choosing an attorneyI 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.
choosing an attorneyChoosing 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 previous posts have covered: Making the decision to get divorced and searching out the various processes on how to get divorced, including collaborative divorce.  From my way of thinking, which is not necessarily how anyone else might think, the next step for me was to talk with my spouse. So filled with my newfound knowledge about collaborative divorce this is what I proceeded to do. While I was hopeful we could agree to use the collaborative process, I also realized that getting both of us to agree on this would be one of my biggest challenges. I think we both felt certain about divorce, now it was how to accomplish it. I spoke with her one evening (we were still living in the same house) and discussed what I had learned about collaborative divorce. I had a couple of brochures (not attorney specific material) provided by the attorney I had decided to work with, along with a list of about 10-15 collaborative attorneys and their contact information. I talked about the benefits for both of us in using this process (see my last post). I encouraged her to look over the material and to speak with another collaborative attorney or several so she could make an informed choice. I was still hopeful after this discussion that she would agree to a collaborative divorce. In the back of my mind, I had some doubts simply because during our 30 some years of marriage, there were many times when we would not agree on what I thought were issues of significant importance. A few days later my former spouse told me she had contacted another attorney, not one of the several listed as collaborative attorneys. She told me that this attorney recommended against a collaborative divorce, stating it was not necessarily less expensive or less stressful. It wasn’t until later when I found out she had talked to an attorney who was well known in family law circles as someone who vigorously opposed collaborative divorce due to the fact that if issues could not be settled, both of us would have to find different attorneys to represent us going forward. I wrote about this in a my previous post about collaborative divorce. What I liked about this feature was it put everyone, including attorneys, on the same side of the fence sharing the goal of reaching agreements without court. I ask you to think about this for a minute. The attorney I talked to did both traditional divorce litigation and collaborative divorce work. She could have recommended either.  My attorney recommended collaborative divorce after listening to my desired goals. The attorney my spouse talked with only did traditional litigation divorce, and so what do you think she was going to recommend. Did that attorney talk with my spouse about my spouse’s goals? Whose interests were being placed first? While the answer to this question seems clear to me, Go to my website and under “about us” click on the Collaborative Divorce Knowledge Kit. Especially look at page 2, outlining the differences between collaborative and litigation processes. I’ll let you decide for yourself which process places your interests first. It wasn’t until later, well into the divorce process, I found out this attorney had a reputation for contentious litigation, driving up costs for legal fees, and stretching out the time it took to get divorced. My spouse ended up hiring this attorney. It was my worst nightmare. Of all the attorney’s she could have hired she chose this one. Oddly, this should not have come as a surprise to me, and looking back now, maybe it didn’t. But it sure was a huge disappointment, to say the least. Hindsight being 20/20, if I were to go back and do something different, it would be to have asked my spouse to attend a meeting with a collaboratively trained coach. In most cases this would be a mental health professional, (not a therapist) and me together to further explore the benefits of a collaborative divorce vs. a traditional divorce and our own individual and joint goals for this process. While I have doubts my spouse would have attended such a meeting, since she had previously declined to participate in marital counseling, I wish I would have known at the time to ask for such a meeting. My advice to any divorcing couple is to take advantage of utilizing a collaborative coach even when exploring divorce options. I wish I had. But always remember it takes two to effectively collaborate. In my next post of “Getting Unmarried” before I get into my actual divorce process experience, I’ll talk a little more about choosing an attorney.
