We Americans love lots of things. We love to fall in love, we love to get married, we “love” to get divorced, and we love to move. Almost all of us fall in love (at the very least with our pets), almost all of us get married, almost half of us who get married get divorced, and almost half of us born in one state end up living in another. When our country was formed none of this was true. Marriage was near universal, divorce was unheard of, and most people stayed put.
State rights, one of our nation’s founding principles, made sense back then. It makes far less sense today. But your state of residence determines all kinds of things. These include the penalties for crimes you commit, how much you pay in taxes, how much you can collect in welfare, what you can leave your children when you die, where you can buy beer, whether you can smoke pot, whether you can readily get an abortion, and the list goes on.
One of the biggest issues some married couples face when they move across state lines is how they will fare if they get divorced. (And, again, almost half will untie the knot.) The answer may be far better or far worse depending on the state and even the county in which you reside. I say “may,” because if you reach an amicable settlement, that settlement may be legally approved no matter where you live. But if you have a contested divorce and end up leaving it up to a judge, she’ll likely apply state or county guidelines that can be very different depending on the state or country. Indeed, since only a few states and counties in the country have formal guidelines, the guidelines are mostly those set by the local judge. These judges are, of course, influenced primarily by what other judges in their locality and state are doing.
Why ‘brutal’ divorce laws must change in Saint CharlesWESTEND61 VIA GETTY IMAGES This is a question I often hear from friends, co-workers and those who come to me for guidance and support as they navigate through separation, divorce and co-parenting challenges. Although every person's personal and legal predicaments are unique, there are several essential points to carefully consider before making the decision to fire your divorce attorney or not. 1. Exactly how far along are you into the legal process? Many times I talk with people who remember struggling to come up with enough funds to pay a large up-front financial retainer and signing an agreement to hire a divorce attorney. Then I discover that they have no clear idea about what is actually going on in their case at the current moment. Since divorce cases often meander along tediously slowly while everyone waits for several months for the next scheduled court date, many people simply assume that their attorney is staying on top of the process and that there is no need to check in frequently. However, during the time I worked as a paralegal in a city-wide firm that specialized in Family Law, I often noticed that many divorce attorneys have such heavy client caseloads that they find themselves constantly on the run from courthouse to courthouse putting out immediate fires. Are you sure about what exactly has been filed with the court so far? What approach is your attorney taking in terms of speeding things up or trying to slow them down? Do you understand and agree with the actions they have taken so far to confidently represent you when dealing with opposing counsel and the judge? Knowledge is power and not understanding and knowing what is or is not going on as your divorce unfolds is critical when it comes to getting your best possible outcome. 2. Are you satisfied with the ways that your divorce attorney communicates with you? Do they lapse into legalese so often that you can't understand what they are really saying? Are you able to reach your attorney the same day if you need immediate legal advice? Will your divorce attorney promptly respond to your emails and phone calls or do they regularly ask their legal staff to respond instead? Are you able to reach your attorney's cell phone if you find yourself in a heated parenting disagreement that has flared up on a holiday or a weekend? 3. Do you trust what your gut is telling you? Making a sound decision about if and when to cut your losses and move forward when you are deciding whether to change divorce attorneys is extremely difficult when you have already invested a great deal of your time, emotional energy and substantial sums of money with your current attorney. Since many people going through divorce are emotionally exhausted, emotions often cloud what should be a carefully considered business judgment. Although you may not realize it, divorce is usually the biggest business deal of your entire life. If you reach the decision that your interests will be protected best by changing to another divorce attorney, be sure to do your research up front to figure out your new attorney's particular strengths and weaknesses and how these could impact your case. Is the new attorney you are considering a specialist in mediation or a highly competitive and cut-throat litigator? Do they frequently represent clients in front of the same judge you will be seeing? How often have they been up against the opposing counsel in cases similar to yours? Once you have made the decision to move ahead, don't let the practical matters hold you back. It's usually easiest to go ahead and hire a new divorce attorney and then the new attorney will soon enter a motion with the court to represent you. Your previous attorney will file a motion to remove themselves from your case and your new attorney can ask to have all of your legal case records copied and then sent to their office by courier. Or you may choose to ask for copies and deliver them yourself. It's also critical to ask for a detailed final billing that outlines all previous legal and office related charges and be sure that any retainer monies that haven't already been spent get refunded to you in a timely way. Regardless of when you decide to replace your current divorce attorney with a new one, the new attorney will still need time to get up to speed on what's been going on and review the discovery evidence and documents that have already been filed. Despite the hassle factors involved, moving forward through divorce with a new attorney may be just what you need to get what you really deserve over the long run. Follow Nancy Kay on Twitter: www.twitter.com/nancykay7 Nancy Kay Divorce Strategist, Realtor, Manager of Chaos
