I recently sat down with Tera Reese-Beisbier from Reese-Beisbier & Associates P.C. to discuss what, exactly, women who are considering divorce can expect from the divorce proceeding process. We’re dispelling a few common myths floating around about divorce, and providing actionable advice from an attorney’s perspective as you move forward.
What Can You Expect from Divorce Proceedings?
If you want to check out the transcript for this video, read on!
Russ: Hello and welcome. Really pleased today to have a Tera Reese-Beisbier joining us to talk about what actually happens in a divorce proceeding, both leading up to, during, so on and so forth. Tara, thanks for joining us.
Tera: Thanks for having me.
Russ: You bet. I’ll let you kind of talk about your experience, but in my experience dealing with women that are either in or dealing with a divorce in some form or fashion, there’s often a lot of, oftentimes I’ve experienced a big gap between expectations and reality. I don’t know if you have as well, but I thought we’d just chat for a few minutes about that. So if you would, obviously, with your experience as a family law attorney, could you talk a little bit about kind of what happens either generally or more specifically in the state of Georgia? What happens when divorce is filed and kind of the process from there?
Tera: Sure. I always tell people that unfortunately, divorces in Georgia are not sprints. Sometimes they even have to be a little bit of a marathon. You file a divorce, but then you want to make sure you gather all the proper information in order to make sound decisions. So every divorce is filed a lot of times of, especially my female clients might come to me and say, “I don’t even know how much money we have, how much money we make, how much money we have in stocks, how much money we have. So I don’t know how much help I’ll be.” And I’ll explain the process. “That’s okay because Georgia has set up a process so we can ask your spouse for all that information, so that we can formulate a spreadsheet to say this is everything we have and now how are we going to divide it?”
A lot of times they come to me with little to no knowledge are a lot of knowledge, but either way, we can use that information they have and go from point A of, “Hey, we filed the divorce,” to “Where do we go now?” Is we gather information. It’s called the discovery process, and once we have that information then we can move towards either the settlement process, which is a recommended process, or the moving towards more of a hearing or trial process.
that’s pretty much what we do almost every time right out of the gate when a divorce is filed is we do an information gathering month or a couple months. That’s why it’s frustrating because it takes some time.
Russ: So you mentioned a couple of routes, settlement versus litigation and I think a lot of people come into the divorce process thinking they’re going to have to put on the gloves and lawyer up and it’s going to get nasty and go to court. So on and so forth. And while that’s certainly an option, albeit a much more expensive and time-consuming option. Can you talk about the ways that a person can avoid going to court to reach a settlement that reaches an equitable distribution of assets and a parenting plan if there’re minor children involved, that sort of thing?
Tera: Yes. So just like the information gathering, we always tell them, “Okay, now we have everything that we need in order to make a sound decision.” You actually, in Georgia, there’s very few, I don’t think there’s any county that I know of that doesn’t require mediation before you go to a final hearing. Mediation is a great process. The misconception there is you do not have to sit all day in a room with your spouse. You actually will sit in separate rooms away from each other and the mediator does shuffle back and forth. But that’s okay because it can be a stressful process, but at least it’s not in front of a judge and it could be an all-day process. But you go in with an idea of what you think is fair. “This is what we have. This is how I want to divide things.”
When it comes to children, you do have a parenting plan in the state of Georgia which sets forth who has custody. Who has what parenting time the other parent has. Holidays, how are we going to split that? Who picks up and drops off the kids? Who gets to make decisions for the kids? You’re fighting over whether or not to sign up for basketball or hockey. Who gets to make that decision? Those kinds of things. All that will be set forth in a parenting plan. We usually go into a mediation with a prepared parenting plan that our, and you should do this with any lawyer. You should have that parenting plan looked at by your client before I get to mediation, so everyone’s on the same page.
I usually tell my clients this, “We’re going to go into mediation and I’m going to tell you what I think after 20 years of experience, what I think a judge or jury would do, and if we can get close to that, we should settle. If they are so far off, then maybe you take your chances with the judge or jury.” Usually, both parties are getting that same speech in both two good lawyers would know where that middle point is. And if we’re here and they’re here, you should probably settle. So it is cheaper. You’re in more control, you’re not leaving your future to this judge or 12-panel jury to create some weird plan for you. You can actually take control of your life and make sound decisions in the mediation process.
Russ: I’m, obviously, not an attorney, but I always encourage people to try to find a resolution outside of court just for all the reasons you stated just to save time and money and a whole host of other reasons.
Tera: Like the emotional reasons of being able to move on with your life and heal.
Russ: Right, which you bring up a good point. I mean, I think it’s easy for you and how to kind of discuss this in a just kind of a conversational manner, but we’re, obviously, talking about people that are going through a super emotional time and they’ve got a lot of stuff that they’re dealing with, with a spouse, with children, with other family members, with friends, with maybe their church or their community. So there’s a lot going on and I think it’s super important to have an attorney like yourself that is a professional and can move the process forward, but it was at the same time empathetic and can help them kind of hopefully start to see the forest despite the trees.
