense: “A Better Way to Untie the Knot”

Why Collaborative Law Makes Sense: The words graceful, healthy and divorce do not go together. The first words clients use to describe the process of divorce are typically words of war: FIGHT, CUSTODY BATTLE, and WINNING. I would like to present a concept to you that is a kinder, gentler way to get divorced.  Collaborative Law.

While we have the early adapters of technology, it is sometimes hard to find the early adapters of new legal processes. Collaborative law started in Texas in 2001 as a movement away from the damage of courtrooms and put the divorce process into the hands of our clients. Collaborative Divorce Texas differentiates the process,“because it enables the couple to create their own customized divorce, focusing on protecting their families and preserving their resources and assets through a solution-oriented, interest based negotiations.  There are no court hearings, it is less stressful, and the final outcome is better for the couple, their family and their estate.”  http://collaborativedivorcetexas.com/

Collaborative law is a vow and a binding agreement never to go to the courthouse to seek a judge’s intervention. The ground rules of Collaborative, are designed to protect clients from the toxic, harsh landscape of a litigation case.  Instead of publicly airing dirty laundry, fighting in court until the point that parties have little money left after attorney’s fees, we take a different tact.

First, to start Collaborative Divorce, you need to find a collaborative divorce attorney.  Then, the Team assembles.  The Team includes the two attorneys representing the parties, the mental health neutral and the financial neutral.  Prior to the first meeting, the Team discusses the parties’ needs, outlines issues with the parenting plan, and discusses the depth and breadth of the estate.

This process has transparency.  Typically, the clients identify their assets and liabilities but unlike litigation, we do not require hearings and battles to get bank statements, real property appraisals, and statements from retirement accounts.

Once assets and liabilities are identified, we can process whether there are tax consequences to division of property.  The financial neutral can run spreadsheets of different splits of the estate, and ascertain if we need further investigation to properly find a just and equitable division.

This process results in a custom- tailored parenting plan. In order to address the “kiddo issues,” the Mental Health Neutral meets with the couple outside of the regular meetings in private to address access, conservatorship, child support and any issue that the couple finds to be important.  Additionally if the couple can think of a schedule that works for them, they can make it happen with a unique schedule that does not match the typical standard access ordered by the courts. This is one of the most valuable tools of the Collaborative process

The clients are in the driver’s seat throughout the Collaborative process. Clients decide goals, when meetings occur, and help set agendas for children’s issues and the division of assets with the help of neutrals.    In summary the advantages are the following:

  1. Transparency– Although there is attorney-client confidentiality, the Team cannot hide assets, and if Team member requests information to divide the estate or to draft a parenting plan, there is no escaping it. This saves money and time.
  2. Scheduled meetings– Meetings last 2 hours typically and can be scheduled according to the clients’ calendar.This helps busy professionals and stay at home parents fit their divorce into their life.
  3. Emotional healthy communication– The Mental Health Neutral is also a communications coach. If parties engage in conflict during a meeting the Mental Health Neutral will assist in mitigating the problem and redirect the conversation back to resolution.
  4. Access to Mental Health and Financial Neutrals- The neutrals are efficient and effective figures who assist clients with laser focus to resolve differences in the area of the parenting plan and the estate.
  5. Privacy – There will never be a day when you have to take the stand and publicly trash your spouse in order to get more time with your kids or more child support. The Team meetings are private, confidential and self-contained.

If this alternative way to divorce makes sense to you, and you are interested in the Collaborative approach, find a collaborative attorney in your area.  I invite you to begin this process where you will happy with the result and you can still look your ex in the eye at the end of it all. Remember even as your kids get older, there will be weddings, graduations, and grandchildren. You will always be a family.

7 Apps that Help High-Tech Cheating: Affairs on the Smartphone Just Got Easier

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Affairs have only become easier with Smartphones. There are a multitude of apps that facilitate and promote adultery.  The thoughtful development of these apps is disturbing to say the least.  If you discover that your better half is using any of the top 7 cheating apps, you need to rethink fidelity and consult a divorce lawyer because your sneaking suspicion is probably accurate.

1. Fox Private Messages– There are three scenarios when this can be helpful for the unfaithful spouse to erase illicit sexts or even flirtatious banter between the “other woman” and her man. First, if wife asks to see what husband was texting, with the shake of the phone, Fox clears all texts away.  Second, if you leave your phone with your husband, say at the dinner table when you leave to go to the restroom, and your” boyfriend” has sent naughty texts, you can send a text message to a passcode to instantly erase the sexts.  Finally, Fox also provides a hidden list of messages should you care to read your side-piece’s messages for posterity. Three for the price of one.

