Here’s a frustrating fact: most people getting divorced are not attorneys. Yet, almost all knowledge about divorce is held by attorneys and too often those attorneys want you to pay for that knowledge. But not me — being prepared for your divorce makes it less complicated for all.
- Know Your Divorce Coming Too often I meet with a client who is gobsmacked by their partner wanting a divorce. More often then not, kids are involved in a divorce. Because custody impacts the financial aspects of divorce, be on the lookout for changes in behavior around the time your spouse spends with the kids. No joke. For example, say a higher-earning dad spends less time with kids. If this father had sought advice of an attorney, the attorney could recommend him to spend more time with the kids. So if Dad suddenly starts taking kids to school, etc., then he could already have a lawyer and be planning and strategizing for divorce where custody and some financial aspects could work in his favor. If a divorce is inevitable, and if talking is still possible, frankly ask if he’s seeing a lawyer and plans on filing for divorce soon – or – beat him to the punch and file for divorce first.
- Everything Is Connected When you’ve been in a marriage for several years, lives (and finances) become deeply entwined. Not understanding how interconnected everything in your divorce is the number one issue I see in divorces over and over again. You cannot isolate aspects of the marriage—say, for instance, child custody—without looking at the big picture. You need to pay attention to your finances. Is your name on his/her investment accounts? Do you or your spouse own a business? Do you both own the apartment or home you purchased? No matter what lawyer you work with, you will need to take inventory and know exactly what is yours and what is his. Do your homework before you see a lawyer. The more you know going into a divorce, the more efficient your case can be.
- The Hot-Shot, Self-Interested Attorney More complicated divorces equals more billable hours for the divorce attorney. Greedy attorneys can blow up a situation and make it even more terrible, manipulating you to needlessly complicate the process. The “pit bull approach” is about making money for themselves. The attorney who is trying to convince you to be aggressive is not the right attorney for you and you will pay unnecessary legal fees. You need to have a clear picture of your rights and your non-negotiables before you meet with a lawyer. Do your homework. Ask friends and learn about the relationship they had with their lawyer. Did the lawyer keep things as efficient as possible? Was your friend happy with the outcome of their case. If they had to do it all again, would they work with the lawyer? These are simple, but important questions you must ask.
Divorce is hard. Avoiding these three landmines will make it easier, I promise.
Andrew G. Vaughn is the founder of NuVorce, a professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, a husband, a father of three and was once hospitalized by a chicken. Questions, divorce stories, hate mail? Send HERE.