Adam Kielich is a Fort Worth divorce attorney and managing attorney at The Kielich Law Firm in Bedford, Texas. This is an adaptation of an interview provided for a local journalism program researching the Tarrant County legal system. This research includes the affordability of legal counsel, the efficiency of the courts and overall fairness in the legal system. The program does not focus exclusively on family law issues but due to the prevalence of divorce in Tarrant County it will play a larger role in the research. This version of the interview should not be considered a transcript of the actual interview. It has been reassembled for ease of reading.
General questions for the divorce attorney in Fort Worth, Texas
The questions began with an introduction to divorce in Fort Worth and the role of a Fort Worth divorce attorney.
What does a Fort Worth divorce attorney do for a client?
The generic answer is that a Fort Worth divorce attorney zealously advocates for a client’s interests in the divorce. A divorce lawyer has several responsibilities through the divorce. The most obvious is a navigator through the legal system and be the client’s voice to that system. That means the lawyer’s job is also to keep everybody else involved at arm’s length.
The Fort Worth divorce attorney also has to construct the best possible result for the client out of the applicable law, the facts involved, the client’s interests and wishes and the client’s resources. This is the more critical part of the attorney’s responsibility and the more difficult task because there are so many details and so many moving parts to fit together.
First I have to be an investigator to uncover the facts, the law and the client’s goals. Then I have to develop the strongest possible case out of those pieces and begin advocating that to the other side and the court. Those roles are ongoing as new facts emerge and goals evolve. At the same time I am also constantly negotiating and looking for ways to dismantle the other side’s case to improve the strength of our position. I am also advising my client throughout the process on the ongoing and new issues through the divorce process. All of this must fit together to arrive at the best possible goal for my client in light of all of these issues.
What should people know about getting a divorce in Tarrant County, Texas?
Don’t think of the divorce as a game to be won or a battle fought through your Fort Worth divorce lawyer as a gladiator. This is a surefire way to make your divorce more frustrating, more expensive and more time consuming. It’s also a pretty good way to feel like you lost in the end.
If you spend your time and money trying to prove the other person was the awful spouse or parent then you’re not spending your time and money with your divorce attorney dealing with the legal issues in the divorce. In the vast majority of divorces the past problems in the marriage are not relevant. You’re also not focusing on building the next stage of your life. I understand–it is not easy to let go of the past but litigating your past marital conflicts is the worst way to deal with them.
Thinking of the legal issues in the divorce as a zero sum game to be won or lost is the wrong perspective for so many reasons. If you treat your kids like pawns in a game against your spouse then at best you are eroding the relationships between the children and each parent and at worst you are causing real harm to the children. The property is also never a total win. Most of what is accumulated during the marriage is community property so it necessarily has shared ownership. If you are focused on who is racking up imaginary points in the divorce then you’re not focused on moving forward with your life. The marriage, for better or for worse, is over.
What are some divorce secrets people should know?
I am the best divorce attorney in Fort Worth! (Kidding.) Seriously, I don’t know that it’s really a secret as much as it is rarely given but fairly obvious advice: have a clear vision for what you need to accomplish in the divorce and what your post-divorce life will be. Generally people might have some vague ideas about what they want but never quite articulate the precise needs even when the divorce has reached a settlement. It’s easy to feel like you lost and your divorce attorney didn’t help you because you don’t have a clear understanding of what results in a successful divorce.
If you don’t know your own objectives then it’s difficult for me to help you accomplish them. It makes my job so much more difficult and expensive if I do not have a clear understanding of what you need to be at the end of the divorce. If you know that you need X, Y, Z in the divorce and you accomplish those goals then that’s 100% success even if you had to give up some things that were not your objectives.
I do not expect most people to come prepared with that kind of clarity. It’s a new experience and there is often a lot of emotion involved. I consider it one of the early pieces of building a client’s position to help my client develop this vision for life after divorce. Whether the client chooses to retain that vision and act on it is up to him or her. I can only do my part to help the client accomplish his or her objectives. As a divorce attorney I might be the expert on the legal process but you have to be a participant in your own success as well.
How is Fort Worth, TX different from other places for a divorce?