2.  Blackbook-When the phone rings, if your lover is in the “Blackbook” list, his number will        appear not with his iPhone contact, but rather with a smoke screen; You can’t find this app on the phone without a secret code. So, if your snoopy spouse is watching who’s ringing your phone late at night, all they get is smoke- and mirrors.

3. Vaulty Stocks- Literally, this app has an icon that looks like the stock market sign. Your spouse will never be the wiser as she thinks those juicy photos, video and messages are just S&P stock numbers and not communications between you and your paramour. The Google Play reviews brag, “No one will ever know that you have anything to hide.”

Better call back that secret text with one of the 7 apps!

Better call back that secret text with one of the 7 apps!

 

4. CATE- This SharkTank app is designed for IPhones and Androids as a Call and Text Eraser; It touts, “save your marriage with privacy.” While in ‘Stealth Mode’ the app operates in the background of your phone, and is 100% undetectable. There is no icon in your task bar, and Task Killer apps cannot even see the app running. Plus, reviews of this app brag that CATE uses virtually no battery life. At least cheaters don’t have to recharge their iPhones at the expense of their honesty issues

5. Tiger Texts-Named after a professional cheater, Tiger Woods, Tiger Texts allow you to self-destruct messages by recalling them with a special code. His parents must be proud for this nod to his uber public infidelity.

6.  Keep Safe/Hide it Pro/Vault- These apps for iPhones allow you to hide any photos, video, and text messages on the Android. Equally disturbing that this exists, are website out there explaining how to hack in the restore these hidden photos, video and text messages.  Nothing is sacred.

7.   Slydial- This app allows you to call and the telephone call goes straight to voicemail to allow the recipient to review their mistress’s messages out of the earshot of your wife.

In this age of high-tech cheating, all bets are off.  Stock apps are not stock projections.  Calls  from lovers appear as secret.  Just like the spy movies, we can recall messages, shake a phone to make them disappear, and hide icons so that nobody would suspect that there were deceitful dealings under the surface.  Divorce lawyers can assist clients with forensic evaluations of cell phones to uncover these secret messages, apps, photos and video.  If you suspect infidelity, let your attorney know so that you engage in a proper investigation.

Mediation: Choosing Not to Shake the Magic 8 Ball at Trial

Every good ending has a hard-won and sometimes difficult beginning. Mediation is no different.  The process of ending a marriage in one day of negotiations is gut-wrenching, tragic and emotionally exhausting.  And I’m just speaking from the perspective of being the divorce lawyer.

For a living, I observe, guide and advocate for people transitioning from the chaos of divorce into a new resting place.  However flawed the relationship, or dysfunctional the chemistry, change is not easy.  Humans like the familiar habits- we dislike change with all of our being. Yet, we know it needs to happen and if it doesn’t happen soon, we will disintegrate.

Are you willing to shake the Magic 8 Ball by Going to Trial?

Are you willing to shake the Magic 8 Ball by Going to Trial?

Mediation typically starts at 9:00 in the morning with bright eyes, goals for the future and hope that this divorce process can, and will, be over.  I watch marriages end intentionally in a process facilitated by a third party neutral shuttling between two rooms and two worlds, trying to reach compromise.  Compromise is the definition of two parties achieving a place where they both walk away dissatisfied. However, each party has moved methodically and begrudgingly from their positions to the middle ground.

Getting Past No, and Getting to Yes are two Harvard School of Negotiations’ favorites that explain the art/war form of achieving success in mediation without “giving in”.  Each tells narratives of how to get the best alternative to negotiated agreement versus the reality of what could happen in court.  In mediation, we are gambling in a controlled setting, prognosticating lives of children and property settlements.  However, we are doing it in a measured way, expecting to be done at 5:00 p.m.  The goal is a signed agreement that will prevent our clients from having to enter the courtroom to play Russian Roulette with a judge or jury.

Mediation is an ideal way to gauge your boundaries as a client and to divorce without disemboweling the other party in the courtroom.  There are no witnesses, no hateful attacks on the record, or evidence that could divide your family forever for a temporary “win.”  At mediation, you arrive with clear-cut goals, a list of what you could “live with.” You end with a tailored product that tells the story of your family traditions, your children’s needs, and a custom property settlement that does not take a chainsaw to the estate.

