By Karen Chellew, Co-founder of Divorce U Solutions and experienced paralegal
"What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger." Kelly Clarkson
According to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, divorce is second on the list of the 43 life-changing events that affect your health, second only to the death of a spouse. Additionally, the third most stressful life event according to this scale is marital separation. As a young 29-year-old, having survived 10 years of a rocky marriage with two small children in tow, the decision to leave was not easy or wanted, but I found myself needing to make the decision to move out and start the long, stressful road to divorce.
As a legal secretary, I had access to the best attorneys, yet, looking back, I realize that I lacked appropriate emotional advice, effective financial guidance and I lived day to day feeling anxious and stressed. Under these paralyzing emotions, I needed to make life altering decisions related not only to my wellbeing but the wellbeing of my children and our future. I didn’t know where to go or who to turn to and I felt like I was at the mercy of my ex and our attorneys. Even though I had great attorneys, they could only respond to my directions and the Court’s decisions. Somehow, I had to figure it out on my own and make the best decisions I could with the information I had at the time.
For 30 years, I have worked in a law office as a paralegal and business manager. I am passionate about helping women take control over their emotional and financial futures, especially through a divorce. After going through this heart-wrenching process alone, I realized we can be better, and we can do better. I now know how helpful it is to have a team of experts to support people going through this process. When you have a team of support behind you, divorce can be a little easier, a little less stressful and the process doesn’t seem so endless. And the best part of it all is, having a supportive team can save you money because every aspect is focused on you, your wellbeing, and your wallet.
This team includes an experienced financial planner or Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, a trusted therapist and a qualified attorney. Having a financial planner who understands the financial aspects of divorce and the legal process is critical in creating a realistic financial plan. A therapist helps you work through the emotional aspects of divorce. This is imperative because when you make decisions based on your emotions, they tend to be short-sighted and often lead to long-term decisions that don’t serve you or your family. Finally, choosing the right attorney can have a lasting impact on the financial and emotional outcomes of a divorce.
“How do I choose the right divorce attorney?”
This is one of the most common questions our clients ask. Oftentimes, worries and fears lead women to seek legal counsel too soon or to choose an attorney who may not be the best fit for their specific situation. You do have rights and choosing the right attorney is a critical part in determining the outcome of your divorce. The ability of an attorney to defend your rights depends largely on three things: Choosing representation that supports your needs, having a clear understanding of your financial situation, and having the ability to separate your emotions when making important long-term decisions.
Here are 10 questions you can ask to help you choose an attorney who will support your specific needs during the divorce process:
1. How much do you charge, how frequently will you bill me and when will payment be due? How much of a retainer do you require initially and on an ongoing basis?
2. What other fees, costs, and expenses will I have to pay?
3. Can you give me an approximate estimate of the total cost of the divorce?
4. Are there less experienced attorneys or paralegals who can perform some of the work at a lower per hour rate?
5. Will you provide me with a monthly progress report free of charge?
6. Will the progress report provide an update on the progress of the projected budget as well?
7. Will you personally handle my divorce negotiations?
8. Are you more likely to tell me what to do, or offer options and expect me to make a decision?
9. Will you be my day-to-day contact or will I mainly be working with another attorney on your staff?
10. What is the best way to contact you, and how quickly should I expect to receive a response?
The answers to these questions determine the type and quality of communication you’ll have with your attorney during your divorce. While it can be very intimidating to sit face to face with an attorney, these questions are important to ask and will play a significant role in the longer term relationship between you and the attorney you choose.
If you feel uncomfortable asking these questions, have someone knowledgeable along with you to ask these questions for you. A word of caution: if you are consulting friends who’ve recently gotten divorced, it’s important to understand every situation is unique and what may have worked or not worked for your friend and/or family member may not be relevant to you and your family.