Women leaving criminal law practice in alarming numbersChecklist: Issues To Discuss With Your Divorce Attorney Download article as a PDF Divorce is complicated - legally, financially, and emotionally. Dividing up property a couple has acquired throughout their marriage (also known as marital property) can be one of the most contentious aspects of divorce. Luckily, divorce attorneys can help alleviate some of your legal and financial stresses by advocating for a division of property that works in your favor. If you have decided to retain a divorce attorney, you can help save your attorney time (and save yourself some money) by gathering important legal and financial documents together before meeting with your attorney. Doing this ahead of time gives your attorney an immediate and useful overview of the property and assets likely to be at issue in your case. Most importantly, it allows the two of you to work together to secure your short and long-term interests. The checklists below can give you and idea of what topics and documents come up in discussions with a divorce attorney. Be Prepared to Discuss Issues Relating to Children ____ Child support ____ Child custody, legal ____ Child custody, physical ____ Visitation with non-custodial parent ____ Grandparent visitation ____ Visitation with stepchildren ____ Health insurance for children ____ Dental insurance for children ____ Uninsured health care costs ____ College education ____ Residence in the marital homestead ____ Beneficiaries of life insurance policies ____ Claiming children as dependents for income tax purposes ____ Religious upbringing of children Property Issues ____ Equity in homestead ____ Other real property ____ Home furnishings ____ Business assets ____ Professional practices ____ Professional degrees ____ Retirement benefits (pensions, IRAs, 401(k) plans) ____ Motor vehicles ____ Recreational vehicles ____ Personal property ____ Savings accounts ____ Stocks, bonds, and funds ____ Compensation for contributions as homemaker ____ Hidden assets ____ Debts Spousal Support Issues ____ Entitlement to support ____ How much? ____ How long? ____ Continued health care coverage through COBRA Other Issues ____ Domestic violence ____ Order for protection ____ Child abuse ____ Parental kidnapping ____ Restoration of maiden name ____ Post-divorce nonfinancial support ____ Attorney's fees and expenses Documents to Have Ready ____ Individual and business income tax returns for the past three to five years (federal, state, and local); ____ Proof of your current income; ____ Proof of your spouse's current income; ____ Prenuptial agreement; ____ Separation agreement; ____ Bank statements; ____ Certificates of deposit; ____ Pension statements; ____ Retirement account statements; ____ Trusts; ____ Stock portfolios; ____ Stock options; ____ Mortgages; ____ Property tax statements; ____ Credit card statements; ____ Loan documents; ____ Utility bills; ____ Other bills (e.g. school tuition, unreimbursed medical bills, music lessons for children, etc.); ____ Monthly budget worksheet; ____ Completed financial statements; ____ Employment contracts; ____ Benefits statements; ____ Life insurance policies; ____ Health insurance policies; ____ Homeowner's insurance policies; ____ Automobile insurance policies; ____ Personal property appraisals; ____ Real property appraisals; ____ List of personal property (including home furnishings, jewelry, artwork, computers, home office equipment, clothing and furs, etc.); ____ List of property owned by each spouse prior to marriage; ____ List of property acquired by each spouse individually by gift or inheritance during the marriage; ____ List of contents of safety deposit boxes; ____ Wills; ____ Living wills; ____ Powers of attorney; ____ Durable powers of attorney; and ____ Advance health care directives. As you can see, the above list extensive -- yet, it is not exhaustive. Every divorce is different since every couple enters and leaves a marriage under different circumstances and with different assets. Therefore, to ensure no property is overlooked, it is always a good idea to have an open and frank conversation with your attorney regarding all of the property and assets relevant to your case. More Information For more information on marital property division, free to check out FindLaw's section on divorce and property. If you have more general questions, you may want to check out FindLaw's divorce section. Finally, if you do not yet have one, consider retaining a local divorce attorney. Request a Free Case Review with a Divorce Attorney The legal issues involved in a divorce are numerous and complex. Finding a trustworthy and competent attorney is key. You must also muster the diligence and courage to collect and to share all your private financial information with your divorce attorney. A great place to start is to immediately see an experienced divorce attorney for a free initial case evaluation to begin the process.