You are in the driver’s seat in choosing the ultimate custom product of mediation.  In contrast, trial is your judge or jury on a random day, with unknown evidence to decide the fate of your children and livelihood.  Ultimately, most family courts order mediation before trial.  You can decide to take the reins and end litigation with agreement. Don’t shake the Magic 8 Ball.

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Be Careful What you Ask For: Why You May Reconsider Giving Your Ex More Time with Your Kids

Happy father enjoying with his kids outdoors and smiling

I am paid to “fight for custody” of children, to represent parents who want the majority of access with their children- sometimes at a great cost. I watch clients walk through divorce and then live out the consequences of their choices.  Many times, clients will not tell me what they want, but rather what they don’t want. “I don’t want HIM to have MY babies any more than the law allows.”

Clients attempt to articulate that they want the other party to suffer, not to let their ex benefit from this divorce by allowing them to have their darling children more than “standard” per Texas law.  Standard possession orders in Texas allow for first, third and fifth weekends, 30 days in the summer and an alternating holiday schedule. This cookie cutter statute is a starting place, not the gold standard.

Victory does not rest in the party with the most access.  In fact, there may be no victory in the near future due to trends toward expanding time for both parents. Courts are trending toward a more 50-50 schedule as there has been an evolution in parents’ gender roles, workplace duties and equality in the carpool line and the board room. Some states, such as Florida, begin their version of standard access with 50-50 and only deviate if there is a finding that the parent is not safe for the children.

With that in mind, I challenge the client who asks that the other party be restricted to limited time with the kids- to have strict standard access. Be careful what you ask for. There are many issues to consider in evaluating whether to ask for and expect standard access.

  1. Give the other parent a chance to fail/succeed. In marriage, often one parent is the primary caretaker, taking the children to doctors, preparing meals, and assuming most household tasks. However, with divorce, it is unknown how the non-primary caretaker will function in the future.  In my experience, parents need a chance to “step up or step out.” Give the other parent a chance to be the parent that you wished they were when you were married. After a period of time, the novelty of schedule wears off.  You will see if she exercises all of the times in your schedule, or whether this fight for more time with the children was a power play.
  2. Children need both parents. Children deserve their moms and dads-even after divorce. While it is uncomfortable for parents, kids want to see both parents consistently. Research has proven that regular contact with both parents leads to many positive outcomes for children, and, in fact, prevents bad behaviors in children of divorce. So, putting pride aside, consider allowing the other parent more time not for a win for the parents, but a win for the children.
  3. You might actually want a break, Ask yourself, “is this truly sustainable?” In the future, you may want to date.  And even if you swear off the other gender entirely, you may simply just want a moment to think without the hustle and bustle of children. Consider your future life, and don’t be short sighted.

When considering what parenting time you want to ask for in your divorce or modification, look before you leap.  Think about your future, what your children need, and the potential in your spouse to parent better or worse than you ever expected. You may be surprised when your ex steps up to the task or shocked when they exit.

 

Another satisfied client!

It is always rewarding when our Firm can help guide clients through one of the toughest experiences they will ever go through in life.  It is our mission at The Law Office of Natalie Gregg to assist our clients with grace and to help clients navigate through the roller coaster of divorce.

We recently received a review from a client named Regie, who just finalized his divorce.  He had the following to say about his experience with one of our associate attorneys:

“She reflected a genuine desire to defend her client’s best interest and to protect my self esteem.  She was able to successfully negotiate my concerns and special requests with excellence throughout and to the conclusion of the case.”

Another satisfied client! - Images Licensed via Creative Commons

Divorce- It’s a marathon. Not a race. We can get you through from start to finish.

 

Spousal Maintenance in Texas: Myth, Dream or Reality?

Truth

Not all states are made equal.  This is especially true with spousal maintenance.  California and New York are great states to be in if you poll divorcees about their maintenance awards.  But Texas falls short in the spousal maintenance arena.  And just as you cannot choose where you are born, you also cannot choose where you get divorced for the most part.

Many of my divorce client assume that Texas automatically provides for spousal maintenance, or what is called, “alimony” in other states.  While it may not be fair to those clients who have stayed in long-suffering, loveless marriage for decades, or those who have forgone career opportunities, spousal maintenance is largely a DREAM, especially if you are seeking the maximum guidelines provided by the Texas Family Code.

This dream of $5000 per month for 10 years after a 30-year marriage is not in sync with how the law typically plays out in divorce cases in Texas.  Unfortunately, spousal maintenance maximums do not materialize in many of the verdicts throughout the North Texas region.  This is not to say that maintenance cannot be a REALITY, but you need to argue the following factors to ensure recovery: income disparity. fault in the breakup of the marriage, lack of business contacts, homemaker contributions, and family violence to mention a few. 

