You have embarked on a divorce, selected a lawyer, and now are ready to begin the process. Be careful of the many pitfalls as you work with your attorney. Here are some things to avoid as your divorce wends its way through the legal process:
1. The Letter. The divorce usually starts with your lawyer sending a letter to your spouse telling him or her of your intention to divorce. Your story, as told to your lawyer, may become unrecognizable in the letter sent to your spouse. The tone may be cranky, nasty, aggressive, accusative, or all of the above. It may distort facts or contains information you did not want to express to your spouse. Your attorney may have sent it without your approval. You are mortified, regretful and embarrassed. The letter is the opening salvo, sets the tone for the entire divorce, and is never forgotten.
2. The Filing. Many divorce attorneys believe that it is correct operating procedure to file a divorce first, and ask questions later. Filing a divorce sets court calendars in motion, and the timing is no longer yours to choose. The non-filing spouse may have to be served by a constable appearing at their door or place of work. Litigation is war -- there is no other way to describe it. So what began as a magical, loving association ends with a war. War is nasty by definition, and people get injured. Innocent bystanders are harmed. The divorce lawsuit will never be forgotten. Granted, sometimes filing is a necessary way to start the divorce, but often it is not. A divorce process can be started by face-to-face meetings with your spouse and your attorneys or with a mediator. These methods set a very different tone than a constable at the door.
3. Are You Really Ready for Divorce? You may have hit bottom in your marriage, and believe the only thing to do is to get divorced. Upon your first visit to an attorney, beware that many attorneys will go into full-force fighting gear and start the divorce process without considering that you may need more time to think about it. Attorneys are sometimes like plumbers -- they see a problem and take the steps to "fix" it without considering that a person who is contemplating divorce may be just thinking, envisioning, and fact-finding. If your divorce attorney takes a zealous role, you won't have time to consider whether you really want to divorce. In fact, hitting bottom can be a wake-up call towards reclaiming and revitalizing your marriage. You won't find the space to do that if you visit an overly aggressive divorce attorney who starts the process right away.
4. Money Issues Distort the Process. Yes, money issues in divorce are very significant. When separating a family into two households, there is almost always economic scarcity. Divorce lawyers tend to do money division very aggressively. Remember, a litigated divorce is a war in which the lawyers view more money as a win, and less money as a loss. But divorce trials will always create harsh feelings, and very often will produce unfair results. If there are children, the corrosiveness caused by fighting over money will spill over into the children's emotional well-being for their entire lives. Children see and hear very clearly and will know what's going on. Spouses who work through money issues directly (or through a four-way process with their lawyers, or through mediation) almost always can come to terms which are reasonable and workable. The spouses feel better because they, and not their attorneys, are in control and their needs are fully expressed and acknowledged. The bitterness that comes with winning and losing in Court can be eliminated by working through the financial problem together. In a sense, working on money issues together can be the last act of the marriage. And it can be a loving and respectful one.
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