Regardless of how long you’ve been married, five months or 50 years, filing for divorce is one of the most wrenching decisions you will ever make. Even in marriages of relatively short duration, the decision to leave your marriage, means you are announcing to someone you used to love, trust, and cherish that you are parting ways.
Do I have to file for divorce right away?
It is human nature to delay thinking about or acting on an issue that causes us stress or anxiety. But delaying the inevitable does not mean the problem has disappeared. You’ve just kicked it down the road, and in the interim, the “elephant in the room” gets bigger and marital issues that have led you to this decision become more difficult to unravel. Invariably, sooner is better than later when it comes to making difficult work/life/family decisions. Getting divorced is no different.
Why should you talk to an attorney?
In even the most amicable divorces, someone must file the appropriate legal documents and, in many cases, guide you and your ex through the process of distributing marital assets, custody of children (and even family pets) or visitation, etc.
Once you and your spouse have agreed to split, one (preferably both) of you should hire a lawyer to represent you. Even if you go to mediation, you still need a professional to help you file appropriate papers and navigate the legal separation/divorce process.
What if I don’t want to file for divorce immediately?
Once you have decided to leave your marriage and engaged an attorney, you can begin to plan your exit strategy – even before you may have had the “it’s over” conversation with your spouse. It is the first step in taking charge of your new life.
If you delay engaging a lawyer and filing for divorce yourself, you open the door to a Pandora’s box worth of legal and financial exposures. If your spouse is abusive or unscrupulous, your delay can give your soon-to-be-ex time to plan his or her own divorce strategy, hide assets, co-opt children for a custody battle, or cut off funds to the other partner.
Even the act of filing for divorce doesn’t stop some spouses from doing these things. However, suppose they engage in any of these strategies after a divorce action has been initiated. In that case, they are subject to legal penalties that would not apply if no lawsuit had been started. Moreover, once you or your spouse begin a divorce action, court machinery moves the case along to reach a resolution within a specific timeframe, either by settlement or trial.
What if we want to negotiate (not litigate) a settlement?
If you are certain that you and your spouse will never reconcile, you should still file. You can still negotiate all aspects of your divorce and your attorneys can help you move that process forward – if that is possible. Or, when an impasse has been reached, they can counsel you on appropriate litigation strategies.
Negotiating an appropriate settlement does take time. But sometimes, negotiating a settlement between warring parties is impossible. If you and your spouse are agreeable, you can resolve your outstanding issues in short order. But in instances where the negotiations drag on for years, something else is going on – and it could be with your attorney.
For example, I recently was hired by a husband to represent him in his divorce. He and his wife had decided to divorce a year prior. Yet, the couple and their children were still living together. The stress levels in the home had reached a boiling point. Yet neither my client’s former lawyer nor his wife’s attorney had moved the case along – or even tried to separate the parties legally. They kept waiting to “settle” the case out of court, even though significant issues remained and their clients were no longer speaking. As soon as I took over the case, we filed legal papers to get the case moving. That alone was enough to convince the wife and her attorney that my client was “serious” about the divorce and it settled within a few weeks.
If you are planning to divorce, at the very least, consult an attorney.
If you and your spouse agree that you’ve reached the end of your marital road, each of you should get legal counsel.
Why bring in a lawyer? Because you need someone to advise you about what to expect from the divorce process, explore your options, and explain whether or not delaying in your particular case could hurt you. If you have questions about the next steps to consider in your divorce, let’s talk. I’m Dan Stock, and you can call me at 475-232-4105 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a consultation.