Divorce Navigator Workshop #11: Finding An Attorney
Divorce Navigator Workshop #11
Finding An Attorney
00:00 Billie Tarascio: Hi. We’re here for our free divorce webinar or seminar. This is brought to you by Modern Law here… We are an Arizona Family Law firm. And this is just an informational session on finding an attorney, working with an attorney, understanding when you may need to change attorneys, how to interview attorneys. And then, also, it’s an open time for you to ask any questions that you have for an attorney, understanding that we are limited to talking about issues pertaining to Arizona law and focusing on family law. So, if you want to ask questions, you can either send them to us in Messenger, you can text them to us. Do you have access to that text line so you can see that if you need to?
00:51 Caitlin Lindahl: Yes. Yes.
00:52 Billie Tarascio: Great. So you can text them in to our main line which is 480-649-2905. Or you can message them in Facebook Messenger and we will anonymously go ahead and ask and answer those questions for you. Let’s see, what else? You need to know that we’re not your attorney, we’re not giving you legal advice. We’re just providing general legal information for you today. And with that, we’ll get going. Finding an attorney and choosing an attorney is a big decision. Whether or not you need one is in and of itself a big decision. And then choosing the right one can make all the difference in the world. I’m working with an attorney right now, I won’t say, well, it’s about a business issue. It’s not a big deal. It’s a transactional issue, I should say that I guess. But I don’t love it. I don’t love working with him. I find that I always have to like… I never… I hear from him every couple months, he sorta doesn’t keep me informed and it’s not great. It’s not awesome.
01:51 Billie Tarascio: But why don’t I change? Because changing attorneys is hard. You’ve invested money with them, they know your case, starting over takes time. So, finding the right attorney the first time is worth doing. And now, with this particular issue, my issue, my transactional issue, I figured, “Eh. Why does it really even matter? How much does it really matter which attorney I use?” Well, it matters and it matters even more when we’re talking about divorce and family law because this is the most personal thing that you’re going through and your attorney’s gonna be all up in every aspect of your business. So, you really need to trust them and you need to like them.
02:29 Billie Tarascio: I have… I talk about this in my book, “Decode Your Divorce“. So, we wrote a book for Arizona Family Law called “Decode Your Divorce”, that is… That lays out a road map of how, if you’re representing yourself, what to do. How to plan out what to expect, how to do sort of an intentional analysis of everything that… All the decisions you have to make and where you wanna be and then helping you develop an analysis or a framework to come with a plan to get there. And part of that is also determining how and if you need to use lawyers. But what you don’t wanna do is what a lot of people do, where they just sort of stumble through the process, the divorce process, and they end up maybe in a place they didn’t wanna be and spending more money than they wanted to spend and with an outcome that they never really wanted because they didn’t take the time to figure that out in the beginning.
03:26 Billie Tarascio: So, before you make any decisions at all, that’s what we need to do. We need to look at where do you want to end up? Assess your goals and your resources. That means, what are you trying to accomplish? What is most important to you? And then, what are your resources? And by resources, I mean financial resources, time… And how much time do you have to do this yourself, or are you going to need help? Also, do you have access to the documents that you might need or the information you might need? How familiar are you with your financial situation? And then gather, also, your emotional support resources, your family, your friends, people that you’re gonna need to have in your corner. And maybe that’s a lawyer, maybe it’s a document preparer. But you really wanna figure out, “Okay, what’s available to me?”
04:24 Billie Tarascio: And then you wanna move on to step two, planning for your finances. What does my budget look like right now? How much does it cost to run my house? And how much will it cost when I’m divorced or when I’m no longer living with my significant other? Or when we’re in two houses or when we have another baby, whatever the case is, we wanna have our financial plan. And then we also, third, wanna figure out our custody plan. And this is important because, if you know… In Arizona, we tend to really favor equal parenting time and joint custody and if you know that that’s very important to your spouse, then your options on where to live are affected. You can’t really practically have equal parenting time, if one person lives in Peoria and the other person lives in Mesa. It’s really difficult to get your kids to school and then you have to choose where they’re going to school. So, this is all really important to think about now, before you move, before you determine where you’re gonna go live before you pay your deposit.
