If you're considering getting a divorce or have recently embarked on the divorce process, you likely have a lot of questions swirling around in your head right now. Unfortunately, for as many questions as you ask, you will probably receive even more answers from friends and family who have gone through the process themselves or know someone who did. If all of the information you get bombarded with ends up confusing you more, don’t worry. A reputable divorce attorney can not only help you discern good advice from bad but also tell you which advice is best for your situation because no two divorces are ever alike. After spending nearly two decades practicing divorce and family law, here are the most common questions I have received and some issues I advise my clients to consider.
1. When should we tell the children? It’s challenging to have a rational discussion when you’re not feeling balanced yourself, particularly when dealing with matters of the heart. That’s why I tell my clients to first wrap their heads around an impending divorce before asking the same of their children. Your kids are going to need you to guide them through the changes they are about to experience, especially if one parent will be moving out of the house or you're planning to sell the marital home. Either way, your children’s lives are going to be altered, and you need to be a pillar of strength for them to lean on when they need you most. How and to what degree you share the details of your divorce will depend heavily on your children’s ages but regardless of how old they are, they will take emotional cues from you. Get your affairs in order as much as you can before explaining what is happening to your kids, as well as to any outsiders who may tell them. Be discreet, honest, and compassionate.
2. How much should I anticipate paying in legal and expert fees? A lot of that depends on you and how cooperative your spouse will be. The cost of a divorce turns heavily on how prepared you are as a client. That means the more information you can provide your attorney with, the easier it will be for your divorce attorney to address the issues he or she must address in a timely fashion. If your lawyer continually has to chase you down for information or you’re utilizing him or her to walk you through situations that can be handled more efficiently by talking to friends or a mental health professional, you will slow your case down, costing you more in the long run. Also, if you have a budget for your divorce in mind based on your financial situation or goals, discuss it with your lawyer on day one. He or she may be able to suggest alternative ways for you to divorce your spouse more economically, including using various alternative dispute resolutions. Voice your concerns up front to avoid surprises later.
3. How does support work during litigation? When you retain counsel at the outset of the divorce process, your divorce attorney will come up with an interim plan so that you can meet your monthly expenses until you negotiate and agree to your divorce agreement. Your divorce attorney will take into consideration your joint marital lifestyle before the divorce and how much maintenance you, your spouse, and children will require during the coming months until you complete discovery. Sometimes it is necessary to have a judge or a mediator intervene but not always. Taxes, employment, and assets will all come into play when making these important financial decisions. So take your time. Choose your steps wisely and strive for resolution if at all possible.
4. Should I stay in my house? Deciding whether to remain in the marital home is an emotional and financial decision. Your divorce attorney will likely ask you what your priorities are and if staying in your home is one of them, your divorce lawyer needs to know that. People often decide to remain in their house based on emotions only and fail to consider the economic consequences of living in the marital home post-divorce thoroughly. Your financial picture may change as a result of your divorce, and you want to make sure you can still afford to live there while having the money to do other things. Also, staying in the house where you lived with your spouse may make it more painful to move on than if you make a fresh start somewhere else. Think about what it is that you want and why and if it makes sense to sell/downsize, pocketing one half of your equity.
5. How can I stay emotionally sound during the divorce process? Although your divorce lawyer is here to support you and protect your interests, the process can become emotionally charged and frustrating. I advise all of my clients to enlist reinforcements, such as family, friends, and a therapist if needed to help keep their emotions in check. I also remind my clients that although at times it may not seem so, the divorce process eventually comes to an end. Tell yourself you’ve gotten through trying situations before and that you will get through this one in much the same way. Divorce may be an ending, but it can also be a powerful new beginning. Keep your eye on the prize and breathe.
Vikki Ziegler is the star of Bravo TV’s Untying the Knot, the founder and CEO of DivorceDating, Author of The Pre-Marital Planner (to stay happily married) and The Pre-Marital Planner: Your Complete Legal Guide to a Perfect Marriage, and a co-founder of and partner at Ziegler & Zemsky, LLC. To learn more about Vikki, visit www.vikkiziegler.com or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.