Though a divorce can be fraught with emotional, financial and social challenges, it is sometimes the legal aspects of the divorce that cause the most stress and turmoil. Because the legal details of divorce are generally foreign to the average person, it can be extremely overwhelming to process all of the information involved in dissolving a marriage. The following suggestions will help you avoid some of the common pitfalls that often make a divorce more difficult and stressful than it needs to be.
1. Don’t use your lawyer as a therapist
She is not paid for this nor is she trained for it. Time really is money, so make the best use of your attorney’s time. Most lawyers will charge you for every phone call you make to them. If you call your lawyer and speak for sixty seconds, she 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 fifteen minutes. Ask your attorney only legal questions, not things like, "What am I going to do with the rest of my life?" Turn to friends and family members for emotional support, or seek help from a licensed therapist if you need to talk to someone.
2. Don’t stick with a bad lawyer
You are the one who hired your lawyer, and he works for you. If you feel he is not doing a good job or giving the proper amount of time and effort to your case, don’t hesitate to find someone else. Your new lawyer will take care of informing him that he is off the case.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
Make a list of questions or concerns to take with you every time you see your attorney. Ask questions about a variety of topics, from the experience and background of your lawyer to the details of the divorce proceedings to the way you will be billed. Make sure your lawyer clarifies anything you don’t understand and get things like fees, payment arrangements and terms of service in writing.
4. Don’t do it yourself unless you are in the proper circumstances
If you have been married for less than 5 years, don’t have any children, are both employed and capable of supporting yourselves and have a combined worth of less than $50,000, then a do-it-yourself divorce might be the logical choice. However, even if you and your spouse fit these criteria, it is a good idea to hire a lawyer if the two of you are unable to communicate effectively.
If you want your lawyer to be able to protect your interests, you must be completely honest with her. Your lawyer may inadvertently give you bad advice if the answers to her questions are incomplete or untruthful. Don’t leave out things such as infidelities, substance abuse or other important information because you are embarrassed. If the truth comes out later in court, it could do serious damage to your case and cause an alteration in the court's decision after the divorce has been completed. If the court believes one side has been fraudulent, you will probably have to pay an attorney's fee award to the other side.
6. Don’t use the same attorney as your spouse
This is a mistake. It is almost impossible for your lawyer to be loyal to your best interests while he is also trying to do so for your spouse. It is worth the expense to hire your own lawyer who can concentrate on your needs, alone.
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.