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214 - Q&A - How do you navigate the divorce process without income?

214 - Q&A - How do you navigate the divorce process without income? Image

10/28/2021 3:00 pm

While the original intent of the show was to take on a series of questions, Leh and Todd decided to focus in on question because there were multiple layers. They explored each layer one by one and discussed the nuances presented.

The questioner is a full time student whose husband was the sole provider. She has two special needs kids and did not want him to have any overnights with the children. She wanted to know how she could navigate this process without any income. Leh and Todd discussed how to possibly work on her marriage first, and failing that, teach her husband more about the kids needs. They explained how taking these steps are actually helping her divorce case if she is unsuccessful in turning things around with her husband. They discussed what Georgia law allows to get access to attorney's fees and what the Court might do with her request to limit his parenting time.

Transcript

Leh Meriwether:

Welcome, everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. We are your co-hosts for Divorce Team Radio, a show sponsored by the divorce and family law firm of Meriwether and Tharp. Here you will learn about divorce, family law, and from time-to-time, even tips on how to save your marriage if it's in the middle of a crisis. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online, atlantadivorceteam.com. Todd, I'm excited about today's show.

Todd Orston:

Me? Hey, you're like a puppy. You're always excited, but-

Leh Meriwether:

I don't mind. I'm just excited.

Todd Orston:

Yeah, but I'm excited as well. I love when people either reach out or we take questions that people have about the process and we answer. We give information. And I mean, that's what the show is about. So anytime, we're giving out that information. I'm excited as well.

Leh Meriwether:

Yeah, I'm partly excited because we got a great review recently. Wonderful x1000s says, "Priceless. This is by far the best podcast in dealing with divorce issues, concerns. They are fantastic in their ability to dumb down the court's process and laws regarding divorce for us who don't quite understand lawyer legal speak. They are able to take a major and serious life event and make it interesting and entertaining. The banter is icing on the cake. Love listening to you and love learning new ways to help my divorce issues. Your podcast is invaluable. Thank you."

Well, thank you. That was nice.

Todd Orston:

That is amazing. That is awesome. You know what? Now I'm going to do another show. All right. That has motivated me...

Leh Meriwether:

That's just motivation. Okay.

Todd Orston:

... so I'm going to keep going. No, but that really was wonderful. I mean, and the name is so apropos, so...

Leh Meriwether:

It is.

Todd Orston:

... thank you, thank you very much.

Leh Meriwether:

And I will say it's nice to hear, because when we first started the show, we were debating whether to include the humor in it because it's such a serious subject. But it's nice to see that it helps people listen to it. It keeps it entertaining, because I know, me, personally, serious subjects can bore me really fast, but if you can add a little humor in there, I'll actually listen, so.

Todd Orston:

Yeah, I mean to be fair, I laugh at Leh all the time, because he's so boring, so it comes naturally to me.

Leh Meriwether:

I just make it easy for you?

Todd Orston:

You do, you do. It's silver platter time. I appreciate it. No, I am just, I'm kidding, I'm kidding.

Leh Meriwether:

So, we've been actually thinking about some future shows we're just going to share. We don't like the whole tease here. But we have been focusing a lot on trial, even though most of the reason we do this show is so you can avoid trial. But sometimes understanding of this often, sometimes it gives you a certain level of confidence through the process where the person is like, "Yeah, I don't want to go to trial with that person. They're very confident in their position." I've seen that have a dramatic impact in negotiations that they're so confident in their position, it creates doubt on the other side. And cocky, that's another whole another ball of wax, but confidence.

So, we're going to, we haven't done it yet, just because it takes time to sort of flesh something like this out, but we're going to do one on how to introduce evidence into court with live examples. We're going to discuss how a powerful direct examination wins cases over brilliant cross-examination. But we will have some shows on really good cross-examination techniques, so that when you're sitting on the stand, you might recognize someone, who may be walking you down a path, so that you can give the right answer or you can, yeah, give the right answer, in the proper way as well.

