Choosing an attorney is a critical decision and not to be taken lightly. Equally if not more important is who your spouse chooses to have as their attorney. You can follow all the steps in this series of posts on choosing an attorney but if your spouse doesn’t do the same thing or something similar the likelihood of a successful cooperative or possibly collaborative divorce process is significantly reduced.
This means an increased chance of litigation or at least a contentious process, which will be at your expense and your family’s expense. If you are like most of us, you will want to keep as much of your hard earned dollars in your family. In an ideal world, which we know exists only in our minds, the two attorneys not only know each other but have worked on cases together representing opposing clients and have achieved settlements that both spouses can live with.
I will close this post with some basic questions you may want to consider asking attorneys when doing your research and interviewing. This is not meant to be an all-inclusive list. Add your own questions you deem important.
- Do you only work on divorce cases or do you practice other areas of law? If not exclusively divorce work, what percentage of your work is handling divorces?
- How long have you been working with divorce cases?
- How do you approach handling a divorce case? Tell me how you would proceed with a divorce case like mine.
- How many divorce cases do you typically handle in a year?
- What divorce processes do you use?
- During the past 3 years approximately what percentage of your cases have been:
Ask them what specific training they have had in collaborative divorce
and if they are a member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.
*The percentages above will give you a good idea of the divorce process used more frequently by the attorney. NOTE: If they don’t know about cooperative or collaborative divorce processes they likely practice primarily in a litigation manner.
- Would other people be working on my case with you? If so what are their qualifications and how is their time billed?
- What is your hourly rate and how do you bill for it? What exactly is billed besides your time? I.E. travel, copies, long distance calls, emails, etc.
- Do you require a retainer? If so, what is the amount? If I decide not to work with you will it be completely refunded?
- What do you expect from me as your client?
- What should I expect from you as my attorney?
Following these suggestions will not guarantee you a successful relationship with a divorce attorney, but I believe it will help increase the likelihood of that happening. Remember, do your homework, research, interview, reflect and, as I mentioned, sometimes you just have to go with your gut.
If you need/want help finding a divorce attorney in the Minneapolis/St. Paul seven county metro areas, feel free to contact me. I know and have worked with many of them.
I wish you all the best as you continue this journey and major life transition.
I recommend you research and interview several divorce attorneys. This can help you develop and clarify some of your goals and interests and help confirm the choice of process you and your spouse want to use. It’s important to keep in mind that an attorney is only one member of what hopefully will be a team of professionals to help you on your “getting unmarried” journey. Child specialists, financial specialists specifically experienced in divorce planning, and possibly a coach should also be considered as a part of your team.
My reason for suggesting these other professionals is simple. They each are experts in their respective fields. Attorneys are not really trained to be financial specialists nor are they trained to be therapists or child specialists. They are trained to be attorneys and are a much needed part of your divorce team.
Divorce however, is more than a legal event. Getting unmarried is a financial, emotional, and relational event as well as a legal event. Think about it, if you were to have heart surgery would you choose a general practice physician? I doubt it. Getting unmarried is like having open-heart surgery on your life’s finances, your children and multiple relationships. You will, in my opinion, be better served by having a team of experts in their respective fields assisting you and your spouse on this journey.
Now back to choosing an attorney. You want someone who supports you and the type of process you and your spouse want to use. You will both want someone who listens to you, someone who doesn’t necessarily tell you what you want to hear but rather someone who has the wherewithal and will honestly be a realistic advocate.
If an attorney promises you specific outcomes in your divorce, I would encourage you to run the other way; don’t walk. A good divorce attorney knows there is no certainty of outcomes in the divorce arena. You want a problem solver not a problem maker. There are plenty of good problem solver types of attorneys around. Unfortunately, as in any profession, there are some problem makers as well.
How do you find the problem solvers? In today’s wired world you can Google the attorneys name, check out their website, LinkedIn profile and Facebook pages. You can do all this before ever picking up the phone. If you do thorough research and interview several attorneys you should be able to distinguish between the problem solvers and problem makers. You may want to consider making an initial phone call to an attorney before scheduling an interview session. This can tell you how quickly they return calls and how connected you might feel towards them from your initial phone conversation. It will also save you and the attorney time if you decide not to set up a face-to-face interview after the phone call.
When interviewing attorneys, ask how they will communicate with you. Some clients think their attorney and other professionals should be available for them around the clock. Remember you are not their only client and they have a personal life and schedule as you do. Ask them if they will be communicating directly with you or will their assistant or paralegal. Ask them what you should expect in terms of them replying to your phone calls and/or emails. It’s better for both you and the attorney to have clear expectations up front to avoid disappointment later on.
