Make Your Missouri Divorce Less Painful: 5 Do's & Don'ts

Make Your Missouri Divorce Less Painful

Preparation, getting the right support, and making sure you educate yourself on the right and wrong things to do can make the process a little less painful. Let’s take a look at some of the best and worst things you can do during the divorce process.

Here are 5 Do's and Don'ts of Missouri Divorce

DO be fair and equitable

Unfair settlements can hurt everyone, including kids. Strive to make sure your assets and custody arrangements are good for everyone, including your children.

DO make sure you have a support network

Don’t do this alone! Make sure you have friends, family or a support group to act as your sounding board. During even the smoothest divorce, you will face a roller coaster of emotions, so ask for help when you need it. You can support all of your children through this process more easily if you have your own emotional reinforcements. Just as you need friends who have your back during a divorce, you need legal and financial advice as well. Don’t try to figure out the best settlement options via Google; talk to an attorney who can give you advice based on your specific family and financial situation.

DO empower yourself

Educate yourself about divorce, the process, and the financial implications. Talk to an attorney and find out every step, how settlements can work, and options for child custody and support. You’ll feel more confident knowing what’s possible and what happens next. DON’T Use your kids as a wedge Your kids are hurting too, but they shouldn’t be asked to take sides – they should be neutral parties to the divorce. Most importantly, don’t say negative things about your spouse to your children or withhold time with them to punish your spouse. Your kids will need the support of both parents right now.

DON'T stay in the dark about your finances

If you haven’t been involved in financial planning or discussions during your marriage, you can go in to the divorce process at a disadvantage. Make sure you know the assets you and your spouse own, including property, bank accounts, insurance policies and retirement plans. You’ll also need this information to plan and budget for your life after the divorce.

Mary Neff is an experienced problem solver.  She works hard to support her clients so they can clearly and gracefully navigate one of life’s most challenging transitions.  Mary is a licensed Missouri and Illinois family law attorney, mediator and collaborative law practitioner.

Reach out to Mary to discuss your divorce options and how you and your spouse can divorce amicably.  Mary can be reached by phone at 314.454.9100, by email at mneff@aegislaw.com, or visit her website at https://aegislaw.com/who-we-are/mary-neff/com

How Do I Get A Simple Divorce?

SO, YOU WANT A SIMPLE DIVORCE?

 I often hear this from prospective clients, usually in relation to the anticipated cost of getting divorced.  As in, “how much will it cost me for a simple divorce?”  My answer is normally, “it depends,” and that begins a rather lengthy conversation about what, exactly it depends on.

In my experience, there are several things that can contribute to making a “simple” divorce complicated.  At times, we’re dealing with complex issues, like sorting out the value of a business, separating marital assets from non-marital assets, or spousal support.  In other situations, the issues may be rather straightforward, but one party may not be emotionally ready to get divorced.  It’s not at all unusual for parties in a divorce to be at different stages of readiness in relation to the divorce.  Often, one party may have been ready to leave the marriage six months, or even a year ago.  Sometimes even longer than that.  So, it can take the other spouse a bit of time to get up to speed.

If one spouse is still grieving the loss of the marriage, he or she may not be anxious to get to the finish line.  The reluctant spouse may, wittingly or unwittingly, create obstacles that make it more difficult to finish the process, and that can frustrate the spouse who was ready to be divorced on Day 1.

SO, HOW DO I CHANGE THAT?

Let’s look at the constants first:  You can’t change the situation itself.  It is what it is.  You can’t change the issues that need to be resolved.   The same issues must be dealt with, one way or the other.  You can’t change your spouse, although you certainly may have tried.  Let’s face it, if you could change your spouse, you probably wouldn’t be looking for a divorce attorney.

SO, WHAT CAN I CHANGE?

You can determine how you will conduct yourself during the divorce proceedings and how you will interact with your spouse.    Making a good faith effort to act according to your own values and integrity can go a long way in keeping matters simple and minimizing the stress and drama that can often accompany a divorce.

You also have the ability to select the divorce process you would prefer to use to resolve the issues in your divorce.  In some cases, when the issues are simple and both parties are emotionally ready to do so, parties are able to sit down together and discuss the issues in a reasonable, rational way.  That is usually called the kitchen table process.  Most divorcing couples need a bit more support than that, however, so many couples elect to use mediation or the collaborative process. 

