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
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
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
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
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
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