When we think about divorce, we automatically think of hiring a divorce attorney, but did you know that there are other experts and professionals you may want to consult with and even hire, as you start to think about divorce, start to strategize and map out the next steps towards divorce or separation and even after you are divorced? In this series called Your Divorce Team, we will review the different professionals you may need or want to consider having on your team. At the least, have a conversation with. This week, we start with your divorce attorney.
YOUR DIVORCE ATTORNEY
So how do you know if you have the right divorce attorney? The first step is to determine in what capacity your attorney will be working with you. As discussed in the different types of divorces available, depending on how you and your spouse proceed, this will also determine to what capacity you will hire an attorney.
Also, depending on what capacity you are hiring your attorney (or any professional for that matter), finding the right divorce attorney for your case is a lot like going on a first date. And sometimes, it’s a lot of first dates. It’s like any relationship where trust, care, safety, and security matter. Your divorce attorney will need to be someone you trust, someone you feel safe and secure with. Someone, you know will help guide you in and through one of your most difficult and often times, one of the most traumatic times you will have to endure. This is the time when you need to know that this person will help you take the right steps, avoid the landmines and other potential hazards, and look out for your short-term and long-term future. When you start the process of vetting different family law attorneys, you will know. After the first consultation, your gut will tell you yes or no. If you walk away from the initial consultation wondering if this person is the right person, talk to the next attorney. It is not worth doubting yourself before you even take the first steps of making divorce a reality.
Having the right divorce attorney as part of your divorce team is essential. Your Divorce Team is where you get to be vulnerable and you get to have difficult discussions and get to work through some issues, scenarios and talk through all of your questions, knowing that every question, thought and concern are valid and worth exploring. Whether these questions be legal, emotional, mental, or financial in nature, this is where trust, safety, security, a place without judgment is critical. Your divorce attorney may be the anchor to your mental and emotional well-being, or if you hire the wrong attorney, they may be the cause of some of your worries and anxieties. Your divorce attorney may already have a team that may be right for you or you may come to your attorney with some who will be a part of your divorce team, either way, you need to know without a doubt that this team is willing to walk through some tough moments with you.
For those who are going the route of the amicable or non-adversarial route via the Kitchen Table or Mediation, you and/or your spouse may hire an attorney to consult with. It is always good to consult with an expert in the law to review any agreement you and your soon-to-be ex have come up with. Even in mediation, it is good to have your Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) aka all of the agreements you and your ex have come up with, whether it be the parenting plan to how the finances will be divided be reviewed by a legal expert.
You can hire a consulting attorney by the hour and have them review your MOU and draw up the document into a divorce decree, file all the necessary documents and handle all of the court time. This will significantly reduce your costs as you and your spouse can agree to use one attorney to handle all of this instead of having two separate attorneys. This will also help with the overwhelm of having to navigate the court system and the actual courthouse when you already have more than enough on your plate.
ATTORNEY ON RETAINER
What if you and your soon-to-be ex can no longer sit at the same kitchen table to have any sort of calm and productive conversation? Or even if you can sit at the table, you already know that the tension is pretty high, and it is not worth trying to work out the agreements just between the two of you? There are a couple of options. One option is the Collaborative Practice, the other, which we will touch on next week is a mediator.
If you and your spouse are open to trying to find a resolution as amicably as possible but would like to be represented by your own attorneys, going the route of the Collaborative Practice may be a good option for your family. Having a collaboratively trained team who will help guide both you and your spouse in the process of divorce may be the right amount of advocacy and agency. You and your spouse both will have attorneys who want to help bring agreements through the collaborative process but will also work with you individually to help you make the best decisions for you and your future. The goal of the collaborative team is to help you and your spouse come to agreements outside of the courtroom and keep the power of deciding in your hands to choose how you will divide your assets and how you will parent your children.
If your divorce is more adversarial, hiring an attorney on retainer to represent you and be the buffer between you and your soon-to-be ex and possibly their attorney may be the better choice. Again, depending on how contentious the divorce will become or how much support you feel that you will need through the entire process, your divorce team will be essential but having the right attorney to represent you and to advocate on your behalf may be critical.
THE RIGHT ATTORNEY
As mentioned earlier, your gut will tell you if the attorney you are thinking about choosing will be the right person to represent you and help you in achieving the goals you are looking for. The truth is that the world is full of attorneys who are excellent at what they do and there are attorneys who are not. There are attorneys who are looking out for your best interest and there are some who are so focused on going before the judge to fight when this is may not be in your best interest. In your best interest, it is not always about who gets what and by how much is the dollar amount or percentage but what is in the best interest for you as a person and for you as a family. Sometimes, the fighting over the last penny is not what is in your best interest if all the dollars you are fighting over are now wasted in attorneys’ fees. The extra $50,000 you may have been told you will get if you go to court has probably just been eaten up by the fees both you and your soon-to-be ex are now paying to your respective attorneys. It does not matter if you will ask for your court fees to be paid by your soon-to-be ex. The fees still come out of your marital assets and so essentially, out of the extra money you are currently fighting over.
Something you have to consider is if the mental and emotional stress alone are worth the fight and if your attorney understands that you are mentally and emotionally done. Going through a divorce is a marathon and not a sprint. Towards the end, you and your ex will be exhausted, and you may want to wrap things up. If you have the wrong attorney, they may not listen to what you are saying and may want to keep fighting. This is not in your best interest. If you have children, think about how your stress is now affecting them. Think about how the stress on them will affect not only when the divorce is finalized but at every family event both you and your ex will have to be at. Your legal team will not be at the birthday parties, the graduations, and even the weddings with you and your ex. You and your ex will be and part of the importance of choosing the right attorney is not just for the actual divorce settlement but for the legacy you and your soon-to-be ex will leave on your children and even generations to come after.