05:22 Billie Tarascio: The next thing you wanna do is assess your balance sheet and get an idea of, “Okay, what do I have in terms of assets and what do I have in terms of debts?” You wanna have a pretty good idea of what you’re fighting over and what you’re dividing. I shouldn’t even say fighting over but what are you going to be dividing and how might that work? Next, you wanna to protect yourself. And next, that means having a safe and secure place to live. Securing your profile and your passwords online, on your Amazon account, your email account, that sort of thing. You’re gonna wanna make sure you have access to your bank accounts and credit card statements and bank statements. And then you wanna assemble your support team. Your support team is your friends and your family and professionals that are in your corner. So, this is kind of the step-by-step process that you should take before you make any rash decisions, if you can help it. Now, if you’re in a situation where you need to get out right now, you’re not in a safe place or it’s pretty unbearable emotionally, then maybe you get out, you get some space and then you do the process. But sooner rather than later, you wanna take a look at all these things.
06:41 Billie Tarascio: Can you do this without an attorney? Well, a lot of people do. Not everyone needs a lawyer. And there are things that lawyers are great at and times when lawyers are really, really important. And then there’s other times when you may not need a lawyer to represent you for everything. Maybe you just want a lawyer to consult you on a few things or look at your final documents that you’re drafting yourself. So, in this workshop, we’re gonna talk about whether or not you’re somebody who should be representing yourself, or what makes somebody a good candidate and what are some red flags to look out for. You wanna make this decision purposefully not accidentally. And that’s, I think, the point of this whole seminar is you can be in control of this process. You can make decisions, you don’t have to just let things happen to you.
07:38 Billie Tarascio: So, before you meet with an attorney, you wanna be prepared. You wanna know what questions you wanna ask, bring any past paperwork. So, if you have a decree and you’re looking to modify, bring that decree, bring your child support order, any records that you might think are important. We provide our potential clients who are coming in with a blog and a list of questions that they might consider. Some people fill it out in advance, other people just read it so that they can sort of jog things they might wanna talk about. And you’re gonna wanna ask lawyers things like, “Who’s gonna work on my case? Are my goals realistic?”
08:22 Billie Tarascio: Not always will the person that you’re meeting with in a consultation be the person that ends up representing you. And we do that pretty purposely here at Modern Law. We have quite a few different attorneys and depending on the type of case you have, your budget, your needs, one attorney may be better to work with you than another. It really depends on your particular issue. And so one of the things that I want all the attorneys doing here, who meet people in consultations, is really understanding the potential clients and then keeping in mind all of the different resources that we have here at Modern Law.
08:58 Billie Tarascio: Just because you met with Ashley doesn’t mean Ashley is the best fit. Maybe Kylie is a better fit or maybe you’re looking for a quick settlement of kind of some tricky personalities and Tracy is gonna be your best fit. So, that’s something to keep in mind and you wanna ask, “Who’s gonna work on my case?” Don’t be alarmed if it’s someone that’s not… That you’re not meeting with in your consultation. Just make sure that if you’re meeting with a firm and they’re changing… You’re not going to work with the person that you met with, that you know why. It needs to be for the right reasons, it needs to be because that other lawyer is a better fit for you.
09:36 Billie Tarascio: “Are my goals realistic?” This is important because whether your goals are realistic or not, we need to start out with understanding your goals. Then we can start talking strategy and figure out how to get there. And just because I meet with someone and what they want isn’t what a judge would order does not mean that we cannot find other ways and work towards making those goals a reality. But we’re going to want to come up with a strategy that is not linear; let’s put this case in front of a judge, if we know what the judge wants to do isn’t really what you’re looking for.
10:11 Billie Tarascio: “What are your average fee for cases like mine?” Oops, I didn’t mean to go forward. This is important. Your lawyer should be able to answer this. It’s… [chuckle] This is not a guarantee. Why are you giggling?
10:21 Caitlin Lindahl: ‘Cause I agree.