So then, we're going to circle back, talk about settlement tactics because that's your nine times out of 10 the best thing, the best way to deal with a divorce is to resolve it rather than litigate it. So, we're going to talk about settlement tactics, mediation, mediation preparation, negotiating your case before it launches into an all-out war. And I know we've got some guests that we're working on lining up including some guests for coparenting because I know one of our favorite guests about coparenting she's launched her own podcast with another co-host that can be.

We don't talk about that the whole coparenting. We touch on it from time to time, but that's a whole another arena that I'm glad that they're actually spending, putting this show together. So, we're going to have them come on, talk about their show, give some great coparenting tips. But I mean, at the end of the day, let's face it, if you've got kids in the middle of, learning how to coparent is just as important, if not more important than, I'm putting in air quotes here, "winning your case."

Todd Orston:

Well, and also you can't sort of extricate one from the other. It's obviously, the main priority is children, so learning how to coparent, mandatory. But coparenting, what people, I so often don't understand, that's one of the primary things courts look for. When they're trying to make decisions regarding custody, it is all about, "Are these parents going to be able to work together? Are they going to be able to make decisions together for the betterment of the children?"

So, coparenting, when you might have a parent who always went to the doctor's appointments and this and that. But then you start looking at their behavior as a coparent and if they're just completely shutting down the other party, the court may be inclined to give that other party custody, simply because you're not working well as a coparent. So, it really is important on many levels.

Leh Meriwether:

Yep. And then we're also going to have a show coming up about how to save your marriage if you're on the precipice of a divorce. So, those are some of the upcoming shows we're working on and will be coming out throughout the course of the rest of this year. But today, we're going to take questions. So, we've had some questions and we're going to answer them. And in fact, this next question is and we're going to spend some time on it, partly because there's multiple layers here and I've had a case that this question reminded me a lot of. It kind of prompted some future shows as well that the concepts of, we're going to talk about here.

So, here's the question, "How can I file for and successfully navigate the divorce process when I don't currently have income. I'm a full-time college student, a senior. My husband is the sole provider. We have two special needs kids that make the situation even trickier. I don't want him to be able to keep them overnight. He cannot handle their meds and the care they need for more than a few hours." So, I think there's a few parts to this.

Todd Orston:

Yeah, there's a lot to unpack there. Look, the... all right, so let's deal with the financial side first. All right. "I'm a full time college student, a senior. My husband is the sole provider." So, basically, what I'm hearing there is, "I am anticipating divorce and some of these issues we're going to have to deal with may be tricky. That there may be, for lack of a better way of putting it, a fight, but I have no money. I am completely dependent on my spouse, because I'm in that student role."

Okay. Well, it would be irresponsible of me to ignore the financial limitations that people have. In other words, if you find yourself in a situation where you can't get help, meaning pay for an attorney and get the help that you want and need then maybe it's not the right time to file. But the flip side is sometimes people don't have that luxury, right? They can't just say, "Okay, I'll put it off for six months or a year or whatever, until I am on my financial feet."

But absolutely, I will say, timing, sometimes, if not all the time, timing is key, so you have to think about these things. I don't care where you are in your life, whether you're a student or not, whether you are completely dependent on your spouse or they are dependent on you or whatever, we all have to deal with finances. And if you go into this process half-cocked or unprepared, then bad things can happen, right? You won't be prepared. And you're therefore not going to probably present the right case or the right evidence in the right way.

Leh Meriwether:

So, start with, all right, let's assume he files for divorce and so, she doesn't have control of the process. Meaning, she didn't get to choose the timing of it. So, what can she do to basically be able to handle a divorce?

Todd Orston:

Sure.

Leh Meriwether:

Let's start there. And then on the flip side, we're going to talk about if she's controlling the timing of it.

Todd Orston:

Yep. All right. So, obviously some of that controls taken away from her if something is filed by the other party. So first of all, obviously, look to family, look to friends, credit cards can be used, things like that to go and get the help that you need to retain an attorney. But if you are like, "Look, Todd, that sounds wonderful, but I magically can't make all of that money up here. I don't have family and friends to lean on you," so on and so forth. You can still get help. At the very least, pay for an hour of time. Sit down with an attorney, present some of the issues so that you can start to protect yourself, okay?

