Navigating to an Amicable Separation: Part 1

Often clients ask me how to avoid a long drawn out costly legal battle during a divorce. I routinely explain that each and every divorce case is unique and not all cases follow the same path. Some separated couples have such contentious issues that court action is unavoidable. However, for many others a civil out of court resolution to family law issues is an attainable goal. I believe that most of my successful out of court resolutions with clients have followed a similar path. The path has four parts: (1) Identify legal issues and client’s goals, (2) Understand how the law applies to your case, (3) Gather necessary information and documents from the other side, (4) Proceed to Resolution. In Part one of this blog, I will discuss the first part of this process.

1. A. Identify legal issues: This phase is often handled early in the case and is established at the initial consultation or shortly thereafter. In all family law cases, you need to take the time to explain to the attorney the full set of problems you encountered in your marriage. Fact finding is very important. You would be surprised at how many of the factual pieces of the story of your marriage and pending separation that affect the legal advice that I give to you. Don’t hold back, disclose everything to your lawyer so they can be most effective in helping you through your legal separation process. After I have a good understanding of the factual background of your marriage and separation, then I can start to identify and analyze the legal issues in your case. Child Custody, Child Support issues, Alimony and Property Distribution issues may all arise from this initial consultation and an understanding of the facts of your marriage and separation. I will identify all of the legal issues and then I will proceed to the client’s goals for the case.

1 B. Identify Client's Goals:  At the initial consultation, I always encourage my clients to explain what their goals are for their separation case. We can address these legal goals and I can explain the law and how we can try to meet these goals usually in the first consultation. In addition, I also want the client to think in the future and ask them where do they envision themselves in three (3) years. I strongly believe in the visualization process and often it is important to hold the picture of where you want to be ideally in a couple of years. I fully recognize that often my divorce clients are at a low point and it is hard to identify healthy personal goals at an early stage of separation. Thus, I will always encourage my clients to seek out support from other family members, friends, churches and counselors to help strengthen and heal themselves as they go through the separation process. Often a client’s personal goals can begin to improve as they gain strength from the healing process. Likewise, I often explain in child custody cases, that one of the best gifts you can give your children is to try to heal and strengthen yourself. In some cases my clients request and need me to have a slower approach to the legal separation process to give them time to fully identify their goals. Others have fully identified their goals and are ready to proceed to the end stage of resolution much quicker. Even still, some are ready to proceed in a quicker manner but establish new goals as they begin to heal. I believe that there is no universal right way to grieve a loss. The same is true here. Everyone is unique and the speed to which they get through this phase is their own. Once my client feels comfortable expressing their goals, then they are much closer to having a good resolution to their legal separation and divorce case.