Building a support team is imperative in order to weather the stressful aspects of divorce. Part of your support team must include appropriate legal representation. Attorneys and mediators are familiar with the laws and better equipped to negotiate the intricacies of divorce. If you haven’t already, you will need to hire a divorce lawyer or a mediator. There are all kinds of legal aspects to a divorce and while some divorces are simpler than others are, it pays to have good legal counsel.
It’s unfortunate that one of the unpleasant aspects of divorce is dealing with the legal ramifications of your new life. Not only do you have to deal with finances, visitation and custody, the division of assets, and other important considerations, you are also dealing psychologically and emotionally with your break-up. On top of this, you are now faced with the daunting task of having to find a lawyer and enter a bureaucracy that is intimidating, poorly designed, and clearly meant for the ones who have more money. Finding a lawyer to represent you is more than just picking a name out of the phone book, or taking the recommendation of a friend. It requires concrete steps.
The first step is to get at least 3 experienced divorce lawyers’ or mediators’ names and phone numbers.
- One option is to call and make an appointment with a lawyer that specializes in divorce and ask them, as part of your initial consultation, who their top three choices for divorce lawyers are that they have dealt with, not including themselves.
- Another option is to ask your divorced friends who they would recommend – theirs or their ex’s attorneys – based on their experiences.
The second step is the interviewing process. When first meeting with the divorce lawyers or mediators, consider the following questions to ask:
- How many years have they been handling divorce cases? How many years in your state?
- What percentage of their cases go to trial every year?
- By their estimate, how long will your divorce take?
- By their estimate, how much will it cost and who is responsible for paying the legal bills?
- How will you be able to contact them? Will you be able to contact them directly?
- Do they have an assistant or will you mostly be working with them? Are there any other people who will be working with them?
One of the unfortunate truths of the legal system is that there is a network of attorneys that deal with each other day in and day out. Because of this, many of these lawyers socialize with each other during work hours and afterwards, with their colleagues’ spouses and families. Some seem more interested in maintaining friendships with one another than in advocating for their clients. While this can be effective at times, being comrades in court and out, if you don’t feel that your attorney is advocating for you but instead protecting his or her professional and personal relationships with other law- yers, then you don’t have the right person. One way to circumvent this is to talk to the lawyer directly about this concern by saying, “I understand a lot of the attorneys are part of a close-knit group and some of them may be more interested in maintaining their friendships than in advocating for their clients, have you found this to be the case?”
I learned the hard way about finding a lawyer. With my first lawyer, who came as a recommendation from a friend’s husband, I didn’t know what questions to ask nor did I trust my intuition that she was not a good fit for me. I had to actually fire her on my way into court because she was adversarial toward me. Not only did I feel that she treated me poorly, in no way did I feel confident that I would be represented well in court by someone who had issues with their client. You have to understand this about me, I am not confrontational. To be pushed to this limit; to stand up in front of the court and tell the judge that I fired my lawyer was one of the most challenging things I have ever had to do. I learned a valuable lesson.
My very first experience with the legal aspect of divorce happened in a mediator’s office. My ex had not moved out yet, but wanted to start the divorce right away. Mediation, if you are able to use this method, is a cost-effective way of ending a marriage. It’s also a great way to come up with creative solutions for working out your differences and dividing up assets and custody matters. You are not limited by the constraints of the court system or a judge. For a satisfactory mediation process, both parties must come in with good will and be able to work toward a common good. Behavior must be civil. Often, there is so much resentment and anger that mediation becomes an impossible endeavor. If one person acts out, is abusive, if there is an imbalance of power financially; or if there is emotional manipulation, intimidation, or any other scenario where one person has an advantage over another, then mediation often leads to one person feeling exploited. The mediator does not solely protect one side’s interests; instead, they work for both sides, attempting to come up with an amicable solution, but both parties must be able to work together.
