The complexity of Divorce and Family Law matters can be an overwhelming challenge for any spouse. Although lawyers and judges have seen almost every version and variation of a divorce, spouses experiencing it for the first time encounter a steep learning curve.
It would be oversimplified to distill such an individual and unique experience down to any kind of generally applicable recommendations, but here are some simple tips that can only help with the process. Not surprisingly, the focus is on those things that are genuinely within your control, in a realm where many things are not.
1. Don’t Believe What You’ve Heard
You will hear things from family, friends, co-workers, fictional television and literary characters. Take all of that “legal advice”, reduce it to writing and run it through a paper shredder. Do not put any prophetic value in their particular outcome. Often lawyers will hear things like, “my friend got $10,000.00 per month in spousal support, why can’t I get that?”..or “my cousin got sole custody of his children, so I want the same.”
Permitting those who have been through a divorce or separation to set your expectations of legal entitlements or obligations will leave you vulnerable to disappointment.
Consider that each case is analyzed within its own unique and sometimes peculiar set of circumstances: the income of this particular couple, this particular couple’s assets and liabilities and the perceived best interests of this particular couple’s children. Prototypes or cookie-cutter approaches don’t have a place in Divorce and Family Law matters. One spouse’s particular legal outcome is not relatable to another. That being said, you should listen to and value what they may have told you they felt about the process. That is wholly relatable.
2. Ensure That You Have a Reliable Support Network
You will need support through the divorce process: emotional and possibly financial support. Emotional support might come in the form of professional counselling, an online support group or just a solid core of family and friends with whom to commiserate. You will likely have those moments where you feel that the walls are closing in. You will be well-served by having those people in your corner who are prepared to do nothing more than listen on the bad days. Any other healthy form of emotional self-treatment is advisable, as you will be perpetually trying to compartmentalize and “find your happy place”.
Also, legal fees for contested Divorce & Family Law matters can be challenging to manage. In addition to making sure the lawyer you choose is within your financial means, you should pre-emptively consider a tangible plan to finance their fees, upfront and as matters move forward.
3. Choose the Right Lawyer
Make sure that the lawyer that you choose is adequately able to meet the moment. Considering your spouse and the issues, if you are able to anticipate the complexity, style, pace and tone of your Divorce and Family Law matter, be sure to choose your lawyer accordingly. Each Divorce Lawyer comes with different scopes and depths of experience, but equally important, distinct styles. If you are convinced that your spouse will narcissistically and aggressively employ a “scorched earth” approach, you may want to retain a lawyer who is comfortable dealing with high conflict matters. If you have an amicable relationship that you want to salvage and cultivate even after divorce, you might be better served by a lawyer with a more collaborative style.
4. Distinguish the Battles from the War
Some Divorce and Family Law issues have a higher degree of urgency and should be resolved with some immediacy. Also, some issues can be summarily resolved as the “low-hanging fruit”, where the fair and just outcome is self-evident to all. Those should be resolved upfront, if even on a temporary basis, pending a final decision.
Discuss your priorities with your lawyer and triage the issues accordingly. Hopefully sooner than later, with merit, urgency and priority assigned to your issues, the genuine impasses should reveal themselves. The only remaining decision will be how to resolve them.
5. Explore Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
Court is never the only option. Quite the contrary, it should always be considered the final resort. Models of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) are rapidly growing in popularity and rightfully so. Conventionally called “mediation”, this forum provides amicable, economical and emotionally healthier means for parties to resolve their Divorce & Family Law issues.
There is no limit to the applicability of ADR. It is an attractive option whether your divorce involves parenting matters, child/spousal support or property division.
6. Get Organized
Resolving money matters in divorce, including support and property division, calls for a high degree of financial transparency between the spouses. The spouses are expected to exchange information including income tax returns, pay stubs, bank account statements and monthly budgets.
Regardless of how amicable the financial issues are between you and your spouse, full, honest and accurate financial disclosure is a fundamental principle of resolving a divorce. Start gathering your financial paperwork. You will need it.
7. Rediscover Your Marriage Contracts
Consider any prenuptial or cohabitation agreements that you may have signed prior to marriage. These documents often find themselves tucked away in safety deposit boxes or filing cabinets, but their value cannot be overstated. They may play a role in partially or wholly predetermining the outcome of your divorce matters.
8. Communicate Appropriately on Social Media and With Your Spouse
Experienced Divorce and Family Lawyers can cite no shortage of examples of spouses undermining their own positions on social media and in written communications with their spouse. This could come in the form of shamelessly broadcasting their antagonistic and abusive remarks to leave no doubt who is the “unfriendly parent”. Or perhaps immodestly posting photographic evidence of any new found wealth amid allegations of their under-reporting of income. You can bet that this information will be used by your spouse to strengthen their position and weaken yours. Favorable outcomes in Divorce and Family Law issues become that much more challenging when you are literally the “author of your own misfortune”.
Throughout divorce proceedings, sensible spouses exhibit discipline and restraint in their use of social media and telecommunications. Be sensible.
9. Consider the Need for Experts
A healthy lawyer-client relationship provides the principal means by which to move Divorce & Family matters forward toward resolution. However, that ongoing exchange of client instructions and legal advice has its limits. At some point, if external professional opinions or advice is required, that should be delegated to experts uniquely qualified for those roles. Certain parenting issues may call for the retaining of Counsellors/Parenting Experts. Certain financial issues may call for the retaining of Forensic Accountants or Income Analysts.
Everyone should stay in their lane. Let the Lawyers do the lawyering. Let the Counsellors do the counselling. Let the Accountants do the accounting. No one should ever be forced to overreach or step outside of their role.
Of course, consideration must be given to the cost of expert fees. Each spouse backed by their own multi-disciplinary “Dream Team” of favourable experts might be theoretically attractive, but it is not financially viable for most. Wherever possible, experts should be conservatively and judiciously chosen, and only where there is the most critical informational need. Spouses may even consider jointly retaining an expert to minimize cost and pave a path toward consensus.
10. Prepare for the Real Possibility that Your Divorce is More of a Process Than an Event
All divorcing spouses seek the proverbial clean break, allowing them to swiftly move on from their marriage without ongoing interference or conflict.
That is simply not achievable in all cases. Where issues are subject to changing fact situations, it might be necessary to revisit those issues as things evolve. Formal arrangements made for parenting time, decision-making for the children, child support and spousal support are only as useful as the facts on the ground at that time. When those facts materially change, so too should the arrangements that were made. Support should be subject to annual review as employment situations and incomes change. Parenting matters should be monitored closely to ensure adequate ongoing responsiveness to the “best interests of the children”.
No one wants to have a Family Lawyer on their payroll or on speed dial. The process that is divorce is more a function of the unpredictability of life events than it is unscrupulous lawyers milking the system.
Once again, ADR has presented itself as a process by which spouses can deal with ongoing fluid situations in a relatively cost-effective fashion.
Whatever your Divorce and Family Law need, Kirk Montoute Dawson LLP is ready and able to assist. We are pleased to offer the general public access to information to alleviate anxiety and help with decision making.
If you or someone that you know has any questions or concerns about the legal challenges of Divorce and Family Law, Kirk Montoute Dawson LLP is available for a consultation.
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