If you can't afford to have someone standing next to you representing you, I get it. Unfortunately, there are many people that fall into that category. That doesn't mean that you can't go online. Listen to podcasts. I'm not even saying ours. I mean, listen to ours, but listen to anything out there to educate yourself. Don't sit there and play victim and say, "Well, I don't have money, so I can't get help." Help yourself. And at the very least go and talk to an attorney and say, "Hey, these are the issues I'm expecting. What should I be thinking about?

Leh Meriwether:

When we come back, we're going to continue to explore this question.

I just wanted to let you know that if you ever wanted to listen to this show live, you can listen at 1:00 AM on Monday mornings WSB. So, you can always check us out there as well.

Todd Orston:

Better than like counting sheep, I guess, right?

Leh Meriwether:

That's right.

Todd Orston:

You can turn on the show and we'll help you fall asleep.

Leh Meriwether:

There you go.

Todd Orston:

I'll talk very soft.

Leh Meriwether:

Welcome back, everyone. This is Leh and Todd, and we are your co-hosts for Divorce Team Radio, a show sponsored by the divorce and family law firm of Meriwether and Tharp. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com. And if you want to read a transcript of this show or others, you can find it at divorceteamradio.com.

All right. Today, we are answering questions and we got a really interesting question that we are diving deep into. So basically, just recap real quick. A full-time college student, senior. Husband is the sole provider. There's two special needs kids. She does not believe that he can handle them. And so, she's trying to understand how to successfully navigate the divorce process when she doesn't currently have income. So, Todd touched on some things she can do independently.

And so, I'm going to add to it. So, in Georgia, I don't know what state it comes from, but in Georgia, there's actually a statute out there. And the point of the statute is to create an even playing field. So, let's say for example that and we're approaching this from two scenarios. One where she doesn't have control of the timing, because the husband has filed for divorce and then we're going to follow that up with what do we do when she has control of the timing, and she wants to file for divorce.

So, we're on the first one right now. She can petition the court for the court to order him to pay for her lawyer as well, because the court is not going to want to see one party represented and the other not. And especially when the one party has absolute has control and access to the finances. Some judges are very, they believe that this is extremely important, and the state legislature thinks is important, too. That's why they have the statute.

I had a case once where the judge ordered, I'm not saying it's going to happen in your case, or in every case, but the husband had pulled money out of his IRA to pay for his lawyer, so he pulled half of it out. And so, the judge ordered him to pull the other half out to pay for her legal fees. So, he didn't have enough cash flow to pay all the bills and pay for his attorney that's why he accessed his IRA. And so the judge said, "All right. Well, hey, fair is fair. Here's the statute. Based on the statute, you got to pull the rest out to pay for her legal fees." And so, that helped actually settled the case, because he was worried that things were getting much, much more expensive and have to liquidate something else to pay for things and it helped facilitate a nice settlement.

So, there is an opportunity depending on the laws of the state you're in to get access to fees to cover your divorce, your attorney. Now, that money may be limited. So, everything that Todd said is still critically important because you need to have the best understanding of the legal process and what you need to do to minimize the amount of times you communicate with your lawyer and how much they need to be involved, so that you can maximize their legal advice and not call them for every little question.

Todd Orston:

Yeah, the bottom line is that the Help is out there. Information is out there and you have to. We've done shows on this and we've talked about this in shows that weren't dedicated to the topic, but you find the right source and spend some time. And I understand it. It's not something you want to do. It is something you will probably, in terms of procrastination, you will find anything and everything that you can do other than spend time sitting down, educating yourself about the divorce process, but you have to.

All right. If you think that this is coming, sit down, start to educate yourself about the four core areas of a divorce. Figure out if there are custody issues, what do you need to deal with physical custody, legal custody, alimony, child support, division of property and then, educate yourself. Obviously if you have the financial ability to hire an attorney and you can just look at that attorney and say, "Educate me." But even if you do that, I mean, even if you have the ability to hire, it's still in your best interest. Sit down, educate yourself, because you're going to save a lot of money. If you are going to that attorney already educated, already somewhat knowledgeable about the process, the issues, all of that. You don't have an attorney that needs to start from scratch.

