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I’ve yet to meet a single person who was jumping with joy to find a divorce attorney. It just never happens.
No, more often than not, in my 30+ years in divorce finance, people rank finding a divorce attorney a couple rungs higher than getting a root canal on the “Things I’d rather not be doing” ladder.
But here’s the thing: Finding good, solid counsel is a difference maker in the divorce process. The folks who skip over this step or don’t come prepared with the right advice tend to be the people clamoring over their disastrous divorce 15 years down the road (and you don’t want to be one of those, do you?)
So, how do you find the right divorce attorney (when it seems like there are just so many of them?)
We’ve all heard the stories of the ravenous, blood-thirsty divorce attorney who can take your spouse to the cleaners in the blink of an eye. If you’re looking for one of those, you won’t find tips for finding them here (but you should definitely continue reading—because you might discover that’s not a great idea anyway.)
I had a chance to sit down with a good friend, colleague and well-respected family law attorney, Randy Michel, who had some great advice for finding the right counsel for your divorce team.
(And a little side-note: Randy is anything but one of the aforementioned attorneys. You won’t find a more articulate, congenial and dedicated professional working to serve couples and families during divorce, I assure you.)
Tip #1: Consider the source
Divorce horror stories are (sadly) about a dime a dozen these days. So why then are we consulting these folks who have had terrible misfortune with the divorce process for information on how to successfully get a divorce?
It’s important you consider the source when taking advice on getting a divorce, finding the right attorney or how to manage your affairs while going through the process.
Best piece of advice: Find someone who you know, like and trust who has an outcome that looks like what you’d like to achieve with your resolution. Have they found some normalcy after the divorce? Do they have open lines of communication with their spouse? How have their children adjusted?
Ask questions and take notes. You’ll want to have a good model to work with when you interview prospective counsel for your divorce team.
Tip #2: Asking the right questions
It’s important to have an agenda and a desired outcome when you interview professionals as prospective additions to your divorce team.
Randy suggests a few questions you should ask each attorney when you sit down with them:
- What is your experience with family law? (Tip: This is not the same as asking “How long have you practiced as a lawyer?)
- Are you board certified in family law or civil trial law?
- What experience do you have in front of local judges?
- How often will you communicate with me about the status of my case?
- What is your practice regarding me receiving copies of letters, emails, documents, etc etc, which have been received from my spouse and their counsel?
- If my spouse has handled the money most of our marriage and I’m unaware of what debts we owe, how will you uncover necessary financial details?
Tip #3: Do your homework
The internet makes it very easy to dig up information on professionals these days. One Google search could save you hours of head aches if you poke around with the right keywords and sites in mind.
Some great searches to get you started include:
- divorce attorney in college station
- family law in college station
- collaborative divorce in college station
- collaborative law in college station
You’ll find websites and content for individual attorneys and divorce professionals, but you’ll also stumbled upon some valuable directories which may provide ratings and reviews for your prospective counsel.
Another great resource for researching legal professionals is called Avvo, which is a crowd-sourced directory providing reviews, ratings and any disciplinary actions for attorneys from across the country.
It’s important to remember that anyone can get online and post reviews and comments, so use your best judgement and take online research with a grain of salt. Use it to help you pose better questions and narrow your list of prospects—not as a final “yes” or “no”.
Tip #4: Think like a judge
Appearance and attitude matter, especially when the fate of your family and finances is dead-centered in the crosshairs of a judge.
You want your attorney and counsel to look sharp, like they care about what a court thinks of them. Their appearance should be neat and presentable—not messy and disheveled (trust me, those are out there.)
You want them to be approachable with a pleasant demeanor. If you don’t want to work with them, a judge probably won’t either.
Tip #5: Get the inside scoop
This one will require you to get the lowdown on your prospective counsel from the folks who (may) know them the best—the clerks and deputies of the court.
Here’s how it works: You make a phone call to the courthouse and ask a clerk or deputy, “If you were going through a divorce, would you have so-and-so represent you?” Sometimes, they’ll be reluctant to answer or may not have any information for you.
The other way you can work this one is to give them a few names (including one of your top prospects) and see if they can rank or suggest one from the bunch.
The clerks and deputies will often have had interactions with many of the attorneys you’ll come across, so they can give you the details they know. And hey, it’s like any other office—people talk.
Tip #6: Go with your gut
Randy is right on when he says that you should pay attention to the personality and habits of your prospective counsel. If you don’t feel comfortable, or just don’t get along, you don’t want them representing you in court.
If they seem distracted, disorganized or disinterested in you, you want to walk right out the door and continue looking.
If you think you look like a giant trio of dollar signs to them—red alert. There are plenty of options out there, so stay on the prowl.
Finding the right attorney will set you, your family and your financial future on the pathway to success after your divorce. But there’s even more you can do to secure the right outcome.
In my free ebook, “The Pitfalls of Divorce: Avoiding the 5 Most Common Mistakes Couples Make During Divorce”, I’ll show you five more slippery slopes to watch out for along the way. Drop your details in the boxes below, and I’ll send a free copy your way.
