Legal Guide
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Before you meet with a lawyer 

For a divorce:

It's best not to meet with an attorney immediately following bad news, an argument or disagreement.  It should be after you've taken some time to make sure the marriage can not be saved and a legal dissolution is eminent.   It's important to realize that while you take the road to divorce as a response to your marriage's end, the road itself is usually going to make your life harder before it get's better.

Once it's time for an attorney consultation

After considering the marriage, problems and situation, you may have recognized a divorce is the best solution to achieve long-term happiness for you and your family.  A happiness that can not be realized with your marriage intact.  We have prepared a list of considerations weighted heavily on the practical needs to support oneself, children, former spouse and household while maintaining resources necessary to cover legal expenses until a settlement is reached.  

In addition to factors associated with your marriage, you'll want to consider other aspects not necessarily relevant to your marital circumstances, to determine if you are ready to proceed with your divorce. 

While the divorce initiates the end of your marriage, it is also the beginning of your life, independent of a spouse.  This includes: shared living expenses, in-home support for your mutual children, etc.  You should consider the changes to your life and costs incurred when divorcing.  While these considerations shouldn't necessarily encourage you to stay in a bad marriage, you should be sure you have the means (financially and emotionally) to prepare for it.  If you don't, you may want to develop a plan to secure your situation prior to having your spouse served with divorce papers.

Considerations before divorce

Living situation (You can't do much without housing)

You'll want to make sure you have a reasonable living situation and are prepared for changes as they may affect your housing and/or means to support it

Finances (You won't get far with out money)

You will want to ensure you have the means to support yourself while maintaining your finances (debts and household expenses) with or without your spouse's income and/or can afford to provide support to your spouse if required in the separation and/or divorce settlement.  Support to a spouse may include alimony, maintenance and/or one time settlement.

Children (Your family's happiness, support and housing must be considered)

You will want to ensure your children will have a better and more stable environment with both parents living in separate households or parts of the home.  You will also want to understand the laws of your state and the basics of child support, custody and visitation to be financially and emotionally prepared for the best and worst case scenarios.

Legal Expenses (What can you afford and does it match your circumstances?)

Attorney fees usually begin at the time of hiring.  You will begin with a retainer and continue to pay your attorney according to his/her schedule of fees.  While some attorneys may simply prepare your paperwork for an uncontested divorce for $1000 or less, others may have rates exceeding $250/hour with the total divorce expense escalating with every legal motion or response.  Often this comes about when one or both spouse's are in significant disagreement over one thing or another related to the divorce or marriage.  So, if your spouse is extremely unlikely to be cooperative, you will want to consider the worst case scenario of legal expenses.  The average divorce in the U.S. costs about $15,000 per spouse based on data obtained in a recent survey by Bankrate.

Legal Options (You understand the laws of your state)

You have researched on your own or consulted with an attorney who can explain how state laws may affect your case based on your current circumstances and expectations.  This can include property laws as they affect division of assets, child custody and support, alimony & maintenance.  You will want to ask about "waiting periods", divorce requirements, legal separation requirements (if any), reasons for possible delay of divorce (e.g. violation of separation guidelines), annulments, prenuptial agreements (if applicable), etc. 

Finally, you will want to have interviewed one or more attorneys before you hire the best one who has the background and personality that will be best suited based on your circumstances.  Having a plan and emotional support to get through the various stages of your divorce is helpful when managing the interview process and regular interaction with your potential attorney.  It's important to remember your attorney is on your side but that he/she is not a therapist.  Being able to manage the emotional stresses normal during divorce could save you a great deal of money in legal fees.

Should I meet with an attorney for a separation instead of a divorce?

For a legal separation:

When experiencing marriage problems, it's not easy to decide if you and your spouse should legally separate, divorce or try to keep things status quo.  If you interview an attorney, he/she can usually provide information relevant to your case for both separation and divorce.

Some states require a separation period prior to proceeding to a divorce.  Most times the separation period is for 6-12 months prior to the divorce.   However, some legal separations are primarily to define support terms during a period of time that a couple lives apart in an effort to work on their marriage.  This is usually best when in conjunction with some type of marriage counseling or couples therapy. 

If considering this option, but unsure if a reconciliation will be possible, consult with a local attorney to find out the laws and requirements for your state as they apply to "required separation periods" to obtain a divorce.  This will ensure you will not need to restart your separation within state guidelines to proceed with divorce if your reconciliation fails. 

Many couples pre-negotiate the living arrangements, support and child custody prior to the separation.  If the couple is unable to negotiate with one another directly, then it's common to hire an individual attorney, shared attorney or mediator.  The terms of the settlement become part of the Legal Separation Agreement and later used as a basis for developing a Divorce Settlement Agreement if the couple decides not to reconcile.   For more information read the 2019 DMK article, Difference Between Divorce and Legal Separation.



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