(This post first appeared in the January 2022 print edition of River Road Living)
Over the years, I have noticed that January is a busy time of year as after the holidays more people seek out information about separation and divorce. Many articles have been written in the media on this perceived phenomenon, many going as far as calling January “Divorce Month.”
While many different factors contribute to whether someone contacts a divorce lawyer – and when – I have come to realize many people don’t know where to start when they first meet with a divorce lawyer.
I normally begin my initial consultations with potential clients asking if they have specific questions they want answered or if they would rather I ask them some questions that will give me information on how best to help. The overwhelming majority reply with, “Go ahead and ask me questions. I really don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never done this before.”
One of my clients was quite helpful in making me realize that a big “Start Here!” sign or, something of its kind, is not only helpful, but necessary. “I just didn’t know where to start,” she said.
This is not uncommon.
When meeting with a divorce lawyer for the first time, I suggest you start with identifying your goals.
What do you want to achieve?
For example, if you are not already separated and you want to separate, a goal may be to stop living under the same roof as your spouse.
Another goal may be to ensure your and your children’s financial stability into the future.
Another goal may be to lessen the impact of your separation and divorce on your children.
You may also have more specific goals, and that’s OK. Just begin with thinking about what you want to achieve and where you want to end up.
Keep in mind that not all goals can be achieved and the first meeting with a divorce lawyer should educate you why that may be so. Reasonable expectations should be set. But that shouldn’t stop you from identifying your goals and sharing them with the divorce lawyer. I often ask the potential client to give me their list of goals no matter how far-fetched they may think they are. Some clients feel they can’t ask for something when they can. Then again, some clients seem to expect everything under the sun and that’s not always possible. While expectations should be set, I suggest you still think about everything you want to achieve.
Once you identify your goals, we then need to consider the many different ways we can try to achieve those goals. What pathways are available for you to take to get you from where you are now to where you want to go?
The pathway or “process” you choose will depend on the answers to the following questions: Does your spouse know you want to separate? Does he or she agree to the separation? These are probably the most important first questions to ask when considering the pathway or “process” you may want (or need) to undertake in attempting to achieve your goals.
If, for example, he or she knows of your desire to separate and agrees the two of you should separate, then the goals have a higher likelihood of being achieved by agreement.
If your spouse does not know you want to separate, and you have a strong feeling he or she will resist the separation, reaching an agreement may be more difficult or may require the assistance of a Judge.
Your attorney should discuss with you all the different ways you could possibly achieve your goals, including negotiation, mediation, Collaborative Law, and litigation. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to separation and divorce and each situation may be better suited to one form of dispute resolution over the other. So, when you meet with your divorce lawyer, be sure to ask about all options and be sure you understand the pros and cons of each.
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