Category: Legal Assistant

How to Fill Out Your Financial Declaration, Paragraph One. By Braxton Mounteer, Legal Assistant

If you find yourself involved in a Utah divorce action (whether child support will be an issue or not) or an action over the support of minor children in Utah (such as a child support action or action for parentage/paternity), you will need to exchange with your spouse or with the other parent an official court form known as the “Financial Declaration” (see Utah Rules of Civil Procedure 26.1). This blog series will concisely walk you through the process of preparing your financial declaration correctly.

As a general matter: you want to ensure your financial declaration is as accurate and complete as you can make it.

There are twelve total paragraphs in the Financial Declaration form.

Paragraph one of your financial declaration is easy to complete. It consists of checking a box declaring whether you are filing your financial declaration with the court.

When do you file your financial declaration with the court?:

  • In the event that you have a hearing regarding an issue of child support, spousal support, marital property, marital debts, attorney fees, court fees, or the court has specifically requested that a financial declaration be filed with the court.

Even if you are not required to file your financial declaration with the court, you are still required by the Rules of Civil Procedure to serve a copy of it (along with supporting documents for the claims and statements you make in your financial declaration) on the opposing party.

Please follow the rest of our posts on preparing your financial declaration, so that you understand better what is required of your financial declaration and why (and why it’s so important to ensure your financial declaration is as accurate and complete as you can make it).

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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Taking Your Divorce Case to Trial Requires Just as Much from You as It Does of Your Lawyer, By Braxton Mounteer, Legal Assistant

Taking your divorce case to trial is almost always a long, complicated, and emotionally exhausting process. You may be tempted to believe you can leave all of the work to your lawyer and show up the day of trial to sit on the sidelines while your lawyer does all the work. It might be nice if this were the way it could be, but it can’t.

Your trial is the final round; you need to work harder at your trial than you did in the months (perhaps even the years) leading up to the trial. You should be ready to testify—knowledgeably and shrewdly[1] on any issue in your case at your trial, and if your lawyer is good, he or she will have prepared you to testify that way.

If you leave all of the work to your lawyer, he or she cannot be as effective as he or she otherwise can be.

Failing or refusing to tell your attorney the truth, to give your attorney the documentation and other information needed to have a clear picture of the case. The strengths and the weaknesses of your case. Hiding this information from your attorney, lying to your attorney, or hoping that nobody will find out the weaknesses in your history, your character, and your case can be fatal (but almost certainly damaging) to your case. Failing or refusing to read what your attorney needs you to read and to provide the documents your lawyer needs to prepare for your case will risk leaving holes in your case that the opposition and/or the court can exploit to your detriment.

Your trial will likely be both a physically and emotionally exhausting experience in the best of situations, so you need to prepare for trial as best you reasonably can. Do the needed work. A prepared litigant is a confident one. You need to have your exhibits, witnesses, and your testimony prepared for trial as best you reasonably can. A prepared attorney is a confident one as well.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

[1] shrewdly doesn’t mean “dishonestly”; it means that you testify truthfully without testifying in a manner that can inaccurately, misleadingly, deceptively, and unfairly be twisted and used against you.

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Are You Fighting for Your Kids or Are You Protecting Your Financial Future? By Braxton Mounteer, Legal Assistant

An accusation that gets thrown around a lot in a divorce action is that a parent doesn’t actually want to spend time with his or her children. Usually it’s an accusation from a mother against a father. She accuses him of motivated to seek more custodial time by the fact that the more time he has with the children the less child support he pays. But if a mother makes more money than the father, Dad could accuse Mom the same way.

Making the “he’s just trying to save money–he doesn’t want to be with the kids” accusation costs the accuser nothing and usually forces the accused in a posture he should never have placed in.

Consider this scenario. You love and adore your children, but your spouse is spiteful and vindictive. Your spouse thus wants to take you to the cleaners financially and so he or she petitions for sole custody. In pursuit of sole custody, your spouse accuses you of being an abusive spouse and/or parent, getting you arrested and/or made the respondent in a protective order matter, resulting in you getting forcibly removed from your home by court order during the pendency of the divorce proceedings.

You are then stuck, during the pendency of the case, with temporary orders to pay child support (perhaps also temporary alimony) while trying to find (and pay for) a separate residence while paying an attorney in the fight to spend minimal time with your children. All the while, with the exception of a few clothing items the court may let you gather up, your former spouse has all of your belongings in the house, and primary custody of your children.

How do you prove that your desire for joint custody is out of love and responsibility for your kids and that you aren’t “just trying to avoid paying support”?

You will need to fight hard, (much harder than you’d imagine, and even harder if you are a father) to prove that, for the sake of the children’s benefit, there is no good reason that you cannot and should not exercise equal custody. Courts are shamefully not generally inclined to give fathers the benefit of the doubt in this regard.

