What should I do right now?
First, get informed about the process and how the whole thing works. This website was designed to get you there and knowledgeable enough to make informed decisions. So much of what you do in a divorce or custody situation depends on having information that is both current and relevant. For example, if you know how an issue is typically treated in court, you'll know not to take an opposite approach on that issue.
The issue is that most divorce lawyers are younger, inexperienced and don't know themselves. "Divorce is a young lawyer's game," I've always said. Because of this, most lawyers do not know how a Judge would decide an issue under a set of similar circumstances. Only a truly seasoned lawyer would know this information. So, many spouses don't get good advice to know what their alternative could be in the courtroom.
What's a seasoned lawyer? Someone with over 15 year of experience, someone that's done a few appeals, and someone that's done nothing less than 200 trials. Unfortunately, this probably only accounts for about 1% of divorce lawyers, maybe less.
The reality is that if you try to swim up stream (against what Judge would typically allow), you'll tire out, waste a lot of time, and it will cost you a lot of money in attorney's fees. So, the first step is to know more about the process, before it happens. A seasoned divorce attorney that knows the "insider information" can give you the best advice to make sure you don't make bad moves in your divorce.
The next problem is whether or not you'll find yourself dealing with a lawyer that's being fully accurate, or better said, telling you what you want to hear. If a lawyer is just telling you what he or she knows you want to hear (to get you as a client), you're screwed because you're not getting the right information that you need at beginning of your case to make good informed decisions.
So, initially you'll want to talk to a seasoned divorce lawyer that will give you unfiltered information about what you can expect in a divorce and how to avoid near certain pitfalls that plague the system.
Once you have the right kind of information to make informed decisions, you suddenly realize that the outcome of the finances are largely predetermined (with some wiggle room), and the real issue that may or may not be litigated comes down to maybe a few small details of the case that can be easily managed.
Second, if you have been served with divorce papers, get comfortable that the divorce will happen whether you want the divorce or not. So, if your spouse filed a divorce case (and you don't want the divorce), it will happen anyway and you can't stop it. What you can do, however, is better prepare for a good outcome. It's easy to allow you not wanting a divorce to emotionally impact the outcome. Be mindful that your spouse may be willing to settle on terms that are more favorable to you, if you go along with the process. Some spouses will give you more because they feel bad (often for cheating). In these circumstances, cut your best deal quickly and finish the case.
Many spouses tend to delay the inevitable, only to find out that their generous spouse, isn't so generous anymore later in the case after everyone has wasted money on attorney's fees. Take advantage of the spouse that wants the divorce. Waiting will likely likely cost you negatively in terms of outcome.
If you're the one that filed the case (or are planning to file), then try to put the best settlement terms upfront. No one wants a Judge to decide their divorce, and no one wants to pay costly attorney's fees, and therefore, talk settlement early and get serious. However, proceed patiently when your spouse may not want a divorce.
Third, put together a settlement proposal. Being too forceful for the quick divorce or playing cute with an unfair settlement will not end your case quickly. Prepare fair settlement documents early in the case (even before the case is filed). It is no secret with divorce attorneys that a written proposal is the best settlement tool and it's not by mistake that lawyers tend not to draft one until the end of the case. This is why I offer to prepare settlement documents upfront. They can be revised along the way, but having this document initially tends to reduce attorney's fees by thousands of dollars.
Don't waste too much time with oral offers or discussions that are usually later misunderstood. By having clear and certain terms in writing gives everyone the opportunity to review (and revise) a document. It allows spouses to contemplate and comment on terms, and provide alternate provisions or revisions to invite both spouses into an agreement.
Nearly every case will end with settlement documents, so why not start your case with a working draft that can be revised in the process. It never appears to be a waste of money to put these agreements together. In fact, if custody is at issue, the mediator will likely want to review a working draft, and work from that document for purposes of mediation.
Forth, know the secrets that lawyers know. Most people do not understand the legal process and its implications; you should consult with an attorney regarding the entire process. Not all attorneys are exactly alike. Attorneys have different styles and skill sets. Your job is to ensure that your attorney is essentially the best at what he or she does. Second-place in divorce is the First-place loser. Get an attorney that knows what they are doing. Lawyers that dabble in divorce are likely unable to provide guidance and advice on all the various unique aspects of divorce law, and the process. Anyone can look up a law, only a seasoned divorce lawyer knows how those laws interact with each other and how judges usually treat the situation.
Fifth, know everything about your finances (or as much as you can right now). If you have not been the one to keep track of money in your marriage, now is the time to learn all about your finances. The more you know, the better off you are in negotiating a fair settlement. Many spouses are stuck doing what is called "discovery" in their case, because they don't know anything about their finances. Discovery takes time and money to complete, and much of it could be avoided with a well educated spouse. Knowledge is essential to completing any divorce case.
Sixth, if custody is going to be at issue, be prepared and know the custody process. Having knowledge about the process is one of the most calming things that you can do to your case. A custody battle encompasses litigation and strategy, but more so, it involves a streamlined assembly line process. This process has been developed by the Court system over the course of many years. It's fairly automated and you can nearly set your watch by it. Knowing how the process unfolds in a custody battle, will put many spouses at ease on how to best navigate a custody case.
The mystery of custody battles is what scares most parents. Fear of the unknown. However, if you take the time to educate yourself, you'll see why a custody battle isn't the terrible thing it once was (like in the 1970s). Today's custody battles involve very little actual litigation and involved court appointed experts that essentially dictate the outcome. Your lawyer should know about this process and how to best manipulate this in your favor.
And finally, do everything you can to keep your case out of the courtroom, but be realistic. Many spouses and parents know they should keep court time to a minimum, but many become dreamy about non-court resolution. Settlements take hard work, effort, concessions, and being reasonable.
Many of my clients had previously been milked by the system with either heavy litigation or lofty ideas of alternative ways to finish a case. Both approaches are good marketing tools for slick lawyers. The time tested way to settle a divorce quickly, is by preparing settlement documents and going from there. Once on paper, working on a settlement becomes more targeted and efficient.
If you need assistance in preparing your settlement documents, feel free to call my office for your free phone consultation.