Saturday, January 12, 2013

10 Thoughts about Divorce & Separation

#1: You are Hurt, Angry & You Want to Hurt Your Spouse

When someone hurts you, you have an almost instinctive urge to hurt them back.  But that is usually that a smart thing to do in the long run.  It can come back to haunt you at the courthouse.  In the State of Texas, if one spouse no longer wants to be married, then the Judge is eventually going to grant a divorce.  No one can force a person to remain married to someone that they no longer want to be married to any longer.

The Judges no longer require the spouses to attend marriage counseling because they have learned after many years that a spouse that does not want to be married will not cooperate in marriage counseling.  Therefore, marriage counseling is a waste of time and money.

If you are feeling out of control, then please seek professional help.  If you need medication, it is certainly ok as long as you do not abuse it.  I encourage you to seek therapy.  You are going through the death of your marriage and you need assistance in coping with this major change in your life.  You certainly never thought that you would be going through this on the day you married.

Please do not destroy anything.  Judges to not like people that destroy property.  I don't care what he/she has done, there is no reason to destroy property.  I don't care of he/she has had an affair, spent all the money, given you an STD, put a gun to your head, beat you up, drugged you, done drugs, shot the dog, hit the kids, wrecked the car, said your mama was a whore, slept with your best friend, raped you, kicked you out of the trailer, sold your jewelry, cost you your job, lost his job, or whatever - the Judge has heard all of that and much worst.

The State of Texas eliminated the law where you could sue the paramour many years ago. You cannot sue the person your spouse had an affair with for monetary damages or for any purposes.  There is no law on the books.  You can read about it in the Texas Family Code which is available on-line for free.

#2: Thinking that There is a "Winner" in a Divorce

There are no "winners" in a divorce - except the attorneys because they are going to get paid when the two of you fight.  The attorneys get to bill for their time so the more the two of you fight the more money the attorneys make.

I knew of a couple that fought over their 40 year old pots and pans that no one would have paid $1 for at a garage sale.  I'm sure their attorneys billed thousands of dollars for their time.  The wife knew the husband could only cook his breakfast eggs in this one pan & she refused to give it to him.  They could have both  purchased  several sets of of pot & pans at Neiman Marcus for what they spent on attorneys fees!

If you are angry, seek out a counselor to work out your anger.

Go a a spa and get a great massage.

Go the golf course and hit some golf balls or Go Bowling.

Join a gym and work out your stress and anger.  Get into the best physical shape of your life.

B R E A T H E !
In order to think properly, your brain must have oxygen.  I often have people come into my office that sound like they have just run a marathon.  The first thing I say is sit down and take a deep breath.  Relax.  Have some water.  Calm down.  Now let's chat.  Once I see their shoulders relax and their breathing slow down then we can begin to talk.  Their brain needs fuel to think clearly.
When their brain has no oxygen then they are in panic mode like a scared animal.  Remember, to take 10 deep long breaths.

Every divorce attorney I know has a funny story about how they settled a case.  I settled case once over a turtle.  The wife had to have one more thing & the children's turtle closed the deal.  Or, I mediated a case and the wife wanted her husband to know how much she was suffering so she insisted on taking his favorite antique piggy-bank in order to settle the case.  She knew that he could never find another one like it again.  She hated it but she knew how much he loved that ugly bank.

#3: Talking to Everyone & Listening to everyone

You hurt. You are in pain. You want to share.  You want a shoulder to cry on.  Pick one person to share your feelings with and that is all.  I usually recommend that it be a licensed therapist.  If you cannot afford one, then pick one person.  If it's your best friend and you reconcile with your spouse later, realize that your friend will never forgive your spouse and you will probably lose your best friend.

Your family and your friends want what is best for you.  But you need to hire a lawyer and trust that lawyer.  Did your friends go to law school? No.  They do not know the law.  If you are divorced, they probably divorced years ago.  Laws change.  The facts in YOUR case are unique.  If you don't trust your attorney - then get a new one.  Don't undermine your attorney by calling other attorneys for their opinion. Other attorneys don't know the facts of YOUR case.

#4: Not Consulting with a Family (Divorce) Attorney

I often meet people who are afraid to talk to an attorney and find out their legal rights because they don't want to upset the other party.  Knowledge is power.  I find that most people are so relieved after a consultation with a family law attorney.  Then they are aware of their rights and the things that they need to be doing before considering divorce.  Often after meeting with a potential client, I scared them so badly that they went home and attempted to reconcile with their spouse because they realized that divorce was not a the magic pill that they envisioned and hoped for.

I'm an attorney and I always consult an attorney when I have a question about an area of the law that I'm unfamiliar with.  I graduated from law school in 1990 and many laws in Texas has changed quite a bit since I graduated.  The Texas Legislature meets every 2 years & makes changes each time they meet.  There is no way for an attorney to keep up in all areas of Texas laws.  If you asked me about business litigation, I am not current in that area of the law - I know the basics, but I would not advertise myself as a business lawyer.

