The first few steps in most divorces include learning about the divorce process and scheduling a consultation with an attorney to discuss a case in a confidential setting. Once an attorney is retained, the paperwork, filings and discovery soon follow. Hiring the right attorney can be a big relief because at that point, everything legal (deadlines, filings, case preparation etc.) becomes primarily the responsibility of the attorney. But before any of that occurs, it is quite normal to undergo some gut wrenching soul-searching. Many people grapple with the decision to get divorced for many months, and in some cases years, before taking any action. So what are some things that a person can do to prepare and what are some things a person should not do?
What should I be doing?
• First and foremost, before doing anything “legal” and before taking any action, it is always advised to speak to an attorney. There is no substitute for getting good, one-on-one advice in a confidential setting from an attorney who has practiced family law and from someone who has been through dozens, if not hundreds, of divorce cases. Just because the facts in one case may be similar to the facts in another case, there are always unique circumstances in every case and how those facts relate to the law can completely alter the results in a case.
• Scheduling a consultation with an attorney is a good idea. Having a consultation with an attorney does not mean that that attorney must be hired. It also doesn’t mean that a divorce case has to be started. People can have multiple consultations before deciding on the right attorney or before starting any divorce case in court. These consultations are confidential and no one needs to know you were there.
• Education is a big stress reducer. Getting educated on the divorce process is a really good idea before taking any formal action. Reading various websites about divorce, visiting the local court’s websites, and speaking with an attorney are all good ideas.
• Writing down a timeline of events or summary of important dates that provide a history of the marital relationship when things are calm is also a good idea and it is one step closer to being organized to present specific details to an attorney. It is also a good idea to detail when property, investments and inheritances were acquired, how they were acquired and in whose name they are listed. It is similarly beneficial to get a handle on how much is owed on various pieces of property.
• Gathering information on retirement plans, credit card debt, and bank accounts is also beneficial. More information is always better to have than less information.
• On top of that, any particular facts that show contributions to the marriage or contributions on behalf of the children regarding schedules, routines, healthcare etc. is also good to be able to explain to an attorney.
• Obtaining or making photocopies of financial statements, tax returns, life insurance policies, mortgages, car titles, retirement plan benefits and statements, bank account statements, credit card statements, brokerage statements, military benefits, social security statements, lease agreements, and any pre-nuptial or separation agreements.
• Consulting the government websites for TSP, SBP, SGLI, TRICARE, DFAS, and the post-9/11 GI Bill can be invaluable.
• In some cases, the emotional and psychological aspects can be more difficult than the financial ones. Sometimes, speaking with a therapist, social worker, pastor or counselor can be a wonderful idea.
• Looking out for the well-being of children involved in this process can also be one of the single most overlooked things a person should do in a divorce case and one that many people simply forget. Sometimes, a child can also benefit from professional, psychological services or counseling.
What should I not be doing?
• Taking action in a divorce case without speaking with an attorney is bad idea.
• Relying on this website as your sole source of information and then initiating a law suit without consulting an attorney is a terrible idea. Even if you don’t contact us, you shouldn’t rely on this website without speaking with another attorney.
• Talking bad about the other spouse in front of children is a terrible idea. Regardless of what happens in a marriage, a child can be affected when he or she hears terrible things about the other parent. A child is 50% from the other spouse, and denigrating that other spouse can sometimes be taken by the child as if the insults are directed at them.
• Using the children as pawns in a divorce case or pitting them against the other parent is a terrible idea and can adversely affect a case.
• Listening to friends or acquaintances who have been through a divorce and relying on their legal advice can be particularly thorny, problematic and stress-enhancing. Every case has specific facts unique to it. Sometimes a fact that seems insignificant can make all the difference in the world in a case. Friends and acquaintances who are not divorce attorneys should not be the legal authority on a case.
• Uprooting children, moving out, quitting jobs to minimize income or significantly altering a normal circumstance because of a possible divorce is a bad idea without speaking with an attorney on how that change can affect your case.
• Signing any documents without consulting an attorney is a terrible idea.
The list above is not all-inclusive. By speaking with an attorney, there may be many additional things you can and should be doing that are specific to your case. Relying on this info alone and this website is not advised.
However, in general, having more information and being better educated and prepared to speak with an attorney is always beneficial. There is no reason to be nervous when consulting with an attorney that you may want to later hire as your divorce attorney. A consultation should be viewed as a job interview…for the attorney. There is no obligation to retain any attorney you are not comfortable with. Some people like an attorney who is more business-like and less sympathetic and friendly. Some prefer attorneys who can provide feedback to the more emotional aspects of their case. Attorneys are first and foremost human beings and therefore each attorney has a unique approach to the practice of law. Finding the right attorney for you and your case is always a great step in the right direction. Once you have found the right attorney and explained your facts and circumstances, you are then in a better position to ask your attorney more specifically, “what should I be doing and what should I not be doing?”