The U.S. Economy has lost more than 20 million jobs in April, 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic placing the nation's unemployment rate at it's highest level since the Great Depression. Millions of American are facing economic turmoil and the greatest impact of that will be on children. In this video, Texas Family Law Attorney Sean Y. Palmer talks about steps you should take now if you can't pay your child support obligation because of the loss of income due to the coronavirus crisis.
The COVID-19 epidemic has been a horror show. But as with most disasters, there comes some positive outcomes if you look in the right places. The global pandemic and resulting social distancing is forcing innovation and change in a profession that has been long behind the technological curve. The practice of family law is experiencing a seismic shift in thinking and process. Change causes a lot of tension, especially in the legal field. But this rapid paradigm shift, as stressful as it may be today, will ultimately benefit the family law practitioner and the people they serve.
In early March when stay-at-home orders began to be issued, the business of the courts and all the ancillary meetings and hearings involved with civil cases, such as family law matters, suddenly shut down. Temporary order hearings were rescheduled indefinitely. Mediation sessions were canceled. Clients seeking relief for their divorce or child issues were stuck with out any immediate relief, or even knowledge of when their case would resume. Without the ability to meet face-face, much of the practice of civil law- and the subsection of family law in particular, just..stopped.
The reason the wheels of justice ground to a halt was not because of the viral outbreak directly. It was because of the outmoded ways civil law has been long practiced, and the inability of some practitioners to shift their paradigms quickly enough to the new normal. Many practicing family law are or were deeply entrenched in the old ways of using only person to person communications to conduct business. Although video conferencing and other alternate options had long been available, many family law practitioners eschewed those opportunities and rarely used these options for the two decades or more they have been available.
As a family law litigator myself, I have long lamented the waste that was endemic to the old way of practicing prior to the pandemic. For even the most cursory matters I would have to physically appear in court. This meant I would have to charge my clients travel time to the courthouse and parking. When we got to the court, unless I could find some way to be productive otherwise, I would have to charge my client for the time I spent waiting for our hearing- sometimes for hours. I would try to be productive with my client but it was usually a losing proposition. The actual bench time I would have could be as little as 15 minutes after waiting for several hours. That never sat right with me.
Perhaps even more wasteful was the mediations I had to attend on almost all cases. The mediations themselves were, in most instances highly valuable activities, but the logistics under which they were conducted were wholly wasteful. I would often have to travel several hours to attend mediation across town only to be sequestered to a room where we would never engage with the other party in person anyway. It always seemed so ridiculously wasteful and so unnecessarily expensive.
But now virtual attendance for these appearances is becoming widespread and necessary. This is an exciting development because it will provide clients with much more cost effective and productive way of resolving family law disputes. Trials, hearings, and mediations scheduled precisely and consistently through software are much more likely to be heard on time and with fewer distractions. Judges, attorneys, and mediators will be able to schedule their days and complete their tasks with greater efficiency and will therefore be able to increase their productivity. Clients will not have to pay for ancillary costs such as travel which will increase their overall satisfaction. Clients will also not have to take more time off from work for hearings than necessary that are bumped or delayed due to the difficulty of managing a live court room.
It's not to say that there aren’t many challenges ahead. On the one hand, security and confidentiality of certain communications must be maintained, and on the other hand access to the public and maintaining our open court system must also be maintained. There will need to be new thinking about how to conduct trials in a virtual way. Direct and cross examination of witnesses, the introduction of documentary evidence and impeachment will all need new processes and techniques. If more legal work will be done through technology, there will need to be serious thought put into bridging the “digital divide” so that all socio-economic levels will have access to the new justice system.
But these challenges can and will be overcome. In the middle of a viral outbreak, they simply must. The necessity will drive the innovation as it has throughout human history. And the benefit that will come to judges, attorneys, and clients will be made abundantly clear in the months ahead.
I’m not suggesting that we will never have a live trial again. But the prospect of conducting a full evidentiary trial with a jury of twelve, a full panel of attorneys, a judge, clerk, stenographer and a full public gallery anytime in the near future is a dim possibility. I do not think we will ever fully go back to the old ways of practicing. The use of video conferencing, paperless documents, e-signatures, file sharing and other technologies have long existed but will now become the norm. The practice of law, at least the practice of family law, is at last being dragged into the 21st Century. There will be adjustments, but the family law practitioner will learn that the benefits will far outpace the inconvenience of change. And the one thing the epidemic has done is to force the change. There is really little choice. Those practitioners who embrace and adapt to this new normal will thrive. Those who continue to resist will forever wait for the return of a world that no longer exists.
