Choosing your divorce lawyer: what do you want?
Nobody gets married with the idea that they will eventually get divorced. But nearly half of all married couples in America end up doing exactly that. If your marriage ends up on the rocks, choosing the right lawyer to handle your case may be one of the most important decisions you will ever make. You want a good result-not a settlement or judgment that burdens you unfairly, and makes it difficult to move on with your life. Some lawyers develop their “celebrity status”–but then have no time to return your calls. Others buy a fancy office–which their clients subsidize. Still others indulge their verbosity: on the phone, in Court and on paper-which their clients also subsidize.
That’s not who I am. Judges are not usually impressed by exaggerated rhetoric. Thorough preparation, careful research, creative and insightful argument, and passionate presentation of the facts and equities are more powerful.
Identify the important issues up front
If you hire me, we will work together to analyze your current situation; identify your needs and all the important legal issues; develop a long-term strategy, and decide on immediate action if that is necessary.
All divorces have elements in common-and all have their unique facts. The two broad categories of dispute are children and money; if children are involved, there are always financial issues. Some questions that might arise in your divorce include, for example:
Who stays in the “marital residence” and who owns it?
Where do the children live, and which parent makes which decisions for the children?
How much child support is paid every month and what extra expenses are covered by which parent?
Is private school for the children included?
Is relocation with the children possible?
Is domestic violence a factor?
Does either spouse have “grounds” (a legally sufficient reason) for divorce?
How much spousal maintenance (alimony) is paid for how long?
How are the marital debts divided or paid?
What about health insurance and pensions?
Which assets are “separate” and which are “marital”?
How will the various assets be divided (“equitable distribution”)?
How can you be financially protected after divorce?
What about the cash that has been coming into the family “pot”?
Will your standard of living stay the same?
What about grandparents; do they have any rights or obligations?
And many, many more…….
I am very experienced in custody battles. This means I will fight like a tiger to protect your relationship with your children. Period.
Litigation, mediation, collaborative law
There are various ways of “dispute resolution” in the family context.
The most common is “litigation,” commonly where each parent is represented by their own lawyer, fighting it out, and if there is no settlement a Judge ultimately the issues.
There is also “mediation,” where a neutral person tries to help the parents voluntarily come to an agreement. Sometimes you will want to suggest this option, but the other side may not agree.
There is also a process called “collaborative law,” where each parent has their own lawyer, but there’s an agreement beforehand that if no settlement is reached, these lawyers will not go into Court, but instead the parents will start over with new attorneys. Again, sometimes you will want to propose this option, but the other side must agree.
Whatever forum you end up in, my advice is: fight when you need to, and fight hard, but always be open to settlement and compromise if that’s best for you and your children. Expensive battles over trifles benefit no one; there may be nothing left after the lawyers get paid. You don’t want to spend $5,000 in legal fees to win $4,000 in equitable distribution. Keep the big picture in sight and always keep some “ammunition” in reserve.
A Few Words About Children
Divorces involving children are usually more contentious than those which only dispose of property. Children can’t be “divided” like cash. Emotions often run high.
How do you protect your children from destructive parenting? Is your spouse using the children as pawns in a war intended simply to hurt you? How are you a different kind of parent from your spouse? Is child abuse or neglect an issue? Who is the better parent for physical custody? Who can make the better decisions for your children? Is a lawyer for your children (law guardian) needed? What are “forensic evaluations”?
Courts in New York State are supposed to determine such issues according to the “best interests of the child(ren).” Unfortunately, some matrimonial attorneys only give lip service to this phrase, but then ignore the principle in practice. Does it make sense to wage all-out war over 10 minutes of visitation time, when much bigger issues are at stake? Lawyers who use these tactics not only hurt their own client’s position during the litigation, but damage their client’s ongoing relationship with the children.
As your attorney, I will combat these destructive tactics if they from the other side, I will fight to protect you and your children, but I will not imitate the “scorched earth” policy of “all-out war” that uses your children as pawns in a litigator’s game. My clients do not want that, and no Judge wants that either. This is usually a difficult time for children, even if a divorce is better for them, in the long run, than your horrible marriage.
As a parent, on the one hand you should be honest with your children in ways they can understand, and help them over time to understand the truth. On the other hand, you should not verbally assault your spouse, their parent, in front of your children; it damages them in many ways, and even if your accusations are true, and even if your spouse is abusive, you want your children to come to that understanding for themselves, and not turn against you as the “bearer of bad news.” This is sometimes a delicate line to walk, and it requires experience, sensitivity, and open communication on the part of the client and the attorney.