What Your Divorce Lawyer Won’t Tell You

When you are going through a divorce, it’s important to keep in mind that your lawyer is not your friend.  While you may have a cordial relationship and it may seem like a friendship at times, it’s a business relationship.  That means if your lawyer sees you making a mistake or making a poor decision, they may not always tell you.  This is especially true if the divorce has been dragging on for months,  sometimes years, and the court is pressuring everyone to just get it done.  Here are some secrets your lawyer knows but may not share with you:

(1) Whether your spouse is getting along with his/her attorney.  Divorce lawyers are a relatively close-knit community traveling in the same circles.  They see each other in court, at bar events, etc.  They may even be friends, socializing with each other during their personal time. It’s not unusual for attorneys to vent to each other about their clients during phone calls and other events.  While they are still required to honor attorney-client privilege, they may sometimes make it known whether they like their client or despise them.  Your attorney may be saying the same thing about you!

(2) Whether the other side is more or less flexible than you.  Sometimes, in an effort to just get things done, lawyers (as well as judges and mediators) make a judgment about which party is more or less willing to compromise.  The one that may be more willing to compromise is typically targeted to do just that: compromise even further to get the case settled.  This is usually a quicker route to getting things done than trying to convince the more rigid party to be more reasonable.

(3) You are less of a priority if you are not paying your bill.  This may seem obvious, but it often seems that the clients who aren’t paying their bill are the ones who call the most and expect their attorney’s undivided attention.  While most lawyers take their responsibilities seriously, practicing law is still a business.  The people who are generating income for the firm get bumped up in line.

(4) What the judge is saying about you.  Sometimes judges give a sense of their perception of the parties.  Sometimes it is favorable and sometimes it is not.  This can have a great impact on the advice your lawyer may give you when encouraging a settlement.    Your lawyer may not encourage you to dispute an issue that he or she already knows the judge would not rule favorably for you.  However, the “code” is that a lawyer does not repeat anything the judge or the other attorney has said in confidence during meetings.  The attorneys and the judge ordinarily have a common goal of the getting the case settled.

(5) What the other party is saying caused the divorce.  Most states are now no-fault divorce states, which means there doesn’t really have to be a reason for the divorce other than the fact that at least one of the parties wants one.  This means that those reasons are largely irrelevant, but being human, parties often like to talk about these topics. The reasons could be anything from “we grew apart” to infidelity or a variety of other reasons.  Sometimes attorneys will discuss these emotional issues largely because it helps to resolve issues in the divorce when you can understand where the other person is coming from and what may be important to them from a psychological standpoint.  Very often, the parties have very different opinions about what caused the divorce.

(6) When the attorneys have conspired to move a court date.  Sometimes attorneys have other matters that have to take priority for various reasons.  Sometimes one of the attorneys has a personal matter that creates a scheduling conflict. Attorneys will sometimes conspire to move a court date to accommodate such events without letting the clients know so that the clients don’t get angry with the attorneys.

(7) If he or she is friends with your spouse’s attorney.  Clients often believe that opposing attorneys are supposed to hate each other in order to be effective.  However, it is quite the opposite. When attorneys are able to get along and work cooperatively together,  they are actually better advocates for their clients because they typically communicate more effectively without emotion muddying their judgment.

These are just a few examples of what your lawyer won’t tell you.  Keep in mind that although your lawyer has been hired to represent you, this is a business relationship that only requires him or her to give you legal advice and advance your position in court.  It does not require them to be your friend or tell you every minor detail about how they move your case along.  That’s why it can be helpful to have a coach who helps you evaluate not just your divorce, but how your divorce fits into your life from all angles. Lawyers can hold back for various reasons.  It’s not up to your lawyer to help you find your vision.

First Things First: The Top Five Things You Must Do When Divorce is on the Horizon

Whether you have made the decision to move forward with a divorce, or your spouse made the decision, there are certain housekeeping functions that need to be accomplished.  Doing these things will empower you with the knowledge and information that you need so that you can make decisions about your future.

