Thinking about a divorce but not sure where to begin? Here is what you need to know about taking those first steps.
1. Make sure you want a divorce. That sounds like common sense but many people are not even sure they want a divorce when they make that first call to a lawyer. They may be upset after a fight and threatening their spouse with a divorce but aren't really seeking a divorce. Divorce is final. When you get divorced, you and your spouse are no longer a legal entity and your nest egg is roughly half of what you had the day before while your expenses may only be cut 20%. Many people can't afford to get a divorce when they run the numbers. Others are simply unwilling to go through the very difficult and painful sacrifices you will need to make or are unwilling to put their children through a divorce and choose to stay together "for the children." So before you pick up the phone and call a lawyer, think about your life after divorce and make sure you really want one. If you aren't sure, you probably aren't ready for a divorce.
2. Set aside money for a divorce. You at least need to be able to pay a retainer to get your foot in the door. You need to have enough money to pay a lawyer a retainer. A retainer is a deposit. A lawyer holds the retainer in trust to pay for the time he or she spends working on your case. If you don't have the money to pay a retainer, most lawyers cannot take your case. That's not because lawyers are greedy. Lawyers get flooded with calls every week from people who have very serious needs but no money. We would love to take the time to help each and every one of them. I personally spend a great deal of time talking to people who need some direction and answers to their questions who I will not be able to represent. But we simply cannot afford to pay our bills and stay in business if we took on all of the needy clients who didn't have money to pay us. Most lawyers have an arrangement with Legal Aide or some other volunteer ageny and take a specific number of referred cases from their agency each year. That's one way we give back. But it's impossible to take every "pro bono" case that we come across. If you don't have money to pay a retainer, call friends and family or do side jobs until you have the money. If your spouse has access to monies and after you retain a lawyer, the lawyer can ask the court to require your spouse to contribute to your legal fees, which will ease your financial burden as you go forward.
3. Find a lawyer you like. It's almost that simple. If you call three lawyers, hire the one you like and think can get the job done. Why is it important to like your lawyer? Because you will be working very, very closely with your lawyer. You have to tell your lawyer everything, even intimate details about your sex life and/or embarassing things you never thought you'd have to admit to another human being. You may have to prepare for a depositon, mediation, trial or hearing. Trust me, you will be talking to your lawyer a lot and will want to have someone working for you that is easy to talk to. So it's realy important that you like the person who you choose to represent you and can visualize yourself working hand in hand with that person if you case ends up getting complicated or extremely advesarial.
4. Do your part. Most clients want to help their case as much as they can. You can help minimize legal fees and move your case along faster. That means doing what you are asked to do without multiple requests. Once a case is filed, lawyers have to adhere to deadlines. You need to be transparent with your lawyer and prepared to gather information when needed, provide necessary documentation and timely respond to all of your lawyer's inquiries. If you ignore or violate court deadlines, you may be sanctioned. Lawyers take deadlines and sanctions seriously. We don't hound clients for information and documents simply to fill our days. We do it because we have to.
5. Leave the lawyering to your lawyer. Many clients solict advice from friends, co-workers and even their current spouse during a divorce. Then they second guess their lawyer and sometimes even decide to ignore their lawyer's advice. Think about it. Your lawyer has done this for years. Your lawyer is being paid to represent your best interests. Your lawyer is familiar with the judges and courts where your case is pending. Do you really think your lawyer is "only out for the money?" If so, you hired the wrong lawyer. If you hired the best lawyer you could afford, you need to listen to your lawyer. Did your lawyer deliver on his or her promises and timely file your case and move it along? If so, let your lawyer do the lawyering. Trust your lawyer to do his or her best for you. Don't ignore his or her advice. If you do, it may end up costing you your case. Lawyers are professionals and know what they are doing. Don't try to micromanage your lawyer or it may backfire on you. Trust your lawyer and follow his or her advice.
Make sure you are ready for divorce before you make the first phone call. And be prepared to work closely with your lawyer to help insure you get the best possible outcome in your case.