Addiction sucks, and it's broken up more marriages than I can count.
Gambling is the second fastest growing addiction in America (porn addiction is #1). Gambling addiction can be really bad because it, by definition, wastes so much of a family's income.
While drugs can drain resources almost as fast as gambling, usually drug addicts find a way to keep the money aspect of things under some sort of control. Not so with gambling addicts. They bankrupt their families all the time.
People often deal with being married to a gambling addict by divorcing that gambling addict. They assume that will end their money problems because they won't have to endure their ex's behavior any more.
I wish that were true.
One tactic gamblers use to feed their addiction is by stealing other people's identities. And when a gambler has kids, those kids are easy targets for identity theft.
Here are a few suggestions to keep your kids and their identities safe from a gambling addict.
1. "Freeze" your kids' credit reports.
When you put a "credit security freeze" on a credit account, it means no one can pull your credit report and score. If creditors cannot see a credit score, they will often (not always, oddly enough) deny a credit application. This means if you ex tried to open a credit card in your child's name, the credit card company wouldn't be able to run a credit check. This means there's a much higher likelihood that your ex wouldn't be able to open the credit card.
To put a credit security freeze on your kids' accounts, you will need to contact all the major credit bureaus and work with them to initiate the process.
2. Purchase identity theft insurance.
Another great idea to keep your kids' identity safe is to purchase identity theft insurance.
There are some places that sell credit monitoring services, but those don't do much. Essentially, they tell you when your identity has been stolen (gee, thanks).
By contrast, identity theft insurance will help you not only monitor your credit reports, but will also pay someone to fix everything if your identity is stolen. (It can take tens or hundreds of hours talking to banks and credit companies to set everything straight after identity theft occurs. Having someone do that for you is a lifesaver.)
This insurance is very inexpensive. Zander Insurance has a great plan with up to $1 million in coverage for peanuts.
3. Tell your ex that if anything ever happens to the kids' identities, you'll go to the police and the FBI.
Yes, I know, I'm telling you to threaten your ex. I don't normally suggest that sort of thing, but if you suspect your gambling addict ex will steal your kids' identities, go ahead and threaten.
Identity theft is a crime. It's certainly a state crime, and since it almost always involves dealing with institutions in other states, it's almost always a federal crime as well.
This means you can go to the local police as well as the FBI. Let your ex you'll be doing both if your kids' identities are stolen.
There are many situations that can come up when you are dealing with child custody. It is important for all parents to plan ahead for potential problems. Knowing what you are going to do if certain things happen can make you feel more at ease if any unwanted twists do develop.
While not all of these will occur in every child custody case, here are some challenges you might want to think about now.
The child custody exchange
When you and your ex hand your children off to each other, the tension might be high. This can be stressful for your children, so make sure that you try to make this as calm as possible. These custody exchanges aren't a time when you and your ex should discuss hot topics or argue.
Typically, it is best for one parent to drop the child off at the other parent's home. This makes the transition easier for children than if they have to wait for a parent to show up. If things are tense between you and your ex, you might opt to meet at a neutral location or somewhere public.
Vacations and holidays
Vacations and holidays pose issues in child custody case because both parents likely want to spend these important and fun days with the child to make memories. The child custody order should have information about which parent will have the child during these times. However, there might be times when some details are left up in the air.
You and your ex should be willing to give and take so that your child can have opportunities to enjoy time with both parents. Remember that you have to keep your child at the heart of all of these plans. For example, if your family usually celebrates Christmas Eve and your ex's family usually celebrates on Christmas Day, it might be best to let your child go with your ex for Christmas Day.
Decisions about medical care and school can pose issues between you and your ex. Another contentious area is faith or religion. Check the child custody order to see which parent is supposed to make these decisions. If only one parent is responsible for these decisions, the other parent should respect the decision that is made even if they don't agree. If you and your ex are supposed to work together to make them, be ready to compromise.
Attorneys have an interesting relationship with money.
Most of us became attorneys because (1) we want to help people or organizations succeed, and (2) we want to make good money doing (1).
But since day one of law school, we're taught by professors who don't have to actually make money because they have a government or academic job. We're often told by these professors that being a lawyer is a noble profession, and the practice of law is sullied by, wait for it, money.
Then we graduate from law school, pass the bar, and we are immediately bombarded with messages from our bar associations that the noblest thing we can do is to give away our services for free. Again, this messaging comes from bar association employees who don't actually have to make money because, for all intents and purposes, they're bureaucrats with life tenure.
This messaging from bar associations is especially pernicious. These associations take member money earned from actual work, then spend that money largely on explaining to their members the best way to give away their money (time=money).
(Note: Have you noticed the same people telling us (1) to give away our time and (2) that money sullies our profession are the same people who take our money? Law professors get paid by ever-ballooning law school tuitions that crush lawyers under mountains of debt, and bar associations are akin to mandatory union dues.)
The Reality about Money
The reality about money is this: money is to an attorney what oxygen is to the human body. Just as humans dies without a constant flow of oxygen, without money, an attorney dies, quickly.
Attorneys can exist without complete job fulfillment and without feeling like we make a difference (we often do so for years), but we cannot exist as attorneys without money.
That's not to say we shouldn't seek out fulfillment in our careers (we should), but it does mean money should get top billing.
Not Getting Paid Is a Choice
If money is our oxygen, then getting paid for our work must be our #1 job. Not #2. Not #3. #1.
If you look at getting paid for what you do as your #1 job, then you realize not getting paid is a choice. You're putting other jobs before getting paid. If that's how you want to live your professional life, that's fine, but realize that's a choice you make.
It's not your client's fault you don't collect on your billables. It's your fault. It's not your client's fault you didn't ask for a big enough retainer. It's your fault. It's not your client's fault you don't cut him off when he doesn't pay. It's your fault.