#5: Not Thinking Smart about Finances and the Future

I've had people come into my office that have not clearly thought out their future. Unfortunately, divorce is often difficult for the entire family.  The household income is going to be split and expenses are going to be higher because there will now be two rents, two utility bills to pay etc.

I had a phone call from a man who was driving his father-in-law's vehicle.  He got angry and sold the engine then sold the body for scrap.  I suggested that he immediately call a criminal lawyer because he had destroyed another person's property.  He had thought that he would get back at his wife and her father but instead he had created serious legal problems for himself by destroying the vehicle.  It never occurred to him that he was doing anything wrong -- he was laughing when he called me -- he was not laughing when he hung up the phone!

In the State of Texas, both parents are expected to support the children.  Child support is based on the income of the non-custodial parent.  It is irrelevant what the custodial parent's income is when calculating the child support.  Plus, normally the non-custodial parent also pays for the children's health insurance and 50% of uninsured medical expenses (this includes dental, eyes, prescriptions.) This ends up being quite a hunk of money of the non-custodial parent's income.

If the couple owns a home and both names are on the mortgage, only the mortgage company can remove a name from the mortgage.  A judge cannot interfere with a 3rd party creditor. This will impact both parties in the future from purchasing another home.  Most people don't realize this until they try to purchase a home a few years later and things get ugly.  I don't understand why people who cannot stay married would want to own a home together.  It normally is not a good idea.  If the party that keeps the house in the divorce does not pay the mortgage, then the other party's credit is ruined.

In Texas, child support ends when the child turns 18 or graduates from high school - whichever is later.  Unless, the child is disabled.  If the chid is permanently disabled, the parent must apply for permanent child support before the child reaches 18.  I'm amazed that people forget to inquire into permanent child support before their child turn 18!  Basically, paying for college is a voluntary act in Texas.

Often when I sit down with people and start helping them plan their budgets, we quickly determine that there is no way for them to survive.  The reality of divorce is usually shocking to both parties.  Sometimes a divorce should go slowly in order to allow the couple to adjust to the many changes occurring in their lives.

Unfortunately, many times the children's lifestyles are impacted by the divorce and the lack of money.  It takes a lot more money to run 2 households.

I urge people to not make any financial commitments until they know what the future holds.  Rushing into making decisions such as signing leases or purchasing real estate is often a bad idea.  Take your time and let things settle down.  See where you are financially and emotionally in 6 months to a year after your divorce is final - you might be in a very different place.

#6: Considering Divorce as the End of Your Life

This is the end of your marriage.  It is the end of a chapter of your life.
It is the beginning of a new chapter of your life.
You will survive this event.
A friend of mine said "living well is the best revenge".
Some days are a struggle -- ok, some days really suck!
But, it will get better.
And, eventually, if you work hard, you will get better.
Yes, it is really, really, really hard work.
And, at the end of two years you will look back and you will be a different person.
Hopefully, a better person.
If you have children, you need to be a better person for them.
If you don't have children, then you need to be a better person for yourself.

I once asked a wise friend why change was so hard and she said it was because we don't change until things become so unbearable that we can't take it any longer and then we finally have no choice but to change.

I once had a client that cried every time I saw her.  She was so depressed. She wore no make-up and looked ragged.  She always looked at the floor.  Her husband had really worn her down.  She was so sad.  I kept telling her that things would get better.  I told her to think of her kids and make her life better for them.

One day, approximately 6 months later,  I walked into my office and there was this beautiful woman talking to my receptionist.  I said "hi" and walked my desk.  She followed me into my office and said "Fran, I can't believe you walked by me without talking to me -- It's me xxxxxx".
I literally screamed -- I had not recognized her.
I said "What did you do? You are not the same person. Have you had plastic surgery?"
She said, "No, I'm happy. I got a job, a boy friend and life is wonderful."
I said, "You look marvelous and I will tell your story to everyone I divorce from now on that there is life after divorce."
She truly was not the same woman that I had divorced-- she walked differently, she had a different air about her, she was truly a different woman - confident, alive & truly beautiful.

# 7: Don't Involve your Children

Your child is 50% of you and 50% of your spouse.  So when you criticize your spouse, you are criticizing your child.  I'm amazed that parents do not grasp this concept.

Do not bad mouth your spouse or allow anyone else to do it in front of your child or any where your child can hear it.  This includes rolling your eyes, sighing or any other outward expressions of disapproval.

Don't physically fight over your children - I once had a mother grab a small baby's head and upper body and the father grabbed her legs and they pulled.  The baby was lucky to not be permanently injured.  They were mad at each other and both grabbed the baby.  They were young and not thinking clearly.  They could have killed their baby.

There is a concept called parental alienation.  Judges know all about it.  You can read all about it on the internet.  I can assure you that if the judge becomes aware or even senses any sort of parental alienation, that an attorney ad litem will be appointed or the child will be sent to a court selected therapist for evaluation.  This costs lots of money.  And, you get the privilege of paying for at least 50% of it.  If parental alienation can be proven, you might lose custody and/or supervised visitation will be ordered.  Judges take this allegation extremely seriously.  Unfortunately, the parents that usually are involved in parental alienation usually don't believe that what they are doing is parental alienation.  But, more importantly, most children end up severely damaged by this sort of behavior.  I've actually dealt with suicidal children because of their parents messy divorces.  It is something that I hope no family ever has to deal with in their entire lives.  To be involved in a case where an 11 year old boy attempts to kill himself at least 3 times by jumping off the roof of his house because he would rather die than deal with his parents fighting is something that any sane parent should be ashamed of -- I withdrew because my client refused to follow my legal advice.

