There are four main elements in a divorce: grounds; custody; support (spousal and child); and equitable distribution.
A divorce can be a financial disaster. It can be the absolute most expensive thing that can happen to any one person. However, this does not have to be so.
During a divorce most people make decisions and/or mistakes that determine their own destiny. By making the right decision you can steer your divorce in a more cost effective manner.
Grounds: If you are going to fight the grounds of a case you must do it for one or two reasons:
· Emotional Reasons; and/or
· Economic Advantage.
Fighting grounds for emotional reasons will cost more money than it is worth in many cases. For example, if you do not want to get divorced, you can spend $20,000 on a lengthy grounds trial just to have your spouse fly to the Dominican Republic or Las Vegas after they lose the grounds trial (if you prevail) and obtain a divorce there. Once again, if a spouse is successful in beating the divorce (staying married) the aggrieved spouse can fly to a foreign land and obtain a divorce in weeks, and/or Las Vegas where a divorce can be obtained in less than two months. Why spend the money to beat a divorce if the other side can simply go someplace else if they lose.
Economic reasons for beating grounds are usually “bad boy" or “bad girl" clauses in prenuptial agreements. For example, if a prenuptial agreement states that if the man commits adultery he pays a greater percentage of the marital estate to the wife, then the grounds should be challenged. A subsequent out of state or out of country divorce should not be “good enough" to trigger the adultery provisions of the prenuptial agreement that contains such a clause.
Custody: If you are fighting custody you can do it for one of two reasons:
· Emotions; and/or
When it comes to custody there are only two sides to the custody fight; the mother and the father. One side comes in second place. In a custody battle, coming in second place is ending up the “loser". There are some cases in which you must win. If yours is a case that you feel you must win custody, than money is not an object. You should only settle your case if you feel the children are being harmed by the custody battle or your attorney advises you that you do not have “a snowballs chance in hell" to win, so you will accept anything just to get more parenting time.
Money and custody are inherently intertwined. It is Judge (now Judicial Hearing Officer) Snellenberg in Riverhead, N.Y. that was always honest about how child support and money impacted custody cases. In Family Court custody cases, when the issue of support is raised, the Judge will typically say “we are not dealing with support here…. Apples and Oranges". They will never allow the discussions of support during the custody portion of the trial, and these issues are heard before different Judges (Judicial Hearing Officers and Magistrates). Custody Judges are under “V" dockets and Support Judges are under “F" dockets. Nevertheless, it was J.H.O. Snellenberg, when doing custody cases who would allow support discussions. In almost all cases, an attorney would “pipe-up" and state objections. Support should not be discussed in the custody case. Judge Snellenberg’s reply to this would be “why not". If an attorney would mention that support has nothing to do with custody, Judge Snellenberg would state “sure it does". It was refreshing that he recognized that it was a very intertwined subject. The ability to maintain the marital residence; the aware of child support; and the lifestyle of the children should all be taken into consideration and fought for if necessary. However, like all business decisions, the children’s interests must stay far ahead of the actual need of support by the parent. If a parent is litigating custody just to get money; that is morally wrong. If the parent is litigating the support case because they need money to support the children and the lifestyle that they are accustomed to, then that is a different story.
Equitable Distribution: The easiest part of a divorce is figuring out how much money it will take to make money. If you are fighting for a total of one hundred thousand dollars then a ten thousand dollar lawyer bill is not so bad if you receive half of the marital assets. However, fighting for pots and pans and small objects and small differences is never worth it. Most any good attorney can tally up the probable outcome of a divorce and give you the best and worst case scenario and how much it will cost you.
The biggest mistake in any divorce is not to settle small issues and to be with an attorney who wants to settle “the big picture". This causes the case to drag on from year to year with no real settlement. Settle any and all issues as they arise. Settling the divorce piecemeal is important because when you get to trial it will be a one day trial instead of a ten day trial. If you can settle everything but one remaining issue… do so. Most attorneys will convince you of the opposite. They will tell you not to settle one thing, but the whole thing all at once. This is a way to keep the entire matter unresolved and keep it lingering for month after month.
In the event that you have the opportunity to aggressively go to court… do it. Bringing the case to court puts a timeline on the case. Too many cases languish in mediation and settlement with documents being passed back and forth between attorneys who are earning hourly rates. Go directly to court and get a conference with the Judge. The Judge will limit the issues and instruct the client’s to settle issues as they arise and to be present for a trial in a very short period of time. It is only with a trial date looming that cases settle. If you think that you will go to mediation and get a signed agreement, you are, based on our experience, in a very small minority. If you think that you can keep your case out of court, what is the real urgency of the matter? Who is going to sign anything if there is no deadline or court date? Court dates prompt settlement. They prompt action. They end cases and they stop an attorney’s monthly bills. If you want the case to progress fast you need an aggressive attorney.
Bringing your case to a small firm gives you more personal attention… in a bad way. If your attorney only has twenty cases, then you are five percent of that individual’s income. You never want to be five percent of anyone’s gross income. At our firm, you are not one of a thousand but you are a very important case. It is in our experience that the best client is a former client who is happy. A former client who is happy gives us at least 2-3 referrals. Our biggest resource is our former clients. We want to take your case and give you the best possible outcome as soon as possible, because we want you to be a satisfied former client. A firm is only as good as its results. Our results are obtained at a reasonable price.
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