6 Things Divorce Lawyers Will Never Tell You
Most people enter the divorce process thinking their case has to be handled a certain way and that the lawyer will dictate the process. Lawyers will tell you the way they want to proceed or how it normally goes, but the truth is that your case does not have to be handled in one particular way.
1. You can control the process of your divorce case
Most people enter the divorce process thinking their case has to be handled a certain way and that the lawyer will dictate the process. Lawyers will tell you the way they want to proceed or how it normally goes, but the truth is that your case does not have to be handled in one particular way. You actually have quite a bit of control over how the process should work.
The more you understand your options, the more control you have. There are several different types of divorces. It is in your best interest to hire an attorney who is experienced in all of them:
- Uncontested divorce—If you and your spouse agree about ending the marriage and agree on how to settle issues such as division of property, custody and child support, you can file for an uncontested divorce. When you can’t reach an agreement on important matters, your divorce falls into the “contested” category. In contrast, an uncontested divorce is a time, cost, and emotionally efficient option. In an uncontested divorce, there are no disagreements that a judge needs to settle, which means you won’t have to go through the courtroom process.
- Mediated divorce—With this option, you and your spouse hire the same lawyer, who represents neither of you but rather guides you through the resolution of all issues in your divorce. You will not have to go to court or be involved in litigation. This is your best option, but few attorneys are trained in mediation. Read why in tip number 5, “Mediation is your best divorce option.”
- Collaborative divorce—In this divorce approach, your lawyer will take into account both your and your spouse’s financial and emotional requirements and objectives. This method places emphasis on aiding family members in recovering from the profound emotional challenges brought about by divorce. The aim is to tackle all aspects, not restricted to property division and child custody matters, with the ultimate objective of resolving the divorce without court involvement. Occasionally, additional experts like financial specialists, child experts, or divorce coaches may be involved in the process.
- Litigated divorce—This represents the costliest, most time-consuming, and emotionally challenging approach to divorce. The procedure encompasses “discovery” (the exchange of financial documents), property appraisal, psychological assessments, and presenting issues to a judge for resolution in cases where you and your spouse cannot reach an agreement. Litigated divorces often culminate in going to court, necessitating the retention of a lawyer with expertise in courtroom litigation. Following a trial, the process may extend to include post-trial briefs before the final decree is issued. If you can steer clear of a litigated divorce, it can result in substantial savings in terms of time, money, and emotional distress.
- Sub-mediation—In many divorce situations, spouses often clash over custody arrangements for their children. When this occurs, one attorney may file a motion to request a custody decision. Another attorney might recommend the couple to hire a custody evaluator who can provide recommendations to the court. However, there’s a third, more efficient, and cost-effective option that lawyers typically don’t propose because it doesn’t generate income for them. This process, sometimes called “sub-mediation,” involves you and/or your spouse personally engaging a child psychologist. This expert will meet with both of you, without involving lawyers, and then assess your child. The psychologist will help mediate a potential custody agreement that is specifically tailored to meet your child’s emotional and developmental needs.
This is a good idea for several reasons. First, instead of guessing what your child needs, or asking lawyers for their opinions, you are getting input from a professional who specializes in evaluating children’s well-being. Second, it’s far less expensive than having two lawyers argue over your case.
This option is not for everybody, but it can be extremely effective. Start by creating a clear picture of what you want, based on what is important to you and your children. If your attorney doesn’t offer to have this kind of discussion at the beginning of your case, suggest it.
Your case should begin with you and your spouse deciding what type of divorce you want. You can control the process however you decide, limited only by your creativity.
You can also control your case by making sure your attorney is not requesting more information than is necessary. Some attorneys ask for all kinds of information that isn’t relevant or important to your case, which runs up the legal fees for you and your spouse. When your attorney requests something, ask what its purpose is and how it will help your case move forward.
Knowing that you are in control of many details of your divorce case can make it less overwhelming.
