Tips To Reduce Stress (And Legal Fees) During Your Divorce 

Don’t be penny-wise and pound foolish. Except in very rare circumstances, your failure to retain an experienced Family Lawyer to represent your interests is sure to be a costly mistake. 30+ years of legal practice have proved to me, time and time again, that the cost of correcting a mistake (when it can be corrected - and many cannot) is higher than the legal fees for having your matter handled correctly in the first place.

This information is not meant to be a substitute for advice from an attorney.

1. Do not discuss specific settlement terms with your spouse until you have consulted
with an attorney who is experienced in Family Law. It is difficult to keep effective lines of communications open with your spouse if you agree to terms (and then “change” your mind) that you later find out are either not acceptable to the Court or do not provide for a settlement which is fair to you because you do not know the law.

2. Accurate information as to income, assets and liabilities is essential in reaching an equitable division of property and determining child and spousal support (alimony). Please click the Link to the Summit County Domestic Relations Court (http://www.drcourt.org). Click on the Rules section and go to the last page of the Rules, which is a list of the basic documents that you and your attorney will need to prepare your case for trial (or hopefully, for settlement). Gather these documents while you still have access to them. Make 2 copies of all the documents. Keep the original off premises and take the copies to your attorney so that they can be provided to your spouse. Thousands of dollars are spent in divorce cases trying to present an accurate picture of finances, based on documents that you have access to now, but which may “disappear” as soon as your spouse knows that a divorce is likely.

3. Take a written and picture inventory of all your household goods, furnishings, motor vehicles (motorcycles, boats, ATV’s, etc.) and other personal property. Have a friend accompany you while you make this inventory. Start at the basement all the way to the attic, and don’t forget the garage and any storage unit you rent or other places at which you have property. If there are items of unusual value (collectibles, antiques, etc.) try to provide pictures and identifying information as to those items for valuation purposes. Have your friend sign and date the inventory in the event that items disappear (amazing how these things get legs when marriages are having problems).

4. Prepare a short typewritten/computer-generated (3 or 4 page) chronological history of your marriage so that it is easily readable by your attorney. Remember that most attorneys are normally paid by the hour, so you don’t want them to spend time trying to figure out messy handwriting. Include information on the reasons for the divorce, and any concerns that you or your spouse might raise about the parenting ability of the other parent.

5. Remember, as a general rule, assets are divided as of the date your case is tried or when you reach a settlement with your spouse. If you are making voluntary contributions to a Deferred Compensation program, IRA, 401-K program, etc., and if there is not a dollar-to-dollar match by your employer, you might want to consider stopping your contribution.

6. Debts incurred during the marriage (regardless of whose name the debt is in) are normally determined as of the date of filing of a divorce action. Notify (by certified mail, return receipt) any joint creditors that you will no longer be liable for charges which your spouse makes on any joint account after their receipt of the letter. This will not affect whether charges made by your spouse before the divorce is filed are considered “marital”, but may limit your liability to the creditors. Remember, you have a contract with your creditors, and your creditor can choose to pursue collection on a joint account against either you or your spouse, or both of you. Even if the Court determines that your spouse is to service a joint debt, their failure to pay will affect your credit. It is a good idea to obtain a credit report from all three of the major credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax) and provide these to your attorney (after checking closely for inaccuracies).

7. Read your attorney’s fee agreement closely, and request that you receive a copy of all papers
filed with the Court, correspondence between attorneys, and any other documents in your file. It is important to understand that your attorney cannot guarantee a result for you, as they do not write the law and are not the decisions makers. They can, and should, explain the laws relating to custody, child support, spousal support (alimony) and division of property and liabilities, as well as explaining the procedure and policies in the County where your case will be filed (the process can vary greatly from county to county).

Understand that for many questions (ex. how much child or spousal support will I get/have to pay) there are no simple answers, particularly early on in the divorce process when all necessary financial documentation needed to answer these question may well not be available. Write down the questions you have for your attorney to discuss at your meetings (in person and by phone). Remember, as most attorney’s charge in increments of an hour, it is critical that you use their time (and your financial resources) wisely.

8. If you have minor children and are separated, and assuming that your spouse is an adequate parent (they don’t have to be perfect to be the parent that your children love and need), encourage regular and consistent contact. The Court, in determining custody, looks at whether a parent is facilitating visitation. If you have legitimate concerns for the health and safety of your children, you need to document these concerns and start legal action as soon as possible. DO NOT have your children around special friends until your marriage is ended. This may be a more difficult time for them than it is for you, and introducing third parties into their lives at this time will only complicate matters legally as well as emotionally for all concerned.

9. If your children, or you, are having difficulty coping with the problems in the marriage, consider counseling. Seeking counseling is not considered a weakness by the Court. Involve the other parent in the children’s counseling if recommended by the therapist.

10. Begin keeping a diary of events as they happen. Documentation is essential in and after a
divorce (particularly if you have children, for the Court will retain the power to review parenting issues and support while the children are minors). Memories are faulty, particularly in times of stress, but if you make notes of events when or soon after they happen, you will later be able to refer to them (even years later) to refresh your memory.

11. Consider mediation (or the collaborative divorce process) to deal with at least your children’s issues (even though your entire divorce may be mediated by these methods, called Alternative Dispute Resolution). This does not mean that both you and your spouse do not need an attorney to advice you as you go through mediation (in the collaborative process you and your attorney and your spouse and their attorney will always be meeting jointly). However, mediation often keeps the emotional heat in a divorce turned down, and can frequently save considerable money. Discuss these options with your attorney. Here are some links to sites that will explain mediation and collaborative divorce are listed below, as well as links to other sites that you might find helpful.

Be honest and co-operate with your attorney.

Please, remember that your children most likely feel more “out-of-control” than you do while going through this process. Reassure them that both you and their other parent love them, and that they will not “lose” either of you. The basis for the quality of your new “relationship” with your children’s other parent is formed during the divorce. That relationship will last during your lifetime, so do all you can to get it off to a good start!


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