What To Do Before You See A Lawyer

  • By:Gibson & Reitboeck LLP

So often people rush to seeing a lawyer, because they are afraid of what could happen.  Sometimes, rushing to a lawyer is the best idea, but that is rare!  Please disregard this post if you are a victim of domestic violence or abuse of any kind, including but not limited to physical, emotional and or financial.   If your safety or the safety of your children is at risk, please, call 911, go to a shelter and then call me.  Please, if you or your children have been victimized ensure that you tell any lawyer’s staff this critical information on your first contact.  This will prioritize your case.

Before coming to a lawyer, if you are ready to separate, it is best that you actually have that difficult conversation with your partner.  Lawyers are great at a lot of things, but Dear John letters is not one of our strengths! It never ceases to amaze me how many people want me to send a letter ending their marriage.   This is difficult, but it is not a lawyer’s role, so whether you sit down and talk, send a text, email, snap (the last three suggestions were facetious),  you need to do this part yourself.

Again, disregard this if you or your children have been victimized.  This will be messy no matter how rational you are or how much you both want the separation, it is never easy.  The concept of a “simple divorce” is actually quite rare.  Unravelling thirty, twenty, ten, even five years can be daunting.  It is best to ensure that you actually want to end your relationship before you see a lawyer.  Be confident in that decision, as knowing that you are doing what is right for you will give you the confidence to face what comes next.  People often come to see me to canvass what it would look like if they left.  I’m no expert on life choices, but staying in an unhappy relationship because you would have to pay spousal support may not be the way to live your best life.

What comes next you ask?  Well, many people assume that’s me…  I would say you are wrong.  A relationship break down, especially when there are children involved is stressful.  You experience a range of emotions as you navigate the grieving process.  You will likely start off with shock and denial, then pain and guilt then comes the anger and bargaining, then the depression and loneliness, then the upward turn, the reconstruction and finally acceptance and hope.  Everyone takes different amounts of time to navigate each step, but one thing is for sure, and that is, it is a horrible idea to commence intense negotiation or litigation when one is in pain, feels guilt or is angry or depressed.  This is why I recommend that your first step after, or when you are considering a separation is to see a therapist.  These people are trained to help you navigate your feelings and to understand how to best process the muddy waters that is separation.  Attending at a lawyer’s office when you are angry, guilty or depressed will almost always lead to an incredibly high legal bill and horrible decisions.  Clear your head before anything.   Also, know that everyone spends different amounts of time in each stage.  Allow your partner to experience the grief process at their own rate.  Remain supportive and encourage them to seek professional assistance.

Once you are able to wrap your head around the fact that you are ending your relationship and you are feeling confident in that choice, then start to gather your financial information.  Most lawyers will want to see your last three tax returns and Notices of Assessment.  These are due each year by April 30th, so if you have not filed in five years, please file immediately.  The most important part of separation, other than custody and access, is financial disclosure.  No lawyer can tell you how much of a pie you will get in a settlement until he or she can see how big the pie is and what it is made of!  So, get to work gathering all of your account statements from the Date of marriage, the date of separation and today.  If you can’t get all of your statements, then at least have a general idea of what you own and how much it is worth!

Dealing with the parenting plan is always the most difficult part of separation.  No one will ever know your kids as well as you and your spouse do, so please, don’t come and ask a lawyer what schedule will work best!  We know a lot of different ideas about schedules, but we don’t know your kids, and please, we don’t want to know your kids so please do not bring them to my office.  Involving children in litigation or even negotiation is a horrible idea.  Separation is stressful and children should be shielded from as much as possible.  If you are having a hard time with these difficult discussions, then you should seek therapeutic intervention.

Lastly, don’t forget to be kind to yourself. This process is difficult on many levels.  It is one of the most stressful things you will ever go through, so don’t be so hard on yourself, especially if this is your first time!

The opinions in the blog are not legal advice, each situation is unique and you must meet with a lawyer to discuss the particulars of your case.

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