Consider marital counseling if there is any chance of salvaging your marriage. Even if that does not solve the problems, at least you know that you did everything you could to save your marriage. If your husband will not join you, then go alone. Marital counseling will provide support in this situation and guidance in taking the first few steps. My mother found it invaluable to have a professional confirm what she suspected, that it was time to bail, and she was given concrete measures to achieve this undertaking.
If you have the luxury of time while you are contemplating divorce, then get your financial records and assets in order. One basic action is to make sure that your name is on the deed to your house. In community property states, you still may be able to get your share of the house, even if it is solely in your husband’s name.
Here is a sad, but true story. Bella had lived in their house with her husband and their two children for a long time. When she and her husband were divorcing, Bella received a shock. It turned out that her husband’s parents legally owned their house, and the parents’ names were on the deed. What Bella thought were mortgage payments over the years were essentially deemed rent. They had no other major assets to split in the divorce. Since her husband received income from a family trust fund and had lost his job, the alimony and child support issues were further complicated. Check deeds to make sure that you are an owner and not considered a renter. Be positive that other joint assets, such as cars, stock and investments, have your name on them as well.
Even if a woman does not think she is in a rocky marriage, she should put inheritance or family money gifts into a separate, not joint, account. Do not mix these with other joint accounts or assets unless you want to risk losing them. In a divorce situation, when kept in a separate account, inheritance and your family’s money gifts are considered personal property, not joint assets. Keep in mind that joint accounts, such as checking, can be frozen when one spouse passes on, even when in the middle of a divorce.
A hospital priest insisted that a wife go to the bank when her physician husband had a stroke in the hospital. It was apparent that the physician would not survive, so the priest and another doctor’s wife helped this traumatized woman withdraw a large sum of cash from their joint checking account. The priest explained that she would need money to buy food and other necessities for herself and her youngsters. Sure enough, all of their joint accounts were frozen, but this woman did okay, thanks to a knowledgeable priest.
If many of your financial statements are kept at his or your mutually-owned business, it may be challenging to collect them at a later date once divorce commences. Right after my ex left me, before the staff was notified, I swooped into our jointly-owned business and quickly grabbed what records and personal effects I could, but only when I knew that my husband would be not be there.
If your husband even only occasionally beats your children, document any marks, such as bruises. Although it was only a few times a year, one father would grab his son so hard that a bruise would form on the boy’s arm in the shape of his fingers. The interim psychologist during the divorce turned that father over to the Children, Youth and Family Department (CY&FD). He hired a high-priced attorney who was able to get the investigation closed quickly. CY&FD told the mother that if she had had a picture or two of those bruises, the outcome would have been different.
Selecting a Divorce Attorney
The next step is finding a divorce attorney. Decide, before hiring a divorce attorney, if you want a courtroom divorce or a collaborative one in the lawyers’ offices. Some attorneys do not do both types of divorce and each type has its own pros and cons. The divorce shown in the Disney movie “Enchanted” was the collaborative type.
A tip for finding the right divorce attorney is to approach people you know or do business with and ask them whom they would recommend for a divorce attorney. A clerk at one retail establishment was adamant that a certain lawyer was best. I routinely did business with him and trusted his opinion. That attorney’s name also started coming up on other people’s lists. I hired her and was quite pleased with my choice. This word-of-mouth inquiry works for finding lawyers in other specialties as well. Check the Better Business Bureau and State Bar Association to see if your selected attorney has any complaints against her. You can also go online and look up her profile and law firm.
Denny picked an attorney who is one of the nicest, most mild-mannered guys you could ever meet, and someone you would like as a friend or neighbor. Unfortunately for Denny, this fellow was way too laid back in the court battle against his wife’s shark-like attorney. As a result, his wife got quite a lot in the divorce, including a large chunk of Denny’s business. Instead of a marriage partner, Denny now had an overbearing business partner. When selecting an attorney, make sure to verify the attorney’s demeanor in the courtroom.
Divorce Attorney’s Pitfalls
Sometimes, one or more names of lawyers who have gouged clients are mentioned when you ask around for word-of-mouth recommendations. Just as a great attorney’s name may keep popping up, so, too, can a less ethical one. During Edward’s divorce, he and his wife agreed to a personal property settlement. One of her girlfriends kept telling his wife, “You can do much better.” Well, Edward’s wife got her attorney to ignore the settlement agreement and go after more goods. However, the judge upheld the original agreement and the only thing more the wife received was a much larger bill from her attorney. Her lawyer had the reputation of doing what he could to inflate his clients’ fees.
