During a difficult time, it’s important you have the right team guiding you through the process. Here’s what your family law attorney should be telling you.
It is unquestionably one of the worst times of people’s lives. Even the people who are the ones choosing to move forward with divorce or separation do not enjoy or desire the situation they are in. Divorce, separation, and post-judgment litigation is expensive, emotionally draining, and often times damaging to the entire family unit.
There is no question that it is difficult to find competent legal counsel in this day in age. The internet, social media, and multiple attorneys listing ad sites have inundated the general public with options on who to hire. So how do you wade through the endless names and find the right attorney for you?
Start by asking people who have gone through it, and done it well.
While it may be uncomfortable to share what you are going through or to ask private questions of someone else, it can give you invaluable information. You don’t have to divulge all the intimate details nor do you have to ask others their details – you just need the specifics of how their attorney made them feel during the process. Did they feel heard? Did they feel informed? If they received information/advice they didn’t like, did they at least understand why that information/advice was given to them? What was their billing like?
An attorney should be honest about the fact that there are no guarantees in any case. Ever.
If you hear a guarantee, you should probably politely excuse yourself from the room. Family law cases are moving targets – they take so long to litigate that there are myriad changes to finances, children’s issues, incomes, expenses, etc. Even the judge you are assigned to can change during litigation. There are too many moving parts to give someone a promise or guarantee. On their best day, you never know what a judge will do.
Your attorney should be advising you about the enormous benefits of resolving your case if possible. There are many alternatives to litigation – mediation, settlement conferences, and collaborative law (For more information on collaborative law, which is an excellent alternative to traditional litigation, visit http://www.collaborativepractice.com or google articles specific to collaborative law in your state.)
Litigation is costly, and usually consumes the family’s last remaining assets.
It is not uncommon for a family to spend 50-100k litigating a divorce, and the number can go much higher depending on the complexity of the financial or children’s issues. Your attorney should be able to give you numerous ideas and options to keep the tension as low as possible so that negotiation can take place immediately.
Document, document, document!
Your attorney should be giving you a plan or system for how to get yourself organized for the deluge of documents that you will need to collect, that you will be given, and that you will need to review and analyze. Digital systems stored in the cloud are the best (for privacy concerns as well as accidental destruction), but paper systems are definitely better than nothing. Everything you want to tell the Court has to have corroborating evidence.
Save calendars of children’s events and timesharing. Save communications between your spouse or significant other. Organize and label photos and videos. Financial documents need to be saved by category and time period. It is a daunting task to be sure, but the point is your attorney should have developed an easy to follow system they can teach you. Having a system you follow, that your attorney understands, will save thousands in legal fees.
Be the bigger person.
I am admittedly not the easiest on my clients. I demand a lot of them, and I am tough on them. But it does come from a place of good intention – I need them to have realistic expectations and knowledge of what happens in a courtroom so that they can make the best decisions possible for themselves and their family. I require my clients to turn the other cheek often.
Everything you do and say is under a microscope when in litigation. If that isn’t enough to consider, think about the effect on the children. While you will never be able to control the other party’s behavior, you can always control your reaction. That is the type of higher-level, considerate, selfless thinking that a Court is impressed by.
Your attorney is your advocate, there to protect your best interests. Part of that is steering you along the path, correcting as needed. Make sure your attorney is giving you all of the feedback necessary to successfully navigate this difficult time period. And if that isn’t happening – politely excuse yourself from the room because all of these things are what your family law attorney should be telling you.