Wednesday, February 11, 2015

5 Helpful Ways to Control Your Legal Costs in Divorce

I am frequently asked by clients “how can I control my divorce costs?” I hear lots of comments like, “I don’t want to spend more than I have” – or, “We have nothing. Why does it cost so much?” There are ways to control the costs that you incur on family law matters. I tell my clients that they should keep in mind:

1. Always do your homework. If your attorney asks you to gather documents, do it. It is cheaper to gather documents that you have (spending an afternoon going through the messy junk drawer that contains tax returns and bank statements) than to buy the information from somebody else.

2. Plan for your meetings with your attorney. Never, ever go to a meeting unprepared. Have your list of questions ready. It likely will take your attorney the same amount of time to answer several questions as just one question.

3. Be careful on your use of emails to your attorney. Emails make your attorney nearly always available to you – at a price. Most attorneys charge for all of the time they spend on addressing any of your comments and/or questions. So, sending a “quick email” to your attorney may really cause your expenses to increase. It also causes difficulty in the overall relationship with your attorney, because a common response after seeing your first bill, listing the 15 emails your attorney read and answered, is to cut off all contact with the attorney. This is not the answer, as it ultimately leads to more cost.

So be careful. Consider writing your email and saving it in your draft folder until you have several items to address. (Of course, this does not apply to a time-sensitive issue.) You may also want to start a “list of questions/comments” that you can provide to the attorney all at the same time.

4. Pick your battles. Dealing with a soon-to-be ex (or an ongoing dispute with an ex) can be overwhelming, and you can control the issues to pursue. If you really want to fight over the value of a used couch, keep in mind that the battle will almost always cost more than the couch.

5. Consider mediation before resorting to litigation. Parties who are forthcoming with asset and debt disclosure can save tremendous amounts of money by making a commitment to try to reach agreements without resorting to the onerous rules of the court. By working with a mediator, the parties agree to exchange information, they get to review the information and get any questions answered, and then they help create a solution that works for their family.

Read about Mary Ann Hess's fee and payment options for family law clients.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Why Is Our Holiday Schedule So Stressful?

I help parents create parenting plans every day. When it comes to holidays, the parents fall into two general categories: (1) “We will always get along and we agree we will just share the holidays equally and it will just work out” – AND – (2) “I cannot be without my child on any holiday, regardless of significance.”

While the “first” category of parents may seem flexible, and the “second” category of parents may seem inflexible, the reality is that both sets of parents may be creating unnecessary problems.

I encourage parents to look at a parenting plan as “the lowest level of acceptable behavior between the parents.” It allows each parent to know what he/she can expect unless they reach other agreements. It gives them a baseline on which they can rely.

So, it may not make sense to delay deciding what to do about holidays until “later.” After all, you may want to travel with the child, grandparents may want to visit and know that they will see a favorite grandchild, or there may be other children’s schedules to work around.

It also may not make sense to require that every holiday be “chopped up,” because that creates the same problems – what if you want to travel, will grandparents come if the visit is only for a few hours, will children get to see other siblings, etc.?

So, I work with parents to talk about these items at the beginning. I also remind parents to keep in mind that holiday celebrations happen when the parent says they do. The calendar may say when the holiday occurs, but parents choose when to celebrate, and I have yet to see any child complain about having an early holiday. Or, better yet, two holiday celebrations!

More: "When a Court Order Is Not Enough"

Monday, October 20, 2014

Do Same-Sex Spouses Need a Prenup?

If you saw any news coverage starting Friday, you saw many joyous same-sex couples getting married as soon as it because legal in Arizona. Many had waited what seemed like an eternity to marry.

But, as a family law attorney, I say, “Not so fast!” It is critical that all future spouses take the time to have a meaningful discussion as to whether they should get a prenuptial agreement. There may be no greater group that needs this legal protection than same-sex couples.

Many same-sex couples have been together for years and have joint assets and debt. They have created a family financial situation that worked for them while they were not under the jurisdiction of Arizona law regarding any possible splitting up. That all changed on Friday.

Now, if a same-sex couple gets divorced, they will be treated like all other divorcing couples – meaning that it is the duration of marriage that defines when assets and debts accumulated, and determines valuable rights to support. It may be that the long-awaiting couples really don’t want Arizona law to apply to them regarding their finances. If that is the case, it is critical that all spouses consider entering into a prenuptial agreement that provides exactly what the spouses want to occur in the event that their long-awaited marriage comes to an end.

Bottom line: If you are considering getting married, it is worth considering getting a prenuptial agreement.

More: "Premarital and Cohabitation Agreements in Arizona"

Thursday, October 9, 2014

My Lawyer Says I Need a Parenting Coordinator?

