“I’m just starting my divorce. What pitfalls should I watch out for in the process?”
Any legal proceedings can be daunting and confusing to one unfamiliar with the process. Perhaps no type of case is fraught with more anxiety than a divorce. This article is intended to note just a very few important considerations to bear in mind, and pitfalls to avoid, when you find yourself facing in the dissolution process.
Choose your attorney carefully.
Your lawyer will become your teacher, your counselor, your advisor, your bodyguard, your advocate and your gladiator. Few decisions can be as important as the attorney you choose to promote and protect your interests. Choose carefully. Ideally, family, friends and co-workers can point you in the direction of a well-regard divorce lawyer. When you first meet a prospective attorney, feel free to inquire about his or her background and level of experience. Strongly consider retaining an attorney who devotes most of his or her professional practice to field of family law.
Advice is often worth what you pay for it.
Today, it would be rather unusual if you did not personally know at least a few people who have been through a divorce. Everyone has heard horror stories, and most people are more than willing to share their adventures and give you advice as to how your case should be handled. These people may be an excellent source for an attorney referral. However, until any one of them has received their license to practice law, leave the legal advice and strategy to your attorney. Every case is different, and a successful strategy for your cousin, your neighbor, or your hairdresser, might be disastrous for you.
Hold-off on unleashing the big guns.
Unfortunately, many divorce cases become highly contested and bitter disputes. However, many of these cases need not have evolved in such a manner. As a general rule, it is preferable to begin the process as amicably as the situation allows. If a case is going to get ugly, there is usually plenty of time for it to do so in the future. Rely more on intellect and less on emotions. And, always keep in mind your long-term objectives, rather than becoming consumed by short-terms concerns.
Children are forever.
Whether or not there are disputes concerning your children, the kids are inherently involved in the process. A divorce will impact all children. How they are affected is largely up to you. Don’t use your children as pawns or bargaining-chips in the process. And, don’t allow you spouse to do so, either. If your spouse is taking a more destructive path, you are not required to follow suit. Trust your attorney to guide you and, remember, the children must always come first.
There are no stupid questions.
Frustration, anxiety, and confusion are a part of every divorce case. Much is the source of a simple lack of understanding — of the law, of the process, of realistic expectations. It is the job of your attorney to explain all steps of the process and to candidly assess your situation. If there is anything you do not understand, speak with your lawyer. Attorneys cannot work in a vacuum, and we often don’t know when there is a lack of understanding.
The Boy Scouts have it right — be prepared.
Divorce is a team sport; you and your attorney are on the same team. If your lawyer asks you to do something, do it, do it carefully, do it completely, and get it done on-time. To act otherwise conveys a lack of interest in the outcome, and a lack of respect, to all those involved in the process — including judges. This rule applies to every aspect of the case, from being asked to sign and return pleadings, to providing exhaustive financial records, to preparation for a hearing or trial. Your attorney and his staff are there to assist you.
Keep the lines of communication open.
Communication between an attorney and a client are critical. Try to return your attorney’s calls as soon as possible. If you need some information about your case, and if your attorney is not immediately available, ask one of her staff if they can help you. If possible, before calling your lawyer, try to organize your thoughts and list several questions and concerns to address, which can save you both time and money. However, don’t be shy. We are here to serve you.
We all pay-to-play.
Perhaps the most common source of difficulty between an attorney and client concerns the issue of fees. Before retaining an attorney, be sure you clearly understand your financial commitments. Any confusion should be resolved before you sign a retainer agreement. If you promise to make a payment, make the payment. If you are promised a billing statement, be sure you receive it.
For better or worse, divorce is now a way of life. However, as we all learn, life does, in fact, go on. We would all be well-served by making the process as efficient and comprehensible as possible. Hope for the best and prepare for the worse. And treat all others as you would yourself like to be treated.
Michael S. Schiffman practices family law in Illinois, where he devotes 100% of his practice to litigation.
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