Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Top 3 reasons to consider a family law mediator

There are many different reasons that you may be investigating mediation, but one of the biggest ones is that is costs less.  Far and away this is one of the first reasons that a divorcing couple will consider mediation.  Having to hire separate attorneys and working through the delays of the court system and the formal rules there can be quite frustrating and expensive. 

Another major reason to evaluate using a Texas divorce mediator has to do with flexibility and control.  In litigation, you have very little say in how things unfold.  In mediation, however, you play more of the major role in determining what the process looks like and what the final agreement looks like.  This flexibility allows couples to communicate more easily and keep emotions at bay. At mediations the negotiations are confidential.  

The mediator cannot report to the judge what was discussed at mediation.  Mediators are never called to court when a mediation fails to settle.  Why? Because the mediator cannot testify to anything that occurred during the mediation.  Judges respect this confidentiality and won't require a mediator to testify.  Therefore, attorneys don't bother calling the mediator to testify at a trial. If the parties don't agree, the mediator writes a short report and send it to the judge.  It merely states that an impasse was reached -- without any details.

Finally, mediation can be much easier on the children.  Litigation can bring out the worst in anyone as many couples who have been through the courts can tell you.  Even with the best of intentions, it’s hard to keep the drama of the courtroom from impacting your personal life.  It’s very likely that your frustration or anger over litigation gets carried home with you and impacts the children.  In mediation, however, you focus more on getting to an agreement without having to “one-up” the other side.  There’s an added benefit here that also influences the children and it has to do with what your life looks like after divorce.  Mediation can help teach you some techniques about how to interact with the other spouse regarding the children in a manner that addresses key issues without instigating conflict.  This can be a very valuable tool when both parents will continue interacting with the children after the divorce is finalized.  Improved communication has advantages for the future. 

What is the family law (aka divorce) mediation process in Texas?

While mediation can vary based on the parties involved and the kinds of issues discussed, there are some common elements you can learn about to help you prepare for what to expect.  Unlike litigation, where an attorney speaks on your behalf to present a case to the judge, in mediation the neutral third party (the trained mediator) assists you doesn’t have the power to render a decision. 

For the first meeting, you’ll likely meet with your Texas divorce mediator in his or her office or a specified neutral location.  In the majority of cases, you and the other party will be put into separate rooms.  In some cases, it may be effective to have you at the same table, but it is more common that you’ll reach an effective resolution in separate quarters. Part of the process of mediation is to make everyone feel comfortable, secure and safe.  Many people prefer to be in separate rooms.  After doing hundred of mediations, I find that each mediation is a little different.  A mediator is to listen to the needs and wants of the parties and try to accommodate their needs and wants. 

The mediator will then try to learn about each side’s case and the particulars that such an individual is interested in.  This helps the mediator in understanding the crucial aspects to be discussed as well as the “starting point” for the mediation. 

An experienced mediator will use your meeting(s) to help focus your negotiations and discussions.  The mediator's role is helping parties work together towards a settlement.  The parties determine the outcome - the mediator might offer suggestions or comments but the agreement is between the people.  In order to reach compromise, the mediator may have to move back and forth between the rooms several times to reach compromise. 

The goal of mediation and the end point once the mediator has stopped talking with both of you is a final agreement.  This agreement will address the critical issues of the divorce like child custody, division of property, spousal support, and child support.  When parties agree to the terms and sign it, they are enabled with the opportunity to move on with their lives without having to engage in the adversarial process of litigation. 

What happens after a Mediated Settlement Agreement is reached?

There are many questions you may have about the process of going through divorce mediation in Texas, but all too often the subject of what happens next gets forgotten.  Under the guidance of a trained mediator, you’ll be working towards a final agreement that addresses the key issues of the divorce.  This may involve compromising and cooperating to agree on final terms.

After you have reached an agreement the points you have come to terms with need to be included in a contract.  You should review this document carefully.  Many couples who choose to use mediation instead of litigation are hoping to avoid courtrooms, so be sure that the agreement is something that you can live with and that you understand the terms inside it. 