Leh Meriwether:

Right. Man, if we had time I would love to, one of us needs to go through all our shows, because we're I don't know. I think this is show 214? So, I'd go through them, like organize them, so like every stage of the process.

Todd Orston:

Absolutely, Absolutely.

Leh Meriwether:

I mean, you could listen to this show, I mean, just think about each show, when you take out the commercial breaks is about 44 minutes. I mean, 200 times 44, that's a lot of, that's-

Todd Orston:

That's like a million and a half. I don't know. I'm-

Leh Meriwether:

That's a lot of that's a lot of legal advice. I know it's general and obviously, you got to make sure it applies to your state and we're coming from the perspective, mostly of Georgia, sometimes we referenced Florida, because I'm licensed in Florida. But that will get I mean, take care of 50% of, maybe 75% of your work right there just listening to the show.

All right. So, let's flip it now. Let's take it from the perspective that she's the one who wants to file for divorce. And this is actually going to take even more time to break through. So, I don't know the full situation. Obviously, the question was very short. But not knowing all the details. and I'm not trying to be insensitive here, so keep this in mind. One of the things she can do is really work hard to, because basically, a divorce is not going to, a lot of times it doesn't fix the problems that people have. So, maybe the problem is I don't know, again, maybe the problem is she's disappointed by her husband, that he is not being a more involved father with her children.

I mean, because an involved father is going to figure out how to give these kids their medicine and take care of them. Maybe he's not showing up to the doctor's appointments. So, I would strongly encourage that she reach out to the doctors. And I mean not the doctors, I'm sorry, to her husband and I would do it, I hate this, but I think it needs to be in writing and it can be very subtle. Meaning, "Hey, I just, I know you're struggling with our children." You need to think through this question the way you write it, so don't just throw something out there real quick without giving a lot of forethought.

But just basically say, "Hey, look, their doctor's appointment is coming up and I was thinking about scheduling it in two weeks on this date. Is there any way that could work for you? Can you come with me? I'd really like to have you there? And if it doesn't work, can you give me three dates and times that work for you and I'll try to schedule the appointment, so you could be there."

Going back to the coparenting thing that we talked about. You are showing your willingness and desire for him to be involved in your children. So, reach out.

Todd Orston:

Yeah, it's a win-win. It's a win-win. Yeah.

Leh Meriwether:

It's a win-win, because maybe that's, maybe he starts, he gets to the doctor and he hears all the things that your children need to overcome and he gets actively involved in their lives, which would be a great thing because that maybe saves your marriage. Again, I don't know what the issues are. I'm making a lot of assumptions here, but perhaps that even saves your marriage, which is an excellent thing for your children.

I'll give an example of why it's so helpful at the end of this, but start there. Ask him if he'll go to counseling with you, marriage counseling if he was interested. And if he is interested in it, find three options and let him pick, so he feels like he's part of the process. You're not thrusting someone on him. You want him involved in this process. So, but let's say, "Well, I've tried that before, he just won't do it." Try again, and here's why.

You get that email out there. He emails back saying or maybe he doesn't email back, but he's like, "No, you just take care of it." Or maybe he says something like, "I don't think they have, this is something they'll grow out of." Now, you have something to cross examine him on at court, because I had something extremely similar to this years ago where the husband was not active in this child's life and the child had serious special needs and he just want to 50/50 custody. He wanted overnights. He wanted no restrictions. And on cross examination, I was able to show the court that he had no interest in their medical care and what was wrong with his son. He had no interested and he didn't want to go and the judge saw it.

Now, the judge said, ordered him that if he wanted to have parenting time that he had to go to these doctor's appointments and he had to go to therapy sessions. If he wanted to have 50/50 time with his child, he needed to understand the medical limitations of the child and if he wanted, and so, he set the bar. He said, "At some point, you're going to have like eight months." I can't remember what it was. It was so long ago, but it was maybe six months out or 12 months out. "You're going to have overnights, but you have to go to these many appointments first. And you have to follow the medical advice of the doctors for this child. And at that point, then you can have overnights."

