Why You Shouldn’t Panic If Your Spouse Consults An Attorney

Let's Untie the Knot | Why You Shouldn't Panic If Your Spouse Consults An Attorney

If you have just found out that your spouse has contacted an attorney, it is perfectly reasonable to be nervous.  You may fear the worst—“oh no, my spouse is going to take me for everything  I’m worth.”  Or, “my spouse is going to get full custody of the kids and I will be relegated to being the weekend parent.”   The first thing you need to do it TAKE A BREATH.  Not every divorce is contentious.  That said, you need to consult with your own attorney to make sure you are taking all of the necessary actions to increase your likelihood of getting what you want out of the divorce.

How to find your attorney:

  1.  Ask your friends and family:  very often the best referral for a divorce attorney comes from friends or family who have used that attorney in their own divorce.

  2. Be clear on what you want to get from the divorce:  if child custody is your primary concern, find an attorney with a strong reputation in handling child custody issues.  In contrast, if you are most considered with the division of assets, including the sale of the marital home, a business or a pension plan, locate an attorney with specialized knowledge in that area.

  3. Search online:   Finding information out about attorneys is easier than ever thanks to the internet.  There will be reviews posted online about the prominent attorneys in your city.

  4. Try your best to determine the tenor of your divorce:  If you think your divorce will be fairly amicable, you should look for someone who focuses on settlement or mediation.  In contrast, if you think your divorce is going to get ugly, you need to make sure to hire an aggressive advocate to best protect your rights.

  5. Consider your budget:  Legal fees can be extraordinarily high.  Before you even bother interviewing people, you should find out if they do flat fee divorces and, if not, what their hourly rate is.  If you can’t afford to pay the legal fees, there is no point in interviewing them.

Once you have found your attorney, you need to prepare yourself for your divorce.  Emotionally, you will want to gather a strong group of friends and family who can support you during this difficult time (also known as, your “village”).  You will need your village not just as a shoulder to cry on but also to help you with some practical aspects of day-to day living, such as helping carpool your kids, volunteering to babysit if you need to meet with your attorney, etc. 

You also need to get an accurate picture of where you stand financially.  One of the primary goals of divorce is to make an equitable distribution of marital assets and debts.  In order to get your fair share, you need to understand your finances beforehand.  This process requires that you determine what you own and what you owe.  You need to then determine what is marital property and what is separate property. 

Marital property refers generally to all of the property acquired by either or both spouses during the course of the marriage.  So, for example, the wages you earned at work that you put into a joint bank account and used to pay household bills would be considered marital property.  Similarly, if you bought a car prior to the marriage but then used marital funds to pay for repairs, the car would be considered marital property.

In contrast, separate property belongs only to one spouse.  The most common forms of separate property include property owned by one spouse prior to the marriage, gifts received by a spouse prior to or during a marriage, inheritances or gifts received by one spouse before or during the marriage and property that the spouses agree is separate (spouses often do this via a pre-nup or post-nup).

You and your attorney will work together to determine your proof of income, come up with parenting plan proposals and propose an equitable distribution of the marital assets and debts.  In a divorce in which both parties are cooperative, this process can be relatively easy.  However, in antagonistic divorces, parties usually end up in court and could potentially be fighting over the value of a stamp collection for years.

If you find out your spouse is talking to a divorce attorney, do not jump to the worst-case scenario.  Try to talk to your spouse and determine if the split is going to be amicable or acrimonious.  By doing so, you can determine what type of attorney you need to hire and prepare yourself for what lies ahead.

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