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Three Steps to Take Before Hiring a Divorce Attorney


It’s doubtful that many couples enter into marriage with the idea of getting divorced. But nearly half of all marriages in the U.S. eventually end in divorce, according to the most recent census data.

The first thing many individuals do when they see that they’re headed for a divorce is hire a divorce attorney. But there are several steps that should be taken before this, including the following:

  • Understand the different kinds of divorce. All divorces aren’t the same. There are at least four different kinds of divorce, listed here from the least to the most complicated and expensive:
  1. Kitchen table divorce — This is the simplest and least-expensive type of divorce. Here, the spouses sit down together and come to an agreement on who will keep which possessions, how child custody and visitation will be arranged and other details. Each spouse usually still retains his or her own attorney and one of them draws up a formal divorce agreement for each to sign. This type of divorce usually works best when the divorcing couple is amicable and agreeable.
  2. Mediation divorce — This is similar to a kitchen table divorce but includes a third-party mediator who helps keep the conversation and negotiation on track and productive. However, this mediator doesn’t give legal or financial advice to either spouse — he or she is a neutral party. One spouse’s attorney will draw up the formal divorce agreement for each to sign and then file the agreement with the court.
  3. Collaborative divorce — This is a relatively new approach to divorce in which family support is emphasized so that all family members get through the process with as little emotional and financial upheaval as possible. Each spouse will hire his or her own collaboratively trained divorce attorney and all four individuals will meet together to negotiate a divorce settlement and agreement. 

Third-party experts like financial advisors, mental health experts and childcare specialists may also be involved. Each spouse agrees to full disclosure before negotiations begin and if a divorce agreement isn’t reached, the whole process starts over again with new attorneys. 

  1. Litigation divorce — This is the most difficult and expensive type of divorce, and the one that’s often portrayed in movies and on TV shows. Each spouse hires an attorney and only communicates with the other spouse through this attorney. If a divorce agreement can’t be reached this way, the case goes before a judge who dictates the terms of the divorce. Most couples try to avoid this type of divorce but it isn’t always possible, especially in very contentious divorces.
  • Prepare a budget and net worth statement. Much of the divorce negotiations and agreement will center around finances so it’s a good idea to have this ready before meeting with an attorney. Among other financial details, this statement will reveal how much money is coming into and going out of the household each month, as well as what the couple owns and how much they owe. These details will serve as the foundation for all financial negotiations.

It might make sense to hire a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, or CDFA, to help you with this task. This professional will verify the accuracy of your net worth statement, which could be useful before meeting with a divorce attorney who is not qualified to offer this kind of professional verification.

Accuracy and completeness of the budget and net worth statement are critical since they usually determine the level of spousal support. It’s not unusual for the receiver of support to estimate higher living expenses while the payer of support estimates lower living expenses. A CDFA can offer objective input here to help arrive at a fair number for both parties.

  • Create an emotional support system. Going through a divorce is one of the most stressful events of anyone’s life, so it’s smart to create a formal support system before the process begins. Of course, this should include close friends and family members, but it might also be wise to add an objective professional in the field of therapy or psychiatry to the support system.

The fact is, there are three main components to every divorce: legal, financial and emotional. A divorce attorney and financial advisor or CDFA will handle the legal and financial aspects of divorce. A licensed professional counselor may be able to offer emotional support that’s just as valuable.

Please contact us if you have more questions about the financial aspects of divorce and how you can best plan ahead.

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