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
Checklist: Issues To Discuss With Your Divorce AttorneyJeff Landers , CONTRIBUTOR I write for women going through financially complex divorces. Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own. Heidi Klum & Seal: Getty Images via @daylife I am not in favor of dirty tricks during divorce. However, pretending they never happen doesn’t do anyone any good, either. Divorcing women need to understand the full range of tactics some husbands use, and they need to be proactive –not reactive --as they work to secure the best possible divorce settlement. To that end, if you are contemplating divorce, you need to know about a tactic I see quite often in financially complex divorce cases: “Conflicting out” all the top divorce lawyers By “conflicting out” certain attorneys, your husband can make it difficult for you to hire the lawyer that’s best for you. Here’s how it works: He makes appointments with all the top lawyers in your area. Then, he meets with each one –but only for a short time. All he needs to do during those meeting is share enough information to create an attorney-client relationship. Once he does, that particular attorney will be prohibited from representing you. Of course, your husband doesn’t actually have to hire any of these attorneys. The entire goal with this tactic is to “conflict out” attorneys so they cannot be hired by you. Celebrities frequently use this strategy –and men aren’t the only ones that do. In fact, Heidi Klum made headlines earlier this year for divorce attorney “shopping” in Los Angeles. Of course, Heidi simply may have been interviewing divorce attorneys to find the most qualified and the one she would be most comfortable with – a perfectly legitimate endeavor. The lesson here is simple. Don’t procrastinate when hiring a divorce attorney. If you do, you could miss out on the opportunity to retain a great lawyer! What are some other tactics used by husbands during a divorce? Don’t get me wrong. Not all divorces are bitter battles. Some are relatively amicable, and the vast majority are settled outside the courts. However, at Bedrock Divorce Advisors we've seen quite a few underhanded financial and legal tactics employed by husbands or their divorce teams. Many husbands will also: Stall and delay. By repeatedly rescheduling court hearings and/or filing excessive motions and requests for evidence, a husband can drive up his wife’s legal costs and stretch out the time during which she must cover living expenses. In these cases, the husband is hoping she'll run out of money and be forced to agree to his settlement offer, which is often extremely unfavorable to her. Exert pressure to proceed too quickly. A husband who wants his wife to agree to a “quick” settlement may have something to hide. For instance, very early in the process, the husband’s attorney may send over a settlement proposal for the wife to review and counter. Usually, this means the husband just wants to get the divorce over and done with quickly, and he wants his wife to settle for what appears to be a reasonable offer. The problem, of course, is that in many cases, she has not received all the discovery documents requested, so she doesn’t have complete knowledge about key financial matters, such as marital assets, income sources, expenses, what they owe and what's owed them. Rushing to get a settlement is especially sneaky if the husband has been busy hiding assets and/or income and now he is trying to get her to agree to a 50-50 split of only a portion of their total assets! Deny access to financial resources. Unfortunately, many married women do not take a hands-on approach to the family finances. During a divorce, a husband can use her lack of knowledge to his advantage. He can ensure that only he can access family funds, cut off his wife's credit cards, move funds out of family accounts, etc. Actions like these can leave his wife without the money necessary to buy groceries, much less hire the right divorce team to represent her…while he hires an excellent team to represent him. This is especially problematic for abused women who live in constant fear of harm—to themselves and/or their children. Hide assets. As I have discussed at length in earlier blog posts (see 21 Signs That Your Husband May Be Hiding Marital Assets During Your Divorce and Divorcing Women: Here’s Where Husbands Typically Hide Assets), hiding assets during a divorce is sneaky, unethical and illegal –but it happens much more frequently than most women expect. Fail to pay court-ordered support or refuse to relinquish assets. Husbands who don’t follow court orders are breaking the law –and they force their wives to try to extract the promised payments at considerable legal cost long after the divorce is over. What’s more, all this financial and legal wrangling is terribly time-consuming. Some women have to take time off from work to deal with these issues, and that can put their jobs in jeopardy. Sadly, many family courts do a poor job enforcing such orders, even when a woman follows its requirements to the letter, and even for a well-meaning judge, deception on the part of an ex-husband can be difficult to decipher or prove. Because there are so many different dirty tricks, I recommend that women maintain their own emergency fund in a separate bank account, even if divorce has never entered their minds. If you are contemplating divorce, make sure you start organizing your personal finances and important documents under the guidance of a qualified divorce financial strategist. During the divorce, you’ll need to Think Financially, Not Emotionally® so you can keep your finances intact while planning for a secure financial future.