SAN DIEGO, July 18, 2016 – Once you’ve made the difficult decision to get divorced, you may believe the worst is over. It is a thought process and emotional reckoning that can be weeks, months or even years in the making. If there are children involved, you know it will be tough but most parents are determined to make the best of it.
Once you’ve crossed this bridge in your mind and heart, you now have a series of even more important decisions to make which will determine the entire direction and tone for your divorce. This is a time to be ruthlessly practical. You need to protect yourself and you need to protect your children. This is not selfish. It’s healthy, it’s smart and it’s in your entire family’s long-term best interests.
It’s natural to feel overwhelmed, and there is a lot to do. As a family law attorney with experience representing hundred and hundreds of divorcing clients, there are some tasks you need to take care of right away. These tasks will help you make the single most important decision in your divorce once you’ve decided to move forward.
So before you break the bad news to anyone or breathe a word to a living soul, you’ve got to figure out what your choices are for your divorce, and decide how you want to proceed.
In broad terms, you have three choices for getting divorced. The majority of couples handle their divorce by themselves, perhaps with a little help to file the paperwork. In California, seventy percent of all divorces are “pro per,” handled without an attorney. Of the remaining thirty percent, only five to ten percent of all cases in each state are litigated in court. Fully one quarter of all divorces are navigated through some kind of private settlement or alternative dispute resolution such as mediation or Collaborative Divorce.
Which process is best for you? If there is any violence, serious mental health issues, or other safety concerns, you need an exit plan which will allow you and your children if any to get out safely and find a secure place where you are protected. Start by consulting domestic violence services providers in your area, YMCA Family Services, mental health clinics, law enforcement or a family law attorney experienced with these circumstances. Your health and safety is worth whatever it takes. Don’t underestimate the danger level. The vast majority of murders in the United States within families happen when someone files for separation or divorce.
Otherwise, this is a time to do your research and ask a lot of questions. If possible, attend a divorce workshop. In many states workshops take place under names such as “Divorce Options” or “Second Saturday,” where legal and financial professionals review your choices and the consequences of those choices.
Divorce Options workshops are often found on your state’s Collaborative Practice website. In California for example, they can be found here.
Find a Second Saturday workshop in 35 states here.
If you don’t have children and don’t have a lot of assets such as a home, investments, or retirement accounts, you may be able to handle your divorce yourself. Consider getting some help from a paralegal, legal clinic, or mediation service as a safeguard against any serious mistakes. Family courts services in most states provide very basic mediation services to help you get through the divorce process, but this is no substitute for an attorney.
Alternative Dispute Resolution methods offer smart choices for your divorce which cost much less than a litigated divorce.
Mediation is a way of solving disputes with help from a neutral person acting as a mediator to reach an agreement acceptable to everyone involved. Mediation can be an extremely effective way of resolving family law disputes such as divorce and separation, child custody, child support, property division, estates, trusts and probate.
You and your spouse hire the mediator to facilitate discussion between you and help you work through and resolve the issues in your divorce. The mediator will not make decisions for you. The mediator may be an attorney but will not give you specific legal advice. What the mediator does is help identify and isolate areas of agreement and disagreement. The mediator will help you find practical and sometimes creative solutions to resolve these disagreements, which will allow you to negotiate a settlement.
Collaborative Divorce is another method for divorce growing in popularity. In Collaborative Divorce, you and your spouse agree in advance not to take your divorce into court, but instead work with a team of legal, financial, and mental health professionals to resolve any differences and create a legal divorce settlement that works best for you and your family. There is room to create unique solutions, which suit your circumstances. Each spouse has his or her own attorney, but shares the expertise of the other professionals. This method saves costs over a litigated divorce and can be ideal when there are complex financial or custody issues.
Once you have decided how to proceed, give some thought to your end goals for your divorce.
This may seem obvious: your goal is becoming single again. But that’s not all. Think about what you’d like your life to be like under ideal circumstances. Are your children and their well-being your priority? Do you want to be able to stay in the family home? Become unencumbered from debts or other obligations? Do you want the freedom to move, change jobs, go back to school, live a different type of lifestyle? What do you think it will take to get there, legally and practically? How willing are you to compromise with your soon to be ex spouse to get these things? Give this some serious thought.
Finally, if you end up working with a family law attorney and he or she tells you something or asks you to do something, there is a reason for it. Usually it’s to protect your interests and make things easier (and maybe less costly) for you in the long run. We know how to engage the legal system to your best advantage, and we have plenty of experience that tells us what works and what doesn’t work. Don’t put a match to the money you’re paying for good legal counsel by ignoring it.
Myra Chack Fleischer serves as Lead Counsel for Fleischer & Ravreby in Carlsbad, California with a focus on divorce, property, custody and support, settlement agreements, mediation, asset division and family law appeals. Read more Legally Speaking in Communities Digital News. Follow Myra on Twitter: @LawyerMyra. Fleischer can be reached via Google +
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