When you finally decide to seek a divorce, remember, whether you’re working with a lawyer or mediator, it’s important to realize that how you work with that individual will greatly impact the financial outcome of your divorce. You have power in the divorce process and that power lies in your ability to control your emotions and your actions. Doing both will greatly increase your effectiveness, will increase your awareness of what will be going on, and will give you greater control of your own financial well-being.
Hiring a lawyer is a process that should take time and due diligence on your part. During the screening and consultation, check out the attorney’s credentials, his/her past experience, how many divorces has he litigated/negotiated, and his/her experience with the specific divorce issues of your situation. This shouldn’t be his/her first rodeo, for if it is, you need to move on and find counsel who has the specific experience to handle your case.
Contrary to hiring an attorney, if you and your spouse can talk and can reasonably communicate, and you don’t want a long drawn out and expensive divorce, consider hiring a divorce mediator instead. A divorce mediator is someone who will drill down into the issues you and your soon to be ex are having challenges working through. They will then find reasonable alternatives that are agreeable to each of you to work through the process as reasonable and unemotionally as possible, while keeping your expense to a minimum.
Regardless of who you decide to hire, working with a lawyer or mediator has many commonalities and yet has some differences that should be understood.
5 Tips to Keep Billable Hours to a Minimum
- When working with your lawyer or mediator, provide all the 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 or mediator 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 requests for information. Again, time is money so don’t drag out the process by keeping your lawyer or mediator 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 or mediator asks and doing so completely but concisely. If your counsel 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 counsel 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.
Working With A Lawyer or Mediator
5 Things Your Mediator or 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
- When working with a lawyer or mediator, remember, neither is not your psychologist. Do not expect them 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. Remember, every time your lawyer takes a phone call or returns an email you are racking a significant bill. Call a friend or get an actual therapist and you will save money and keep your lawyer or mediator 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. Also, please remember, a mediator cannot give legal advice. They can only ask to seek a reasonable solution between you and your partner in the conflict.
- You will likely go through periods of frustration or disappointment as your divorce progresses, but don’t take it out on your lawyer or mediator. 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. Your mediator, on the other hand, is on neither side. Staying positive and on good terms is your best bet at getting your lawyer or mediator to work their hardest to resolve 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 consultant team up and work well together, the odds are greatly increased for a good outcome. Hold your attorney or mediator 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 the information that is presented to him.