I live by the adage, control what you can and leave the rest. It’s taken me decades to get to this point and it was only after coming to the realization that I was wasting so much of my time and energy trying to change, reshape and coax things and people I actually had no control of. My life is much more productive and peaceful now that I focus on getting results, creating change, and embracing opportunity by using my energy to change what I can.
For those going through divorce or other family law matters, there is good news. Gone are the days where people getting divorced handed over all their control—the future of their family, their finances, their aspirations, and goals to lawyers and judges. Whether your divorce is litigated, mediated or done collaboratively there are things that ONLY YOU can do which will affect the expense, efficiency, length and ultimate outcome of your divorce.
Take the time to think about and come up with a picture of what you want your life to look like post-divorce—what are your goals, your aspirations, and your priorities surrounding your children, finances, living situations, employment, retirement etc.?
If you focus on getting clear about what you want your life to look like after your divorce, I guarantee that you will feel more in control, more on the same page with your lawyer, and more likely to have an outcome that’s aligned with your goals and desires. Do not let the other side dictate your path forward.
2. Try Not to Use Your Lawyer As your therapist
For so many divorce clients, it feels natural and comfortable to use their divorce attorney as their “quasi” therapist, a shoulder to lean on, a savior or their “rock”. I’m urging you- please don’t do this. I don’t want you to find out the hard way how unproductive and costly it is to use your attorney this way. Let’s put it another way: You wouldn’t go to a therapist for legal advice, would you? I’m not saying that you should not share your pain, sadness and frustration with your attorney. Quite the opposite, because as we all know, emotions play into divorce. Your attorney should be there to support you, to understand where you are and who you are. Primarily though, your attorney is tasked with getting you the best results possible that align with what you want and need in your post-divorce life. Using your attorney as your therapist takes them away from their role as your advocate and advisor.
3. Your Attorney Works for You
No matter how smart, successful or admired your attorney is, they have no right to treat you with anything but respect, patience and decency. You are entitled to your attorney’s undivided attention and time when you engage with her. You have the right to ask questions, request documents and get updates on your case and for your attorney to be available and responsive to you. Your attorney has your life in their hands; it is crucial that you feel comfortable that your attorney is transparent, acting in your best interests and “has your back”.
4. Look at your Attorney’s Invoices
We’ve all heard stories or know people who’ve spent crazy amounts of money on their divorce only to feel that they’ve gotten nowhere or that the outcome of their divorce was horrible. That’s why you must stay on top of your legal fees.
It doesn’t matter whether you or your soon to be former spouse is paying your attorney’s fees. Either way, the marital pot will be lessened by attorneys’ fees. It’s your money and how it’s spent now will affect you later. Ask for itemized invoices, review them and if you have a question, don’t hesitate to ask.
5. Avoid the Animal Attorney
Don’t get me wrong, you definitely want a strong, zealous and gutsy attorney on your side, one that’s firm in their convictions about your case and won’t easily back down or crumble under pressure. What you definitely don’t want is an attorney who is so overpowering, abrasive, and difficult to work with that their personality and style puts your case at a disadvantage from the start. This type of attorney sets an unnecessarily negative and litigious tone for your divorce. There is a difference between a “shark” whose ego is fed by the fight and a strong, shrewd and smart attorney who uses their skill, experience and knowledge to get the results you want and need whether in the courtroom or the negotiating table.
6. Unrealistic Expectations.
When you consult with an attorney for the first time, and they tell you without hesitation that your case is a “slam dunk” and that they can get you everything you want – RUN and don’t look back. Nowhere is the expression “if it sounds too good to be true”, it is more appropriate. As we say in the divorce world: “There are always three sides-hers, his and something in between.” Unless this attorney has all the relevant facts in front of them or it is a clear cut, slam dunk case, they can’t possibly “predict” how your case will go.
7. Just the Facts
When giving information to your attorney, stick to the facts of your marital circumstances, not fantasy or fictionalized versions of your marital circumstances. Remember, so much of divorce is about fact finding. You are bound to get caught if you’re less than honest with your attorney, the judge, or your soon to be Ex’s attorney. Not only is it embarrassing and humiliating to get caught in a “misstatement” or omission, no matter how small, it’s a downright disservice to your case. Recognize that being “straight” and honest with your attorney makes for a better and more productive working relationship.
8. Second Opinions
I’ve seen far too many divorce clients stick with an attorney they were unhappy with only to regret it in the end. I know it’s so difficult to call it quits especially when you’ve already put in lots of time, energy and money. However, you need to think long and hard before you succumb to the mindset that “it’s too late to make a change”, “she knows my case so well”… It is imperative that you don’t “throw good money after bad” only to be dissatisfied with your attorney’s representation and the final results of their case.
9. Mediation is Meaningless if you’re Not a Good Candidate
Prospective clients often come to my office asking for mediation wanting a more amicable and often, less costly divorce process than traditional divorce litigation. A good part of my practice is mediation where I don’t represent either party as their lawyer. Instead, as a mediator, I act as a neutral facilitator to help couples settle their divorce without lawyers.
I am a big proponent of all that mediation has to offer. However, not every case is appropriate for mediation, examples include: one spouse is not transparent with finances, domestic abuse, where there is a closely held business and the non-titled spouse has little or no financial acumen. The goal of mediation is to walk away with a Marital Settlement Agreement, Prenuptial or Postnuptial Agreement that is both doable and durable. If you are not a good candidate for mediation, you may end up in court later fighting over the terms of the agreement.
10. You have Options
I wrote an article a while ago: Divorces Are Like Snowflakes, No Two Are Alike where I compare what divorce lawyers do to surgeons: Like surgeons preparing for a thoroughly diagnosed procedure, as divorce attorneys, we too, must be prepared and armed with different “instruments” to obtain the best possible results for our clients. Do we litigate, mediate or engage in Collaborative Divorce? The point I was making was that divorce should never be “one size fits all”. Instead, it is your lawyer’s role to ascertain what your goals and objectives are; who your spouse/partner or former spouse is—what drives them? What is most important to them? What makes them feel in control and secure? By examining and analyzing these factors, your needs, goals and objectives will be taken into account as your case progresses. This is your journey, and you should have input on how it will be defined.
11. S/He is who S/He Is
I’m talking about your soon to be Ex. I know it’s not easy but if you’re still caught in the trap of expecting him/her to change, especially now, stop wasting your time. The sooner you realize it, the more time, energy and focus you’ll have to help move your divorce to a successful conclusion. As always, there are exceptions to this rule, if you don’t expect it, maybe you will be surprised.
12. Find the Silver Lining
“Behind every cloud there’s a silver lining”. Throughout my decades of practicing divorce and family law, I know of so many inspirational stories of clients just like you who’ve found opportunities for growth, change, new friendships, hidden talents, and untapped passions by looking for and being open to “silver linings” during and after their divorces. Divorce or any other family matter can be so difficult. The clients who are most successful and resilient tend to be those who use what?