In mediation, the parties use the services of a neutral mediator to guide them through their negotiations to reach a settlement.  The parties have attorneys to give them legal advice, but the attorneys aren’t usually directly involved in the settlement negotiations.  In the collaborative process, each party works with their own collaboratively-trained attorney, and other team members, including a neutral mental health coach to assist the couple in their communication during the settlement negotiations.  If one party is angry or sad about their spouse’s decision to leave the marriage, the involvement of a coach can be invaluable in helping the reluctant party deal with his or her emotions sensitively and therapeutically.  That can pave the way for more focused and productive settlement negotiations.   Many collaborative teams also include a neutral financial specialist to assist them in negotiating the financial settlement including the division of property, spousal support, child support, valuation of separate and marital property, and other complex financial issues.

SO, WHAT’S MY NEXT STEP?

If your goal is to have a “simple divorce,” the key is to find the best fit, for you and your spouse, in terms of the process you choose, and in the divorce professionals you select.  Review the St. Louis Collaborative Family Law website for more information, and a list of family law attorneys trained in mediation and the collaborative processMany attorneys in the St. Louis Collaborative Family Law Association offer an initial consultation at no charge, so you will have an opportunity to determine the best fit for you, in the divorce process and in your choice of an attorney.

About The Author: Marjorie Carter

Marjorie is an attorney and former member of CFLA.

Why Won't My Divorce Case Settle?

PROBLEM:  My divorce has been going on for months.  I want it over.  Why won’t my case settle?

Those involved in a family law litigation matter, are generally eager for their case to be “over” so that they can move on with life plans with some degree of certainty.  If your attorney has told you that very few cases go to trial before a judge, “settlement” becomes the primary focus of the litigation, yet at times can seem impossible to achieve.  Why?  The short answer is that there has been no agreement reached.  What are some of the impediments to reaching an agreement? This article addresses property issues, and not child support, spousal support (maintenance in Missouri) or child custody.

Addressing The Divorce Issues

Missing Information: Divorce Courts in Missouri are required to divide all property and debt, as well as set aside to the appropriate party any separate non-marital property. Without complete information on all the property and debt (do not forget frequent flyer miles and other awards points), there is no way to assess the options for the division of property and debt. Sometimes the information can be obtained easily.  Account statements and car titles are usually obtained easily.  When you need an appraisal of a home or a business interest valued, this information is more difficult to come by. If one party cooperates and the other doesn’t, it can take long months instead of a few weeks to obtain the necessary information in order to look at the options for the division of property and debt.

Disagreements on Values. Competing assessments as to what the worth of cars and homes can make a meeting of the minds on property settlement difficult.  This is often due to each party going online and determining what the cars are worth, or each party to a case paying several hundred dollars to have different appraisals as to the value of the marital residence.

Attorneys with different approaches. When the parties to a family law matter select their attorneys, they are usually not doing this together. They are each consulting with friends, family and colleagues or going online without checking in with each other.  Their selections are often personal and most often fail to take into consideration how their attorney views the work ahead.  Is the attorney going to acknowledge that there are paths to settlement than can circumvent some of the negative fallout of traditional litigation?  Is the attorney one who encourages open sharing of information or assists his or her client in making the other attorney and party get information the hard way with costly subpoenas, depositions and motions before the court?  The selection of attorneys can set the course for a good resolution without undue delay or protracted process ending with a less than satisfactory settlement for both parties—often because the fees to the attorneys took much of the martial assets.

Lack of a joint commitment to resolution. Too often, the parties have not made a firm commitment to each other to work toward a resolution that they both can live with.  Without this commitment early on, it is easy to spend time and energy disputing the other person’s point of view rather than working to find common ground.

SOLUTION:  Before you begin the divorce process, consider how best to commit to resolving the issues and following through on the commitment. This may mean that you and the other party may have to put aside some serious differences of opinion as to the how and why of the break up.  It may mean that you determine the process that you want to use BEFORE finding attorneys.  You may start with a mediator and then select attorneys to assist you in the mediation process. You may want to explore the option of the collaborative process, with its team of financial, mental health and legal professionals.  If you commit to an approach that is settlement rather than litigation-oriented, you may find you save money that enables you to move forward with less stress, as well as save your emotional energy for that next phase of your life.

