Working With Your Lawyer or Mediator Working with your lawyer or mediator can have a significant impact on your divorce settlement
When you decide to seek legal counsel and pursue a divorce it’s important to realize that how you are working with your lawyer or mediator can significantly impact your litigation experience and your final settlement. This is good news because it puts some power over the divorce process under your control. By cultivating a good working relationship, you can increase the odds of a positive outcome and reduce your anxiety. Be sure to take your time in hiring a lawyer to represent you because you are entering into a partnership that will last throughout your divorce process and will have an enormous impact upon the final judgment. The key to an effective partnership with your lawyer is to have confidence in their ability to get you the results you want while managing the relationship so you incur only the minimum amount of legal costs necessary. There are many strategies which will help you keep billable hours down while maintaining a lawyer-client relationship that will give you the best shot at a satisfying settlement.
5 Tips to Keep Billable Hours to a Minimum
- Work with your attorney by providing necessary information when you can. The less time he or she has to spend tracking down records the cheaper it will be for you.
- Figure out the worth of your assets. If you can find out and document the full financial picture of your marital estate you will save your lawyer time—which will save you money.
- Increase your understanding of the divorce process. Knowledge is power and the more you know the more you can help yourself.
- Keep your lawyer informed with as accurate information as possible. The better the information you give your attorney the more they will understand the situation and be able to develop a winning strategy. When in doubt, go with providing full disclosure. Don’t worry, lawyers are trained to sift through information and evaluate what is useful and what is not. Also, if the information might harm your case, you can prevent your lawyer from being blindsided, giving him or her plenty of time to prepare defensive maneuvers.
- Respond promptly to your lawyer’s requests. Again, time is money so don’t drag out the process by keeping your lawyer waiting on you to provide needed information. Lawyers are often under very tight deadlines and the more lead time you give your lawyer to go over the materials the better job they can do in preparing for your case. Another good tip is to stick to answering only the questions your lawyer asks and doing so completely but concisely. If your lawyer needs a “yes” or “no” answer on something or a quick synopsis of a situation don’t include a long, verbose document that gives extra information. If you bog down your lawyer with useless information they will have to bill you for the time they waste going through materials that are not relevant to what they need to represent your case.
5 Things Your Lawyer Needs to Know
Be prepared with the following information to grease the wheels and get your case moving:
- The reason you are getting a divorce. This includes: Causes of your breakup, the reasons behind your filing for divorce and the major issues of the failing marriage.
- Personal information for yourself, your spouse and your children. This includes: Names, ages, places of birth, home and work addresses and telephone numbers, Social Security numbers, and health information.
- Facts related to your marriage. This includes: When and where you were married, any prenuptial agreement (If so, bring a copy of the agreement with you), previous marriages (If so, provide details of your previous divorce(s)).
- Any issues involving your children. This includes: Custody arrangements, co-parenting agreements, special needs, etc.
- Financial information. This includes: Assets and debts each of you brought into the marriage, your incomes and expenses, employment information, shared property (e.g. home, cars), shared debts (e.g. mortgage, college fund for the kids) and investments (e.g. insurance plans, pension plans).
- Legal documents. This includes: copies of lawsuits, bankruptcy suits, judgments, and garnishments.
- Your divorce goals. Be specific about what you want from the divorce. Think beyond your current emotional state to long-term goals that include how you will co-parent children (if any) and continue to function as a family post-divorce. Think about the relationship you want with your ex and kids in one year, in 5 years and then 10 years into the future.
3 Things to Remember
- Your lawyer is not your psychologist. Do not expect your attorney to be on call 24 hours a day or to listen to you rant about the latest injustice you’ve suffered at the hands of your spouse during an acrimonious divorce. Every time your lawyer takes a phone call or returns an email you are racking up an hourly rate. Call a friend or get an actual therapist and you will save money and keep your lawyer focused on what really matters—the facts of the case.
- If your lawyer is giving you advice you disagree with, keep an open mind and consider the guidance carefully. Your lawyer isn’t concerned with your desire for revenge but with getting you the best possible outcome, so take a step back and evaluate whether you’re refusing your lawyer’s advice for purely emotional reasons. Don’t let your settlement suffer because you can’t see past your immediate feelings. You will end up suffering long-term consequences for temporary emotional satisfaction.
- You will likely go through periods of frustration or disappointment as your divorce progresses, but don’t take it out on your lawyer. Some things will be out of his or her control. Remember that your attorney is on your side and it’s best to tackle the rough patches as a team. Staying positive and on good terms is your best bet at getting your lawyer or mediator to work their hardest for your case.
While you are expecting the most from your lawyer—that he or she is skilled, hard-working and dedicated to fighting for your case—your lawyer is hoping you’ll be the ideal client: calm, professional, well prepared and easy to get along with.
When a competent client and a capable lawyer team up and work well together, the odds are greatly increased for a good outcome. Hold your attorney to task in putting in the effort your case requires, but do yourself a favor by being a client that makes their job easier and more effective. The ideal client can control his emotions and focus on the logical facts of the case, is organized and prepared, treats his lawyer as a valuable teammate, and is willing to listen to his lawyer’s advice – even if he doesn’t follow it all the time.
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