50 Fantastic Ways to Dominate Your Divorce Case: The Ultimate List from a Divorce Lawyer in St. Louis, MO
Imagine that you are at the end of your divorce process and the Judge has just granted the dissolution of your marriage. When you hired a divorce lawyer in St. Louis, MO, you never thought you’d reach this point.
Not only is the case over, but the result was excellent. You received an incredibly fair division of the property. You are spending lots of quality time with your children. And the monthly support orders aren’t making you bankrupt.
This type of result does not just magically happen. You can just float through the divorce process, or you can take actionable steps to achieve the results you hope to achieve. This is the ultimate list of those actionable steps. While not every step will apply to your case, hopefully you can find a helpful nugget or two:
Baby Steps: Getting Started in the Divorce Process
- Find a small law firm where one of the main attorneys will be working on your case: Most litigants seek attorneys in town with the most press or the best reputation, but many of those attorneys have outgrown the actual practice of law and your case will be handed off to a young associate without as many years of experience. Small firms and solo shops do not have that luxury so you will likely get more attention from a high-end attorney.
- Read those Google reviews when choosing a Missouri divorce attorney: The divorce process is an emotional one. Google reviews are many times left by emotional people who had a compelling experience. While Google reviews are not always reliable, in family law they may be a bit more indicative of the service you will receive from that divorce law firm.
- Find a divorce attorney that knows the players: The people involved in your case will substantially affect the outcome of your case and there can be a wide range of potential outcomes. These players include your attorney, the opposing counsel, the Judge, and the Guardian ad Litem.
- Provide all of the information up front: When you finally choose an attorney, make sure and give them all of your information in a well-organized fashion. Fill out the intake sheet completely. Type a narrative of your marital history for them to refer to throughout the case. Make their life easier so they can focus on more important aspects of your case.
- Don’t botch the financial statements: All Missouri divorces require the litigants to file basic financial statements at the beginning of their case. These statements will be the crux of the financial portion of your case. Spend the time making sure every number can be supported and is accurate.
- Help a process server out: Most attorneys and clients send the summons to their server to be served and give him or her very little information about the person to be served. The more information you provide, the quicker they will serve and the more money you will save on service.
- Change that Judge: Every litigant gets one change of Judge during their divorce case for no cause at all. Speak thoroughly with your Missouri divorce attorney about their experience with your Judge. Make sure they are a good fit for your situation. If not, file a Motion for Change of Judge.
- Get your PDL Motion on file quickly: A PDL Motion request temporary orders from the Court to be put in place during your case. Once it is on file, you have a formal request to the Court which gives the Judge more authority to act.
The Thick of Things: Getting into Court and Litigating
- Set that PDL Motion for Hearing: Once the PDL Motion is on file, you might as well set it for a hearing. Hearing dates provide leverage as the other side will want to avoid a testimonial hearing for a variety of reasons.
- Schedule lots of conferences: Status conferences and settlement conferences are great opportunities to get feedback from the Judge and to keep the Judge involved in your case. The more involved the Judge is, the more likely the parties will behave. Set a lot of conferences and keep your case humming along.
- Request retirement information: Don’t rely on records you are given by the other side. Money can move in and out of retirement accounts and it is better to have the details through subpoenaed records.
- Let’s meet and discuss: An in-person settlement meeting can be an incredibly effective tool in resolving a family law case. It can also be done earlier in the case than many attorneys think to do it.
- Prepare for your settlement meeting: Most clients, and attorneys for that matter, walk into a settlement meeting having done little preparation and are just waiting to see what happens. The more you prepare, the more effective your meeting time will be.
- Send an agenda: In addition to preparing for your meeting, ask your divorce lawyer in St. Louis, MO, to send an agenda to the other attorney so everyone can stay on track during the meeting.
- Add a third party to your settlement meeting: Some cases are contentious. This does not mean you cannot meet, but it might be a good idea to add a third-party mediator or special master to help ease the tension and lead the agenda.
- Memorize those local rules: Most circuit courts have a set of local rules that are applied in addition to the state rules and law. These local rules are the rules of the game and the better you know them the better you can use them for your case.
- Enforce the local rules: if you find a local rule that benefits you and is not being followed by the opposing party then file a Motion to Enforce it. Everyone must play by the rules or the Judge needs to know about it.
A Wealth of Information: The Discovery Process in Divorce
- Thoroughly complete your document exchange: In St. Louis County, the parties are required to exchange a specific list of documents. Make sure and send over every single document on the list so that the other side has no excuse not to turn over their documents.
- Subpoena the employment records: Employment records contain a lot of information about someone. You may just find out the opposing party has been missing a lot of work or failed a drug test.
- Utilize Interrogatories: Interrogatories are a discovery tool where the other side has to answer a list of written questions under oath. These answers can hold their feet to the fire and provide valuable information you may not have previously had.
- Set Depositions Early in the Case: There is no rule that depositions must be held right before your trial. While it does add an extra expense to your case, it can save you thousands of dollars in legal fees if the deposition helps resolve the case early.
- Admit or Deny: A seldom used discovery tool in cases is the Request for Admissions. This is a formal request to your ex to admit or deny certain facts about your marriage. This tool can be very effective and boxing in your ex and clarifying the finer details.
- Request a Guardian ad Litem (GAL): A Guardian ad Litem is an attorney appointed to represent the children in a court case. They can be helpful in many ways including investigating any concerns about the other parent.