These are all choices, and they all lead to you not being paid for the work you do.
Now, I understand why many attorneys make the choice to not get paid. It goes back to our law professors and bar associations essentially making us feel guilty about money. When we taught that sort of thing, there's a high likelihood we'll accept it and act accordingly.
But please realize: those people are wrong. You deserve to be paid for every single thing you do.
If you bill by the hour, you deserve to be paid for every minute you work. If you bill flat fee, you deserve to be paid for every flat fee payment you receive.
We don't expect Chrysler to make money on only 8 out of every 10 cars made. Chrysler should make money on every single car. And you should make money on every single thing you do.
Getting Paid Basics
Placing getting paid as your #1 job means you will do things differently. For example:
1. You will have conversations with your clients about money.
I've found that other than the initial consultation when we lay out our hourly rate and retainer, attorneys don't like to talk about money with their clients. Even when clients don't pay, we still don't talk to them. Instead, we stick our head in the ground and pray they pay -- some day. That's not a recipe for success.
When you put getting paid first, you talk to your clients about money. What things will cost. Risk-reward analysis in light of cost. Keeping up on invoices.
Honestly, it's a much more open communication structure, which leads to better results.
2. You will stop work when payment isn't made.
Don't chase money. That's a fundamental rule of getting paid. And that means when clients don't pay, you stop working.
When clients get behind on bills, you stop being their attorney and you become their creditor. That changes the entire dynamic of the relationship, and not in a good way. Clients talk to you less because they're embarrassed about owing you money. You get resentful because they owe you money.
Don't become a creditor. Don't chase money. Stop work until you're paid. That way you can be an attorney and not a bank.
3. You will have money in trust -- always.
This is a correlate to #2. It's much easier to get paid when you always have money in trust. Problem is we get retainers upfront, then they disappear and we never replenish them. That's when clients get behind and we become creditors.
Easiest way to keep this from happening is to always have money in trust. Even if you keep only $1000 in trust on an ongoing basis, that's fine. Your realization rate (i.e., how much you get paid compared to how much you bill) will go way up when you keep at least $1000 in trust.
4. You will take credit cards.
It's 2017 for heaven's sake. Take credit cards. You will pay about 2% in processing fees, but it's absolutely worth it, and here's why.
First, people spend more when they use credit cards. Second, you get paid much faster when you take credit cards as opposed to checks or cash. Third, you can write in your retainer that if services are terminated for any reason, you can charge a credit card for any amounts outstanding (this cuts way down on clients who stiff you out of that last invoice).
So Much More
There's so much more to talk about on getting paid, but we've had a good discussion about some of the basics. I'm sure I'll write more about this again.
Last thing. When your #1 job is getting paid, you're job satisfaction will go up, and you'll be a better attorney to your clients. That resentment you feel toward non-paying clients will go away, as will a lot of your stress (which is founded in the fact you're doing way more work than you're getting paid for). You'll make more money, which will make home life more pleasurable. Ultimately, getting paid is a win for you and a win for your clients.
Here's a transcript of our June 6, 2017 finance and budgeting 101 class we teach for our clients. I've edited the transcript to make it more readable (we all use too many words when we talk). Hope this helps you get your finances in order during your Utah divorce.
Marco: [laughter] Thanks for coming in and doing this. This is something we've started doing recently. The reason I've started doing it is because people come in all the time and their lives are just kind of in shambles. It's really tough with divorce and child custody cases. And that's all we do. People, just have real hard times with money during that period of time, and I talk to people about it, but I wanted to get people together and say, "Okay, here's a plan for you to actually succeed with cash and with money." So, paying off debt, investing, and doing all these things.
So, tonight won't be anything earth-shattering. It's all pretty simple stuff. And we're not going to go real in-depth, but it gives you kind of an idea of what to do and a basic plan of what to do with your money going forward. So, like I said, thanks for doing this. Here's kind of the why you would want to get a handle on your money. You tend to spend less when you have a handle on your money, right? Because when you don't have a budget, when you don't do these things, your money just kind of walks off and you're like, "Where the hell did that go?" You know, at the end of the month, right? So -
Man: Oh. Oh, that Brown's got it.
Marco: Yeah. [laughter] I wish. [laughter]
Marco: So, what we've found in our family is that when we started doing this, we spent about 25% less off the top, because it's just random crap you buy that you never knew about. And when you make a budget, then you give every dollar a job and spend less of them. So, that's one of the reasons why you really feel like you got a raise when you do this, because you buy that random stuff and it all just goes away and you never know it. So, when you budget, you really will feel like, "Oh my goodness, I got - there's so many things I can spend this money on and it's not just random stuff anymore."
Another reason why we do this is if you build a house, you have to have a blueprint, right? I mean, there aren't very many people that can just go build a house. You have a blueprint to build stuff. So, if you want to succeed with money, if you want to have that kind of life and you want to get out of debt, you have to have a blueprint for that. And really what we're going to talk about tonight is that blueprint.
On a religious level -- because I look at this from a religious point of view, too -- there's no place in the Bible where it says, "Yeah, debt's good," right? It always says, "Debt's bad." It also says "the debtor is slave to the lender." Nowhere in our religious tradition is it a great thing to be in super amounts of debt, because I just don't think God wants us to do that. So, from a religious point of view, not great.
And then, the last why is control. When we don't have control of our money, we feel out of control in our lives. And when people are going through divorce or child custody cases, they always feel out of control, because you're putting your life in somebody else's hands, and that's not comfortable. If you can exercise control over your cash and your money, then it helps you feel like your life is in control much more than it used to be.
Those are some of the reasons why we're doing this tonight. I wanted to start by talking about the steps and specifically how to get out of debt and how to budget. I'm going to introduce the concept of the debt snowball. Most everything we talk about here comes from a guy named Dave Ramsey.