Fort Worth–Tarrant County–is a unique beast when it comes to divorce. We are a large county so we have dedicated family courts. In smaller counties the judges that hear divorces are district judges that hear all types of cases so they don’t have as much expertise dealing with divorces. They will defer to psychologists and other experts and order default provisions in the divorce decree. In Fort Worth we have a whole courthouse for family law cases and the judges that practice in those courts are all former divorce attorneys who understand the family code very well and have a lot of experience to lean on. One is not always better than the other depending upon the case.
Tarrant County, Texas is also heavily Republican. That’s different from Dallas County where the judges are mostly Democrats and many are more liberal. You can get some different opinions from Dallas County and Tarrant County in family law matters for that reason and that can play in your favor or against you depending upon the circumstances of your case. Most of the larger districts in Texas are liberal but Tarrant County is not so it’s different from other smaller conservative districts as much as it is different from larger liberal districts. None of that is to say the judges in Fort Worth are bad–they are not–but you have to know how to make the most appealing arguments to the judge assigned to your divorce.
Hiring a divorce attorney in Fort Worth, Texas
Next came questions about how to hire a Fort Worth divorce attorney and whether one should hire a divorce attorney.
What should a potential divorce client look for in a divorce attorney in Fort Worth?
In my opinion a good divorce lawyer should be able to do at least four things:
- Able to effectively advocate for you in the court assigned to your divorce;
- Work effectively with the other side/attorney;
- Clearly understand and act upon your objectives in the divorce;
- Have expertise in the issues in your divorce.
Of course, there are a number of other issues to consider. These, in my opinion, are the four most important. I’ve talked about the first three on previous questions. To the last point: there may not be complicated issues in your divorce but if there are any then you probably want a divorce attorney with expertise on them. For example, if you know dividing retirement plans will be an area of complexity or disagreement then you may want an attorney with expertise in that field. A lawyer who a lot of experience with business equity may not be as useful in that situation.
What should happen at a divorce consultation?
Divorce attorneys all handle consultations differently. Some treat it purely as a sales pitch. Some as a session of legal advice.
In my opinion if you schedule a consultation to consider hiring me as your divorce attorney I don’t just want to hit you with a sales pitch but I’m also not going to unload a lot of legal advice on you either. I consider the purpose of a consultation like a job interview: I interview you as a potential client and you interview me as your potential attorney. We will discuss your situation and what you want to accomplish (to the extent you know at that point). I want you to know about how I work and where my expertise lies in solving your problems. If we think we are a good fit for each other then we need to discuss fees and sign a fee agreement. Then I will get to work.
Not all consultations will end with signing a fee agreement. I do not take on everybody who contacts my office or even meets for a consultation. I am not always the right attorney for a particular client or divorce. Some clients are not prepared to pay fees. Some people do not feel I am the right attorney for them. These are not bad things. Not all attorneys are right for all clients.
How much does a divorce cost in Fort Worth?
It depends on the complexity of your divorce and whether the attorney is an affordable Fort Worth divorce lawyer. An uncontested divorce may be less than $1000 while a complicated, hotly contested divorce could run $40,000 each. I mean, we’re talking a really complicated divorce with complicated financial assets where the parties are fighting because they can afford to harass each other through their Fort Worth divorce attorneys. Most contested divorces will run $5-10,000 per side and end in mediation. A contested divorce that can get to an agreement fairly early in the process usually runs $2-5,000 per side. The total cost will be a combination of the issues involved in the divorce, the willingness to reach an agreement, the attorney’s rates, the attorney’s work efficiency and the Fort Worth divorce attorney’s skills.
Is it a good idea to divorce without a Fort Worth divorce attorney?
It depends. Some people do just fine getting a divorce without a Fort Worth divorce attorney. Others really muck things up. I definitely understand the lack of desire and inability to spend money on a Fort Worth divorce attorney. Like any do-it-yourself option, you have to live with the consequences of your DIY skills. If you don’t have much in assets or debts and you can reach a simple arrangement with the children then the likelihood you will mess things up without an attorney is lower.
