Lessons from a men’s divorce seminar

Lessons from a men’s divorce seminar

I’m not a lawyer nor have I ever played one on TV. I did however attend a free two-hour divorce-prep seminar one Thursday evening in October. Of course it was a Marketing outreach for the sponsoring law firm. I got that (and so do you) but the difference between this “free offer” and so many others, regardless their subject matter, was its uniquely man-centric, extraordinarily detailed content. I, at least, walked away with specific legal information and insights far above my expectations. That take-away went well beyond the value of the time spent in and traveling-to-and-from that hotel meeting room. The evening’s program – and undoubtedly a great deal more – are available in a book entitled, “The 10 Stupidest Mistakes Men Make When Facing Divorce: And How to Avoid Them,” by Mr. Joseph Cordell, founder of the sponsoring firm, Cordell and Cordell, which has 60 offices in 25 states.

“As a woman” I made certain in advance that I’d be allowed to attend as it was clearly directed towards men divorcing or considering-divorce. I also informed the firm’s representatives of my purpose: to write about the 10 Stupid Mistakes, for the benefit of men unable to attend their current slate of seminars.  So on top of the top-notch quality of the notes I left with, I must add that the folks I met over the phone and in person that night – including the owner/founder of the law firm, Joseph Cordell himself – could not have been nicer or more gracious. In fact after giving each part of the after-action survey my highest marks I could only come up with a single one-word suggestion: “snacks.” (Because sign-in began at 6pm and the program finished just before 9pm.)

Several members of the firm took turns, tag-team style throughout the evening, to present these Stupid-Mistakes. I have taken the liberty of rearranging their order, turning them into “positive actions,” and separating them into three action-phases. I call Phase I, Prepare; Phase II, Persevere; and Phase III, Prevail. (NOTE: numbers in parentheses are those given to the 10 Mistakes by the firm in the formal presentation; the evening kicked-off with #10 and worked backwards.)

Phase I: Prepare

What can you do before the SHTF?

1. (10)  Participate as fully as possible in your children’s lives. Future visitation may in part be determined by how involved with them you are now and have been “in the past.” If this moment is still “the past” (in terms of a possible or probable divorce) then wherever practical consider getting in on more, more, more: daily care, school drop-offs & pick-ups, doctor visits, etc. Ask yourself how you would “prove” the level of involvement you have right now as well as what you’ve done with them in the past. Who, in your kids’ lives, knows you? Who routinely sees you with them? Consider how your post-divorce work schedule and living situation would restrict or more easily allow future Visitation/Habitation arrangements. Remember, “It’s not about what’s perfect, it’s about what’s better-than-the-competition.”

2. (9) Position yourself in your home & Preserve your parent-child relationship and your finances. Even if you do not have kids, plan to stay put. (If you’ve already moved out, these guys say move back in. Quick!) If anyone moves out it should be her. And if you are a parent, moving out automatically cuts down your access to your kids to what’s convenient to your spouse. You’ll get visitation when she wants and at the same time you’ve skewed the ultimate custody determination in her favor: the new norm or “status quo” will be you-gone-from-the-home/you-minimally-in-the kids’ lives for perhaps six months to a year before the court date.

Moving out also means double the household expenses. Judges typically expect the man to pay the bills, even if he’s not living in the home. Beware leaving your soon-to-be-ex spouse in charge, if payments are late it will most likely be on you to fix things – or risk those consequences as well. Besides, have you made copies of all your important papers secretly and then squirreled them away outside that home? Do you have a current inventory of personal assets; who has what? Note that possession is often times more than 9/10ths of the law. Possession now can literally mean ultimate ownership after the divorce. This does not mean, however, you should hide things. You need to be honest and specific about the things you want to keep.

3. (4) Pause & Protect by keeping your cool at all times. Do not let your buttons get pushed because you know full well she knows how to push them. It is way too easy for a woman to fabricate grounds for Protective Orders and get you kicked out of your own home. These actions will of course have an impact at the divorce trial but their immediate impact will have you out of the house (with only the clothes on your back) and if there are kids, who knows what they will think of you – or what she will tell them about you – once you are gone. Looks like it may need to be a total walking-on-eggshells existence for quite a few months at least.

