A divorce is a complicated process that can take a toll emotionally, financially and even legally. For the average person, the legalities of the divorce process are a mystery and can be overwhelming. People often feel confused, helpless or in the dark during this difficult ordeal. However, there are ways to be more involved, feel informed and be in control throughout your divorce proceedings. The following tips will equip you with the proper tools to make good decisions and take control of the legal aspects of your divorce.
Hire a good attorney
. Your lawyer should be sensitive enough to listen to your feelings, but also objective enough to help you channel those feelings into a positive resolution of your situation. She should be experienced in divorce law and understand thoroughly how the law applies in your county or state. She should explain everything clearly without patronizing you, including her fees, how you will be billed and the terms of her services. She should communicate with you often and fight hard for your best interests without making extravagant promises or racking up unnecessary costs. To find a good attorney, use the yellow pages, a local bar referral service, ask a non-divorce lawyer for a referral or get recommendations from family members or friends. Be careful, however, to make your own decision about which lawyer to use. Someone who worked well for your friend might not be a good match for your situation or personality.
2. Become informed
Before your initial meeting with your lawyer, learn about the nature and extent of your property. You should be able to tell your lawyer how and when each piece of property was obtained, what it is worth, and whether you want it. Let your lawyer know about any credit card or loan debts, bank accounts, and stocks and bonds. Have all of this ready in written form. Tell your lawyer what you think about child custody, support, and visitation. Ask questions about his experience, what you can expect from him, what he expects from you, his hourly rates, billing methods and any other questions you might have. In fact, each time you meet with or speak with your attorney on the phone you should have a list of questions or concerns ready for him to address and answer.
Be forthcoming and honest with your attorney
. Don’t withhold important information such as infidelity, substance abuse or other “family secrets” because they are embarrassing to you. This information will inevitably come out later, and your lawyer will not have had the time to prepare for it. She can’t properly represent you unless she has full knowledge of the situation.
You should not use your lawyer as a therapist. He is not paid for this nor trained for it. Time really is money. Most lawyers will charge you for every phone call you make to them. If you call your lawyer and speak for sixty seconds, he will most likely charge you for a quarter of an hour. If your lawyer charges $200.00 per hour, you've just made a $50.00 phone call. It is best to save up your questions until you have enough to take up the whole 15 minutes.
Mediation involves you and your spouse conferring with a person who will mediate the breakup of your marriage. He or she will listen to both sides and will help resolve your disputes. If you and your spouse can’t communicate reasonably, however, this method is not a good choice. If mediation works, it will speed up the divorce process and result in lower costs to both of you. You should still have your agreement reviewed by independent lawyers before you sign it. Keep in mind that mediation can take a long time and may leave you nowhere if you cannot reach an agreement. It is also quite possible that the mediator may not be totally objective. He or she may consciously or unconsciously favor you or your spouse.
A. Lynn Scoresby, founder and president of My Family Track , First Answers , and Achievement Synchrony , and has been a marriage and family psychologist for more than 35 years. He has published more than 20 books and training programs.