So, you have decided to get a divorce. Perhaps you have initially consulted with lawyers who have been recommended to you by friends or acquaintances to learn about the process. Have they discussed with you some of the pitfalls which would be best to avoid at the outset? Here are a few suggestions for you to consider.
Select an Attorney With Expertise in the Family-Law Field
Many practitioners maintain some general knowledge of family law and may even handle less complex family law matters. While you may think that your divorce action should be relatively straightforward, there are nuances which often arise (valuation of businesses, stock options, a standard of living issues, debt, ineligibility of assets, etc.) which may not necessarily be apparent to the general practitioner at the outset.
After all, a little knowledge can be dangerous. Selecting an experienced matrimonial attorney to represent you, will gain you a better knowledge of what you can reasonably anticipate the process will entail. Don’t forget, lawyers specializing in the family law field are in the family courts on a regular basis, and more than likely appear before the judge assigned to your case. The active family law practitioner is more familiar with the practices of your judge, and the family part in general. Attorneys who limit their practice to family-related matters are more likely to remain current with the statutory and case law, and trends within their field. They are naturally better equipped to advise you early on, as to what you may expect and how to best proceed to resolve the issues in your case.
Don’t Make Your Attorney Your Therapist
Divorce can be an extremely stressful time. Not only are you dealing with financial issues that may affect the rest of your life, but personal and family problems as well. It is important to select an attorney with whom you will have a good working relationship. It is just as important for you to recognize your need for emotional support through other qualified professionals. Venting to your lawyer can be cathartic, but it can also be extremely costly. You may be surprised to learn, upon reviewing your bill, that your attorney has spent hours listening to you vent, instead of better using that time to focus upon resolving or litigating substantive issues. Seeking out a well-trained mental health therapist may help you keep your divorce case focused on the important legal issues, and not your emotional ones.
However, you certainly should expect any attorney you retain to be sensitive to your emotional concerns and as well, to be reasonably psychologically sophisticated. This is particularly important if there are disputes pertaining to custody or parenting issues.
Make sure that you are working with a firm that will bill you monthly. Read carefully your retainer agreement before signing it. Be familiar with the rates at which you are being charged, and the frequency that you will be receiving billing statements. Experienced family attorneys will request a retainer they deem appropriate, based upon the complexity of your case. If you are not receiving bills on a monthly basis, expenses and professional fees may easily get out of control and may go beyond that which is affordable or anticipated. Moreover, you may have no recollection of those services which were rendered to you months before, and thus you may be at a disadvantage in reviewing your billing statements.
Keep Your Emotions in Check
By retaining an experienced family law practitioner to guide you, you will be better able to remain focused on the more important issues in your case. While relatively smaller areas of conflict may initially take the forefront, spending your energies on the more significant issues such as support, custody, parenting time, and distribution of your fair share of marital assets will yield better quicker results. Often when larger issues are resolved, either by court intervention or by agreement, the smaller issues, will fall into place.
John E. Finnerty, Jr., Esq. is the senior partner of Finnerty, Canda & Drisgula, P.C. in Fairlawn, New Jersey. He is a certified matrimonial-law attorney and the former chair of the family law section of the NJ State Bar Association. Finnerty has received the Saul Tischler Award in recognition of his contributions to the development of family law in NJ over a lifetime.