On the flip side of this issue, what if the accusations against you are true? If you are an absentee parent historically and/or you don’t really want to spend that much time with your children, then you have made your own bed and should lie in it. Your children deserve to be with the parent who actually cares for them. If you foist the bulk of the burden of child care on your spouse, then your spouse deserves the funds needed to bear that burden. You should not be left homeless and starving by crushing child and alimony obligations, but you have no right to leave your children destitute either.

While courts are slowly moving toward embracing the idea that “the best parent” is both parents, there is still a surprising amount of resistance to the idea in the legal system. If you are seeking joint custody of your children, don’t expect the court to give you the benefit of the doubt, and be prepared for to fight much harder than you expected.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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What Would I Have Done Differently If I Were In My Parents’ Shoes? By Braxton Mounteer, Legal Assistant

Like many people, I am a child of divorce. While I may not understand every reason why my parents chose to end their marriage (I was too young to understand at the time), I can look back on how I was raised, both pre- and post-divorce, and see what worked and what only caused problems. Hindsight is 20/20, after all.

I know that I cannot go back in time to do things differently, but if my experience might help divorcing parents who are contemplating these issues and help them avoid the difficulties and disappointments I encountered, this post will be among my best.

One of the things that affected me the most was how my divorced parents handled the matter of my clothes. Having two sets of similarly styled clothes might not have mattered to some people, but it always felt like a continental divide to me. I am the same person at both homes, but no matter what I did, I was never comfortable in either set of clothes. They always felt like I was borrowing clothing from a twin that I had just missed in passing.

My parents lived close enough that during major holidays, we did mid-day drop offs. On paper, this meant that I got two Christmases (and other holidays) on the same day. In reality, I was always late to the party. Always too early or too late to enjoy the holiday.

I love both my parents, but two Christmases gets old very quickly. I was surprised to find that as a child I had a limited amount of avarice during that particular holiday. Both parents want child-like wonder, and it always felt forced to drum up that much emotion for each holiday.

What I would have done differently (and what I did do when I was older) is use a suitcase. I combined both sets of clothing and made one set that I used all the time. It wasn’t the best solution to the problem, but it did help. To fix the holiday problem, I would adjust the schedule so that the holiday wouldn’t have been so taxing for my siblings and me.

Ultimately, the worst issues of my parents divorce are not something that I could have fixed as a child. For those issues I wish my parents would have come to me and my siblings together (parents together talking with their children together), to learn what our needs were and how they could meet them as best they could under the circumstances.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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Why All Communications with Your Former Spouse Should be in Writing By Braxton Mounteer, Legal Assistant.

Even if you trust your former spouse to deal with you honestly and in good faith in any matter pertaining to your divorce, why should you communicate in writing with your ex?
Writing down or recapping your conversations in writing (text and/or email) with your spouse creates a verifiable record. If you later present this to your spouse refer back to the record and avoid confusion, refute false claims, and prove real claims.
So if your ex tries to claim you didn’t give him or her notice of the day, time, and place for Timmy’s baseball game, referring back to that text message or email message will vindicate you. If you need to prove you made a timely request for reimbursement for a child health care or daycare expense, written record is essential.
If there is no record, the event or the claim might as well never have existed. If you can’t prove it exists, it doesn’t in the world of law. Phone calls do not exist. Well, to be fair, you may be able to prove a phone call to place, but not what was discussed during the call. Likewise with in-person communications. All the other person would have to do is to claim that the conversation didn’t happen and then it is your word against another’s. To avoid that, create a written record.
Your former spouse may try to get you to discuss (or worse, to agree to) something “off the record,” as it were, and then use that opportunity to take advantage of you. Avoid the hassle; get it in writing.
Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277
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Your Divorce Lawyer is Serious About Deadlines By Braxton Mounteer, Legal Assistant

Throughout the divorce process you will have to meet many deadlines.

The court will even provide you with a list of due dates known as a notice of event due dates. If your lawyer does not provide you with a copy, ask for a copy, so that you know the deadlines for yourself.

The consequences for failing to meet the deadlines set by the court and the rules of court in your case can be damaging, even fatal to your case.

When a petition for divorce is filed and served, there is a deadline by which you must file and serve responsive pleadings, meaning your answer or answer and counterclaim. If you don’t respond by the set deadline, default judgment could be entered against you.

If you do not complete discovery or provide your initial disclosures by the deadlines, you may be barred from gathering or presenting evidence or witnesses at trial.

What about extensions of time? You might get an extension on a deadline if you have a legitimate reason to ask for one and if the opposing party agrees to grant you an extension or the court grants your request for an extension. Be careful when asking for extensions, however. If you get an extension on one deadline, the opposing party will almost surely expect a favor from you too in the future.

