You’ve made the difficult decision to end your marriage to your spouse. You’ve done your research and found and retained a domestic relations attorney that understands and shares your goals and objectives about the process to terminate your marriage. Now what?
In many ways, this article picks up where the Top 10 Tips to Prepare for the Divorce or Dissolution Process left off—specifically, at the start of a divorce representation.
Ultimately, a domestic relations attorney’s job is to represent his or her client in connection with a divorce or dissolution matter. However, once a client has retained a lawyer to assist with the termination of the marriage, the remainder of the process, unfortunately, does not simply become “set it and forget it” for the client.
So, what is the role of and the expectations for the client in a domestic relations representation? Put another way, what steps can the client take in order to help his or her domestic relations attorney deliver the best possible representation?
As usual, the answer to this question, in many ways, depends on the individual circumstances of each and every case. Nevertheless, this article offers five tips that are, generally, applicable in most divorce or dissolution representations. If anything, these tips, hopefully, provide a rough template to help the representation get off to the right start.
Tip #1: Ask Questions
It’s a fact of life: you don’t know what you don’t know. As the divorce or dissolution process is, for many, their first ever interaction with the court system, this adage often proves to be highly relevant in connection with a domestic relations representation.
In fact, it is not uncommon for a client to feel overwhelmed and almost paralyzed by the unknowns inherent in a divorce or dissolution. Suddenly, every decision seems like it has the potential for an unintended consequence, and making the right move feels impossible. The termination of a marriage can be a scary thing in and of itself. Then, add a potentially conflict-laden legal proceeding on top of an already emotional and challenging situation, and it’s completely understandable why many clients feel intimidated and nervous at the outset of the divorce or dissolution process.
So, what’s the best antidote to an overwhelming number of unknowns? Asking questions!
It is always best practice to talk through various scenarios and questions of concern with your attorney. If you don’t know how best to proceed on a particular issue in your matter, ask your domestic relations counsel for advice. While nothing is, of course, ever a sure thing, asking the question of your attorney will best enable you to create a collective and informed plan of action to proceed forward with confidence. Further, not only will voicing relevant questions and raising concerns provide you with the clarity that you seek, but the same will also best enable your attorney to understand the case and the issues that need to be addressed.
Tip #2: Be Responsive
There is absolutely no question that life seems to become even more unpredictable and overwhelmingly busy when navigating an emotionally charged situation. It’s also an understandable self-preservation instinct to avoid or put off dealing with difficult matters. Unfortunately, in connection with a divorce or dissolution proceeding, a client’s failure to provide requested documents, information or feedback can, at best, add additional stress or costs for that client onto an already stressful situation and, at worst, create a series of extremely problematic circumstances for the client and the case. In order to avoid the potential for these issues, from a practitioner’s perspective, it’s always most helpful when clients stay responsive to requests and communications which pertain to the domestic relations matter at hand. To be sure, this sentiment, without a doubt, goes both ways. Ultimately, this is yet another reason why it is important, at the outset, to ensure that you are retaining a domestic relations attorney that understands and shares your communications expectations.
Tip #3: Be Upfront
Domestic relations matters, undoubtedly, involve some of the most personal legal issues that exist. To this end, it is not unusual for a client going through a divorce or dissolution action to feel like his or her attorney has a front-row seat to that client’s day-to-day life, including the good, the bad and the ugly. Sharing these personal details with your lawyer can feel understandably unnatural. However, in order for a domestic relations lawyer to provide his or her client with the best possible representation, it is essential that the client be upfront and truthful about relevant matters and circumstances, even when the same are not inherently favorable for the client. While it may feel most comfortable, in the moment, to hold information back from your domestic relations attorney, doing so, in the long run, will only tend to negatively impact your attorney’s ability to appropriately represent you and manage your matter.
Tip #4: Maintain Reasonable Expectations
It is no secret that having an experienced domestic relations attorney on your side in a divorce or dissolution action is helpful and, in some situations, can make-or-break a case. Yet, it’s important to understand that the mere retention of counsel is not inherently a silver bullet to achieve your desired outcome. Ultimately, the reason for this is simple: the court—and, thus, not a party’s lawyer—is the only one who wields the proverbial hammer. Further, the wheels of justice do not always move as quickly as or in the precise way that is desired. Of course, there may be strategic considerations or actions that can appropriate in various circumstances to help move the needle one way or another, which is where a domestic relations attorney offers incredible value. However, maintaining reasonable expectations as to the pace and outcome of a divorce or dissolution matter is usually the most effective action that a client can take to make the process as painless as possible.
Tip #5: Be an Active Team Member
The age-old saying, “there’s no ‘I’ in team,” applies not only to sports, but also to a divorce or dissolution representation. While the domestic relations attorney may be the “face” of the case to the court, the reality is that he or she is doing so on behalf of the client. In this way, it’s often most effective when the attorney and the client work together to drive the direction of the case. Ultimately, this is because each team member brings something equally useful—but different—to the table. Specifically, the client brings an intimate knowledge of the facts of the lawsuit, as well as an understanding of the range of acceptable outcomes, while the attorney brings a knowledge of the governing laws, experience with the court, and a resulting understanding of effective strategy and likely outcomes. In this way, the best groundwork to achieve a desired outcome is laid when the representation is treated as an ongoing, active conversation between counsel and client.
Wherever you are in the process of terminating your marriage, at KJK Family Law, we’re here to help. If you need guidance on divorce, dissolution or other domestic relations matters, please contact Janet Stewart Scalley at (JS@kjk.com; 216.736.7261).