4. (3) Be the Peacemaker & Protector of the kids. Should you choose later on to have an independent council appointed to represent your kids, the presenter suggested thorough consideration of the role and the impact that individual might have. While they will represent the children independent of both your and your spouse’s attorneys, the impact of their findings on your case could be considerable. How much confidence do you have in what your kids would say right now (about you, you and your spouse, you and them, and more) to such an appointee?

5. (1) Preempt by filing first for the divorce. (Note: I don’t recall their use of a martial analogy, but I think it’s apt.) The law firm rightfully left this strategy for last. It was only by that end point that they’d effectively painted a clear, of course very generic, overview of the various “battles” that make up the entire divorce-war. Just as no one would file for divorce without council likewise one ought not to file without understanding the entirety – and enormity – of tasks to be accomplished before that formal shot-across-the-bow “reveals their hand.”

Generals don’t typically reveal battle plans and neither should men considering divorce. By filing first you get several advantages not the least of which is to put your wife on the defense with that element of surprise.  Of course there’s also the “asset protection” this affords: including perhaps stock options, end-of-year bonuses, and general income protections. It could also mean the “reveal” doesn’t occur while the wife and kids are away at the grandparents. Lastly, and most surprisingly, was learning that he/she who files first gets to go first in court. And they also get to have the last word as well. We were reminded that “judges are human, too” and their concerns and conditions (getting over a cold, bad mood, etc.) are likely to affect the proceedings. The anecdote given was of a tired, hungry judge being kept into the lunch hour: he/she decides  they’d “already heard enough” when the second party’s council had only barely taken the legal-stage, so to speak. Advantage to the first party…hopefully, you!

Phase II: Persevere

Remember: you’re in it for the long haul…

1. (7) Poker-face at all times. Well, within reason. But these are the days when your mantra needs to be, “Silence is golden.” So repeat: “Silence is golden.” “Silence is golden.” Especially if you’re the type who likes to have the last word. (Silence is golden.) Do not allow yourself to be disarmed by innocent-seeming or offhand divorce-related comments. Why? To avoid getting provoked (getting buttons-pushed) into talking about your case and thereby revealing – valuable or even trivial – things about your lawyer’s strategy. Remember that mantra…especially knowing there will be a point where just getting her to shut up will certainly evolve into wanting to “stick it” to her and her lawyer. You’re the one wanting to come out on top here, so forgive me if this sounds all O.J. but, If you want to win, you must rein it in.

2. (2) Principled words and actions. Failing to tell your doctor things can get you a bad diagnosis; failing to reveal relevant information to your council or to the opposing council in depositions or in the courtroom can lose you the whole divorce shebang. The lawyer presenting this stupid-mistake likened such divorce related lies (or “omissions”) to potato chips by using the Frito-Lay® “bet you can’t eat just one” tagline. The first lie will always require another then another and so on. So just don’t do it. Forensic accountants will find your money and good opposing attorneys (like your wife will probably have) find bad people. And with one measly lie uncovered you’ll automatically be Bad. You will lose credibility and so will your attorney. You’ll basically lose the chance to make your case because in essence the judge will quit listening to your points. The lawyer-lecturer made it very clear: the woman can lie a few times (see Phase III: #1, below) and be forgiven, while you, a man? Do it once and you’re thrown off the field.

3. (8) Pow-wow in advance with your lawyer for everything “testimonial.” This is for things prior to the actual final court date: Depositions, Preliminary Hearings, etc. Depositions are apparently very critical events and lacking specific preparation can lead you into fatal errors. If you reveal too much you will weaken your case and help your opposition. Your council will probably advise what the lecturer did: stick to simple answers and nothing more. But to do so you have to have a clear grasp of the facts. You need to know events, dates, and details as well as how to gather pertinent documents that will support what you are saying. When kids are involved you must also know your position on key welfare issues mentioned earlier including: daily care, health, education, special needs, and others. Critical forethought must be given to the practical division of all these areas of decision-making.

