Almost everyone facing divorce feels confused, afraid, overwhelmed, distrustful, guilty or angry. But, you can choose to make the divorce process more positive so that you can move forward with your life by following certain basic guidelines.
1. CHOOSE YOUR ATTORNEY WISELY.
What qualities do you want in your lawyer? Write them down. (A lawyer with a reputation as a pit-bull isn’t necessarily effective, reliable, trust-worthy, compassionate, smart or knowledgeable.)
Ask friends and family members who have first-hand experience in their own divorce about the attorney they used. Conduct web site research and collect brochures from several attorneys you may be interested in working with.
Interview one or more potential lawyers – a consultation fee can be a wise investment both for what you will learn about your situation and for what you will learn about the attorney. Investigate your potential lawyer’s commitment to and experience with non-adversarial divorce such as mediation and collaborative divorce. Ask for a description of the office practices regarding returning telephone calls, scheduling flexibility and availability, and caseload. Will the attorney be readily available to speak with you when you need her? Does she answer her own telephone or email? Or will your communications with the lawyer be filtered through a staff person?
Consider sharing your research with your spouse.
Do not retain a lawyer without a written plain language fee agreement.
2. EDUCATE YOURSELF.
Knowledge is empowering. Demand that your lawyer describe not only the traditional litigated divorce process but options such as mediation and collaborative divorce. Your lawyer should educate you about applicable laws and possible outcomes in your case. Ask your lawyer, the Connecticut Bar Association, divorce support groups, even the reference librarian at the local library to refer you to web sites, pamphlets, articles, books and videos from which you can learn about divorce. The Internet can be a good source of information as long as you are referring to a reputable site. Be cautious about acting on the “legal advice” of friends or family members, no matter how well intended.
3. CAREFULLY CHOOSE THE LEGAL PROCESS THAT IS BEST FOR YOU AND YOUR FAMILY.
In rare circumstances, traditional adversarial litigation is the only option for divorcing spouses. More often than not though, non-adversarial processes such as mediation or collaborative divorce will better fit your needs and objectives. Don’t miss the opportunity to pursue the process that is right for you.
4. FOCUS ON GENUINE INTERESTS AND REASONABLE LEGAL OBJECTIVES.
Your divorce experience will be more positive and cost effective and the legal result more satisfactory if throughout your case, you work with your lawyer to identify and prioritize first, your genuine interests, and second, reasonable legal objectives. If you and your spouse can’t reach an agreement, the court will distribute property, divide income and determine custody and access to children in a way that may not satisfy the interests of either you or your spouse. The court will not right, cure or compensate a spouse for all the perceived or real inequities and pain suffered throughout the marriage.
Be wary of an attorney who promises to “get you” an outcome that doesn’t feel realistic to you because it probably isn’t.
5. PARTICIPATE ACTIVELY IN YOUR CASE.
No one knows about you or your children, family, finances and needs the way you do. You and your lawyer must work as a team. Your lawyer should provide legal advice, explain procedural aspects of your case, and present available strategies and options. Ultimately, you must decide which available strategies and options to follow and how much of your resources will be committed to pursuing a particular objective.
6. BE A POSITIVE ROLE MODEL FOR YOUR CHILDREN.
Children respond to the breakup of their family as well, or as poorly, as their parents behave during, and after, the divorce. The unfortunate division of the family unit can be an opportunity for children to learn, from the example of their parents, strength, respect, tolerance and love for their parents and themselves.
7. MAINTAIN SELF RESPECT AND DEMONSTRATE RESPECT TOWARD OTHERS INVOLVED IN THE DIVORCE PROCESS.
You will ultimately measure divorce success, not only by the financial orders entered, but by whether you maintained and demonstrated self-respect, grace, humility, and a sense of humor.
8. TAKE CARE OF YOUR PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH.
You want to make well considered, smart decisions throughout your divorce. By taking care of your physical and mental health, you will be better prepared to make these well considered, smart decisions. Work with a counselor, make an appointment with your primary care physician, find time to attend a spinning class at your gym, join a support group or meet a friend for a movie. Don’t be afraid to make yourself a priority and get the support you need. Remember, divorce is a difficult time and everyone can benefit from some type of support.