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Divorce Law Dallas - Self Divorce Tips
January 28, 2010 11:40am
You probably think that attorneys caution individuals to hire a professional when they are involved in a divorce. It's not just because we are trying to earn a living. Maybe this article will shed some light on the subject. I hope this recent article explains how important having good legal representation is.
- Ellen Schutz

(This was an article in the Times Online Feb 14, 2008)

Why handling your own divorce is a bad idea

It looks bad, and it probably won't save money. A District Judge on the disadvantages of representing yourself in court

There has been a lot of comment on the decision by Heather Mills to represent herself in the matrimonial financial proceedings against her estranged husband, Sir Paul McCartney. It is most unusual in a significant case involving such large sums. However, in more modest cases in which the availability of legal aid is limited, the family courts are seeing it happen with more frequency. But it remains a risky strategy. Here’s why:

1. You probably won’t understand how the court will reach its decision. The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, under which these matters are decided, doesn’t speak of “common sense”, nor of “fairness”. Instead, there are no less than seven complex factors the court will take into consideration in its deliberations, in addition to the welfare of the children, if there are any, which most come first, and the catch-all of “all the circumstances of the case”.

2. You won’t be aware of judicial guidelines. The 1973 Act hardly provides a definitive accounting mechanism under which these matters are worked out. Rather, the court relies heavily on guidelines laid down in major cases as to the approach that should be taken. To this must be added the important reservation that, in any event, each case will depend on its own facts.

3. “Big money” cases are a breed of their own. Forget what you've read. These cases have been figuring large in the newspapers and law reports in recent years as the super-rich wash their domestic laundry in public. They have introduced important concepts into ancillary relief disputes such as “special contributions” and even “compensation”, which are now trickling down into more modest disputes. But these concepts are not easily absorbed and understood by those who are not divorce lawyers.

4. You will be facing those who know what they’re doing. Bearing in mind that that the court does not approach these matters from a simplistic point of view, it follows that there are those who are well qualified and handsomely paid to understand how the system works and what the likely outcome will be.

5. Cross-examination is an art, not a science. Watching Perry Mason will not turn the man or woman on the London Underground into a fully-fledged trial lawyer. There is only so much advocacy that can be learned from books. The rest is experience and flair, which can only be honed into something serviceable after several years in the business. Effective cross-examination is an art that very few are able to master to a high standard. Anything less than that standard is likely to fail to produce success. At worst, it could be repetitive and annoying.

6. Poor presentation is likely to antagonise the judge. There is no jury of peers to impress, only one judge. His or her patience is not likely to be unlimited. Although considerable latitude may be afforded to a litigant in person, it is not the judge’s job to make up for any deficiencies there may be in presentation and argument. There is a way of doing things; you will not know that way unless you are a matrimonial lawyer. So you automatically start from a disadvantage.

7. Emotion has very little to do with it. The parties’ feelings are not mentioned in the 1973 Act as a consideration to take into account when deciding these matters. Indeed, conduct of the parties cannot be raised as an issue unless it is so significant as to make it unreasonable to ignore it. Thus, hubby running off with a younger woman is not something that the court is likely to take into consideration, nor a wife not being a good mother.

8. It’s a false economy. It will probably come as no surprise that the most common excuse for not employing a lawyer is that the spouse cannot afford it. That may be short sighted. A good lawyer ought to be able to achieve a result that is fairer and better value than a litigant struggling to do so on their own. Add to that the possibility that failure to understand and comply with court orders may result in orders for costs being made against that party and the numbers start to mount up. It’s also the lawyer’s job to try to broker a settlement in order to avoid the expense of protracted proceedings and a costly trial. Trying to do so on your own can be difficult.

9. Achieving a settlement may be harder. In ancillary relief proceedings the court strives to encourage the parties to settle rather than go to trial. There is even a Financial Dispute Resolution hearing built into the process just for that purpose, whereby a judge acts as a sort of mediator to try to broker a deal. The problem is that without knowledge of what the court is likely to order if an agreement cannot be reached, a litigant in person will not be in a position to ascertain what the risks are and what kind of deal would be reasonable or unreasonable. That knowledge can only be ascertained by being familiar both with the law and the current thinking of the appellate courts, which does tend to change.

10. It just doesn’t look good. Being on your own can send out all the wrong signals: that you’re not taking the matter seriously, determined to be obstructive, penny-pinching, unwilling to compromise, just downright difficult. Is this really the impression you want the court to have?

In matters such as these, parties should give themselves the best chance. Deciding to represent yourself hardly does that. Don’t you deserve better?
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Welcome to my blog
January 25, 2009 10:19am

What to expect when you finally make the decision to obtain a divorce.

Most of the time the decision to divorce is preceded by a great deal of soul searching.
Although most people want to view their divorce as a simple process, it rarely is.
There are basic questions that must be answered before the process to divorce can begin.
How long have you been married? Are children involved? Do you own a house? Do you have joint debt? Is there separate property? In the sections that will follow I will attempt to walk you through the divorce process in North Texas, particularly how the process works in Dallas County, Collin County, Denton County and Tarrant County,so that you will have some idea what to expect when you finally make the decision to obtain a divorce.