10:22 Billie Tarascio: It’s important, yeah. It’s not that you’re going to be guaranteed that your case is going to cost us a certain amount but we know that average divorce cases in our firm cost about $6500, that’s for a full divorce and that’s because we settle a whole lot of cases. If we know that your case is not gonna settle then we know it’s probably going to cost more but someone should be able… Someone with a lot of experience should be able to say, “In situations like this, here’s what I’ve seen in the past.” It’s not a guarantee and it’s not a prediction.
10:56 Billie Tarascio: “What does your fee include?” Are you paying an advanced fee into your trust account? Are you paying a flat fee? If you’re paying a flat fee, it’s crucial that you understand what is included in that flat fee. And most of the time, any problems that I see with lawyers and clients who have flat fees is not understanding exactly what’s included and what isn’t.
11:16 Billie Tarascio: “How will you solve these problems?” That’s the strategizing. “How do you think you can get this done for me?” If I wanna move out of state with my kids, that is a very, very difficult thing to accomplish. “What is it that you, lawyer, can tell me to make that case stronger? How might we accomplish that?” If they’re not able to… If they say to you, “That’s never gonna happen. You can’t get that.” You’re probably not talking to the right lawyer. If the answer is, “That’s very difficult to accomplish. Here are some things we need to think about and here’s some things that are gonna make that case stronger.” That’s a better answer. And you may decide then, not to move out of state, but someone needs to be creative enough to hear you and hear what you want and not just tell you what to expect based on what everybody else does.
12:04 Billie Tarascio: You are not everybody else, your case is not everybody else’s case and we lawyers can fall easily into the trap of just saying, “Well, here’s how it’s gonna be. We need to do what everybody else does.” And that’s not the case. And then, “How long will this take?” Again, we can’t guarantee an outcome as far as how long something’s gonna take but we can say, “Oh, the average divorce takes this long.” Or, “In situations like yours, here’s some ways we can speed it up.” The theme here is that if you have a super evasive lawyer who’s unwilling to make any commitments to you about anything, ask yourself why.
12:43 Billie Tarascio: “What’s the attorney’s track record? What’s their training? What’s their experience? How many cases have they handled? How many cases have they litigated? What types of cases have they litigated? Have they done cases like your’s before? Have they worked with, let’s say, court appointed advisors or reunification therapy? Have they worked with business evaluators or vocational experts? Do they do spousal maintenance and analysis and what has worked for them in the past?” You’re gonna wanna know this. You’re not going to wanna work, probably, with a lawyer who sort of dabbles in family law. Those can be the most dangerous, in my humble opinion. [chuckle]
13:23 Billie Tarascio: “What are billings about? How do billings work? What’s the fee structure? How does it look on a bill? How often can I expect to be billed?” You know how I was complaining about that lawyer that… My transaction lawyer? Yeah, well, probably ’cause I recently got a bill. And I recently got a bill after working with him for six months and this is the first bill I’ve gotten and that’s irritating. At Modern Law, we invoice our clients twice a month so that… And you know when. You know when to expect it and that that invoice will tell you exactly what we’ve done, exactly where your trust account is at. This is a way that your attorney should be responsible to you and accountable to you and communicating. How do they charge for things like copies and postage? One of my very favorite reviews that we just got is on Google and it’s from a gentleman who wrote in and was like, “I just love that you don’t charge us for copies and postage and mailing. And I feel like it’s really fair and really straightforward.” And that’s what we want to do and that’s what I think you should expect from any lawyer you work with.
14:33 Billie Tarascio: Get a lot of details. “How long is it gonna take me to get an appointment. Can I meet with my attorney by phone? Can I meet with my attorney via video conference? Can I text my attorney? Are you avail… What are your hours? Do you work regular 8:00-5:00? Do you have flexible hours? And then what problems do you foresee? Any hiccups? Anything I should look out for? Are you planning to take a month-long vacation to Europe?” Sometimes lawyers do that. “Do you have coverage? What happens if you get sick? Who’s gonna cover my case?” These are all great questions.
15:09 Billie Tarascio: “Do we litigate or do we settle?” Any… This is, again, total personal opinion, personal bias. Any lawyer who’s not talking about how to settle your case isn’t doing you any favors. People are happier when they settle. People get better outcomes when they settle. People who settle are less likely to go back to the court again and again for modifications and enforcement issues. If you have children, settling your case is setting up you and your children for a better future. So, if your lawyer is opposed to mediation, is opposed to sitting down for settlement conferences, is not sending letters to negotiate or having communications about settlement, he or she is not doing you any favors at all.