Talking to Your Spouse About Separation and Divorce

You’re not happy in your marriage and haven’t been for quite some time.  You’re ready to tell your spouse how you feel and wonder how to do it.  How you begin this conversation can have an impact on whether your separation or divorce will be friendly and civil or ugly and contested.  There are a number of ways to approach this difficult conversation and to some degree which way works best for you depends on your situation.

The Do Nots

But first what not to do:  hand your spouse an attorney’s business card and say have your lawyer contact my lawyer. Do not say, "You need to move out because I’m filing for divorce." Do not announce in front of the children that daddy and mommy are getting a divorce. And do not have your spouse served with divorce papers as the first indication to your spouse that you're asking for a divorce.  These are examples of only a few of the do nots, the essence of which is to not embarrass your spouse or make your spouse angry before the process even begins.  As the saying goes, first impressions are important and the way you begin can have a tremendous effect on what is a difficult and emotional process for many people.

Mental health professionals will tell you for some people getting a divorce is like experiencing a death of a spouse.  If you’ve ever known someone who has lost a spouse, particularly if it was sudden or unexpected, the surviving spouse needs time to heal.  That doesn’t mean they get to a point where they forget their spouse, but many people need time to be able to move forward with their lives.   A person who is not aware that their spouse is ready to be divorced also needs time to adjust to be able to move forward with his or her life.  If the notion of being divorced is sprung on them it can have the same effect as a sudden death.

The Dos

So that brings us to how can you tell your spouse.  What can you do?  First, before saying anything to your spouse review the Collaborative Family Law webpage.  See that the approach is to resolve your issues prior to filing anything in court.  Understand that the benefit is to have a process whereby you and your spouse can deal with all of the issues in a controlled environment with all participants working to reach a resolution that works for both parties.  In that way when issues arise following your divorce you’ll hopefully be able to resolve them in a problem-solving manner rather than as adversaries.  Once you are comfortable in understanding the process, approach your spouse and tell him or her that you feel your marriage is no longer working.  Let your spouse know that there is a process you’re aware of that will allow you to resolve all of your issues before anything is filed in court and suggest that he or she review the webpage and speak with a professional listed in the member directory.  Should you have further questions before approaching your spouse don’t hesitate to contact someone on the member directory for additional information.

About the Author : Leonard Frankel

Leonard is an attorney and former member of CFLA.

The Collaborative Process is The Kumbaya Divorce

It is likely that you either have a friend or a family member who experienced a divorce and barely exchange their children without a fight.  You go through life saying that will never be your situation. Then you are sitting at the table having “that” conversation with your spouse. A divorce is now imminent.  How do you make sure that your family dynamic does not rip apart at the seam?  The divorce process is known to destroy the family dynamic through mudslinging, positional bargaining, and refusal to compromise with each other.  To start the process the other party has to be served.  It seems odd to have a third party go to your spouse and hand them papers stating that you want to end the life you built together.

As the Discovery process starts, you will find yourself answering meddlesome, private and probing questions, producing private documents, and feeling interrogated during depositions.  During Trial, you may likely feel nervous, scared, and hesitant to answer questions on the witness stand.  At the conclusion of the case, you will anxiously await a Judgment entered by an individual who doesn’t know anything about your family.  The end result will generally leave both parties feeling violated, sad, and angry.

Alternative to Litigated Divorce

If the above process sounds like a nightmare, then you are not alone.  A procedure known as a Collaborative Divorce is available to anyone who will like to bypass the contentious litigated divorce process and, instead, aim to reach an amicable and practical settlement agreement resulting in a non-contested divorce.  To get started, both parties must have a desire to use this process.  Both parties must agree to compromise, act ethically, show respect for one another, focus on the future, negotiate in good faith, and, among other things, cooperate to prepare a comprehensive settlement agreement.

If successful, the benefits of doing the Collaborative Divorce process will allow each party to make choices in a safe and private environment that will work for your family because after all, you are the expert of your family, not the professionals.  At the conclusion, you should find yourself feeling satisfied, ready to move forward, and maintain a desire to co-parent, cooperate, and continue the family dynamic for the sake of your children.  In spite of everything, it really is about your family and how you can move forward.  With the tools and ability to co-parent, this allows for minor issues that come up as time goes on to be settled by the family without having to involve the court for modifications to the Judgment.  Choosing a Collaborative Divorce will not only help you bypass the often nasty, litigated divorce process, but it will also help alleviate many of the future issues that may arise years after a divorce has concluded.

