HOW TO WIN YOUR DIVORCE
Sep 26, 2016 01:08PM ● Published by Desk Editor
If you're reading this because you bought into the title, I'm sorry to get your hopes up. Anyone who has been through a divorce knows this is a fantasy. There is no "winning.” The truth is that when someone comes to me and wants to hire me to handle their divorce, I tell them they are about to have a very bad 6 to 18 months, depending on whether there are children involved .
Divorce is like a death. Expectations and plans for the future are abruptly destroyed. Even those that claim they can hardly wait for the divorce, from my experience at least, go through the stages of grief. It is as if the person they once loved is dying slowly and the future is now unknown.
I warn clients that it seems to take about two years before life seems normal again. They will have to adjust to not being everyday parents and may have to leave their home. Household incomes that once supported one family must now support two separate households. They may be very poor, depending on their individual circumstances, at least for a while. I introduce the idea of splitting everything they own.
So, after all the bad news, I want to know one thing—Is the divorce absolutely unavoidable?
Every avenue should be exhausted before deciding that divorce is the best option for everyone involved. I recommend reading a lot of self help books and articles, seeking counseling together as a couple, as well as individually. Communication and positive self growth can make a marriage stronger by overcoming and working through things such as financial debt, mental health issues, addictions, adultery and other marriage killers.
Attorneys should be the last resort. Attorneys are expensive. Avoid them if at all possible. We get paid by the hour which means that an unscrupulous lawyer may create controversy in order to keep billing.
For those who determine they must proceed with divorce, I recommend:
See an attorney before you declare your intentions to anyone. There are cost saving measures and ways to avoid some of the anxiety.
Never file a divorce to try to get someone to change—99% of the divorces I file are completed. There is something about being “sued” for divorce which causes insult, defensiveness and vengeful behavior.
I recommend Louisiana Family Law Guide by Stephan Rue, available from me or wherever you obtain books. It is written in “normal people speak” and is a good reference to answer everyday questions. The initial chapters tell you how to choose an attorney, how to control costs and how to prepare. Being able to refer to a guide will save attorney dollars.
Avoid social media! Your children use social media. Attorneys regularly use the posted information as evidence against you. Divorce is private and painful; don’t advertise.
Do not put anything in writing you would not want Jesus or a judge to read. I recommend a book called Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder by Randi Kreger. If you are possibly dealing with someone with a personality disorder, this is worth knowing about because these people have predictable behaviors that drive litigation and you may be able to avoid some pitfalls or at least be prepared.
Please try mediation. The more issues you can solve around a table, the more money you get to keep.
Reread number 6.
The courtroom is not a place where things are fair and just. That is a “made for TV movie idea.” Our local judges are wise but can never know as much as you know about your children, your finances and what you need. Why put important decisions about your life in the hands of strangers?
The court room is also a terrible place for revenge. Our judges work hard to get people to meet halfway and if people dig in, the judge simply does what they think is best for the children. They have a limited amount of time for this.
Court is what I refer to as a “money suck”. The dockets are CRAMMED and the seats are hard. You wait your turn and our judges in Acadiana have more cases than you could ever imagine. You will be paying your attorney to wait along with you. Who wants to pay an attorney to play with Apps on their phone? Avoid court if you can.
Number 10 requires you be willing to compromise. Please note that I have rarely seen anyone leave court with everything they wanted.
Be willing to compromise. Focus on what matters most to you; compromising on less important issues may get you what you really want and need.
Never use your attorney as a friend or counselor. I jokingly tell clients it is cheaper to have someone killed (NOT A VIABLE OPTION; YOU WILL GO TO JAIL) than it is to hire me to fight on every issue. That one statement means I am the world’s worst counselor and why pay me for bad counseling?
To expand on Number 14, I disclose—and this sounds like the beginning of a bad lawyer joke—that I am only good for four things; 1)Writing your documents, 2) Arguing your case, 3) Enforcing your judgments and 4) Plain old advice and information. If you are telling me that someone was mean to you today, you are wasting your money.
Get a support system in place of friends, family and spiritual and/ or professional help.
I tell people at initial consults that you talk to me today as much as possible to find out if you can tolerate paying me money. It is a long, trying journey. Do not travel that journey with an attorney you would not want to have lunch with.
You have a right to have your phone calls returned, to approve substantive correspondence and filings, to be made aware of settlement offers and to get a thorough accounting of how your money is being spent.
