At this time of year, once the holidays are over, many people decide to begin the process of divorce. Sometimes, their spouse either doesn't expect it or is in denial or doesn't want to get divorced. This post is for those people who are reacting to a situation out of their control -- when their spouse files for divorce. If you find yourself in that position, here's what you can do.
1. If you see it coming, start preparing. Gather records, get control over some financial resources: cash, accounts, credit cards. You need to have some financial resources under your control that you can depend on. Cash and credit cards are very helpful, but cleaning out the accounts and leaving nothing for your spouse probably will hurt you in the long run. You will need to think about the respective living arrangements for you and your spouse. If you have kids, how will you take care of them, pay any necessary bills and share time with them with your spouse? Don't just sit around, start planning and anticipating. Get some help from friends and professionals.
2. If you didn't see it coming, start preparing, but move faster. If you have to play catch-up, do so. You still need to do a lot of planning, even if you get surprised. Start as soon as you can.
3. Research your options. Collaborative Law is always worth considering. (See some of my other posts or my Texas Collaborative Law Blog.) You might have to go into litigation, but mediation is usually an effective way to resolve cases. Talk to an attorney about the best way to proceed.
4. Decide what's important for you. Figure out what you would like to end up with. That includes financial assets, kid issues and any other concerns you have. Spend time at the start of the process to determine what you want and you will have a better chance of being satisfied. Just defaulting to "half of everything" and "standard" possession or child support may not be in your best interest. Think about it and discuss the issues with your attorney and counselor (if you have one).
5. Select an attorney. Look for experience, training, cost and chemistry. Find out how much experience your prospective attorney has with the issues of your case. Is the attorney a Board Certified Specialist in Family Law? Does the attorney have any special training for Collaborative Law or other special needs for your case? Make sure the attorney is affordable. It doesn't benefit you or the attorney to hire the most expensive attorney and hope that you will somehow be able to afford him or her. There are many fine attorneys at different price ranges. Finally, and maybe most importantly, make sure you and the attorney have good chemistry. If you don't feel comfortable and can't communicate well with the attorney, go to someone else, no matter how great the first attorney is. There are plenty of attorneys around and you should be able to work with one you like and feel comfortable with.
I realize that not everyone is willing or able to make the decision to get divorced. If you are someone who's had the decision made for you by your spouse, hopefully these suggestions will help you come up with a plan for response. These are not original, secret or complicated ideas. They are meant to help someone with a sudden need to deal with one of life's most difficult situations.