We just had the "divorce" talk, now what do I do?

The immediate upheaval you will face after you tell your spouse that you want a divorce will be difficult to deal with.  After all, the world will not stop simply because you are going through a divorce.

Before you file, you and your spouse should try to come to an agreement regarding temporary arrangements during the divorce.  Things to think about include: living arrangements; access to accounts; bills; insurance coverage; household items; maintenance payments (commonly known as alimony); and, if you have children, parenting time and child support.  It is best to put together a list ahead of time so that you are fully prepared.  What is on your list will depend on your unique circumstances.  If you and your spouse disagree regarding any issues, you can ask the court to enter temporary orders. 

It is important to note that once proceedings begin, you and your spouse will be under an automatic order not to cancel, modify, terminate, or allow to lapse for nonpayment of premiums, any of the following that list you, your spouse, or your children as being covered or as a beneficiary: health insurance; homeowner's or renter's insurance; automobile insurance; or life insurance policies, unless fourteen days advance notice is provided to the other party and there is written consent from the other party or an order of the court.

What if one of us wants to move with the children in the future?

If you have children and think you may want to move in the near future, make sure you have a solid plan in place before you file for divorce.  The court will look at the locations you and your spouse intend to live when making the initial determination regarding parental responsibilities.  Make sure your plan is unambiguous so the court does not question whether and where you will move.  Keep in mind that it is generally more difficult to obtain your ex-spouses or court approval to move after a divorce is final and a parenting plan has already been put in place.

If you think your spouse wants to move, and you do not want your children to move, you should consider filing for divorce sooner rather than later and you should start gathering as much evidence as possible to show that staying put would be the best thing for your children.

Whatever you do, do not move out-of-state with your children before you file, unless you have your spouse's written consent.  There is a very real possibility that the court could order you to return the children to Oklahoma and you could jeopardize your future parenting time.

I am so angry, what should I do?

No matter what happened during your marriage, keeping your head straight now will result in a much better future for you and your family.  Going through a divorce is rarely an enjoyable experience, but you would be surprised how many people just like you have survived the experience. Consider going to therapy or meeting with your minister, hitting the gym more often, or taking up a new hobby.

It may be difficult, but actions based on emotion could significantly hinder you during a divorce, especially if you have children.  For example, one of the many factors the court looks at in determining parenting time for your children is your ability to encourage a relationship between your children and your spouse.  If you trash-talk your spouse or make it impossible for your spouse to see the children, not only are you doing a disservice to your children, you also are hurting your case since you will likely be facing evidence of your actions before the judge.  You absolutely will benefit in the long run from being the bigger person.

Should I hire an attorney? Can I afford one?

At the risk of sounding cliché, the question should be can you afford not to hire an attorney.  If you have children, require child support, spousal maintenance, or own a home or other joint assets, trying to successfully complete a do-it-yourself divorce without benefit of some legal counsel can be risky.  Many couples who divorce without a lawyer eventually end up having to hire an attorney to renegotiate improperly structured separation agreements, parenting plans, or maintenance arrangements.  The financial decisions you make today will impact you and your children for years to come.

Even if you are sure you will choose or have to ultimately try and go it alone, you should definitely consider talking to an attorney before making such an important decision.  An experienced family law attorney will explain to you what you should expect and the considerations you should think about for your unique situation.  Hiring a good family law attorney will, without a doubt, make the process of going through a divorce much less stressful and will often end up actually saving you money in the long run .

Can I get divorced in Oklahoma? How long does it take?

Oklahoma has three basic requirements for divorce 1) that either you or your spouse have lived in Oklahoma for six (6) months before filing and at least thirty (30) days in the county where filing, 2) that the marriage is irretrievably broken, and 3) that if there are minor children involved you wait a 90 day mandatory "cooling off" period, meaning the soonest you can receive a divorce decree is 90 days after filing. 

Most divorces take longer than 90 days, depending on the circumstances of the marriage. Although certain no-contest divorces can be completed the same day. The more prepared you are ahead of time, the less time the process should take.

What can I do before filing to protect myself financially?

Find out as much information as you can about the family finances, savings accounts and insurance accounts before you file for divorce.  Make sure that you will have access to credit, savings, and an income source. 

Refrain from making any large purchases, such as a new car or a new home.  If you received any gifts or inheritances during or before the marriage, or entered into the marriage with any property, put together documentation showing where each item came from, that way the property does not end up being treated as marital property.  If you own a business, consider having a business valuation report prepared by a financial analyst.  Email, social media, and separate bank accounts passwords should all be changed, taking care to use passwords that your spouse cannot easily guess.

