A New Judge for the 360th District Court

Does it matter who the Judge is?

As of January 1, 2017, the Judge of the 360th District Court in Tarrant County, Texas is the Honorable Patricia Bennett. Judge Bennett replaces Judge Michael Sinha, who had been the Judge of the 360th and, the prior to that, the Associate Judge of the 360th for years.

Judge Bennett has chosen Matt Riek to be her Associate Judge, and Judge Riek will take the bench on or about January 16, 2017. Judge Riek replaces Judge Cynthia Mendoza.

Both Judge Bennett and Judge Riek are Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, and each has years of experience in divorce, custody, and family law. Additionally, Judge Riek was one of the most sought after and well-respected family law mediators in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex prior to agreeing to accept the position of Associate Judge.

So, with these changes, one might ask: Does it matter who the Judge is?

The short answer, particularly in Family Law is Yes!!!

Family law – meaning divorce, custody, grandparent rights, child support, spousal support, alimony, etc. – is an area of the law that, unlike most areas, is governed by the “discretion of the court.” Under Texas law, the trial court judge has wide discretion in determining a number of items in family law. What that means in simple terms is that you are not entitled to have a jury make the decision, it has to be the judge, and your chances of getting an appellate court to overturn the trial court’s decision are extremely small.

Some of the things that a family court judge gets to decide with little chance of being overturned are:

  1. How the property will be divided in a divorce – Will the property be divided 50/50 or 60/40 or 80/20 or in some other ratio?
  2. What happens to the property in a divorce – Do you get to keep the house? Or does your soon-to-be Ex? Or is there a Court Order to sell it?
  3. Who gets to live in the house while the case is pending?
  4. Who has to pay which bills while the case is pending?
  5. Who gets custody of the children while the case is pending?
  6. How much child support will be paid and by whom to whom?
  7. How much temporary spousal support will be paid, if any, while the case is pending – even if it’s for years – and by whom, to whom?
  8. Does anyone deserve Spousal Maintenance – the Texas version of court-ordered alimony – and if so how much and for how long, within some limits?
  9. What will the rights and duties be with respect to the children? Do you have a say in who the children’s doctor is? Dentist is? Surgeon is? Will there be surgery? Will the children go to a psychiatrist?
  10. On what days and at what times will you be allowed to see your children?
  11. Will you be able to Facetime with your children? Call them? Email them?

These are just a few of the things that family court judges get to decide, and as long as that Judge stays on the bench and as long as the children stay in the county, the same judge will keep deciding these issues regarding your children until they age out of the system.

So what do you think? Does it matter who the judge of your court is?

Five Simple Things You Can Do to Save Money in Divorce

Divorces can be expensive. Some get to be very expensive. There are things that happen in a divorce that you can’t control, and others that you can.

Listed below are five things that you should be able to control that should save you some money as you go through a divorce. All of these are based upon one simple idea — time is money. When paying an attorney by the hour, the more attorney time you can save, the more money you will save yourself.

1. Respond to your attorney.

Your attorney is going to ask you for a great many things. Sometimes it’s as simple as “are you available for a hearing two weeks from Thursday,” and sometimes it’s for more complicated things, such as “I need copies of all of your bank statements for the last few years.” Whichever it is, ignoring the request will lead to your attorney possibly having to have several more conversations or send several more emails. He or she may have to let the opposing counsel and the court know about the status of whatever it is that he or she is seeking. He or she may have to file a motion or seek an agreed extension of some deadline. All of that takes time, and will ultimately cost you money. Responding quickly and completely will help your attorney help you and save you money in the long run.

2. Don’t fight over silly things.

Some things are worth fighting over — like are your children going to live near enough to you that you can have a meaningful relationship — and some aren’t — like who is going to get the new TV and who is going to take the old one. Fighting can mean that your attorney has to write emails or make calls repeatedly with both opposing counsel and the court, as well as you. Very quickly, the cost of fighting over something that is not worth fighting over can get to be very high.  The smart thing to do, when possible, is make a business decision. Determine in advance how much various things are worth, then do the math on whether it’s worth fighting over them.

