What is the first thing a woman should do if her husband leaves and states he wants a divorce?
I usually encounter the opposite problem, where it’s the woman who has reached her breaking point and wants to leave but doesn’t know how to do it. In that situation I talk about pre-divorce planning – establishing credit, setting aside financial resources and documents, planning her budget, an exit strategy, and setting her expectations.
But in either case, she needs to assess her situation and be informed. Can she survive financially for the next few months? Is she prepared emotionally for what lies ahead? Are children involved? A good attorney can help guide a client through these issues not only through legal strategy but also by keeping her informed and by providing her with resources and emotional support.
What should a woman consider when choosing a divorce attorney?
She needs to find someone who complements her own personality and goals. For example, people often think that a “bulldog” is what they need to be tough and stand up to a controlling spouse. However, I often hear complaints about such attorneys because they tend to tell the client what to do without explaining why or asking if that’s what the client really wants, and then running up the bill unnecessarily. At the end of the day, the law applies the same to everyone. I have actually found that most judges respond better to a reasoned and compassionate argument than to a loud, bossy one.
Experience is also important. If you are dealing with a family law situation, you should find a family law attorney. There are lots of attorneys out there who say they can handle a family law case and offer affordable rates but who don’t actually focus on family law. The problem is that when things get complicated, those attorneys often end up doing more harm than good. Also, those attorneys may not have the emotional intelligence or “bedside manner” to work with clients going through a family law situation, which I think is critical in getting clients past this difficult time in their lives.
What is collaborative law and how is it different from mediation?
Collaborative law is a team-based approach to a legal matter. It suspends the court’s involvement for up to two years, relieving the pressure of court deadlines and allowing the parties to work together toward a resolution. Collaborative law involves a team of experts to help the couple through the process, not just attorneys but also financial and mental health experts. The “team” and clients meet through a series of meetings to discuss options, and the various experts may have separate meetings with the clients or other experts. Open and honest communication is encouraged, but the parties still maintain confidentiality with their own attorneys. Collaborative law requires commitment from the parties – if the process breaks down and goes back into litigation, then the parties have to hire new attorneys and essentially start over. However, the collaborative approach is great for the long-term, since clients are often more satisfied with the outcome (that they created together), and studies show that it reduces future litigation.
Mediation is much less involved, and it takes place within the litigation process. And many courts require mediation before setting a trial. A mediator is a neutral third party who facilitates the communication between the parties. Mediation does not usually involve any other experts. It is essentially a one day meeting at someone’s office where each party and his/her attorney is in a room separate from the other party and his/her attorney, and the mediator goes back and forth between the rooms negotiating the terms of a settlement. Neither party is required to settle the case, but parties are encouraged to settle because it gives them more control over the outcome of their case than what they would have in a courtroom.
In addition to being a family law attorney, I am also trained in collaborative law and a certified mediator. I often use the skills I’ve developed in those roles to help clients settle their cases when litigation is not an option.
What is the top mistake you see women making during a divorce?
They get nervous and impatient. They think that if one thing goes wrong then their husband has won, yet again. Then they get frustrated and angry. So I try to get them to focus on the positives in their case and on keeping their eye on the long-term goal: freedom.
What to do with the marital home? Should a woman move out if she plans on divorcing? Should a woman keep it in lieu of other marital assets?
In Texas, a community property state, if the house was purchased during the marriage, it is a community asset, regardless of whose name is on the title. So if a woman moves out of the house, she won’t lose it just because she moved out.
Whether or not she should keep it is another matter that requires case-by-case analysis. But in general, it boils down to whether she can afford it. We look at her budget and income and support, and if it looks like that she won’t be able to afford it on her own after the divorce, then I usually advise that she not hang on to it. As such, we usually either have the husband buy out her share of the equity in the house by paying her cash or giving her some other assets, or we sell the house and split the proceeds. But each case is different, and there may be times when a woman can keep the house even if she can’t afford it. It would have to be something that the woman would have to discuss with her attorney and other advisors.
What advice would you give clients to get a divorce with the least possible conflict and pain for all of those involved?
If spouses can reach agreements on issues, even if not all of the issues, then please do! Also, I think being informed about the law and what a judge may do helps minimize the fear that prevents people from communicating. So I would encourage the parties to each get a good lawyer with a good reputation who can guide the client toward resolution rather than litigation, and I would encourage the parties to set aside their emotions whenever possible. And if they can’t talk to each other, then leave it to the attorneys to work it out.
If a woman feels that her spouse is neglecting the children or putting them in danger, what are her options as far as supervised visits and obtaining full physical and legal custody?
Parenting can be tricky – one parent’s “danger” may just be overprotective thinking. Courts in the Dallas area normally want both parents to be involved in a child’s life, even if they may not have been so involved in the past. However, if a child is truly in danger, then supervised visits and sole custody are an option.
If a woman’s husband and his attorney is lying about her or marital property to the courts, what should she do?
She can seek sanctions against the husband and his attorney. She can also find evidence of the lying and use it to shift things in her favor.
Are women judged more harshly than men during divorce proceedings, if they had extra-marital affairs?
Adultery is so common these days that I think most judges treat it the same regardless of who has committed it. In my experience, I have not seen a disparity.
How does social media affect the divorce proceedings?
Be careful what you post! I have used social media to find people, to prove that a parent was lying about having possession of a child, to prove a person had more money than claimed, and to prove an affair. But I hear about more and more cases that are coming up with creative ways to use social media. I advise clients to be on their best behavior with social media, and if in doubt, just don’t post!
Is there any other advice you would like to give women who are just beginning the divorce process?
Knowing really is half the battle. Educate yourself about the law so that your husband can’t bully you. But beware of the internet – some of what you find there is unreliable. Talk to a knowledgeable attorney about your situation, even if it’s just for a consultation and even if there is a consultation fee. I have yet to hear from anyone who regretted doing that…walking away with knowledge and confidence about your situation is priceless.
2201 N. Central Expy, Ste. 225, Richardson, Texas 75080
Years in Practice: 9
Is there anything else that you would like potential clients to know about you?
I focus on guiding my clients through the legal process rather than bulldozing them through it. I understand that legal matters can be intimidating, so I try to maintain open and honest communication with clients about what their options are. Although I can be a passionate advocate in the courtroom, I also understand that litigation is not always necessary. I work with the client to customize a solution that fits their own goals and budget.