If you’re like most people, you’ve never used a lawyer to represent you in a legal matter. You’ve never paid a professional by a “billable hour.” And you’ve also never experienced the emotional roller coaster ride of a court proceeding (also called “litigation.”)
Setting Goals and Expectations: You and your attorney will discuss what you hope to achieve during your initial meeting (or shortly thereafter) after a thorough discussion of the facts of your case. During that meeting we will offer preliminary advice, based on our experience and professional judgment. It’s best to listen carefully and take notes so you can continue to think about your case and take follow up actions. After hearing what we say, you may want to get a “second opinion” on your case.
Predicting how a case will turn out, and how much it will cost, can be more an art than a science—especially early on in the case, where variables are still unknown. However, it’s important to ask yourself these questions:
- What do I need, versus what do I want?
- What does the law say about my chances of getting X or Y?
- What is my tolerance for conflict?
- How do I want my attorney to interact with me? With my spouse and his or her attorney? Am I looking for an aggressive stance, a peace making approach, or something in between?
Want vs. need: Think about your case from (at least) three viewpoints:
- What you want from a divorce
- What you actually need; and
- What you can reasonably expect, given the law, your budget, your conflict tolerance, and other variables.
Many clients arrive with an idea of what they want. However, it’s the educational, fact-finding part of the case that teaches the second two perspectives—what you actually need, and what you can reasonably expect. It’s vital that you are open to this educational process. We will investigate and form educated opinions for you.
The old saying that in a good divorce, each side comes away equally unhappy, is still largely true. It is also true that, except for a small percentage of cases, most cases settle. The likelihood is therefore great that your case will be one of them.
“Dos and Don’ts:” Our advice on the best/worst tactics to take boil down to these simple lists:
- Recognize when ideals need to be sacrificed to practical solutions;
- Accept—after thorough discussion– a lawyer’s advice (which is what you are paying for, after all);
- Have a range of acceptable options;
- Recognize that you are responsible for the well-being of your children, no matter the outcome of the proceeding;
- Stay the course, even as the “roller coaster ride” of the divorce is happening;
- Remember that at bottom, divorce is a business deal. You must continually weigh the cost of settling sooner against the higher costs (legal, emotional, practical) of pursuing an unattainable goal.
- Seek to be proven better than your spouse, rather than having closure;
- Ask us to “yes” you and never disagree with or correct you;
- Be inflexible;
- Use your children as pawns;
- Create “drama” in the divorce and provoke the other side;
- Decide on a strategy, and then changing mid-stream.
- Refuse to compromise when the cost of settlement is less than the cost of trial.
- Focusing on small details to the detriment of the big picture
- Expecting your divorce to “fix” the problems in your relationship that led to a divorce in the first place.
Your efforts are required: Your case—and its success—depends upon actual facts. Where do those facts come from? From you! We will assign you the tasks of collecting records essential to your case. Bank, credit and retirement account statements, mortgages medical records, and tax returns—these documents are what we rely on to accurately know your case. The more “leg work” you do obtaining those records, the more cost efficient we can be.
Document collection can be tedious and hard work. Reviewing financial documents may be the last thing you want to do after a hard day’s work. However, it’s good to know up front that your work will pay off in a smoothly run case.
How long will this all take? While there is no “typical” divorce, an uncomplicated can take between 6-8 months. Courts have “time standards” that are used to gauge whether a case is being handled efficiently. Modification cases are on an “eight-month” track. Divorces are on a “14-month track.” This does not mean, however, that your case must be completed by that date. In the relatively few cases that go to trial, the process can last as long as two years.
How long your case takes to complete depends on many factors:
- The complexity of debts and assets
- Whether appraisals are needed to value assets
- Amount of conflict between you and the other side
- Difficult child custody matters that require the assistance of an investigator or clinical evaluator (“guardian ad litem”)
- Ability or willingness of the other side to stay focused and be reasonable
- Personalities of everyone involved.
As you can see, several factors are beyond our control. As your attorney, it is our job to evaluate these factors to let you know how they will impact your case, your options, and the best advice on how to proceed.