You are better off (and better for it) by religiously adhering to deadlines. Complying with the deadlines set by the court and the rules of court results in the fewest errors and setbacks and in the fairest and most equitable treatment from the court. And that results in your greatest changes of success.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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Should You Stay Friends with Your Former Spouse? By Braxton Mounteer

Whether you should be or try to be friends with your spouse after a divorce is a tough question to answer. Many divorced people continue to care about each other after divorce. Some even find their personal relationship between each other improves. Most maintain an icy distance from each other. I won’t say that being truly friendly can’t be accomplished after divorce, but the question really is: should it?

If you have children, at the very least you must maintain a respectful relationship with the children’s co-parent (even if you have to fake it, in my opinion). Just because you and your former spouse have differences does not mean that your children must share in those differences. Maintaining a co-parenting relationship that doesn’t burden the children is in their best interest. They deserve it. It’s the least you can do for them.

Side note here: I know there are those of you reading this who were innocent victims of a spiteful spouse in your divorce. That you were the class act all along and continue to be, while your ex-spouse remains antagonistic toward you. I know about those of you treat your ex-spouse by Golden Rule post-divorce, while your ex-spouse does not reciprocate. As a legal assistant, I see the ex-spouses who hypocritically hold you to a standard they themselves do not follow. This is not fair, not even close, but for the sake of your children’s well-being, you need to know that sinking to the same level as your petty, spiteful, even malicious ex-spouse would benefit no one and only make life harder for the kids. Doing the right thing matters most when doing the right thing is hard.

Sometimes it may be unavoidable to have some kind of continuing relationship with your ex-spouse. Are you coworkers? Do you have mutual friends or engage in the same activities that neither of you is willing to give up? If so, you must determine mutual friends and activities are worth making the effort to get along with your ex-spouse. If they aren’t, you can’t complain about having to give those things up for the sake of achieving your goal of having nothing to do with your ex-spouse post-divorce.

We have all heard a story of an “ ugly divorce”. Most people burn whatever bridge that they had or may have had with their spouses over the course of that process.

The fact is that the right thing to do, if only for your own sake and without consideration for your ex-spouse, is to recognize your own failings that contributed to the failed marriage (and don’t misunderstand me; if you’re not at fault, you’re under no obligation to apologize falsely) and to forgive your ex for his or her faults and the hurt he or she caused you, so that you can put your troubled past behind you as best you can as you move on with life after divorce. “Hate is a poison more deadly to the hater than the hated.” If all you can do is make peace with the pre-divorce past, that’s invaluable. If you can do one better and bury the hatchet, becoming friends, though no longer spouses, don’t let your pride stand in the way of that. If you do, you’ll regret it.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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Will Having a Child Will Possibly Save Your Marriage? By Braxton Mounteer, Legal Assistant

Have you ever heard that having a child will fix certain problems in marriage? That it will help bring a couple in a strained marriage closer together and thus fix, or facilitate fixing, the problems that you have in your relationship with your spouse?

Probably not, in my view.

But why? Wouldn’t it be safe to assume that the person you married would reorganize his/her priorities in order to love and support the new addition to your family?

I don’t think so.

I have never seen a baby magically fix relationship troubles. I have, however, seen already fragile relationships snap under the added weight of having a child.

The decision to have a child is something deeply personal on an individual and a relationship level. Each person has his/her own wants, desires, fears, and worries surrounding the birth of a child. Having a child also puts strain on a relationship from recovery after the birth to the reorganization of responsibilities in the relationship. Your relationship is fundamentally different once you have a child.

If your relationship is already as rocky as a cliffside coastline, the stress of having a child will likely do nothing but add to its difficulties. Your relationship problems existed before your child was born and will likely exist after that child’s birth. I won’t discount the exhilaration you and your spouse may feel at the prospect of a pregnancy and a future child’s birth. I’ll even concede that some people’s marital problems ease when they welcome a child into their family, but they are the exception, not the rule. If having children made marriages easier or stronger or more pleasant, a lot more children wouldn’t experience their parents’ divorce.

As a child of divorce, I can say with certainty that a child should not have to go through the emotional turmoil of his or her parents getting divorced before they even finish kindergarten.

And how do you think a child would feel if he or she learned that the reason that he/she exists was to be a band aid for a sinking ship? And if those parents later (or sooner) divorce, can you see how a child in that situation might also blame himself/herself for his/her parents’ divorce?

You don’t invite another passenger into a ship that is already sinking. An already weak marriage doesn’t need two sleep deprived, anxious people who aren’t ready to be parents (because they’re struggling at just being spouses at the moment).

Now just as having a child does not save a struggling marriage, circumstances are never ideal to start a family (though having children when you’re young is better than waiting until the biological clock has almost wound down). Don’t put off having children until your relationship is perfect—if you do that, you’ll never have children. Just don’t expect having a child to save a struggling marriage. It isn’t fair to your child, or you or your spouse.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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Why Your Witness May Not Be As Good As You Think By Braxton Mounteer

I recently went to trial with my boss for a divorce case. One of the things that stuck out to me was that quite often the witnesses people call in support of their claims and defenses aren’t nearly as helpful as they were expected to be. Why?