16:03 Billie Tarascio: Instead, I would ask your attorney, “Here’s my goal, here’s what I’m looking for, how are we gonna do it, how are we gonna get it done?” And with us at Modern Law, plan A is always, “How do we get it done outside of the legal system in a way that we can settle as quickly as possible?” And plan B is we litigate. And we do litigate plenty of cases. It’s not something that we are unfamiliar with, but it is always something we try to avoid because it costs a lot of money and it costs a ton of emotional resources. And those are emotional resources that you don’t have available for you when you go to work, or for your friends, or for your kids. It’s real. This is a real toll that we wanna keep in mind.
16:52 Billie Tarascio: We have values or a constitution that we live by and one of those is that we want the best possible long-term outcomes for families and if we believe that, then it means we are committed to settling cases. Sometimes you can’t always settle cases and you need to litigate and that’s the only way you can get the best outcome for a family, and you do it. But if your attorney is not talking to you about settlement, it’s time to start thinking about a new attorney.
17:21 Billie Tarascio: Stuff that you are gonna wanna mention to your attorney or any attorney that you’re interviewing, “Do you have a pending case number already or any hearings that are coming up?” This is really important because if you have a trial in a month, there are things due now. There are deadlines right now that the attorneys that you’re talking to need to know about. “Do you have an existing decree? Is this a IV-D case, so that the state is involved with collecting child support?” That’s important because if it’s a IV-D case, your family court judge won’t hear a child support issue. It’ll go in front of a IV-D commissioner. So, it’s really important and we have to serve the State. Be prepared to share all the details. I know that this is super personal and you’re talking about the most intimate details in your life.
18:21 Billie Tarascio: But, you need to share them because we learn things that you may not even think are relevant that can help us either settle your case or take the case in a totally different direction. So, come vulnerable, prepared to tell your story and your whole story. Some things that you might want to bring up, “Are there any are religious differences or disagreements about religion? What’s the resident status?” That means, where do you live now and how long have you lived here? If you’ve just moved to Arizona, you may not have met the residency requirements to file for divorce. But, you may have… There’s no residency requirements to file for a legal separation. So, if you and your spouse have just moved here and you know you wanna get a divorce, we can get that started by filing a legal separation and then later converting it to a divorce. Same thing with kiddos. Kiddos have to be in the state for six months if there’s no existing decree. So, if there’s nothing pending in any other state, no other orders in any other state, the state where the kiddos have lived for the last six months has jurisdiction. There’s some exceptions, but if you’ve just moved to the state that’s something you’re definitely gonna wanna talk about.
19:34 Billie Tarascio: Is there any criminal history on either side? That’s not to say that a 10-year-old MIP in college is going to really have an impact. It may not. Probably wouldn’t, but… MIP is Minor in Possession. I don’t even know if they say that here in Arizona. But when I was that age, I was in Oregon and we called them MIPs. [chuckle]
19:54 Caitlin Lindahl: I had to think about it for a minute.
19:58 Billie Tarascio: Do you remember that though? Yeah. A lot of people ended up with those. I did not. So… [laughter] Anyway. Do you or your spouse own a business or do you have an interest in a business? That’s something you’re gonna wanna absolutely bring up. Property out of state? Do you know of all of your accounts? What is the extent of your knowledge on your financial picture? Do you have any pending lawsuits or any personal injury issues or wrongful termination issues? Those are absolutely something we need to talk about. Is one of you financially dependent on the other? So do you support your spouse, or is your spouse supporting you? That’s absolutely something you’re gonna wanna bring up.
