In Texas, the State Bar of Texas Board of Legal Specialization has established criteria to be certified in various areas of practice – one of them is family law. The criteria include years of practice, number of cases handled, recommendations from colleagues and judges, passing an extensive written examination and ongoing participation in a significant number of continuing legal education programs.
Any lawyer who is a certified family law specialist is considerably more experienced and generally more knowledgeable in that area of the law than a general practitioner. Further, family law specialists are reliable sources of information concerning what the client can expect if the case must go to trial and capable of employing the most expedient methods to move the case toward resolution.
How can a potential client be best prepared for their first meeting with you?
I always ask the client to explain his/her goals and objectives. The client’s explanation usually gives me a clue concerning whether the expectations are within the realm of possibility.
I also ask what the client believes the spouse’s goals and objectives are likely to be. That answer provides a look at the relationship between the parties.
Once past those questions, I request: 1) personal background information, 2) monthly budget data and 3) an outline of assets and debts of the parties.
What type of questions should a client ask of a potential attorney?
- Whether the lawyer has had experience with matters that involve issues and/or facts similar to those in the client’s case.
- What are the fees for lawyer work, staff work, other expenses.
- Is the lawyer familiar with the judge or judges to whom the case will be assigned.
- If known, is the lawyer familiar with the attorney representing the spouse.
What should a woman do if she is not getting a response from her attorney and feels as if the attorney does not care about her case?
First, initiate communication and voice concern over the lack of response. If that proves unsuccessful, ask people she trusts for referrals to other lawyers.
Historically, the lack of meaningful communication from the lawyer to the client results in more grievance complaints than any other misconduct.
Is it possible for a woman to stay on her spouse’s health insurance if it is listed in the divorce decree? If not, do you recommend having the spouse pay for her health insurance, and if so for how long?
Once the divorce is final, the “spouse” coverage is terminated. If the husband is employed by a sizable business, COBRA coverage is available – the cost, coverage and continuation of that coverage should be explored during the settlement negotiations.
Many women report that their husbands are narcissists and trying to bully them into settling for nothing or hiding assets. What advice would you give these women?
With respect to hiding assets –
A close examination of the facts usually demonstrates that it was not possible to do so for several reasons: 1) there is a paper trail for virtually all financial transactions undertaken in our society and 2) most people spend most of what they earn. By working backward from recent tax returns usually demonstrates that most income can be accounted for as being spent by the parties.
With respect to bullying –
I explain that wife has no obligation to deal with an overbearing husband and she can employ several techniques to convey that message to her spouse. Further, if wife refuses to deal with husband he is forced to deal with the wife’s lawyer and bullying behavior is simply not effective with experienced attorneys. Usually, the husband figures out that misconduct is counter-productive and it generally diminishes.
Do you recommend mediation to your clients and can you explain what mediation is and how a person can best prepare for it?
Mediation is required by the judges in this part of the state. I have memos concerning mediation that I provide the client and set an appointment with the client to discuss the process shortly before the mediation date.
Are demographic and socio economic stats pertinent when a woman wants to relocate with her children?
The courts in this area will generally enter orders restricting the residence of the children to the county in which the case was filed and the surrounding counties. If the woman desires to move the children beyond those boundaries, there needs to be evidence of why doing so is in the best interests of the kids. The facts to be considered include: 1) location of family and friends needed for financial and psychological support, 2) employment opportunities and requirements, 3) quality of schools, 4) cost and quality of housing, 5) quality and cost of medical and psychological assistance, 6) history concerning father’s level of involvement with the children, 7) ease or difficulty of travel to the proposed location, 8) cost of travel to the proposed location, 9) level of cooperation between the parents, and 10) whatever other factors are related to the particular case.
Is it wise for a woman to date before her divorce is final?
Probably not because it may make the divorce case more difficult to settle by inciting the other party. Further, I advise clients not to post provocative photos, comments, etc. on social media because of its potential incendiary effect.
If the client insists on forming other relationships, I advise the client to be very discrete.
Robert J. Matlock
2500 Legacy Drive, Suite 226, Frisco, Texas 75034
Years in Practice: 43 years