Once you decide that the two of you are not capable of resolving your differences and that a mediator is not an option, you must change the way you see your situation and your spouse. You are no longer married in a castle by the sea, but are heading into divorce court with an adversary who is out to wreck you. There are certain steps you should take to protect yourself.
Hire a Family Lawyer Attorney
After doing your homework, hire an experienced Bluffdale Utah family lawyer. Lawyer bashing is fashionable in our society, and some of them deserve it. But there are attorneys who are skilled in their profession, who ask a fair price for their services, and who will try to use the law to your benefit. Because divorce and custody and child support are all legal issues, in most cases, you need an attorney. Even if you mediate these issues with your former spouse, you should hire an attorney to read the agreement. An experienced Bluffdale Utah family lawyer can be your best friend and asset in your divorce proceeding. But choose wisely. Ideally, the domestic lawyer you want specializes in representing divorced fathers and has an established track record in winning favorable settlements for these fathers in terms of custody, division of property, spousal support, and visitation.
With few attorneys specializing in divorced fathers, you are not likely to find one. Finding one who specializes in domestic cases is more likely and you should hold out for one with this specialty.
Domestic law, the law that will affect you and your divorce, is specific to each state. If you have moved to another state, an attorney in your new state will not be knowledgeable about the domestic law in the state where your divorce proceedings will be held. There are enormous differences between states with regard to the laws governing custody and divorce.
As a divorced father you must inform yourself of the custody laws in Utah and try to hire an attorney who has litigated cases in Utah.
Ask prospective attorneys to identify specific training they have had that makes them specialists in family law in the state in which the divorce will be held, the names of any professional organizations they belong to, how many divorced fathers they have represented, and the outcomes of several cases that have been to court. It’s your money you will be spending, and the average cost of a contested divorce is over $10,000.
Most attorneys offer an initial consultation at no cost. Interview at least two attorneys. In addition to their being a specialist in domestic law, make sure that they offer a refundable retainer. Lawyers charge between $100 and $300 an hour and many require a retainer or up-front money. A contested custody fight will require about 100 hours, and thus the total cost will be between $10,000 and $30,000. Most charge 10 to 15 percent of this as a retainer, requiring that you have between $1000 and $3000 up-front money. Because you want to get your money’s worth, make sure that your attorney offers a refundable retainer in case he or she withdraws from your case or you become dissatisfied. Otherwise, you have lost your money and will have to start over. You should also expect monthly statements detailing what your attorney has done for you day by day and the cost of his or her time. It is your responsibility to keep payments current. Should you not have money to hire an attorney, contact the legal aid society in your community and identify what resources are available to you.
In the initial interview, discuss the degree to which your attorney will prioritize your case. A specialist who spends no time on your case is no attorney. An attorney who is available to talk with you on the phone (as an attorney and not as a therapist) and to work with you in preparing your case is the attorney you want. Judges are required by legislative statute to make decisions based on the evidence. But your lawyer must invest the time to present the best possible evidence on your behalf.
In the event that you don’t find a specialist, or can’t afford to hire an attorney, or can’t find one who will prioritize your case, you may want to represent yourself (called pro se). Although an experienced Bluffdale Utah family lawyer will discourage this, our legal system allows you to do so but it may not be in your interest to do so.
Don’t Use Your Former Spouse’s Attorney
It may be tempting to use your spouse’s attorney in an attempt to save money. Don’t. Your spouse’s attorney has her, not your, interests in focus and both interests cannot be served. It is unethical for an attorney to represent both the ex-wife and the ex-husband. At the very least, hire your own attorney to review any document your wife asks you to sign. You may be surprised at what you find.
Sign Nothing Now
As a good general rule, sign nothing now. You are too vulnerable. Once you sign, you may not be able to recover from the damage she can do to you for your signature. Eventually, you will sign a court order having a judge’s signature and that of the respective attorneys. This is the only document you want to sign unless an experienced Bluffdale Utah family lawyer advises you to do otherwise.
If your spouse is unwilling to settle your differences by talking with you or through a mediator, start the first inning of legal hardball. Contact an attorney, tell him or her you want out, and serve your spouse with papers. Beat her to the punch. Researcher Ruth Dixon and her colleague studied husbands who filed for divorce and observed that those who did so were much more likely to be awarded custody.