20:44 Billie Tarascio: People don’t like seeing attorneys. Makes sense. We’re expensive. It’s uncomfortable. You have to be all vulnerable. They’re gonna give you homework and tell you to bring in documents. But, don’t put it off. It’s really, really important. And your situation will only get better when you have a plan. Even if you don’t end up using a lawyer. When you leave a consultation, you should feel better. You should feel empowered, you should feel informed. And if you don’t, that’s a great indication that this is not the lawyer for you. Why do people procrastinate? Well, they’re intimidated or scared. If your lawyer is scary, again, don’t be with them. If your lawyer isn’t listening to you and talking to you, and truly seeking to understand your position, ’cause they’re intimidating or scary or mean or aggressive or bossy, don’t hire them. Or fire them. The stressed-out thing is real. When people are stressed, we scientifically make worse decisions.
22:01 Billie Tarascio: And it can be really embarrassing and uncomfortable. Or people think they can’t afford it, or they really can’t afford it. Figuring out a way to come up with the money for a consultation is usually a good idea. It’s usually not a waste of money. But there are a lot of other resources. So even if you’re not using an attorney, you don’t need to procrastinate. You can talk to a legal document preparer. You can do things like this, online free seminars and there’s a ton of… We have an entire series that covers everything from this to the nuts and bolts of spousal maintenance and property donations. So you can get a lot of that information online, specific to your jurisdiction. You can get books like the Decode Your Divorce book. We’re happy to send that out or you can pop by our office and we’ll give it to you. Did I already say legal document preparers?
22:58 Caitlin Lindahl: Mm-hmm.
22:58 Billie Tarascio: Those are great, those are trained.
23:01 Caitlin Lindahl: They’re legit?
23:03 Billie Tarascio: They’re legit. This is a great option for people who maybe don’t need a lawyer to do everything. Or for people who can’t afford a lawyer to do everything. Legal document preparers are trained, experienced paralegals who’ve worked in family law who can help you prepare for trial and draft your documents. They can’t represent you in mediation or court, there’s a lot they can do.
23:34 Billie Tarascio: Should you dump your attorney? I get it. Dumping your attorney sucks. I don’t wanna dump my attorney, even though I’m not thrilled. So there’s probably some things you can do short of dumping your attorney to make the relationship better, and I probably need to do that. But, if your attorney does not inspire confidence, you may wanna get a second opinion. If your attorney was not attentive, or didn’t listen to you, this is a big problem. How can your attorney represent you if they don’t understand you? Their job is to represent you, not just make decisions for your life. They’re representing your case. If you didn’t click… Especially in family law, you want to have a connection with someone. And it’s one of the reasons that we’re so clear about our values here at Modern Law. We wanna work with clients who share our values. That makes for happier clients and it makes for better outcomes. But there’s a lot of firms that have completely different values than we do, and they do things differently, and you may click better with those types of firms. So finding the right fit is really important. Most people, many people just look and see, “Okay, who’s the best lawyer I can get?” And I do want you to get a good lawyer, but I want you to get more than just a good lawyer. I want you to get a good lawyer who understands you, who will listen to you and who will truly represent you.
24:53 Billie Tarascio: If your lawyer’s disorganized, this is a problem. You have to be organized in order to keep track of all of the details that we need to keep track of. If you don’t understand him or her because they don’t speak clearly or they’re speaking above you, or they’re not taking the time to explain in words that you understand, that’s a problem. If calls are not being returned, that’s a problem. And if you’re not sure about your charges, or you’re not getting your invoices regularly and you don’t know how much this is gonna cost, that’s a problem. These are all good indications that it might be a good idea to switch attorneys.
25:27 Billie Tarascio: When you’re talking with an attorney, he or she should be crystal clear about how they deal with details. Like charging for copies, courtroom rates verses office rates, hourly billing or flat fee. Is there a written agreement for work scope? That’s important. Last thoughts. False assumptions about lawyers hurt people. You could end up… Don’t avoid lawyers for the wrong reasons. Lawyers are there to help you, and they can be critical when you’re going through a massive transaction and making big, big decisions that have long lasting consequences, but there are options and you’re not stuck.