So, my point to whoever is the questioner, is that you may not want him to have overnights, but the court will most likely set stepping stones for him to achieve to give him that opportunity. So, just filing for divorce may not fix this, but it makes it easier to prove to the court. Because you run the risk of going to court if it's he said, she said then the judge is saying, "Well, sir, you get overnights and you just need to follow doctor's advice." Well, if he's not going to the doctors, he's not going to understand the advice.

So, when we come back, we're going to continue to break this down and why sort of spending a little more time to prepare your case can be so advantageous.

Todd Orston:

Hey, everyone, you're listening to our podcast, but you have alternatives, you have choices. You can listen to us live also at 1:00 AM on Monday morning on WSB.

Leh Meriwether:

If you're enjoying the show, we would love it if you could go rate us in iTunes or wherever you may be listening to it. Give us a five-star rating and tell us why you like the show.

Welcome back, everyone. This is Leh and Todd, and we are your co-hosts for Divorce Team Radio. A show sponsored by the divorce and family law firm of Meriwether and Tharp. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com. And if you want to read a transcript of this show or go back and listen to it again, you can find it at divorceteamradio.com.

All right. Today, we're actually taking a deep dive into one question because I think it's an important question. And so, it's how to, and we're talking about the questioner is a full-time college student, doesn't have any income and wants to know how to successfully navigate the divorce process when they don't have any income because their husband is a sole provider. And we're taking a deep dive in this question because I think there's many facets to it and we want to explore those facets.

All right, so I just finished talking about the timing of it. If you have control of the timing, there are certain things you should do to facilitate maybe not getting a divorce or maybe saving your marriage, having the husband and father significantly more involved in your kid's life, especially since they have special needs. And I know Todd, you were going to just explain that win-win-win a little bit better. But I just want to say that I know that special needs kids that's taking care of them is almost a full-time job.

And so, you don't want to have the full-time job of taking care of your two special needs kids, the full-time job of being a college student. And then the full-time job of litigating a contested court custody case, potentially in a divorce that you don't understand anything about. That's, I could tell you from seeing it time and time again, it is overwhelming. And most of the time, the college student has to drop out of college to get through this process. All right. And I know you wanted to talk about the... explain that win-win-win a little better.

Todd Orston:

Yeah. Well, I mean, look, when I had said win-win, afterwards, I realized I'm really talking about a win-win-win. And A, you're doing the right thing in terms of coparenting, so you're doing the right thing for the children. B, if you're sending those healthy productive communications, it's something that the court will look like, look at, rather and say, "Okay, you are coparenting well." So, that's two of the wins. And then that third is what you talked about creating evidence where, even if because how many times have you, Leh, had somebody go, "Well, no, I didn't send any emails because I know he's not going to show up or I know she's not going to do this or that."

Okay, you're missing it, though. By sending that communication, it's good for the kids, if it works out. The court will look positively on your actions. And when the other party doesn't show up for that doctor visit or teacher conference, or whatever the case might be, that's additional evidence that you can use to show that the other parent just is not the involved parent that should be responsible for the primary day-to-day issues of a child. So, that's what I meant on that.

Now, the other thing I did want to talk about, though, is I don't want to be hypocritical because I can't tell you how many times that I've said to someone, if you are at a point where divorce is inevitable, you've tried or you're just at a point where you just, you're done trying. Okay. It's not for me or any divorce attorney to tell you when that time is. But when that time comes, don't just race in. If you're going to initiate, don't race in and in an argument and say, "I'm calling an attorney, I'm filing for divorce." You're transferring some potential power that you have, power to control the timing of a case, okay, by I've seen situations where an argument happens and the party is like, "I'm going to call an attorney, and I'm going to."

All right. Now, fast forward three weeks. They haven't called the attorney. They call us. They're like, "I want to move forward with a divorce." That's fine. And then they hire us. And a day later, they get served with a petition, because during that three- to four-week period, the other side actually did things, actually gathered information, contacted an attorney, strategized as to what their approach and arguments would be. And now all of a sudden, we're on our heels.

