Tag Archive: divorce


1.    A Good Lawyer

Well, well, well…big surprise here.  A lawyer recommending you hire a lawyer.  Seriously, lawyers who focus on family law are a little jaded to the day to day drama of family division.  While highly sensitive to the needs of my clients, I know when something is just a big deal to you at this moment or whether it is really a game changer that has to be dealt with or your rights will suffer.  I can explain why you should or should not be concerned about things that happen and in this way keep you calmer and more rational when making important decisions that will affect you down the road.

 

2.     A Sense of Humor

While grieving the loss of a relationship it may seem inappropriate to laugh, but really the best humor gets at our deepest feelings so if something strikes you as a little off or funny it probably means you have stumbled on a kernel of truth about your situation.  Cherish it and laugh.  The act of releasing tension that laughter allows will help break the cycle of anger and concern you may feel at other times in the process.

 

3.      Put It in Writing

Writing is cathartic.  The physical act of typing on keys or writing with pencil or pan and paper helps us let go of our feelings and release them.  It also helps organize our thoughts.  Often the mind becomes cluttered with thoughts seemingly flying around in a tornado of emotion.  Writing down the thoughts let’s us see them clearly or gets them out of our minds to make room for new ideas.  If you are working on money or child custody issues, writing down financial information or custody schedule information can assist your lawyer or the court in helping you come to a settlement where if the ideas were just vague in your mind they might not be as helpful.  So put it in writing.  You will feel better.

4.     Reach Out

Seek support wherever and whenever you can.  The world is full of people who can help you but they can’t do it if you don’t make your needs known.  Talk to people and share a little bit about the challenges you face and you will soon have ideas on next steps to take.  Churches, hospitals, and other organizations have support groups that often meet free of charge.  Seek professional help from a mental health provider if you are feeling especially stressed or unable to manage your emotional issues.

5.  Don’t Neglect the Things You Enjoyed Before You Started The Divorce Process

If you have hobbies or interests, stay with them.  There is this tendency with people if they are in upheaval to abandon ordinary things in their lives that give them pleasure and happiness.  They let the big event take over everything.  Take time out for yourself.  Read, paint, draw, make or listen to music, write, take photographs, scrapbook, cook…whatever it is.  Gardening and being out in nature are especially good for the spirit if you have access to these activities.  Remember there was life before the divorce and there will be life after, therefore there must also be some living during the process.

Let’s Talk About You

It’s been said that people who are going through divorce are nothing like their usual selves; they are showing the worst part of their nature.  It’s worth asking the question: why is that?  And further: how can we fix it?

My personal belief is that people show the worst side of their nature because they feel out of control.  The loss of control can come from a lot of places.  Mostly it is the fact that each of the people feels misunderstood and hurt by the other’s actions and now the formality of the divorce brings all that into focus.  Most legal systems favor a no fault approach to divorce which means that a lot of the stuff about the emotions of the marriage become irrelevant in the legal context.  This makes people even more angry because they cannot use the court system to get justice for their emotions so they feel powerless.

How I think this can be fixed is by taking control of everything.  The steps start small and then grow from there.  First, you must allow yourself to feel how you do but then look at whether those feelings are leading to anything positive.  Anger, for instance, can spur us to action.  Sometimes that action is good, other times it is very bad.  Ask yourself: is this thing I am doing going to lead to any positive outcome or will it make things worse for me?

Many people feel anxious about dealing with the legal system.  One way to deal with that anxiety is to partner with your lawyer in preparing all the information that will be needed for your court papers or hearings.  The more you do the less your attorney will have to do, especially when it comes to the facts of your situation.  When it comes to the law itself, it is best to leave that work to the lawyer because there are things about the way the law works that may not make sense to a person who doesn’t work with it all the time.  Also different people within the court system do things differently and your lawyer may know how your court personnel will handle various things.

Many people feel sad and worry about the future.  One way to handle that sadness and worry is to start imagining your future now.  Ask yourself:  where am I today and where am I going?  The mistake people make often is they keep replaying the past so they never move on.  You can see the future in increments.  Where am I going might be for this afternoon, it might be for next week, it might be in five or ten years but it has to be forward.  If you start thinking ahead you will start moving forward, and once you get going you will develop momentum.

Finally, be kind to yourself.  Find some time for something enjoyable and be sure to really pay attention to your enjoyment of it.  Realize that although things are changing for you there is good in every day and you can find it.  Also, if you are impatient or difficult with others because of all the stress you are under, ask for their understanding and don’t be afraid to ask for their help.  It may be that you just need a shoulder to cry on or another point of view, or it may be for something more tangible but get the help you need.  If you feel you might need further professional help with your emotions, seek it out.  There are many possible ways to get it, not all are expensive.

