As I understand it, less than five percent of divorces in Harris County, Texas, actually go to court where a judge makes the final decision. This is likely because in most family law courts in Texas, there is a rule that couples must attend mediation before a trial can be set to decide the case. Many couples soon realize as they go through the divorce process and mediation, that going to court will likely end up taking longer and costing more. So, there is a good chance your divorce will never be tried in a court of law.
It may not be immediately apparent if a specific divorce will be settled during mediation or end up in court. It all depends on the details of the divorce and the individuals involved. However, if the marriage has had a history of high conflict, involves large or complicated financial holdings, or one spouse is determined from the onset that he or she plans to take the case “all the way to the courtroom,” it is possible it could go there. It is the job of their attorneys to prepare as if the divorce case could go to court.
In such instances, attorneys may call in someone like myself to assist in preparing the financial components of the case during “the discovery process.” I gather and meticulously review all the financial documents, giving the attorney pertinent numbers and a list of items still outstanding. I carefully review the “responses” to the “request for production or information” and again determine what still may be missing. I create spreadsheets with various scenarios for division of assets and debts, and may place values on pensions for which only a monthly benefit is provided. Or, I may also calculate the current tax adjusted value of alimony payments.
In some cases, I work directly with or very closely with the client, helping her understand the financial issues at play, and keeping her up-to-date on the progress of the case, any settlement offers, as well as helping her work on budgets and future cash-flow projections.
In some instances, clients want my help in understanding aspects of the divorce process and divorce financial issues. We go over inventory documents from the opposing attorney, and review my set of tables to illustrate various ways the couple can settle the divorce.
I also may help a client with a developing a post-divorce budget that will work with anticipated assets/debts, and will put these numbers into a projected 20-year financial overview spreadsheet. This allows her to consider “what if” scenarios ahead of mediation that include keeping or selling the marital home, expected earning and spending levels, and much more. I also accompany clients to mediation if they desire.
The attorney may also come to me directly to get answers to specific financial questions, and to help him or her prepare for trial. For instance, when an attorney drafts a letter to the other attorney, she may run it by me to be sure she isn’t asking for something already received. Some attorneys may want me at mediation so I can crunch the numbers and produce subsequent projection scenarios when offers change during the negotiations.
Following the final mediated agreement or the judge’s decision, I will typically revise my spreadsheets one last time to capture the actual numbers and work this through a long-term analysis to be sure my client is still on target for a successful financial future.