There’s much to consider when facing a divorce. Below is a chronology we’ve prepared to help you understand the divorce process. It begins with a snapshot of the relationship clients can expect with The Law Offices of Barry I. Finkel P.A.
Some family and divorce law firms require prospective clients to fill out a client profile form online.
Others give first-time visitors to the firm a clipboard with a stack of papers to be completed.
At The Law Offices of Barry I. Finkel P.A., prospective clients are asked very basic information – name, spouse’s name, contact information and whether children are involved, for example – over the phone before you arrive at the office.
Once in the office, you will not be given a clipboard with forms to complete before you see an attorney.
We will ask questions pertinent to your situation. We will keep detailed, confidential notes of all relevant information. We will discuss your case and identify the issues over the course of our conversation – person to person.
No forms, no questionnaires. Just attention to your case, and aggressive advocacy on your behalf.
Your spouse has grown distant. The spark is gone – and you sense a crossroads before you. Therapy hasn’t helped, and resolution seems impossible. If divorce is your only path, what should you expect when you’re expecting a divorce?
The following is a broad outline of what you may expect – and the type of advice you may receive from your family law attorney.
Start with gathering documents
Once people recognize that the relationship is in trouble and marriage counselling or therapy hasn’t helped, it’s time to start getting your financial documents in order. Assume that your spouse also will need these documents. If there’s acrimony or hostility, he or she might take them – and not provide you copies or access to them to make copies. You’ll invest near-countless hours and effort trying to gather all the documents you’ll need. So start as soon as possible.
Files and forms include tax returns, life insurance policies, investments (including brokerage accounts, retirement accounts, money market accounts, college savings accounts, certificates of deposit, etc.), bank checking and / or savings account statements and registers, pay stubs, credit card statements and general receipts, documentation of real estate investments or holdings, etc.
If you don’t have access to these documents, contact your bank, investment brokers, etc., and request copies, or that online access be established so you can download and/or print them. Hopefully, your name is on the account(s) so you can legally request such documents. If you are not a title holder on the account, we will obtain the documents for you.
If children are involved, both parties should jointly seek professional assistance from a child psychologist. Discussing divorce with children can be the most heart-wrenching discussion you’ll ever have. Don’t take it upon yourself to unilaterally break it to your children.
Having the right counsel is vital to a favorable outcome. This doesn’t mean divorce proceedings necessarily will be acrimonious or heated. But it’s important to assume that your spouse has sought a skilled lawyer. You also should seek the guidance of experienced legal counsel to ensure that your best interests and needs are protected. In certain situations where your spouse has expressed disinterest in providing for the children, your attorney also will help advocate for their needs.
The best way to find an experienced divorce lawyer is to obtain references. Ask friends or family members in your general geographic area who have gone through a divorce whom they would recommend. Access websites, and visit the Florida Bar website (http://www.flabar.org) to learn of your attorney’s good standing.
Once you have the names of several attorneys, call each office to speak to the attorney (don’t call just a single attorney; calling several allows you to get a feel for different styles). Were you treated respectfully during your call? If necessary, were calls returned promptly? Did you seem to establish a rapport? How did you feel after talking or meeting with the attorney? Trust your gut instinct; it’s often a good barometer. Besides, you’ll be spending a lot of time and expense on this relationship in an effort to ensure the best possible result.
How – and how much – will the attorney charge? This can be a flat fee, or an ongoing hourly rate. Most attorneys will require a retainer in advance before taking your case.
Ask how many years they’ve been in practice, and ask whether the practice is limited to family law. You don’t want an attorney who divides his/her practice into multiple areas. Attorneys limited to family and divorce law are familiar with the judges, mediators and probably opposing counsel, and are more familiar with family law and procedure. They often can collaborate on solutions in an effort to avoid prolonged, expensive litigation. Inquire about the attorney’s reputation in the community and style of practice. Will he or she keep you informed about every step of the process – including documentation that’s sent out or received on your behalf?
Plan to keep a file folder with ALL documents related to your divorce. These include the financial documents that you’ve gathered, as well as the documents and letters your attorney should provide you throughout the proceedings.
