Divorce

Divorce

Divorce is a stressful event, combining as it does emotional, legal, and financial issues. Whether it is you or your spouse seeking a divorce, Colbert Family Law, LLC can reduce your stress, offer practical, understandable guidance, and help you to make the best legal choices as you move forward. We assist with all aspects of divorce in Alaska, including child custody and visitation, property division, child support and spousal support, QDROs, and more.

Each couple and each marriage is unique. It stands to reason that each divorce should be, too. Unlike many law firms, Colbert Family Law, LLC offers more than just a “one size fits all” litigated divorce. We make available to our clients a range of options for divorce, of which litigation is only one. We also offer alternative dispute resolution services (ADR) such as collaborative divorce and mediation.

These options allow clients to participate more actively in the decision-making surrounding their divorce. No one knows your family and its needs like you do; we therefore support and guide you in negotiating the terms of your divorce in a way that works best for your family. We have found that this minimizes conflict and stress, and gives you back a feeling of control over your future. If children are involved, learning to negotiate through ADR is often helpful in co-parenting after the divorce.

Sometimes collaborative divorce or mediation is not the best option, and it is preferable for parties to litigate and involve the court in the decision-making process. When that is the case, we will sit down with you and explain the process, including the necessary court filings and the court hearings that you can expect. We will clarify your goals for the litigation and work with you to gather the information and resources needed to work toward them.

Divorce is a difficult and challenging time, but you do not have to face the challenges alone. An experienced, compassionate attorney can both make the process easier and help you to achieve a better outcome so you can move on to the next chapter of your life.

Colbert Family Law, LLC serves clients throughout Alaska, from Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley to remote villages. We invite you to contact Colbert Family Law, LLC online or at (907) 279-5001 to schedule a consultation to learn about your divorce options and discuss your needs and concerns.

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Common Divorce Concerns

I don’t want judges and lawyers deciding how to raise my children. Is there another way to work out our custody agreement that will respect my values and choices?

There are several ways.  You are wise not to trust judges to parent your children.  It is not what they are trained for, and they are unlikely to do a good job.  One solution is to locate a therapist or counselor who specializes in helping parents work out a parenting plan by working together.  A mental health professional can help you both better understand your children’s needs, and each other’s point of view.  If you choose this option, it is best if you also consult with an attorney who can review your options with you, and who will review the agreement when it is worked out to make sure it will work.  You could also choose collaborative divorce, which is explained elsewhere on this website.  You can hire a private mediator to mediate your agreement, but you should be sure that the mediator understands all the practical issues in custody cases.  Again, you should also consult with your own lawyer before and after mediation.  A mediator cannot give legal advice to either side, so it is important to have someone tell you what your rights and legal options are.  Finally, you can use your lawyer to try to work out an agreement with the other party and his or her lawyer.  This may not be the best option, but it is certainly better than going to court.  Colbert Family Law, LLC can help you navigate any of these options.  We are committed to empowering parents to make custody agreements that reflect their values and needs.

I have heard that there is something new called a Parenting Coordinator. Is that something that would help me with my custody problems?

There is something new called a Parenting Coordinator.  If you have a court order that establishes a custody or parenting plan, but you have had serious, continuing problems making joint decisions with the other parent, or coordinating visits, or if you have gone to court multiple times trying to fix your custody situation, this might be the solution for you.  A Parenting Coordinator (PC) is appointed by the court to make decision for parents when they are unable to do so.  The person is like a referee.  The PC’s decisions must be followed unless and until one of the parents gets the court to overrule to the decision.  The PC may either be free through the Court System, if the parties qualify financially, or paid privately.  A PC is a very efficient and effective method of resolving constant conflict between parents.  The PC may also be able to help the parents learn better skills at communicating and coming to joint decisions.

Can the collaborative approach be used for problems other than divorce?

The collaborative approach (for more information on this, go to www.alaskacollaborative.org) is suitable for many legal issues in addition to divorce.  Family legal issues are very sensitive and personal.  Many - if not most - clients would like to address their problems in a way that is less public and less confrontational than going to court.  The collaborative process meets this need.  It can be used to negotiate pre-and post-nuptial agreements; child support; child custody modifications; college support issues; and most other family legal problems you may face.  It is also very useful for negotiating relationship contracts and break-ups for couples who are not legally married.  If you find yourself in any of these situations, we would be happy to try to help you.

What do I need to think about if I want to change custody of my children?

In custody cases it is not unusual for a parent to agree to the entry of a custody order they’re not all that happy with because they think that it will be simple enough to change later on.   This isn’t necessarily so.

To change custody so that a new court order is issued, the parent that wants to change it must show two things.  The first is that there has been a significant change in circumstances since the last custody order was entered.  The court can be fairly strict as to what amounts to a significant change in circumstances and what doesn’t.  For instance, a change of circumstances the court will consider does not include situations where a parent has simply changed his/her mind and does not like the current custody situation anymore; situations where the child simply says he/she wants to live with that parent; or situations where the parties previously agreed between themselves that custody would somehow change later on.  Some examples of changes in circumstances the court will pay attention to are things like one parent moving out of the state or community; one parent having developed legal problems or substance abuse issues that are bad enough to interfere with his/her parenting responsibilities; or one parent being with a partner who abuses substances or abuses the parent.

