This post is from Brenda D. Keen, a Houston-based family lawyer, member of the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas, and board member for the State Bar of Texas’ Collaborative Law Section.
Dissolving a marriage – going through a divorce – is the only time most folks must personally deal with the legal system. How that divorce might affect the workplace will vary depending on the process the parties choose to resolve the divorce.
Litigation – The Adversarial Divorce
In litigation, parties obtain information through formal discovery, such as Interrogatories, Requests for Production and Depositions. The employee may be distracted and lose time at work responding to requests for discovery — or preparing to be deposed by the spouse’s attorney. The spouse’s attorney may also serve requests for discovery on the company-employer, causing the company to incur the expense of legal fees and the cost of employee time to respond.
The company may be served with injunctions affecting income or other funds owned by or owed to the divorcing employee, which, in addition to legal fees incurred by the employer, may impose on time usually devoted to normal operations, in order to assure compliance with court orders. The employer-company, as well as individual co-workers, may be subpoenaed for depositions and hearings (Imposition Factor = time devoted to normal operations for preparation + water cooler gossip time + actual testimony time TIMES stress factor of witness chair).
The company may be subpoenaed by either party to produce records for hearings, spend the time necessary to gather and copy the subpoenaed records and to appear in court, sometimes waiting for hours, only to be told the hearing was postponed, or to return another day. Parties and their attorneys will attempt to be as accommodating and efficient as possible, but too often overcrowded dockets preclude any meaningful predictability or accommodation.
Alternative Methods of Resolution
Not all traditional divorces are adversarial litigation involving formal discovery discussed above. Some folks are able to sit down at the kitchen table and settle their case; others may agree after a meeting or two with a neutral facilitator. The collaborative process, which calls for full disclosure of information on a voluntary basis, on a time line that is controlled by the parties, can be used to resolve a divorce — provided each party and the attorney for each party agrees.
What Kind of Divorce Do You Want ?
Just as going through a divorce is the only time most folks come into contact with the legal system, hiring a lawyer for that divorce is often the first time that most folks sit down with a lawyer to ask for advice on which to base some very important decisions. As if all that weren’t enough, with your emotions on overload in many divorce situations, it can be hard to remember your own social security number, much less the date of your marriage. The information required, and decisions to be made, can seem overwhelming, particularly at first. It can be tempting to simply ask the lawyer what to do.
But before you see the lawyer, think about the kind of divorce that you want. You can then ask the lawyer to also discuss any other options, so you can consider which option or options would be most likely to end in the kind of divorce, and future for your family, that you have in mind.