1)      Proximity of the witness to the parties or to the facts. I don’t mean physical proximity, but I do mean their personal relationships to the parties or to the events witnessed. These witnesses could be a mother, father, brother, sister, best friend, etc. Courts expect these kinds of people to be loyal, even to the point of a) being hopelessly biased and/or b) lying to help their friends/family members. Your mom’s not expected to be the most neutral or objective witness. Your brother droning on about how your spouse is the devil and you are a saint isn’t all that credible. I’m not saying such witnesses are worthless (you don’t want your mom or brother testifying against you, for example), but they aren’t the most helpful of witnesses.

2)      Your witness’s testimony isn’t engaging enough. A witness who testifies that he/she has never seen you treat your kids poorly is a witness who isn’t saying you treat your kids well. Yawn. A compelling witness is someone who witnessed you selflessly coaching the kids’ soccer team for years and who made a great impact for good in the team members’ lives. You want a teacher who can testify that you came to every parent-teacher conference and read with your child 20 minutes every night. You need that police officer who witnessed and arrested your spouse for trying to beat you with a bat. You need the boss who testifies what you are paid.

3)      Your witness didn’t witness anything first-hand. Your witness can’t get on the stand and tell the judge what he heard someone else say. That’s called hearsay, and with few exceptions, it’s not admissible as evidence.

What if you don’t have any witnesses beyond your immediate circle of friends and family? You can still call them as witnesses, and if they are credible people who don’t know a whole lot, you likely should call them as witnesses. No witnesses in your corner looks worse than mediocre witnesses who can testify believably of a few things.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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You Reap What You Sow.

I’m Braxton Mounteer, a legal assistant. I’ve written and talked about this problem before, but it’s a recurring problem and a serious one. It’s hard enough to muster the courage to hire a divorce lawyer and pay so much money to your lawyer to represent you in your divorce in the hope that your lawyer can protect you, guide you through the divorce process, help you make sense of what’s going on, and bring you to the end of the divorce process with an equitable outcome. So why do so many clients make it so difficult for their lawyers to help them? Why do so many clients procrastinate? Why do they ignore or put off until the last minute their attorneys’ requests for vital documents. Why do they evade or give incomplete or outright false answers to important questions? Why do so many clients act as though their wish is the lawyer’s command? Look, we know this is a hard process for you. We know it’s hard to manage all of life’s challenges without a divorce being added to the mix. We know you don’t like having to go through your financial records and share them with strangers. We know you don’t want to go over your criminal history, your infidelity, your substance abuse, and other examples of your bad judgment you’ve been trying to leave in the past and move on from and even forget. We know you don’t like what feels like intrusions into your privacy, your mental and physical health history, relationships between you and your spouse, between you and your children, between you and other members of your extended family and circle of friends. We know that you hate already being in dire financial straits before you had to start budgeting to pay for a divorce lawyer. We know you don’t like feeling ignorant of the legal system and all the terms getting thrown around as the lawyers and the courts discuss your fate. We know how tempting it is to believe if you simply bury your head in the sand all of this will go away. But it won’t. It’s tempting to fool yourself into believing that once you hire a divorce lawyer it’s all in your lawyer’s hands. But it’s not. If you have a house, some retirement savings, minor children, if you are facing the prospect of paying or receiving alimony, if there’s substantial marital debt, then you will almost surely benefit in the long run from investing in the services of a skilled divorce lawyer. The most effective lawyers work with a client, not merely for a client. Lawyers are called counselors for a reason; They confer with you, they advise you, but the choices are yours to make. Wouldn’t you rather have as many options and choices open to you? Wouldn’t you rather act instead of being acted upon? In a very real sense, how much your lawyer can help you depends upon how much you help your lawyer. You reap what you sow.

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You Can’t Tell What The Judge Is Thinking By Braxton Mounteer, Legal Assistant

I recently accompanied my boss to the trial of a divorce case. If I had had to place a bet on what the judge was thinking at given moment or what the rulings would have been during the trial or at the end, I would have left the courtroom much poorer. One of the things that struck me most about trial was my inability to determine the importance a judge gives to the evidence and to witness testimony. I could not consistently predict which way the judge was leaning at any given moment. But it’s not solely a matter of my inexperience with the legal system. My boss (who has considerable trial experience) told me he encounters the same thing.

We believe this is intentional on the judge’s part, that judges deliberately wear a poker face (some better than others). If a judge expressively reacted to a piece of evidence or to testimony, it might give a false (or true) indication that the judge is favoring one party over the other.

An actual trial is not like the movies and television shows would have you believe (at least at a divorce trial isn’t). There was no audible gasp from one side or the other when a piece of evidence was entered. The lawyers don’t (at least not typically) swagger around the court room cracking wise or orating so as to bring the room to tears. It really was just the evidence and argument from one party versus evidence and argument of the other.

