Divorce: Temporary Hearing – What does Jane need?

As we continue to look at Dick and Jane and the topic of divorce, recall that the process is underway. As we move through the process, we are going to examine each phase from the perspective of Dick and from the perspective of Jane.

For this month, we will look at the temporary issues from the perspective of Jane. Jane’s primary concerns moving forward are as follows:

  • Maintaining stability & a routine for the children;
  • Making sure she has adequate funds to pay household expenses;
  • Making sure she has adequate funds to get through the costs of the divorce, including amounts to find out about assets;
  • Discovering information about the extent of Dick’s affair

In preparation for the temporary hearing, Jane should focus most on the children and the stability of the family. By presenting the case through that lens, all of her concerns above can be met. On a temporary basis, Jane would push for a determination that she has primary physical custody and joint legal custody of the children, with her having final decision making authority over legal decisions affecting the children’s healthcare, education, religion and general welfare. The Courts use a form document called a “Parenting Plan” to lay out the provisions controlling custody and visitation. It will be most important for Jane to come up with a realistic schedule for the children so that they can meet their academic and extracurricular requirements with minimal disruption. The Court will want to start the parties on a schedule that looks more and more like things will look when the parties are completely divorced. Jane may want to push for an order from the Court preventing Dick from introducing the children to any new love interests. On a temporary basis, a mutual order of this sort would not be out of the question.

From a financial standpoint, Jane will need to prepare a budget. The budget will document all of the household and children’s expenses. The budget is known as a Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit. The Court will look at the budget and determine the amount of money needed for Jane and the children and order that Dick pay the same. The Court can order that certain expenses be paid directly (like a mortgage) and that other funds are to be given to Jane for the payment of expenses.

Alimony is becoming increasingly harder and harder to obtain. Women of all walks of life are expected to work and contribute to the household expenses. On a temporary basis, the best argument for Jane to make is going to be to lay out a plan for the future. If Jane needs to go back for job training or schooling, she should present a plan to do so and ask for an award of money to pay for the same. The Courts are going to look much more favorably on Jane if she can present a logical plan to return to work as opposed to simply making a request for funds every month.

On the issue of attorney’s fees, Jane needs to outline the plan for litigating the case and, specifically, the amount of funds needed to get the case to a settlement posture. Courts are very receptive to the use of reasonable attorneys’ fees in order to get a case resolved and not subjected to a final trial. If Jane attempts to make the temporary hearing all about Dick’s affair and appears out for “vengeance” the Court is going to shoot her down. A Judge is not going to be inclined to allow Jane funds to go on the warpath. Jane will need a reasonable amount of money to use the discovery process to get a handle on the parties’ assets. One major issue will be determining the value of Dick’s new company (we will devote an entire blog post to this subject later). If Jane can outline a fee proposal designed to get this information, the Court would be inclined to grant the award.

It might be difficult for her to contemplate, but Jane will need to wrestle with the decision of selling the house. If the parties have equity in the house, a sale might be the only way to access the funds in order to divide them. This is particularly true if the parties do not have sufficient funds elsewhere to offset the value of the house. It might be tempting for Jane to enter into an agreement whereby she keeps the house and the equity in it and allows Dick to keep other assets in exchange. However, Jane should caution against becoming “house poor” or in a situation where she has a high, unaffordable mortgage payment and her savings is inaccessible due to being in the equity in the house. Jane will need to consider the needs of the children for stability and structure and determine if the house can or should be sold.

Next month, we will look at the same issues from Dick’s perspective. Dick must be very cautious about setting a precedent for payments and managing damage control.