- Educate your GAL: The more knowledge a GAL has, the better equipped they are to help your case. Provide your GAL with as much helpful information as you can.
- Incorporate your GAL: A good GAL can make things happen in family law matters. Make sure your attorney is involving them to push things forward.
- Ask your GAL for Temporary Orders: It is not uncommon for a Guardian to make recommendations for a temporary custody schedule in divorce and family law cases. Their word carries weight so use it to your advantage.
- Have your GAL lead a meeting: Guardians also tend to be experienced well respected attorneys with years of experience handling the legal process in family law and potentially other practice areas. You could do worse than having them lead a meeting.
- Deal with the property items now: Many litigants wait until the end of the divorce process to negotiate personal property items and then in the rush to finish the case certain items are not dealt with or given to your ex just to get things over with. Avoid the time crunch and deal with this issue earlier.
- Inspect the property: If you have chosen to leave the home or have been ordered out of the home, that does not mean you cannot ask for a chance to inspect the property. There is even a Missouri Supreme Court Rule which allows access to property for this purpose.
- Send it in writing: After calls with your family law attorney, ask them to send a follow up in writing of the discussion points. This will help your attorney retain the information and will give you a record if you need to refer back to it.
- Consult the experts: Divorce cases can utilize experts just like any other facet of life. Ask your attorney about what experts could be used to accentuate your case.
- Vocational testimony can help: Speaking of experts, hiring a vocational expert to testify in your case can be one of the most cost-effective ways to make a big impact on your case. These experts tend to be cheap and credible to the Court.
- Ask the counselor: Many people are surprised to find out that counselors can be compelled to testify about your sessions, particularly in a custody case. The mental health of the parents is a custody factor the Court must consider which opens the door to counselors testifying. If it would be helpful, utilize this testimony.
- Do the teachers know anything?: Teachers see the kids in their class every day and they tend to have their finger on the pulse of what is going on at home. Have the Guardian talk to your children’s teachers if there are custody concerns.
- Third party witnesses can help: Judges and GALs like to hear from third parties, particularly if they are neutral. Call family, friends and neighbors and see if they would be willing to speak to the GAL. Ask your co-workers if they’d be willing to testify. You’d be surprised who can be helpful to your case.
- Trace the money: Property division rights in Missouri are more nuanced than attorneys may lead you to believe. Many pieces of property can have both separate and marital components to them. That being said, unless you trace the money or hire a professional to do so, the Judge will not be able to see the money trail.
- Provide the evidence of separate property: Similar to tracing money, at times there is an opportunity to prove to the Court that property is entirely separate. However, the burden is on the party claiming property is separate. Go get this evidence early in the case even if you think the case will resolve amicably.
- Appraisals can be your friend: Why are you relying on Zillow to value the most important asset you have. Appraisals are affordable and much more accurate. They are also not used nearly enough by St. Louis divorce lawyers.
Divorce Trial: The End of the Road
- Reread those settlement documents: You will live with the terms of your divorce separation agreement for the rest of your life. Don’t gloss over this document even if you think certain parts are boilerplate.
- Focus on the details: If you do enter into a settled agreement, make sure that it is detailed. Any room for ambiguity will give an opportunity for future conflict, so be detailed.
- Consider separation: When going through divorce, you always have the option in Missouri to choose a legal separation instead if the parties agree to do so. This could be used to keep your spouse on health insurance, which could play a role in spousal support amounts being discussed.
- Flash those pictures: Lawyers always make sure to have a voluminous amount of wordy documents in their exhibit books for trial. However, something as simple as a picture or two of you with your children can help humanize your arguments to the Judge. Always put pictures in your exhibits if you have a custody and visitation portion of your case.
- Mock trial is in session: Have your attorney run you through some mock question or even a full mock trial prior to the real thing. The more comfortable you are heading into trial, the more effective your testimony will be.
- Technologically advanced: Most courtrooms have a large amount of technology equipment available that attorneys and litigants never use. Technology can enhance your case so why not use it.
- Dress to Impress: Little details can mean everything. Dress for your trial in a presentable manner that shows respect to the Court and to the Judge. You never get second chance to make a first impression.
- Do not react: While your trial is progressing, do not react in an emotional manner to anything said by your ex or their attorney. Conduct yourself in a business-like manner. Reactions will upset your Judge. You do not want your Judge to associate you with being upset.
- Don’t try the case: Some cases do not need to be tried. Trials are stressful and expensive. It allows the Judge, who is a stranger, to make decisions about what is best for your family. If there is any way to avoid it, then avoid a trial.
- Opt to write findings: If your case proceeds to trial, the attorneys will generally be given an opportunity after trial to write and submit a proposed Judgment to the Judge. Even though the Judge may not use your proposed Judgment word for word, just submitting one is an extra opportunity to advocate on your behalf. Insist that your attorney do this even if it adds an extra expense.
- File the post-trial motion: After a trial has occurred, either party has 30 days to file a post-trial motion to ask for a new trial or to ask the Court to amend any provision of the Judgment. This Motion must be filed to preserve issues for appeal, so if you have any complaints or think you may appeal, then file the Motion.
- Call an Attorney now: The stress of thinking about the divorce can sometimes be just as bad as going through it and getting it over with. If you’re in or around saint louis, we are happy to discuss your case at 314-918-0100.
That’s the list. If you enact even a few of these steps, you will give yourself an excellent chance at achieving a better outcome through your divorce process. Good luck!