Tip One: Be Completely Honest With Your Lawyer
Contrary to all the jokes about lawyers, a good family attorney really does have your best interest at heart. Your lawyer genuinely wants to be your advocate and to ensure that he or she helps you create the best, new, future possible. The only way that your lawyer can help make this happen however is if you are completely honest. Failing to disclose all assets and information can end up costing you more money, more stress, and more time that could be spent creating the best future possible for yourself. Even if you think something may be insignificant, it is important to tell your attorney everything you can think of that will better inform her about the stakes in your case.
What is insignificant to one person is often significant to another (maybe your ex has a weird collection of taxidermy squirrels wearing Victorian era clothes or antique fishing poles that you have absolutely no interest in that can be used as leverage in obtaining something you would like to get in the settlement).
Failing to disclose all relevant financial and asset information leaves your attorney without a thoroughly developed strategy to advocate for an optimal outcome for you. One of the most important parts of your relationship with your family law attorney will be to work with them to develop a strategy (and a backup plan if necessary) that utilizes all of the facts of your situation and how the laws will apply to your unique situation. This allows your attorney to really focus on getting you the best settlement possible and gives you a more accurate best/worst-case-scenario so you can sleep better at night knowing the person you’ve selected to be your advocate is operating with the best information possible.
People may think, “Hey, I’m saving in money in the short run by not telling my attorney about my yacht because it won’t get included as part of our assets,” only to have to go back and spend more money on legal fees and pay a monetary sanction when this information later comes to light. It’s much simpler and cheaper to disclose everything at the outset.
Tip Two: Find A Good Therapist
During a divorce you are going to feel extremes of emotions you never even envisioned. You may have days where you don’t want to get out of bed or times when you cannot stop crying. You may have extreme revenge fantasies. You may experience anger so intense it scares you. Finding a good therapist will allow you to work through your emotions in a safe and healthy way. He or she will also help you develop coping strategies for dealing with the intense changes in your life.
A therapist can also provide your children with a place to work through all of their feelings about their parents’ divorce. Ask you attorney to recommend a good therapist in your community. They can help you with all of the emotions that you are working through. You are, of course, welcome to share all of your thoughts and feelings with your attorney. But just remember that an attorney is a very expensive therapist.
Tip Three: Follow the Court’s Orders
At some point during the divorce proceeding, the court is going to give an order that is not in your favor, that you do not like, or that you simply feel is unfair. And it is going to be extremely tempting to simply ignore the court’s orders. For example, a court may order you to work with your ex to put your house up for sale, they may demand that the car you bought together be given to your ex, or they may ask you to find a counselor for your children. Failure to comply with a court order is called contempt, and courts take this extremely seriously. At best, refusing to comply only prolongs the divorce process. At worst, your refusal can land you in jail.
If you fail to follow through on a court order, opposing counsel will go back in front of the judge to ask for sanctions to force you to comply. Failing to pay child-support is probably the most well-know example of non-compliance. In one case, upon hearing of failure to pay child support for 10 months, the judge ordered that the support be paid within 30 days or the offender would face jail time. Not only did the offender have to suddenly pony up a lump sum of thousands of dollars, he also had to pay thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees – his own attorney’s fees and the attorney fees of his ex-wife. And that’s just one example.
A judge, upon hearing that a parent has been denied visitation rights, may order additional visitation to make up for lost time. The judge may impose a fine as a penalty, and jail time is always a possibility. It is also likely that you will be ordered to pay the attorney fees incurred by your ex for having to seek legal means to force your compliance.
So even if your ex is failing to follow every ruling handed down by the court, even when every friend you have is urging you to simply ignore an “unfair” ruling, remember that we can always work to fight against a truly unfair ruling. In the short run, however, the cheapest solution, and the one guaranteed to keep you out of jail, is to follow the court’s orders.
Tip Four: Always Take The High Road
This is probably the hardest piece of advice for clients to follow. As you go through your divorce, there are going to be plenty of times when all you want to do is scream. Or refuse to be cooperative when your ex asks to switch visitation nights. Or start a blog/twitter feed/Facebook account dedicated to how your ex is evil incarnate. While it may not feel like it right now, the best thing you can do for yourself and for your family is to take the high road whenever possible.
Taking the high road can involve a number of actions. It can mean being the person that complies with the court’s orders even when your ex is refusing to comply with a single request. It may mean being civil to your ex when he or she comes over to pick up your children. It may mean not plastering your Facebook page with status updates about how mean and petty your ex really is. A writer for the Huffington post wrote that “experienced divorce lawyers and family therapists will tell you that the angriest people end up hurting their own interests and dragging out everyone’s pain by their refusal to give an inch… and if you do choose the high road, then when you look back on this time, you will feel good about the choices you made.”
Tip Five: Most Importantly, Put Your Children First
Studies have shown that how well children adjust to a divorce is incredibly dependent on how much conflict they are exposed to during the divorce process. Children who have parents who minimize their exposure to conflict, are allowed to keep steady contact with both parents (assuming that both parents are stable and fit guardians), and see their parents present a united front as far their well-being is concerned, appear as healthy and well-adjusted within two years of the divorce as children of non-divorced parents.
On the flip side, allowing your children to constantly hear you badmouth your ex (even if they overhear phone conversations between you and your best friend), witness ongoing heated arguments, or constantly forbidding them to see their other parent is extremely detrimental to their psychological and neurological development.
You are not alone in the divorce process. Reach out to a family law attorney to guide you through the divorce process and start on the path towards a brighter future for you and your family.
What To Do Next:
Experiencing a family law issue can be overwhelming and stressful. Knowledgeable family attorneys do much more than represent clients, they understand how choices made in the legal process can drastically affect life afterwards.
Sandra F. Banks offers clients a No Hassle Family Law Strategy Session to make sure every client gets guidance on how to achieve a stable, secure and happy future.
What’s more, if I’m not the right attorney for the case, you have my commitment that I’ll point you in the right direction. Just call my office at 510-336-2369 to schedule.