Each divorce is unique, and even though you may have a neighbor who has a cousin in Texas, who has a sister in California who went through a divorce, they may give you a lot of information, but it’s not going to be the same ultimate outcome. Yours is going to be different and unique to you.
With that in mind, we have some suggestions to help you travel through the divorce as smoothly as possible, understanding that a divorce on TV will usually begin and end in thirty minutes, but the reality in the courtroom and the trial schedules is different. Your divorce is like a marathon — it’s 26 miles long and you’ve got to go through each mile slowly in order to pace yourself to get through to the end. You can’t expect at the first mile for it to be over because it is typically going to take longer than what you are hoping it’s going to be. So, during that divorce time — that 26-mile marathon time — we have some suggestions to keep you on a smoother path.
- Communicate With Your Attorney
It’s very important to be upfront with your attorney from the get-go. As the case goes on, if you’re upfront with your attorney, he or she can help you deal with issues that are coming down the pike throughout the case, if they know about it from the beginning. So, for example, if there is somebody that has an alcohol or drug problem and the person is upfront with the attorney, the attorney knows that it could be a possible issue in the case, and can get them in and get them the help that they need from the beginning. It’s going to be best for their custody case, and because the court is going to require it anyway, if they’re starting to do things from the get-go it’s going to be a better outcome for them down the road. If they’re hiding it from their attorney and you don’t find out they have a drug or alcohol problem until you get down to court for a hearing, it’s going to affect where they can start out in the case, when they could have just been honest enough about the issue from the beginning.
This is one of the most important ways to make your divorce less rocky. Be honest and upfront with your lawyer at the very beginning. Tell your lawyer all of your secrets. Your lawyer will keep your secrets confidential but can assist you in putting you in the best light in front of the court. When we know all the bad stuff, we can make our client look good. The problem is if we are surprised. We don’t want to be surprised.
Q: Is there ever an instance where you find out things like a drug or alcohol problem about your client later that you wish you had known earlier?
It could be alcohol, it could be drugs, it could be a girlfriend or boyfriend hidden in the bushes somewhere. We can handle all of those things on behalf of our client, and we can make these things less harmful to our client in the eyes of the court if we know in advance. That’s why we want the client to be completely honest and upfront with us.
If you remember things or need to communicate with your attorney, and you aren’t sure if you should email or contact your attorney, it’s advised that you pick up the phone and call rather than email. It’s important to have a conversation so the attorney can help, especially if you are nervous about an upcoming drug test that the court is going to require you to take, and you know you can’t pass it because of something you’ve done.
- Manage Emotions
In a divorce scenario, it’s very easy for a litigant to let their emotions get in the way. They get angry rightfully so, but it’s very important to step back from that anger and try to keep your emotions in check because the angrier you get over the process or your spouse, the less able you’re going to be to make clear decisions with your lawyer. Let your lawyer be angry for you, but try to keep your emotions in check.
Obviously, divorce is an emotional process, but some people in this process make decisions that are emotional rather than trying to take the emotion out of it. There may be a situation where, for example, in asset division, unless there is some sort of financial misconduct or separate property claim or something of that nature, it’s typically going to be a 50/50 division of assets. You’ll have some people who may feel completely wronged in this process and won’t settle for anything less than 80% of the assets, but you’re not going to be able to settle on that because the other side is not going to settle on that. You’re making the situation worse for yourself and prolonging it if you can’t be reasonable in your expectations and listen to your lawyer as to what the law requires a court to do. Not that there isn’t room for negotiation. Maybe one party just wants out and is willing to ante up something but you know it’s important to keep a check on your emotions, so you don’t unnecessarily make the process worse on yourself.
Q: With respect to the emotions getting in the way for the other party, what can you as my lawyers do to help facilitate or defuse that if anything?
What I usually see is that the person who makes the decisions to file the divorce is emotionally six months ahead of the person who doesn’t want the divorce. If that is our client, they need to understand that they are so far ahead emotionally of where their spouse is, that it’s probably going to take a little bit longer for this case to settle, because the litigant who didn’t want the divorce is shell-shocked and their emotions are going to get in the way.
To add fuel to the fire, the person who wants the divorce might bring their girlfriend or boyfriend out of the closet during that time. Now the emotion of the litigant who didn’t want the divorce is even higher, and it’s even less likely that we can settle quickly because they’re upset. Our advice is not just to keep your emotions in check but try to understand the emotions on the other side and don’t tiptoe through the tulips during a divorce — it’s only going to make it more difficult.
Emotions affect the kids also. If there is a lot of conflict between the parties it usually ends up hurting the kids. You don’t want to be yelling and screaming and discouraging your spouse if the kids will hear it. If you’re on the phone with your girlfriend, or on the phone with your mother and you’re talking about how much you hate your spouse, the kids hear that. Let’s not forget the person you hate is the mother or father of that child and it really hurts the children.
Sometimes you’ll have a spouse that has been harmed emotionally throughout the process, and they want the kids to hate their spouse as much as they do because of all of that. They might start alienating the children away from the other parent because they want them on their side. They want to know that they are with them. The court does not like that and doesn’t want to see parental alienation from one parent. If you’re the parent who is doing it and the courts see it becoming a harm to the relationship between the other parent and the child, the court can very well order that the other parent have custody of the children simply because they don’t feel that the other parent will alienate you, in the way you are attempting to alienate them.