Man: Oh, I've heard that name.
Marco: Yeah, you can hear him on the radio. I listen to him all the time because I'm a dork about stuff like that, but he really has super simple stuff to help people do this. His big thing is -- his number one thing is -- , "Okay, you've got to get out of debt, because when you're in debt, you're paying all sorts of money to a bank. And we all hate banks. So, let's stop paying banks.
His first step is "get out of debt." Let's look at the first sheet here. It's called The Baby Steps. There are seven Baby Steps. And the first baby step is to set aside $1000 as an emergency fund. So, we all know that crap happens, right? I mean, your car breaks down, your kid has -
Man: Break a window.
Marco: What's that? [laughter]
Marco: Your kid breaks a finger or a leg or something like that and you have to go to the doctor. And when you don't have some money set aside to deal with those things, you tend to go off the rails and not get back on the rails with your budget. So, set aside $1000 as the very first thing.
Then, the second step is to pay off your debt. And Dave Ramsey's going to tell you, and I'm going tell you -- I've got a personal experience, and I'll talk about my experience here in a minute. I call it my, "Journey with debt," and we'll talk about that. But you take all of the other money and you just throw it at your debt. And the way you do it though is you take all of your debts, so all of your little credit card things, or your car, or whatever it is, and you put it all together. You figure out exactly what they are and then you list them, smallest -- so, principal payment, not your payment per month, but principal balance, right, where you're actually owing the debt -- smallest to largest.
Man: So, $200 credit card to $1000 credit card.
Marco: Exactly. A $200 credit card will go on the bottom, $1000 credit card will go onto that, your car would go on top of that, your house would be the last thing. You're going to worry about that a little later, because that mortgage fricking massive, right? But all the other consumer debt, you list it smallest to largest.
And then, you just attack the crap out of it. I mean, all your money goes to paying off that one smallest debt first. Don't worry about interest rates, don't worry about any of that sort of stuff. If you have a $200 debt you owe your mom that there's no interest on, and your next debt is a $500 dollar credit card and you owe 26% on it, pay off the $200 debt to your mom first, then you pay off the credit card.
So, I don't care about interest rates, and the reason is because what you want to do is build momentum. Ramsey calls it the debt snowball for a reason, because when you throw a snowball down the hill, it goes along and it just gets bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger, right? It's because of that momentum it increases in size. And it's super hard to stop, if you've ever done that. I grew up in Alaska, so we do this all the time.
Marco: We'd throw the snowballs down there, and by the time we got to the bottom of the hill, the thing's literally this big? And it's super hard to stop it at that point. So, you have that momentum. And that's what this is about. This isn't about interest rates. It's not about math, really. It's about gaining momentum, so knock out that smallest one first, and then go onto the next one and the next one and the next one.
Say you have your smallest one is a $1000 credit card payment. And your monthly payment is $50 a month on it. When you pay that smallest debt off, you take that $50 dollars a month that you normally would pay, and then you go put that toward the next debt. The snowball increases in size. It's that debt snowball idea. Now, of course, you make your minimum payments on all the other stuff. Don't go into default on these other thing. But everything gets thrown into that first debt. Then everything that got thrown into that first one plus that payment goes to the second, and it just goes on and on and on until you get done. And what they've found is that people who do this, really make a concerted effort to do this, get out of debt on average in about two years.
Man: Whew! Is that house an all?
Marco: No, not that house, no. [laughter]
Man: I was going to say, "Holy, hell, that's a pretty extreme average!"
Marco: I wish! No, they get done with consumer debt. Their cards and everything else. The house usually takes longer because, I don't know how expensive your homes are, but they're expensive.
Man: What did we say, six years?
Man: Yeah, six years. It takes about six years.
Marco: To get the house paid off? Yeah.
Man: If I had $2000 extra a month, after everything's paid off and everything's done and everything else, you know, that $2000 to $3000 extra a month and just throw that in your balance.
Marco: Just throw it at it?
Marco: I mean, think about that. Say you paid off all your debt and you get an extra $2000 a month, and you throw it at your house. Six years from now, you have a paid off house and you have no debt. You have more money than probably 80% of people in America at that point. That's massive, right? And then, you invest it and you do all these things. You're going to be fricking rich. So, that's what -
Man: "Fricking rich." [laughter]
Marco: That's what debt does: debt keeps you from getting rich. When you pay it off and you invest and you do these things, you accumulate wealth and you get wealthy, and then more money.
Man: That's right. That's right. It's hard to spend all that money when you've got everything you need.
Marco: I want to talk a second about my, "Journey with debt." My parents were always pretty good about debt. They made a lot of money in the '80s. We grew up in Alaska, and when you're in Alaska and you have good jobs, you get paid more than everybody else because you have to live in Alaska. So, they got paid a lot. And every once in a while, they'd take out loans for things, like their car or something like that. They probably shouldn't have, but they were pretty good about it. And I was always pretty good about it. I didn't spend a ton of cash. And I worked a lot in college, so I always had extra money. And I invested in college and did this things that I shouldn't have, and then it all went to hell.
Marco: And I decided to go to law school and incurred a mountain of debt in law school, and while I was going to law school, I put my wife through her master's degree, and then we worked for a little bit after that and adopted our son and then came back to Utah. We came back here because she wanted to get her doctorate. That's when I opened Brown Law: 2010.
So, we did a JD degree a law degree, a master's degree and a doctorate degree, and we had a mountain of debt. And I had opened up a new law firm. It killed me. It honestly just killed me. I gained weight. I'd have stress headaches almost every day. I never get headaches, and I had stress headaches every day. I would clench my jaw, because, apparently, I keep tension in my jaw. It got so bad that I actually cracked one of my back teeth, because I carried so much tension in my jaw when I slept. I had to get a crown back there. It was bad. I would get up in the morning, I'd take a shower, and my heart would race because I was just so stressed over the everything.