26:13 Billie Tarascio: If you hate your lawyer, get a second opinion. If you don’t need a lawyer, look at a doc preparer or all of the free resources that you have, and find someone. Read reviews. That’s the other thing. It’s not even in here but, reviews are great. Because they’ll… If you really read the reviews, you don’t just look at how many stars there are, but you read the reviews, you’ll find out what’s important to those lawyers and those clients. Some lawyer’s reviews, they’ll have a ton of great reviews and it’ll say “great outcome” or I don’t know. You can get a feel for if the attorney is sort of a high volume low touch, or super high touch, or if they litigate a lot of cases. Like, you see reviews that are like “I had this attorney represent me for five years”. And that’s what all of the lawyers, that’s what all the reviews say? Well, then you know this lawyer takes on very few cases that are very high dollar and they litigate. Something to think about.
27:11 Billie Tarascio: That’s it for me today. We have time for Q and A. And I know we’ve had a lot of questions come in since the last time that we did our seminar. So let’s just dive into that.
27:26 Caitlin Lindahl: All right. Trying to decide which one to start with ’cause that’s more fun. How about this one? Not able to attend this today due to work. I was just looking to see if you have anything that states the Arizona requirements for what makes a suitable home for a child? I have a CAA, but I’m not, I can’t remember what that stands for, coming up due to an interview to inspect my house. After my wife left, I could only afford a one bedroom, so I want to make sure that I can be with my kids and I want to understand what might be frowned upon and what would be unfit for my kids.
28:18 Billie Tarascio: Okay, that’s a great question. This comes up all the time. Happens all the time. Let me just end this, so you don’t have to just stare at that. Is that better?
28:26 Caitlin Lindahl: Lemme put that… [28:29] ____.
28:29 Billie Tarascio: Just check it out. So, this happens a lot. Someone will move out of a house, and you’re going from a household where both people’s incomes are supporting one household or one income is supporting one household, and then when someone moves out, either two incomes are supporting two households or one income is supporting two households. So it’s not unusual for somebody to move from a four-bedroom house to a two-bedroom apartment, and people want to know if that’s okay, can you have your three kids with you over at your two-bedroom apartment? Will that be acceptable? It’s not an easy question or an easy answer. Because it really does depend on the actual setup. What I tell my clients is, it’s a good idea for you to have designated space for your children. Whenever possible, they should have their own beds. But at the same time, you need to do the best you can within the budget that you have. And it’s not realistic for you to go out and pay for two four-bedroom houses. So it’s this fine line between making sure you’re as set up as you possibly can be to make your children comfortable with staying within your budget. I don’t know if that answers the question… And he is talking to the CAA or court-appointed advisor. That person is really looking for will your child be safe and comfortable, not how pretty is your house. So I hope that that helps.
30:23 Caitlin Lindahl: I think that was some good information. What about gifts between the spouses during the course of the marriage?
30:32 Billie Tarascio: Okay, great. Good question. So Arizona’s a community property state, which means that anything acquired during marriage is owned by the community or the unit of spouses. The exceptions are inheritances and gifts. So if you get a gift from your spouse, it’s not community property. Now if community property purchased the gift that goes to the spouse, that’s a little less clear, but let’s look at engagement rings or wedding rings. Those stay to the spouse that has the ring. It would be unusual for that to be valued and divided. So, first question is what’s the source of the funds that purchased the gift, or what are the circumstances surrounding the gift. Is it really a gift? Is it a car? Most of the time, cars, even if they’re gifts, are considered community property. It really depends on what we’re talking about. Do we know any more details? No? Okay. Well, if you’re watching live… I don’t know if you sent that in now or if you sent it in earlier, but if you’re watching live and you could tell us a little bit more about the gift, the timing of the gift, that would be good. That’d be helpful.
32:02 Caitlin Lindahl: This one is sort of an interesting one. What would happen if I quit my current job to be a part of the family business, as far as child support payments go?
32:17 Billie Tarascio: That’s a great question. The question is what happens if I quit my job and I join the family business. The assumption… He didn’t say this, and I don’t even know if it’s a he. Do you know if it’s a he or she? Can’t tell?
32:37 Caitlin Lindahl: Can’t tell.
32:37 Billie Tarascio: Okay. So the assumption is that you’re going to be making less money, although that’s not entirely clear from the question. But we can assume that because they’re wondering what happens to child support when they leave their job.
32:55 Caitlin Lindahl: Yeah, I think that basically they’re gonna do this startup business, it seems, with the family. And especially in that first year, they’re sort of wondering how that works with child support ’cause the first year is always… A lot of money’s going out, but usually not a lot of money is coming in to balance out.
