By: Tess Worrell
The decision to divorce is scary. Finding the right person to represent you–even scarier. How does someone even begin to talk to a mediator or attorney about divorce?
1. Just the facts–Prepare your story, but just the facts. Likely you have years of history and layers of complexity that define why you are where you are. You will share all this. But, not in the first meeting.
The purpose of that meeting is for you to convey the facts about your situation, so the practitioner can determine whether he/she can serve you. Before your appointment, create a focused summary of your situation–finances, children’s status, reasons for divorce, any history of violence, etc. Include your goals for both the divorce and for life beyond. This will help you, and the attorney, determine whether you can work together to achieve your goals.
2. Prepare your documents–Whether you pursue conciliation, mediation, or litigation, the mediator or attorney will want basic information early on. Having this in hand at your first meeting will help you feel prepared and more in control–comforting as you enter the process. Items usually requested include:
- Date of marriage
- Date of separation, if applicable
- Any filings with a court
- Names, ages, birthdates, and social security numbers of all children of the marriage
- Bank accounts available to both parties
- Earnings of both
- Current living situation
- Issues which might need immediate addressing such as health, finances, establishing parenting patterns, any history of violence, and any other concerns
3. Don’t make fees the sole focus–Sure, fees are a big concern. With the average divorce costing $30,000 (and many going much higher), no wonder clients need to know. Yet, attorneys are trained to spot those who simply want the bottom dollar on fees.
The agreement arising out of your divorce will dictate the rest of your life. Knowing this, mediator or attorney wants to spend the time required to get educate you on your choices, settle issues thoroughly, and concretely define each detail. If you convey that you only care about the bottom dollar–the better professionals will likely decline your case. While you certainly don’t want to just turn on the tap of fees and watch all your money go into this case, you do want to invest in quality. Take the time to ensure that those you consult are going to provide this. Then, be ready to pay what they are worth.
4. Explain inconsistent behavior–Mediators and attorneys become wary of clients who have repeatedly separated, who have hired and left multiple attorneys, or who seem to be on a crusade against their spouse. While you are interviewing the mediator or attorney to see if she/he is a good fit, they are doing the same. Again–the duties required to properly represent a client in divorce are huge. The attorney invests great time, thought, and energy in each case. If you have a history of inconsistency, they might be leery of representing you.
Answer–be ready to explain the past and how now is different. Why is this decision to divorce final? What created the rift between you and prior attorneys–and what are you looking for now? What do you expect from the attorney to help you move forward? This clarity will help you determine whether this decision is truly final and whether this attorney is a good fit.
On a crusade? Please know:
- You will not win on every issue. Courts simply can’t let that happen. If an attorney promises you complete success, you need another attorney.
- Seeking to use this process to get revenge on your spouse might work on him/her but will equally harm you and will destroy your children.
- You were worried about finances? This approach will drain every dime you have or will earn.
Instead. . .focus on creating a vision for your future. Clearly define in your own mind the next stage of life–job, lifestyle, location, time with children, interests, and goals. As you focus attention on this vision, you will ensure the divorce agreement advances this vision and you will replace a desire for revenge with a desire to move forward healthfully.
5. Commit to working honestly with the process–Attorneys require honesty, compliance with court orders, a willingness to listen to their advice, and timely payment of fees. Making the internal commitment to all these will motivate attorneys to willingly engage with your case.
Finding the person to help you resolve your divorce is challenging. Following these tips will get you started.