1. Do you really want or need or a divorce?
Filing for divorce is a big step. It should not be done without a lot of consideration about the process and the consequences of a divorce. In one sense, in filing for divorce, you will be trading one set of problems for another set of problems. Therefore, you need to make sure that this is really what you want to do.
2. Meet with an experienced lawyer early in the process to get information on the process, the costs, and the duration of a divorce proceeding.
Most experienced practitioners will charge you for the initial consultation when you are educating yourself about the divorce process. It is usually money well spent.
3. Gather all the financial information you can about your situation.
If you have access to tax returns and personal financial statements, get them so that you may share the information with your attorney.
4. If you have children, you need to give serious thought to what the arrangements will be after you are divorced.
There are many types of custody arrangements available today. Most people are granted joint legal and joint physical custody. That doesn't always mean fifty/fifty time for each parent, but the trend is for each parent to have more and more time with the children. There are custody plans that are every-other-weekend plans with a night during the off-week. There are custody plans that are week-to-week custody plans. There are plans called a 2-2-3 plan which divides up the week and alternates the weekends. There are also provisions made for holiday visitation and summer visitation. It is important to remember that this process will not be easy on your children and their health and wellbeing should be paramount in any decisions that are made.
5. Do not listen to family or friends offering advice.
I always tell people.. the first time you rode a bike, or drove a car, or a shot a basketball, did you consider yourself an expert? Many people who have gone through a divorce think they are experts. The problem with that is that each situation is different and there are no universal rules or courses of action that fit in everybody's situation. There are also actions that you may take that would be looked down upon in court later in reviewing your conduct. Again, it is more important to meet with an attorney to get advice as to what, if any, prefiling actions you should take.
6. Make sure you have a plan.
If you are going to file for divorce, you need to have a plan as to how you would like matters to proceed and what you will do if things don't go the way you anticipate. For example, you need to decide if you are going to stay in the marital home with your spouse during the duration of the divorce. Many couples choose to, due to economics. You need to think about what provisions will be made regarding support of the minor children if there are children, and regarding support of a spouse if maintenance or alimony is necessary. These things should all be considered prior to the dissolution filing.
7. Consider Mediation as part of your process.
Mediation is a process whereby parties sit down with a third-party neutral mediator and often with their attorneys and attempt to resolve the issues that might exist in the divorce case, such as property and debt division, payment of maintenance, child custody, child support, and the payment of attorneys fees. Going to mediation is almost always beneficial, in that, if you don't resolve your entire case, you will probably agree on certain things such as the personal property, which will reduce the time you will have to spend in court in the event you have to have a trial in your case. Mediation is also a good time for you and your lawyers to assess your spouse and his or her lawyer to see how they might do should the case go to trial. Many cases are settled. This process is significantly less expensive than going to court and having a trial.
8. Do not try to handle your divorce yourself if...
If you own a home, have a retirement plan, and/or have minor children, you should not try to handle your divorce without the assistance of a lawyer, in my opinion. The laws regarding the transfer of property, division of pension benefits, and custody of children are complicated and they do not lend themselves to someone obtaining a good grasp of them by simply reading the statutes and the rules regarding these matters. Therefore, when you have a case that involves these issues or are more complicated, it is always wise to obtain the assistance and advice of an experienced lawyer.
9. Pick the right lawyer.
There are thousands and thousands of lawyers out there, many of whom do some divorce cases. It is easy these days with the Internet, a great website, and the purchase of certain honors to make yourself look like an experienced well-trained lawyer. Do your homework and check out your potential lawyer's credentials, experience, and reputation. Additionally, when you meet with a lawyer, you should ask the following questions:
- How long have you been practicing Family Law?
- How much of your practice is made up of Family Law?
- If I hire you, will you be working on my case or will you be passing my case along to an associate?
- Are you a locally-owned Law Firm or are you a Regional Law Firm who just has a satellite office in our city staffed by Lawyers that you select, and what is their experience level?
- What percentage of your cases go to trial, and what percentage settle? Some attorneys settle 95% of their cases, and some attorneys try 95% of their cases. As a general rule, if you can settle your case, it will result in a less expensive and better outcome for you and your family.
- Can you give me a realistic estimate as to what my costs will be?
10. There is hope.
People have said that going through the divorce process is more difficult than dealing with the death of a loved one. I know it is a very difficult and emotional time for many people. I also know through practicing in this area that people come through the most difficult times and, in most cases, are emotionally healthy and financially stable once the process is complete. It is important to remember that this is a step-by-step process and there will be difficult days and challenges but, ultimately, this matter will be completed and you will go on to lead a happy and healthy life.