Before you decide to file for divorce, make sure you understand how the Family Court system works. The 2015 documentary “Divorce Corp.” provides a frightening look at the dishonesty, conspiracy, and abuse that can happen in the Family Court system. After watching it, you may feel like you need to take a shower. You might also wonder how do I protect myself? Or, is my attorney one of the “good guys”?
So, how do you find an ethical professional on your side? Well, it’s not always easy to tell, but I’ve found that there are at least 10 Questions you can ask a Divorce Attorney before you bring them on. These will make it much easier to find the right fit for you:
1. “How Many of Your Cases go to Trial?”
The answer can vary, but I would be cautious if more than 20% of their cases went to trial. You don’t want an overly litigious divorce attorney. Believe it or not, some attorneys are more interested in racking up billable hours rather than helping you and your spouse resolve your problems amicably.
2. “Will You Help Me Prepare a Financial Affidavit?”
Spoiler alert: An attorney should say YES to this. All settlement discussions form around this paperwork. Income, expenses, child support all come into play here, so having that Affidavit is crucial. Not only that, but the Affidavit itself should be accurate and reflect everything in your budget, whether it be pre or post-divorce expenses.
If you already find yourself in the divorce process and are having to prepare the financial affidavits on your own, don’t fear. This is something that a CDFA® can assist with as well.
3. “Will you be double-check my spouse’s Financial Affidavit to make sure it is correct?”
It seems that very few divorce attorneys will do this, but it is an excellent sign if they will! Too many times, a spouse may base tax on filing “Married Filing Jointly” instead of the correct status of “Single.” There may even be expenses that are double-counted. You need to make sure that you have a second set of eyes so that your case isn’t seriously hurt.
4. “I am a stay-at-home-mom. How much spousal support should I expect to be able to get from my spouse?”
Texas has very specific (read restrictive) laws regarding spousal maintenance. To be eligible, the duration of your marriage needs to be a least ten years. You must also demonstrate that you can’t earn enough money to meet minimum reasonable needs. And your eligibility may be denied if you haven’t sought employment or the skills to do so. If a divorce attorney doesn’t mention this, they may be telling you what you want to hear and looking forward to their nice fat case file when you let them fight for an unrealistic settlement.
5. “Will I Have a Chance to Negotiate a Settlement with My Spouse in person?”
How exactly will things be split in the marriage? Who will get the kids and for how long? Your divorce settlement will spell out these details. It’s common practice for a divorce attorney to send written offers back and forth between you and your spouse’s divorce attorney without having a settlement negotiation meeting. The preparation of these documents and the back-and-forth are all billable hours. How productive would it be if your attorney is willing to meet in a room and speak to one another on each point?
In our next post–Is Your Attorney a Divorce Financial Expert, we will look at questions that cover topics such as bringing in financial professionals, the hiding of assets by one spouse, the valuation of a business, refinancing the house after divorce, and pulling money from a retirement account for a down payment on a new house. Our hope is that by asking these questions in advance, you will find an attorney that you trust to work in your best interest.