Over the years I have spoken to 1,000s of people who are either 1) thinking about divorce, 2) actively engaged in getting divorced, or 3) trying to address some piece/s of their divorce due to a problem or change that occurred afterwards. And interestingly, although the folks in these three categories all have VERY different circumstances and of course are in different stages of their process, there is always one commonality that I discuss on every first call I have: what is your process?
That’s a big question – what is your process? In other words, what are you (we) going to do to help resolve (or solve) whatever the item/issue might be. What are the actual steps that we will take to accomplish this? How is it actually going to work?
More often than not, this is not the reason I get called. This is likely not the reason you are staying up at night or feeling stressed out that you need a lawyer or help with your divorce. But this question might be the single most important question that gets asked. The answer to this question could mean the difference between years of litigation and acrimony which could cost you $100,000s of dollars. When people call me, they (and rightly so) want to know things such as: how does a parenting schedule get determined, how does support or asset division get determined, what does Judge so and so do about X, Y, or Z. That’s all important. But I ask people: how does that help you get to a resolution? How does knowing how Judge so and so calculates support help you actually get to a fully executed agreement without spending many months/years and tons of money???
While there is never a bad time to assess this, thinking about this first, at the very beginning, in my experience, is always better. As I tell clients, and I absolutely believe this, the right process will lead to positive and fair results.
Here is a very common example to help illustrate this: Someone calls me, they want to begin the divorce process but have not yet said anything to their spouse. The call very often starts with a variety of questions – what’s going to happen to my house, or my kids, or my bank account, etc. And I can absolutely help guide you in that process and give you feedback based on my prior experiences and gives some insight as to what Judge so and so may say about the case, but the complete and honest truth, is that in those beginning stages, we really have no idea what is going to happen. There are so many unknowns. And very often the results that we contemplate at the beginning of a case are rarely the same as what gets put in the executed Separation and/or Modification Agreement; there is all sorts of variables that will come up in a negotiation and often we will deviate and find some creative/out-of-the-box idea that will help both sides will be comfortable with the deal.
Instead, as I tell my clients, the first conversations should not be about results. It’s human nature to want, to need, to know what will happen next. But again, we just don’t know enough yet and to guess or speculate only serves to make things more stressful and more contentious (which often also makes a divorce more expensive). But what we do know, what we can help drive home, is how we are going to go about solving this (the process). Are we going to go to mediation? Are we going to explore collaborative law? Are we simply going to hire lawyers who aren’t adversarial and are willing to work towards an Agreement instead of rushing to take everyone’s depositions? These are the foundational questions that bring the process into place. And again, the right process, will yield better, more efficient, and often cheaper, results for you, your spouse, and your family.
Divorce is a very complex process with many pieces and considerations. Taking the time to work with your spouse and/or lawyer/s about the process first will go a long way to setting you on the path to success. When you talk to your lawyer or are interviewing lawyers make sure you ask them about the process itself and really understand the vision about how the case can unfold, what the options are, and how those steps might help move you, and your family, forward to a fair and positive outcome.