Anyone who is going through or has gone through a divorce can tell you how important it is that you have a very good lawyer. But what not many people will tell you is that regardless of how good a lawyer you have, your results will suffer if you and your attorney cannot effectively work together. Having practiced family law for nearly 25 years I have a few ideas of what it takes to effectively work with your divorce lawyer. Here are ten tips to help your divorce lawyer do a good job on your case.
Don’t Hide Things from Your Lawyer
Lying and hiding things from your divorce lawyer is not in your best interest. Not only will it damage your attorney-client relationship, but it will also likely cause great damage to your case. Whatever the facts, a good lawyer can help you do damage control and deal with the bad situation in the best way possible. What no lawyer can effectively deal with is being blindsided at the courthouse by damaging evidence that you had hoped would stay hidden.
Have Realistic Goals
While no divorce attorney can promise you a specific result in your case, a good attorney can usually give a reasonable range of likely outcomes. If your goals are well outside this range, then it will make it nearly impossible for your lawyer to effectively settle or try your case. If your lawyer tells you that your goals are unrealistic and that you are very unlikely to achieve them through settlement or trial, listen and act accordingly. Sometimes it is necessary to modify your goals to a more reasonable level to get the best possible result.
Keep Relevant Documents and Information Organized
This tip is important throughout the case but particularly important during the first few months of your case. A common frustration of divorce lawyers occurs when they ask clients to compile information and records for them and the client either delays or outright refuses to do the work necessary to get them. While it may seem unreasonable that you are required to do so much work on your divorce case if you want an outstanding result you need to give your lawyer what is requested.
Don’t Get Derailed by Your Emotions
It often happens in divorce cases that a client becomes their own worst enemy. I have seen spouses call their soon to be ex and leave horribly profane voicemails, send similarly nasty texts or emails, give away personal property that belonged to the other spouse, and perform a variety of other gestures that were intended to create an angry response. The result of these actions was to provide the other side with very helpful evidence to show the judge just how unreasonable their spouse is. Do not fall into this trap. Instead, keep your emotions in check and avoid taking any action that would make you look bad to the judge.
Be Open to Your Lawyer’s Advice
Some clients believe that if they just got their case in front of a judge then the injustice of the situation would be obvious, and the judge would have choice but to rule in their favor. The reality is often quite different. While the facts of every case are unique it is imperative that you have a good lawyer and listen to that lawyer’s perspective about your case.
Read and Reread Correspondence from Your Lawyer
When you see an email from your lawyer that appears lengthy, it can be intimidating and stress-inducing, but sometimes lengthy correspondence from your attorney contains vital information and legal advice that it is important to your case. Even if you discuss the same information with your attorney over the phone, it is in your best interest to read all correspondence from your attorney as well. It can be difficult for you to retain all of the information about the case that is given, which is why if legal advice is written, it is easier for you to reread the correspondence at a time that you are able to understand and emotionally process the information.
Provide Your Schedule
Although the divorce process can feel like an all-consuming venture, attorneys understand that you have your own personal and professional responsibilities. It is best to let your attorney know about your schedule, your feelings, and your timetable for this case. If you have a huge project at work, upcoming travel plans, business trip for work, your children’s spring break, or really anything that means you cannot concentrate on your divorce, try to make sure your attorney knows that. Sometimes you may have other ongoing problems in your life and simply cannot emotionally handle what is occurring in the divorce. If you let your attorney know that you will not be available – physically or mentally – for a certain amount of time, your attorney will be respectful. However, if you do not let your attorney know, then he or she will continue to ask you questions regarding how you want to proceed in this case or follow up for documents he or she has been waiting on you to provide. To make sure you and your attorney are on the same page, just make sure your attorney knows when you will not be available.
During your divorce try to be as responsive as possible when your attorney or their staff contacts you. In being responsive, it is less about an immediate response and more about providing a complete answer within a reasonable amount of time. An immediate response may not directly answer the attorney’s question and may require the attorney to ask more questions to obtain the necessary information. Answering your attorney as completely as possible means that your attorney will not have to continually ask again and follow up on the same question. This will make the communication between you and your attorney more efficient, which also means you pay less attorney fees.
Keep Your Attorney Informed
During the divorce process, there are usually ongoing problems festering between you and your soon-to-be-ex. The problems can sometimes be resolved through a quick letter or a quick conversation between attorneys. However, if there is an ongoing problem that needs court intervention, then it is better if your attorney is already aware of the ongoing issues. If court intervention is necessary and your attorney is already aware of the issues, then you and your attorney will not need to spend extra time and energy playing catch-up on the events that occurred over the past few weeks or even months. Also keep in mind, that this is your only divorce case, but your attorney will have many other divorce cases going on at the same time. Initiate that information by contacting your attorney to make sure he or she is properly informed of what is going on.
Keeping a Journal
Regardless of the issues in your case, it is always a good idea to keep a journal of what is occurring between you and your soon-to-be former spouse. While it is suggested to keep your attorney informed of what is going on, it is easier for you than your attorney to keep a running journal of important events and to compile relevant documents such as text messages or emails, that demonstrate what is written in your journal. It is your daily life, and no one can monitor it as well as you can – especially as the events are occurring. A journal of important events is always recommended in child custody cases where there are parenting time issues (such as missed custody time, interference with the other parent’s custody time, late custody exchanges, etc.). If you keep a journal of these events, that journal can be used to demonstrate the problems that keep occurring and how often the problems occur. For financial issues, if there are conflicting reports regarding the payment of monthly expenses, it is good to keep track of when those payments occurred and who paid them. You should be keeping your lawyer aware of these problems as they are occurring so he or she can discuss the best way to handle these issues. Providing your lawyer with the journal of events will be very helpful to him or her in advocating on your behalf.
Hopefully, these ten tips can help you more successfully navigate the divorce landscape and avoid making some of the all-too-common errors made by parties in divorce cases. Should you need the advice of an experienced divorce attorney or have questions or concerns about your situation, know that we are here to help and willing to discuss those issues with you.