The divorce process may be one of the most stressful times of your life. To help guide you through the chaos, you may decide to hire an experienced family law attorney. You and your attorney are a team, trying to find solutions to your dilemmas that are in the best interest of you and your family. The better you can work together, the easier it is to reach those goals. Below, are seven ways to help your divorce attorney help you, and how to become your attorney’s favorite client.
1. The first rule is the golden one. Be considerate.
We all know that divorce is a time of extremely high stress. For many divorcing couples, divorce is the worst thing that has ever happened to them. Being emotional is normal and understood. Browbeating and abusing your lawyer and his/her staff are not.
Sometimes clients know they must be respectful to the lawyer but will unleash their frustrations on the staff. This is not only unkind and unseemly but counter-productive since the staff handles much of the work on your case. Don’t you want everyone at your attorney’s office to be wholeheartedly on your side as you proceed through the divorce? They will be professional, no matter what, but a thoughtful client encourages both attorney and staff to go the extra mile when necessary.
2. Tell the truth
Spouses going through a divorce may feel they need to hide some information or fudge their answers to basic questions, either because they are embarrassed or are concerned that the truth will negatively affect their prospects in the divorce. Inevitably, secrets tend to come out at the worst possible moment—for example, in court. A divorcing spouse may insist that he has no girlfriend (or boyfriend), but then opposing counsel asks, while he is under oath, about a receipt for a mysterious diamond bracelet. Who received the bracelet?
You damage your own case if you allow your attorney to be blindsided by new, negative information. If you answer your attorney’s questions truthfully from the beginning, then the attorney can prepare to deal with information that may put you in a bad light.
You should also be honest about your own goals and expectations in your divorce case. If your goal, for instance, is to destroy your about-to-be ex-spouse, your attorney will explain that this is not a reasonable goal. Manage your expectations accordingly.
3. Pay your bills
If you are unable to pay the attorney’s fees in full up front, work out a payment plan and stick to it. No one wants to work hard and put in long hours on your case for free. We all like to be paid for our work. That is only fair. Your lawyer and his/her staff will work more enthusiastically on your case if you do not fall into arrears on your payments or become “that client” who never pays on time.
4. Hire a therapist or, if you have one already, schedule additional appointments as needed.
Always remember that your attorney, with all the goodwill and compassion in the world, is rarely also a licensed counselor. If you need hours of listening and wise counseling to support you during the divorce—as you understandably may–hire the right professional to perform that task. Using your time with your attorney as your opportunity to vent about the divorce is shortsighted on two fronts: the attorney is much more expensive than the therapist, and the attorney is an expert in legal matters, not in psychological concerns.
Talking to your faith advisor could be a good alternative, too, because those conversations, as your conversations with your lawyer, are privileged. But, in any case, most good therapists don’t keep notes that can cause unintended problems for the client.
Controlling your anger and resentment—perhaps through therapy and self-care–will result in a cleaner, less expensive divorce with less emotional fallout for all concerned. As one divorce attorney put it, “Hate always costs more.”
5. The opposite extreme of taking up too much of your divorce attorney’s time is taking up too little.
You are paying your attorney to advise you. Take advantage of it! If you are about to take some action that may affect the divorce, ask first. For instance, once divorcing spouses are separated, they may tend to assume that actions they take—such as selling a piece of property—will have no bearing on the divorce. Don’t assume. Always ask before you take an important step.
6. Be organized and meet deadlines.
Do not dump buckets of miscellaneous documents on your attorney at the last minute. You will save yourself an enormous amount of time and money if you organize all documents and present them in a timely fashion.
In the same spirit, you should stay on top of your emails and answer them promptly. If you have questions for your attorney, you should consolidate and organize them in your emails. If your questions require highly detailed answers, schedule a phone call or face-to-face meeting.
You are literally shortchanging yourself if you keep asking your attorney the same question over and over. You will be charged for the attorney’s time to answer the same questions repeatedly. Take notes!
7. Listen and follow your attorney’s advice even when you don’t want to.
No two cases are the same. Do not judge your divorce by the results of someone else’s divorce. If someone else got the house, that doesn’t necessarily mean you will get the house. Your case is unique and has its own unique circumstances.
Do not attempt to conduct your own case by seeking and swallowing advice from Google or from your nephew’s neighbor’s dogwalker or your best friend’s interior designer’s maiden aunt. Remember that Google is not licensed to practice law in the state of Texas. And most likely neither is the dog walker or the maiden aunt. If only for a consultation, meet with a Texas licensed attorney to guide you through what to expect during and after your divorce.
You are paying your carefully chosen attorney to advise you on all the legal ins and outs of divorce. Trust your attorney.