Consider putting together a list of all marital property (furniture, appliances, jewelry, etc.) and marking the items you want to keep and the items you have to keep.  Then, if you or your spouse moves from the marital home, you will have a list ready to review.  This can make negotiations about who gets what, much easier.  Try to be rationale about what is important to you – you want to avoid arguments over things like who gets to keep season three of Seinfeld.  It also is a good idea to make a visual record of everything in the home.  If you decide to make a tape, make sure to inventory the entire home – opening drawers and cupboards so the inside items are visible – and make sure the video is date stamped.  Store your list and tape outside of the home.

Whatever you do, do not misuse any marital property.  You are obligated to disclose all debts and assets during a divorce and if you misuse any marital property (e.g. go on a cruise with your new partner, or buy them jewelry) your spouse could use that as evidence against you in court in dividing up the assets and liabilities.

What Will Happen at My First Meeting with Your Office?

This will depend on what’s happening in the divorce case. In some cases, divorce papers have already been filed, while in other cases, the spouses have already talked about divorce and pledged to use a collaborative divorce process, rather than all out “litigation” (meaning fighting it out in court). Finally, some clients are facing an emergency - their spouse may be draining bank accounts in anticipation of the divorce, or they may be the victim of domestic violence and need immediate protection from a court. Your circumstances will dictate what is discussed and what actions are taken as a result of the first meeting.

Typically though, a client comes in with general questions about an impending or recently-filed divorce, and our office will review the various divorce processes that are available (collaborative law, mediation and litigation) and describe the steps for each.

In addition, our attorney's will likely ask a lot of questions. It’s important to try to get to know the you as a person and learn as much as possible about your spouse and children (if any). Our  attorneys will try to gain a good understanding of your psychological and financial situation in order to recommend any referrals, if necessary,  to psychotherapists, divorce coaches, estate attorneys and/or financial planners for specialized advice.

Our office works closely with other professionals to make sure all of our clients’ divorce-related questions are answered appropriately. Remember, our attorneys are not and cannot act as a tax advisor or a psychologist, for example, so it’s essential that we afford our client's the opportunity to hire the right professionals to be meet each of our client's  individual needs.

REVIEW RELEVANT DIVORCE-RELATED ISSUES

It's impossible to predict exactly what will "happen" in a divorce, but it’s best to address all the major issues that may come up, such as

  • custody of any minor children
  • child support
  • alimony – whether it should be paid and if so, how much and for how long, and
  • division of property and debts.

At the end of the first meeting, our potential clients, generally leave with homework which includes learning as much as possible about the couple’s finances, in terms of assets, liabilities and ongoing expenses. In many marriages, only one spouse is in charge of the finances. However, before a divorce can be resolved, both spouses need to have a complete understanding of the couple's incomes, assets and debts. If you can provide a lot of detail about your finances at the first meeting, the meeting will often be much more productive.

Is the Meeting Confidential?

Yes. Sometimes, spouses aren’t completely sure that they want a divorce, but want to know what they can expect if they go forward. All attorney-client communications are protected, and our client's and potential client’s right to privacy is absolute, so our divorce clients shouldn’t have to worry about their spouses finding out.

Conclusion

It’s important that any potential client leave their first meeting with us feeling they’ve been heard and understood, and that we are tuned in to their specific needs. They should also view us as someone who is experienced, competent and accessible - someone who can guide them through the stressful times which may be ahead.

Attorneys Should Make Their Clients Feel Comfortable

Many, though not all, divorcing clients experience a variety of emotions when their marriage ends, such as fear, anger, hurt, anxiety or even depression. They may have to endure constant conflict at home; they may be losing sleep or have deep concerns about how their children will handle the news of the impending divorce.

As a result of the emotions surrounding a breakup, divorce clients are not generally at their best. Attorneys need to keep this in mind as they approach the first client meeting.

Lawyers should try to make their divorce clients as comfortable as possible, which may require the following:

  • compassion – attorneys are not therapists, but they should be sensitive to their client’s emotional states
  • clear and careful explanations of things - don't just rattle off complex legal theories, statutes and caselaw
  • avoid excessive legal jargon - it may be a challenge for some clients to understand
  • handouts - divorce clients may have a hard time concentrating or remembering everything a lawyer says; it’s helpful to provide handouts of what was discussed during the meeting, which clients can read later.

What should I look for to find a GOOD divorce attorney?

It's difficult to know where to turn when you're faced with divorce. Few of us have any prior experience with the legal ins and outs associated with this difficult process. I've heard too many stories of time and money wasted as clients go through lawyer after lawyer trying to find the right one. And yet, finding the right divorce lawyer is key to what could be a faster, less-expensive divorce, compared to a long, drawn-out emotional and financial nightmare. But if you don't know what to look for in a divorce lawyer, how do you know you're investing all of your money, hopes and dreams in the right one?

