Through the years clients have come to my office for advice regarding family law matters such as divorce and child custody. The same statements have been repeated by many of them. They are worthy of mention, a little clarification, and perhaps a chuckle or two.
#10. “I bought it with my money.”
Texas is one of a handful of community property states. In other words, no matter who earned the money during the marriage, the asset is community property and, therefore, could be awarded to either spouse. The concept of “my money” is only relevant in a divorce if you had the money prior to the marriage and kept it segregated, you inherited it or someone gave it to you as a gift.
#9. “I did, but not in front of the kids.”
When courts consider which parent should have primary custody of the children, behaviors, habits and decisions of the parents are weighed heavily by judges to determine the best interest of the child. I tell clients that EVERTHING they do, every decision they make, affects their ability to parent, whether the action was in the presence of the child or not.
#8 “I just want her to get what’s coming to her.”
Clients who approach family law litigation with the goal of retribution and reckoning against the other spouse will usually be disappointed. Judges encourage spouses to mediate or settle their differences. They generally do not favor the party who tries to use the courtroom used as a platform for revenge on the other party.
#7 “I did, but he doesn’t know that.”
When clients believe nondisclosure of relevant information is acceptable, I advise them quickly this is not true. Through the process of discovery, questions will be asked that require complete truth and veracity. Deceitfulness, especially in the form of perjury will not be tolerated by the Courts and can be criminally prosecuted.
#6 “My mom will be our best witness.”
I hope so. I would be very disappointed if your mother was not supportive of you. However, it is no surprise to our judges that your family member believes you are a good parent or deserve the lion’s share of the community property. Independent, unbiased witnesses who have no reason to care about the outcome are much more compelling as character witnesses.
#5 “I know little Johnny wants to live with me because I asked him.”
Counselors and social scientists uniformly agree that discussion of the litigation with the child is not in the child’s best interest. Most courts even include an injunction in the initial order forbidding parents from discussing the litigation with the child. Children do not want to disappoint either parent, so their statements to the parent may not be candid. In the event the child is old enough to verbalize his/her opinion on custody or visitation, securing their input from a counselor or even a conference with the judge is the best option.
#4 “Yes, but they can’t prove it. I get paid in cash.”
Once again, the truth will come out. For some reason, many clients believe that what the other side can “prove” is most important in determining their income. Discovery questions, deposition questions and live testimony are all taken UNDER OATH. Rest assured, the other side will ask what your income is—from any source—and in whatever form you receive it, including cash. If you lie, not only will you lose credibility and risk perjury charges, but you may lose your lawyer as well. Ethical rules do not permit attorneys to present evidence they know to be false.
#3 “I paid $2000 for that TV!”
At the time of the divorce, inventories, or lists with values of assets and debts, are exchanged between the parties. Inevitably, clients will present their inventory with the amount they paid for the item or the current replacement value of the item, as if it was new. For divorce purposes, the value is the amount that a willing buyer would pay for the used item today.
#2 “I’m sure he is bipolar.”
The ability to diagnose a mental health condition must be a skill bestowed upon divorcing spouses because many come to my office confident in their diagnosis. Most of the time, no diagnosis of the condition has been made by a professional, but they just “know” because they “live with them”. Mental health conditions, if diagnosed or confirmed, are certainly relevant concerns of the courts, but overused terminology and non-verified conclusions will cast a shadow over the entire testimony of the accusing spouse.
#1 “I’d rather pay you than pay her.”
I chose this as the #1 quote because I hear it so often from both male and female clients. This is the perfect example of how entrenched many people become in the process of divorce. I remind them that the goal is a fair and equitable division of the marital estate and a proper calculation of income for child support. The process is not about the animosity you may feel for your spouse, although that may be WHY you are getting a divorce. The legal process of divorce is not about vengeance or spite, it is about resolution of the issues in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. Hopefully, at the conclusion of the divorce, you will have money for traveling or spending on your children, rather than paying your lawyer protracted litigation fees.