Saturday, December 11, 2010

Representing Yourself?

Rather than continue to facilitate the devil's ability to "tell" on him through her attorney to his--which can keep money flushing down the toilet indefinitely--after 5 years and $35,000, my husband finally decided to let his attorney go in 2007.

This meant he would be acting "Pro Se" or "In Pro Per" (or representing himself) in any future divorce-related legal actions. Scary, but do-able.

If you plan to represent yourself in your divorce case, you may benefit from reading about our experiences.

Our Experience

The same Judge has been assigned to my husband's case from day one. I, however, had been present at only one of his multiple court proceedings. So when a friend of ours--who was also acting In Pro Per and who had been assigned to "our" Judge--asked me to accompany him to his Order to Show Cause hearing in fall 2010, I jumped at the opportunity to not only support him, but to observe the Judge so that I could get a sense of her style and expectations. I am SO glad I did!

During my friend's day in court, I observed that our Judge seemed to be no-nonsense and fair, and that she smiled a lot to help put the parties at ease (all good signs). I also noted that she didn't allow much in the way of explanations: she would ask direct questions and expect relatively direct answers (she seemed to have an idea in mind of what the response should be and wasn't very tolerant when the expected answer was not forthcoming).

Most importantly, I saw that even though my friend had gone to Court fully prepared with an organized 3-ring binder containing every sort of document to support each of his contentions, almost none of that information was brought to light. The Judge didn't have time to go in to that level of detail and wouldn't allow my friend to expand on most of his responses, so the majority of his hard work and thoroughness was for naught.

Applying Our Newfound Knowledge

My husband hadn't been to court in nearly 5 years, but not long after my friend's hearing (on 10/26/10 to be exact), his ex served him with a bullshit Order to Show Cause. The hearing was set for 11/23/10 (yes, Thanksgiving week!), but his Responsive Declaration had to be filed by 11/9/10...just 2 WEEKS away!

Knowing what I now knew about our Judge and how the process works in her courtroom, I spent the next 2 weeks immersed in the preparation of my husband's response...and I attached everything to back up each of his arguments! Explanations, rebuttals, transcribed excerpts of the devil's own emails, texts and voice messages. Boy, did I have one serious "documentation-fest"...which I'd been waiting to have for YEARS! (The devil is "off balance" [to put it mildly]. My stepdaughter's therapist advised us years ago to document everything, so we have...and it sure paid off! Read my post entitled "Document, Document, Document!" )

Well guess what? The Judge read it ALL before the hearing, so she was aware of all the bullshit the devil had been pulling over the last 10 months (and then some)...most of which wouldn't have been allowed if we'd tried to bring it up at the hearing. I wasn't sure if the Judge would bother reading it, or if she would get angry about the number of attachments. As it turned out, she did get angry...but not at my husband. She was really pissed off at the devil, though!

My Advice to You

(1) Learn all you can about your Judge's style and expectations before your hearing. Sit in on other hearings in his/her courtroom. Anyone can do this: courtroom presence is not restricted to the parties on the docket. Bring a notepad and pen. Sit quietly in the back and jot down your thoughts and observations for easy recall later on. Oh, and if the baliff asks which case you're there for (they sometimes survey those present to make sure all parties on that session's docket are in the courtroom), just let him know you're there as an observer.

(2) Attach every stitch of relevant information to your Order to Show Cause or Responsive Declaration that you can think of. Don't just throw out accusations: back them up with supporting evidence (emails, texts, voice messages, your documentation of the event when it occurred, etc.). Reference each attachment in the narrative of your declaration, and tab each attachment so it's easy for the Judge to locate within your response. (I bought legal index tabs from Staples [$6.29]; they come in packs of 25, numbered 1 to 25 and 26 to 50, so you should be covered no matter how many attachments you have.)

(3) Take advantage of your Court's legal self-help center. Check online for services offered in your County. Many (or all) of the forms you will need can be completed online and/or downloaded for free from your county's superior court website. Don't forget to find out how many copies you'll need to bring with you when you file your action or response (e.g. our county wants three copies [one for the court, and one for each party]).