3. Organize your evidence.

This one involves a rule of reason. If you bring in all of your bank statements, mixed with all of your receipts, mixed with all of your emails, all in one big box, someone is going to have to spend an enormous amount of time sorting those documents out. If you do it, you save attorney or legal assistant time. If not, you will end up paying your lawyer or his staff. But, the rule of reason part is this: Don’t be so “organized” that you have all of your documents in individual sheet protectors inside of three ring binders. In all probability, your attorney will need to number and copy your documents. The time that it takes to get the documents ready for the copy machine can get expensive, if you’ve overdone it with the “organizing.”

4. Don’t violate court orders.

If you are under Standing Orders, a Temporary Restraining Order, Temporary Orders, or a Protective Order, read the document or documents carefully. Know what you can do and what you can’t. If you violate the orders, you can cause your attorney to have to have multiple conversations with opposing counsel and the court, even if you never end up in a contempt hearing or enforcement hearing.

5. Recognize the realities of the system you are in.

Courts each have their own ways of doing things. Some courts only allow 20 minutes per side for Temporary Orders hearings. Some allow all day. Some allow multiple days. Most courts don’t like repetitive evidence — in fact it’s objectionable. One way that some people cost themselves an enormous amount of money is by not realizing that there are limits to the presentation of evidence. Your attorney will probably want to know if you have witnesses that can support your side of the case. When asked, give as many names as the attorney needs, and prioritize your witnesses, from most important to least. But, what you don’t want to do is give the lawyer 25 names, when he only wants 3-4, and then insist that he “use” all of them. Often there is no way to use as much evidence as the client would like. Let your attorney advise you on the realities of the situation, then adjust to that. Don’t expect reality to adjust to your desires, or you will cost yourself unnecessary legal fees.

There you have it. Do these five simple things and you will almost certainly save yourself some money.

If you’d like to read other posts on this topic click here and here.

To discuss a legal issue that you are concerned about with the attorneys at Beal Law Firm, please write us at lawyers@dfwdivorce.com or call us at 817.261.4333 or 214.414.0418. You can find us on the web at www.dfwdivorce.com.

Stages of a Divorce, Custody, or other Family Law Case

All family law cases with opposing parties are lawsuits. That applies to divorces, custody battles, child support cases, grandparent rights cases, child support cases, modifications, and others. It doesn’t really apply to uncontested matters like an adult name change or adult adoption.

All lawsuits end one of two ways, either a settlement or trial. If the parties can agree on all issues, the case can settle. If the parties cannot agree on all issues, the only way to get to the finish line is to go to trial. There is no way to make the other side agree with you, if he or she doesn’t want to.

Most cases settle, and some settle quickly. Some settle immediately, some settle after a couple of weeks, some don’t settle until the parties are right outside the courthouse door waiting to go in for trial, but almost all cases settle.

The closer that the parties get to trial, the more the case has cost, almost invariably. The further down the litigation highway the parties have traveled, the further their attorneys have traveled as well. Getting down that highway takes work, and attorney work takes attorney time. Attorney time is paid for with client money. So going to trial, or even getting close to it can be expensive.

One thing that can help a case settle is for the parties to understand how a case progresses. If the parties know what is next, if they don’t settle at the stage they’re in, it may help them decide to go ahead and resolve their differences. So, here are the typical stages of a family law case:

  1. Negotiation between the parties.

This is sometimes known as a “kitchen-table” settlement, e.g. a “kitchen-table divorce.” The parties simply come to an agreement on all issues and have an attorney write up the paperwork to make sure that their thoughts get translated into reality by using the correct legal language.

  1. Negotiation between the attorneys.

If the parties are unable to resolve the case themselves, they will typically authorize their attorneys to negotiate on their behalf. The attorneys may negotiate via letter, email, or telephone. Sometimes, the attorneys prefer to send “bullet-pointed” offers back and forth. Sometimes they send entire orders or decrees back and forth in an attempt to reach an agreement. Sending a proposed full agreement is good sometimes, but not always, as discussed in this prior blog post. If the attorneys can reach an agreement, they may enter into a “Rule 11” agreement or a Non-revocable Settlement Agreement. It is important to know the revocability of those, prior to relying on them.

