Tips to Navigate the Divorce Process
As a family law attorney, I see clients most often at one of the lowest points of their lives. Everything that has been familiar and stable is undergoing a major, life-altering overhaul. The change, itself, is scary, but the process to become divorced is even scarier. I have some suggestions to help in this transition, so that clients can emerge ready to face this new stage in their life.
First, take care of yourself. While this may seem obvious, it is often one of the most over-looked areas. Clients often feel so over-whelmed, sad, and sometimes angry with their spouse or situation that they forget to eat properly, exercise, and get enough sleep. In addition, if you are having trouble coping with the anxiety of the pending divorce or separation, consider meeting with a counselor to learn ways to manage those feelings. Self-care will also allow you to better work with counsel in evaluating your options as they arise in the divorce process.
Second, keep a calendar of important dates, both from the court and your attorney. Be sure to thoroughly read any correspondence sent to you, and ask questions if necessary. Make sure to schedule deadlines and dates, and be prompt in adhering to them and responding.
Third, be prepared for phone or in-office conferences. Have a list of questions or issues that you want to discuss, and send them to your attorney in advance, if possible to review. It is always helpful when the client writes down their specific concerns, so that they are not later forgotten in the meeting.
Fourth, be reasonable in your expectations, and listen to the advice of your counsel; after all, that is what you are paying them for. If your primary concern is not legally relevant to the overall issue being addressed by the court, be willing to focus instead on the strategies suggested by counsel to help you achieve your objectives. Too often, I see clients who want to raise issues that are not able to be addressed by the court relative to the conflict. For example, it does not matter to the court in dividing marital assets if one spouse has been unfaithful. The Divorce Code specifically excludes such “marital misconduct” from consideration in distributing the marital assets. If the client continues to focus on the bad conduct rather than the factors that the court can and must consider, it jeopardizes not only the client’s credibility but their counsel’s effectiveness in representing their interests.
Fifth, be willing to compromise. Family law is rarely black and white. It is almost impossible to specifically predict the outcome of a case, as there are many variables which are fact specific, and a fact finder who must subjectively weigh the objective factors to arrive at a decision. However, it is reasonable to have a “range” of acceptable outcomes, and a decision or settlement in that range should be viewed as successful.
While these suggestions are not all-encompassing, they do represent, in my opinion, the areas where clients can take an active role with their counsel to ensure an satisfactory resolution, one that will enable them to move forward, both emotionally and financially, after the divorce is final.