2. The Playing Field is Smaller than you Might Think
Many people believe that getting a divorce involves making tons of decisions and that all the stuff you own when you’re married is up for grabs in the divorce process. But that’s not quite right. Instead of thinking of a huge 100-yard football field, think of it more like a smaller 10-yard field for most divorces. The process is usually more focused and easier to understand than you might think.
First off, in Nebraska, you don’t have to prove someone did something wrong or was abusive to get a divorce in court. It’s what they call a “no-fault” state. If you want a no-fault divorce, you just have to say that you and your spouse aren’t getting along.
Secondly, Nebraska follows a rule called “equitable distribution.” This means the court tries to split up your stuff as fairly as they can. Usually, both you and your spouse get an equal share. Also, any debts you or your spouse took on while you were married are usually considered both of your responsibilities.
The goal of the legal process is to divide your and your spouse’s assets and debts as evenly as possible. In many situations, this can be done quite easily using a basic spreadsheet to tally up what you own and what you owe. This part becomes fairly straightforward, especially when both spouses have regular paychecks from their jobs. This spreadsheet will help you get an idea of how your property settlement might shape up. Your lawyer should be able to give you a rough estimate of what the settlement might look like early on in your case.
Your property settlement is all about facts and numbers. For instance, when we’re dividing the value of your house, we might have two different estimates of its worth. One might say it’s $150,000, while the other might suggest $175,000. This gives us a range for your home’s settlement.
But no matter what the property settlement turns out to be, if you have kids, the court will establish child support. There are set rules for this based on a formula, and in most cases, you can’t really negotiate or argue about it. The court considers both spouses’ incomes and factors in expenses like daycare to figure out how much one parent will pay the other for child support.
Now, when it comes to spousal support, your attorney will bring this up if you and your spouse have a lot of assets, were married for a long time, or if one of you needs financial assistance.
If you’re going to receive alimony from your spouse, your attorney should be able to provide a fairly accurate estimate based on both your incomes and the duration of your marriage.
Here’s the thing: It’s not as tough as some folks might make it out to be. Some lawyers might want you to think it’s a complicated, drawn-out process that takes forever. While that can be the case at times, it’s not always that way.
And here’s another key point: Most lawyers don’t always do a great job of explaining what you can and can’t negotiate. The more time you spend arguing over stuff like property and other details, the more you’ll end up paying in legal fees. Your attorney’s job is to let you know what you can dispute or negotiate and what you cannot. On those issues that are negotiable, your attorney should help you decide what is worth fighting for and what isn’t.
3. Being Aggressive Accomplishes Nothing
TV shows, movies, and books often create a misleading idea that it’s best to hire a tough and aggressive lawyer. While it’s important to have an attorney who is confident and assertive when advocating for your needs, being overly aggressive – refusing to compromise on even the smallest issues and resorting to bullying tactics – isn’t beneficial for anyone involved.
In many divorce cases, the lawyers on opposite sides exchange hostile letters to show that a client is dissatisfied with a proposed decision or to intimidate the spouse and their lawyer into giving in on certain details. However, this is all just a show, and it doesn’t achieve anything of value. What many people don’t realize is that only the spouses and their lawyers ever read those letters. The judges don’t see them, so they have no impact on the judge’s decisions. People can make all the claims, accusations, or threats they want, but it won’t get them anywhere, and they’re simply wasting money on legal fees.
Furthermore, judges and other attorneys don’t appreciate overly aggressive lawyers, so their offensive behavior doesn’t help when it comes to negotiating or discussing a case. Hiring a highly professional attorney who is well-respected and can work well with others will benefit you more than hiring a lawyer who constantly argues with the opposing counsel and nitpicks over minor details or obstructs legal proceedings just for the sake of winning.
Aggressive lawyers increase your legal fees, minimize the chances for cooperation between spouses, and make the process more hurtful to children involved in the divorce.
