From the Divorce Doc, Alison Patton, Esq.
“Dear Divorce Doc, What would you do if you were starting a divorce?”
As a divorce lawyer, this is one of the most frequent questions I get. I’ve seen the good, the bad and everything in between. How you start your divorce will definitely influence the tone and outcome of your entire case. The biggest mistake you can make is turning everything over to an attorney, to the court or to a mediator without first figuring out what you really want – and not just what you want financially, but also what you want personally and emotionally for you and your children.
Step 1 – Educating Yourself about Divorce
Divorce is like moving to a foreign country. Prepare yourself by learning the language and understanding how the divorce system works. This knowledge will put you in the driver’s seat and allow you to make better choices.
To get started:
- Speak with friends and family members who have been through divorce to get practical information. Ask them what they did right and what they wish they had done differently. (Be discerning, however, of those who had nasty divorces and are still angry. Their advice might be tainted from their own experience.)
- Use the internet to get information. First, go to the website for your county Superior Court and read everything listed under Family Law. You can learn a lot from this site. Secondly, google “divorce” and the name of your state, and you’ll find most of the larger divorce sites on the internet. These sites contain articles and often have information about each state’s divorce laws. I wouldn’t recommend buying anything from these sites unless you’ve fully checked it out or had a friend refer you, but it can be useful to read the free information and articles. (Also, be sure to verify any legal information with a family lawyer before acting on it—as with any topic online, there is wrong information out there too.)
- Get Nolo’s Essential Guide to Divorce, by Nolo Press ($19.99; $14.99 for Ebook) (http://www.nolo.com/products/nolos-essential-guide-to-divorce-nodv.html). Learning about divorce law will empower you, and you’ll save money by knowing the basics before you sit down with an attorney.
- Go to a bookstore and browse through the divorce section.
- Choose a few other books about divorce that speak to you.
- At least one book should be about the emotional and personal challenges of divorce.
- If you have children, choose at least one book that covers custody, parenting and the effects of divorce on children.
- During all your reading and research, take notes and make a list of what you want to do and not do during your own divorce.
Step 2 – Setting your Goals and Making a Plan
After you have done your research, set aside two hours to write out your goals and a proposed division of assets and debts (and a custody plan, if you have children). It is essential that you do this exercise on a day and time when you feel the most rational and clear-headed. Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted. Your task is to map out your goals, your vision of the future, and a fair division of property, debt, custody and parenting.
Step 3 – Consulting with a Family Lawyer
Now that you have your ideas down on paper, your next step is to get the opinion of a professional. I strongly recommend that anyone with children or assets consult with a reputable family lawyer for at least two hours before making any decisions.
When you make an appointment for a consultation, you pay by the hour and there is no obligation to continue with the attorney. Hourly rates of family lawyers are expensive, ranging from $200-$600, with the average being about $300/hour. But as the old expression goes, don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish. In my experience, an investment of a few hours saves people money and mistakes in the long run.
Need help with this process?
In the Divorce Doc Workshop, we walk through these steps in great detail, giving you everything you need to formulate a comprehensive settlement offer to present to your spouse. To enroll in a workshop, please contact me at (858) 551-2608.
I also provide one-on-one assistance through private consultations. Contact me to set up a consultation at (858) 551-2608 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As part of every workshop and private consultation, you will receive:
- For Step 2: Exercises for setting goals and mapping out your vision of the future.
- For Step 2: Information and guidance to identify and resolve property, debt, custody and parenting issues.
- Settlement options for each issue and a discussion of what tends to work/not work.
- For Step 3: A detailed checklist of what to cover with the lawyer in your consultation.
- Tips for finding a good lawyer.
You can also visit my website at http://divorcedoc.net/ for a complete overview of my services and a complete list of topics covered in the Divorce Doc Workshop.