When getting married, divorce is the furthest thing from most people’s minds. That said, later on there are a variety of different reasons people ultimately end up divorcing. While the divorce process is not a pleasant undertaking, there are some simple things you can do (or avoid doing) to make your divorce proceed smoothly. By following these guidelines, you can make the whole unpleasant task of divorcing less traumatic for yourself and for your children.
1 Avoid trying to “do it yourself”.
Avoid trying to “do it yourself”. Seek expert advice from an experienced divorce attorney. A successful divorce is so much more than just filling out a myriad of forms. The money you spend for this expert advice and direction will more than benefit you in the future.
There are many times in our lives that we seek out a professional to assist us in areas we do not have expertise. When having surgery, you turn to an expert: a trained surgeon. When you build a home, you turn to an expert: a licensed contractor. When seeking a divorce it is prudent to turn to an expert as well: an experienced divorce or “family law” attorney.
The process of a divorce is multifaceted and can be overwhelming. An experienced divorce attorney will have the background and expertise to focus on the biggest and most obvious issues, such as custody and parenting time (or visitation), child support, and spousal maintenance (or alimony). However, the real value of hiring a divorce attorney is often highlighted by the fact that through experience in other divorce and family law cases, an attorney will anticipate and address issues that might not be as obvious to somebody without experience, such as the division of holiday or vacation time with the children, providing for life insurance for support of the children in the event one parent dies, the proper transfer of title on real property, and division of federally regulated 401(K) or pension plans. These are only a few examples of issues an experienced attorney will address that the “do it yourself” divorce might not address properly or simply ignore.
An attorney will guide you through the process, both as a counselor and legal expert, to insure the final divorce settlement or order is detailed and comprehensive.
2. Remain engaged in the process.
Once you have made the decision to hire an experienced divorce attorney, you will be your attorney’s best partner. It is important that you provide your attorney with as much information as possible. While there are a number of legal processes available to attorneys for gathering financial information from you and your spouse, it is the most efficient if you work with your attorney to gather as many financial documents as possible. Doing so will help your attorney and your spouse’s attorney develop an accurate understanding of your financial circumstances.
The process of divorce requires the parties and attorneys to gather a great deal of information so you and your spouse can fairly distribute your assets and property. An experienced first-rate divorce attorney will give you a list of all the documents they will need from you for your case. This will involve the sharing of information such as tax returns, bank statements, income statements, insurance information, and retirement account statements. If you have access to any or all of this information, be proactive in gathering this material at the outset of the divorce process. If you can gather and copy this information, you will save the time and expense of having your attorney secure the information through more formal means. While this task may be arduous, being organized and thorough in gathering the information will allow your case to progress more quickly and smoothly.
3. This is one of the most important business transactions of your life. Do not rush the process just for the sake of getting it over with.
Many people spend more time, energy and resources planning for a wedding than they are willing to spend on a divorce. While planning a wedding is likely a more positive and pleasant experience, the outcome of your divorce will likely have a more tangible, long term impact on your life going forward.
Once you finally make the difficult decision to get a divorce, do not rush just to get it done. While it is a very emotional time, remember you are making important business decisions as well as emotional choices that will affect you and your family for the rest of your life. It is not unusual for individuals who rushed through a hasty “do it yourself” divorce to find themselves meeting with an attorney years or months later in an attempt to resolve an issue that was not addressed properly at the time of their divorce.
Take your time and make sure your decisions are right for you long term. It is more difficult (and costly) to undo something that has been done incorrectly than to do it properly the first time. These are important, long-lasting life decisions you are making. Listen to the advice of your attorney and only after careful consideration should you make final decisions.
4. Make the most of the mediation and evaluative processes available privately and with the counties.
While it may seem satisfying to some in the midst of the emotional turmoil of divorce to resort to the “take them to trial” mentality, there are a number of alternative and collaborative methods for resolving most, if not all, of the disputes that may arise in divorce cases.
Over the past ten to fifteen years, the use of alternative dispute resolution has expanded rapidly and attorneys and clients are spending far less time in courtrooms and far more time around a table negotiating. Minnesota has been a leader of the development of some very successful programs intended for individuals dealing with disputes related to divorce and issues arising post-divorce.
While Hennepin County offers the most expansive array of public alternative dispute resolution options, many of the other counties in the Twin Cities Metro Area have followed suit and are now offering variations of some of the same programs at a limited cost to the parties.
Some of the options being offered by the counties include:
Social Early Neutral Evaluation which is intended to assist parties in reaching an agreement on some or all custody and parenting time (visitation) issues early on in the divorce process;
Financial Early Neutral Evaluation which is intended to assist parties in reaching an agreement on some or all financial issues early on in the divorce process; and
The Settlement Program which is an opportunity for parties and their attorney(s) to appear in a courtroom before a settlement referee who, acting as a mediator, has the authority to assist the parties in bringing the divorce case to a mutually agreeable final resolution.
There are also many private alternative dispute resolution options available to parties with divorce-related disputes. The most common private alternative dispute resolution method is mediation. During mediation, both parties, and often times their attorneys, meet with a private neutral third party who will assist in helping the parties find a mutually agreeable resolution to any disputed issues. An experienced attorney can assist you in selecting a mediator with a background appropriate for dealing with the disputed issues in your case. For example, in cases with sophisticated financial issues such as a self-employed party or a party in need of spousal maintenance, it might be appropriate to consider using a mediator who is also an accountant. In a case with complicated children’s issues, it might be best to select a mediator who has a background in child development. With a commitment from both parties and the right mediator, parties can avoid the emotional and financial toll of presenting disputed issues to a Judge for resolution.
There is nobody more qualified to make decisions regarding your family than you and your spouse. Through the use of alternative dispute resolution, you and your spouse can work collaboratively to reach a resolution that is best for your and your family.
5. Remember no two divorces are the same. Avoid relying on well intentioned friends and family (or Google) for legal advice regarding your divorce.
The support from your family and friends is critical during this difficult time. However, it is important that you do not let well meaning friends and family members unduly influence you as you proceed through the divorce process. While they may have your best interests at heart, they do not have the experience to provide you with sound legal advice regarding your specific case. Even if they themselves have been through a divorce, each situation is unique and their experience will probably not be the same as yours.
For the same reasons, it is important that you do not rely on everything you read on the internet. Each state has a very different and specific set of laws pertaining to divorce cases. In Minnesota, the divorce statutes have been carefully crafted to take into account the very specific circumstances of each family when it comes to custody and parenting time issues and financial issues. Relying on information you receive from outside sources may cause you to miss important information or rights which might be relevant to you and your case, or leave you with unrealistic expectations about the divorce process.
While friends and family (and even the internet) can provide you with valuable comfort and support during this very difficult time, rely heavily on your attorney in making the final legal decisions in your case. Your attorney will advise you with her/his expertise and has your best interests in mind. With your attorney’s experience and expertise, you will be able to proceed in the manner most appropriate for you and your family.
It is never easy when a marriage ends but by keeping these tips in mind and with the help of an experienced and knowledgeable divorce attorney, you will proceed through this difficult time with relative ease.