Now, does it matter? Can we catch up? Of course, we can. But why transfer that control, if you will, over the process, as opposed to start to gather the information, find an attorney if you're going to, and start to strategize, so that you put yourself in the best position possible. And then at the appropriate time, I'm not saying you have to hire a sheriff deputy, in other words, service through a sheriff deputy, and embarrass them at work and do all, that's not what I'm talking about. But I'm saying at that point, you can have that conversation if you want. A, you're calmer and B, you are prepared.

So, "Hey, this is not working. We've tried. I'm so sorry. We need to talk about a divorce." If their reaction is healthy, fantastic, then you talk to them about terms, contact your attorney, they can start fleshing out an agreement. But if they're in the position that they take, if their reaction is negative, it's bad, aggressive, whatever the case is, you're prepared. Your attorney can go and file immediately. And you can immediately look to the court for help. So, that's all I'm saying. Go about this in a very systematic and prepared way. And if you do that, you're going to put yourself in the best position for a positive outcome.

Leh Meriwether:

I wanted to add this story, too, because I've seen parents in this situation when and to share, my youngest is autistic. So, starting off and learning all about autism it itself can be overwhelming, and it can be for some depressing. And so, I like to always have a little bit of hope there. So, I was talking to a dad the other day, whose son, his oldest is autistic and he's turned 18 now. Because of his autism, he couldn't be in school, so they homeschooled him his whole life. And at some point, he became interested in certain videos on YouTube. And he said, "I'd love to learn how to do this."

And so, while he was, I mean, they were thinking they were going to have to care for him his whole life, at his house, at their house. There's no way he's going to be able to go to college. He can't even go to normal school. But he started, he found an interest and so, it took both parents encouraging him constantly and he started watching YouTube videos in the how to animate things. So, he started creating these, he started animating a very popular kid show, but started putting different voices behind them. And flash forward two years, he almost has 100,000 subscribers on YouTube.

Todd Orston:

Oh, my God.

Leh Meriwether:

And he's making $2,000 a month as an 18-year-old. And the only reason he's not making more is because, and I won't say the name of the major cartoon, but because he has to share some of the royalties with them because of copyright, but I guess they allowed him. I didn't dive deep into the legal aspects of it, but I'm guessing they allowed him to do the show and then they got the majority of the money, the ad revenue from the shows. I mean, these some of these, his videos are being watched like a million times.

Todd Orston:

That's amazing.

Leh Meriwether:

And so somebody that when younger, they thought, "Man, we just don't know what the future holds. We just got to pour ourselves into our son." And I think they have two kids, but they worked together. It took both of them. I mean, I'm not saying that it won't happen if you are single with your two special needs kids. But when you have two parents actively involved in your kids' lives, it increases, I think doubles, the chance that these kids may be able to live on their own later on in life. So, because of that effort that they put into it, I wouldn't say this. I mean, who knows? I mean, he may be one of those like in two more years have half a million subscribers and making $10,000, $20,000 a month, making more than his dad.

Todd Orston:

Yeah. Look-

Leh Meriwether:

So, my point is you just don't know what the future holds. But you increase the chances of your children having success if you can get the father involved. And maybe he was not going to be involved, but gosh, darn it, it's worth trying. Even if it fails from an involvement standpoint, it is helping you build evidence in your divorce case.

Todd Orston:

Yeah, you're 100% right. And looking at it from a litigation point of view, I mean, once, we've just spent some time talking about obviously, the most important thing, which is what needs to be done to make sure the child or children are taken care of, especially a special needs child. Okay, on the litigation side, custody matters are very complicated. And you may have a judge who wants to lean towards some kind of a, when I say shared, I mean, to give both parties as much responsibility as they can handle. And therefore, this goes back to the preparation.