4. Mediation Is Your Best Divorce Option
If you and your spouse can find common ground on most major aspects of your divorce and maintain civil communication, you have the opportunity to save time, money, and stress by opting for a mediated divorce. In this process, both of you share the same attorney, effectively cutting your combined legal fees in half. Moreover, unlike litigated divorces that often take several months to conclude, our law firm has successfully wrapped up many mediated divorces within just 30 days.
The attorney you hire won’t take sides or represent either of you. Instead, they will serve as a guide, helping both of you work through the process of resolving all divorce-related issues without resorting to court proceedings or litigation. Your attorney will handle all the necessary paperwork to finalize the divorce once you and your spouse reach an agreement.
It’s important to note that not all divorce and family law firms offer divorce mediation. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that it significantly reduces legal fees, impacting the firm’s profits. The other is that it demands a high level of training and professional expertise. When conducted correctly by a trained attorney, though, this approach can be the most suitable option for your divorce.
Here Are Some Facts You Should Know About Mediated Divorce:
- It’s Not For Everyone—Mediation is not be suitable for couples with intense conflicts or poor communication. You and your spouse should be able to talk and work together to some extent, especially for the initial consultation, which you must attend together. Mediation is also unsuitable in cases involving domestic violence or abusive situations. However, for most other situations, considering mediation as your initial choice for divorce is a wise idea.
- It Can Save You Money—Engaging in a successful mediation will unquestionably lead to cost savings when compared to a contested or litigated divorce, primarily because you and your spouse will share a single attorney, effectively reducing your expenses by half. However, if you undergo an extended mediation process and don’t manage to come to an agreement, resulting in a court appearance, you essentially negate the financial advantage gained from mediation. Fortunately, this occurrence is relatively rare.
- You Should Avoid Hiring A Non-Lawyer—It’s important not to choose someone who isn’t a lawyer to help with your divorce mediation. Our law firm has witnessed many problems, including errors and bad agreements, in cases mediated by non-lawyers. We end up having to fix these issues because we’re called in to help. So, be sure to be aware of this potential problem.
- You Should Hire A Lawyer Who Has Mediation Experience—Successful divorce mediation requires skills that law schools do not teach. Divorce attorneys who provide mediation often undergo many hours of mediation training after law school. Good mediation attorneys are skilled in mediating issues for the spouses involved. They know how to avoid the traps that can sometimes sink the chances of a successful resolution. A great mediator also understands all aspects of the law that apply to each case and provides creative solutions to help you and your spouse reach an agreement.
If you decide to pursue a mediated divorce, it is important to schedule a joint attorney consultation with your spouse. This avoids creating a possible conflict of interest that can result when one spouse contacts a lawyer on his or her own, then wants that lawyer to become a mediator for both spouses.
5. Attorneys Don’t Learn Divorce Law In Law School
Law schools typically don’t provide classes on divorce law. So, when individuals finish law school, they often know very little, if anything, about handling divorce cases. The only way a lawyer can get experience in divorce cases is by joining a law firm that focuses on divorce and family law or by taking ongoing legal education courses.
When you see a doctor or surgeon for a medical issue, you can usually trust that they have the knowledge, training, and skills to treat your specific condition. However, the same can’t be assumed for lawyers regarding divorce law just because they have law degrees. It doesn’t matter how prestigious the law school is or how well it ranks in national rankings—divorce law isn’t typically part of the required coursework.
Law schools also don’t teach the necessary skills for being a divorce lawyer, like empathetic listening, negotiation based on needs, or assisting families in crisis. They don’t teach people how to efficiently manage legal practices either.
If you choose an attorney who isn’t specialized in divorce and family law, your options will likely be limited to what falls within the lawyer’s expertise. On the other hand, if you opt for an attorney with experience in this field, you’re more likely to have a broader range of choices for your divorce, including uncontested, mediated, and collaborative divorce. You’re also more likely to achieve a favorable outcome in your case.
When you are searching for a divorce attorney, either through people you know or online, consider only those attorneys who specialize in divorce and family law. Then, in your first call to potential attorneys, ask if they handle mediated and collaborative divorces. Ask how much experience they have in various types of divorce cases, especially cases like yours.