I finally said, "Okay, enough is enough, I got to get out of this. I got to stop, because I'm not going to live this long if I have this kind of stress and it manifests itself like this."
My wife and I decided we were going to get out of debt, so we sat down and we did a budget. We didn't go on vacations, we didn't eat out at restaurants, we didn't do all of these normal things. We decided, "Okay, we're done. We're getting out of this." And it took us a year. We were super, super blessed. We made a lot of sacrifices and then at the firm things went well and we grew, and we were able to pay everything off in a year.
I still remember the day we did the electronic transfer to the last student loan. [laughter] I'm embarrassed to even say this. It was $40,000. That was the last student loan. It was just this incredible sense of relief. After that day, I'm said, "This is freaking awesome! We're going to go out to dinner, we're going to do all of these things that we haven't been able to do for a long time." And then, the next day, I actually sat down and thought, "What are we going to do with all this cash?" We didn't have any debt anymore. And I didn't have any idea how to spend it. So, we just started investing and doing these other things, but -
Man: You just closed your eyes and gave it to your wife. [laughter]
Marco: Well, there was some of that. There were some clothes bought after, and a vacation or two.
Marco: I literally didn't know what to do with this cash. Eventually, I went through and I figured out how much we were paying a year in interest, which I had never done, because it would've made me sad. [laughter] It was $14,000 a year in interest. So, that was a $14,000 dollar raise by just paying off debt. That's what this crap does to you? Now we're able to put things aside and do the stuff we want to do. For example, my son goes to a private school and we're able to afford that and do all these things because we made sacrifices.
That was my personal journey. And I've lost weight and I no longer, like, crack teeth when I sleep and I don't feel like I'm going to have a heart attack in the shower. There are lots of good things that happen. So, from a personal experience, just get it done. So much less stress, so much of a better life, so much more money.
Marco: I want to talk to you about the how of a monthly budget, because everything starts and ends with the budget. If you don't have a budget, you're not going to save the money, you're not going to pay off your debt, you're not going to invest, because, again, your money's going to go wherever. I'm going to talk about the how of the budget.
Let's go to the last piece of paper: monthly cash flow plan. Dave calls it a monthly cash flow plan. I'm not entirely sure why. It's the monthly budget. This is the principle. You sit down and, if you have a spouse, sit down with the spouse, a significant other, sit down with the significant other. If it's just you, sit down with you. Figure out all the things you pay on every month. Utilities, the stuff you save for, so if you save for Christmas, start saving for Christmas. Realize you're going to pay these things for birthdays anyway, so you might as well save up for them.
But go through all that stuff and say, "Okay, these are the monies that I need to set aside for these things. These are the things I pay out every month." Write them all down. This is going to be - the first time you do this, it's going to suck. I mean, it took us hours and hours and hours to put this stuff together, but now that we've been doing it for a while, I think I spend, total, two hours a month thinking about money and our budget and paying stuff out.
The first time you budget is horrid. It gets easier. After about month three, you're in the groove and you'll love it. The first time is going to be tough, especially if you budget together with your significant other, because you're going to have battles. You're going to have battles about, "What do we spend money on? What don't we spend our money on? How the hell did we spend that much money on this?" You're going to have those battles, and that's okay. You need to have them, because you're going to work things out. But sit down and do that. Write it all out.
The principle is you give every dollar that comes in a job. If you have excess money, because you've already paid off debt or whatever, then it has a job. It goes somewhere. It doesn't just go in the ether. It goes into a savings account. It goes into your investment account. It goes somewhere to make you money.
This budget sheet has tons of different categories, like all your housing stuff, so the mortgage, all your utilities, transportation, what do you spend on gas. Go through and figure all of those out. And realize that, when you do this the first time, you're going to be wrong about the numbers.
Man: Did you just average some of that stuff out? Is that what you were doing?
Marco: Yeah, we just averaged it out. Holidays are actually the easiest to average out. So, you say, "Oh, Christmas, what do we want to spend at Christmas?" And then you just work back from there. If you're in December and a year from now you want to spend $2000 at Christmas, then you just divide that by 12 and it's whatever it is. That's actually the easiest way to do it.
The other stuff that you can standardize. You want to make everything as standardized as possible, so it's the same every month. It makes it so much easier. With utilities, you can go through and get on the flat-rate plan. So, instead of in the winter paying $20 a month in electricity, and in the summer, you paid $150, they'll average it out to $80 a month. All of the utility companies will do this nows. Call up the utilities and say, "I want to go on the flat-rate plan." They'll put you on the plan, and then you can budget that amount in every month. It's super cool. But everything else you want to standardize as much as possible. But realize that, when you do this the first time, you're going to be wrong about numbers, sometime really super wrong about numbers. Personal example, I didn't realize how much my wife spent getting her hair done. I remember that. [laughter]
Woman: That's important, though. [laughter]
Marco: It is, right? Yes, I just -
Woman: That's a necessity.
Man: If it's a necessity, it's a necessity. You've got to budget it in.
Marco: And I realized it was super important when I told her, "Really? You spend more than that?" And she almost bit my head off.
Marco: I said, "Well, I think you can get along with less." She said, "No!"
Marco: We had this argument about that.
Marco: You're going to be wrong about numbers, and that's okay. Just realize that as it goes on you're going to adjust upward, or downward, or whatever it is, and that's okay.