  1. Discovery.

If the parties cannot reach an agreement after some period of time, one side, the other, or both may decide that it’s time to engage in formal discovery. Discovery can be written or oral, and it can be addressed to the parties and other witnesses. Settlement talks may be taking place during the discovery stage. Discovery can become very expensive, but can also be almost invaluable in some cases.

  1. Mediation.

In this day and age, almost all cases are ordered to Mediation prior to trial. Sometimes, the attorneys will agree to go to mediation, even without a court order. Sometimes, the parties will agree to go, then enter into an agreed order of mediation, to be sure that the other side does not back out at the last minute, and to be sure everyone is clear on the deadline and payment of the mediator. Mediation is not arbitration, and it is just one form of Alternative Dispute Resolution intended to help the parties settle.

  1. Post-mediation discovery.

If the parties are not able to settle in mediation, they will often engage in further discovery post-mediation. Sometimes, depositions are saved until after an attempt at mediation, since the cost of depositions of the parties can be extremely high in contentious cases. Often during this stage there will be Motions to Compel, meaning the parties will file motions alleging that the other has not fully answered the discovery questions, and asking for a court to order that they do. Sometimes parties will seek or the court will order another mediation after the first has failed.

  1. Trial.

If all efforts at settlement have failed, the parties end up in trial. In Texas, most family law cases are tried to the Judge alone – a bench trial – but some are tried to juries. Family law trials can take anywhere from 1 hour to weeks to try. The length of the trial depends upon the issues and the court. Even during trial the case can settle, and what is surprising to some people is that a case can even settle after trial, based upon the threat of a Motion for New Trial or appeal.

That’s right, even if your case makes it all the way to trial, it may not be over. Although rare, cases can be set aside and ordered to a New Trial or appealed, which can sometimes lead to an order to go back and retry some or all of the case.

To discuss your case with the lawyers at the Beal Law Firm, call us at 817.261.4333 or 214.414.0418 or write us at lawyers@dfwdivorce.com.

How much will my case cost? The Top Four Determining Factors

That may be the number one thing on everyone’s mind that is involved in a divorce, custody, or other family law case. If not, it’s close to the top.

Divorce and Custody attorneys hear it all the time. The follow-up question is: Why can’t you tell me how much this will cost?

The reason is that the cost generally depends upon several factors, none of which your attorney controls. Most attorneys charge an hourly rate and most of the few that don’t have a number of “outs” that allow their “flat fees” to not really end up being flat fees, so these thoughts still apply.

So the bottom line is that an attorney cannot generally tell you what your case will cost because he or she does not know how much of his or her time it will take to handle the case.

Here are a few things that impact the amount of time that a case requires and which then affect how much the case will cost:

1. What your spouse or ex does

Fighting takes time. If your spouse or ex is the type that will fight about things that are insignificant, refuse to answer questions the first time he or she is asked, and generally make things more difficult, your attorney is going to have to spend more time dealing with your case.

2. What your spouse’s or ex’s attorney does

Attorneys can disagree without being disagreeable. The Texas Supreme Court came up with a thing called the Texas Lawyer’s Creed a couple decades ago because the problem of lawyers being so disagreeable had gotten out of hand. The Lawyer’s Creed contains a number of rules, including things like this:

I will not quarrel over matters of form or style, but I will concentrate on matters of substance.

I will readily stipulate to undisputed facts in order to avoid needless costs or inconvenience for any party.

I will refrain from excessive and abusive discovery.

I will comply with all reasonable discovery requests. I will not resist discovery requests which are not objectionable.

I will not make objections nor give instructions to a witness for the purpose of delaying or obstructing the discovery process.

If both your attorney and the opposing attorney will follow these rules, your case will cost less. If not, it will cost more.

3. What the court does

Courts have different rules and different ways of doing things. If your court requires the attorneys to appear in person to tell the judge what the status of the case is, that will cost more than if the attorneys can send an email to the court coordinator. If the court requires a pre-trial hearing to set a case for trial, instead of a call or visit to the court coordinator, the hearing will be more expensive. If the court believes that an Amicus attorney should be appointed to look after the interest of the children in a custody case, that will cost more than if the Amicus was not appointed.

