How to work with your divorce lawyer to achieve the best possible outcome.
Before you hire a family lawyer to represent you in your divorce, you need to understand that you and your lawyer will become partners, for better or for worse, during and perhaps for years after the divorce process. How well your partnership works can have an enormous effect on your divorce and how much you'll have to spend in legal fees.
So make every effort to hire the right lawyer. Examine your goals before going to one. Do you want to be generous or nail your ex to the wall? Look to your future and determine what you want for yourself, your kids, and your ex.
After your initial conversation with a divorce lawyer, you should be able to answer these questions:
Your choice will be partially dictated by your spouse's: if the divorce is relatively friendly, you can probably agree on what kind of representation you need. If the divorce is bitter, or if there are assets or children at stake, consider hiring a well-respected firm.
As in any profession, there are good and bad lawyers. It's up to you to determine which group yours falls into.
Your Lawyer Needs to Know
Once you've chosen a lawyer, you'll need to provide information. When your lawyer requests information, respond as quickly, completely, and concisely as you can; don't write a 24-page document when all that was required was a "yes" or "no". The following checklist will give you an idea of what you may need to disclose:
What Your Lawyer Expects from You
Your lawyer hopes you'll be calm, businesslike, and well prepared. Ideal clients can control their emotions; are organized; are willing to work together with the lawyer; and listen to their lawyer's advice.
Your lawyer will expect to be paid on time and in full. If your financial situation is bad, your lawyer may be able to create some kind of payment plan. If you're broke because your ex cleaned out the bank account, your lawyer can file motions asking the court to grant temporary orders for child or spousal support, custody, payment of your lawyer's fees, etc. If you suspect your divorce might get nasty, ask your lawyer about filing orders to protect you and/or your kids -- financially and physically.
To get the best service from your lawyer, it's essential to be a good client. Here's how to gain your counsel's respect:
If you don't abide by these tips, your lawyer may want to quit your case. This may also happen if you don't communicate properly, if you continually don't follow the lawyer's advice, or if you don't pay your legal bills. But if you're cooperative and reasonable, it's more likely that your lawyer will trust you and work hard on your behalf.
However, your lawyer may keep representing you even if you inadvertently annoy him or her -- if only because you're still paying him or her to work for you. Or maybe your lawyer is just too polite. If you detect impatience or weariness in your lawyer's tone or body language, consider whether you're burdening him or her with too many complaints about your spouse, or whether you're wasting time by asking a lot of obvious questions or by venting your frustrations. It's also possible that you did something to hurt your case strategy, such as mentioning something to your spouse (or your spouse's lawyer) that should have been kept secret. Perhaps your last check to the lawyer bounced, or maybe you were rude or unprofessional to one of the firm's paralegals or secretaries.
If you think you may have annoyed or angered your lawyer, ask if this is the case. If you have done something wrong, apologize for it; if there has been a misunderstanding, clear it up immediately. It's important that you and your lawyer maintain a strong, trusting relationship in order for you to get the best possible representation -- and to achieve the best possible outcome.
What You Should Expect from Your Lawyer
From the day you hire your lawyer, you both should have a clear understanding of what you need and expect from each other. Ask for a written agreement that details the terms of your lawyer-client relationship. If he or she won't provide one, find another lawyer.
After learning about your case, your lawyer should create a strategy. Be aware that this plan may change along the way, depending on what your ex and his or her lawyer does.
Your lawyer should clearly explain all your options, and offer advice regarding the best paths to follow, but respect your wishes if you strongly disagree with a suggested course of action. If you find yourself in constant disagreement with your lawyer, either you've chosen the wrong person or you're being unreasonable. Consider your motivations and actions to see if you're refusing your lawyer's advice for purely emotional reasons.
Even a good divorce lawyer will sometimes have bad news for you: that your spouse won't budge on an important issue; that you'll have to give him or her money or other assets; or simply that your expectations are unrealistic, illegal, or not financially feasible. Expect to feel frustrated or disappointed from time to time as your divorce progresses, but don't take it out on your lawyer! He or she can't always pull a great solution out of his/her metaphorical hat.
You should expect your lawyer to return phone calls reasonably promptly (24 hours is reasonable if he/she's not on vacation) and to consult you before taking any major actions.
Finally, if you want to ensure that your divorce agreement reflects your goals -- and doesn't cost you an arm and a leg -- then stay involved with the process, answering your lawyer's requests promptly and honestly.
Certified Divorce Financial Analyst
Business Valuators / CPAs