Take Control of Your Divorce

Overall, a Collaborative Divorce puts both parties in the driver seat of their own divorce.  It puts the decisions for the family back in the hands of the family, with tools and assistance from coaches and advisors to not just help make decisions now, but also help with the difficult decisions to come.

About the Author : Kelly Davidzuk

Kelly Davidzuk is a Regional Team Leader managing the St. Charles, Troy, Lee's Summit and Kansas City (by appointment only) offices of the firm. To help out families with their legal needs, Kelly is also a trained mediator and collaborative law attorney. Kelly earned her Juris Doctorate degree from the Appalachian School of Law in Virginia.

Kelly has received many awards for her diligent experience in Family Law over the years, including: The National Advocates - Top 40 Under 40 in Missouri, 2015 – Present, AVVO Superb Rating, 2015-Present, 10 Best Family Law Attorney in Missouri for Client Satisfaction, American Institute of Family Law Attorneys, 2016, Lead Counsel Rated for Family Law, Lead Counsel, 2016, 10 Best Female Family Law Attorneys in the State of Missouri, American Institute of Legal Counsel, 2016 and Top 10 Family Law Attorneys Under 40 in Missouri, National Academy of Family Law Attorneys, 2016.

Note: The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely upon advertisements. Kelly Davidzuk is responsible for the content. Principal place of business 120 South Central Ave, Suite 450, Clayton, MO 63105.

How to Have an Inexpensive Divorce

No one wants a long, expensive, and contentious divorce.  While sometimes unavoidable, there are many things that you and your soon-to-be former spouse can do to keep the process of the dissolution of your marriage as civil and efficient as possible.

7 Tips to Lower Your Divorce Costs

1. Understand Your “Process Options”

Most divorces end with an agreement not a trial, but the path to the agreement can look very different depending on the process you follow.  It’s important to choose a process that gives you and your spouse as much help as you need to reach an agreement, not more and not less. Do your homework so that you understand the differences between traditional litigation, a collaborative process, mediation and a simple non-contested divorce, before you dive in to the legal process and substantive negotiations. Choose a process that is most likely to work for your situation.  A meeting with your spouse and a mediator or divorce coach can help you to assess what path may work best for your family.

2. Be Organized

Regardless of the process you use, your lawyer will need detailed financial and other information from you throughout your case. Giving your lawyer the needed information in a timely and organized way will help your lawyer to be more efficient.  Follow up phone calls and the need for multiple edits will add to the cost of your legal bills.

3. Try not to Scare Each Other

Often during a divorce process, trust is low and anxiety is high.  Making unanticipated financial moves or taking unilateral action regarding your children can set off an adversarial snowball which can be difficult to stop.  If you and your spouse can manage finances wisely and treat each other fairly while your marriage is unwinding you will avoid expensive interventions by your lawyers and the court while you are making your final decisions.

4. Manage Your Emotions

Strong emotions are normal during a divorce process but they can get in the way of making good business and financial decisions.  Working with a therapist as you move through this transition can help you to keep your cool during a difficult time.

5. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Disagreements over household goods, furnishings or personal items can take on emotional significance well beyond their financial value.  Talk with your mediator, lawyer or therapist about ways to approach division of these items in an orderly way without involving your lawyers in those negotiations.

6. Minimize New Relationships

Even though your marriage is ending, the introduction of a new person in your life before things are finalized can cause strong emotional reactions in your spouse.  This is can be even more so if children are introduced to new relationships.  Extra marital relationships can sometimes impact your financial settlement, but even when that is not the case, these relationships can make your divorce more contentious and expensive.  Waiting to move on until your marriage has ended will help the dissolution go more smoothly.

7. Say Yes When You Can

When dealing with your custody arrangements, if your spouse needs accommodation, whether to reschedule a weekend, or have a child for a special occasion, say yes if you can.  This will set the groundwork for a cooperative co-parenting relationship rather than starting things off on an adversarial track.

It takes two to keep things from escalating from a problem to be solved to a war to be waged, but if you follow the above steps you will increase the chances that the dissolution of your marriage, while tough territory under any circumstances, will be as civil and efficient as possible.

Can We Both Use the Same Divorce Attorney?