The first post of “Getting Unmarried,” I talk about making the decision to get divorced. The first installment of “How to get divorced” focused on my thought process considering traditional litigation, mediation and briefly mentioning the do-it-yourself process.  In this post, I share with you what I learned about collaborative divorce, a term I had never heard of before. One day I received a letter from a family law attorney who was a member of the local chamber of commerce, where I also was a member.  She was marketing her services as a family law attorney and happened to be in the same area of the Minneapolis and St. Paul metro area.  I looked at her website where I first heard of the term collaborative divorce.  I was intrigued. This attorney, along with a life coach, was offering free workshops on divorce.  I signed up to attend the next available workshop.  In the meantime, I wanted to learn as much as I could about this new term (new to me), collaborative divorce. Collaborative divorce, I learned, was—in its most simple definition—divorce without court.  As I continued to learn more about collaborative divorce, it was a great deal more than just divorce without court. Each spouse has their own attorney. Other professionals, such as a financial specialist and a child specialist, act as neutrals and are employed as needed to assist the couple in reaching agreements about finances and co-parenting their children. Coaching services are available as needed to help the couple with communication challenges during the process, in order to promote better decision making. A coach also helps with developing a relationship plan the couple uses both during the process and post-divorce. What I really liked about collaborative divorce was the concept of both spouses and each of their attorneys signing what is called a Participation Agreement, committing that court or the threat of court is not an option to be considered in a collaborative divorce.  While everyone has the right to court processes even when we would sign an agreement stating otherwise, it was to be understood that if the spouses later elected to discontinue the collaborative divorce and go to court, the two attorneys would have to discontinue representing them, requiring both spouses to find new attorneys to represent them in court.  The attorneys who represented the spouses in the collaborative process would attempt to utilize the most economical and orderly means available to transfer each spouse’s information to the new attorneys. I learned the basic tenants of a collaborative divorce beyond the pledge not to go to court include:
  • Both spouses and attorneys would participate in good faith to reach agreements that considered the interests, concerns and needs of both spouses and their children, if any.
  • Each spouse would be required to fully disclose to each other all information that would be relevant to their circumstances.  This would include all financial information being disclosed to a financial neutral.
  • Everyone in a collaborative divorce is to mutually respect each other and communicate in a manner that conveys respect.  Communicating with respect greatly assists in the effort to reach agreements everyone can live with.
  • Emphasizes the needs of children.  This is critical, in my opinion, for divorcing couples with children.
  • The couple would retain control over the outcomes decided versus having someone else, knowing little about the family, making decisions for them.
Collaborative divorce sounded like exactly what I was looking for.  It most closely matched the goals I had set out to accomplish. For anyone who wants to learn more about collaborative divorce, I invite you to visit and on the right menu bar select Collaborative Divorce Knowledge Kit.  This document provides more information about collaborative divorce, including a side-by-side comparison of a collaborative divorce and the more traditional court process.  Additional resources under about us on the right menu bar include a 20 minute video of real clients describing their experience with collaborative divorce and a link to Little Children Big Challenges-Divorce (help from Sesame Street for parents with children). In the next post of Getting Unmarried, I talk about discussing what I had learned with my spouse and choosing an attorney (my step three).
In Part I of this series titled “Getting Unmarried” (my story), I wrote about making the decision to get divorced as being the most important and most difficult step for me.  I will tell you that after finally deciding to end my marriage, it was as if the weight of the world had been lifted from me.  This didn’t necessarily make the rest of the process any easier, but it did change the focus of my efforts to getting from point A to point B. Now that I had made the decision to end my 30-year marriage, my next step was to figure out how to do this.  At this point I had not discussed any of this with my spouse, although we both realized our marriage was under tremendous stress once again.  I didn’t have a clue where to begin.  I had no prior experience myself, nor had my parents been divorced.  I knew that listening to friends and family was not necessarily the best, as they naturally would find it difficult to be impartial.  I knew I didn’t want a costly or high conflict divorce. What I did want was an open, respectful, type of process that considered both of our needs and the contributions we both made to our family during our 30-year marriage.  I wanted to as much as possible be able to make decisions with my spouse about the outcomes rather than someone else making those decisions for us.  I assumed that if I ran straight to an attorney, I might run the risk of the process getting out of control.  At the time I didn’t personally know any family law attorneys.  