 

Divorce and family problems drain us emotionally.   We go from grief, to anger, to love; from nostalgia over the past to anxiety about the future.  We worry about our finances, our children, our love lives.  We try to plan but keep getting caught up in the same cycle of emotional and not practical energy.

The truth is that the law doesn’t care about your emotions.  Family law has evolved to deal with only the practical considerations that come from dividing a family.  Those practical considerations deal mainly with money and how children are cared for.  You won’t get paid for the emotional harm that was done to you.  You can receive money to help you establish yourself financially if you were previously dependent on your spouse, but at some point you will be expected to earn what you are able to.  You also can protect what you worked hard to earn from being taken from you, although  you will be expected to share some of that with your spouse if that spouse provided support to you while you were earning it.  I understand all the ramifications of financial issues in divorce and I work with my clients to satisfy their immediate needs as well as those they will have on the future.

When it comes to raising children, the rule should be that each parent should do whatever he or she can to assist in the raising of children.  The courts used to almost insist that both parents be involved but that thinking has relaxed a little lately.  Both parents should recognize that they have a responsibility to their children but that doesn’t always happen.  It is also true that if the relationship ended because the parents could not get along, continued contact between them over the children can lead to more stress for all involved.  I assist people all the time in learning how to work together, and I favor as much involvement as possible from both parents.  Through my experience I have learned how to write agreements that are easy to understand and that promote good experiences for both parents and children.

A good family lawyer will help guide you across the minefield of your emotions and into the real heat of battle over your money and your kids.  The first battle you’ll have to fight is with yourself as you move away from any sense of revenge or anger and towards the planning of your future.  Then you are ready to face the reality of seeing where you are now and where the law will help you go.  The law can help you, but you will soon understand that most of what you will accomplish you will do on your own.  My job as your lawyer is to point you in the right direction and help you on your way.

1. How much of your practice is devoted to family law?

Many general practitioners include some divorce cases in their files.  There is nothing wrong with that, but often the divorces rank among the most disagreeable work in their caseload.   A lawyer who devotes most or all of his or her practice to family law is making a commitment to wrestling with the difficulties that the practice of family law presents.  He or she also is likely to have more experience in handling cases in any given jurisdiction as well as a good working relationship with his or her fellow members of the family law bar.  There are few areas of the law where the saying “what goes around comes around”  is more likely to be true.  The knowledge that a fellow lawyer is likely to appear in a case in the future means that family lawyers as a whole will try to assist each other and extend courtesies to each other during litigation.  This can save money and stress during the process of litigation and settlement.

2.  How can you help me?

This question is valuable not for the actual content of the answer but for what the content implies.  If the lawyer answers the question with a very black and white, “I can fix everything” kind of answer,  you should be wondering.  No family lawyer in an initial meeting knows the answers.  A big part of that is due to the fact that he or she has no information about the other side yet.  The personalities as well as the facts of the case will become clear in time but not before any attorney’s initial meeting with a client.

3.  How do your fees work?

You will no doubt want to know how much your divorce will cost.  Unless your lawyer offers a flat fee for the entire case, there is never a way to tell how much a divorce will cost.  What you are entitled to know is how the lawyer charges.  In addition to hourly rates, you may want to ask if there are minimum billing charges for certain types of work and whether other people in the firm will be billing their time or services.   You can also ask about retainer fees and payment schedules for future charges.  Above all you want to know that you will understand what it is you are paying for.  Lawyers do a lot of work that is quite honestly thinking, and it is odd as a non-lawyer to think about paying someone to think, because it doesn’t look like work as many know it, but that’s where all the advice you will value comes from.  So when you see a letter that is three paragraphs long and your lawyer charges you for a half-hour, he or she is charging not for slow typing, but for quick thinking.

4.  My biggest worry is ____________.  Will the law be able to address that?

This is another trick question for the lawyer.  A seasoned family lawyer knows that the law only goes so far in helping people going through a divorce.  There are practical issues that the law simply can not or will not address, or it may address them only in a limited fashion.  A client once asked me if it was in her best interest to get a better job because it would mean she would get less child support.  I answered of course it was because she was placing herself into a better position to earn more and to further her earnings ability in the future.  Her spouse’s income was something she had no control over.  In that case the legal situation was a net loss (less child support) but the practical situation was all win.

