5 Tips: What to Do Prior to Filing for Divorce
Number 1: Contact an Attorney
I cannot stress how important it is to consult with an attorney to discuss the divorce process. After all, I did make it number one of the list. Often times, couples believe that their case is going to be uncontested (or agreed) or that they have taken into consideration all of the problems and issues that need to be considered in a Final Decree of Divorce; however, there are many legal considerations that need to be addressed even if that is the case. If a mistake is made in drafting your decree, sometimes it is not fixable. Attorneys have experience drafting decrees (and dealing with problems in poorly drafted decrees) and can ensure that yours accomplishes all that you and your spouse intend it to.
If your case is contested, then having an attorney is crucial. There are rules of evidence, local rules, and the Texas Family Code that need to be thoroughly understood. If you find yourself in a courtroom alone, you will be at a severe disadvantage.
Even if you are competent and have a good understanding of the legal framework, your judgment is clouded by the emotion and personal nature of a family law proceeding. A law school professor of mine once told me “he who represents himself has a fool for a client” (Abe Lincoln said it first).
Number 2: Choose a Therapist for Yourself and Your Kids
Next to death of family or friends, divorce is likely the most painful experience one can endure in a lifetime. In some circumstances, it may even be worse because the process can become long and grueling if everything isn’t already agreed on.
A therapist or other mental health professional can help guide you through the process in the healthiest way possible. I find that sometimes clients will rely on me for this role, and although I can try, it is not a roll I am formally trained to fulfill.
Kids take divorce very hard. They are too young and too close to the situation to understand what their part is. Some will blame themselves, some will have a tough time coping, and others will react in their own way. One thing I have noticed when children are involved is that they are very perceptive, very impressionable, and very sensitive. It can be damaging when parents unintentionally put the children in the middle of their relationship problems. In addition, the children love both parents and are being forced to see both parents less than they are used to. They need a professional to help guide them through the process and transition, and to help them cope with their feelings.
Number 3: See If You Can Come to an Agreement
The divorce process can be exhausting emotionally, physically and financially. Sometimes two people are so far apart in how they want the case resolved that an agreement simply can’t be reached and trying without attorneys is not worth the effort. However, if the two parties can put aside their personal feelings and work toward an agreement, that agreement will ultimately serve the family better than anything a Court could order. When you let a Court decide your family’s fate, you turn over the decision-making to a stranger who is never going to know your family like you do. However, keep in mind that you should still have an attorney review your agreement.
Number 4: Do Not Compare Your Case to Other Cases You Read About on the Internet or Social Media
Everyone’s case is different. People also tend to portray themselves in the best possible light on social media and when telling the story of their divorce. It is best that you stay off social media and other internet sites that discuss the divorce process and outcomes. It won’t be that helpful.
First, state to state, the laws are different. One state may have more liberal child support laws and set your expectations too high. Another state may not be a community property state, so you may find that your understanding of what is “mine” and “ours” may not be accurate.
Second, each case is different. Just because you and your friend have two kids who are about the same age and ex-spouses that work at the same type of job doesn’t mean that the two of you would necessarily get the same child support awarded. Their kids may have special needs you don’t know about or his or her ex may have agreed to cover other expenses outside of child support.
Last point: Not everyone tells you every detail of their particular case. When it comes to divorces, people tend to keep some of the details very secretive – sometimes on the advice of their attorney or sometimes because the facts may be embarrassing or too personal. These details matter in determining outcomes of divorces, and you may not know what details are omitted.
Number 5: Live Like Someone is Watching
When you’re going through litigation, your life is under a microscope. You may be used to going to poker night on Wednesdays and having your mom watch the kids and take them to school the next day, but during divorce litigation that may be held against you. You may be used to spending a lot of money at the salon once or twice a month, but that could be held against you as well.
I often have clients that tell me that they don’t think they should stop living their lives the way that they always have just because they are in court. Unfortunately, when small details can count, your soon-to-be ex is going to be watching your every move, waiting for you to do something that sets you two apart and shows them in a better light.
It is not my advice that you lie or cover up already-made mistakes. It is my advice that you don’t make the other side’s job easy. Stop going out to bars and nightclubs while your divorce is pending. Don’t go on vacations that you haven’t cleared with the other side. Don’t post or send pictures of your kids cuddling up next to your brand-new boyfriend or girlfriend. Don’t send emails or text messages threatening or harassing the other side.
Keep in mind that, at a final hearing, almost anything related your kids or finances is fair game. The Court is watching, and if you want to prevail on particular parts of your case, you should respect that and act accordingly.
Jessica “Jessi” Houghtby, Attorney at Law
Pennington Law, PLLC, founded by Tyler Pennington, a board certified family law attorney, practices primarily in Travis and Williamson counties. We also work in and the surrounding areas of Hays, Bell, Bastrop and other counties. Our consultations are free, so give us a call at 512-255-2733, or feel free to email us using the contact form.