Be smart when you communicate with your attorney or attorney’s office. Try to “save up” questions in notes and have scheduled meetings with set time limits so everyone stays on task and money is well spent.
NEVER use protective orders as a way to get custody or use of the home. That court service is meant for people who are in danger. Our judges and hearing officers are smart and those who abuse this process lose credibility.
I tell people I would rather have them refer to their friends and family to me than to make every dollar I can off of them. HOWEVER, how much it costs depends on how well you spend your attorney time, something in your control; but unfortunately also what the opposing party does, which is not in your control.
If I had to spilt my money with someone, I would want to keep as much of my half as possible. Mediate. Mediate. Mediate. Compromise. Compromise…..
Love is all it takes to make a family.
Do not call me if you are on a mission to destroy the other party. It is not what I do.
Divorcing with Children: Advice gathered from local family law judges.
Do not disparage or allow someone else to disparage the other parent. If you teach your child the other parent is worthless, you are telling them they are 50% worthless.
Assume your children are listening to everything you say if they are in your custody.
If you need a continuance for any reason, offer a temporary agreement with no prejudice, to address the other party’s needs instead of fighting about it.
(In a typical divorce, one party is providing more of the day to day childcare while the other is working.) “Mothers” need two things: They need to know the children’s financial needs will be met and they need to know the other parent will be there for the hard things like emergency rooms and discipline.” Fathers” need to be respected and valued.
(Not to exclude anyone, I use quotes) Often, “Moms” are important for nurturing, but “Dads” teach children how to explore the world and manage. BOTH ARE IMPORTANT.
Putting major decisions in the hands of a judge (a stranger) should be a last resort.
Children are not anyone’s property. They are little people who have a right to love both parents. The only people you have “rights to” are called slaves and slavery is illegal.
Do not get hung up on the word “domiciliary” parent. It doesn’t mean what you think it means and it is not the end all, be all, of being a parent. If your attorney thinks it’s important, be skeptical. It becomes important only when you truly believe the other parent does not have the child’s interest at heart.
Your child should be able to look down from a stage or across a sports field and simply transfer to the other parent for a custodial period without having to feel hatred between the parents. Just stop it. Treat each other the way you want your eventual teenagers to treat you.
Try to align homework schedules, sleep schedules and discipline between the separate households. If a child is grounded at one home, they are grounded at the other. Make the transition smooth so the child knows what to expect. It is not telling you what to do in your home, it is called being a good parent.
Sometimes parents have their children “testify” to the judge in a closed setting, which should be avoided whenever possible. When the judge asks what he/she can do to make things better the child often answers, “I just wish they’d get along.”
Be skeptical when your child complains about the other parent. Children often use separation of the parents to manipulate one parent when they can’t get what they want from the other.
Check out and use My Family Wizard, an online tool that gives you one place to share information about your child, post photos, report cards, anything really, as well as a calendar of important dates. It also records communications between parents that can be used in any future court proceedings.
Don’t flaunt new relationships and never openly date in front of children until the divorce is complete. It is distasteful and confusing to kids going through a huge change in their life.
I tell my clients that their children will feel as if the divorce is their fault, no matter how many times they are told it is not, because children are egocentric and believe that they are the center of the universe and that they are responsible for the good and the bad. They are often the center of most of the controversy so they are kind of right. Many children need special help to deal with the drastic changes. There are innovative online, age appropriate programs and therapies and we have some very talented counselors and physicians who can help.
Before I was an attorney, I was divorced. I had small children. I failed to follow about 75% of these recommendations. When my children became young adults, they told me so. I cannot take that back and dearly wish I could. If you are reading this and contemplating divorce or sharing custody, you can prevent the worst of the trauma to your kids and keep your money for yourself. It’s that simple and yet it is so hard to be good sometimes. We must do better.
Disclaimer: If you or your children are being abused, go directly to a shelter, the police or to a safe place. You have a right to be safe and a duty to protect your children.
Paula Boagni Bertuccini brings a unique depth of knowledge and insight to the Bertuccini Law Firm. Her background, legal training and broad life experience give her an exceptional perspective on the complex issues defined as Family Law.
As a former Assistant Attorney General, Paula is experienced in pre-trial and trial preparation, appellate practice, mediation and settlement. She utilizes all of these skills to represent her clients in one of Lafayette’s only law firms dedicated entirely to Family Law. She is an advocate and advisor and has earned a reputation of being a tireless and effective representative for her clients and their children.