Follow these seven steps to find the divorce attorney that's the right fit for you:

1. Be realistic.

First, you need to realize that divorce is a legal process with the sole purpose of dissolving your assets and resolving custody issues. Your divorce attorney's job is to represent you to the best of his or her ability in this process. While you might want them to listen to your anger, frustration, pain and sadness, that is not their job. They are not trained to be your therapist or coach, and they don't want to be. Since your attorney has higher rates and the clock is always running, it's a gross misuse of your money if this is how you're using them. And divorce attorneys have seen it all. What seems immensely important to you might barely register for them within the scope of the legal process. So be realistic about the role of your divorce attorney, and what you can expect from them.

2. Stay focused on the goal.

Your ultimate goal in this process is to get divorced, and hopefully you can do so without any major depreciation of your lifestyle. Don't let your emotions jump in and run rampant when it comes to negotiating over material things that don't mean much to you in the big picture. If you do, your divorce will be longer, more litigious, and definitely more expensive than otherwise. Is it worth it? No. So keep your focus on getting divorced as quickly, and with as little financial damage, as possible. Ask yourself, what kind of divorce will do that for me?

3. Know what you want.

Before you rush out to hire a divorce attorney, consider other alternatives to traditional litigation. If you aren't completely entangled with children and finances, you could hire a an attorney who is open to idea of mediation to help you negotiate the terms of your divorce. Mediation is the fastest, cheapest way to get divorced, and you might not need to spend a bunch of money attorney at all! If your negotiation is more complicated, your divorce lawyer will negotiate the details of an proposed mediation settlement with your spouse's attorney. Alternatively,  you could consider a collaborative divorce. A collaborative divorce is focused on negotiation with the goal of preserving a co-parenting relationship. Your last resort is a litigated trial. Typically, these are the cases when neither side will compromise. So you need to determine what type of divorce attorney you need based on your unique circumstances. Realize that any divorce attorney you talk to will try to steer you in the direction of their own specific expertise. It's up to you to know what you want first, so you can make the right choice.

4. Identify at least three potential attorneys.

Don't jump to hire the first lawyer you meet. They are not all the same. Find at least three divorce attorneys that you can interview before making your decision. Clearly, you need to hire a lawyer that specializes in family law and one that's experienced in the specific type of divorce you think is best for you. The ideal attorney has the legal knowledge and experience you need, helps you understand the process, communicates and negotiates well, solves problems creatively and is experienced in your specific court system. So you need one that's local to you. Regardless of whether or not your divorce is headed to trial, your attorney needs to be experienced with the family law judges in your jurisdiction so that he or she can advise you appropriately on legal strategy. How do you find potential attorneys? Ask you friends for personal recommendations. Ask your trust or estate lawyer for divorce attorney recommendations. Go online to the numerous websites that provide client reviews of attorneys local to you.

5. Interview and research potential attorneys.

Start with an initial phone call. Ask them about their experience and specialization within family law. Ask them about what type of client they typically represent. Ask them about their rates. Most divorce lawyers charge an hourly fee and require a retainer -- a fee charged in advance. Some lawyers will also negotiate fees based on anticipated settlements. Don't waste your time (or theirs) on a meeting if they're out of your cost range. Most divorce attorneys provide a free consult to discuss your specific situation and what their legal approach would be. So take advantage of it to gather as much legal advice as possible! Typically, the attorney you meet with will not be handling the day-to-day issues related to your case, so ask to meet the colleague or associate that would. The divorce process can also include financial experts, parenting coordinators, coach facilitators, and forensic appraisers. Find out your attorney's access to these resources and if any would be relevant to your case, as it will affect overall cost. And even if you have no intention of heading to trial, look at the attorney's trial record and history of success in court. This track record is an indicator of your attorney's success in negotiation.

6. Look for red flags.

Unfortunately, many attorneys will tell you what you want to hear just to close the deal. While this is your life, it's a business for them. There are no guarantees in this process, so if an attorney is making promises, don't believe it. If an attorney talks about high-profile clients or divulges confidential information based on other cases, it's highly likely they'll do the same to you. If they aren't respectful of other divorce attorneys you're interviewing, it's a sign that they won't be to you either. And if during your consult, they're constantly distracted by phone calls and emails and can't focus their sole attention on you, they likely won't during your divorce case. Make sure the lawyer you choose acts according to the professional ethics of the industry and treats you with the respect and attention you deserve. This might be their business, but it's your life.

7. Make your choice.

The divorce attorney you choose to represent you is local, professional, knowledgeable, responsive and communicates well. This attorney is someone you trust and feel comfortable with. This attorney supports your basic philosophy toward divorce and has a style that works for you. This attorney recognizes the importance of your children and puts them first in the legal process by not making unreasonable child support demands or custody arrangements. This attorney is affordable. Divorce is a highly personal and emotional process, the outcome of which can have a significant impact on your life. This is an important decision, and there are no guarantees in this process. However, if you follow these steps, you'll find the right one -- the one who listens to what you want, advises you well and has your best interest at heart.