Because of the numerous questions I receive from dads just entering into the divorce process, I am starting this periodic series of articles called “Practical Advice.” My goal in sharing this feedback is to give fathers a general idea regarding the process of divorce based upon my experience and the knowledge and information that I have garnered through my work with other fathers.
One of the top questions I get is, “When or should I hire a lawyer?”
It is not my place to give specific advice about your divorce as I believe that every man and their particular circumstance is different and that only you know the correct course for you and your family. However, as divorce is not something that we experience many times in our lives (hopefully!) the experience can at times feel disorienting and confusing. I have discussed this often and it is one of the reasons I suggest in Step 1 of my “Dads Guide To Divorce” series to clarify your vision and direction.
Right off the bat, I will say that at some point in your divorce you WILL need an attorney even if it is at the culmination of the process simply to review all of your documents. There are no two ways around it and failing to retain one will put you and your children at risk. Why?
The legal process of divorce is not structured to be “user friendly.” It is designed by attorneys for attorneys and is overseen by judges who are former attorneys. Keep this in mind at all junctions of your divorce process. Also, keep in mind that the attorneys will get paid no matter the outcome of your case. Based upon this I’ll let you determine if you feel the system is structured in your best interest.
Most attorneys will recommend following a process that is the least amount of effort for them in order to get through the process in the shortest amount of time. And while this can be good and economical if you are in a situation where you and your future ex can amicably work through the details it may not be as beneficial if it is necessary to fight for a particular need especially those related to your children. For instance, demanding a parental responsibility evaluation or alcohol evaluation to ensure the safety of your children when you feel the environment at your ex’s is not beneficial. Trust your instincts and if necessary demand what it is you feel is needed no matter what your attorney may suggest. Only you know deep down what the best course of action is for you and your family.
Please keep in mind what is at stake. You may feel that you don’t want to rock the boat or you simply do not have the money but the fact of the matter is that the agreement that you come to now will have long-term ramifications. Most jurisdictions have laws in place that will not allow you to make changes within a certain period of time or unless there is a significant change in circumstances. This is why I suggest that even if you are working through the process with your soon to be ex involve an attorney early on in the process. What you do and what you say during the divorce process can and WILL be brought up and used by your future ex if for some reason you end up in court. This is a time to work from the mindset that protecting you and your children is ensuring a better future for everyone. Protecting yourself is protecting your children!
Knowing your rights is imperative to this end. The law is structured differently in different states and/or parts of the world. Your local attorney will be familiar with the law but make sure to ask lots and lots and lots of questions. Ask as many questions as it takes for you to feel comfortable with understanding the process and I highly suggest that you map out the process and a game plan with your attorney beforehand. I have had lots of experience with attorneys who while they know a great deal about the law are terrible at strategizing. If your lawyer is annoyed by this and you are paying $xxx.xx amount per hour then find a new one. Yes, you can do this. Remember that you are employing them. Also, keep in mind that you ARE paying $xxx.xx per hour so be smart about how you use their time and save questions and conversations for when you can maximize it. Most attorneys will charge a minimum amount of time to simply read your email or respond to your voice message. Trust me this will add up! If possible join a meetup or support group whose men can provide you with some insights.
Finally, if your area allows for it or the courts allow it mediation can be an excellent money-saving option. This is a neutral third party that will assist you and the future Mrs. Ex work through and potentially come to an agreement. However, make sure to have an attorney review the final agreement before submitting it to the court!