Finding a divorce lawyer can be a daunting task. For many, divorce is their first experience with the legal system, aside from a traffic ticket or two. It can be tempting to look for a lawyer who markets himself as aggressive. Here are some reasons to think twice.
1. Aggressive does not mean effective
An aggressive attorney often makes few friends in the courthouse. The judges often have little patience for certain aggressive tactics, such as refusing to agree to a new hearing date. An effective attorney will compromise on procedural issues, realizing that a case is won or lost with arguments and facts, not tricks. You will also find that fighting over such procedural issues often does little more than waste money.
2. Aggressive attorneys have a harder time reaching settlements
You may think there is no way that you will settle with your current spouse. Statistics show otherwise; upwards of 90 percent of cases settle before trial. Settling a case is far cheaper than going to trial. Most attorneys charge a higher rate for trial hours, not to mention the extra cost due to preparation, additional hearings, and potential post-trial motions. Since an aggressive attorney will be less likely to compromise, you will have a harder time settling, running up costs that you have to pay. You may think that your spouse will ultimately have to pay your court fees, but typically, each party pays his own lawyer.
3. Aggressive attorneys are often not realistic
A good attorney will help you understand what the court is likely to consider in your case. He will explain the factors the court will consider in determining such things as child support, spousal support, visitation, and property division. In a typical divorce situation, one party will not get all the property, all the time with the children, or unending spousal support. An aggressive attorney may not give you a reasonable assessment of the likely outcome, leaving you unprepared for the final settlement or decree.
4. Aggressive attorneys make it more difficult to work with your ex-spouse in the future
Divorce cases are unlike most other court cases. In other civil or criminal matters, the parties likely never have to see one another, or work with one another, again. Unfortunately, in divorce cases, ongoing issues of child custody, visitation and debt issues often force the parties to continue to work together long after the final paperwork is signed. An aggressive attorney will encourage you to push for more instead of compromise, and it will make it more difficult to work together in the future.
We've heard it all the time: it is important to stay positive . But we seem to suddenly be living in a world where there is very little good news to be positive about. The coronavirus pandemic affects all of us in profound ways. Some matters are just generally inconvenient , some of them are profound. But as the stay-at-home orders continue into multiple months, there is a noticeable fatigue with the situation among the public. Now more than ever, it's essential to stay positive and focus on a better future. This can certainly be a challenge even for the most upbeat of people. Here are five useful tips stay positive in a bad news world.
1. Be grateful.
Experts say that focusing on the positive aspects of your life is a key to feeling happiness. Instead of turning on the news when you wake up in the morning, try practicing expressing gratitude. Begin the day by making a list of all the things that you are grateful for. If you are working be grateful that you are still able to work period if you cannot work, be grateful for your health and for your loved ones. Even the smallest of things like a good cup of coffee are a blessing and by being mindful of how those small good things add up will keep you from focusing on all the negative things.
2. Maintain a daily routine.
Have you found yourself waking up at the "crack of noon" lately? Do you stay up at all hours looking at cat videos? Don't let this chaos rule your life. Have an agenda and stick to it , even if you are not working. If you have to take care of children , then this is even more important- both for you and your kids. Get up early in the morning . Make your bed. Get a good breakfast. Have a plan for the day. Accomplishing tasks, any tasks will make you feel productive and in good mental health. Being consistent will give you a sense of stability and a positive mind-frame.
3. Exercise for mental and physical health
Just because there is a stay-at-home order doesn't mean but you can't get out and exercise. Daily exercise is a must. Spend at least 15 to 30 minutes a day doing a fitness workout or just walking. Endorphins are released in the brain when you exercise and this will improve your mood and make you feel more relaxed. Sunshine, fresh air and being out in nature has been proven to beat depression.
4. Be Organized.
Even though you may have more time on your hands than ever before, you may feel that you are getting even less done. This may be because your mind is cluttered, and your environment often reflects your state of mind. Take time to clean out and organize both your house and your mind. Tackle those stacks of paper, organize your storage, and throw out anything that you haven't found useful. Having an organized environment will make you feel less stressful. And sanitizing your space to prevent the spread of the coronavirus will be much easier if the area is already uncluttered and organized.
5. Social Distance Doesn't Mean Social Isolation
Even though we must practice social distancing, we should make every effort we can using alternative means to stay socially connected. Make a concerted effort to reach out to your family and friends through phone calls, social media, FaceTime, or good old-fashioned letter writing. Cards and postcards are especially welcomed in this time. Try connecting with at least one person outside your home a day.
We are here if you need us.