Texas Courts are given statutory spousal maintenance guidelines, but how these guidelines are drafted versus how they are interpreted are two different matters. The statutory guidelines for the length of spousal maintenance under the Texas Family Code provide the following limits based upon the number of years in the marriage:

  1. Married 0 years to 9- ZERO maintenance
  2. Married 10-19 years- 5 years of maintenance
  3. Married 20-29 years- 7 years of maintenance
  4. Married 30 plus years- 10 years of maintenance

Fact: Spousal Maintenance is discretionary.  Per the Texas Family Code, the statutory cap for spousal maintenance is 20% of average gross income or $5000 per month. Sadly, the awards that I have seen in Dallas,Collin and Denton Counties do no match the guidelines above. Based upon observation in my divorce litigation, usually, the duration is an average range of 3-5 years, regardless of the duration of the marriage.  Likewise, the amount awarded is many times a fraction of the 20% gross monthly amount or $5000.  Instead, I’ve seen trends showing that while the Texas Legislature has guidelines, nobody’s truly following them for maintenance.  So, the answer is that “guideline spousal maintenance” is a MYTH.

Conversely, our judges follow the Texas Child Support Guidelines to the letter of the law.  They reference the income charts, calculate the percentage based upon net income, and— almost to the dollar— Texas Courts follow the child support guidelines strictly per the Texas Family Code.  So, the moral of the story: you can bank on receipt of child support according to the code, but don’t bet the farm that you will awarded anything near guideline spousal maintenance in Texas.

In trying to reconcile why the Texas Courts grant greater weight to the statutory guidelines and caps for child support versus spousal maintenance, I believe that the discretionary nature of spousal maintenance says it all.  Nonetheless, maintenance is always worth a shot so long as you meet the 10 year mark for marriage.    

10 Questions To Ponder Before Your Initial Divorce Consultation  

breakup-908714_1280Heather and Jessica's blog- consultTomorrow, Jessica Perroni is appearing on “The Jury Is Out” on KVIG Radio to discuss this…

By: Jessica Perroni and Heather White

  1. What percentage of your cases are in the county where I live?

Generally speaking, if you are planning to file for divorce, you will most likely file in the county that you and your spouse reside (assuming you both reside in the same county). Hiring an attorney that practices in that county can be helpful because that attorney is likely to have familiarity with the Courts in that county.  This translates to having an attorney with experience in the Courts of YOUR county: she is accustomed to local policies, procedures, and rules, and is acquainted with local Court staff, experts, mediators, counselors, etc. An attorney with this type of familiarity can be advantageous compared to an attorney who has limited or no experience in your county.

  1. As a stay-at-home mom/dad, does this affect my financial outcome of the divorce?

In Texas, unless you have a pre-marital agreement that says otherwise, all income earned during the marriage, by either spouse, is considered the property of both spouses, even if only one spouse technically earned the income. This is true for all income, no matter how it was earned, or where it was deposited. For example, income earned from a rental home, or income deposited into a retirement account is the property of both spouses and is subject to division upon divorce.

Unfortunately, however, Texas does not have alimony. However, in Texas, a spouse may be entitled to spousal maintenance, which usually comes in the form of installment payments made by one spouse to the other after divorce for a very limited period of time. The caveat to spousal maintenance is that the amount is capped, there is no guarantee that a spouse will receive maintenance post-divorce; and thus, it should never be relied upon. Being a stay-at-home parent, by itself, does not qualify one for spousal maintenance. In general, the law in Texas is going to require a stay-at-home parent to find work unless the estate is large enough to sustain the stay-at-home option post-divorce.

  1. What can I do to mitigate attorney’s fees?

Be organized. Your attorney will need to know the details of your finances, have access to your personal documents, and lots, and lots of additional information. Your attorney will ask for it and anticipate you will provide it in a timely manner – so provide it! When you provide any information to your attorney, provide it in an organized manner and in an electronic format, such as a thumb drive or in an email attachment, rather than in multiple emails.

Be patient. If you and your attorney have effectively communicated and decided upon a strategy for your case, keep in mind this can often take time to execute. Remember to consider that there are multiple parties and persons involved in this process, so it can take time for the process to play out and your attorney to accomplish his or her job. Your attorney has an ethical duty to keep you updated during the process. Therefore, generally speaking, no news from your attorney is just that, no news. Unless you have new information to provide your attorney, calling and/or emailing your attorney everyday will do nothing but increase your anxiety and your bill. While your attorney loves speaking to you on a daily basis, you won’t love it when you see your monthly bill.

