Having to go through the divorce process is one of the most stressful and emotionally turbulent times in a person’s life. Many of our former clients have compared it to getting diagnosed with a serious illness.
There is uncertainty in what the future will hold, and when you find out what is happening to you, it can be hard to get past the initial fears with regards to legal costs, impact on your residence, your income, and most importantly, your relationship with your children.
It is normal to feel lost at the outset of a divorce, and we believe it is important that before you start the process, you understand what you should expect when interviewing with an attorney.
In New Jersey, divorce cases are heard in the Chancery Division, which is a court of equity, and not law. This means that the touchstone for every decision is “fairness” not “law”. A Judge, and the attorneys, are going to argue about the most fair resolution for your family. When you are interviewing attorneys, make sure this is what is being discussed.
More than any other area of the law, family law cases are decided based on the facts of your case. Nearly all of the statutes (Custody, Alimony, Equitable Distribution, etc.) have several factors, and the factors are given different weight based on the specific facts of your case. When you discuss your case with your attorney, make sure you are talking about the facts and details of your case, and how the statutory factors apply to you. Generalities and facts from other cases only provide guidance for your family.
As you go through the divorce process, you are going to have to make decisions that affect your life and your family. Make sure that you are being presented with options that you understand. Your attorney should not be making decisions for you, but should instead be presenting you with strategic options, and explaining the pros and cons of each option, and more importantly, the expected emotional and financial costs of each option.
The most important thing to remember is that nobody wins in a divorce case. The process is not about winning; it is about finding the best solution for your family. Make sure that when you are discussing your case with an attorney, you are being provided with not just an explanation of the law, but why the application of the law is appropriate for your family.
Divorce rates are high, and everyone knows someone else that has gone through a divorce. Unfortunately, because these cases are so fact specific, it is rarely helpful to compare your case to that of a friend or family member. Trying to find someone with the exact same divorce case as you is like trying to find someone driving the same exact car as you (make, model, color, interior, options, number of miles when purchased, etc.). Make sure you are pursuing a strategy that was explained to you by your attorney, and is best for your family, and not what was best for someone else.
One of the primary benefits you will receive from having an attorney is the benefit of advice from someone who is not emotionally entangled by what the family is going through. Your attorney should be helping you focus on how life will be once all of the turbulent emotions from the break up have passed. Remember, this is not just a person you are getting divorced from, but the person you will have to continue to co-parent your children with.
Your attorney should also be offering you the benefit of their experience. While this is your first (maybe second or third) divorce, it is not your attorney’s. This means that they have a much better frame of reference to understand your case. Make sure you hear from a prospective attorney why some facts in your case are more or less important.
The quickest and least expensive road through a divorce is to have four reasonable people sitting around a table discussing your family. You do not want a stranger in a black robe deciding what is best for your family anymore than you want to have those decisions dictated by anger, resentment, or any of the other emotional reactions stemming from the end of your marriage. Make sure your attorney is helping you to keep your emotions out of the negotiation process, and is likewise ensuring your message is clear, and free of emotionally charged language likely to upset your spouse.
We are all brought up being taught “words will never hurt us”, but one of the harshest realities about divorce is that you will continue to have to co-parent with your spouse until your children graduate high school and college. You will be accountable to your spouse for every horrible, hateful thing said during the heat of passion. At the end of the divorce process, your children’s needs for you and your spouse to be able to make decisions and communicate means that you have to focus on that future, no matter how wronged, betrayed, and hurt you feel.