Therefore, racing into this kind of a case, usually is not going to benefit you. That's why you need to take a little bit of time. You need to make sure you gather information, that you create good evidence. And I don't mean that in a negative way. What we were talking about the win-win-win. That third win, sending those emails and if the other party doesn't rise to the occasion, that's great evidence that you can use, so that when you're in that custody fight and someone like this, who's saying, "That my spouse can't handle the meds, can't take care of the child's needs," then you're in the best position possible to look at the court and explain that.

Leh Meriwether:

And when we come back, we're going to get more specifics on how to better prepare for this kind of case in this situation.

I just wanted to let you know that if you ever wanted to listen to this show live, you can listen at 1:00 AM on Monday mornings on WSB. So, you can always check us out there as well.

Todd Orston:

Better than like counting sheep, I guess, right?

Leh Meriwether:

That's right.

Todd Orston:

You can turn on the show and we'll help you fall asleep.

Leh Meriwether:

There you go.

Todd Orston:

I'll talk very soft.

Leh Meriwether:

Welcome back, everyone. This is Leh and Todd, and we are your co-hosts for Divorce Team Radio, a show sponsored by the divorce and family law firm of Meriwether and Tharp. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com. And if you want to read a transcript of this show or go back and listen to it again, you can find it at divorceteamradio.com.

Okay, so today we wound up taking one question that's going to take up the whole show because there's so much to it. And I think it's important. There's a lot of families that are struggling because of special needs, they have special needs children. And that, the children already require an intense amount of effort to raise them right. But when you add a whole, the aspect of their special needs, wow, that's a whole another layer to being a parent and it's challenging, speaking from personal experience. I know it's challenging and I know that a lot of parents have it much worse than I do. And my parents, I'm going to say my wife and I have, but it's a challenge. And so, when you're facing a divorce in this situation, it's just, I'm trying to think. Let me take a step back.

So, we're going to start, we're going to spend the rest of our time with you breaking down the things that you should start using to prepare for this particular situation. But I want to preface it with the following statement. You may be going in front of a judge that has never had to deal with special needs children. You hope you don't, but I mean, a lot of judges have never had that experience of dealing with special needs child, and so, they've never walked in your shoes, and they don't understand how difficult it is. And judges are, I mean, they judge cases. And it's human to judge things based on your... I mean, obviously, you have to apply the law, but at a certain point, there's also your personal life that may impact the way you rule in a case.

So, it's important to bring into evidence into court or the mediation process wherever you are, that really gets the person who's listening to understand the extent of the efforts you have to go through to care for these children, in order to get perhaps more child support, a favorable child custody arrangement, parenting plan arrangement, and protection for these kids. So, that's, so we're going to spend a few minutes talking about the extra prep work you should be, if you have control of the timing, just like Todd said, don't rush to the courthouse. Let's get ready, let's get everything together to hopefully increase the likelihood that you will settle the case and the other person will agree to your terms or perhaps something close to something that protects the children, but at the same time, enables the other parent to perhaps step up and help you.

Todd Orston:

Yeah, it's all about preparation. And I know we're focusing not only on the question of custody, but also dealing with a special needs child or children, but it doesn't matter which of the four core areas we're dealing with. If we're dealing with finances, do everything you can to gather information about your finances, understand what bank accounts are or retirement accounts. And you may not control that information and that's okay. All right. When I say, "Do your best," I mean exactly that. Trust me. The discovery process will allow you to discover information that you need. The point is, do what you can to go in as prepared as possible that will help you, that will help your attorney which of course, therefore helps you.

So, going back to custody, it's all about the parenting plan. I have had a case, I had a case once where we went into court and basically, I represented the mother in this situation and we went in with a full parenting plan. And information, my client was prepped and not that I needed to tell the person this, but my client knew which doctors the child or children went to. Knew basically the coaches' names, knew the teachers' names. Went to all of those teacher conferences and sporting events and what have you. And the other party was asking for joint custody and came into court. And this goes back to what you were saying earlier.

We went in prepared knowing that we were going to explain to the court why what would be best for the children was that mom would be the primary parent. And when the father comes in and starts talking about, "I'm a good dad, and they love me and this and that." That's great. That's fantastic. What's the name of their doctor? "Well, um..." "Okay. All right, that's fine. How about the coach? Tell me about the coach. Tell me about this. Tell me about that." And this person couldn't answer any of those questions.

