Think about the last time you were driving from your house to go the Cardinals or Blues game downtown. If you were the driver, were you paying attention to anything on Highway 64 during the drive? If you were a passenger, were you simply staring at your phone the entire ride? Did you have any idea what was happening outside of your car? Did you care?
Now, think about the last time you were in a city for the very first time. If you were the driver, how intently were you looking at your surroundings while listening to Waze directions on your phone? If you were the passenger, were you looking out the windows of the car looking around at this new city and its cool scenery or were you checking messages on your phone?
Now consider the difference between these two scenarios. The first one is simply familiar. You have driven Highway 64 hundreds of times. You’ve seen it all before, it’s all familiar surroundings, and very comfortable. The second one is something new. It makes you a little anxious as you are in unfamiliar territory. You are taking it all in and trying to figure it all out.
For me as a divorce lawyer with twenty-five years of experience, talking about the process of divorce and knowing what to expect is like driving from my house to go to the Cardinals or Blues game downtown. I’ve seen it a thousand times. I know the process and each of the steps from start to finish. Like driving Highway 64, I know each of the landmarks and each of the potential potholes. It’s familiar to me, and I feel no anxiety about the process.
For you as a potential client, it’s a lot more like being in a city for the very first time. You’ve never been in this situation, much less been this process. Meeting with an attorney to discuss your situation and filling out the initial paperwork to get a case on file is all new and very uncomfortable. The process gets more complicated as you proceed forward and puts you on edge. You are looking at every document for the first time and making note of everything you think is important. You feel every emotion and wonder about each, and every decision being made on this pathway of dividing one household into two. As you follow along on this path to a divorce, you are experiencing every pleading, every court appearance, and every important decision for the very first time.
To be the best attorney I can be for each of my clients, I remember that everyone on the divorce path will reach the same conclusion, but each client is experiencing the process very differently. My job is to understand that you haven’t done this before, make you feel educated and prepared to go through this novel experience from start to finish. This may be my thousandth drive down this familiar path, but for you – the client – it’s the first.
What you need to understand is that by its very nature, divorce is not meant to be a pleasant experience. You are making tough decisions regarding your children. You are trying to divide property and debt while also figuring out how to support two households instead of one. Add two divorce attorneys and a Family Court Judge, and an unprepared spouse can be overwhelmed by stress. In most cases, a spouse is so emotionally drained by the time they decide it’s time to divorce they’ve not had the time or ability to consider what the legal process of divorce entails.
For most divorcing couples, once the legal wheels start spinning, there is no turning back. The moment the initial pleadings are filed and accepted by the Clerk’s Office, everything you’ve worked for and planned for during your marriage is at risk. The process is fast at first but then slows down to a frustrating pace. Days feel like weeks and weeks feel like months.
You must be both emotionally prepared to maneuver the divorce process and ready to be educated in family law if you want to be ready to divorce.
Can you answer the following questions?
1. How is child custody decided in Missouri?
2. How is child support calculated in Missouri?
3. How is spousal maintenance determined in Missouri?
4. How is marital property divided in Missouri?
5. How is marital debt divided in Missouri?
6. Are there any local rules that I need know about?
7. What percentage of divorce cases go to trial?
8. What is divorce mediation?
If you are confused by the above questions, you should ask them and know the answers before your case is filed so you are ready to enter the legal process of divorce. You’ve got some learning to do and should expect to keep learning throughout the process.
There are three things you should do when it is time to file for divorce.
1. Be prepared to learn the basics of Missouri Divorce Law
You don’t need to obtain the basics before you hire an attorney. Instead, make sure your legal education begins with your first meeting with a divorce attorney. Some divorce lawyers believe you cannot be prepared to hire a lawyer until you understand the process of divorce in Missouri. I strongly disagree. You need to focus on researching which attorney(s) you want to interview and then have a conversation with each of them to determine if you can communicate well. Does the attorney listen to you? Does the attorney understand what you are asking? Do you understand what the attorney is saying to you? Do you trust the attorney’s knowledge and advice?
2. Be prepared to provide the attorney with the documents and information needed
There are documents your divorce attorney will need to get your divorce underway. Gathering the documents requested and completing the financial forms in a reasonable timeframe will keep the divorce process moving forward. This is homework and will not be fun; however, you will be glad you took the time to gather these documents and completed your financial statements at the beginning of your attorney-client relationship. You will need copies of income tax returns for the last three years. Make copies of all bank accounts, joint accounts, and individual accounts, for the past three months. You should do the same for credit card accounts held jointly or individually. You will also need at least three months of paystubs or proof of monthly income for yourself and for your spouse if possible.
3. Hire a Divorce Attorney
This is the person who will promote your best interest during the divorce process. Do not expect or ask your divorce attorney to be as emotionally invested in your divorce as you are. Instead, hire a divorce attorney who knowledgeable, well respected, and can communicate with you. Those legal reputation factors should result in you hiring an attorney that will make sure you are legally protected throughout the divorce process.
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 ready to discuss those issues with you.