Now a judge being inscrutable is not to say the judge sits stone-faced and silent until the trial ended. The judge can and usually will make clear and candid statements occasionally during the trial. Sometimes the judge will ask a witness questions of his or her own, but sparingly (judges are discouraged from doing too much of their own questioning). And the judge obviously must rule on objections raised during the questioning of witnesses too. During recesses, the judges and attorneys and sometimes even the parties and witnesses may chat about sports or local news to unwind a bit from the tension that builds up over the course of the trial. Some judges will essentially let the lawyers go until the time runs out. Other judges may inform the parties and their lawyers whether the direction they are taking the case in isn’t all that useful to the court in reaching its ultimate decision.

The notion of “reasonable minds can differ” stands out in stark relief at a trial. Sometimes what the lawyer tries to persuade the court to do and what the court decided are the same, but other times what the court did with the evidence can really surprise you. Keep that in mind when you’re convinced that the judge could not possibly rule any way but the way you favor. The better you understand all the possible arguments, the more accurately, reasonably, and persuasively you can make yours.

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Fair Treatment in Court by Braxton Mounteer, Legal Assistant.

The family law legal system likes to portray itself as a shining beacon of justice and equity, but I have seen first-hand that it is not. Whether it is opportunistic clients and their lawyers who will throw anything against the wall to see what sticks, or cowboy commissioners and judges who play fast and loose with the rules (and even make up their own), generally you will not get a fair shake (just a fair shake) unless you fight—and fight hard and extensively—for it.

Fight just to keep everyone honest? Really? Yes. Well, yes, in the sense that unless you don’t care about your own good character and subscribe to the “fight fire with fire” way of doing things.

If you have enough money, there is more than one lawyer out there that will take it and do and say basically whatever you want.

What about the commissioners and judges? Aren’t they motivated purely by upholding the law and the rules and dispensing justice impartially? Some are. Not all. It’s unpleasantly surprising to me how many domestic relations commissioners and judges indulge in pride, biases, apathy, and indolence.

If you know you’re innocent, if you know you’re a good person, that is rarely enough to ensure you’re treated fairly. What can you do if and when the deck is stacked against you because the opposing party is willing to lie, cheat, and steal his/her way to victory? You must fight with everything that you have. You must—if you can—produce overwhelming evidence that you are in the right (or the opposing side is in the wrong) if you are to have confidence that you will be treated fairly. That’s hard. That’s financially and emotionally exhausting. But there are no shortcuts.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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Is Court-Ordered Therapy Over-Used? By Braxton Mounteer, legal assistant.

Whether you believe that everyone needs (or could benefit from) therapy or that it is only for the most dysfunctional families, you, like most people, likely agree some therapy has a place in family law matters. For all the benefits of court-ordered therapy, however, therapy can be misused and abused.

For therapy to be effective in these kinds of settings, if you don’t have willing and earnest participation, it’s not going to work. It is hard work to confront your own faults and the faults of those who may have hurt you. It’s hard to better yourself. It’s hard to reconcile with past abuse, betrayals, and other kinds of mistreatment. One who is forced into therapy will, in most cases, refuse to participate or even actively oppose it. Is it any wonder why?

Courts often order too much therapy, with “too much” meaning either ordering therapy too often, or ordering therapy for too long. There are many reasons for this, but two of the worst are virtue signaling courts and greedy therapists.

Many judges and commissioners order therapy so that they can’t be accused of not being thorough, of not being sufficiently sensitive and caring and protective. This results in therapy being ordered even when it’s not needed or even warranted. It’s easy for courts to order therapy. It feels good. It’s a cheap, easy way for courts to look good. It doesn’t cost the commissioners and judges a penny to order therapy.

The point of ordering family members into therapy is rarely “eh, see if it helps.” Not everyone needs therapy. Some problems aren’t problems (or big enough problems) to warrant therapy. It’s likely a safe bet that most people might benefit from a little therapy. We’re all flawed. “Better safe than sorry” is tempting, but forcing people into therapy who aren’t dysfunctional can itself cause dysfunction.

I am referring to the emotional equivalent to scraping your knee. Those situations wouldn’t require the emergency room or physical therapy. However, when a court orders therapy left, right, and center, is making something that can help a lot of people into a hammer and every potential problem a nail.

You may say, “Well, even if the only benefit that therapy provides is a place to voice your problems, it is still better than nothing.” and you would be wrong. What if a child is handling the divorce well and putting him or her in therapy makes the child falsely feel he or she is being treated for a non-existent problem? Money wasted on needless therapy could leave one unable to pay for other needs in other aspects of one’s life and the life of one’s children.