As the effects of the coronavirus pandemic continue from weeks into months, we hope that you find some comfort in knowing that we are still operational and here to assist you. Whether you are a current client or if you are looking for family law assistance, our team is here for you and will continue to be available to address your concerns. We offer remote consultations and can provide legal services from a distance.
If you need help, you may email me directly at Sean@thepalmerlawfirm.com or call us at 832-819-3529.
Divorces don’t begin when you file paperwork with the court. They don’t even begin when you make your first visit to a lawyer. They don’t begin when move out. They don’t begin when you start making a separate budget for yourself. No. Divorces begin in the heart.
Heart, Mind and Action Stages of Divorce
If the thought of a divorce becomes a daily habit and the idea of remaining together is more painful than the prospect of being apart, then the divorce process has likely started.
There are three distinct stages in a divorce. The Heart Stage, The Mind Stage, and the Action Stage. Intervention such as marriage counseling at any of these stages may prevent the divorce from happening, but as people move from one stage to the next it is increasingly unlikely that anything can be done to prevent the divorce from happening.
The Heart Stage
When you married, you believed that your spouse was the one (non-related) person in the world who care the most about you, who would put you above all others including themselves. If that belief is betrayed, then you will naturally experience great pain at the loss of the hope you had that this is the someone who will be with you forever. When that faith permanently dies, then you are experiencing the Heart stage of Divorce.
In my experience the Heart Stage of Divorce can take place long before the Mind or Action Stage of Divorce- perhaps years or even decades. If a marriage has any chance of being saved then it’s best chance is before the Heart Stage is finished.
The Mind Stage
The Mind Stage of Divorce is when you begin to mentally imagine yourself separated from your spouse and you begin to actually make plans to make it happen. You begin to think about what life will be like and how you will make that happen. This is when you begin to make a mental inventory of things you would want from the house. You will also be thinking about how custody arrangements would work. You may even begin to start searching around for housing. When you seriously start to think about how to make the divorce happen, and what steps you will have to take to make a divorce happen, that is when more than half of the decision is made. It’s is similar to when potential buyers of a house begin to imagine how their furniture will fit into the new house. Experienced realtors know that the sale is nearly made at that point. It is at this stage of divorce that many people seek out the advice of a divorce attorney. They may not be ready to file yet, but they are gathering information they need to make the divorce happened.
If there is no intervention after this stage, it is very hard to keep the divorce from not happening.
The Action Stage
This is the final stage of divorce. This is when action is taken on the plans developed previously. This is when one spouse moves out, or a spouse empties the bank account or when the spouse hires an attorney. At this stage of the divorce it is very unlikely, though not entirely impossible, that the divorce can be prevented. This is because other institutional factors begin to reinforce the decision to divorce. This includes contractual obligations that have been made such as signing a lease, or signing a service contract with a lawyer, or paying filing fees for divorce. These forces anchor the decision and make it harder for it to become more fluid and possible to be reversed. If the divorce is to be stopped at this stage, it would take massive intervention and counseling - which does not normally occur.
There is no one definitive point when a divorce starts, but there are distinct stages that couples go through as they approach the final divorce. As they go through each stage then the reality of a divorce becomes more certain.
If you need more information about this topic, please call 832-819-3529 and we will be happy to speak with you about this, or any other issue related to divorce in Texas.
(Author's Note: Yes I realize the COVID-19 is NOT the flu. But there is no vaccine yet for bad puns.)
With more than a month gone by in the Coronavirus shut-down even the most Pollyannaish , cream puff, "pie- in-the-Sky people who are extolling the virtues of the increased family time are beginning to sour to seeing the same faces over and over again. Even couples who normally get along are feeling the aggravation of day to day 24/7 interaction.
“Togetherness” is all fine and good, but without any chance of real alone time many married couples are considering calling it quits.
And the news is awash right now with predictions of a spike in the divorce rates as a result. Looking at China, many divorce attorneys are anticipating a big increase in the number of divorce filings.
But this has not turned out to be true at least not yet.
Is Staying At Home Actually Promoting Marriage Stability?
In my firm, prior to the mandatory stay-at-home orders, I was working long hours to keep up with the new filings that were coming in over the Holidays. But now the phone calls has slowed to a trickle. This is the same for other family law attorneys.
So does this mean that shelter in place orders are actually reinforcing marriages? I don't think so.
It's too early to draw conclusion about the coronavirus crisis and its impact on marriages In Texas. However I suspect there is a group of people who intended to separate before the lock down and still want to do so but for financial reasons are deciding they can't afford to right now.
Financial Downturns and Divorce Rates
According to the Texas workforce Commission More than a million Texans have filed for unemployment benefits in the last month . That number doesn't include those employed but working reduced hours.