What I chose to do was to find out about the different alternative processes to divorce, choose the one I felt most suitable for my circumstances, discuss with my spouse with the hope we could agree to a process, and then find the attorneys who could help us achieve these goals. While I knew, or I should say thought I knew, about the more traditional type of divorce process, this largely attorney driven (my opinion as a result of my divorce experience) method seemed too adversarial, too costly both financially and emotionally, and would not help me accomplish the goals I wanted to achieve.  Although this process did not seem suitable for me, in some cases depending upon circumstances, it may be the best and sometimes the only alternative available.  I would encourage anyone considering the traditional litigation type divorce process to thoroughly learn about all the process alternatives before embarking down this path. I had heard about mediation.  From my research I learned that a mediator is an independent, neutral third party who attempts to help divorcing couples resolve their differences and come to mutual agreements.  The mediator may or may not be an attorney. Regardless, the mediator is not able to advocate for either spouse, provide legal advice, nor draft any legal documents for filing with the court.  Each spouse may have his or her own attorney during the mediation process.  The attorneys, if any, may or may not participate in mediation sessions depending upon the couple’s desires. At the conclusion of mediation, the mediator typically drafts a memorandum of understanding outlining any agreements reached.  An attorney would be hired by one of the spouses to draft the necessary paperwork, using the mediator’s memorandum of understanding as a foundation for agreements, and submit the paperwork to the court. The drafting attorney is only able to represent one spouse.  The other spouse may find another attorney to review the draft decree on behalf of their interests. I always recommend that each spouse has their own attorney to make sure that each has an opportunity to ask about the law and that each fully understands the implications of their agreement.  There is nothing that requires the couple to complete the mediation process, which can be withdrawn from by either spouse at any time. While mediation seemed a better alternative to me than the traditional litigation type divorce, it still was not quite what I was looking for.  I felt as though there had to be some other way.  I started scouring the web for more information on how to get divorced or “unmarried.” Oh sure, the do it yourself options are often mentioned, but our circumstances were too complicated—long-term 30-year marriage, property, etc.—for a do-it-yourself kind of approach. A do-it-yourself divorce might possibly be used in a short-term marriage when there are no children and little property.  Furthermore, I am a believer that you get what you pay for and a do-it-yourself divorce never crossed my mind given our circumstances. In my next post I will continue with how to get divorced by sharing with you what I learned about something I had never heard of before, a collaborative divorce.  You owe it to yourself to learn about this alternative process so please stay tuned for the next session of “Getting Unmarried.” What is a collaborative divorce? Read the continued series here.
In this upcoming series of posts I will outline what I think were the most important decisions I had to make when in 2008 I began the journey to end my thirty-year marriage.  It is my hope that readers of these posts will be able to reflect on their own circumstances and either find guidance, reassurance, or be prompted to reflect further on their own situation and realize they are not alone in this journey. In this first post, I will write about what to me was not only the most important decision but also the most difficult.  Decision point number one was to come to the realization that my thirty year marriage needed to come to an end and that I was the one to make it happen.  It took me an incredibly long time to reach this point.  I now realize that maybe our divorce or “getting unmarried,” as I will refer to it from here on, should have happened twenty years earlier.  As I reflect back over the years, I believe the process of my becoming unmarried did begin twenty years earlier and not in 2008 when I took the initial steps to end the marriage.  I suspect many, although not all, marriages begin to end much earlier than the time when one spouse takes that first step forward. You see, I had actually started thinking of getting unmarried twenty years earlier.  At one point I went so far as to talk with a family law attorney, engaged that attorney, and later decided not to proceed.  Four years prior to my legally beginning the end of my marriage, I began going to counseling on my own.  I pleaded with my spouse to come with me but to no avail.  I continued asking, but after her repeated unwillingness I stopped asking and continued on my own.  I had spent two years talking off and on with the pastor of my church about our marriage difficulties and that I was seriously thinking of ending the marriage.  I felt like there was nothing more I could do. I am sharing all this with you because for me, and I am sure for many others, I had to know that to move forward with “getting unmarried” I needed to answer the question, did I do all that I could, with an unequivocal yes.  I’m sure if you asked my former spouse today, she would say I could have done more.  In my mind I really felt as though I did all that I could do and that is what mattered to me.  Holding this feeling was and is comforting to me as I continue to move forward in this journey called life.  How would you answer, have I done all that I could? If you are considering  “getting unmarried” or maybe you have already made that decision I invite you to travel along with me on this journey, as this transition in life continues.  Watch for the next post of “Getting Unmarried” Part 2; How to get unmarried.  In Part II I will talk about decision point number two, deciding for yourself how you want to get unmarried.  How are you going to do it? Read Getting Unmarried Part II: How To Get Divorced here.