6. You Can Take Action To Reduce Your Legal Fees
Going through a divorce can leave you feeling like you are not in control of your life. But by being informed, cooperative and organized, you can actually control the legal expenses related to your divorce case.
- Know Your Options—Knowing which type of divorce (uncontested, mediated, collaborative or litigated) is ideal for your situation will reduce the amount of time your attorney spends on your case. A mediated divorce is always going to be cheaper than a litigated divorce, and an uncontested divorce will be cheaper than a mediated divorce. The option you and your spouse choose is going to have a drastic impact on your legal fees.
- Be Informed And Cooperative—Knowing what you can and should negotiate and what you should just let go will save time and money. The more you and your spouse cooperate with each other, the less time and money you will spend getting the divorce finalized. Be realistic about your settlement, and be willing to compromise on details that aren’t that important.
- Organize Your Documents—Providing documents to your attorney in an organized way will save time and money, too. If your attorney asks for tax returns, bank statements, pay stubs, credit card bills or other documentation of assets and debts, organize the information. Put everything in a file, label it and make it easy to use. The more time your attorney and his or her paralegal spend going through documents or trying to find things, the more money it will cost you. Everyone who touches your file is going to bill you for their time.
Be Careful With Online Forms
Many people believe they can save money by using online forms and handling their divorce without a lawyer. If you and your spouse don’t have many assets or children and agree on everything in your divorce, using online forms might seem like a viable option. However, it’s rare for people to achieve successful results through this approach.
The issue isn’t necessarily with the forms themselves, but rather with the information that’s missing from these online templates. These forms aren’t customized for your unique situation. We frequently encounter significant problems related to taxes and the fair distribution of debts and assets.
Imagine you buy an online divorce template and start filling it out. You might decide, “I’ll keep the house, and you can have half of my 401(k) plan. I’ll pay off the two cars, and you handle the credit card debt.” At first glance, it appears that everything has been divided evenly.
However, what if your spouse can’t or doesn’t refinance the house solely in their name as required? What if they agree to pay off the credit card debt but don’t follow through? In such cases, your credit could be negatively affected. And what if they file for bankruptcy to avoid paying off that debt? Suddenly, things don’t appear as fair and straightforward.
Resolving a divorce case goes beyond just reaching an agreement; there are various underlying legal matters that need to be addressed.
Don’t Fall For The Low-Retainer Gimmick
The two major mistakes to steer clear of in your divorce case are
- Choosing a lawyer who doesn’t handle uncontested, mediated, or collaborative divorces.
- Hiring a lawyer merely because they offer a low initial retainer fee.
Given that most people seeking a divorce want to keep costs down, many lawyers entice clients to their practice by offering affordable upfront retainer fees for divorce cases. It might seem like a great way to save money since the initial retainer fee is reasonable. However, that’s not how it usually turns out.
For instance, if a lawyer requests a $1,500 retainer fee to kick off your divorce case, it appears like a fantastic deal when compared to another lawyer asking for $5,000. So, the attorney initiates your case, filing the divorce petition, a motion for interim division, and sending a letter to your spouse’s attorney. If their hourly rate is $300, your retainer will cover only about 16.6 hours of their time. At this point, they inform you that they need more money. If you can’t provide it, they withdraw from your case, leaving you in the midst of your divorce without legal representation, essentially representing yourself in a litigated divorce.
We witness this scenario unfolding all too frequently. This approach is so prevalent among lawyers that it has become a business model for some law firms to attract new clients.
Be aware of this common practice when you interview lawyers. Ask questions to help determine what the total cost of your divorce will be and how much flexibility the attorney can give you in your payment options.
Schedule a Consultation With One of Our Nebraska Divorce Attorneys
If you are considering divorce and need legal advice, call us at 402.509.7033. Alternatively, you can also contact us by submitting the confidential case evaluation form on the website. We will promptly set up an initial consultation at a time that is convenient for you. Our experienced divorce lawyers are available in our Omaha office.