Pointers for litigants with lawyers:
- Family law is much more complicated than ever before. Choose a lawyer who has skills to match your goals. Custody disputes? Complicated financial concerns such as stock options, pension plans, golden parachutes? Mental health issues? You want someone who has handled these kinds of cases before.
- You need a strategy to manage costs if you want to be able to hold out for the best outcome. Here are some ways you can help your lawyer help you, without liquidating your net worth:
- Don’t email your lawyer daily with your latest complaint about your spouse. Keep a short running list and call your lawyer once every couple of weeks to update him/her about relevant issues.
- Don’t vent to your lawyer. She may feel compelled to take unnecessary or even risky legal steps in order to appease you.
- Do some of the groundwork – like gathering names and contact info for potential witnesses and what you think they can testify about, or obtaining financial records online.
- Be organized. Often the best system is to sort records chronologically by asset. Your lawyer will want to know the value of your separate assets/debts when you got married and the value of those assets/debts today. Documents proving those values are very important.
- Take photos of the inside of the house before you move out.
- Turn over complete and timely discovery to your lawyer — never directly to your spouse.
- Meet early to be sure your lawyer knows where you stand, and to be sure you have realistic goals.
- Be prepared to give something up if you want to settle the case. Think about what your spouse wants most.
- Understand that we are a NO FAULT state. Your extramarital or other “lifestyle” issues are most likely not even admissible in court.
- Get a life! It will be much easier to settle once both parties are looking with optimism towards their future, not bitterly re-living their past.
Pointers for those who represent themselves in divorce or custody cases:
- At the very least, meet with an experienced lawyer at the beginning of your case on an hourly basis to make sure you understand the lay of the land, have a strategy, and know how to recognize pit falls.
- Have an experienced lawyer review your final agreement before you sign it to be sure you understand the long term ramifications of your settlement agreement.
- Judges generally don’t respond positively to drama, they want proof (documents, photos, impartial witnesses) that you are a more reliable source of facts than the other party.
- Understand your legal duties, what the law expects of you as a parent or as an ex. You need to be prepared to do your duty.
- Don’t miss deadlines – each state and each county can differ on what you are expected to file and when. If you miss a crucial deadline you may forfeit your chance to get the relief you are seeking.
Pointers for everyone facing family law litigation:
- Your emails and text messages will likely end up in court or in the hands of opposing counsel. Don’t put things in writing that can come back to haunt you.
- Keep a calendar or a journal, but don’t share it with anyone other than your lawyer.
- Be civil, stick to the facts, leave your opinion out of your communications with your ex and out of your journal.
- The opposing party will see all your bank statements and credit card statements – you are leaving a financial trail that may become public, so be mindful about your spending.
- Character evidence is generally not very helpful to a judge in these cases. It won’t help to bring witness after witness just to say you are a nice person, or a good parent.
- It can be very hard to prove a negative – such as that you haven’t hidden any money.
- It can also be very hard (and expensive) to try to prove there are ‘hidden assets”, especially years later.
- The fact that your spouse has been financially irresponsible will not get the missing asset back. The court can’t award you money or assets that no longer exist.
- Timing is important – long drawn out divorces are hard on kids and hard on your pocketbook. Middle-schoolers often have more trouble with divorce than younger children. Longer marriages can mean more spousal support paid over a longer period of time. The first time you consider leaving the marriage, you should seek information about what price you might pay if you decide to wait. Make a fully informed decision.
Good luck! Remember that the goal of a divorce is to set each of you free to move forward with your life in a way that you find satisfying. It’s a difficult process, but there is light at the end of the tunnel!
If you have family law questions and need legal assistance, please contact Jaye Taylor or another one of our attorneys at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jaye Taylor has successfully litigated some of the most challenging and emotionally charged family law cases in the state, involving custody of children to fathers, severe parental alienation and abduction, allegations of domestic violence and international move-away cases. She has also litigated challenges to wills and trusts and elder financial abuse cases in increasing numbers.
The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. This information is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship, and the receipt or viewing of it does not create or constitute an attorney-client relationship. You should not act upon any information contained in this article without consulting an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.