This is a question many couples ask who are thinking about divorce.   There are many reasons why people want to use one attorney and usually, it comes down to finances.  How can we cut our costs of this divorce since attorneys are expensive,  how can we divorce and not get into a nasty court battle and how can we remain civil because of the children?

Although a divorce can be costly if two attorneys are involved, a lawyer cannot represent both sides in a divorce.  So, even though the simple answer is NO, one attorney cannot represent both parties in a divorce, the complex answer is YES only one party has to hire an attorney.   So one lawyer can be used for a divorce IF they only work for one side.   The next question is how can an attorney work for only one side and still do all the paperwork for the divorce?  The example below explains how the process could work.

Example of Using One Attorney

For example, Wife hires an attorney.  Wife meets with the attorney who will go over the divorce process and what is necessary to get divorced.  Wife’s attorney will prepare the documents for filing the case with the court and sends all of the documents to Husband.    Husband can get the documents filed at the courthouse by service, or by mail if Husband signs a document saying he got the court papers and he does not want a sheriff to serve them with papers.    There are deadlines and timeframes that everyone must follow whether they are represented or not represented by an attorney.

Wife will then meet with the attorney and provide the attorney with her understanding of the agreement between her and her Husband.    The attorney will write up the agreement based on what the Wife tells the attorney.  The Husband will get copies of this agreement for him to review.   If Husband agrees with everything in the paperwork that Wife’s attorney has prepared he does not need to hire an attorney.    If he agrees with most of it he can go back to his Wife and request changes.  And if she agrees, then she contacts her attorney to change the paperwork.  If the agreement reflects what both Husband and Wife want, then the agreement is signed.   In this example only one attorney is used to complete the divorce.  However, the attorney does not meet with Husband.

Sometimes it is confusing to say Wife hires the attorney if Husband pays a part or all of the attorney fees of Wife's attorney.  However, the payment of attorney fees does not mean you have hired the attorney.  Only if you have entered into an agreement that the attorney will represent you have you hired the attorney.      In this example, Husband and Wife used only one attorney but only Wife was represented and the only person to meet with the attorney.

One Divorce Attorney Cannot Represent Both Sides

Many people wonder why the attorney cannot meet with both parties and do work for both of them.  Attorney ethic rules say an attorney cannot represent both sides of a case even if both sides are in agreement.  In a divorce even if everyone agrees on the outcome, the parties are on opposite sides of the case.    The only exemption is if the attorney is serving as the mediator of the divorce and then they can meet with both parties.  In the case of a mediator, both parties would sign an agreement with the mediator and it would be clear the attorney is acting in this case as a mediator and not an attorney for either the Wife or Husband.

About the Author : Sharon Remis

Sharon is an attorney and former member of CFLA.

How To Divorce: What are the steps?

If you are divorcing, chances are it’s the first time you’ve dealt with a lawyer and the court system. Dealing with the unknown can be scary and intimidating. The best way to start managing your fears is to arm yourself with knowledge about how to divorce.

So, what are the divorce steps you can expect to go through?

Initial Divorce Steps

The steps involved in the legal process are:

Additional Divorce Steps

From this point forward, many different things can happen. Depending upon the particulars of your case, the lawyers may want to gather financial or other information through a process called “discovery.” This can include sending “subpoenas” to employers, banks, credit card companies, and other institutions.

In some cases, there is a need to establish temporary orders, referred to as “PDL orders.” These orders can include establishing a parenting schedule, support payments, payments of attorneys’ fees, and other rules to keep things on as even a keel as possible while the case is being resolved. If both sides can’t agree on these, judges will sometimes step in to assist the family.

Some cases will also use a “guardian ad litem,” an attorney whose sole job is to protect your children’s interests. If a GAL is appointed, the husband and wife will generally be ordered to pay for the GAL’s fees.

While all of these steps are going on, the attorneys will try to assist their clients in resolving all of the divorce issues in their case to reach a settlement. Judges will sometimes schedule settlement conferences, both to make sure the case is making progress, and also to help the two sides come together. Most cases are not tried before a judge; most are settled. If your case is settled, you will probably not ever have to go into court. If you can’t settle, you will find yourself in a courtroom.

Some cases, including all cases that use the Collaborative Process, are settled before anyone files any documents with the court. In those cases, you can expect all of the divorce steps listed above, but none of the other divorce steps such as discovery and PDL orders.

Talk to a Collaborative attorney about how to divorce and whether this problem-solving process is a good alternative for you.