The Divorce Process from a Paralegal’s Point of View
by Kimberly Young
Paralegal Bob Leonard Law Group, PLLC
As I stated in Part 1 of the Divorce Process, having knowledge and letting your legal team do their job will help you in the long run. That being said, knowing what you want and what you are willing to settle for will help you in the divorce process.
Here are some more things that I have observed being a family law paralegal that will help you through the divorce process:
5. Have an idea of what will work for you and your family. You will know whether or not dropping the kids off at school will work for you or your spouse. You will
know what monies are necessary to maintain the status quo in your home. You should know what’s in your child(ren)’s best interest when it comes to access and a possession schedule. All of this will be addressed in Temporary Orders.
6. Usually your initial filing includes a request for Temporary Orders. Temporary Orders are the “rules to live by” until either a final agreement is reached either through negotiation or mediation or until further order of the Court. These can include but are not limited to any of the following—child support, spousal support, temporary use of property, including who is going to live in the house, who is going to drive which car and who is going to be responsible for which debts. It can also include with whom the children are going to be living with, who is going to be paying child support and whose going to have a possession schedule.
a. These can be done without going to Court and can be drafted without having a hearing. We attempt this whenever possible to save our Client’s the cost of preparing for and attending a hearing, when we usually know what the Courts are going to set by the facts of the case and the Judge we are going to be in front of.
b. We really prefer to not have the Court order these things—but when the parties can’t or won’t reach an agreement, the Judge will make orders that the parties will have to live with. Pretty frustrating when the Judge doesn’t know all the issues, but just what little information is given to them in a brief amount of time.
7. When Temporary Orders are working and the ground rules have been set, the next step usually is an informal exchange of information and or documents or a more formal exchange known as “Discovery”. Discovery is expensive. Expensive to draft and expensive to answer. Usually when you send it to the other side, their attorney in turn, sends you a set to answer as well. Be organized.
a. As a family law paralegal, I have seen the end of both spectrums when it comes to the Discovery process—I have had the client who brings me every answer and every document copied and with exhibit numbers on each response. I have had the Client who doesn’t want to take the time but is willing to spend the money to have me go through a box of documents and try to figure out the responses. This is very EXPENSIVE AND TIME CONSUMING. Do not do this unless you have no time and plenty of money!
8. Discovery is written requests for information some which is a “production and inspection” of documents; one is written—you can ask a total of 25 questions that are meant to be answered thoroughly, there are an unlimited number of things you can ask to be “admitted or denied”—these are great if you have specific questions you want answered—usually you already know the answer. The others are very basic and case specific and actually “nail” down the uses at hand and the witnesses and evidence you are going to use at trial. Once we have exchanged information and we find the “smoking gun,” or not, but we have the information we need to proceed, Mediation is usually next.
9. Have an understanding of what your ideal settlement will be. That being said, always remember that even though you may think you earned it all, or that it’s all in your name, and it’s yours, doesn’t mean that it is. Texas is a Community Property state and just because your name is on it, doesn’t mean you own it outright. Mr. Leonard will be able to explain this when you meet with him. Also have a “this is my bottom offer” as far as this is the least I want to walk away with. It will give you some perspective and some wiggle room for negotiation.
a. You know your spouse better than anyone. You will know what their sticking points and what their soft sides are. This information will help us understand what is important to them and what will they will be willing to negotiate on. Mediation is a process of settlement negotiation that the Courts require the parties to attend with their attorneys in hopes to reach a final agreement. This is where this information is most helpful.
10. Mediation is where most cases settle. I believe Mr. Leonard has stated that 97% of his cases are settled either before or at Mediation.
a. Mediation is a long process. We usually suggest to our clients to bring a book, laptop, Kindle or something to occupy the down time. The mediator will go from room to room and hear what each party has to say while taking offers back and forth and giving each party ways to settle. This can take all day in some instances where there are lots of issues, i.e., custody is an issue, possession, property and debt—all of these issues can be highly emotional and contentious. It’s best to listen to your attorney and not go spending a $1.00 to save a dime!
11. Once Mediation is successful, drafts of the Final Decree of Divorce as well as other ancillary documents which may include—wage withholding order for child support, Qualified Domestic Relations Order used to divide retirement accounts, Deeds transferring title to vehicle and or property as well as a couple of state required documents.
12. If mediation isn’t successful, then the next step is Trial. It’s expensive and the preparation is very time consuming. A divorce can be done very easily without much fight if the parties are willing to set aside the emotions and anger and focus on the end result. Divorce is a process in itself. Knowing that you will make it through this is a blessing. Knowing that you have a very knowledgeable and caring legal team is priceless.