Do not use your children as messengers.

Don't fight in front of the children - they deserve their childhood!

Don't quiz them about the other parent's home.  Do not use them as spies.

Do not talk to your children about the divorce.  They are children.  You are the adults.  The divorce is "adult business".

There are certain topics that should always be "adult business" and therefore off-limits to the children - even after they grown up and become adults --
parents affairs
parents finances
parents sexual practices
sexual perversions
anything intimate
anything negative about the other parent

My parents divorced when I was in my 30s - it was horrible & I did not want to hear them discuss certain topics.  I was a divorce attorney but I did not want to hear them bad-mouth each other. I was their child and I did not want to want to be involved in their "adult" business. I did not want to hear them air all their anger & dirty laundry.

#8: Co-Parenting Your Children

Your marriage might be ending but you will be co-parenting your children together for the rest of your lives.  In fact, you will be co-grandparenting together.  There are going to be birthdays, graduations, deaths, weddings, etc.   It is so much cheaper if you are able to share birthday parties instead of having 2 of everything.

Remember, children and/or parents get sick so eventually the court order visitation order is just not going to work.  I always tell people - just when you least expect it "life happens" - cars break, your work hours change, someone gets sick, or you have sort of an unexpected problem.  It's nice when the parents can work together in the best interests of their children and make reasonable accommodations to see that their children's needs are met.

Keep each other informed of each other's phone numbers.  If there is an emergency, you want to be notified.  If the other parent does not know how to contact you, then you cannot be called.

There is an old saying "you get more flies with honey than vinegar".  So if you want to get along, use honey and not vinegar.  Bite your tongue, try to get along.  I see people fight over the tiniest things instead of trying to work together for the benefit of their child.

If you need help with the other parent, then try counseling for the entire family.  Perhaps a counselor can get through to the other parent instead of you.  A third party might be able to assist you in helping the other parent understand that what they are doing is not in the child's best interests.  It might be better coming for a third party and not from you.  If money is a problem, there are some sliding fee scale agencies available based on your income.

Just because the other parent has different rules does not make them wrong.  Children can adjust to 2 different set of rules.  Children are very adaptable.  Unless the other household is doing something dangerous, hazardous or illegal - stay out of their way.

Especially as children reach puberty, parents need to work together to keep their children out of trouble.  Children need to be kept active and busy.  Extra-curricular activities such as sports are important for children to burn off excess energy and for fitness.

As parents, it's not always easy to be constantly vigilant of our children’s well being
and to protect them, especially when going through such a trying and turbulent
time. Of course this does not mean that we need to lie to our children and make up
false situations.

Some children tend to blame themselves for the divorce of their parents. They think their misbehavior caused problems between their parents and that is why they are getting divorced. You need to reassure them that:
• This has nothing to do with them
• That as parents, you can no longer stay together due to adult problems between yourselves
• That their mother and father will always be their mother and father, and that will never change
• That their parents will never leave them: children may think that if one parent leaves the other, they can leave them as well. It is important to make it clear to them that they will not be left if they misbehave, or if one has a disagreement with them. Children need to be reassured that they are and will always be loved by both parents.

Realize that divorce is not fair.  You will not always get to see your kids when you want.  But if your children are happy and healthy, that is what is really important.  It's tough being a divorced parent and sometimes it deeply hurts.  But you are the adult.  Suck it up.  If the children end up healthy and adjusted, then you did the right thing.  Recognize that neither parent "won" in the divorce when it came to the children.  But the children were the biggest losers - they lost their intact home.  So you need to be the adult & keep the impact minimal on the children.  Sure it is hard not to have them on their birthdays and Christmas, but if they are adjusting to the divorce and they are happy recognize that it is just one day in their life.

#9: Tell Your Children that You Love Them Each & Every Day

Make very day special because you never know how long you have them.  Kiss and hug them every day.  Children grow up so fast - before you know it they are grown! Tell your children that you love them every day.  Never let them leave the house without them hearing you say that you love them.  End each phone conversation with "I love you".   Sometimes you might hate what they do but you still love the child -- tell them so each and every day!

#10: You are Special & the Importance of Prayer in Your Life

And, make sure that you remember to tell yourself that YOU are loved everyday.  Pat yourself on the back for the excellent job that you are doing.  You survived another day.  That is no small feat.  Keep up the good work.  Congratulate yourself.  The longest journey started with one small step. If you stumble, remember to dust yourself off and begin again.  You only fail if you fail to start again - so don't be so hard on yourself. Remember, GOD loves you and GOD does not make any junk - you are special & unique. Take good care of yourself.

Prayer is powerful. It is not important what you pray, but that you do it.  So do it NOW.

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