Save yourself money and anguish.
For six years, I was the attorney no one wanted to meet. Not one client ever wanted to pick up the phone and call a divorce attorney. They did, though, and if I could have told my clients then what I'm sharing with you now, your experience in my office may have gone more smoothly.
My advice is not a secret; it's just not what divorce professionals generally share with you out of their own sense of self-preservation. Do you think a divorce attorney trying to convince you to hire the firm is going to tell you they don't care about your emotions? Probably not.
Now that I'm not longer in private practice, though, let me be the voice of reason that may just save you thousands of dollars and unnecessary stress in an already stressful time.
1. We don't care about your emotions.
I know that sounds harsh and that's why you probably aren't hearing your own divorce attorney say it to you. Your attorney is thinking it, though. It's not because your attorney is cold and heartless and only concerned with billable hours. Truly, we don't have the necessary skills to help you sort through your emotions during this difficult time.
Talk to your friends, your family, your journal, anyone that will listen to you without charging you $250 an hour. If you find that you can't work through your emotions on your own, please call a therapist.
2. It probably doesn't matter whether he/she cheated...
The barista at Starbucks that slept with your husband has absolutely nothing to do with your divorce. Divorce is now, largely, a no fault system. You don't have to prove adultery and your spouse is not going to be punished for breaking your heart. If there are irreconcilable differences, either of you can seek a divorce. The scoundrel that stole your spouse is nothing more than an irreconcilable difference to me.
3. ...Unless your spouse was spending money on the other person.
There's always an “unless” and in divorce and this is the big one. Cheating, lying, and being a terrible person do not determine how financial assets are divided in a divorce, unless that person was spending money on another person.
If, for example, there was money spent on gifts, dinners, hotel rooms, vacations, well then, I do care. That money is part of the marriage and if you think it's there, I'll find it.
4. We do not represent your child.
By the time we step foot in a court room, I'll know your children's names, birth dates, and grades. If they have medical needs, I'll have memorized though, too. You and I will have discussed at length what you believe the appropriate custodial arrangement for your child is, but I won't represent your child.
Don't trust a divorce attorney that wants to interview your child. If there are unusual circumstances in your custody case, I may ask the Judge to interview your child or to appoint an attorney to represent your child's best interests, but it can't be me. I also don't represent your parents, your siblings, or your overly involved best friend. You are the only person I am allowed to represent.
5. I don't hate your spouse's attorney.
In fact, it's better for you if I don't. During a contentious divorce, I may raise my voice in the courtroom. I may argue with such passion and conviction that you start to believe I hate your spouse's attorney as much as you hate your spouse. I don't.
We are all professionals, and in most counties, we are a small community of rabid divorce professionals. Divorce attorneys have a unique skill, and we have evolved over time to walk out of the courtroom and leave the argument behind us. This is to your benefit. If we have any chance of settling your case amicably, your spouse's attorney needs to take my phone calls and trust me.
6. We really do need to know everything.
I am not the person you want to hide things from. Chances are, I'll find out anyway, and it should never be while you're testifying in a courtroom. I have no way to protect you if I'm learning about the money you gave to the Starbucks barista for the first time while you're being cross-examined by your spouse's attorney. If you wonder why the answers to the questions I'm asking you are relevant, answer the question anyway.
7. Managing your expectations is my first priority.
The first time I meet you, you already have an idea of what you expect from your divorce. Whether it's money or a custodial arrangements that you think is in the best interests of your children, it's my job to determine whether what you envision is too high or too low. If I can manage your expectations and if you and I believe that the same outcome is reasonable and fair to you, we will have a much smoother working relationship.
8. Nothing is worth fighting for on principal.
I know that $20 painting you bought together on your honeymoon has sentimental value to you and you can't possibly imagine why she took it when you moved out. Trust me, it will cost you hundreds of dollars more to argue about it than to accept it and let it go.
If you tell me you're fighting any part of your divorce “on principal,” I will have to tell you all the reasons you're wrong. And it's going to cost you hundreds of dollar per hour just for me to tell you that.
9. The divorce may not end your difficulties.
The final court date has been set and you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. You're finally starting to plan for a future without your spouse and looking forward to rebuilding your life.
Then reality strikes again. There may not be enough money in the marital assets to pay all of the marital debts. The dream house you built together may need to be sold. You may need to file for bankruptcy. The Wills and Trusts that you paid an attorney to do when you first got married need to be rewritten now.
I know that a conversation about death and bankruptcy was not in the plan for that brand new life, but it's a reality. The faster we get through these conversations, the faster you can start that brand new life.
10. You are going to survive this.
You and your children are going to be fine. There are divorces, of course, that drag on through the court system for years with someone always taking the other person back for more of something. If you can avoid being this person, do it.
Talk to the therapist I recommended during our first meeting. Take your share of the proceeds from the sale of the dream house and buy yourself a small house you can make your own. Make your children's custodial schedule easy to understand, and let them know it's okay to have fun with the other parent.
You are going to be better for this. You and your spouse still have years of co-parenting left, college graduations and weddings to sit next to each other. If you can find a way to be cordial, even if not friends, your life is going to be so much better. You may find that the person you hated in the courtroom was always just meant to be your friend. And if not, at least you don't have to share a home with that person anymore.