How do I pick a good attorney?
Picking a good attorney is a very important step in ending a marriage. People typically get recommendations for an attorney from friends and family. The trick, though, is not just finding an attorney who can get you a divorce, but finding one who will represent your interests and concerns well. If you are concerned about being fair to your soon-to-be ex-wife, you probably don’t want the attorney who advises you how to take most advantage of the situation. If you fear your ex will seek to limit your contact with the children, you want an attorney who values your role as a father.
There are probably times to hire the “bulldog” lawyer who will seek to get the most for you regardless of what it does to the other side. For the most part, though, this is a mistake, especially if you have children. Usually what happens then is that you set up future conflicts with your ex. We recommend that you select an attorney who prefers negotiation to litigation. If negotiation is not possible, though, you want to have confidence that your attorney can represent you well. You do not want to fear that you will be at a disadvantage because of the lawyer you hired. You need someone who can protect your rights without going so far as to impede your relationships with her and the children after the divorce.
In metropolitan areas, there are specialists who practice “family law.” In rural settings, lawyers may be more generalists. It is helpful, though, if your attorney is familiar with the local family courts and the judge that will decide your case. For that reason, you are usually better off hiring a local attorney rather than bringing in a high-powered expert from out-of-town.
In any case, interview your attorney as if he or she is applying for a job to work for you. In fact, that is exactly what the lawyer is doing. Make sure your prospective lawyer understands your goals in the divorce (e.g., joint custody, fair settlement of the debts, possible reconciliation). A good attorney tries to understand where you are in the process, rather than advising you where you ought to be. Maybe you are only contemplating divorce. Maybe you have filed twice before and withdrawn the petition. You might have had an affair and are afraid about how that will affect the divorce. Perhaps you hope that if you file for divorce, she will realize you are serious about your dissatisfaction and will change her behavior. Ask how your attorney would proceed in accomplishing your goals. If your goals are unrealistic, your attorney should tell you so.
During your initial meeting notice how your prospective attorney listens to you. If the attorney is not listening well during this interview, he or she probably won’t start listening better later. Look for an attorney that takes a “team approach.” Explain what you want. See if the attorney can articulate a plan to accomplish your goals. On the other hand, is your attorney willing to respectfully disagree with you when necessary? You don’t need a “yes man” (or “yes woman”). You need an expert who can work with you to accomplish your goals.
The cheapest attorney is not always the best deal. Nor is it better necessarily to have a high-priced attorney. If your wife has hired the most feared family lawyer in town, though, you probably don’t want to select someone in their first year out of law school.
HOW TO SELECT AN ATTORNEY
Many men do not have a relative who is an attorney, so they wonder whom to use in conducting their divorce proceedings. Even if you do have such a relative, this may not be the best idea. Word of mouth, whether from friends or family, may not fit three major considerations in selecting a divorce attorney: compatibility, experience, and income. Compatibility means that he or she has the right “chemistry” for you—not for your family, or your friend. Experience refers to getting someone who is a full-time family lawyer, not a jack-of-all trades. Income means getting an attorney that serves your income sector of the community. Just like you wouldn’t buy a Cadillac if you only needed a Chevy to get around, you wouldn’t get a “high-priced attorney” if you only needed an attorney who specialized in middle-income bracket clients.
Some people look in the Yellow Pages or local phone book to find an attorney, but this is not a good method as you are selecting based on chance, not information. Even if you contact a lawyer-referral service, you are choosing from among those attorneys who have signed up to be referred. Interview your prospective attorney. The attorney should provide a ballpark figure on costs to complete the divorce process, both for traditional and the mediation methods. The lawyer should give you a free 20-minute session in which to do this. If not, look for another attorney.
Should I go to counseling during a divorce?
A lot of people feel reluctant to go to counseling while going through divorce. Although this is inarguably one of the most stressful times in a person’s life, these people reason that it is somehow a bad time to seek outside counsel or support, or that it may be used against them.
If this is not the right time to talk to a counselor, when would be the right time? It does not make you a “wuss” to ask for help and support. We’re not saying that everyone will have a mental breakdown when going through a divorce, but virtually everyone will have difficult moments. A counselor can provide both emotional support and an outside perspective that can be both reassuring and insightful.
You’re right. We’re counselors ourselves. You would expect us to say something like that—tooting our own horns, so to speak. However, we’ve seen lots of people going through the divorce process, and we know from their feedback that it helped to have a concerned listener who had experience in such situations “on their team” as they went through the divorce.
You may feel that you have friends in whom you prefer to confide. “Why do I need a counselor if I have friends? I can tell them anything. I don’t want to get advice from a stranger who doesn’t even know me!” The advantage of seeing a counselor is that most counselors have been through a lot of divorces with others. We counselors know how people generally react, what will usually work, and what doesn’t work. We also know the court system, which can be an intimidating place to negotiate. Furthermore, we can be more objective than your friends. We’re not going to just take your side or fuel you with comments like “You shouldn’t have to take that stuff from her.”
Another fear men sometimes offer for not going to see a counselor is that it might be used against them in court. The reasoning here is that going to see a counselor implies that you might be mentally ill or somehow inadequate as a parent. That stereotype is antiquated. If anything, courts usually view going to counseling as a positive step towards self-responsibility, not a negative admission or an indictment of inadequacy. If you truly have a “mental illness,” the court would look favorably upon your seeking help. On the other hand, very few people who go to counseling have what would be accurately diagnosed as a mental illness. Rather, they are part of the “worried well” who make up the vast majority of clients who seek counseling or psychotherapy. Sure, they might feel some depression or anxiety at times, but this should be distinguished from those few people who have severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar (manic/depressive) illness, or severe major depression. Most judges look favorably upon those who seek help. After all, the judges have their hands full with petitioners who are locked into combat over such matters as child custody, precisely because they have ignored the advice or counsel of mental health professionals.
Frequently, people going through a divorce will say that they don’t have enough time to address their emotional needs. They argue that they are so busy taking care of the legal, financial, and child problems, they can’t afford the luxury of taking care of their “mere” emotional concerns. Essentially, they are saying that emotional health is not all that important, especially in comparison to these other themes. If you don’t take your emotional health seriously during a divorce, however, you are much more likely to make bad decisions during the process. Those bad decisions can cost you a lot of money as you may fight over inconsequential matters. They also make you less able to help your children as they deal with the divorce. The amount of time and money you spend in counseling is usually relatively small compared to the overall time and money needed to bring about a divorce. In addition, you are less likely to make costly mistakes in going through the process.
We men are well-known for our reluctance to go to counseling. In part, this is because as men we have been socialized to:
Avoid being dependent on others. (“I can handle this myself.”)
Not acknowledge our losses and pain. (“I hate her for what she did to me.”)
Hide vulnerability and apparent weakness. (“I have it all under control.”)
Emphasize doing something over experiencing our feelings. (“What’s the point if you can’t do anything about it?”)
This book is for men who are in the process of going through or recovering from a divorce. Whether she moved out today, you just left the courtroom after the final hearing, or you have been divorced awhile and are already dating, this book will help you make the decisions and do the things that will make life after divorce better.
The Guys-Only guide to Getting Over Divorce and on with LIFE, SEX, and RELATIONSHIPS Authors Sam J Buser PhD & Glenn F. Sternes PhD.