Let me see. The point of this is you make the budget, and when you have the budget, we're going to talk about what you do with this money and the budget here in a second, realize that once you spend that money, you're done. If you put side $500 a month for food, you need to actually only spend $500 for food. Don't take money out of your gas to pay for food or anything. You've got to learn to live within the means with each one of these things. And that's tough. Like I said, the first couple of months are going to be super hard, then you're going to get into the flow of things. After about month three, that was a real turning point for us. And when you make this budget, you get to the end of the budget, it should be $0. So, it should be all of your income up top and all of the outflow. And you've given every dollar a job and the difference should be $0, so it should just say $0 at the end. If it doesn't, then you messed up your math somewhere and you got to go back and figure that out. So, when you do that, when you get all of this stuff laid out, a couple different suggestions.
One is anything you can pay automatically out of your bank? So, utilities, you can, your mortgage, whatever. Get all that stuff automated so you don't even have to think about it. The rest of it, you actually take the money out and put it in physical envelopes, so you have an envelope system. And the reason you do this is you spend less money. People spend less money when they have cash. And every time I do this, everybody says, "Well, I like to spend cash, and I spend more money when it's cash." You're a freak.
Marco: Most people, the average is they spend about 25% less when they have cash. Because if paying for -
Man: I'm a freak, because if I was to have all my cash in my pocket, it would be gone.
Marco: Yeah, there's some people like that, but most people are -
Man: Just go to the store. $300 extra is not a big deal! I got the cash! [laughter]
So often in Utah divorce, one person makes more money than the other.
The Money Disparity Problem
Spouses making different amounts of income isn't a problem in a good marriage because couples combine their incomes and work together to make ends meet. In other words, they act as one when it comes to money.
Then divorce happens, and they stop acting as one. At this point, is people start hoarding money so the other person can't get to it.
Obviously, this situation benefits the spouse who makes more money. He or she doesn't have to share, which means they have more money, which means he or she can spend more money on the divorce. And more money usually brings better results.
That's the real problem.
How Can You Fix this Problem?
There are a couple ways we use to fix this money disparity problem.
First, we set up temporary child support and temporary alimony. (Often, we do this by filing temporary orders.) Once these payments are flowing from the spouse with more money to the spouse with less money, things tend to equalize a bit.
For example, if a wife makes $3000 per month and her husband makes $10,000 per month, we'd ask for temporary child support and alimony. Let's imagine child support is $1000 per month and temporary alimony is $1500 per month. That gets mom up to $5500 per month and dad down to $7500 per month. Not exactly equal, but a lot closer than before.
Second, we ask the court to set aside some marital money to pay for attorney fees. Usually, we do this by taking money from the spouse who makes more and giving it to the spouse who makes less, so that less-well-off spouse can pay a divorce attorney.
To set this money aside, we have to prove (1) the less-well-off spouse cannot afford an attorney, and (2) the more-well-off spouse has the ability to pay.
Let's think through a couple possibilities to see how this works in real life.
Scenario 1: Wife makes way more than Husband, and they have $50,000 in a joint savings account. Husband asks the court to set aside $20,000 of the savings account for his attorney fees so he can pay his attorney. Wife doesn't like that idea and says no because that money was a rainy-day fund. In all likelihood, the court's going to let Husband use that $20,000 to pay his attorney since that money is there and can be used.
Scenario 2: Husband makes way more than Wife. He cuts Wife off from the money and won't give her anything. Wife paid her divorce attorney something to start the process, but can't keep paying. They have no savings. Wife's attorney asks the court to force Husband to pay (in addition to temporary alimony) $500 per month toward Wife's divorce attorney. Problem is that after Husband pays temporary child support and temporary alimony, he has no money left. In all likelihood, the court won't give Wife the $500 per month because Husband can't afford it.
How often Does a Spouse Pay the other Spouse's Divorce Attorney Fees?
One of the sad realities about divorce in Utah is there's usually not enough money to go around.
This means that in the vast majority of cases people pay their own divorce attorney fees.
This doesn't seem right when one spouse makes more than another, and I agree that it's probably not right. It is reality, though, and you may need to prepare that.
This means that if you're the spouse with less money, you may need to lean on parents, family members, friends, or credit cards to pay for your attorney. Start with parents first; they're usually the most willing to help, but don't count out uncles and aunts or brothers or sisters. Your family is truly your lifeline in situations like this.
I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed on Impact Makers Radio.
The theme of the interview was "getting your financial house in order," and we talked about budgeting and finance for people going through a Utah divorce. I saw Utah divorce, but, honestly, the principles we discussed would benefit anyone anywhere going through divorce.
And, for you readers out there, below is a transcript of the interview:
Impact Makers Radio Interview - Marco Brown
Welcome to Impact Makers Radio, featuring industry thought leaders sharing problem-solving insights to help grow your business, and live the life you love. And here's your host, Stewart Andrew Alexander.
Stewart: Hi, and welcome to another "Let's Talk Divorce!" conversation! On this segment of the show, ladies and gentlemen, I have Divorce Attorney Marco Brown, founder of Brown Law, calling in all the way from Salt Lake City.
Marco has a wealth of experience in the area of Family Law, and will be talking to you today about getting your financial house in order, as in budgeting and investing for the divorcee. Now, that sounds really interesting, so if you are a divorcee, you might want to stop what you're doing right now, and just tune in for the next 20 minutes or so, and listen to what Marco has to share.
With that said, let's not keep him waiting any longer. Welcome to the show, Marco!
Marco: Hi! Great to be here.
Stewart: You are so welcome. So, Marco, if you could, just briefly describe the kinds of people who you serve, and the various types of situations they find themselves in, when they come to you for your help.
Marco: Sure. We take divorce and child custody cases, and those are the only types of cases we take. We limit ourselves like this because we want to be able to help people to the best of our abilities, and if we try to be a jack of all trades and a master of none, we're not really helping people. So, we only take one type of case.
