There are several reasons the month of January is known as “Divorce Month.” Many people put off filing for divorce during the holidays for their children’s sake or they remain married through December 31 so they can file one more joint tax return. Once the calendar turns and a new year begins, estranged couples often begin the new year by scheduling a meeting with a divorce attorney.
There are several reasons the month of January is known as “Divorce Month.” Many people put off filing for divorce during the holidays for their children’s sake or they remain married through December 31 so they can file one more joint tax return. Once the calendar turns and a new year begins, estranged couples often begin the new year by scheduling a meeting with a divorce attorney. While you may be happily married, odds are good that a family member or friend may inform you that they’re filing for divorce. If this happens to you or to one of your friends or family members, keep this list of 10 Ten Ways to Help Your Lawyer to ensure their case goes as smoothly as possible.
1. Clearly identify your priorities in your case.
Whether your number one priority is being awarded custody of your child(ren), valuing and receiving your share of a business, or maximizing alimony, knowing your priorities will help you begin your search for the right lawyer for you.
2. Hire an experienced lawyer who knows your judge.
Family laws are uniform throughout the state, but each county (and each Judge) has their own local rules. Be sure to hire a lawyer who can help you achieve your goals and has tremendous experience where your case will be filed. How do you identify the right lawyer for you? Talk with other lawyers or professionals who have experience working with a number of different family law attorneys and identify lawyers who have been elected by their peers to serve as leaders in their local and state bar associations.
3. Tune out the noise.
You are going to have a lot of support. Your friends, family, and other acquaintances are going to have countless opinions about your case and what strategies you should be using. Once you hire a lawyer, do your best to take advice about your case only from your lawyer.
4. Assemble a team of competent experts.
While the lawyer you hire will likely have a sterling reputation, they are not experts on every issue. Your case might involve complex tax, forensic accounting, business valuation, imputation of investment income, and/or child custody issues. Experts such as CPAs, wealth managers, business valuators, and child psychologists can help you and your lawyer increase your chances of being successful in your case.
5. Nothing will get accomplished without a deadline.
More on this below, but more than 90% of cases settle at mediation. This means the parties negotiate their own settlement short of a Judge having to make any decision. To prevent your case from taking longer than it needs to, make sure your lawyer gets your case set on the Court’s calendar as soon as possible. This does not mean your case has to go to trial, but it will motivate everyone involved to take settlement negotiations seriously to avoid a trial.
6. Start with the end in mind.
From a financial perspective, make sure a wealth manager can help you and your lawyer understand what a potential settlement will mean for you once the case is concluded. Do you know how much money you will have available to you on a monthly basis to run your life? Should you keep the marital home or sell it? Is renting a home in your best interest? What can you do to protect your settlement? These are all questions a wealth advisor can help you and your lawyer answer.
7. Prepare, prepare, and prepare.
Before you go to mediation, you need to have an excellent idea of what potential settlement options look like. At a minimum, ask your lawyer to explain to you what they think the likely outcome of your case will be if the Judge decides it. What do they believe is a realistic settlement? What does an excellent settlement look like? What is the minimum settlement your lawyer advises you to accept before you cease settlement negotiations and let the Judge decide the case? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you unemotionally evaluate settlement proposals during your mediation conference.
8. Settle your case at mediation!
Having a say in the outcome of your case will be cheaper and will make both parties more likely to comply with the final agreement than if one was imposed upon you by the Judge. At mediation, you can make agreements that a judge might not be able to order. Further, you will be able to divide up assets in a way that is more tax efficient or makes more sense for your situation.
9. Cross all of the “t’s” and dot all of the “i’s.”
Your settlement agreement or order from the judge will require one or both of you to sign various documents or take additional steps to implement the terms of the agreement. Unfortunately, some of these items tend to slip through the cracks. There could be serious consequences for you if some of these items are ignored or overlooked. Make sure you have an additional set of eyes (wealth advisor, CPA, etc.) holding everyone accountable at the conclusion of your case.
10. If you decide to re-marry . . .
Make sure you sign a prenup! Second marriages end in divorce more than 70% of the time. Further, there are estate planning reasons to sign a prenuptial agreement. If you decide to take the plunge again, a prenuptial agreement is a must. While it can be an awkward subject to discuss at this happy time, you will be glad to have one should there be a future divorce.
Should you have any questions about the divorce process or need a referral for a divorce lawyer, please feel free to call Pat at our office at 904-280-3700.
Author: Pat Kilbane, J.D., CDFA®
Pat Kilbane is the Director of Divorce Advisory Group, an affiliate of Ullmann Wealth Partners, and is also a Wealth Advisor. Prior to joining the firm, Pat practiced family and matrimonial law for nearly a decade. He had previously worked as a Shareholder for the statewide law firms Gray Robinson, P.A. and Rogers Towers, P.A.