If you are an aggressive and abusive husband or an emotionally abusive and cheating wife and your children take issue with that, it’s your fault. Therapy isn’t glue to keep your family together. You can’t expect someone to keep a ship afloat if you are constantly drilling holes in the hull. Sometimes you really are the problem and could benefit from facing and fixing your issues. When courts default to ordering therapy as a catch-all cure-all, they’re phoning it in. No one benefits from that. If you’re afraid to oppose therapy because you’re afraid you’ll be labeled anti-child or anti-caring, don’t be. If the court can’t make a cogent case that therapy is truly necessary or clearly warranted, have the gumption and courage to object. If you don’t, then you have no one to blame but yourself, if needless knee-jerk therapy is ordered in your case

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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Should You Ask for a Psychological Evaluation in Your Divorce Case? By Braxton Mounteer

The point of a psychological evaluation isn’t to establish if someone merely suffers from any mental or emotional disorder or disorders, but to help determine whether such disorders, if they exist, render your spouse a danger to himself/herself or to your children, and/or whether your spouse is a pathological liar. In other words, if your spouse suffers from a mental or emotional disorder or disorders, are the disorders relevant to any issues to be decided in the divorce action?

If you’re contemplating a psychological evaluation, ask yourself why.
Is it because your spouse is genuinely unstable or deluded and not credible, or are you trying to embarrass, humiliate, or defame your spouse?

And FYI, if your attorney recommended a psychological evaluation, don’t let that be your own basis for seeking one. If your attorney cannot honestly explain to you the justification for a psychological evaluation, your attorney is likely just trying to get you to spend money.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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Why Hiding or Misrepresenting Your Income in a Divorce and/or Child Support Court Case Won’t Work (and why people still try) By Braxton Mounteer

When those who realize they may be ordered to pay child and/or spousal support (alimony) confront the matter, many try to lie about and to misrepresent their income in the hope they can avoid paying, or at least pay as little as possible. Few involved in the support calculation effort–from the would-be support obligee (“obligee” means the one who receives support payments) to the court–believes anyone would tell the truth about his/her income, and this is doubly true for support obligors (“obligor” means the one who pays) who are self-employed.

Those who hope to receive child support are also tempted to lie about their income as well because the less income they can get the court to believe they have, the more they hope to be paid.

While it is tempting to lie about your income in the hope of either receiving more than you should or paying less than you should, that’s wrong (and it most likely would not work anyway).

Many will earn more than they claim to earn by getting paid under the table or working a side hustle.

But how do you enjoy the hard-earned cash that you have cleaned your name from (i.e., the Walter White problem)? If you spend the money you haven’t reported, you risk unraveling the lie. For example, if your personal expenses are $10,000 per month, but you report an income of only $6,000 per month and don’t show yourself incurring $4,000 worth of debt every month, then clearly you have income of some kind that enables you to cover your $10,000 of monthly living expenses.

Avoiding your legal obligations often proves to be more trouble than it’s worth. It is both easier and easier on your conscience just to tell the truth. Most people aren’t good enough liars to keep everyone fooled forever. Don’t give your children reason to hate you for being greedy.

Now, we get it: some of you would feel a lot better about paying child support if you knew the parent receiving the support money was actually spending it for the child’s support and not for that parent’s own selfish benefit. But that’s a subject for another blog.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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Parenting before, during, and divorce litigation By Braxton Mounteer, Legal Assistant

Divorce is already hard enough on the parties involved, but it is even harder on the children of the recently separated family. I speak as a child of divorce, who had to live through it and who has experienced the effect that divorce has had on me and on and my siblings.

When your divorce is contentious or negotiations have broken down, you shouldn’t use your children as messengers between your spouse and you on divorce-related subjects. Your children are not the proper avenue of communication between you and your estranged or ex-spouse.  You’re the adult. Communicate like one.

The worst thing you can do is force your children to choose sides. Forcing your children to pick a side causes damage that may be irreparable. This isn’t just forcing Tim and Susan to choose to live with Mom or Dad. How confident are you that they would choose you anyway (or for how long)? For all of your and your spouse’s faults and failings, you are the children’s parents and your children need you to work (and deserve to have you work) together for the children’s benefit. You need to start (if you have not already started) acting in your children’s best interest and stop thinking of them as problems and/or as solutions to your problems.

Don’t bad-mouth your ex-spouse to your children. Your children are literally a part of their parents, and (except in truly dysfunctional situations) they love both of their parents. If you tell your children their mother or father is a loser, an abuser, or other kind of scoundrel, your children may (and likely will) start to believe that they are that way too. If you’ve disparaged your ex-spouse (whether what you said is true or not), act like the adult that you are, swallow your pride, and apologize for including your children in something you had no business discussing with them.