Consider also whether your ex is secretive or could possibly have something to hide. If there is a chance that information might be withheld and you may need an attorney to help with the process of uncovering that information, then mediation will not work. I found this to be true of my ex, not just because of his betrayal and deception, but also because of his professional actions as well. He had also demoted himself from partner in the practice to employee, taking a pay cut soon after our separation. This is known in the legal profession as RAIDS. RAIDS is a syndrome that is synonymous with weaseling out of financial obligations to an ex. It stands for Recently Acquired Income Deficiency Syndrome. Suddenly, with the onset of child support looming, my ex felt the need to ask for a lower salary and a lower-ranking job. His secretive behavior both professionally and personally with his sudden job demotion and hiding his relationship with his boyfriend until the divorce was finalized does not work in a mediation setting. I wish it did – it would have saved us thousands of dollars. How- ever, I would not have had a fair and equitable settlement because of his behaviors.
It takes two reasonably sane (not even completely sane, just reasonably sane) adults to work out their differences legally with a mediator. Once financial matters are brought up, it seems to be the trigger that creates the monster that was your ex. We went to two sessions with a mediator before my ex called it quits.
“Since you are a partner in a medical practice, you will need an outside financial evaluation of your practice,” the mediator said while going over our other numbers on the worksheet we had completed at home.
“Well, I just so happen to have the evaluation here from my practice’s accountant,” he said. We had argued over this on the way over. I did not trust the practice’s accountant. Let’s face it; the accountant had the best interests of my ex and the practice in mind, not me.
“We can’t use that,” she said. “You’ll need to arrange to have an independent forensic accountant do the work. I can give you some names.”
“How much is this going to cost?” He said warily.
“For this type of work, maybe up to ten thousand dollars.”
That is a lot of money, but for a physician, not so bad. We had it in savings and were saving thousands anyway using the services of a mediator. He wanted out, didn’t he? Didn’t he realize there would be monetary costs?
He looked at me with pure hatred in his eyes and then he exploded. “What do you mean? That much? You pay it!” He said while glaring at me.
“I can’t pay that. With what money? I don’t even work. I’m a housewife.”
“Get your daddy to pay for it,” he said snarling and then he turned to the mediator. “She’s going to pay it! I refuse to pay it!” He was screaming at the top of his lungs at this point and had stood up. His face was turning purple from anger. Mine was red from embarrassment and shame. As I watched him scream, it was sinking in that I had no money and I was at the whim of his moods.
“Sit down and stop screaming at your wife, doctor. I don’t allow that behavior in my office” she said looking sternly at him. He didn’t move. “She can’t possibly pay for something if she doesn’t have an income. That will be your responsibility since it is your practice.”
‘She has to pay for it!” He said, still screaming, still glaring at me with hatred in his eyes.
Now the mediator was mad. She stood up and looked him in the eyes. “Stop treating your wife like that!” This was the first time anyone ever confronted him on his behavior. He didn’t like it and stood there fuming.
“I’m going to have to ask you to leave. I don’t like where this is going. I’ll see you next week, doctor.”
We never did go back. He asked me to call her and cancel our appointments. Why did I always have to do these things? Days later, I heard he had retained a lawyer with a reputation for being one of the best divorce lawyers in the state. When you are a professional, you have access, connections, and the money to pay for some of the best services available. If you are a stay-at-home mom, your options are very often limited. My first lawyer, like I said, was a disaster.
This was the beginning of dealing with an ex who completely revealed the depths of his insane anger. He was angry before, but this was the start of the downturn to what turned out to be a nasty divorce and into the making of an unrecognizable ex-husband. The mediator did not work out because it would have taken two people to reasonably sit down and work things out together. The introduction of his extremely aggressive lawyer complicated things because these “sharks” add fuel to an already intense fire. When financial matters are involved, that’s when the process begins to go sour, at least it did for us. My ex’s demeanor had changed already, but it did a complete 180 when money matters came up.
Finding a lawyer is an important step and not to be taken lightly. The decisions you make now will affect you for the rest of your life. Make sure you have a legal advocate for yourself who can think clearly and who knows the ins and outs of the legal and financial aspects of divorce. I was too stressed and too numb to make good decisions, including the hiring of my first lawyer. No one truly wins in a divorce, but a good lawyer will be sure to make it fair and equitable.
In the space provided, gather the phone numbers of at least three lawyers or mediators who could handle your divorce. It is always better to err on the side of caution – get yourself good legal representation so that ten or twenty years from now you won’t be regretting the important legal decisions being made today.