33:15 Billie Tarascio: Right. So the voluntary reduction of your income can be a real issue when it comes to child support, and a judge is gonna look at why. Why have you voluntarily reduced your income, and is it a legitimate purpose? And most of the time, it really depends [chuckle], really depends. If you have quit your job and you’ve started a business, it depends on the judge, it depends on the job, it depends on the person. How much leeway is the judge gonna give this person? How long have they been starting their business? How much did they voluntarily reduce their income? Are they really saying that they quit their job voluntarily and now can’t support their kids? ‘Cause that’s not gonna go over well. Did you go back to school? So this is a very judge-specific question. And one of the things that I would recommend this person do is talk to a local attorney about the local judge, and see what this person has done in the past, and then also look at the facts very specifically. How speculative is this business? Are you investing in something that’s gonna create a better future for you? Are you freeing up more time to spend with your kids? What are the reasons for your voluntary reduction income? And I can’t tell you how it’s gonna show. [laughter]
34:46 Caitlin Lindahl: So this is sort of a complicated question, in my opinion.
34:53 Billie Tarascio: Okay.
34:53 Caitlin Lindahl: So they’re kinda looking for some insight on maybe how to handle it. Essentially, their nine-year-old son ends up living with them 90% of the time, some are weekends, most holidays. They pay child support. Their ex is a little bit mentally unstable, and she herself has been in and out of abusive relationships, but the kid starts school tomorrow. The mother, the ex, hadn’t registered the kid anywhere for any school. So they did, but now the ex is sort of hysterically saying that the kid can’t go to school where they ended up registering the child. They’re just a little unclear sort of what to do.
35:41 Billie Tarascio: Okay. So the situation is you have a divorced couple or a couple that was never married. And there is a court order in place for some parenting time between both mom and dad. Dad and his new significant other have ended up having the child, not according to the parenting plan, but 90% of the time, because mom is mentally unstable. And we don’t know if mom has sole custody or joint custody, legal decision making… We don’t know. But let’s say… Let’s assume they have joint legal decision making. Kid’s nine. Sounds like… So Dad and his new wife or new girlfriend register the child for school. Sounds like they’ve moved schools, otherwise we wouldn’t have a issue. So they unilaterally decided to move schools because they de facto have had the child 90% of the time, and presumably it’s more convenient.
36:47 Caitlin Lindahl: Yeah, the only other thought that I had was that maybe, based on the question, Mom was supposed to register. Maybe mom does have decision making, but Mom didn’t actually execute. Because they said she hasn’t done it…
37:03 Billie Tarascio: For whatever reason, she wasn’t registered.
37:06 Caitlin Lindahl: Kind of seems like it could go a lot of ways, unfortunately, with that.
37:10 Billie Tarascio: Right. So the kiddo wasn’t registered for school. We don’t if she’s registered at a new school or an old school, but I’m assuming it’s a new school. Otherwise Mom wouldn’t care. And now Mom’s having a conniption fit. And what is the question?
37:27 Caitlin Lindahl: Mom doesn’t want the kid to go to school. What are they… If the kid’s with them, it sounds like outside of the arrangement…
37:40 Billie Tarascio: Okay. So at this point, you really need to consider modifying. Okay? The current plan isn’t working for you. You’re in violation of the court order. Either because you failed to exercise joint legal decision making, because you failed to communicate with Mom. And you have to. You have that legal decision making, or you don’t even have joint legal decision making, and you just risked your kid anyway. You did the right thing. You gotta get your child in school, but you don’t want to be in violation of a court order, because it’s just risky. And some judges really, really don’t like it. It’s a court order. It’s a real order. You have to follow the order. Especially if Mom’s gonna have a conniption fit about it. So it’s time to go back and modify and get an order as soon as possible that this child would go to school. And probably that… It’s a “she”, right? The child?
38:27 Caitlin Lindahl: It didn’t… No…
38:28 Billie Tarascio: It didn’t say? That your nine-year-old is with you more of the time while Mom figures out what she’s doing. Any others? Maybe a last one?
