Any issue relating to family matters-divorce, separation, custody, support, alimony, property division-are highly emotional and difficult for even the most sensible individuals to navigate. However, in most cases, not only do people have to deal with their own emotions, but have to interact with a current or former spouse who is as equally emotional, all the while trying to determine the best interest of themselves and their children. Most people end up confused and exhausted, while trying to act reasonably and heed their lawyer’s advice. From a lawyer’s perspective, below are 5 considerations to help make the process smoother, reduce court time, and reduce lawyer’s fees as much as possible.
- Arrive on time: Throughout the divorce process, there are many events that client’s must appear for, such as court dates, settlement conferences, and depositions. Arriving on time, allows additional time for your attorney to finalize any documents, review pleadings, discuss ideas, answer questions, etc., before jumping into the court process. While it is not uncommon to wait for long periods of time in court, it is possible to be heard by the court early in the day if the matter is ready. It is simply a waste of time, and money, to have your lawyer arrive at court and be forced to wait for the client while billing the client for wait time.
- Provide requested information when requested: The divorce process includes various stages in which information and documentation must be exchanged. As issues arise, your lawyer will need to know certain facts to support your position. Provide the information or documents your lawyer requests, when your lawyer requests it. Delays or incomplete information only cause delay in the divorce process, or increases lawyer fees from having to chase down the information.
- Understand the limits of the attorney: It is all too common that clients tell lawyers to “DO SOMETHING” to make the other party behave. In their frustration, they do not understand that the lawyer’s ability does not include behavior management for another person. The most any lawyer can do is to either present the issue to the other attorney, or present it to the court. Of course, presentation to the court is costly, and may not produce the intended results as a judge may have their own perspective. As lawyers, we can do a lot to obtain or enforce court orders. Even with orders, there are limitations on the ability to make a party behave, especially when the client does not want to return to court.
- Understand the limits of the court: The court’s power is to make and enforce orders, but there are limits. The court is bound by the statutory rules, including the rules of evidence. Moreover, they do not have the means to manage the day-to-day dealings of the parties. Often, when both parties are unreasonable and cannot seem to co-parent, the court’s solution is not to manage the parents’ behavior, but to remove the children.
Consider the facts and consequences: While most of our clients are trying to remove themselves from an unhealthy relationship, it is a relationship that they initially chose. For the period of their marriage, they created a marital estate which will most likely now be divided as “his and hers” now that the divorce has begun. Parties should also understand that whatever intolerable behavior that led to the divorce will not cease simply because a divorce was filed. It is more productive to find ways to manage interactions and minimize negative consequences.