Tips for Working With Divorce Lawyers

Picking the right divorce attorney is a critical decision. Divorce lawyers are your guides through the legal system. They are your teachers about your legal rights and obligations. At a time when you’re not in your peak decision-making form, you have many important questions to answer when you’re finding a divorce attorney. Should you get a shark who can duke it out in court? If you and your ex feel you can separate amicably, do you even need a lawyer? If you’re already separated, will you ever need your lawyer again? What do you need to know about working with them effectively?

I am not a lawyer myself, but I have definitely been a client. In my divorce I was in the legal system off and on for almost three years, including almost a year of mediating my separation agreement. I’ve encountered many wonderful lawyers, and many not so wonderful lawyers. It’s important you find a legal professional that views you as a human being with a family, not just as a case.

Here are some important things to bear in mind when you’re working with a divorce lawyer.

You Are the Quarterback

While lawyers are a part of your divorce team, you must be the quarterback. It’s like when you are renovating a home. You can hire an architect, a designer, a contractor and a painter who all have their expertise to bring. But ultimately, you’re the one who has to wake up in the morning and live in the house. Your lawyer may have a lot of answers for you, but you need to be the ultimate decision-maker and call the shots.

Most Lawyers Are Trained as Gladiators

The legal system is adversarial and pits one party against the other. Many lawyers are trained with the “us vs. them” mindset. Particularly if you have children together, you’ll need to consider how you can have a long-term, hopefully cooperative, relationship with your former partner long after the case is over. Make sure that your lawyer understands your long-term goals as well.

Trust your Gut

Pay attention to your own intuition when selecting a lawyer. Does the lawyer speak English or legalese? How well does the lawyer listen? How about answering the question you actually asked? Can you trust him? Will the lawyer be available to answer your calls in a timely way? What is the lawyer’s track record of going to court or not? Is she a family law specialist? You’re entrusting your lawyer with so much, it’s important the lawyer values you as a person, not just as another file.

Think Outside the Box

There are options for working out the details of your divorce other than going to court. Think outside the courtroom box and consider divorce mediation or collaborative law. In divorce mediation, you work with a trained mediator who acts as a neutral third party to negotiate details of your agreement with you. Each party will have their own lawyer. In a mediation, you and your ex work together with a divorce mediator to hammer out a deal, going back to your lawyers to get legal advice on your solutions and how best to craft your solutions in your agreement.

In a collaborative arrangement, both lawyers work side-by-side with their clients to create agreement. Other related professionals, like financial planners, divorce coaches or therapists and parenting advocate can be part of the collaborative team. The intention upfront of all parties is to settle the divorce out of court. In fact, both lawyers must sign an agreement that if they are not able to reach an agreement, they cannot represent their clients in any future court proceedings.

Instead of their incentive being to drag the process out, collaborative lawyers have an incentive to reach agreement. The collaborative process offers a more respectful and humane way to end your marriage, and fortunately more and more clients are finding out about it and looking for attorneys with specialized collaborative training.

Getting divorced and navigating the legal system isn’t easy and can be overwhelming. It’s worth the time and energy upfront to find the right divorce lawyer for you who can be part of the solution, and not part of the problem.

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