Traditionally, I believe most individuals begin the process of getting unmarried through contact with an attorney. Part of the reason for this is our culture including media has conditioned us to first approach divorce through the legal channel. While I certainly would not discourage anyone from beginning the divorce process through the legal avenue, there are other approaches.
It may be through a marital counselor, therapist, financial professional, divorce coach or some other channel. While the majority of divorce cases still begin with attorneys on board, it is not unusual for a couple to begin the process with a child specialist, financial specialist, or divorce coach, brining the attorneys on board at a later time. This approach is dependent upon the comfort level of each spouse, their priorities, needs, and concerns. The point is the divorce process can begin in a number of avenues and does not necessarily have to always begin with the attorney.
In my next and final post in this series
I will offer some questions for you to consider when interviewing an attorney.
Rupert Murdoch’s divorce
from his third wife is all but final. It seems they reached a settlement agreement that presumably divides their assets and details a parenting schedule for their two children. Who did what to whom? Who is the more capable parent? What is the settlement? What did the reported prenuptial and multiple postnuptial agreements say? We will never know and it is for the best.
While the details would have provided entertaining reading about how the other half live, the family will benefit from not having their opinions/positions about each other immortalized in an affidavit or court transcript. While I can only guess what went on behind closed doors, I believe the following quote from their publicist hints that they may have gone into negotiations with a shared goal of dissolving their marriage in a respectful manner, with the needs of their two daughters in the forefront.
“We move forward with mutual respect and a shared interest in the health and happiness of our two daughters,” the Murdoch publicist stated.
By not taking a position and sharing an interest, the Murdochs did not have to divulge the details that would have helped a judge to make a decision about their lives, and would have kept people entertained for hours. They took matters into their own hands and figured it out with a common goal, and thereby they were able to keep private matters private.
Thus, they gave their daughters the best chance of being happy, as they could go through life without knowing, hopefully, what their parents thought of each other. They are left knowing that their welfare guided their parents discussions and kept the matter out of court, and therefore, confidential.
Choosing an attorney to represent you in a divorce proceeding at first may sound fairly straightforward. Too often I see this critical step not being given the attention it deserves. Sometimes it is simply a friend, relative or co-worker who refers someone who they felt or heard was good. While everyone means well, I suggest they probably don’t know what your goals and interests are for your divorce. They don’t know if a particular attorney is a good fit for you.
Sometimes a client will find the first attorney who tells them what they want to hear. This often is a big red flag. Ultimately, only you will be able to decide who the best fit may be for your circumstances. I hope this three part series of posts on the importance of choosing an attorney, issues to consider when choosing an attorney, and finally some questions to ask a divorce attorney, will provide you with some valuable insights.
I believe choosing an attorney is the third most important decision you will make on your journey to get unmarried. Remember in The first post of “Getting Unmarried”
the most important decision is deciding to get unmarried in the first place. In Part II, I wrote the second most important decision is to research and decide “How to get unmarried;”
essentially deciding on the divorce process that you feel–and hopefully your spouse feels–will accomplish the goals you both want to achieve.
The third most important decision I’ll cover in this first of a three part series will be on the importance of choosing an attorney for yourself and equally as important if not more important is who your spouse decides to hire as an attorney. But let’s put first things first. In my way of thinking, you can’t begin to choose an attorney until you first, decide to get unmarried and, secondly, decide what type of divorce process you and your spouse want to use.
Provided you have made these first two decisions, let’s make an assumption that both you and your spouse will want an attorney. If you have children from your marriage and or have significant assets and/or liabilities to ultimately allocate between you and your spouse in a property settlement, I strongly encourage everyone with these circumstances to be represented by an attorney. Let me disclose here, I am not an attorney. Too many do it yourself divorce packages often result in repeated appearances in court and end up being significantly more costly to the clients down the road. Leaving it to guesswork or not giving your property settlement the attention it deserves can be costly. Remember your marriage may not last forever but your property settlement will.
If you have children let me share this quote by Neil Postman, an American writer and professor, with you. “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” When children are involved they will be watching closely for the messages you and your spouse send to them about your divorce. They will live and carry those messages throughout their lifetime.
For these reasons, give careful and thoughtful consideration to the process you choose for your divorce and the attorneys both you and your spouse end up hiring. In the second part of this series
, I outline important issues to consider when choosing an attorney.
My Pilates instructor, Maria Franklin, is a truly gifted holistic healer, committed to creating physical, emotional and spiritual strength and balance. During each class, Maria imparts nuggets of wisdom as we flex and twist. Maria reminds us that “practice makes permanent” and that we are capable of stretching ourselves much further than we thought possible as long as we believe we can. Stretching further and further is temporarily painful, but the strength and balance gained will last forever as long as we keep mindful, keep practicing and keep breathing.