The people we help all really find themselves in a tough situation. Their marriages are ending, their families are breaking apart, they're scared, they worry about not having enough money, and about losing friends, family members. A lot of times, we really serve people who don't have enough money, because there's almost never enough money to go around, in the divorce.
You use more resources when you get divorced, because you give up things like economies of scale, and specialization inside your marriage. More resources means more money. Most people live right up against their financial precipice. They live paycheck to paycheck, so there's no slack in the system. One thing goes wrong, like a divorce, and they're over the edge, financially. There's just not money there.
Most people we get in, they don't know their assets, they don't know their debts, they don't know what they spend per month, they don't even know what their income is. We get a lot of people that don't know what their spouse's income is. And that's how they've lived their lives.
I can't imagine living my life like that, but a lot of people do. And then, when they get divorced, a difficult situation becomes a really untenable situation. That's the most common situation we serve people with.
Stewart: Okay. Thanks for sharing that with us, Marco. So, keeping all of that in mind, and obviously, anything that you share with us today is not legal advice or legal assistance, can you briefly share one of the most common misconceptions? I'm quite sure there are quite a few of them out there, that you come across on a regular basis. But if you could just share one of the most common misconceptions, surrounding budgeting and investing for divorcees, that would be great. Thank you.
Marco: I think the most common misconception is people think they can't get ahead financially when they're going through a divorce, or after a divorce. And that's just not true. I'm not going to lie to you. Divorce is tough. We all know divorce is tough. But if you have a financial game plan while you're going through divorce, and one for after divorce, you can be successful with money.
You can pay off your debt. You can become debt-free. You can invest in yourself and your family. You can do all of these things, with the right plan, and the willingness to follow the plan. As I said before, people don't have budgets, they don't have plans, and that's really where they fall down. When they have those things, and they're willing to follow them, they can get up. They can be successful with money during divorce, and after divorce.
Stewart: Let's look into a little bit of a case study, if you will. Based on what you just shared with us then, Marco, and obviously, keeping client confidentiality in mind, share an example of how you have helped somebody who came to you with those challenges, with those misconceptions that you just shared with us, and what kind of transformational results you were able gain for them.
Marco: There was a really nice lady who came in for what we call a Roadmap and Recovery session. The Roadmap and Recovery session is our initial consultation, when we go over peoples' situations, we go over their goals, and we go over a strategy in order to obtain those goals. She actually didn't end up hiring us, so it's kind of an odd story. She hired another Attorney who she had gone to high school with.
But she took advantage of our personal finance one-on-one training, that we offer people. We offer it to the clients and non-clients, alike. During that training, she and I discussed family budgeting, how to pay off debt, and she had never done a family budget before. Her husband had always done those things. But she took to it like a fish to water, because she realized that now, in her life, she wouldn't be able to lean on him anymore.
So, I went through and explained the system that my family and I use to budget. This system helped us cut our family spending by 25 to 33 percent. Like I said, she really took to it. She took the training home, she implemented the system. She had started having good success with it, and she actually still emails me probably every three or four weeks, and asks me "How do you deal with this, in this system? How do you deal with that, in this system?" And we have this conversation about it.
She's doing really well, and it's great to see her succeed while she's going through divorce, with money and budgeting, because I know that she's going to be super successful with it, after she gets divorced. At that point, she's going to be able to do things like invest. Even if it's small amounts of money, she'll get in that habit, and she'll be able to invest more and more.
That's the kind of transformation that a lot of people think they can't do, in divorce, but you absolutely can. You just have to have a good plan.
Stewart: Okay, Marco. Today's topic is Getting Your Financial House in Order, especially when it comes to budgeting and investing. With that in mind, and for those divorcees wanting to know more, what is the most common, but unknown, pitfall, that you would like to bring to their attention today?
Marco: I think the most common pitfall is that no matter how well you budget, no matter how well you plan, no matter how well you map things out, emergencies happen. Cars break down, kids go to the ER, whatever it is. Stuff happens.
What you have to do is, you have to build a cushion, or some slack, into your financial system, into your budget, to deal with these types of emergencies. Otherwise, you'll get off track, because you'll have this emergency, and you'll spend money that would otherwise go somewhere else, and you get off track, right? And then, it's harder to get back on track, and to get back to the plan.
What you have to do is, you have to set something aside, for emergencies. There is a very well-known financial guru who says, "Start with $1,000 in your emergency fund." That might be kind of a high number, for someone getting divorced. So, maybe you start out with $500, and you work your way up to $1,000.
The point really is that you put away something at least somewhat significant for emergencies, so you can stay on track when life happens.
Stewart: I just had a thought then, Marco. Based on what you just shared with us, I'm thinking about a divorcing couple, maybe it's the wife, and she's been at home for the last 20 years. For whatever reason it is, she finds herself in a situation where she is being divorced.
Now, in terms of finances, her credit rating may not be that attractive. What does she do, in that situation, when she is approaching the divorce procedure? What kind of things should she bear in mind? What kind of pitfalls should she be aware of?
Marco: Let me take it from the aspect of what she should do. The first thing we tell people to do, when they come in, is to figure out every cent of income that the family receives; wages, rents, investments, trusts, whatever it is.
The second thing is to figure out every expense you pay: mortgages, credit cards, student loans, daycare, whatever it might be. In doing step number two, you automatically figure out what your debts are.
And then, third is to piece together every asset you have. We define an asset as anything you own that you don't make payments on. So, a house, unless it's paid off, would be a debt, in our world. You would put together all of those assets, and then you would put together your kind of bare bones budget.
What that does is it allows you to know exactly what you need, not only during the divorce, but after it, to kind of get along. And if you get more than that, then that's fantastic.
That's what we tell people to do in the beginning, and that really helps them get on with a plan. Now, on the credit side of things, most people have credit. They've had consumer loans, so credit is not really that much of an issue.