Divorce filings are down and the number is relatively low. Will we see a sudden spike? I remain skeptical. Prior to the 2008 Great Recession, divorce rates were at an all time high . But then when the market crashed the rate dropped 18% and has remained so to this day.
Under the present crisis we're going to see a much longer and deeper recession then even the prior one. If history holds out, we will see you continuing decrease in the divorce filing rate. That may change if the economy bounces back suddenly but although it is certain that people are tired of seeing each other it is not certain if that will prompt them to file for divorce before they have enough money to make that happen.
Alternatives to the High Cost of Divorce
What this amounts to is a lot of miserable people . Not only will everyone be hit hard financially but they will be in sour relationships that will increase the stress . However there are alternatives.
People may try to do their divorce if they feel is uncontested . However the resources that used to be there such as County law libraries no longer available except electronically.
Online mediation is another alternative to resolving conflict but it does not completely address the need to have the agreement converted into a divorce decree and to have that decree approved by the judge. Although the civil courthouse is are closed for anything but emergency issues the courts are allowing divorce orders to be submitted electronically by submission of an affidavit.
Limited Scope Representation
Another creative solution is to hire an attorney who does limited scope representation. This attorney can be hired to get people who do their own voices through the more complicated parts of the divorce process yet not hiring them for full representation. This saves people thousands of dollars because they're only hiring the attorney as needed. However, most attorneys do not except this kind of employment.
There can be no doubt that the Corona virus shut down is changing our family dynamics and the way that we get divorces. There is a lot of uncertainty. And many people already feeling the pressure of loss of income and increased conflict at home are looking for some relief.
There are two at least two lessons to be learned during this time of social distancing and stay-at-home orders. The first is that we have to find new ways to get things done. We still need to do all the things we did before, but we now have to find different ways to do it. People are still people. They still going to need to eat, to earn a living, etc. and yes- occasionally get out of bad marriages. These things can be delayed for a short time, but eventually, necessity (the mother of invention) will force people to find inventive solutions. The other lesson is that we are all connected. What affects one, affects the many. Whether it is a stimulus check, or a neighbor who sewed a mask for you, we are re-learning that we don't have to go it alone. The same holds true of getting access to the justice system. Trying to do your own divorce is daunting but you should not let that prevent you from getting the relief you need. You should think out of the box and work with professionals who are willing to come up with cost effective and creative solutions.
Certain Texas divorces or other Texas family cases benefit from the use of a private investigator. Investigators can be very helpful in obtaining documentation regarding lifestyle, assets, income, roomates, friends, paramour and parent s including their criminal history, work history, demonstrating hidden affluence, locating and interviewing witnessess, and obtaining information regarding abuse or neglect.
The best way to select and hire an investigator is to find someone referred to you by a lawyer. A next best way would be to simply look in they yellow pages- these investigators typically do more family work. At a minimum, the investigator should have a Class A (investigatons only) or a Class C (investigations or security) license from the Texas Department of Public Safety- Private Security Board. Beyond that, there are several advanced certifications which may distinguish one investigator from another such as the designation of Texas Certified Investigators (TCI) or the national designation of Professional Licensed Investigator (PLI) or Certified Legal Investigator (CLI).
When hiring a private investigator, costs are always a consideration. Costs for a private investigator in Texas varies widely across the state. Rates can range from $35 to $150 per hour. A recent survey of the Texas Association of Licensed Investigators found that the average hourly rate of approximately $85.00 per hour with mileage rates at $0.40 per mile. you have the right to a written contract at the time you are contracting the service. The average for an infidelity surveillance will typically run about $3500 to have a real chance of likely success.
In every Texas family law case, be it divorce or a suit affecting the parent-child relationship, there a issues of both law and fact. In cases where it is called for and a private investigator is employed, then the facts become clearer. And everyone wants the the outcome of their case dependent on solid, verifiable facts, as opposed to the vague and uncertain outcome that is dependent on your attorneys’ art of persuasion. Even the greatest attorney in the world wants facts on their side and hiring a private investigator may be the best way to get those facts brought to light.
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Attorney Sean Y. Palmer has over 18 years of legal experience as a Texas Attorney and over 24 years as a Qualified Mediator in civil, family and CPS cases. Palmer practices exclusively in the area Family Law and handles Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, Adoptions, and other Family Law Litigation cases. He represents clients throughout the greater Houston Galveston area, including: Clear Lake, NASA, Webster, Friendswood, Seabrook, League City, Galveston, Texas City, Dickinson, La Porte, La Marque, Clear Lake Shores, Bacliff, Kemah, Pasadena, Baytown, Deer Park, Harris County, and Galveston County, Texas.