After you have reviewed your Texas divorce mediation agreement, it will be signed and the Mediated Settlement Agreement (MSA) can be filed via email at the district clerk's office and it goes into your courthouse file.  The MSA can then be turned into a final order for the judge to sign.  You can attempt to do this yourself or you can hire a family law attorney to do it.  You might want to hire an attorney since there might be other forms that need to be prepared (real estate, document to split retirement account(s), child support withholding, county form(s) and a required Texas form.  After the judge signs the final order and other paperwork,  the divorce will become legal and binding just as if the parties had elected to hire separate attorneys to represent them in a divorce.  Once you have received word that your divorce is final, you can move on with your life and comply with the terms included in your mediation agreement.

Since the terms of your mediation agreement will have such a big impact on your post-divorce life, it’s essential to choose a mediator who is focused on helping you and your spouse achieve resolution.  As a party to mediation, you’ll play a bigger role in determining what that final agreement looks like and what it says, so use this advantage to the fullest.  Feeling confident in the terms of the agreement makes it much easier to part ways or even to continue interacting with the spouse regarding children. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Things to do After your divorce is finalized

Post-Divorce Checklist

The first thing you should do at the conclusion of your divorce process is to obtain several Certified Copies of the Final Judgment. 

Review all of the paperwork carefully with your counsel to ensure you understand what you must complete under the Final Decree that has been signed by the Judge.

While the list below is comprehensive, there may be additional items required in your decree that are not listed below.

q Close all joint checking & savings accounts as soon as all outstanding checks and automatic payments have cleared the bank
q Open new checking & savings accounts
q Update automatic payments taken from your accounts with new account information
q Change named beneficiaries of retirement accounts & life insurance policies
q Create new Estate Plan (Will, Trust, Health Care Surrogate, Living Will & Power of Attorney)
q Ensure all prior Powers’ of Attorney are revoked in writing
q If Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) is required by Final Judgment, follow-up with Plan Administrator to ensure they are notified of the divorce and the QDRO is completed
q If there is to be a transfer of IRA funds the receiving spouse must open a qualified IRA to receive the funds and the distributing spouse must notify the financial institution to initiate the transfer
q Close all joint credit card accounts
q Change all passwords for online account access
q Request a final bill from your legal counsel and pay it
q Obtain a copy of your credit report 30 days after the final judgment to ensure that all joint accounts have been closed
q Close joint safe-deposit boxes & open new one in individual name

q Secure COBRA or other health insurance / notify employer of divorce if health insurance provided through employer
q Update auto, home owner & flood insurance records / secure new insurance
q Change beneficiaries on all life insurance, disability or other insurance policies

q Sign documents to retitle cars, campers, boats, planes and other vehicles into individual names and file new title with DMV or other agency
q Record deeds transferring title to real property
q Notify utility companies if new name on account
q Ensure any funds held in escrow are transferred or returned (security deposits on rental property, utility deposits)
q Notify the Post Office of change of address and mail forwarding
q Arrange for the transfer of any personal property that must be distributed as soon as possible

q Update school records with name and address of both parents
q Update medical records with name and address of both parents
q Sign up for Our Family Wizard (http://www.ourfamilywizard.com/ofw/) or other program to manage parenting contact, children’s schedules, medical reimbursement payments, etc. if this was in the Final Order
q Set up direct deposit or Income Withholding Order for child support and set up your account on the internet to monitor the child support

q Update Social Security Administration
q Update driver’s license & auto registration with Department of Motor Vehicles
q Update bank and credit card records
q Update employment records
q Update insurance records (health, life, disability, auto, homeowners)
q Update IRS records
q Professional licenses
q Update Passport

q Obtain IRS Publication 504, “Divorced or Separated Individuals” for information about filing status, exemptions, alimony, QDROs, etc.
q Change your tax withholding allowances with your employer
q Use the IRS withholding calculator to determine your new withholdings (http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/IRS-Withholding-Calculator)
q If you are receiving alimony or self-employed determine if estimated quarterly payments are necessary.
q Execute IRS form 8332, Transfer of Dependency Exemption, if required under terms of the Settlement Agreement / Final Judgment

How to copyright 2015.

If you want to copyright something you created, here is the way to do so per the US government's website, as of 1/26/2015 -- subject to change in the future:

Registering a Work

How do I register my copyright?
To register a work, submit a completed application form, a nonrefundable filing fee, which is $35 if you register a single application online or $55 for a standard application; and a nonreturnable copy or copies of the work to be registered. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Registration Procedures.”

Where can I get application forms?
See SL-35.