Maria recently shared this nugget as we learned a challenging new exercise: “If you let go and relax, you can do it. If you clench, it won’t work.” She saw us instinctively tightening up in self-protection, as we were uncertain we were strong enough to safely do the exercise. She wanted us to trust ourselves more and release our muscles in spite of our fear of falling. She was right. Relaxing and releasing worked. We did not feel out of control, but became calmer and more confident of our abilities.
As a neutral child specialist
in Collaborative Team Practice, I know that members of families with whom I work are constantly being thrust into stressful new situations that will require them to painfully stretch in ways they might not have thought possible.
It is the nature of divorce to be filled with uncertainty, and involuntary clenching of emotional muscles is a natural response to fear and anxiety. This can make a painful situation excruciating, and may hinder efforts at mastery of what lies ahead. In Collaborative Team Practice,
you will find a team of professionals who are committed to helping families in crisis create stability, strength and balance while letting go of fear of the unknown future. We help people get unmarried
in an environment of safety and respect.
I have written before on the necessity of letting go to move on
. Experience keeps sending me reminders of the importance of practicing and ultimately mastering what fear tells us is not possible. Get the support you need and deserve from a Collaborative team, focus on healthy resolutions for you and your children, keep breathing and believe in yourself. You can do it.
The following blog was written by Bruce Peck, a Collaborative Attorney.
Bruce can be reached at (952) 435-6799 and www.brucepecklaw.com.
Some injuries heal as effortlessly as skinned knees on children. Other injuries take longer, and leave scars. Some injuries are so severe they take years, decades or lifetimes to heal, if at all. These are the kind of injuries that happen all too frequently in the realm of divorce.
One of the most difficult things to do is to learn how to stop loving someone because they have stopped loving you. Sometimes the best dreams are followed by the worst nightmares. When truth and trust are both violated, the betrayal that can follow is among the most difficult things to heal.
While healing is not accomplished by everyone, the possibility of healing is available to everyone. Divorce is a seriously complicated circumstance, because in addition to the loss of the marriage the parties also have to work together, or against each other, to reach a final settlement. When hearts are broken, this can be extraordinarily painful. Falling in love can be awfully simple, but getting divorced is simply awful.
If only there was a process that could insulate parties from the damaging experience of a contested divorce. If only children could be protected from the resulting carnage that flows over their parents. If only there was a better chance to heal while going through the divorce process.
Well, there is. It is called collaborative divorce, and is promoted by the Collaborative Law Institute. Created here in Minnesota, now taught world-wide, this humane technology, honed over more than two decades through conscientious involvement by attorneys, mental health professionals and financial specialists, has become a highly refined process that supports parties to heal through this challenging time.
It starts with the commitment of the Collaborative Law Institute to be and become a healing modality by providing rigorous training to all professionals. The resulting process is a container that insulates parties from the conflict while supporting them to reach principled decisions that become their final decree of dissolution.
But it goes well beyond that. Collaborative practice now includes the opportunity for parties take a break before launching into the legal process to assess each party’s readiness to engage in this process. Mental health professionals have become trained in a new paradigm, generally referred to as discernment counseling, which allows parties to talk about where each one is at as they start this process, and consider the possibilities of working on healing their relationship. This process is commonly referred to as reconciliation, which means, literally, healing, not necessarily returning to the marriage.
However, when parties are able to heal their relationship they are better able to consider ways in which they might be able to recreate a better marriage. It makes no sense to simply return to a marriage fraught with problems.
The primary requirement for such a process to take place requires the commitment of both parties to genuinely exam and explore options before moving forward with the divorce. When parties are unwilling or unable to process through these issues at the end of their marriage, they are left with the prospect of healing by conducting their personal and private autopsy of their marriage, with or without the help of a qualified counselor. This can be quite difficult to accomplish. It requires ethical integrity by each partner to commit to such an undertaking.
The collaborative process cannot heal the parties, but it can provide the process by which that possibility might take place. That is no small accomplishment under these circumstances.
Sometimes parties that heal their relationship might still decide to move forward with their divorce. When this happens, they are each in a powerful place to facilitate gathering the necessary information and reaching agreements to resolve all the issues. The stress upon each party is significantly reduced and the benefit to children is immeasurable. Usually the overall costs and expenses are reduced due to the ability of the parties to do the work necessary to reach conclusion.
It has been said that the Chinese character for crisis is two characters that mean dangerous opportunity. In our western society we are not taught instinctively to look for opportunity, but we know all too well what the dangers are. When we live only in fear we are not very adept at healing.
To learn more about this process, and to find professionals trained to provide these services visit us at www.collaborativelaw.org.