April 25, 2008

Top Ten List: Top 10 ways to do well in your divorce case

As a Portland, Oregon based family law firm we field a lot of questions from potential clients about how to “succeed” in a divorce case. One message that surprises many people is that there are seldom any clear winners in a divorce. That said, there are many things you can do to help ensure that you are protected during the divorce process, and to maximize your chances of a good result. We offer the following 10 tips on how to do well in your divorce.

  1. Hire an experienced divorce attorney. There is no substitute for help from a lawyer that is familiar with divorce and family law, the judges, and the procedure. Family law is a specialty, and you would likely be better served by a lawyer that only practices family law. Make sure the focus of your lawyer’s practice is family law.
  2. Consider different approaches to your case. There are many was to finalize your divorce case. The courtroom is a way, but frequently not the best way to resolve your case. You should consider what approaches may work for your case other than traditional litigation. Consider a collaborative law case with a lawyer trained in collaborative law. Note that both lawyers must have special training to conduct a collaborative law case. Consider individual or attorney guided mediation prior to or in lieu of court.
  3. Document, Document, Document! Your lawyer and the other side will want paper documentation of debts, assets, financial holdings, valuables, pensions, real estate, stock options, and basically any asset either party owns. Make copies of your titles, policies, deeds, and important records. You and your lawyer will need them.
  4. Promptly exchange discovery. Once a divorce case is filed, both sides have “discovery power.” You have the right to see the other side’s financial documentation, and the other side as the right to see yours. Many cases bog down and legal fees go up when one side does not timely or completely produce documentation. You can avoid a motion to compel production and lower your costs by getting your documentation to your lawyer sooner rather than later.
  5. Work with your lawyer on a proposed division of property. After you have all of the information on assets and finances, work with your lawyer to analyze the property distribution and determine an appropriate amount of spousal support. In Oregon, divorcing parties are required to exchange a proposed distribution of assets. In our experience, lawyers exchange the proposed distribution to late in the case for maximum benefit. Good divorce lawyers model property distributions starting day one. Help your lawyer prepare and perfect the spreadsheet.
  6. Take reasonable positions and set realistic goals. It is hard to succeed in a divorce if your goal is something the court will not give you. After analysis, both lawyers can usually determine a range within which the court will likely rule. You may be well served to pick a position within that range, rather than outside it. If your lawyer is encouraging to you to take a too sharp position, be ware. Frequently the only beneficiary is the lawyer. In determining if you should pay the other side’s attorney fees after trial, the court can scrutinize whether your positions were reasonable. If not, you may end up paying your lawyer and your spouses.
  7. Treat your case decisions as business decisions. It is really hard to treat your case objectively when you are in the middle of it. This is the reason why divorce lawyers hire divorce lawyers to represent them. Listen to your lawyer’s objective opinion, and try to base your decisions on the property distribution spreadsheet, and not your emotions. If you can buy the lamp at Ikea for $14, don’t make the emotional decision to spend $1000 in legal fees fighting over it.
  8. Obtain and or Maintain independent credit. Your ability to borrow will help in your post divorce life. Many times people’s credit suffers because there is no plan in place to address joint debt, and payments get missed. Other times, a couple will have only used one party’s credit during the marriage. Prior to or during the divorce, if you don’t already have it, obtain and maintain credit separate from your spouse
  9. Promptly take the parenting class, and take the message to heart. We previously blogged about Oregon’s parenting class requirement. Register for the class at your first opportunity, and listen. You and your your children will do better in your case by keeping the kids out of the middle. Guess what the court thinks of parents that want custody but have not taken the class?
  10. Stay strong. In the midst of a hotly contested divorce case, it may be hard to picture your life after the stress and conflict is over. Stay strong. Don’t give in to unhealthy stress relief, like alcohol. Go to the gym and work out. Rally your friends for moral support. Take some special time with your kids. If you need the professional help of a therapist, don’t hesitate to get it. Take care of yourself during the process, and the process will take less of a toll on you.