Many times parents who meet with me as a Parenting Coordinator say, "My lawyer says we need you. I don't know what you do that my lawyer doesn't want to do (or can't do, or is too expensive, or fill in the blank). I then review the Order of Appointment with the parents and discuss the role of the Parenting Coordinator, including what the Parenting Coordinator can and cannot do.

Leah Pallin-Hill, a retired commissioner and mediator, has written an excellent article explaining the Parenting Coordinator process. Leah has graciously allowed me to post her article to my blog. If you are considering using a Parenting Coordinator, this article gives valuable information on what to expect with a PC.

More about Parenting Coordinator

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Does George Clooney Need a Prenup?

When George Clooney – one of Hollywood's most eligible bachelors – announced his recent engagement, I heard many comments about Mr. Clooney’s need for a “prenup” a common nickname for a Premarital Agreement What struck me about the “prenup” comments were that nearly all of the commenters thought that a “prenup” was only necessary for the wealthy.

The reality is that a “prenup” can be used for a variety of reasons. It may be that people with money do not need a “prenup” because they have sophisticated asset/debt planning already in place and a marriage may not affect those plans. The reality is that it may be that people with very little resources are the ones that need a “prenup” based on future employment risks, accumulation of debt, or any other financial matters that the future spouses wish to figure out at the beginning. Another reality is that people entering into a second marriage may have financial issues related to children that need some type of attention.

There are many reasons why getting a “prenup” is a smart decision regardless of whether you are rich or of modest means. People need to get beyond the concept that a “prenup” is only a map to divorce. A “prenup” is a contract that smart adults can agree to that handles the “business” side of marriage – which every marriage has -- and may never be used in the context of a divorce.

Whether you are getting a “prenup” or not is the decision for each couple to make. But, it would be foolish not to have the discussion before getting married so that you explore what benefits a “prenup” may give both future spouses. In other words, pay as much attention to the “business” of your marriage that you would to all other aspects of your relationship.

More about Prenuptrial Agreements

Friday, April 11, 2014

Why Did We Laugh at "Conscious Uncoupling"?

Gwyneth Paltrow announced last week that she was ending her marriage with her husband by “conscious uncoupling.” The reaction from the media – both social and mainstream – and people on the street was to let out a big laugh. How Hollywood! How New Age-y! How weird! Within hours, the late night talk show hosts had the phrase “conscious uncoupling” in their nightly monologues. The phrase “conscious uncoupling” went mainstream nearly instantly.

But the mainstream use of the term was primarily to be funny. Then, I learned more.

The phrase was coined by Katherine Woodward Thomas, a psychotherapist. Ms. Thomas describes “conscious uncoupling” as “a kinder term for divorce. It is essentially a no-drama approach to separation, one that protects the children and encourages both sides to avoid pointing fingers.”

Isn’t that exactly what couples have been trying to do for years? Using different tools for divorce so that the focus is on children and encouraging both spouses to be the best they can be after the end of the relationship? Many processes can be used for “conscious uncoupling,” such as collaborative divorce, mediation, and negotiated settlements.

So, maybe it is a good thing that “conscious uncoupling” went mainstream so quickly. After all, wouldn’t everyone going through one of the most difficult events in their lives benefit from less drama and a kinder approach to divorce?

More about Mary Ann Hess's collaborative divorce practice

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Words of Advice for Creating a Parenting Plan.

I should stop being surprised when I hear a parent say "our parenting plan does not work!" This comment comes equally from moms and dads. Once one of the parents becomes “concerned”, “dissatisfied”, or fill in the blank about exactly what is wrong with their parenting plan, immediate attention can avoid years of conflict. A very common concern about parenting plans is a “lack of detail” – who does what, when? I see the “lack of detail” parenting plans most often when people settle their parenting issues. That seems surprising because when parents settle, they have a unique opportunity to create a parenting plan that fits their particular family needs. Their agreements have avoided being told how to parent their children by the judge, or having a “one size fits all” parenting plan utilized for their family. How does this happen? I see it mostly when people are “so agreeable” in their settlement negotiations that they just cannot envision a set of circumstances where parents may disagree “at least as it relates to the children.” The “that will never happen” rapidly turns into, “how did this happen?” A way to avoid future problems is to take the time to really think about your parenting plan immediately when parents are considering ending their romantic relationship – it is never too soon! Think of your parenting plan as the “lowest level of acceptable behavior” between parents who are acting in their children’s best interest. Figure out what is important to you and then make sure that you include those items in your parenting plan. Knowing what each parent’s minimum responsibilities are creates the best framework to raising happy, healthy and well adjusted children who just happen to live in two homes.