You’ve decided it’s time to terminate your marriage and unfortunately the emotions are too high to make mediation a realistic option or for whatever reason, you’ve chosen litigation. If you’re a regular reader of my blogs, you know that I’m not a big fan of litigation for divorce but I’m also realistic enough to know that sometimes you have no choice.
If you must go down that path, here are some vital things to find out up front when interviewing attorneys.
1. “What percentage of your cases typically go to trial?”
The reality is that only about 5% of divorce cases typically go to trial. Trust me when I tell you, you DO NOT want to be one of them. At trial, no one wins and they can be stressful and lengthy. So, ask this question to find out just how “litigious” your attorney is. The more they go to trial, the less likely they are to work for settlements and the more likely you are to pay an inflated bill!
2. “What are your processes for reviewing the financial affidavits for accuracy?
This one could surprise you. In my experience, only the highest end, most experience family law offices even question the accuracy of a financial affidavit. They take your word for it – and your spouses. Even if you aren’t worried about dishonesty on the part of your spouse, I have yet to see a financial affidavit that didn’t have at least one mistake. This is what they will base child support and maintenance on! It’s CRITICAL that they are completely accurate.
3. Is it ok if I add a divorce financial planner to my team?
Again, if the answer to this is anything but “yes”, BEWARE! Why would an attorney not want you to have all the information you need? Don’t be surprised if your attorney doesn’t know anything about CDFAs (Certified Divorce Financial Analysts) and their work. Attorneys are very protective of their billable hours and most aren’t really interested in delving into the intricacies of the financials of your case. They also are NOT financial specialists and won’t really want to do anything other than opt for a 50/50 split on everything which is RARELY the best thing for any couple. A CDFA can save the two of you thousands of dollars in both taxes and attorney fees.
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4. “I want to keep the house but don’t have enough equity to refinance. What are my options?”
In my experience, most attorneys will say you have 2 options, either refinance the home or sell. Now, some will say you can keep the house as long as your spouse will allow you to keep their name on the mortgage. I’ve never heard them suggest other options.
Here are a few that a CDFA™ can help you explore:
a. Continue to own the house jointly for a period of years, usually 3-5, at which point you would either sell or refinance and split the proceeds.
b. Continue to own the house jointly for a period of years, usually 3-5, but the spouse not living there would receive other assets in lieu of his/her share of the equity. To protect their credit, a clause can be written in that you must provide proof of mortgage payment each month and if at any point the mortgage is more than 30 days past due, the house must be sold.
c. Continue to own the house jointly and rent it out. A CDFA™ can help with the terms of such an arrangement.
d. “Will my spouse and I have an opportunity to try to negotiate a settlement?”
I find that most attorneys just shuttle written offers back and forth between you and your spouse’s attorney without offering you a settlement negotiation meeting. Why? Because they get to bill more for doing all the document write-ups and responses! Imagine how productive it would be if you both could meet in a room with your attorneys and actually speak to each other on each point. Ask if your attorney is willing to do this.
These top 5 questions will have you off to a good start to find just the right attorney for you. Good luck and best wishes.
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At Smarter Divorce Solutions, we help you with creative solutions and sound financial decisions surrounding the dissolution of your marriage, because we know that in the end you will still be part of the same family. Happy Anniversary to those that made it, and a kinder, gentler and more affordable divorce to those that didn’t.