If you don't have good credit, I think you have to ask yourself whether you need credit, in order to get by. Hopefully, you don't. You don't want that sort of debt, but there are ways that you can build your credit, if you really have to. But I think the point is you set up a plan, where you don't have to rely on debt at all.
Stewart: Okay then, Marco. Thanks for sharing that. They are some really great insights, and I'm sure the listener is going to find that really, really helpful. With that said, I'm sure they'll also want to know a little bit about Marco Brown. I mean, who is he? What makes him tick? How does he feel when he gets up in the morning?
If you could just share a little bit about yourself, Marco, and especially in terms of your background and your education, and the kinds of experience you have, as relates to the topic of Family Law.
Marco: I grew up in a little village in Alaska, on the Aleutian Peninsula. By little, I mean 85 people little. It was this place called Cold Bay. My dad ran a salmon hatchery, of all things. My mom was an air traffic controller. It was this really kind of this wonderful lifestyle for a little kid, because all I did was hunt and fish and play with my dog. I loved it. It really is that kind of ideal situation for a little kid.
I grew up there, and learned to be pretty independent. I left home when I was 17, went to college, and studied psychology. I was actually going to be a clinical psychologist. And then, I decided to go to law school, where I graduated with honors.
After that, I clerked for judges in the 3rd district in Iowa. I helped the with their trials, helped them write their trial opinions, their orders. Then I worked for a big law firm, for a little bit. I didn't particularly like that. It didn't really suit me too well, so I came to Salt Lake City in 2010. My wife wanted to get a doctorate. She sings opera, so we came here to allow her to do that, and to get a doctorate.
And then, I started the law firm. But to be honest, none of that really prepared me for helping people with divorce, especially helping people with money in divorce. What helped me do that is working with thousands of people, and talking with thousands of people going through divorce.
You really have to get in that muck and that mire to help people. When you do that, you see patterns. You see patterns of the problems people have, and how they face them, who is successful with it. And that really started me thinking "How can I help people fix these problems? How can I help people get their financial house in order?"
Stewart: Okay. Thanks for sharing that with us, Marco. It's good just to learn a little bit more about the personal side of our guests, so thank you for doing that.
At this stage then, Marco, when you're thinking about the kinds of people who you help, the ones that walk in through your door, and they're wanting to know more about getting their financial house in order, a.k.a. their budgets and their future investments; with that in mind, what would be your final thoughts, that you would like to leave them with, before we find out how to connect with you?
Marco: I think if there's one thing I'm going to tell people, it's sit down today and create a monthly budget. And I mean a real budget, that accounts for every dollar coming in and every dollar going out of your household. That's going to sound simplistic, but it's not.
If you do this, and you create this monthly budget, you'll figure out what your debts are, you'll figure out what your assets are, you'll figure out where you spend too much money, where you can save that money, and how much money you can start investing for yourself, on a consistent basis. That allows you to put together that plan, that you can then stick with.
But it all starts with that monthly budget. Really, it's the idea that by small and simple things, are great things brought to pass.
Stewart: Right. So, if there is somebody who feels they want to know more about getting their financial house in order, how can they connect with you, Marco? Where would they find you?
Marco: I think the best way is probably our website and the blog, and you can find that at utdivorceattorney.com. We're also on Facebook, at utdivorceattorney, or you can put in Brown Law LLC on Facebook, and search it, and we'll come on up. LinkedIn is another way. Just search Marco Brown, and it should come up. I believe that's how we found each other.
Stewart: So, for all of you out there tuning in, maybe you're driving in your car. Take care while you're doing that. Or maybe you're even still at work, and you know you should not be listening while you're at work, but we don't mind! Maybe you're even listening in on your cell phone, or a tablet. Whatever the case may be, we do have to go.
However, a reminder again, that was Marco Brown. Thank you so much, for sharing so generously with us today, Marco. You certainly have proven that you're a true educator and advocate for your clients' success. Thank you so much.
Marco: Thank you. It was great.
Stewart: You are so welcome. And of course, a big thank you to you, the listener, for joining us on this insightful and informative discussion, with one of the leading Divorce Attorneys in the greater Salt Lake City area today. Make sure you do check him out. Give him a call. You're going to be in good hands.
Until the next time, my name is Stewart Andrew Alexander. We're going to be back shortly, with some more leading divorce professionals, in this, our series of "Let's Talk Divorce!" conversation. Until then, take care, have a great day, and we'll talk real soon.
Thank you for tuning in to Impact Makers Radio. To listen to all past, present and future industry thought leaders and trendsetters, visit us at impactmakersradio.com.
No surprise there since divorce attorneying is my vocation and what I think about most of the day.
Some days, though, it's best to take a step back and think and write about something different.
Today's different is lists. Almost every day I make lists. I make lists of goals, things to do, favorite restaurants, top vacation spots, etc.
One of my favorite lists is my top books. These aren't the best books ever written, but they are my favorite books that I've ever read. I love books, and this list is always changing depending on my stage in life and what I've reflected on over the years.
So, here's my top 5 books of all time:
1. The Trial by Franz Kafka.
Best existentialist book ever written. The premise is a man wakes up one morning and is informed he's on trial. Problem is he can never figure out why he's on trial, or when he's on trial, or the charges against him. It's a wonderful look in to the banality of bureaucracy and the nature of law.
2. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris.
Best biograph ever written. Roosevelt lived life to its fullest. So much so that his life reads more like a comic book than a presidential biography. The Rise is the first volume in a three-volume series, and it is by far the most interesting of the three. Morris brings Roosevelt to life like no one else ever has, or probably ever will.
3. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.