Can I file online?
Yes. We offer online registration through our electronic Copyright Office (eCO). See SL-35.

What is the registration fee?
If you file online using eCO eService, the fee is $35 per application if you register a single application or $55 for a standard application. Generally, each work requires a separate application. See Circular 4Copyright Fees.

Do you take credit cards?
If you file your application online using eCO eService, you may pay by credit card. Credit cards are not accepted for registration through the mail, but may be used for registrations that are filed in person in the Copyright Office. There are other services for which the Copyright Office will accept a credit card payment. For more information see Circular 4Copyright Fees.

Do I have to send in my work? Do I get it back?
Yes, you must send the required copy or copies of the work to be registered. Your copies will not be returned. If you register online using eCO eService, you may attach an electronic copy of your deposit. However, even if you register online, if the Library of Congress requires a hard-copy deposit of your work, you must send what the Library defines as the “best edition” of your work. For further information, see Circular 7b, Best Edition of Published Copyrighted Works for the Collection of the Library of Congress, and Circular 7dMandatory Deposit of Copies or Phonorecords for the Library of Congress. Upon their deposit in the Copyright Office, under sections 407 and 408 of the copyright law, all copies and identifying material, including those deposited in connection with claims that have been refused registration, are the property of the U.S. government.

Will my deposit be damaged by security measures in place on Capitol Hill?
To avoid damage to your hard-copy deposit caused by necessary security measures, package the following items in boxes rather than envelopes for mailing to the Copyright Office:
• electronic media such as audiocassettes, videocassettes, CDs, and DVDs
• microform
• photographs
• slick advertisements, color photocopies, and other print items
May I register more than one work on the same application? Where do I list the titles?
You may register unpublished works as a collection on one application with one title for the entire collection if certain conditions are met. It is not necessary to list the individual titles in your collection. Published works may only be registered as a collection if they were actually first published as a collection and if other requirements have been met. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Registration Procedures.”

Do I have to use my real name on the form? Can I use a stage name or a pen name?
There is no legal requirement that the author be identified by his or her real name on the application form. For further information, see FL 101,Pseudonyms. If filing under a fictitious name, check the “Pseudonymous” box when giving information about the authors.

Will my personal information be available to the public?
Yes. Please be aware that when you register your claim to a copyright in a work with the U.S. Copyright Office, you are making a public record. All the information you provide on your copyright registration is available to the public and will be available on the Internet.

How long does the registration process take, and when will I receive my certificate?
The time the Copyright Office requires to process an application varies, depending on the number of applications the Office is receiving and clearing at the time of submission and the extent of questions associated with the application. Current Processing Times

Can I submit my manuscript on a computer disk?
No. Floppy disks and other removal media such as Zip disks, except for CD-ROMs, are not acceptable. Therefore, the Copyright Office still generally requires a printed copy or audio recording of the work for deposit. However, if you register online using eCO eService, you may attach an electronic copy of your deposit. However, even if you register online, if the Library of Congress requires a hard-copy deposit of your work, you must send what the Library defines as the "best edition" of your work. For further information, see Circular 7bBest Edition of Published Copyrighted Works for the Collection of the Library of Congress, and Circular 7d, Mandatory Deposit of Copies or Phonorecords for the Library of Congress.

Can I submit a CD-ROM of my work?
Yes. The deposit requirement consists of the best edition of the CD-ROM package of any work, including the accompanying operating software, instruction manual, and a printed version, if included in the package.

Does my work have to be published to be protected?
Publication is not necessary for copyright protection.

How much do I have to change in my own work to make a new claim of copyright?
You may make a new claim in your work if the changes are substantial and creative, something more than just editorial changes or minor changes. This would qualify as a new derivative work. For instance, simply making spelling corrections throughout a work does not warrant a new registration, but adding an additional chapter would. See Circular 14Copyright Registration for Derivative Works, for further information.

Do you have special mailing requirements?
If you register online, you may attach an electronic copy of your deposit unless a hard-copy deposit is required under the "Best Edition" requirements of the Library of Congress. See Circular 7b. If you file using a paper application, our only requirement is that all three elements—the application, the copy or copies of the work, and the filing fee—be sent in the same package. Please limit any individual box to 20 pounds. Many people send their material to us by certified mail, with a return receipt request, but this is not required.