Why do people need a lawyer when they go through divorce/separation?
If your scenario has any complicated issues such as custody, abuse or there is a question mark over your relationship property pool a lawyer can be a valuable resource.
Engaging an appropriate lawyer can also reduce your stress levels as it will allow you time to take care of yourself and your family rather than worrying about the legal aspects of your separation. Another reason to employ a lawyer is to ensure you avoid mistakes as the legal system is very complicated here in New Zealand and the stress of separation will be making you not think clearly understandably. The last thing you want is costly mistakes due to your rollercoaster ride that you might end up regretting for the rest of your life.
Utilising a lawyer will also mean that you can be certain that affidavits/other legal documentation which is presented to the court accurately states your wishes without error or unclear language. A potential issue with representing yourself in court is your paperwork may be incomplete or there may be other issues that may result in delays. Hiring a lawyer will also help you avoid delays and get your separation sorted as soon as possible.
What steps do you need to take to choose an appropriate lawyer for your scenario? Be aware that there are lawyers that will fuel the fire and escalate the conflict so you need to be vigilant when choosing a lawyer. The right lawyer will save you time, money, huge amounts of stress and lessen the emotional toll on you and your family.
- Be realistic – separation is a legal process with the sole purpose of dissolving your assets and resolving your custody issues.
- Stay focused on the goal – your ultimate goal is to get separated without hopefully any major depreciation on your lifestyle.
- Know what you want – before you sprint to get a divorce lawyer think about the other options available to litigation. Learn about mediation or consider a collaborative divorce. You may even be able to sort it out together as a couple ‘pro se’ without a lawyer.
- Identify at least three divorce lawyers – interview them all before you make a decision. Obviously you need a lawyer who is experienced in family law and one who is experienced in the type of divorce that is ideal for you. The ideal lawyer has the legal experience and knowledge you need, helps you understand the process, communicates and negotiates well, solves problems creatively and is experienced in New Zealand’s court system.
- Interview and research potential lawyers – start with a phone call and ask them some of the questions below.
- Look for red flags– make sure the lawyer treats you with the respect and attention you deserve and they act according to their professional ethics.
- Make your choice – The lawyer you want to choose to represent you is local, professional, knowledgeable, responsive and communicates well. You must feel like you can trust them and feel comfortable with them. They need to support your philosophy of divorce and have a style that works for you.
(Adapted and sourced from www.huffpost.com)
Questions to ask yourself before interviewing a lawyer
These questions will help you to determine what style of lawyering you want to engage with during the divorce process. It will also help you to define the kind of service that you expect from your lawyer.
- How will my spouse deal with the prospect of divorce after the initial emotional impact has diminished? Will they be a bully, a “my way or the highway” negotiator or will they try to be fair and listen to all sides before making a decision?
- How do you want to look back and remember how you were during the divorce process? Do you want to be seen as angry and emotional or as someone who is credible and a good communicator?
- Do you want to be a credible client who partners with the lawyer or do you want to give the power of decision making over to your lawyer and let him or her loose to get a “win” for your side?
- How do you want to model effective behaviour to others, your children, your family, or your community?
- How do you envision redefining the relationship with your spouse after the divorce is over – will you be co-parents, former spouses now still loyal to both of your families or will you cut all ties with his family and the communities you shared together?
- What are you most afraid of during the divorce process? How would you expect the lawyer to engage with you in this?
- What kind of relationship do you want to have with your lawyer?
- What is important to you in any business relationship? Do you want top notch premium service or do you want options as to how you can use their services more cost effectively? Do you want to be a partner with that person or just have them lead the process?
Questions to ask a Family Lawyer before engaging:
Lawyer Style and Reputation:
- Do you have a philosophy about divorce that underscores your practice?
- What process for divorce do you most often engage in (Collaborative, Mediation, Litigation?)
- How would another lawyer describe your style and approach to getting to a settlement?
- How would your clients describe your style and approach to getting to settlement?
- Who is your ideal client besides the one who pays their bills?
- How does your ideal client conduct themselves during the divorce process?
- Do you pay close attention to my financial and time constraints, my temperament, and my attitudes toward conflict? How do you determine what those are?
- What would others say about what you are like to work with?
What Kinds of Service Can I Expect
- How will we work together?
- How available will you be for me?
- Will I have your mobile number?
- Will you personally respond to my emails?
- Will I actually be working with you, or with an associate?
- How would I as a client get a question answered without an appointment with you?
- Are there others in the firm who would be familiar with my case and could answer questions when you are not available?
- What is your preferred method of communicating questions?
- How can I best prepare for meetings that will be most cost effective for me?
- Are you okay with your clients utilizing a divorce coach?
- What is your role in effectuating the settlement?
- Before charting a particular course, do you perform a corresponding evaluation of “the other side”?
Fees for Legal Services
- Will you do either/or unbundled legal services versus retainer only?
- How much is your retainer?
- What is your hourly rate?
- What are all of the transactions for which I will be billed?
- Will I be billed for emails? By the question?
- How do you prefer payment? Credit cards etc?
To end the lawyer interview
- What else should I be asking you so that I am confident we are a good match for representing me?
- What else do you need to know so that you can assess whether I am a good fit for your firm?
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Workbooks to help you
Equal Exes Online is your place to find help to guide you through separation and divorce. We offer self-guided workbooks and informational articles (like this one) which can help you be better informed, work out your priorities and how to move smoothly beyond your current relationship. Find all our workbooks here.