Here are 13 “scary” parts to separation and divorce and what you can do to face some of the fear:
- Being Served by a Sheriff:
Sometimes before you are even aware your partner has met with an attorney; you get served with a lawsuit. The sheriff shows up at your door, scares you to death, and hands you one of the most important documents you will ever get. After you process the shock of being served (many times people being served have never had any other interaction with law enforcement), you begin to panic- what next? The most important thing here is to read all documents carefully and determine if there is a deadline by which you need to respond, which is often the case. Make note of the day you are served and your deadline to respond and then meet with an attorney to assist you in preparing your response.
- Complicated Financial Documents:
Once the case is underway, you will typically exchange financial documents. You may have never seen some of the documents that are provided to you. Or, you have seen them but didn’t realize their importance. It’s best to rely on an attorney or financial advisor to help you navigate the sea of documents and ensure you understand what you are reviewing and why it matters.
- Hidden Assets:
What if your ex is hiding assets? Many people (wrongly) assume there is nothing they can do about that. But, something CAN be done. Initially, we use forensic financial professionals to help us track down “missing” accounts and information by looking at the documents we do have. And, if it is not clear what accounts are missing, we can include provisions that require the person hiding the asset to pay a penalty should the asset or account be discovered later. It’s not perfect but it’s better than ignoring the wrongdoing because you don’t think you can.
- Excessive Debt:
It’s one thing to spend time and money fighting about assets, but what about spending time and money to fight about debt? The problem is that if you don’t address it, your credit score and other assets will be impacted. It is better to face this head on, come up with a plan, and seek resources to help you consolidate or restructure debt.
- Testifying in Court:
Sure, litigators and judges are usually comfortable in the courtroom, but that’s about it. Everyone else, from parties to a case to expert witnesses are understandably nervous to sit on the stand and testify. An experienced attorney will prepare their client and witness so that they are ready for the questions they will be asked. There is nothing worse than allowing anxiety to impact how you testify. Part of the judge’s job is to assess body language and demeanor. You want to appear calm and confident so that the judge can focus on your testimony and not you biting your nails.
- Being Cross-Examined:
Answering questions for your attorney is hard, but most find they can get through that part relatively easily. The frightening part is when you get cross examined. Litigation attorneys often know how to subtly guide the person testifying to answer as they want them to. It doesn’t take much to get a witness riled up or off track – especially in divorce cases. The important thing is, once again, preparation. Your attorney may give you practice questions for someone will ask you or practice some questions with you. A good attorney will also be on the lookout for objectionable questions to protect you from any missteps or inappropriate behavior by opposing counsel.
- Supporting Spouse’s Job Loss:
Let’s say things go well and after a hard-fought battle, you end up with financial support from the other spouse. Victory! A Win! But, then…they lose their job. Now, what? Rather than wait for this to occur, which is sometimes unavoidable, discuss with your attorney what safeguards you can put in place (modification provisions, insurance, etc.). If those are not feasible or it is too late to implement, take the time to understand the laws regarding a change in income and if you can make successful arguments for contempt and/or modifications in the future.
When you want a court order enforced, motions for contempt can be your best friend. But, what if you are the one being accused of contempt? Keep in mind that contempt requires more than just not following an order. The person accusing you has to prove you did so willfully and without justification. If, for whatever reason, you can’t or don’t follow an order, make sure you have documented your reasons why. If you find yourself in the “hot seat,” you better be ready to explain yourself and show, through evidence, why you are not in contempt.
- Domestic Violence:
Unfortunately, people may have to deal with real monsters. People who abuse other people, and sometimes children. There are resources, including a Sodoma Law e-pamphlet, that explain the process for getting out of a domestic violence situation and getting help. The key thing here – you are not alone.
- Unfit Romantic Partners:
At some point in the process, people can expect that their ex has moved on and is seeing other people. Sometimes, that is fine. Other times, it is downright terrifying. If you have concerns about new people in your children’s lives, ask your attorney about provisions that can prevent or limit exposure to new dating partners. If those are not possible in your circumstances, document everything you can and perhaps use the skills of a private investigator to get the evidence you need to protect yourself and your kids.
- Drug Use or Abuse:
Drugs are one of the ugliest monsters we encounter in divorce cases and they show up more than people realize. If drug abuse is an issue in your case, there are options for drug-testing, abuse assessments and more. It is important to obtain and preserve what evidence you can and be prepared to push for the help you and your family needs.
- High Attorney’s Fees:
Some people cannot afford an attorney and those that can, are worried about the cost. Ask questions of your attorney as to what their rate is, what other options they can offer, and when you are billed- ask questions about your bill if you have them. There is nothing wrong with asking for clarification. Beware of invoices from an attorney that lack detail and explanation.
- Death of a Custodial Parent:
Even if the other parent is involved very little with the children, if he or she has visitation or time with the children, what happens if you die first? Most primary parents don’t like to know the answer. If a custodial parent dies before the other parent, there is a strong likelihood that the children will be transferred to the other parent’s care. While you are still alive and healthy, meet with an estate planning attorney to understand your options and how to safeguard the most precious assets beyond the grave.
We can scare away the monsters under the bed for our kids but facing the “real life” monsters and fears of divorce can be a lot harder. Meet with an attorney, arm yourself with information and advocacy, and you’ll be prepared to face your fears and put the scariest parts behind you.