Question: I’m afraid my legal costs will escalate out of control during my divorce. How can I help keep them at a reasonable level.
Answer: Legal costs can become exorbitant for any number of reasons. Often, anger and emotions get in the way of sound financial decisions. A client needs to weigh the cost of litigating an issue compared to the likely result. If a person is particularly angry and combative, or too emotionally distraught to make sound decisions, that person should seek psychological counseling. Using your divorce case to vent your anger will escalate legal fees and may adversely affect your case. You have the right to your emotions, but you must keep them in check so that you can concentrate on how to get the best possible result without unreasonable expense.
Many states have no-fault divorce laws. Therefore, issues such as adultery by your spouse, may have no relevance to the financial outcome of your case. You must get past the notion that you are entitled to something extra because of your spouse’s adultery or other misconduct.
Fighting over used furniture is one area where you can incur more attorney’s fees than the fight can be worth. The furnishings in a home may seem important but you are fighting over used items that generally have little economic value in a divorce case.
Fighting about custody and visitation can be very expensive. Unless one parent is truly unfit and a danger to the children, a fight for sole custody is not justified. Time and money is better spent crafting a visitation schedule that works for both parents and the children than fighting to deny a parent time with the children.
Providing necessary financial information to your attorney is another way to keep costs down. A lot of attorneys’ fees can be reduced by not trying to hide assets or stalling production of needed financial documents.
Assist your attorney in getting your case resolved. Don’t stall. Don’t take positions that you know will be rejected outright by the other side and don’t hide anything from your attorney.
Finally, never fight on “principle.” Be realistic. Principle becomes less and less important as legal fees grow. Compromise when you can; litigate only when you must.
Question: My ex-spouse isn’t living up to our Divorce Decree. What do I do?
Answer: You have many different remedies, but which remedies you choose depends upon exactly what your ex-spouse failed to do.
For example, if you are owed child support or alimony, you have such options as contempt of court (including having your ex-spouse put in jail for nonpayment), wage garnishment, and court-ordered seizure of certain assets your ex-spouse has, even IRAs and pension benefits. You also can be awarded reimbursement of attorney’s fees for having to chase after payment. When the amount owed is unpaid child support, you can also seek suspension of the driver’s license of your ex-spouse and diversion of your ex-spouse’s tax refunds to you.
When your ex-spouse is not complying with other financial aspects of your divorce decree, you can seek court relief, but not contempt. You can obtain a Judgment against your ex-spouse and then use various collection methods to seize your ex-spouse’s assets and wages to collect what you are owed.
When your ex-spouse is not complying with obligations related to child custody and visitation, you may be able to have your ex-spouse held in contempt of court. You can seek to alter the custodial or visitation arrangements, including make-up visitation if your access to the children has been denied, or limited or supervised visitation against your ex-spouse if he/she is guilty of misconduct that is detrimental to the best interests of the children. If the violation is repeatedly not exercising visitation, you may also seek to change the child support payments and to obtain funds for babysitters and after-care programs.
What remedies to pursue depends upon what provisions of the Divorce Decree have been broken, when they were broken, and how serious the violations are. In general, the more serious the violation, the more significant the penalty to be imposed upon the ex-spouse.
Question: My ex-spouse exercises timesharing with our kids, but I want to move with them to another state. Can we go?
Answer: Florida law evaluates each request to relocate with minor children on a case-by-case basis. There is no presumption in favor of or against relocation but, if your settlement agreement or divorce decree contains a restriction on relocation, it will be tougher to get court permission to relocate. Also, there are particular statutory requirements under Florida law regarding the giving of notice of intent to relocate, reasons to relocate, and proposed alternate timesharing with which one must comply as a prerequisite to relocation.
The most important factor a judge considers is whether the best interests of the children will be promoted by the move. The court will consider whether the move will improve the children’s quality of life, the moving parent’s quality of life, and whether alternative timesharing arrangements can be made so that the other parent will still have quality timesharing. The court will consider how often the other parent has exercised timesharing in the past, what added transportation and lodging costs may be involved, and whether either parent is acting vindictively.
A parent wishing to relocate with minor children needs to build up a strong case for moving. The parent needs to have solid reasons to move, such as remarriage, better employment opportunities, availability of family to help in child-rearing and baby-sitting, and better educational opportunities for the children. The parent must demonstrate that relocation is best for the children, not simply better for her or him. The parent opposing the move needs to have solid reasons to oppose the move, beyond arguing that there will be less timesharing if the relocation is permitted. Unreasonable transportation costs and travel time, poorer school systems, inability to complete religious education, availability of local family and friends and psychological damage to the children all argue against relocation.
Whether you want to move or to prevent a move, you need to be prepared. There are no guarantees the move will be allowed or prohibited so you need to make a strong presentation why you should get what you want.