(1) Locate all important paperwork relating to the family finances.  Whether you are the one who managed the finances, or your spouse did, you need to determine whether you have copies (or access to copies) of certain documents that give a snapshot of the family finances.  These are (at least) your past three years’ income tax returns.  If you filed separately, you need yours and your spouse’s – with all schedules and attachments, such as the Schedule C profit and loss statement (if applicable), 1099s, W-2 forms, K-1 statements. Find them.  If you had an accountant prepare them, go to your accountant and get a full copy of every tax filing.  You don’t need to provide an explanation. If you filed joint tax returns, they are yours too even if you had nothing to do with getting them prepared – and even if you don’t work.  Also obtain all monthly bank account statements for at least the past 3 years for all bank accounts, even if they aren’t in your name.  If you cannot obtain statements for the accounts that are not in your name, your lawyer can obtain that in the divorce proceeding.  This also applies to any retirement plans or investment accounts, such as brokerage accounts, stock accounts, etc.  Also get copies of monthly statements for all credit card accounts, even if they are not in your name.  You will also need documents relating to any other indebtedness, such as car loans, student loans, etc.  Get copies of mortgage statements so that you know what your mortgage payments are and the outstanding mortgage amount on the house.  This information will all be important relatively early when it comes time to talk about support and distribution of property and debts.

(2) Consult with a financial planner or advisor.  Whether you will be receiving alimony or paying alimony, and even if you think yours is not an alimony case, you will need to plan your finances going forward without your spouse.  This means you will need to know how much money you are earning, after taxes, and what your expenses will be when you figure out your new living situation.  This analysis will also help you determine how much alimony you need to support yourself, or how much you can afford to pay your spouse if you are the breadwinner.  If you have used a financial advisor with your spouse, use someone else.  You want to make sure this information is confidential and as well as any strategy you develop with your advisor.  You can find advisors who routinely do this in the context of divorce.

(3) Take steps to preserve any personal property of significant value.  Property has a strange way of disappearing when people are getting divorced. If there are any items of significant monetary value or sentimental value, you should preserve evidence of their existence just in case they go missing.  The other alternative is to immediately store the items, such as bonds, photos or jewelry, in a safe deposit box.  Sometimes your attorney will agree to hold such items in escrow pending final agreement on the distribution of the items.

(4) Get a therapist or coach to help you through the divorce.  The worst thing you can do is listen to your friends, relatives, neighbors, hairdresser, accountant, college roommate, favorite barista at Starbucks, etc. about what they think you should do or what happened to them when they got divorced.  Keep in mind that these people are not able to be objective because they know you and likely know your spouse too.  Their advice is also limited by their own biases, particularly if they had a bad experience in their own divorce.  You need someone neutral to talk to, whether it is just to vent or whether it is to get guidance on your own life planning.  Don’t use your attorney as a therapist.  They are too expensive and they don’t want to nurse you through your divorce.  Only use your lawyer for legal advice. And don’t use your friends for legal advice.  They are not qualified! Now is the time to figure out your next steps based upon what YOU want for yourself.  It’s a new beginning!

(5) Make sure you have access to money.  If you have cash around, take half of it for safekeeping.  If you have joint accounts with large sums of money and you don’t have access to funds anywhere else except in the joint accounts, consider moving half of the funds into an account in your sole name.  This will ensure that if the divorce gets ugly, your spouse can’t take all of the funds and leave you with nothing.  (Even if that did happen, it would take time for your lawyer to sort it out).  Even if you think your divorce will be “amicable” (and maybe it will), be prepared for it not to be. Sometimes even the most amicable spouses have different ideas about what is fair.  Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.  If you don’t have an account in your sole name, open one.  Even if you don’t think you need it.  If you do have access to the joint accounts, make sure you monitor them for any unusual spending or withdrawals. The same applies to credit cards.

These are just some initial steps to consider as soon as the “D” word starts to surface in your marriage.  Always have a plan!

Call us for a consultation and strategy  session.  732-529-6937