An amazing story of sin, redemption, and forgiveness. There's nothing quite like the interplay between Jean Valjean and Javert. Take the time and read the unabridged version (all 1200+ pages); it's worth it. I freely admit I cried all the way through.
4. Open by Andre Agassi.
Best autobiography ever. I grew up watching Andre Agassi play tennis. I loved his style and his game. I also figured he was a vapid Las Vegan. Man, I was way off. Agassi is intelligent and writes extremely well. His personal story is compelling and incredibly poignant. What struck me almost more than anything else is how different he is in real life compared to what I assumed he was from watching him on TV for years. Never judge a person's life from the outside. Lesson learned.
5. Il Cucciaio d'Argento [The Silver Spoon].
Best cookbook ever. This is the Bible of Italian cooking. I swear every Italian woman from Torino to Taranto has this in her kitchen. So many amazing recipes. If you like to cook at all, this will be your joint.
There you have it: the top 5.
In case you were wondering my 6-10 are: The Big Short, Alexander Hamilton, Market Education: The Unknown History, and Money: Mastering the Game.
At the end of that process, the judge signed a divorce decree.
A divorce decree in Utah is really just a court order telling you how things work in your divorce. It covers what you'll do with your assets and debt, your retirement, your kids, everything.
And when you have a decree, the assumption is both of you will follow the decree.
What Happens if Someone Doesn't Follow the Decree?
If someone doesn't follow the decree, then you have to enforce the decree.
Here are some basics about enforcing a divorce decree in Utah:
1. Enforcing the decree means you have to go back to court.
Enforcing a decree is not a criminal matter, so you can't go to the cops about it. You have to go back to the court where you divorced and explain to that court how your ex violated the decree and what punishment that deserves.
2. You start enforcing a decree by filing an order to show cause (i.e., a motion for contempt).
To start enforcing a divorce decree you have to file a document with the court. That document is called an order to show cause, which is really a motion for contempt (more on contempt in a second).
An order to show cause sets out how someone violated a decree and what the punishments for that should be. The "how" needs to be specific and needs to be backed up by as much evidence as possible because your ex will have a chance to respond.
3. If the court finds someone violated the decree, that person is found to be "in contempt of court."
Lawyers and judges speak a different language than normal human beings. When enforcing a divorce decree, we don't say someone who violated the decree is "guilty"; instead, we say that person "violated the decree" and is "in contempt."
The reason for this is "guilty" refers to having committed a criminal offense. Since violating a decree is a civil, not criminal, matter, we use a completely different set of legal jargon.
4. You need prove three things to have someone held in contempt of court.
For someone to be held in contempt, you'll need to prove by clear and convincing evidence that your ex: (1) knew what was required under the Order, (2) had the ability to comply with the Order, and (3) willfully and knowingly failed or refused to comply with the Order.
These requirements make sense. For example, if your decree is so poorly written neither of you know what your responsibilities are, then it's not fair to hold either of you in contempt for violating something you couldn't understand.
(Another note about language. "Clear and convincing evidence" is a very high standard of proof in the law. In fact, it's the highest standard of proof in civil law. Essentially, it means you need produce so much proof that the judge is convinced about each of the three things above.)
5. There are lots of punishments for violating a Utah divorce decree.
In another post, we laid out all of the possible punishments for violating a divorce decree. Here are the most common punishments:
1. Being forced to pay attorney fees to the person enforcing the order.
2. Having to give someone make-up parent-time.
3. Community Service.
4. Jail time.
By far the most common punishment is paying the other person's attorney fees. Jail happens every so often, but usually only when someone hasn't paid child support or alimony for some time.
And while it's not a punishment, if someone's before the court because he didn't do something (e.g., sign a quit claim deed to a house), the court will very often order that thing to be done within a certain number of days. If it's not done by then, actual punishment ensues.
Those are the basics. Like everything in the law, there's a lot more to know and explore. For more about enforcing court orders, you can read this, this, and this.
Depending on how you handle things, your Utah divorces can be expensive.
It doesn't have to be that way, though. Here are the five most effective tricks we've found that help control the cost of people's divorce.
1. Get organized before you meet with an attorney.
If you organize your thoughts, goals, and documents before you ever meet with a divorce attorney, you'll save lots of time.
For example, when you meet with an attorney for the first time and you've thought through how you want to discuss your situation, then your time during the initial consultation will be much better spent. And if you already know your goals, you and your attorney will get on the same page much, much faster.
Perhaps the thing that will save you the most time, though, is if you organize your financial documents. You'll need them for your financial declaration later on anyway, so you might as well organize them right up front. Bring your financial documents to the first meeting with an attorney. It will help tease out debts, assets, and retirement and save time in the future.
2. Have realistic expectations.
Nothing runs up a bill faster than unrealistic expectations in divorce. If you believe the other parent will never see your kids, or you're entitled to $2500 per month in alimony when your spouse makes $5000 per month, then some tempering of expectations is necessary.
One good way to see how things might work out in your divorce is to review our divorce FAQ book.
3. Send one email with five questions in it, not five emails containing one question a piece.
Communication with your attorney will account for a large portion of your total bill. It's always more efficient to send one email or make one phone call in which you ask multiple questions. It just takes less time that way compared to lots of emails and phone calls with in question.
4. Get back to you attorney quickly.
When your attorney asks for something (e.g., pay stubs, tax returns, calendars), get it to him or her quickly. Almost nothing will make your case take longer than not getting your attorney what's necessary to move the case along.
5. Be nice to your ex.
Yep, being nice to your ex will save you money, time, and heartache.
This doesn't mean you roll over and play dead in your divorce. It means that even though what you're going through is incredibly difficult, and you might not like your soon-to-be ex, you can still act civilly and treat him or her with respect.
I've never heard anyone say they regretted being nice to their ex. I have heard hundreds of people regret treating their ex poorly.
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