Be prepared. Don’t send numerous, daily emails or text messages to your attorney.  Save up your questions in one email, one phone conference, or one meeting so that you can avoid follow up communications when possible. Prepare your goals and expectations so that you can effectively communicate the same to your attorney. During the divorce process, there are many facets that you may not have control of, being prepared can help.

  1. What percentage of your cases are family law?

It is important to hire an attorney that has experience in divorce. This sounds trivial, but would you see a brain surgeon for your heart problem? We would not. The same analysis should apply to your divorce. When choosing the “right” attorney, you should choose one that fits you. The fact of the matter is, you don’t necessarily need a “bulldog,” a 50-year experienced divorce attorney, or the “best divorce attorney in town” [even though we are]. What you need is someone who will listen to you, someone you feel comfortable with, someone who practices majority (if not exclusively) family law, and most importantly, someone you can trust.

In addition, to skill, you want an attorney who is empathetic to you and can offer valuable life advice. While you may need a divorce attorney during this difficult time in your life, you also need a counselor at law. Does your case require attention to sensitive topics? For example, is your spouse an addict or have they committed adultery? Are your children having a tough time with this transition? Is CPS involved? Do you have a complicated estate that needs expert help to divide? If so, ask your prospective divorce attorney if they have experience in working with these sensitive topics. While an attorney with a “bulldog” reputation can be beneficial in a courtroom, this does not necessarily aid your transition during this difficult process.

  1. What is your retainer and when do you require replenishment?

Most divorce attorneys require a retainer to secure services. Most people have never had to pay a retainer of any kind, so they think. In reality, a retainer is sort of like a Toll Tag account/piggy bank. You have to pay a certain amount up front, and each month, your account is deducted depending on how many tolls you drive through. When your up-front deposit is depleted, you have to replenish. That’s a retainer. Once you’ve decided on an attorney that you like, make sure you understand in full detail your financial obligations and expectations with regard to payment of a retainer and replenishment of the same.

  1. How do you decide what to charge me?

It varies by attorney. Generally speaking, attorneys charge you based on the actual costs and time spent on your case. For example, some attorneys charge in increments of time such as fifteen minutes, or six minutes, or twelve minutes . . .  Essentially, every time your attorney or a staff member performs any work on your case, you are charged for the amount of time spent each time, which is multiplied by the attorney’s or staff member’s billable rate. A billable rate is the amount of money each attorney and staff member at a law office charges per hour, and it is typically based on experience.

  1. What does “custody” really mean? And, what the heck is a “primary” parent?

Technically, the Texas Family Code [i.e. the rules and laws we are required to follow] rarely refers to the word “custody,” but it is often utilized colloquially. Instead of formally using the word “custody,” Texas law focuses on parenting plans that are comprised of three major components. The first component is called “conservatorship,” which is the legal custody of a child. Conservatorship defines which parent(s) can make decisions related to their children, for example, their education, health, residency, etc. The second component is called “possession and access,” which is the physical custody of a child. Possession and access defines when each parent will have physical custody of their child. The third component is called “support,” which includes child support and medical support.

A “primary” parent does NOT mean that such parent is the primary decision maker for the child. If one parent is designated as the “primary” parent, this simply means that such parent has the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the child.

  1. What are the pros and cons between the Court deciding my case versus reaching an agreement? Where does mediation apply in all of this?

There are not many pros for allowing the Court to decide your case, but sometimes, it is inevitable and necessary. Reaching an agreement with your spouse, whether informally, through attorneys, or through alternative methods, such as mediation, is often preferred and recommended because in such instances the spouses retain control of the major decisions that divorce requires. As soon as two spouses enter a Courtroom, they lose complete decision making power and control, and instead hand this ability and right over to the Court. Mediation is a common alternative dispute resolution tool used in divorce. Mediation is helpful when the spouses have reached an impasse, either with or without Attorneys, and need a neutral, third party mediator to guide them to an agreement. However, in some instances, agreements cannot be reached and Court intervention is necessary, especially when family violence is involved.

  1. What is collaborative law? How is collaborative law different than mediation? Is my case a good candidate for collaborative law?

Check out our link, “What is collaborative law?” at www.nataliegregg.com:

“Very simply, collaborative law is a legal process through which divorcing spouses agree to settle matters privately and outside the courtroom from the beginning.” – Natalie Gregg

Many people wonder what the difference is between collaborative law and mediation. Collaborative law is a way to get divorced; whereas, mediation is a way to reach an agreement. Collaborative law often uses mediation, but mediation, by itself, is not collaborative law.