Ask for references from clients whose cases were somewhat similar to your own. Expect that the attorney will have to speak with any clients before releasing their names to you. Once you have their names, call those references. Ask how the attorney handled their case, whether they believe they received a fair settlement or outcome, whether children were involved – and how carefully their interests were protected.
If you feel uncomfortable by your spouse’s attempts to discuss details, settlement, numbers, visitation or other issues, and you don’t feel equipped to respond, insist that the matters be addressed by the attorneys – especially when dialogue can become heated, the children may be present, or when one spouse may be more sophisticated and may try to intimidate or bully the other into a settlement. Don’t go toe to toe or feel pressured to discuss issues. That’s why you hire a family law and divorce attorney in the first place.
The attorney likely will help you negotiate arrangements that can facilitate one spouse moving out of the primary residence before the divorce is final. With dual income families, it’s no longer the husband who must move out or the mother who is the home maker. Temporary financial responsibilities should be finalized before anyone leaves.
Remember, when children are involved, all decisions must be made with the best interests of the children in mind. This includes who remains in the residence and serves as primary, day-to-day caregiver. The children should NOT be forced to leave the residence. You’ll also have to discuss a parenting plan with “time sharing” (formerly called “custody”) agreements. The goal is to avoid disruption to the children’s lives. Assure them that their lives will not be affected outside the home – in school, among their friends, or in daily life.
If a particularly acrimonious or contentious divorce will put the children at risk of witnessing heated arguments or their parents cannot agree on what is in the children’s best interest, a Guardian ad Litem can be appointed by the court. A Guardian ad Litem advocates for the child’s interests, recommending therapy, communicating with teachers, neighbors and friends, and suggesting how best to deal with the child’s unique situation.
Because children generally are not permitted to testify in divorce proceedings, the GAL is the “voice for the children.”
An attorney may be but one professional hired to support your case.
Forensic accountants will analyze financial documents to determine true income, identify assets and liabilities, conduct studies to ascertain money spent on lifestyles, and uncover hidden assets and income. The accounting professional will prepare schedules showing how property will be distributed, and help determine various alimony and child support scenarios. You may need appraisers for real property, personal property and businesses.
If a spouse is “underemployed,” a vocational expert can render opinions on actual earning capacity. If child time sharing is in dispute, a hired child psychologist can help the court evaluate and resolve such disputes.
Once both sides are satisfied that the proper investigation has been completed, questions have been answered through depositions, subpoenas, or other methods of discovery – and everybody has the complete picture, next comes mediation. Generally, courts do not allow a case to go to trial unless an attempt at mediating the issues has failed.
The two lawyers will select a qualified, acceptable mediator who hopefully can facilitate a fair agreement. If the attorneys cannot agree on a mediator, the judge will select one instead. A binding mediated settlement may occur in a private setting, not in a public courtroom. The divorce is settled, the animosity tends to evaporate, and the parties move on with their lives.
If the parties cannot settle with the assistance of a mediator, the case likely will go to trial. A trial can last from less than a day to several weeks, depending on the issues, the number of witnesses, and the complexity of the case. Trial can be a grueling process where private matters are aired in an open forum that becomes public for all to view.
• Relocation. When one spouse wishes to relocate with the children a long car-trip or a plane ride away, either for work or to be with a new partner or spouse, difficult issues arise. Whether to allow a relocation with its effect on time sharing can be among the most gut-wrenching decisions a family law judge can face – especially with two caring, involved parents. Video conference or web cams cannot replace hugs.
• New marriage. Parents often seek new partners or spouses. The other spouse can feel threatened by the new partner’s role. Some divorce agreements may include language that can help children understand that the new partner can’t replace a parent. For example, the agreement may state that the children shall not be permitted to refer to the new partner as “Mom,” “Dad,” or similar terms.
Once settled or ruled upon, the differences are resolved and the parties move on. Alas, some things never end. Child-related issues can arise.
Circumstances can change. One spouse can decide to re-open the case and take the other side back to court for a change in the alimony, child support or timesharing arrangements. Some issues are substantive; others can be frivolous.
Once an agreement is reached or the judge has ruled, it’s time for the ex-spouses to move on with their lives.