Tax season is divorce season for family law attorney Matt Ingham of Bulldog Divorce.
It isn’t the filing of taxes that leads to divorce, but rather the economics of it according to Ingham.
Divorce attorneys charge a $3,000 to $4,000 retainer up front. Many Tulsans don’t have that kind of money readily available in their checking account and must wait for tax returns to file for a divorce.
“It’s a busy time, because in Tulsa County, most people who live and work in Tulsa County are middle to upper middle class.
“They start calling me in November or December and say ‘Mr. Ingham, I’m going to stick it out through the holidays for the sake of the kids, but as soon as I file my taxes, I’ll bring you half of my tax refund and get you hired.’ Without the tax refund money, they couldn’t afford to hire an attorney to fight for their kids. So the tax refund money is crucial for a lot of people in Tulsa County,” Ingham said.
He’s represented more than 400 clients in Tulsa County Family Court, though they aren’t all divorces. But, he says there are a number of things to consider before filing for a divorce.
“As awful as it seems, divorce is something you should plan for. It is not something you should jump headlong into. I tell my clients to think in terms of how is this going to affect my daily life, how is it going to affect my kid’s daily life?” he said.
The majority of Tulsa County divorces involve kids under the age of 18, so consideration must be given to school and daycare transportation.
“If I’m working and my spouse is working and we are living in two single-parent households, how are we going to make this dynamic work, especially when the kids are old enough to participate in extra-curricular activities?”
These are logistical questions clients don’t often stop to consider in the beginning of the process.
“You have to plan the finances, you absolutely have to plan the finances. What it boils down to is before a couple is living together, under the same roof, with two incomes coming in, now they are filing for divorce, living on a single income coming in and that is a huge hit for the monthly finances,” he said.
Thought must be given, as to once the spouses separate, to how much money will be coming in month to month? How much money will I have going out month to month in order to pay my monthly bills and other considerations, such as groceries and child support, depending on who has the kids.
Plan the finances accordingly.
“Third, this might sound a little ridiculous, but I encourage my clients to plan their transportation. What happens in Tulsa County, one spouse will have the reliable vehicle, the other spouse will have an unreliable vehicle or no vehicle at all,” he said. “Go ahead and plan your transportation and ask yourself, ‘If my spouse and I breakup, what will I drive to work, school or church on Sundays?’”
Finally, he encourages clients to shop around for the attorney that best fits their needs and personalities.
“Not all divorce attorneys are cookie cutter, not all divorce attorneys are the same. Those with two-plus decades of experience will charge more by the hour and require a higher retainer,” he said. “Their personalities need to be compatible with the client, there needs to be good communication between the attorney and the client, the attorney’s services need to be affordable for the client.”
A University of Tulsa College of Law graduate, Ingham passed the bar in May 2009, during the Great Recession when law firms weren’t hiring.
“So I had no choice, I had to set up my own office right away or go seek employment in a nonlegal-related field,” he said. “So I was one of the ones who decided to stick it out and I hung out a shingle.”
Initially, he planned to practice criminal law after completing internships in the public defender’s office.
“The first six months after I opened, I realized there is a lot of family work, and it donned on me, one, there’s a lot of work; two, most lawyers won’t touch family work with a 10-foot pole, so there’s not a lot of competition. And three, word of mouth spreads like wildfire,” he said.
He named his firm Bulldog Divorce after a nickname he received in high school as an ace pitcher playing varsity baseball.
“They referred to me as ‘The Bulldog,’ because I didn’t really know when to quit,” he said.
Not to be confused with a pit bull, the firm’s logo is that of an English bulldog. But, Ingham makes a distinction between the two breeds.
“I get a lot of feedback on Facebook, ‘How come you pitbull attorneys are so mean?’ But, it’s not a pitbull. A pitbull is a violent animal, it will rip your throat out. Whereas, a bulldog is very loyal, it’s only aggressive when it needs to be and will protect only when it has to,” he said.
That is the same way Ingham says he approaches the law.
“We are very loyal to our clients and for the most part, they are very loyal to us,” he said. “Basically, what it boils down to and what clients need to understand is that money doesn’t grow on trees and we’re going to work very hard for you. But in return, we want you to work hard for us.”
Meaning, client participation is imperative to the success of the case, according to Ingham. He expects his clients to check in often and relate the status of the case. Are the bills being paid, are they getting to see the kids?
“I suggest clients call in every week or every other week and check in and when I need proof of employment, tax returns, proof of paying child support, or proof of alimony, be sure and get that documentation to me right away so I can get that information to judge and the opposing attorney when the judge asks for it,” he said.
The length of time it takes for a divorce varies by county.
In Creek, Wagoner and Washington County courts, a divorce lasts 3-6 months. What is a 3-6 month divorce in one of those counties is an 18-month process in Tulsa County.
“In Tulsa County we have too many cases filed and not enough judges to cover the cases and it’s a log-jam at the Tulsa County Courthouse in Family Court,” he said. “And, there are additional steps in Tulsa County that aren’t required in the surrounding counties,” he said.
If both parties consent, Ingham will file in another county to speed up the divorce process.
Finally, he says the best way to win a divorce is not to have one.
“Divorce is expensive, it’s not easy and it’s something people shouldn’t rush into,” he said. “Plan it out, pray it out and ultimately, after you’ve pulled out every stop to save your marriage, then contact a divorce attorney and explore the possibilities of divorce,” he concluded.