Such testimonial events also allow your council to: understand the accusations against you (I believe this is if you haven’t filed first), follow-up on still unanswered discovery questions, and to simply “fish-around” for information. The latter will be reeled-in from a spouse whose lawyer has left her less-than-prepared-for-the-deposition! The key take-away quote in this stupid-mistake came after the speaker mentioned how easy it can be to resent even the thought of alimony or maintenance payments for your soon-to-be ex. He conveyed that, for appearances, you may need to seem to “concede” that some amount would be appropriate. He said, “You want to appear the reasonable one: she’s the fruitcake!”

Phase III: Prevail

Stay strong even on the way to the downhill slide and into court.

1. (5) Perfect your finances. Your financial statement, as presented in your divorce proceedings, is the single most important document in the entire trial according to these professionals. They clearly illustrated the often cavalier attitude men have to these papers. They went so far as to joke that some men spend more time reading the Sports’ section than they do on the divorce’s money-business. These are the same folks who wouldn’t dream of short-changing an income-tax return (even given the low likelihood of an IRS audit) yet they give short attention to laying out their marital financials where there’s the absolute certainty-of-review by opposing counsel.

So in this phase you’ll have another mantra to repeat and remember: “earn versus pay-out.” More income than expenses is apparently not good, so check for all payments. They mentioned credit card expenses in particular; that they may be referred to on forms as “installment payments.”

It was at this point in the evening, regarding the financial statements specifically, that this firm, with its extensive experience, made the following very clear distinction: that “as a man” you can’t lie or make an error even once, whereas the woman – your adversary – may be able to squeak by with 3 or 4 missteps. Yes, this is unjust (and for me, downright evil). But besides the fact that this means you must detail (i.e. remember & list) and then perfect your expenses, it also means it’s a place where your adversary is extremely vulnerable. The speaker claimed there’s a 90% chance they’ll have an error on their form. And since there can be NO math errors all your side has to do is find it (or them). So do yours over and over…and use a calculator.  Oh, and please prepare a “typed” statement rather than simply filling one in by hand.

2. (6) Precedents can be set by settling for (bad) Temporary Orders. The lawyers reiterated it was never a good idea to waltz into any divorce-related meeting, whether a deposition or preliminary hearing without advance preparation. Another point made more than once was that judges don’t like changing the so-called status-quo: if you’ve chosen to move out and the kids have been “succeeding without you in the house for x-months,” that’s the new status-quo. If your spouse is given “temporary” control of a joint business until the actual trial and everything’s hunky-dory by trial time, that’s the new status-quo and you might never go back to controlling the business again.

The power of precedents and the it-seems-to-be-working-as-is status-quo look to be very high in divorce matters. So never approach such hearings nonchalantly and question severely the council that pooh-poohs your desire to be informed and prepared. If a preliminary decision does go against you this firm suggested you may then have legitimate grounds to move the final divorce hearing closer.

Lastly, they offered a bonus: an eleventh stupid-mistake.

3. (“11”) Predetermine child support. “Fully utilize helpful rules governing child support calculations.” In other words don’t just settle for whatever pie-in-the-sky dollar figure that your adversary throws at you. A quick search for the guidelines in my state, Texas, shows: 1 child=20% of non-custodial parent’s net income; 2=25%; 3=30%, and so on; medical expenses are additional. [http://www.child-support-laws-state-by-state.com/texas-child-support.html]

Wrapping it up.

I sincerely hope you never face this kind of legal battle but, if you should, the folks at the sponsoring law firm, Cordell and Cordell, truly “get it” when it comes to men and divorce. If they have an office near you they should certainly be at the top of a check-them-out list. That Thursday evening the firm’s dozen employees (most of them lawyers from the Dallas and Fort Worth offices) exuded a quiet, confident demeanor that screamed battle-hardened Competence. Seems to me that’s precisely what you’d want on your side in any courtroom, but as a man it’s what you absolutely need in the “family flavored” kind.

Publishers note: The link to Cordell & Cordell is provided for reference purposes only. AVfM does not endorse their services. Approach all attorneys with caution, understanding that during a divorce your wife is not the only threat to your financial well being. PE

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