The more assets and debts in the divorce, the greater opportunity to create problems for you down the road. Similarly, unusual custody arrangements or child support agreements can have disastrous affects on one or both parents. Most people don’t have experience designing custody arrangements so it is easy to create problems more costly than hiring a Fort Worth divorce lawyer.
One area where I caution against not hiring a divorce attorney is when the spouse is abusive or pushy about the terms of the divorce. In these cases it is almost certain that you are getting a raw deal and you will pay for it one way or another down the road.
Important issues for a Fort Worth divorce attorney
Last we discussed the key issues in a divorce with the Fort Worth divorce attorney: property and custody.
What is the most important property in a divorce?
There is very little property that is really important to fight over in the divorce. As much as you may love your TV or car, these are things you can replace. Your emotional attachment to property artificially inflates their value against the financial value. You may trade away more financially to account for the emotional value. The most important property includes those things that are truly irreplaceable and those things that will make you financially stable after the divorce.
Few items are truly irreplaceable. Irreplaceable items generally include pictures, antiques, family heirlooms and the like. Not your favorite pair of shoes. Some people have collections of items that individually probably could be replaced but the time to reacquire the collection would be so great that the time value makes the collection irreplaceable. For example, I had a client once who had a small but unique wine collection of wines from particular parts of Portugal and Italy. He could have found the same wines at market value but these wines are so obscure that the cost of time to replace the wines made the collection far more valuable than the market value of the wine itself.
Thinking of financial assets as irreplaceable is unusual because money is fungible. However, the time value of financial assets and how they protect your financial stability is irreplaceable. A business interest that pays your bills is not something you can fairly trade for most tangible property. Retirement accounts in particular are important because the time value of what those accounts will be worth, in addition to their present value, is highly valuable. Leaving the marriage with a lot of tangible property is cool if you can pay your bills on your salary but that is not true for many people.
How do I protect my property in a divorce?
One can protect property from liquidation or disappearance during the divorce process through temporary orders but you need to also think about protecting your property after the divorce. If you take the house or a brand new car in the divorce but you can’t afford the loan on it then you’re going to have to come up with that money somewhere or sell it. Unfortunately people emotionally attach and just don’t pay the loan and ruin themselves financially. Then the cost of what they received from the divorce is so much worse than what they received. Especially if they still have to sell the car or house.
This is true of debts as a whole. You must consider credit card debt and its high interest rates. The same is true for student loans. You need to think about what you can afford to pay to lower your debt load to a stable amount.
How do I protect my kids in my divorce?
Texas divorce law presumes both parents are fit parents and should have relationships with their children. One can overcome these presumptions when real evidence of a parent’s unfitness exists. That requires more than proof the parent wasn’t a #1 dad or mom. No parent is perfect.
Generally you should consider the roles and involvement of each parent in the lives of the child. Be very honest about it. Don’t infuse the problems as spouses into the parenting relationship. Don’t oversell the other parent’s shortcomings or undersell your own. Think about what is best for your children not necessarily what is best for yourself.
What role does child support play in a divorce?
Child support is a sticky subject. Payers think they pay too much. Recipients think they get too little. I understand both attitudes but both are not entirely correct. The guideline child support amounts typically do not cover half of the costs of raising a child. Some parents receive child support and spend very little on the care of the children. The guideline calculation does not take into account the cost savings of providing a single home for the children. The system is inflexible and carries stiff penalties. There is a lot of legitimate criticism to go around.
However, child support is too often a weapon in a divorce. Some people use it as a way of “punishing” or aggravating the other party. Others consider it a win to not pay. People try to draft the possession schedule to avoid paying it. That’s a lot of effort spent not thinking about the best interests of the kids. It’s a pretty good way to start the co-parenting relationship off on the wrong foot. Yet people do it anyway, which is really disappointing.
Child support should be a way to equalize the burdens of caring for the children. You don’t have to care about your kids but you have to support them. Child support is normally set at guideline unless the parties agree otherwise or there is a special need. The vast majority of Fort Worth divorces set child support by guideline or agreement. I have agreed to child support above and below guidelines and that’s probably true for most Fort Worth divorce attorneys.