Whether or not your case is a good candidate for collaborative law is a complex analysis and depends on many variables, including but not limited to your relationship with your spouse, your goals, your interests, your estate, and the unique intricacies of your case. For example, if you and your spouse cannot agree on the color of the sky, collaborative law is probably not the best option for you.

  1. Can I represent myself in my divorce?

“Did you know it is legal in Texas to remove your own appendix? Well, it is, but I would not do it.” – Judge Mark Rusch of the 401st Judicial District Court, Collin County, Texas.  Another famous quote (by anonymous): “A lawyer who represents themselves has a fool for client.”

Defining a Complex Divorce: There is No “TRY”— only “DO”

Complex divorce- loveThere is no TRY in divorce.  That doesn’t stop clients from trying to fix their own problems before even asking for help.  When a client walks into my office for a first consult with a printed spreadsheet detailing the division of the estate, I am impressed and worried at the same time.  He/She will proudly explain to me that “everything is decided.  All you have to do is draft it.” Famous last words.

This same client will explain that even though their estate may look complicated, it’s not.  Even though their spouse may seem needy, hateful and strange, they are not.  They might even brag, “This is the easiest divorce you will ever have.  I bet we’ll never even have to talk again.”  We can TRY.  But, I have a sneaking suspicion, that what we DO it, things may not seem so simple.  I am a person who enjoys efficiency and streamlining.  Thus, when I define a divorce as complex, there is a good reason.  I refuse to over-promise and under-deliver.  So, ladies and gentlemen, here is the not-so-scientific formula in life to define a complex divorce:

People part-

  1. Can you tell me in three words, why the other party is crazy?
  2. Are you or opposing party psychologically diagnosable?
  3. Is parental alienation occurring?
  4. Have there been one or more stays in rehab or a mental institution by children or parties?
  5. Is there a history or pattern of family violence, child abuse or neglect?
  6. If you had to add the LPC’s and Ph.D’s on this case, is the number greater than 2?

Money Part

  1. Do we have assets with difficult values to assign?
  2. Are we dividing special or hard to value “stuff”?
  3. Are you or your spouse obsessed with the fact that there are hidden assets?
  4. Are you uncertain the nature of the asset- when or how you acquired it?
  5. Is there a business interests to divide?
  6. Do you have too much? Too little?
  7. Has there been fraud or a whiff of bad faith money transactions?
  8. Does lifestyle conflict with the alleged income?

High conflict personalities gravitate to complex divorce. Likewise, if your spreadsheet doesn’t make sense to both parties, then we have a problem.  I think that most people like simplicity in theory, but in practice, life gets in the way.  Nobody wants to self-identify as “complex divorce.”  But then again, nobody wants the check-the-box route either.

As a divorce client, challenge yourself to DO rather than TRY, to trust your gut. When the value for an asset feels wrong, or the narratives of your children feel too polished, question them.  DO ask the tough questions and get it right the first time.  DO trace funds and get psychological evaluations if they shed light on a dark tunnel.  Don’t TRY to brush things under the rug- whether for budgetary reasons or to avoid confrontation.

Your divorce is your first and best bite at the apple, so assess it properly.  And remember: just because your divorce is complex, this doesn’t mean the rest of your life will be.

 

Top 10 Parenting Tips and Quips from Family Court Judges and Attorneys

Mean JudgeOne of my favorite Collin County judges enjoys admonishing clients at most hearings involving children of the following: “The most important parenting decision that you make is the person you choose to have sex with.”  After that, the rest is history.

I have compiled a list of my top ten favorite phrases that family court judges and attorneys alike use in our daily life to explain the phenomenon of parenting:

  1. Shoes come in pairs.
  2. Takes two to tango.
  3. You choose her/him.
  4. Apples don’t fall far from the tree.
  5. Crazy is as crazy does.
  6. A one-night stand can last a lifetime.
  7. At some point, it was LOVE, or something close.
  8. Sex is a moment. Parenting is a lifetime.
  9. If he wasn’t that great after a few drinks, imagine parenthood.
  10. Don’t let your bad choice hurt your child’s future.

I challenge you to be prepared for this one-liners delivered in your direction from the witness box or being lectured to you by the judge post-hearing. That way, you won’t be as insulted/shocked when delivered in your general direction.  Advice for processing these comments?  Do not respond with argument or explanation as this may not end well.