What should I do if I suspect my spouse wants a divorce?
The answer to this question is from my perspective, as a lawyer. In addition to the legal perspective, you should consider input from a counselor. One word of advice: some of the worst advice I have seen given to my clients who are going through a divorce comes from well-meaning friends and relatives.
The best advice I can give you is to see an attorney right away. A one-hour consultation with an attorney who is experienced in divorce law will be invaluable to you. It is extremely important to understand your rights and to know what to do to protect yourself, even if there is a possibility that the marriage can be saved. Some folks are reluctant to make an appointment with a divorce attorney because they don’t want a divorce and feel contacting an attorney somehow means that divorce is inevitable. In all of my years practicing in the area of family law, I have never pushed a client into getting a divorce. Even if your goal is to save the marriage, you need to know as early as possible what you can do to protect yourself in the event that divorce becomes inevitable.
What should I do if I am served with divorce papers?
First of all, don’t panic. Nothing happens in a divorce case (excluding domestic violence or other extraordinary circumstances calling for emergency action) without written notice to you. You should contact an attorney as soon as possible, but take the time to find a reputable attorney. In Franklin County, where I practice most frequently, nothing will happen in your case until you are served with the divorce papers by certified mail, or by a court-appointed process server (not your spouse) serving you with court papers. After you receive those papers, you have a reasonable time (at least two weeks) to find an attorney.
Check the papers carefully to see if there are any notices of a hearing date. In Franklin County, Ohio, the only hearing date notice that you will receive in connection with the initial divorce papers is notice of a “Status Conference” or hearing on “Temporary Orders.” Note the date on your calendar and contact an attorney as soon as you can.
What can I expect from my first meeting with my attorney?
I refer to a first meeting with a client who needs information related to the legal process of ending a marriage as an “initial consultation.” I cannot speak for other attorneys who may handle things differently, but my initial consultations generally last from one to two hours. I charge a flat fee for an initial consultation rather than a fee based on the time you spend in my office. My goal is to educate my client about divorce and divorce alternatives, such as dissolution, mediation and collaborative law, so that the client leaving my office has a good understanding of his or her options for proceeding. An initial consultation is a good opportunity for my clients to get to know me. Going through the termination of a marriage is stressful under the best of circumstances. More often, it is emotionally traumatic. Finding an attorney you can relate to and one whom you trust is essential.
What should I bring to my first meeting with my attorney?
For an initial divorce consultation, it isn’t necessary for you to bring anything with you. If you want to, you may bring a list of your assets and debts, but that really isn’t necessary for the first meeting. Certainly, if you have been served with divorce papers, you will need to bring those with you.
How do I keep my attorney fees to a minimum?
Most if not all attorneys practicing in the area of divorce and family law base the fees for their services on the amount of time the attorney spends working on your case. Thus, efficiency is the key to keeping your fees down. The first rule is to listen to your attorney and follow her advice. If the attorney asks for certain documents or information, provide it to her quickly and keep the information organized. Remember that your attorney works with multiple clients who are going through the same process as you are; when you provide the information, remind the attorney what it is and why you are providing it. For example, “Here are my credit card statements for the past six months that you requested.”
In my practice, I find that communication with me through email can be very efficient. Often, you can have an answer to your question on the same day. I can send you any documents you may need to see by email so that you can review the document right away, rather than to wait several days for regular U.S. mail.
In my practice, I delegate certain tasks to my legal assistant, Cheryl. I charge a significantly lower rate for Cheryl to handle portions of your case that do not need the attention of an attorney. While I supervise all of Cheryl’s work, she can perform many valuable services at a lower cost.
About 95% of divorce cases ultimately settle without a trial. Settlement efforts should be pursued early on. As a general rule, the sooner a case settles, the lower the attorney fees will be. Time spent towards putting yourself in a position to settle is time well spent. Consider using mediation or collaborative law at the outset of your case.
Before settling financial issues, each party must make relevant financial information available to the other. Neither party can be expected to reach a settlement in the absence of full disclosure.
How can I get the best result in my case?
In my experience, you will get the best results by: (1) Listening to your attorney and following her advice; (2) Responding promptly to questions and requests from your attorney; (3) Actively participating in decisions with your attorney. If you question your attorney’s rationale for handling certain matters in a particular way, or if you are at all uncomfortable with your attorney’s advice, discuss your concerns with your attorney. Sometimes additional input from you may change your attorney’s opinion. Don’t be afraid to challenge your attorney if things don’t feel right to you. Your attorney is an expert on the law in your case. You are the expert on the facts of your case. You and your attorney should work as a team to identify realistic goals and plan strategies for obtaining your goals.
What should I do if I think my spouse is hiding money or transferring assets?
The sooner you bring your concern to your attorney, the more your attorney can do to protect you. If financial records are maintained at your residence, it is always a good idea to make copies of them before they disappear.
How can I avoid going to court?
Individuals asking this question are on the right track. Explore alternatives like Collaborative Law and Mediation early in the process. Often these forms of alternative dispute resolution are far more engaging and informative, and much less stressful. These alternatives are less expensive than protracted litigation, and help to protect your children from being caught in the middle of an unnecessary battle. Unlike other types of litigation, in family law litigation, there are no winners or losers. The key is to cut your losses and move on with your life.