- Let Go of the Past
We have to deal with the circumstances as they presently are. For example, you can come to court and say your spouse cheated ten years ago. However, that was ten years ago and you had a lot of marriage between then and now and the court is not going to look back ten years ago and say he or she should be punished for it now. They’re going to look at the current circumstances that are going on in your case. A lot of people get caught up and want to bring in things that have happened so many years ago, and they’re just not relevant anymore.
Using the Past to Your Advantage
Sometimes the client may come to us and say you know, he sold this boat and I told him he couldn’t sell it and he went ahead and sold the boat for $250,000, 20 years ago. Well, where is the money? Now I might be able to use this even though it was a long time ago — where did the money go? Now I am interested in something that happened a long time ago because there should be a money trail. If I don’t see a money trail, I’m thinking there might be some financial misconduct here. If it’s the husband’s, then maybe he has a bank account we don’t know about. Maybe I need to go on the hunt somewhere to find out if he’s been squirreling away money from that point forward.
There are occasions that a client is going to tell you about something that happened 10 or 20 years ago about your spouse that is not worthless to tell us as attorneys. Many times it is because it happened so long ago and there is no reason to rehash it other than it makes them feel better to rehash it. Sometimes they’ll give us information that’s interesting and we’ll write it down and go on the hunt.
- Compromise to Get What You Want
You may need to lose some battles to win the war. Every little issue is not necessarily one that you have to win. For example, you don’t have to take the 80” TV just to say I got it. There may be some areas that you can give in a little bit to know that you’re getting, in exchange, ten other things that you want. If you’re going to settle your case, no one is going to end up 100% with what they want because we wouldn’t be able to settle that way. If you want to move forward, there may be little things that you have to give up to get the bigger picture items that you want.
The first time you meet with your lawyer you should make a laundry list of the things you really want to win. Sit down with your lawyer and determine whether the items you want are reasonable. If they find those items are reasonable, keep that list with you all the time and remember that those five points are the biggest issues for you. When all of a sudden you’re arguing over the dishes, you have to ask yourself do I really care about those dishes when I’m paying over $300.00 an hour for my lawyer and the entire set of dishes only cost $400? Compromises should be considered throughout, but intelligently using your list of the points that you wanted to win at the very beginning of the divorce process.
For example, I had a case where the parties were combative with each other. They were fighting over a division of household goods and furnishings and couldn’t do it on their own and wanted their attorneys on the phone with them. So you have attorneys who are a couple hundred dollars an hour sitting on the phone while the parties were going down a list of their household goods and furnishings, and trying to divide them. We got stuck on the bottle of vanilla extract that was in their spice cabinet, that cost $5, which the parties argued about for half an hour.
The reality is that we as attorneys experience this all the time and we realize that they’re really not fighting over that $5 bottle of vanilla. They’re still angry at each other over the loss of expectancy. When they walked down that aisle and said “I do” 20 years ago, they had an expectancy. The bargain was that they were going to stay in love and be together the rest of their lives. Now they’re almost at the end, and they are dealing with anger and grief and it’s become the bottle of vanilla because if they don’t argue about that $5 bottle of vanilla, they won’t be married anymore. We understand this as lawyers because we see it all the time but they don’t really understand it.
So we have to step in, cognizant of why they’re really upset and counsel a little bit and get them through that sticking point. Sometimes all it takes is us to say, look you know I’m $300 an hour, that person over there on the phone is another $300 an hour and you guys have spent 30 minutes on this. You’ve collectively spent $300 on a $5 bottle. I will buy both of you a $5 bottle of vanilla if we can move on.
- Know Your Options Before Filing
A lot of motions for conciliation come in and they don’t have an idea of what they want to do. A lot of people come in and say they want to have a dissolution — which is great and we are happy to work with them — but they don’t realize that a dissolution means you have to agree on every single term of your divorce. If there is one issue, even if that issue is you want one car and the other wants the same car, but you have decided who is getting what on the house, who is getting what with the kids, and everything else is resolved, if you have one issue remaining you can’t have a dissolution.
It’s important to go over the different options, whether it’s a legal separation, or a dissolution and then also the types of options people have who aren’t ready to take those steps. Counseling, for example. Has one party filed and the other one really wants to try to make it work? The court does allow for a 90-day conciliation period that you can request where everything is put on hold as the parties try to work through some of the issues they have. Some people file for divorce to get the attention of their spouse, even though they don’t really want the divorce. They want the attention. Those are options for those people. Is this really what you are looking for or are you looking for something else and is this the only avenue you think you have?
While we are certainly not marriage counselors, we like to make sure that our clientele know that they have a number of different options available to them in how they want to handle their marriage and it’s important that they have somebody who is able to take them through all of those different options. One of the other options is mediation. Sometimes we’ll send our clients to a mediator if they’ve only got a couple issues left to discuss that they think, with some work, they will be able to get through.
Sometimes we will send them off to a mediator and say okay, we have a resolution on all these other issues, can you work with these parties to see if they can come to an agreement on these remaining issues? We truly want to see our clients get through this as painlessly as possible. We really want them to know we have their back and we’re on their team, and we’re going to try to make it as smooth as we can for them.
Q: If the other side files a motion for conciliation, can I fight it? Can they force me into marriage counseling for three months?
It has to be an agreed conciliation order. If one party wants the divorce and the other one is not willing to work on the divorce, they’re going to get the divorce. The grounds for divorce in Ohio as a no fault state are such that the court does not want to make people stay together if one person does not want to be in that marriage. Gross neglect of duty is one of the grounds for divorce and that can be that the party failed to load the dishwasher. Extreme cruelty could mean that somebody called you a bad name. We have to sometimes bring our client to that understanding that if one party really wants the divorce, there are going to get it.