The Most Important Question to Answer Before Meeting with a Divorce Attorney
There are many things to think about when deciding to get divorced. It’s an emotional time and it can feel like your whole life is going to fall apart. You might be questioning your ability to trust those closest to you or you may be resigned to the divorce and simply questioning how you’ll rebuild a newly single life post-divorce.
However, the most important question to be asking yourself may be: “What are my objectives with this divorce?” After nearly three decades of practicing family law, I know that spending the time to formulate a solid answer to this question will do more to set you on the right path than any other.
Before you schedule the first meeting with a divorce attorney, it is important to have a good understanding of what you want to get out of the divorce process. Are you looking for a quick and easy solution? Or are you hoping to negotiate a fair settlement that meets the needs of both parties?
Do you expect your spouse will want a knock-down-drag-out fight over everything and you know that you cannot handle that type of conflict well? What budgetary expectations do you have for your case? Are you looking for a flat fee situation and not willing to consider any attorney who bills hourly, even if you have significant assets to protect?
Knowing your objectives and your expectations for your case will help you make decisions during the divorce process, ensure that you get what you want out of it, and help you hire the right attorney to work with you throughout the process. Here are some examples of clarifying questions to ask yourself to better understand your personal objectives:
What is the most important thing I want to achieve in this divorce?
Is your number one goal to just be divorced, no matter how much you must sacrifice to reach that goal as quickly as possible? Or do you have specific wishes for how your property should be divided? Or maybe your number one goal is to have primary placement for the children in the marital home that you want to keep post-divorce?
Being very clear about what you want to achieve in the divorce process will help you and your attorney make decisions along the way, and you’ll better know when you have reached a point where compromises can be made on some objectives to achieve others.
Do I want to keep the divorce as private as possible or am I okay with airing our dirty laundry in court?
Once you file for divorce, whatever you and your attorney file with the court in your case becomes a public record forever more, so deciding about how “public” you want your case to be even before you’ve hired your attorney is a good thing to do.
That’s not to say that once your spouse is served with your divorce papers that things won’t turn ugly and very public, but you can decide how you would like to handle your side of things and set the tone for the rest of the case by what you do first.
Some clients come to me, and they are very clear that they want to take the high road, keep things as amicable as possible, and not involve the court any more than is absolutely necessary. Other clients have been hurt so badly by their spouse that they want nothing more than to make their ex pay for every single thing that they have ever done wrong in the marriage, no matter how long it takes or how much it costs. Needless to say, the second approach is neither wise nor prudent.
Knowing where you stand on this continuum will help your divorce attorney understand how best to approach your case and what tactics may or may not be appropriate for you to use.
How much time and money am I willing to spend on this divorce?
This is a big one and one that many potential clients have not even begun to consider when they enter my office for the first time. Getting divorced, even in some of the most amicable situations, still takes time and money to do the right way. If you and your spouse have significant assets, lots of debt, complicated financial planning, or the child-related issues are fraught with emotions and special considerations, the time and cost factors go up.
Even when you hire an attorney to help guide you and counsel you through the process, you will still need to set aside time before and during the process to meet with your attorney, gather paperwork necessary to draft legal documents, attend court hearings, attend mediation or settlement negotiations with your attorney, and attend any services related to the child custody issues in your case (meeting with a Guardian ad Litem, therapist, co-parenting counselor, etc.).
And that’s just with a “typical” divorce. In marriages where the spouses own a business together, you may also have to set aside time for meeting with forensic accountants or business valuators to sort out how to divide your business or business assets properly and equitably.
Of course, all these things are in addition to your “normal” day-to-day activities, and if you’ve been living in a failing marriage for a while, your days are probably already quite busy trying to keep all the bases covered. Make sure you ask your attorney how best to prepare for the time commitments he or she will need from you during the process so you can set reasonable expectations for your time management while the case is working through the system.
These are just a few ways to analyze and get clear on your objectives with your divorce case. The better you know what you want to achieve and the more information you have about how divorce cases work, the easier it will be for you and your attorney to develop a strategy to help get you there.
If you and your spouse are considering starting the divorce process, it’s important to have legal guidance throughout the process. If you’re in South Carolina, it’s important to contact an experienced family court attorney like Ben Stevens to discuss your case and your objectives. Even if you aren’t in South Carolina, Mr. Stevens is happy to offer referrals to a well-qualified attorney located in your state.
Mr. Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and he is a Board-Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. If you or someone you know is facing a divorce, separation, child custody, visitation, or other family law case, contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule a consultation.
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Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule an initial consultation.
ABOUT J. BENJAMIN STEVENS
Ben.Stevens@offitkurman.com | 864.598.9172
Aggressive, creative, and compassionate are words Ben Stevens' colleagues freely use to describe him as a divorce and family law attorney. Mr. Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and is a Board Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is one of only two attorneys in South Carolina with those simultaneous distinctions. He has held numerous leadership positions in the AAML, and he currently serves as one of its National Vice Presidents. Mr. Stevens has a statewide practice and regularly appears all across South Carolina. His practice is focused on complex divorce and child custody cases.
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