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Individuals going into a divorce property division negotiation rarely understand how just a few details can have a substantial financial affect on their future. You can avoid bad luck by having a strong grasp on the nuances of property division. The quickest and most efficient way to get this knowledge is to work with a divorce financial adviser.
- Be sure you hire one who is also a CPA. The income tax issues can be complex.
- Look for a CPA who also holds a CDFA – Certified Divorce Financial Analyst because they specialize in divorce financial issues.
- Tell your adviser everything about your property. If you are not a divorce expert yourself, you are not going to know which details are critical and which are not.
- Ask your divorce financial adviser to work up a couple of property division scenarios. You need to see how various options affect your financial outcome.
- Know that during negotiations you will need to compromise on something. Talk with your adviser about the effects of giving up on this or that option. Take notes.
- Familiarize yourself with the mediation process.
Divorcing couples struggle with the complex financial issues that come with their divorce. I find that most people who are going through a divorce are unaware of key bits of information that relate to their own financial situation. Failure to fully understand these details leads to major challenges in the divorce process and makes it difficult to arrive at a mutually agreed upon settlement.
You can solve this problem by working with a financial professional who specializes in divorce financial and tax issues. Look for a CPA with the added credential of a Certified Financial Divorce Adviser (CDFA). This article explains the advantages of having one of these professionals on your team.
I hear questions from people who come to me for divorce financial advice. No matter whether we are talking about College Station or Houston, the answer is always “it depends.”
It depends upon which divorce process you choose. Do it yourself, litigation, mediation or collaborative. Even the do it yourself can be expensive if you are not fully aware of the complexities of your financial situation. Don’t be like most people. Don’t assume your situation is simple.
It depends upon how cooperative you and your spouse are going to be with each other. Will you compromise quickly? Will you fight over the vacation souvenirs? (Yes, I saw that happen.)
It depends upon whether you are counting the future hidden costs of incomplete information. Don’t be focused only on the present. Look ahead at the possible financial gotchas that will bite you if you shortcut your divorce. Hire competent professionals: attorney, divorce CPA and child specialist.
It depends upon whether you hire the cheapest or the most expensive attorney. Don’t do either. Hire an attorney with average hourly rates. Ask other professionals for recommendations. Your friends and colleagues will give you names, but that doesn’t mean their favorite is the right fit for you.
It depends upon how organized you are. The more organized, the more you can save on fees.
Being smart about you money before and during a divorce can make the difference between living a lower lifestyle and living your current lifestyle. There are tons of financial details to be aware of during your divorce. But if you nail down the basics, those details will fall into place more easily.
Basic Step #1: Be completely organized. Create logical files for all your financial information. Create a balance sheet – a list of everything you own and everything you owe and include copies of proof, such as mortgage statements, property tax statements and retirement account statements. Assemble the last twelve months of all credit card and bank statements. Being complete will save you time and professional fees down the road.
Basic Step #2: Hire a divorce financial advisor. Having a financial advisor on your team means that you will have an objective expert to see the things that your emotions block. To survive financially, you need to recognize the good news and the bad news. To recognize them, you need an expert to explain them to you. Much of the financial issues in divorce include little known gotchas. Don’t let those bite you.
Basic Step #3: Don’t listen to your friends. They have the best intentions, but they also are not experts in your divorce. If their claim to expertise is their own divorce, you are getting slanted advice. Your divorce is different. They are all different in quiet but crucially detailed ways. Be careful to avoid the wrong advice.
Divorcing people over 50 are part of a growth trend in America. Between 1990 and 2009, the divorce rate for those 50 and older has nearly doubled, according to the National Center for Family and Marriage at Ohio’s Bowling Green State University.
Younger couples negotiate for child custody while midlife couples negotiate for long-term financial security. These older couples are dividing retirement assets, health insurance, real estate and business interests, not to mention debt. Getting replacement health insurance coverage can be daunting. Many clients procrastinate on this research, causing a bit of panic at the last minute. Do not do that to yourself. The moment you realize divorce is coming, start studying your health insurance choices.
Trying to get health insurance in your 60’s can be a challenge. You have had time to develop health issues that come into play when you seek coverage quotes. I send my clients to an insurance consultant here in College Station. A good consultant will explain your options along with the pros and cons of the various policies and coverage details. Insurance is a complex area. You need to be able to rely on an expert who will educate you while giving advice.
One of your health insurance choices may be COBRA. This is a coverage that stems from your spouse’s employer. Your cost will be higher than the cost your coverage was while married. You will not get the employer subsidy that you once had. You can have COBRA coverage for either 18 or 36 months, depending upon the size of your spouse’s employer. The cost is not your only issue.
Most people don’t think ahead to the end of the COBRA coverage. By that time, you may have developed new health issues that will cause your replacement policy to be even more expensive. Consider this before you sign on to COBRA. Learn what your options are before making any decisions.
If you are facing divorce, contact me. I can refer you to a health insurance advisor and recommend an attorney who is a good fit for your unique situation.