If you are getting divorced for the first time, you are in uncharted territory. The decisions you make leading up to your divorce can have long-lasting consequences for you and your family. That’s why it’s important to educate yourself so you don’t make the same kinds of emotionally and financially stressful mistakes I have seen so many divorcing couples make over the years.
Here’s my shortlist of the top 4 avoidable divorce mistakes. If you follow this advice, you will save yourself a lot of grief and unnecessary expense.
It is usually best to remain in the marital home for a variety of reasons. Some are financial, others concern your relationship with your children. While Florida does not require “abandonment” (or any other reason) in order to obtain a divorce, moving out can be financially irresponsible. That is, suddenly the same family that maintained one home is going to have to maintain two homes and this may stretch the finances too far. It’s better to stay put, particularly if you have children. This will also increase your chances of obtaining substantial time with them later on. If you leave, you make time-sharing and support an immediate issue. Your attorney has to get to work on this right away to avoid letting an unacceptable status quo influence the Court.
If you must move (after speaking with your attorney) make sure to keep in place all medical and automobile insurances. Make sure customary expenses get paid (private school, car loans, utilities, etc.).
Keep a journal of the time that you spend with your children or the frequency with which your spouse calls the children. Log any lack of involvement or obstacle to interacting with the children. Keep a log of how much you are providing for the children or how much your spouse is providing you.
Whatever you do, don’t give your spouse the opportunity to make you look bad.
Some clients hire a divorce attorney because that attorney represented them in the past. Maybe it was a ticket, or a will, or a landlord/tenant situation. In any event, that is not a good reason to hire an attorney. Before you hire an attorney ask what percentage of their practice is devoted to family law. We devote 80% of our practice to family law and the other 20% focuses on family-related issues such as estate planning. Experience matters. It may be your first divorce, but it should not be your attorney’s first one.
Interview more than one attorney to ensure that both of you are a good fit. If you have difficulty communicating with your attorney at the initial stages, it won’t likely get better when you most need to hear from him or her. Make sure that you “connect” before handing over your money.
Talk to the staff. Are they receptive? Do they answer your questions adequately? How’s the office? Does it look like an explosion as a paper supply company? Will your file get “lost” amidst the chaos? How will you be kept abreast of your case? These are all things to keep in mind when hiring an attorney.
There are personal differences to consider as well.
Do you want an attorney who’s a pit-bull? Someone who won’t leave any meat on the bone?
Do you want an attorney who will deal with your case as a business transaction? Someone who will attempt to negotiate the best outcome for you while keeping the animosity down to a minimum.
Do you want someone who is more like a trusted friend or advisor who will walk you through the many hurdles while taking your individual needs into account?
Most family cases are charged on a per hour basis unless the matter is uncontested from the start or it is basically transactional in nature. This is because it is so difficult to predict how a case will proceed. Sometimes there are unforeseen issues getting a hold of financial documents. Sometimes the other attorney is not cooperative.
Sometimes the other side is not ready emotionally and in denial and, therefore, refuses to engage. There are many events that creep up which were unforeseen at the beginning. That’s why hourly billing is the norm in family cases.
So, with that in mind, don’t pepper your attorney (or his staff) with a constant barrage of emails or telephone calls. Most attorneys have a minimum bill time (ours is .1 of an hour or six minutes- some attorneys I know have a 30-minute minimum bill time!), so it makes financial sense to send one email or place one call to ask three things, for example, then to place three calls or send three separate emails.
Avoid the temptation to cc your attorney on all of your emails with your spouse. If you send it, the attorney will bill you for reading it. Naturally, send important emails. Avoid sending emails to your attorney just to vent.
That is, don’t be passive. This is your divorce. Participate. If you receive a notice that there is a hearing or a deposition or a mediation coming up, call your attorney. Ask if he or she would like to meet with you prior to the event. Assume nothing. There may not even be a need for you to attend the hearing but play it safe. Make the call to be sure. If you would feel more comfortable, make an appointment even if you are told it is not necessary. Maybe other things will come up at the meeting which leads to important communications or new focuses on your particular case.
Also, if your attorney (or the staff) requests that you provide something, don’t wait until the last minute to do so. Give your attorney the opportunity to review the requested documents to be prepared when handling your case.
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