Simple divorce typically means that the parties are agreeing in advance to divorce, there is no property to split up and no children are involved. If this is your scenario then your divorce will be a relatively simple matter and inexpensive. The divorce process is commenced by filing an Original Petition for Divorce. From the date that the petition is filed there is a 60 day waiting period until the divorce can be finalized. Your spouse must be given notice of this suit for divorce. That can take place by having your spouse served with a citation or asking your spouse to sign a waiver of citation and getting it filed with the Court.
Once 60 days have elapsed you prove-up your Final Decree, the document that sets forth the terms of your divorce.
Although this process seems to be fairly simple, it is always wise to be represented by a lawyer that practices family law. Also it is imperative to be aware that an attorney representing your spouse does not represent you. You don't take chances with your health and wouldn't self diagnose an illness. Although the process outlined above is fairly straight forward, there are pitfalls that a pro se or a party representing him or herself can encounter. Each party should always be represented by a divorce attorney that is working for that party.

Once the decision to obtain a divorce is made and the divorce attorney is hired, the Original Petition for Divorce can be drafted and filed. An Original Petition for Divorce is the document that starts the entire process and the Petitioner is the party that will start the process. The divorce attorneydrafts this document and it will contain information regarding the parties, such as where the Respondent,the Petitioner's spouse, can be served with notice that a suit for divorce has been filed. The Original Petition for Divorce contains information regarding the parties' children, their property, whether it be separate property or community property and whether they can reach an agreement themselves or whether they want the assistance of a Judge in deciding how things should be split between the parties and what the conservatorship and support for the children should be.

It is very important to share all relevant information with your divorce attorney. Make notes on things that are going on in the marriage and with regard to your assets. If you don't tell your family law attorney what is going on he or she will not be able to represent you adequately. I have had clients that simply refuse to be honest about what is going on in the marriage. Don't be embarrassed to share things with your attorney. If you are having an affair or hiding assets and have not mentioned these things to your divorce attorney, it will be worse when the opposing divorce attorney brings those issues to the attention of the Judge. Things that you might not think are important could actually impact the final result of your case so try to be as complete as possible in the information you do provide to your divorce attorney. Also listen to the advice that your family law attorney gives you. That is why you are paying the attorney.

In Dallas County, Tarrant County, Collin County and Denton County a "Standing Order" is also attached to the Original Petition for Divorce. The Standing Order contains the rules that the parties will have to abide by during the pendency of the divorce. It includes provisions such as "No Disruption of Children, Protection of Family Pets or Companion Animals, Conduct of the Parties During the Case and Preservation of Property and Use of Funds During Divorce." The Standing Orders for Denton County, Dallas County, Tarrant County and Collin County are all very similar. These Orders in most cases take the place of a Temporary Restaining Order. There may still be circumstances where a Temporary Restraining Order is necessary, such as in cases of family violence or where an asset may be lost if no specific provision is put in place.

In the event that a Temporary Restraining Order is necessary, the divorce attorney for the party that is requesting that Order will go before the Judge, ex-parte, without the other party being present and ask the Judge to sign an Order restraining the other party from doing something and providingthe requested relief for an initial term of 14 days. A hearing is scheduled within that 14 day period to determine whether the relief requested should be extended during the pendency of the divorce process. A Temporary Orders hearing can also be requested. This hearing sets forth specific terms for the parties to abide by during the pendency of the divorce proceeding. It may contain terms regarding how debts are to be paid, whether there will be spousal support awarded, who will pay attorney's fees, who lives in the family home during the divorce, who drives what car, what the amount of child support will be and what the schedule of child visitation is.In Dallas County and in Tarrant County an Associate Judgepresides over the Temporary Orders hearing. In the event that the results of that hearing are appealed because of some sort of error then theDistrict Court Judge will preside over a new hearing for Temporary Orders. In Collin County and Denton CountytheDistrict Judgepresides over the Temporary Orders hearing. In the event that a hearing before the judge is necessary, the parties will need to fill out a Financial Information Statement that sets forth what the parties assets and liabilities are. Both parties will need to think about what the sources of income in the marriage are and what the expenses are.

Once Temporary Orders are in place, the parties have a set of rules to guide them during the divorce process. It ispossible to go back to court for additional temporary orders or to modify the temporary orders if necessary. Your divorce attorney will be able to guide you. Again, it is always less expensive if the parties can agree on terms by themselves and have a judge approve that agreement instead of having the Judge preside over a hearing.

The next step in the divorce process istermed the "Discovery Process". It is during this process that the parties will have the opportunity to learn of the assets, liabilities and relevant child custody issues. The tools for discovery include depositions, Rule 194 Requests for Disclosure, Interrogatories and Requests for Production of Documents. The parties will fill out an Inventory and Appraisement listing their assets and liablitilties. The discovery process can be long and involved and very expensive. Your divorce attorney will advise you what type of discovery may be necessary. Again, it is important to try and get whatever information you can regarding what your bills are and what you own.

In the coming weeks I will be further outlining the divorce process and will concentrate on issues such as

mediation

terms in Final Decree

social studies

default judgments

motions for rehearings

correcting errors in the final decree

conservatorship issues.

If there is a specific topic you would like to see discussed please contact me and I will add that topic to the list.

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