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Tips to Improve Your Experience

Group of people bumping fists in a circleAs you go through the legal process, you will have many decisions to make. You may be tempted by a short-term benefit, but there are often other consequences to your actions. These are some things you can do to help get better results in the long run. Remember, the circumstances of each case are different and the appropriate strategy for your case should be worked out in discussion with your own lawyer.

  • Keep in mind the big picture goals that are really important to you. Don't fight over everything. Focus on what's really important, and don't get bogged down with smaller issues.

  • Plan ahead. If you think you may be headed for divorce, start planning and gather what you will need. Research and learn about divorce. Start looking for an appropriate attorney. Save up some money or locate assets or cash you can depend upon and use.

  • Focus on the use of interest-based negotiating techniques, rather than arbitrary and often inappropriate positional bargaining. For example, instead of generally asking for an arbitrary percentage of the assets, decide what your real needs and objectives are and figure out the best mix of assets to help you meet those needs and objectives. Some people will be better off with long-term growth assets, such as real estate or certain investments, while others need cash now to provide the means to get training, medical care, a new house, debt relief or some other immediate need, to help them become better able to take care of themselves in the future. In addition, some assets are difficult to divide. While it is easier to just pick a number and argue for that, such an approach will not necessarily benefit you financially in the long run.

  • Use experts for specific needs. This is a critical time in your life and you should not rely on amateurs or guesswork in making financial or other decisions with serious consequences. Each case is different and the same experts are not needed in every case, but you should be aware of the value of help from financial planners, CPAs, counselors, and child specialists, among others. Generally speaking, it is also to your benefit to have your own attorney to advise you and you need to decide what type of attorney you need: a trial litigator, a Collaborative lawyer, a skilled negotiator, etc.

  • Don't let your family and friends unduly influence you. While they may be well-meaning, family and friends may suggest tactics that are not appropriate in your situation and they may become unduly critical of what is going on in your case, based on their experiences or on what they have heard from others, even though your situation may be different in significant ways from their point of reference.

  • Gather and maintain control of important original records. Many financial records are important in divorces and you are better off having control of them. Otherwise, you risk making decisions without all the information you need or being forced to rely on bits and pieces of information supplied by your spouse.

  • Keep your information and records organized and available so they can be easily located and used. It costs time and money for an attorney to have to dig out and organize information.

  • Preparing charts, summaries and spreadsheets can also help convey information that you need. It is important to keep the underlying documents handy to support the work you do.

  • Work with the legal assistant for your attorney. You can probably get quicker access and legal assistants charge much lower rates than attorneys do.

  • Plan your calls to attorneys, legal assistants or experts and prepare what you need to discuss. It helps to group several questions together in one call rather than to call multiple times with one or two questions at a time.

  • Be patient. If your case is going through the court system, it will be slow and there is almost nothing that can be done to speed it up. The courts are overwhelmed by the number of cases and different judges move at different speeds. Sometimes, the other parties and attorneys drag their feet. A litigated case that has to go to trial will almost always take at least a year to get to trial.

  • Using Collaborative Law gives you more control over the timing, but the process can only move as fast as the slowest person is willing to move. There are differences in emotional readiness to finish up a divorce (or even take some of the earlier steps) and the parties are rarely operating at the same emotional speed. In either style approach, calling and complaining about how slow the process is mainly just runs up your bill and does not increase the speed of the case. Flexibility and willingness to cooperate are the best ways to speed up the process.

  • Be open and honest with your attorney. Attorneys don't like surprises. Attorneys can handle bad news as well as good news, and often what you think is bad news is not nearly the problem you think it is, especially if the attorney learns about it early. Candor with your attorney will help prevent problems in the future and will give your attorney the opportunity to plan in advance how to deal with an unfavorable fact. Lack of preparation may result in you looking unnecessarily bad to a judge and that may cost you.

  • Respect others' boundaries. Be on time. Get work assignments done on time. Pay your bills on time. Don't just drop in on your attorney without an appointment. Be efficient and be effective.

  • Be respectful to your spouse, family, attorney and everyone else during the divorce. Exhibit good behavior even (and especially) if your spouse and others do not. Fighting may feel necessary or satisfying, but it will run up the cost. Act like a mature adult.

  • Be willing to cooperate. No matter how good or nice a person you are, or how bad your spouse is, no one is going to get 100% of the assets and it is rare to receive a widely disproportionate division of property. It is expensive to fight. Compromise makes sense in many ways. If you prefer to go to war or punish your spouse, prepare to spend a lot of money.

  • Don't try to cheat your spouse. You'll probably get caught and punished, even if you get away with it initially. Besides, if your spouse believes you cheated him or her, it will be much more difficult to deal with him or her in the future.