5.  How can I best communicate with you?

The single biggest complaint leveled at lawyers is that they don’t return phone calls promptly.  A lawyer should have a communications policy.  There are a lot of possible ways to communicate with a lawyer and the lawyer should have preferences and expectations and be able to provide the client with options.  The worst thing any client can do is call and leave a message merely to “call me.”  I do not use text messaging to communicate with clients and I do not like using e-mail either.  Phone calls are scheduled when possible so that both me and the client know to be available with information and full concentration.  A lawyer’s assistant should be trained to take detailed messages to assist the lawyer in responding to the client.  Clients should be kept “in the loop” at all times so that they never have to wonder what is happening on their matter.  If the lawyer you are interviewing does not have a clear sense of how communication flows in his or her office it may be a cause for concern.

You know the old saying about real estate “location, location,location?”  Well to make sense of your divorce you need “information, information, information.”  Your best bet is to gather it yourself, although your lawyer may have ways of getting it for you.

The most important information you need is financial.   Begin by gathering all income information.  This includes recent pay stubs and tax returns for the last five years, which will have W-2 or 1099 forms attached and will include all business related income schedules.  If either of you has a business then the business tax returns should be gathered too.

Next get all expense records you can such as bank statements showing checks written, credit/debit card statements, etc.  Get the bills for your recurring expenses such as mortgage, taxes, utilities, cable, internet, etc.  You also want to gather here any  evidence of debts owed, whether loans or lines of credit, or in other forms.

Next get information on any real estate you own and any debt owed on it.  You should find out some idea of your property’s value, and ultimately may want it appraised.  You can also use this time to list boats, RV’s etc and their values and any debt owed on them should you own any.

Next get statements for all investments, retirement, and other savings accounts, such as those for children etc.  Look for what you know exists but also dig deeper in case something is hidden.  Consider any place in your home or office where information might be stored.  If you have anything you have been hiding, you should gather it and account for it in your own listing because chances are it will be uncovered so prepare for the worst case scenario.

Gather any information about any “stuff” you own that might be of large value.  Typically we are talking about cars, art, jewelry and antiques, but depending on your income level and spending habits your TV, furniture, computers and such might be worth listing.  I generally counsel against counting the spoons and pot holders, but I’ve seen lists of them as well.  Make a note of things that are of special value to you personally and that you would want to keep no matter what.  Be sure to tell your lawyer about these things.

This is also a good time to mention, if you have a lawyer, tell him or her everything, hiding information from your lawyer is just plain stupid.   A lawyer with the wrong information is like a soldier without a weapon or defensive armor of any kind.  He or she simply cannot do the job you hired them for.

If you have completed this gathering process you will be able to see exactly where you are financially.   Knowing where you are is a big step forward to knowing where you are going.

Act Now

This is not a TV commercial, but it is a once in a lifetime opportunity. You only have this minute or two once in your life. Divorce, like many of life’s other crises, makes people panic. Panic makes people freeze. One of the goals of this site is to get people out of panic mode and into action.

Right now, you are reading this, you are acting. You are not stuck inside your head. That’s good. You are seeking information. Knowledge will make you understand and feel better about your situation.

The best place to start any journey is where you are, so the best thing to do right now is to figure out where you are.  For now, try taking out a piece of paper and writing down what you think are the five most important issues you are facing.  Examples might be:  “I am overwhelmed with responsibility for my children” or “I do not have enough money to pay my bills” or “I feel threatened and unsafe around my spouse” or “I am angry and feel betrayed.”

Just the act of writing these things down will allow you to see them more objectively.  Next you might want to think of something you could do to address these issues.  If your issue is being overwhelmed with responsibility for your children, you could ask someone to watch them for a little while to give you a break.  If the responsibility is on an ongoing basis you could explore child care or organized activities for your children.  If there are larger issues, such as medical care, involved you could ask for help and support from friends and family as you work through your decisions, or you could ask for more help from the children’s other parent, if you feel that he or she is not contributing a fair share of energy to the process.

In future posts I will provide other plans of action, but the important thing is to act now.

There is another way…

Divorce, custody, support, and other family law issues start and end in our homes, living rooms and bedrooms, not in paperwork and in courtrooms.  Family lawyers work exclusively with individuals, we have people as clients, not just “cases.”  Divorces and relationship breakdowns look like endings but in fact they are new beginnings.

This site and my practice are dedicated to these ideals.  In the coming days I will be posting articles, tools and ideas to assist all those touched by family law issues to find a clearer more productive way forward.

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