In divorce, the sophisticated client not only works with his or her lawyer but also avoids common mistakes that people make in the storm of a divorce – mistakes that can make a divorce even more difficult and costly.
The most common mistake is losing control. Shooting from the hip, getting angry, going for blood – all mean a big legal bill because the other party will fight back and a divorce war is a formula for bankruptcy.
Staying in control means stay in good shape. Divorce is one of life’s most stressful events, but stress or depression should not upset healthful routines. Regular exercise, good eating habits and resting are essential to get through major challenges.
Along these lines, the lawyer is not a clergyman, therapist or philosopher. Many people going through a divorce turn to the lawyer for comfort. Therapy or counseling can go a long way, but using your divorce attorney as a therapist does not count and is not cost effective.
Staying in control means keeping the lawyer in control. The sophisticated client always keeps his or her lawyer on a leash. Attack lawyers may want to go for the throat, but the sophisticated client knows this is self-destructive. The client makes the important decisions. Friends and relatives should be kept at arm’s length. This is not the same as confiding in and getting moral support from one or more close friends, which can help immensely. At the same time, however, staying in control means listening and following the divorce attorney’s advice. If the attorney’s advice isn’t good enough to follow, a new attorney is in order, and staying with a divorce attorney who is not satisfactory is a mistake.
Staying in control means not expecting or demanding unrealistic things from the divorce. Just like in the marriage, no one gets everything he or she may want, so it is best to have reasonable demands. There are no winners in a divorce. Fairness, not victory, should be the goal.
A client should never hinder the case, but do whatever he or she can to help the lawyer. One common way clients hinder their case is pestering a lawyer with daily phone calls. Trivial questions alienate the one person who is trying to help you (and lawyers bill the client for a fraction of an hour for each call). It makes more sense to save several questions or items for discussion before calling, or talking to an attorney’s paralegal may be just as helpful and cost less. Needless to say, showing up and barging in a lawyer’s office without an appointment is a bad idea.
No one should attempt to divide the marital estate without a thorough inventory and accurate valuations of assets and liabilities This means a description, year purchased, purchase amount and present value, and it includes vehicles, personal property of significant value including sentimental value (jewelry, guns, recreational toys, appliances), real estate, particularly the marital home, investment accounts (stocks, mutual funds), cash accounts (savings, checking, money market, certificates of deposit and bonds), ownership interests of businesses, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, taxes owed or refunds due as well as a list of marital debts including description, year acquired, interest rate and present amount owed as of a certain date: mortgages and liens on real and personal property, credit cards, loans including both student and personal.
When preparing to divide the marital estate, the after-tax value of the house and other real estate as well as vehicles, household belongings, stocks, bonds, IRAs, retirement plans, and other financial assets should be on the table. The advice from an accountant may be helpful because divorce lawyers and family law judges may not be concerned enough with tax consequences.