Tera: As an advocate, I always tell people that, “I want to give you all the in knowledge and new information for you to make the sound decision. I am not your spouse, I am not your mother. You need to make this decision. Will I give you legal advice and maybe a little push. Sure. But in the end, it’s your decision and if you decide I absolutely can’t do this. And a lot of times that has to do with custody, like some of the mediators pushing or a spouse is pushing for a certain custody arrangement. I’m not going to do this. I’m not going to force you to do something you’re not comfortable with. If you feel better that a judge decides it, let’s go have the judge decide.” Because sometimes a lot of times, not always, but especially the female clients have been victimized a lot during the marriage. I don’t need to re-victimize them during the divorce process,
Russ: Is there a common misconception that you experience that women or people in general kind of come to the table with as it relates to divorce or the process or kind of what you’ve kind of laid out has to happen for them to get through it?
Tera: Well, the common misconception is that they are going to live the exact same lifestyle that they lived during the marriage. That’s the number one misconception.
Russ: [inaudible 00:07:46]. You never discussed that one before.
Tera: And they come to me and say, “Well, I’ve heard that I just get enough support to just keep living this life.” And I always say, “Well, I think that’s probably written down somewhere, but the reality is you’re taking one household, dividing it into two, which takes that same amount of income that you and your spouse have and dividing into two households to run two households. There’s no way you can have the same lifestyle.”
I do get a lot of tears or push back, but in the end, they understand, we do get other advocates involved as quickly as possible, like yourself. A financial advisor should be involved as quickly as possible. So maybe other accounting advice, I do want them to see an actual counselor during the process, not because anything’s wrong with anybody, male or female. If you can have a counselor during the divorce process emotionally, you can heal through this better. So a lot of advocates have to come together and make them understand, listen, “We’re taking one household and dividing it and you’re going to be okay. Your children won’t suffer if they go from a six bedroom, five bedroom house, it’s okay. They’ll survive as long as you are healthy as a parent, they’ll be fine.”
Russ: I think you bring up a good point too that it often makes sense to involve other professionals like a counselor or perhaps or a forensic accountant or other advisors to make sure that, obviously, get this done right the first time because you don’t have to go back later and ask for modifications and adjustments and things like that because that’s just going to add to cost and drag out the emotional issues
Tera: Before mediation or before trial but hopefully before mediation, because we have to settle, we will always have a meeting with the … If we have to have a forensic accountant as somebody who would come in and value things. Sometimes they only value pensions, stock options. I won’t get into all that because it’ll take me a while, but they can do these things or they can value the businesses.
Closely held family businesses are the probably most important asset in a marriage or the most valued asset in the marriage. And so we go in and value them and we will have a meeting not only with them, but also the financial advisor who has gone through to say, “Okay, I see everything you have and if it gets divided this way or this way, these are the tax ramifications.” Or, we want everybody involved so that I’m just, I mean, I know my limits. I’m just a divorce lawyer. I want to bring other people in to tell me, “No, if we do that, Tera, this will do this to the client or that to the client.” And I think that’s important. I think some lawyers are like, “No, I can do this all by myself.” I think that’s probably a lawyers biggest weakness is they think they know more than they do.
Russ: So thanks for that. As we start to wrap up, is there any one piece of advice or kind of one thought you would like to leave with folks that might be watching this?
Tera: If you think you can do it without a lawyer, you’re wrong. Not because lawyers are the end all or be all, but if you truly have a divorce attorney, we can make sure there’re no loopholes in any agreements. We can make sure you’ve reached the agreement on, everything you needed to reach an agreement on, so six months later you’re not thinking, “Oh my gosh, I totally forgot he had a pension.” It’s just important. Even if you want to agree on something with your spouse, without an attorney, always come to a lawyer to at least have them look over the agreement you think you reached. That’s very helpful. At least they can help you tweak it. And lawyers, I know we have bad reputations, but we are there to help. There are some of us that like to do good in the world.
Russ: Yeah. That’s great advice. I appreciate it. And thanks for your time, your time today, Tera. If folks want to learn more about you, your practice, get in touch, what’s the best way for them to reach out to you?
Tera: They’re more than welcome to call my office. That’s 678-947-2988. Then they can just call, talk to the front desk, and they will schedule an appointment as soon as one is available.
Russ: Yeah. Great. And just for folks that aren’t familiar, your practices up in Forsyth County, which is north of Atlanta. And what’s your website?
Tera: It is www.rbeafamilylaw.com. But we do cover all of Metro Atlanta. We are often in Fulton County, Gwinnett County. I say all of, We don’t usually go to DeKalb County, but I have good referral sources for you. Still, Call Me.
Russ: Thanks for that, Tera, and for everyone, I’m Russ Thorton with Wealthcare For Women. Thanks for joining us today. If there’s anything that Tera or I can do for you, reach out to us and let us know. And with that, we’ll wrap it up. Thanks again, Tera.
Tera: Thank you, Russ.