In another case, a woman told her attorney to simply settle the divorce, because she just wanted to be done with it. Yet it dragged on and on. She contacted her husband and, to her surprise, found out he had told his attorney the same thing. Her attorney was a money fiend who kept “stirring the pot” to get higher fees. Together, the spouses completed the divorce more quickly by presenting a united front when working with their attorneys, who took care of the details.
If you are not pleased with how the attorney’s bill is structured, then speak up. Rather than having a total amount for a day or week, have it broken down by tasks or time periods. Instead of having $537.42 for one day, it should be itemized into $97.08 for answering phone calls and $57.30 for emails. Or the bill should state 2:00 pm to 2:30 pm answered and sent emails, $125. In this manner, you will know that your bill isn’t being padded.
Maybe there are expenses that you can control better, such as ceasing to send unimportant emails. Or perhaps you could do some footwork, such as going through bank or investment statements rather than paying your attorney’s paralegal to do this task.
Trust Your Gut Instinct
Trust your gut instinct when it tells you something different from your intellect. You may encounter a seemingly ethical person in business or the healing arts, but something just does not seem right. That person appears to be a caring soul, but you seem to feel a little on edge and do not know why. That is your gut instinct letting you know that there is something questionable going on, perhaps at a subconscious level. This is a life tip, not just for divorce situations.
For example, a pleasant lawyer couple that I did business with before my divorce just did not seem right. I would meet one or both of them for coffee or lunch. I felt sorry for the woman, because she did not seem to have any girlfriends. Their billing was lumped into days, rather than by hours, so I was probably charged a lot for my misguided sympathy in meeting that attorney for what I thought were social occasions.
This couple also did some estate work for my mother, but did not want us to come to their office, even for a quick signing of papers. They insisted on meeting us at my office. My mother kept asking them if we were being charged for their time commuting, but she was repeatedly given vague replies. I rue that I didn’t mandate a breakdown of billing by time, so I could see whether or not we were charged for unnecessary commutes. I also wonder what I would have found had I seen the inside of their office.
Maybe someone you meet reminds you of a difficult person you knew and alarm bells go off in your head. Well, listening to your gut may prevent you from getting into a sticky situation. That person may remind you of someone else that you do not like because she shares some of her similar devious characteristics.
It is important to select an attorney with whom you can work well as a team. Many women feel it is prudent to consult an attorney even when contemplating a divorce, to obtain astute legal advice, and invaluable guidance that can help prepare you for whatever problems might arise during the divorce.
Some of my girlfriends have consulted up to four of the best divorce attorneys in town in order to purposely prevent their spouses from being able to hire these esteemed legal minds. While some attorneys offer a free initial consultation, these savvy women opted to pay the fee instead, thus establishing the confidentiality of a client-attorney relationship. This guarantees that their spouses will not be able to have these lawyers represent them, if their husbands should call their offices at a later point. If you pay the fee to establish a private client-attorney relationship but opt not to hire that attorney, then what is said to her or the office staff cannot be used against you later in a divorce situation by your husband. Unfortunately, this works the other way, too. In one case, when a husband already had a girlfriend and wanted out of the marriage quickly, he went to the best divorce attorneys in that city to prevent his wife from hiring them. The other advantage of meeting several lawyers is that you can select the one who clicks with you best. Of course, this can be a costly luxury.
The first point of contact, after the secretary, is the paralegal that will get your contact information and listen to your story. She will check with the firm’s attorneys to make sure that there is not a conflict of interest in accepting you as a client. If your chosen attorney, or possibly another partner, had any dealings with your husband, they may not be able to accept your case. The paralegal will ask some questions to clarify your situation. The next step is that she may get the attorney on the phone for a brief encounter or just to schedule a face-to-face meeting.
Bring the following documents and information to your first meeting:
Take notes during your first meeting, to review later, when you are less stressed. This information made my initial encounter go smoothly, and enabled my attorney to quickly grasp my situation.
This article has been adapted from The Women’s Holistic Guide to Divorce ©2013 with permission from Sunstone Press.
Wendi Schuller is a nurse, Neuro-Linguistic Programmer, and hypnotherapist dedicated to guiding women through divorce. Her personal and professional experiences have provided Wendi with insight into the benefits of collaborative divorce and mediation, as well as the effects of divorce on children. Her website is: www.womansguidetodivorce.net.