In the early stages of a divorce, you may be tempted to buy your children’s affection. While it is not the worst thing you could do, it has unintended adverse consequences. If you try to buy your children’s affection in an effort to get a better outcome in the divorce case, only to “cut off” this level of affection or material exchange with your children after the ink dries on the decree, this sends your kids the message that you see your children as pawns for self-serving purposes. If you try to buy your children’s affection for the rest of their lives (or at least the duration of their minority), you’re throwing good money after bad, you’re engaging in an unsustainable practice. Kids will quickly tire of movie tickets and theme parks and start expecting cars and luxury experiences. How long can you keep that up? And how insufferable will your children be if they become accustomed to getting whatever they want?

You reap what you sow. The path of least resistance makes for weak parents and for weak kids. Do right by your children, for their sake and yours.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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How to prepare for a consultation with a lawyer By Braxton Mounteer, legal assistant

You have just been served with a summons and complaint (or petition) for divorce. Now have to traverse the minefield that is finding a good divorce attorney. It’s harder to find a good lawyer than you think. I wish that weren’t true, but it is.

How do you prepare for initial consultations with the attorneys you are considering? I have found three things that can and will help you during your initial consultation.

You do not need to have clear objectives when you go to your initial consultation, but you should not be lost in the woods. You should have an idea of what you want in your divorce and be able to explain why and why what you want is fair (wanting to take your spouse for everything he or she is worth is not a winning strategy). You will likely have a good idea of what you want regarding custody of the children and the division of marital property and marital debt, so tell the attorney during your initial consultation and ask whether he or she agrees with your positions (and please be on the lookout for attorneys who will tell you what you want to hear, so that you’ll open your wallet and pour its contents into the lawyer’s hands).

All lawyers are not created equal. For far too many divorce lawyers the legal profession is a business, and you are a “sale”. Be wary of lawyers that promise you the moon. They usually want what’s in their best interest, not what’s in your and your children’s best interest.

Come to the consultations with an open mind. What you believe the law is or should be is quite often not that way. Rather than react with disgust, try to understand the law. You may still believe the law is silly once you understand it, but if you don’t understand it, you can’t work within the framework of the law knowledgeably and successfully.

A good lawyer will not sugar-coat the situation for you. He or she will give you a frank, honest opinion, even if that opinion may lead you to choose someone else. I know that’s what my boss does, but I also know that’s not what all lawyers do. Find a lawyer who will give you his or her honest opinion about the merits of your case and what you can realistically expect.

Finally, to maximize the value of your consultation, be prepared. Bring the documents with you that you believe may be relevant and useful for the attorney to review. If your spouse has already filed a divorce action against you and has served you with the complaint or petition for divorce, bring a copy of that with you to the consultation. It is easier to get an accurate look at your case when the lawyer can actually read what has been served on you.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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How To Talk To Your Former Spouse By Braxton Mounteer

Regardless of your feelings towards your ex-spouse, if you have children, you will have to talk or otherwise communicate to your ex (and do so often) about the minor children throughout their minority. While you have minor children, you will need to “deal” with your ex regularly.

As is the case for anyone with whom you have to communicate regularly and frequently, both you and the children benefit from you knowing how to communicate effectively with your ex.

Effective communication with an ex-spouse and co-parent needs to be civil, courteous, and businesslike. Being the reason that communications broke down will only hurt you and the children.

“But,” you may ask, “what do I do if my ex communicates in a combative, falsely accusatory, and/or insulting manner? Isn’t giving as good as I get justified at that point?” Those are two fair and excellent questions. And the answers are clear.

First, record all communications with your ex. “Record” does not mean simply audio recording. “Record” means making a record. A record can take the form of sound, video, and writing. Every conversation you have with your ex should be recorded (even if that means following up on any personal meeting or phone call with an e-mail or text message summarizing what you and your ex discussed). Recording makes false accusations much harder to make. If your ex ever refuses to communicate with you “unless you promise not to record,” that’s indisputable proof that you need to record.

Second, ensure that all of your communications with your ex are conducted in a mature, courteous, clear, and concise manner.

If you stay classy for months or years and then reach your “breaking point” by unloading a torrent of sick burns and other “he/she had it coming” tirades, then all the goodwill you built up to that point is swept away in an instant. If you sink to your combative ex’s level, you will be (and rightfully so) seen by the court as no better than your ex (perhaps seen as even worse). It’s that simple.

It is possible (and highly likely) that the rantings and ravings of your former spouse are a set up. So give yourself a break. Don’t let your antagonistic ex manipulate you into becoming your own worst enemy. Do not rise to your ex’s bait. The last thing that you want is to react inappropriately to your ex’s goading, so that you look like the bad guy.

If you cannot talk in person or over the phone to your spouse without your emotions getting the better of you, communicate in writing. And don’t fight fire with fire. Do not under any circumstances send anything in writing without taking the time to cool off before you hit the “send” button. Make sure your communications do not cause you any self-inflicted wounds.