38:46 Caitlin Lindahl: Yeah. Would you like a… I think this… This is a good one.
38:51 Billie Tarascio: Okay.
38:52 Caitlin Lindahl: Sorry, I got this thing to help… Does divorce before or after birth, make sense?
39:05 Billie Tarascio: Good question. So you’re pregnant, and you know you want a divorce. Or she’s pregnant, and you know you want a divorce. It doesn’t really matter legally. You’re gonna end up divorced either way. And paternity is determined based on when you were married and the child was conceived. Now, practically speaking, sharing custody, or parenting time with a newborn is real tough. And in my experience this goes a couple ways. If this is the third or fourth kid, you and your spouse probably have a pretty good rhythm for how you have chosen to parent your babies. And different couples do this different ways. In a lot of households, newborns are quite literally attached to their mom for anywhere between six weeks, until Mom goes back to work, to one year to two years.
40:27 Billie Tarascio: If I was talking to this man or woman, I would ask, “How have you done this in the past with your spouse? And has that worked? And can we figure out a way to get divorced and leave that intact?” Because whatever decisions you made usually represented what the two of you thought was the best interest of your children when you were married. And as much as possible, if you got that part right… If that part went okay… If you could live with the way that you chose to parent your children while you were together, you should try to do that while you’re moving forward. But these cases are very, very hard. And there are some judges who will say, “I don’t care that you’re breastfeeding. Get ’em out. Dad’s getting equal parenting time.” And there’s other judges who want to see a more gradual plan to separate mom and baby. I just think these questions are better answered by parents, who love their children. Not judges. And I have four kids, so I know that my husband and I figured out how we wanted to parent our babies, and I would not want a judge telling us how that needed to go. It’s kind of a heavy one.
42:01 Caitlin Lindahl: It is, can I ask a quick follow up to that?
42:03 Billie Tarascio: Go for it.
42:04 Caitlin Lindahl: So let’s add in the part where maybe they, he is… It’s the first baby and he’s sort of denying that he is the dad now, so…
42:19 Billie Tarascio: Oh yeah. That happens, that happens. So you wanna get divorced because well, [chuckle] we found out that your wife was sleeping with somebody else and now she’s pregnant and you don’t know if it’s yours. Do you file for divorce now or later? It doesn’t matter. You can file for divorce now, you can file for divorce later, either way, you’re gonna wanna have a paternity test. Paternity is basically in dispute. Although, you have some options. There are times when this happens, both mom and dad know that husband is not dad and they both choose to put dad on the birth certificate. Dad legally has paternity and dad is the legal father. That is absolutely an option, if that’s what mom and dad want. The State’s interest is in stability and support for the kid, and so the state… Yeah, all day will accept that. But if real bio dad comes up and says “hey I’m the dad. I want a paternity test”, then you have an issue.
43:34 Billie Tarascio: And you know what else is really hard about those cases? Is those parents have not worked together to figure out how they want to parent their children. And moms can be possessive of babies and dads can be insensitive to mommy bonds. Probably gonna get tomatoes thrown at me. Here’s where I intervene.
44:03 Billie Tarascio: This is like… I can tell you that I was very attached to my babies and had somebody ripped them apart for… Ripped them away from me for long periods of time when they were newborns, I just… It wouldn’t have worked for me. There are other moms who don’t do it that way, and dads are absolutely as involved as moms are from day one and spend as much time with babies. You get to figure it out. It’s just hard when mom and dad don’t trust each other and there’s a baby involved. I guess one of the things I would urge is patience. It might feel like all these decisions have to made immediately and it’s the end of the world and if dad doesn’t get equal time with baby then they won’t let dad… You have to figure out what you can live with and what your mom can live with and I don’t pity you. It’s a really really hard situation.
45:11 Billie Tarascio: Okay. Any other questions before we let people get back to their lunch?
45:17 Caitlin Lindahl: I don’t see. [45:19] ____.
45:19 Billie Tarascio: Great. We tackled them all. Thank you so much. We will see you back in a couple weeks. Send in your questions and we’ll also post this and all of the others to the website so you can get any questions that you have answered. Thanks so much. Bye.