Stay in the Marital Home
Do not leave the marital home until your attorney tells you to. If you leave before the time is right, it could work against you. Husbands who leave their marital home can be charged with “abandonment,” which makes you look like the bad guy who now may owe your former spouse money in the form of “alimony” for leaving her. She may also charge you with abandoning your children to justify her getting custody and huge child support. Stay put until your Bluffdale Utah family lawyer tells you to move out.
Do not be surprised if a sheriff shows up at your door serving you with papers that give her temporary custody of the children. Translation: You lose legal control. Other court actions against you might be throwing you out of your house or seizing or freezing your assets. Fight such orders immediately. Your Bluffdale Utah family lawyer will know what to do.
End Your Financial Relationship with Your Spouse
Because in most states one spouse is responsible for the debts of the other, your spouse may be angry at you and go on a shopping spree. The bills will come in later and you are likely to get stuck paying them. One wife went shopping and put $1200 on the credit cards in one weekend. Because her husband had more income and was leaving the marriage, the judge made him pay off all of her debts. Once you decide that the marriage is over, call the number on the back of each credit card and cancel the card and call any stores you have charge accounts with and close those accounts.
Unless you move half of the money out of your joint checking and savings accounts and into a separate account, there will be nothing to stop your wife from taking all of the money out of the joint accounts and it will take you months to get any of it back. Only take half as that is the fair thing to do. Your wife can empty any account that has her name on it, and some wives do. If you and she own anything in common, fix it so that this is no longer the case. Otherwise, if you die, she gets it all. Your Bluffdale Utah family lawyer will advise you on this. You should also notify your local Credit Bureau that you and your spouse are no longer jointly responsible for any debts she may incur, and remove any business records from the marital home, preferably placing them in your lawyer’s care.
Exercise Caution in Your Personal Life
Now is not the time to take vacations, buy an expensive car, or move into expensive living quarters. Evidence of any affluence can be used against you to get you to pay more child support and/or alimony. And you will need money to pay your attorney!
Although you may have already become involved in a new relationship, do not consider moving in with her. In fact, don’t even be seen publicly with her. Judges view such behavior as abandoning responsibility to your wife and children and may punish you with stiff alimony and child support payments. Unless your formal separation agreement states that each of you can be with others, doing so can be used against you in court. Being free to date others during the period of separation is commonly referred to as “street legal.”
Be Alert to Sex Abuse Charges
One ploy used by divorced women who want full custody of their children and no visitation by their ex-husbands is to charge them with sex abuse. Although making a false charge of child abuse is a misdemeanor offense, few ex-wives are ever prosecuted. Fathers are vulnerable to such a charge by doing anything that can be regarded as suspect by a judge or jurors. Although bathing a 6-year-old or sleeping with one’s children can be innocuous parenting behaviors, they can be used against a father by an exwife yelling “sex abuser,” especially when the child in question is your daughter. So, as a divorced father, you must be aware that your ex-wife is at war with you and that by charging you with sex abuse she may succeed in keeping you away from the children. Be careful.
Don’t Abscond with Your Children
As noted earlier, don’t take off with your children without letting your former spouse know where you are going. Otherwise, she can use this against you and a judge can order that you only see your children under supervision. If you plan to go on a holiday with your children it’s a good idea to speak to an experienced Bluffdale Utah family lawyer.
As a married dad living with your children, access to them was never an issue. As a divorced father, unless the court document specifies that you have access to your children, you have no legal access. It is imperative that you determine the role you want to play in your children’s life/development and how much physical access you want to them so that this can be written into a court order to protect your role and access. What role and rights do you want as a father? Some fathers want full-time sole custody, others want joint custody, and still others want their ex-wives to retain custody while they have the traditional visitation of every other weekend, alternate holidays, and so on. Very few fathers want no contact at all. What do you want?
A number of factors affect the amount of time a father wants to spend with his children and how much time he asks the court to award. An important factor is your children’s preferences. How do they feel and what do they want? You might simply ask them how much they would like to be with mom and dad. Most children have a preference for wanting to continue to be with both parents. But you don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on an expensive court fight if your children don’t want to be with you. Speak to an experienced Bluffdale Utah family lawyer.
Bluffdale Utah Family Lawyer Free Consultation
When you need legal help with a family law matter in Bluffdale Utah, please call Ascent Law for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506