This does not, however, mean you must be a doormat. You don’t have to be mute in the face of lies and insults. It can be as simple and easy as this:

Your ex:          You clearly have no idea how to meet the educational needs of our children, so you ignore their homework and no-show for parent teacher conferences, just like you’ve always done. It’s what I expect from someone who never went to college. Don’t bother to try helping with homework anymore, and don’t even try to attend parent teacher conferences either. If you are there when I’m there, I’ll call the police.

You:                What you have accused me of is false. I care about our children’s education and their individual needs. I want to ensure their needs are met, and I do my best to meet those needs. I talk with our kids, I consult their teachers. I help with their homework and ensure they complete it when they are with me. One does not have to have gone to college to appreciate the value of an education, and I am no exception. The reason I did not go to the last parent teacher conference is because you gave me the wrong date and time for it (why you did that I do not know). I will be there for next week’s parent teacher conference.

I asked the school if we could attend parent teacher conferences separately, but the school does not allow it, so if we both want to attend (and I do want to attend), we will have to attend together. We can attend together. You cannot prohibit me from attending. All I want to do and will do when I attend is meet with and talk with Ms. Hansen. There is no reason to call the police. The police cannot prevent either of us from attending. Please do not embarrass our children, yourself, Ms. Hansen, the school, or me by calling the police needlessly.

Are there any questions?

Thank you.

Any judge or commissioner who listens to or reads a response like that simply cannot fault you. If anyone ends up getting chewed out or sanctioned by the court in connection with this exchange it won’t be you. Any ex who isn’t smart enough to see who really looks bad in this exchange (and does not change his/her wicked ways in response) is someone who will never figure it out.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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Why You Should Always Order Audio Recordings By Braxton Mounteer

You may be asking yourself, why should I order from the court a copy of the audio recordings of my court hearings? Shouldn’t the court’s own notes in the written record be sufficient? Can’t I just make my own recordings? Not in Utah.

First, the “written record” that the court keeps is more like meeting minutes and is not a word-for-word record of everything that was said by the parties, the lawyers, and the court during a hearing or trial.

Second, Utah does not allow you or your attorney to make your own recordings of your own court proceedings. Such a rule makes absolutely no sense and imposes undue costs and wait times on parties and their attorneys, but it’s the rule nonetheless.

Third, and most importantly, you should order the audio recording of your hearings and other court appearances to ensure that the orders that come out of those proceedings are accurate and complete–to ensure they are faithful to what was actually said and ordered. Most people cannot keep it all correctly remembered in their heads.

When there is a back and forth between the parties and their counsel over the specifics of a judgement or recommendation that was handed down months or years or even days ago, knowing exactly what was said is vitally important. You wouldn’t want a decision in your favor to be forgotten or misstated. Nor would you want to be mistreated due to someone imposing a harsher penalty on you than the court issued simply because no one could remember what the evidence was, what the testimony was, and what the court’s decisions were.

In Utah, you need to pay $15.00 and fill out and submit to the court clerk a form to request an audio recording. It is fast and easy. Your lawyer or opposing counsel may say “You don’t need to do that, I remember the hearing”; do not believe him/her. Human memory is fallible. Lawyers have the reputation that they have for a reason. Do yourself a favor and spend the five minutes that it would take to fill out and pay for an audio recording. Don’t leave your fate to faulty memories.

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Client Red Flags By Braxton Mounteer

In my time as a legal assistant in the family law profession, I have observed many different kinds of client behaviors, some better than others. Those behaviors that cause the warning sirens to go off in our office are not always apparent upon first meeting with a client. It can be two or three weeks of communication before a red flag behavior appears.

One of the worst red flags that I have seen is not telling the whole truth. Clients who spin a yarn that falsely paints them as victims who are down on their luck and being abused by their exes and the system. Usually, this kind of dishonest client is not only being dishonest, but gives as good has he or she got in a mutually dysfunctional relationship. There isn’t much of an argument to be had by accusing your spouse of being an abusive drunk, a pill-popper, a philanderer, etc. when you’re engaged in the same or similar bad behavior. Be honest with your lawyer. He can help you. He can’t magically make all problems disappear, but he can ensure you present the ugly truths about yourself in the most effective ways. Your lawyer can’t help you very much, if at all, however, if you’re not honest with your lawyer. Period.

Another behavior that sets off the warning bells are the clients who focus on how much money and/or assets that they can get out of their former spouse. You are entitled to an equitable distribution of the marital assets. A fair division. But when clients try to leverage the children for money lie about abuse and betrayal and debauchery, that’s not only disgusting but it can backfire.

Finally, the least damning of the red flags but the most common are the clients who ghost their lawyers. Why would you hire an attorney ostensibly to help you, then not cooperate with them? If your lawyer is calling, it is probably important. You need to take the call. You need to return the call. Read your lawyer’s emails. Respond to them. Timely. When you fall asleep at the wheel or just expect your lawyer to do everything, it isn’t your lawyer’s fault when things go awry.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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