If the parent meets the first criteria, the second thing a parent wanting to change custody must establish is that the new custody plan they are offering to the court meets the child’s best interests.  Parents often assume that if they get over the first hurdle, that custody will in fact change.  That isn’t necessarily so.  Courts can and do find that even when it agrees that circumstances have changed enough for it to reconsider custody, the current custody order is still meeting the child’s best interests.  For instance, if the change in circumstance was substance abuse related, the court will look to see if that parent is in treatment or otherwise has the issue under control.  It is not unheard of for parents like these to defeat a motion to change custody if they “rehabilitate” themselves while the attempt to change custody is going on in the court.  These kinds of things can be very frustrating for the parent wanting to change custody.

In a nutshell, the court takes its orders regarding custody very seriously, and does not review requests for changes in them lightly if the parents do not agree.  Every parent preparing to enter into an agreement about custody that is going to be made an order of the court needs to think about the terms of the agreement they are making, whether they can really live with it, the effect it will have on the child and on them in the future; and whether the agreement will wear well practically and in other ways.  If not, you may want to think again about going ahead with having the court enter that order.

Why should I hire an attorney for my divorce; can't we just go to mediation?

This is a question often asked by people who are thinking of a divorce. Mediation is a wonderful tool that can save money and minimize the conflict that is inevitably involved in getting a divorce. However, going to mediation without understanding your legal rights first can be very dangerous. A competent mediator will not give either person legal advice about his or her rights. A mediator cannot tell you if a settlement is a good idea for you. So before you go to mediation, you should see a lawyer first, so that you understand what your rights are, and what you might be giving up. Consulting a lawyer does not mean you have to involve the lawyer in the mediation, nor does it mean you will end up in court. It simply means that you will go to mediation with your eyes open.

The kinds of things a lawyer can help you understand before mediation include: What property is considered marital property that the court will divide? What is the likelihood of getting, or being ordered to pay, alimony? How likely is it that a court would order joint custody of the children? What does the law say about child support? If you do not know the answers to these questions, you could end up with a divorce agreement that either gives away things you did not even know you could ask for, or leave problems unresolved that will return to bother you later.

It is also very important that you have all the documents you need before you go to mediation. If you are not sure what property or debts you have, you will not be able to get a good agreement. You should not simply rely on your spouse to tell you what you need to know. Because you are getting divorced, each person has goals and desires that are not necessarily the other spouse’s goals and desires. After all, if you agreed on everything, you probably would not be divorcing.

I want to have 50/50 custody of the kids in my divorce so that neither one of us will have to pay child support. Is this possible?

I never like to hear this question. Have you asked yourself what 50/50 means, and whether it would be good for your kids? Perhaps you have. But even if "50/50" would work for your kids, it does not mean that no one pays child support unless the parents have equal incomes. If the parents have unequal incomes, the higher earning parent will have to pay some support.

I have sent my spouse dissolution papers to sign many times. She either won't sign them, or she makes changes I can't accept, or she just ignores them. How will I ever get divorced?

The dissolution process in Alaska is for people who are able to agree on absolutely everything. Also, the dissolution forms are not really friendly to complicated situations, so even if you agreed on everything, you might not be able to fit your agreement into the forms. If you have tried many times and cannot get an agreement, you need to try something else. You could consult a lawyer, or you could go on the court's website and download the do-it-yourself forms. If your divorce is complicated, or contentious, or simply confusing, you should probably start with a lawyer. A lawyer can tell you if you might be able to do it yourself.

I have to be honest with the kids about why we are divorcing, don't I?

Your first mistake is asking your lawyer this question, rather than a mental health professional. But since most people do ask their lawyers, the answer is no.

Reason #1: how you feel about your spouse has nothing to do with how the kids feel about him. They don't care if he makes eyes at other women whenever you go out together, and there is no reason why they should.

Reason #2: the kids can't divorce him, and probably don't want to. The kids love both of you, and if you force them to take sides they will blame you sooner or later.

I am well-educated. I can do my own divorce as well as a lawyer, can't I?

You should only fix your own car if you know something about auto mechanics. Otherwise, if you expect the car to run you should pay an expert. Your divorce is your whole future — you owe it at least as much as you owe your car. And even if you know a lot of law, you still can't be objective and calm about your own life hanging in the balance. You would be better off with a trained professional.

We just want an amicable divorce. We agree about everything. Why would I need a lawyer?

Your story makes no sense. If you agree about everything, why do you need a divorce? There is hurt and distrust lurking under every divorce. If you could trust each other absolutely, you would not be divorcing. Spouses naturally want to take advice from each other and rely on each other. But once the fundamental glue in your relationship has dissolved, you can't trust your spouse's advice. You need someone neutral and knowledgeable, whose advice you can rely on. Maybe that is your mother; or it might be a lawyer.

So if I don't need a barracuda, what do I need?

Ideally, you need Mary Poppins. Someone who won't make you more angry and depressed. Someone who is good at solving problems. Someone who is good at getting people to solve problems together rather than someone who likes to fight. That would be the ideal divorce lawyer.

I need a barracuda to represent me in my divorce. Can you do that?

This question makes no sense in the context of divorce. How would a barracuda improve divorce? You and your spouse have only one pile of assets, and one set of children. If you introduce a man-eating fish into the family, the fish will devour everything and nothing will be left for you. Is that what you want?

Can I get a quick, easy divorce?

Probably not, unless you haven't known your spouse very long and you don't own anything. Otherwise, divorce is a very difficult, emotional process. It is like watching a loved one's long, lingering death. And when the disease proves fatal, your ex is still living in the world, but no longer in your world. That can be either infuriating or sad, or probably both. It won't be either easy or quick. But there are ways to make it less painful and lingering.