So, I'm saying this from whichever side you may land on, it's all about prep. If you go into court, and you're fighting for some custody rights, and you can't say, who the doctor is or what the issues are or what medicines your child is taking, you should not be walking into court or you shouldn't be making that argument in court. So, prep work means have that basic information, so when the court is looking and trying to figure out who is going to take care of a child's needs, it becomes very clear that one or at least or in this situation, both will adequately and properly be able to provide that level of care.

Leh Meriwether:

So, the first question you should ask is and this is a practical thing, you may need to cut back your time as a student. You may need to go part time or you may need to take a pause on your education because I am telling you, if he's going to be asking for joint physical custody or something along those lines, it's going to take a lot of time, the divorce process. So at a minimum, you may want to consider either A, waiting till after you graduate before you file for divorce or B, which will give you time to get the evidence together, or B, go part-time. So that's the first thing.

The second thing is, as we already mentioned, give him the opportunity to be present in all these doctor's appointments because if he doesn't show up that's helpful for your case. If he shows up and is antagonistic, that's actually helpful. If you're worried that he's going to become antagonistic, that's fine. Because I did have a case, same scenario, we wound up subpoenaing the doctor to come and actually, the doctor wanted to come testify to talk about how the dad was so antagonistic that they did not want him coming to the appointments anymore because he just completely ignored their medical advice and was argumentative with them.

And when I say argumentative, it's one thing to ask the doctor questions and it's okay to sort of in a question way sort of challenge the doctor, but he wasn't. It was just an aggressive, "I'm wrong. You're right," rather than like, "Hey, I don't understand this. Explain it to me better. What about this? What about that?" So, and I think he raised his voice. So, the doctor came to court to testify.

So, start gathering together, you give him the opportunity to either succeed or fail and either way, either scenario, like Todd said, that's a win-win. If you get the evidence, it's a win-win-win, then you need to gather the medical records to show he's not showing up to the appointments. You gather them together, you get a cert, they get them certified by records custodian affidavit. We talked about evidence before. Get that stuff together, and then start thinking about the doctors that you think explained the children's and it may be their pediatrician, explain the children's condition the best.

And consider ahead of time, I think it's a good idea to talk to a doctor saying, "Hey, I've got this case coming up, I really need your help. The kids need your help. I may need you to come to court to testify." And maybe, so the pediatrician is an option and perhaps it's the children's, they may have, whoever their special needs doctors are. It doesn't have to be all of them. It's just whoever, because at some level, you may have to pay for their time to be in court. But it's important to have someone who does a great job explaining your medical condition on your side. Perhaps it's just the therapists that are working with them, that you have one of them.

Because I think in my case I had one of the medical doctors and one of the physical therapists both come to court and explain to the court why it's so important that they take their medicines and go through certain physical exercises. And if they didn't do those, what sort of negative consequences are there for their child's long-term health. And that secondary one was very important to the court to hear. So, start gathering stuff like that.

So, just like Todd said, the financials, you got to have that because you may be asked the court for money to pay for your attorney. But you can without costing your attorney, having your attorney do it, you can gather this source, pieces of evidence to have to bring to court and put together a parenting plan, so you're prepared. Just like Todd said, you're prepared for court and that will set you up for success. Either maybe turns around, he's an active participant in your children's lives, which is good for them. It may be a struggle for you because maybe the reason for divorce has nothing to do with him being a dad, but just being a horrible husband and in that case, the divorce will be helpful because you do want them to be actively involved in your kid's life.

Hey, we've got 30 seconds left. Todd, anything else?

Todd Orston:

No. I mean, it's bringing it at full circle. This is where even if you can't hire an attorney, go talk to one. Start with the research online. Read. Do what you need to do to gather the information necessary. Because if you go into this kind of a process half-cocked, if you go in unprepared, the good things, meaning the help you need, you're just not going to get it, so please, do what you can to prepare.

Leh Meriwether:

Hey, everyone. Thanks so much for listening.