4. The decisions that you make

Finally, you will have a number of choices to make throughout the case. When you are asked a question in discovery, your decision on whether to answer fully and completely on the first request will have an impact on how much the case costs. If you are in a county with associate judges, your decision on whether to appeal the associate judge’s ruling or not will determine whether another hearing is needed. Deciding to appeal may be the right decision, but it will mean preparation for and conducting another hearing – which leads to more attorneys’ fees.

So, why can’t your lawyer tell you how much the case is going to cost? Because neither you nor your attorney know what the future holds. Neither of you knows how much time your attorney is going to have to spend dealing with your case, and without that information, there is no way to know.

There are things you can do to save money. Some of them are found in one of our previous blog posts, Six Ways to Save Money in Your Divorce or Custody Case. One of the biggest is: find a lawyer that you trust and ask questions along the way about the choices that need to be made, and how the decisions will impact both the cost on the front end — the attorneys’ fees — and the cost on the back end — the result.

If you would like to talk to one of the Beal Law Firm attorneys about representation, you can reach us at lawyers@dfwdivorce.com or call us at 817.261.4333 or 214.414.0418. You can always find us at www.dfwdivorce.com

Six Ways to Save Money in Your Divorce or Custody Case

Hiring a competent attorney for any type of case is expensive. This article is written assuming that you are going to hire an attorney for your divorce, custody or other family law case — whether you should is a topic for another day.

Now that you’ve gotten an attorney, here are some ways to save money:

1. Hire a good attorney, then listen to your attorney not your spouse or ex

It is amazing and unfortunate how many people will be in a huge battle with their ex or soon to be ex, yet believe everything the ex tells them, rather than listening to what their attorney says. If you don’t trust your attorney, get a new attorney. If you have an attorney that you trust, listen to him or her. It is highly unlikely that you can rely on what your ex says, if you’re at war.

2. Do what your attorney asks

During the case, your attorney will have a great many tasks for you to do — complete a timeline, answer various questionnaires, fill out an inventory, gather documents, etc. You don’t have to do anything, but if you don’t you are going to cost yourself a great deal of money, and maybe more. At a minimum, your attorney will have to spend time trying to solve the problem another way — without the information that he or she has asked you for. If you’ve been asked for something critical, and you don’t provide it, you could lose your entire case.

3. Send documents, photos, etc. in one email, rather than a bunch of emails

Your attorney will undoubtedly ask you to send him or her documents, photos, videos, etc. If you are providing hard-copies, when you deliver them, have them organized, but not to a crazy degree. If you organize them to the point that they cannot be easily copied, worked with, etc., you are actually costing yourself money. If you are sending the items by email, it will help if you send them in reasonably sized groups. That is, don’t send 1,000 documents in one email, but even more importantly don’t send one each in 1,000 different emails.

4. Don’t have your attorney draft an agreement until an agreement is reached

If you think that you have reached an agreement with your ex, that’s great. But, having your attorney draft a 70 page divorce decree, that then gets substantially changed a number of times, can cost you an unbelievable amount of money. Often, it’s best to bullet point tentative agreements and make sure that there is really a meeting of the minds before incurring the cost of a major drafting project.

5. Don’t fight any more than necessary and don’t fight over things that don’t matter

Fighting is expensive. It takes attorney time, and that’s what attorneys sell — so time is truly money. If something is worth fighting over, the cost may be worth it, but fighting needlessly or over things that really don’t matter is a way to waste an incredible amount of money. Spending $7,500.00 of attorneys’ fees to get a couch that you could replace for $750.00 is probably a really bad expenditure of money.

6. Do not use your attorney as a counselor

Most people know this, but it’s hard to remember it. Attorneys generally cost more than mental health professionals, and no matter how much you like your attorney, if the discussion you are having does not further the cause of your case, you will be far happier at invoice time if you have spent your time counseling with a friend or mental health professional, rather than your attorney.

Finally, remember: there’s saving money on the front end, and saving money on the back end. Any competent attorney can settle your case in a few days, if you are willing to give the other side everything that he or she wants. That may save you some attorneys’ on the front end, but cost you a fortune on the back end. So the bottom line is, look for realistic ways to save money, but be smart.

If you would like to talk to one of the Beal Law Firm attorneys about representation, you can reach us at lawyers@dfwdivorce.com or call us at 817.261.4333 or 214.414.0418. You can always find us at www.dfwdivorce.com.