(4) If you feel like you're in over your head, consult with an attorney. Some issues are just too big to go it alone!

Good luck!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Types of Custody: Shared Legal - Shared Physical - Shared Residency. Wait...What?!

(See 8/25/11 update at the end of this post.)

Do you and your ex share equal or near equal physical custody of your child(ren)? ... Yes?

Do you support your child(ren) in your household at or near the same level that your ex supports them in hers? ... Yes??

Does your ex now have a household income or lifestyle equal or nearly equal to, or even exceeding yours? ... Yes???

And despite all this, is your household deprived of a huge chunk of your taxable earnings each payday because they’re diverted from your paycheck to her household - tax-free to her? ... Yes????

Are you frustrated by having to support your child(ren) in your household and in hers? ... Hell yes?!!!!

Why are you paying so much?!

Because no one’s ever told you about shared residency! That’s not surprising: we’d never heard of it, either. Not even after 7 years of this crap! Nope...not until I stumbled across the term a couple of weeks ago while researching child support! You got it! My husband’s highly-paid attorney never mentioned it once even though he was granted 46% physical custody! It apparently never occurred to her! (By the way: be sure to see my What Does Child Support Cover? post for a breakdown of just what child support is supposed to be used's eye-opening! And, yes, this is another area that no one--not even my husband's attorney--thought to explain! Ugh!!)

So in addition to shared legal and shared physical custody, my husband has had shared residential custody without knowing that such a thing existed, as we, too, have his kids in our care often enough that we have to buy them furniture, bedding, clothes, shoes, school supplies, over-the-counter medicines, toiletries, laundry and cleaning supplies, etc., etc., etc. In fact, we spend an average of at least $5,000 a year for these types of expenses exclusively...AND we've been paying for 50% of their extracurricular activities...$900 just this year!...because no one has ever explained to my husband that he didn't have to! (I've since learned that, in general, the Court only ever orders the "non-custodial parent" to share in the cost of extracurricular activities if he or she is a millionaire, which we are not!!)

And here’s the kicker: the court has no idea we're doing this (not yet, anyway)! It just never occurred to them that my husband would have to share in these expenses when the kids are at our house for days on end! They just stupidly assumed that their mom would be the only one to incur these types of expenses, and that they would be covered with the child support my husband pays each month. They never once gave a second thought to the fact that my husband would have additional expenses…like clothes for the kids to wear at his house, or tooth brushes and toothpaste to brush their teeth at his house, or beds to sleep in at his house, or…well…you get the picture.

Once the Court is made aware of our situation, my husband's child support obligation will be dramatically reduced—and in all likelihood eliminated!

Craziness, huh?!

So what is shared residency? It's the regular sharing of residential custody on an equal or nearly equal basis. To qualify, two components must exist:
• First, the blocks of time must be regular and equal or nearly equal between the parents throughout the year rather than based on extended visitation (e.g. summer visitation, holidays).
• Second, the parties must be sharing direct expenses of the child on an equal or nearly equal basis, which include (but aren't limited to) clothing and education expenses, but don’t include food, transportation, housing or utilities.

Does this sound like you? Yes? Then I suggest you research this further on your own, and then do something about it (e.g., contact an attorney or your family court's self-help center for advice and assistance).

Let me know if you have any specific questions...I may be able to help. And good luck!

8/25/11 Update: We consulted with my husband's former attorney to discuss shared residential custody (among other issues) and were told that California does not recognize shared residential custody; that guideline child support is based solely on each parent's income. That being said, while I trust my husband's former attorney, I'm not convinced that the information she gave us is accurate. First, when I research an issue, I limit my research to the State of California. Second, it has been our firsthand experience that factors beyond income are considered when setting guideline child support (e.g. percentage of parenting time, income-to-debt ratio). Third, between my extensive research and my personal observations and experiences, I've found evidence that completely contradicts her statement. Obvsiously there is more research to be done on this issue, and I will update this post with my findings. In the meantime, be aware that shared residential custody does exist, and be sure to raise this issue with your ex when discussing a fair support amount (if you're able to work things out between yourselves) or with an attorney if you choose to consult with one. Stay tuned...