The 12 "Mis-steps" of Smart People in Bad Situations
Most people are embarking on this journey for the first time. Rachel Campbell has walked this road with numerous men and women and has seen missteps by husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, who are simply trying to do the right thing in the face of uncertainty.
The following are a dozen mistakes that she witnessed clients make time and again. Please keep them in mind as you navigate this process.
- Glossing over the financial aspects of your case because you just want to "end it" quickly. This is an unpleasant process. It can be overwhelming. But the decisions you make now will have long-term effects on your personal and financial future.
- Not telling your lawyer facts that portray you in a negative light. Your lawyer is there to help you and she cannot do that without all the facts. If the first time your lawyer hears damaging facts about you is when the judge does, it is hard for her to mitigate it.
- Not understanding documents you are signing. Your lawyer is there to answer your questions. You are not expected to know the meaning of the "legalese." If you do not understand something your lawyer says, ask again. That is why you have a lawyer. Your lawyer works for you and you should never be embarrassed to ask a question. Ever.
- Attempting to use the legal process as a way to heal pain. Regardless of your circumstances, if you are hiring a family law attorney, you have likely experienced extraordinary hurt, disappointment, or anger. Those are understandable reactions, but the legal process rarely provides the tools to heal those feelings. Do not waste attorney's fees trying to alleviate your pain. There is nothing any lawyer or judge can include in a document that will "make it right," but you will spend a lot of money trying to get there. Consider counseling even if you think you do not need it. Clients in counseling are often better equipped to make wise decisions in their legal case.
- Avoiding the details of your case – both the facts and the way the law applies to your case – because you just do not want to think about it. You may want someone else to "handle it" and then for it to be over. However, you are in control of your own case and you cannot assume your lawyer knows your priorities. Everyone is different. You need a solution that meets your needs, not your lawyer's last client's needs. Your lawyer cannot tailor a solution for you if you do not get involved and discuss your ultimate goals.
- Not defining goals. In the beginning, an exact goal is often unknown because it takes a while to learn all of the financial details of a case. But, you should be clear with yourself and your attorney about what you want to achieve. A goal should be a reasonable financial settlement based on your financial situation. A goal should not be "I get everything because he/she is awful." Under the law, you likely will not get "everything" and you may never feel satisfied with the legal process.
- Thinking the judge will make it right. Judges are decision-makers. They make decisions when two people cannot make them for themselves. Sometimes court is necessary because particular facts in a case do not call for a creative solution. But, very likely, going to court won't "make it right" or "make it fair." You will not get validation or vindication in a courtroom. You will get a custody schedule, an amount of money to pay or receive each month, and a division of your marital assets.
- Reacting emotionally to opposing counsel. Different lawyers have different approaches to their practice. Your spouse may have hired an attorney whose every email infuriates you. Do not lose sight of your end goals. At the end of the day, the lawyers are going to close your file and go away and you will be left to live with the final resolution of your case. Do not let a lawyer's personality affect the rest of your life.
- Rushing to finish. It will take a while to analyze your case and come up with a solution. This is not a quick or easy process. Talk to your lawyer about a realistic timeframe for reaching a resolution.
- Foregoing your own financial interest in order to "keep the peace." If your spouse is willing to capitalize on a financial settlement because he/she knows you will not push back, he or she will continue to take advantage of you in the future. You are just shortchanging yourself and you likely will not receive the future benefit you think you are "buying."
- Reacting emotionally to emails or text messages from your ex. This is a highly emotional time. However, you are rarely helping your case by sending a long email to your ex enumerating every transgression he or she committed over the course of your relationship. Resist the urge to "engage" in unconstructive email diatribes. The same is true for phone messages that may be played back in court.
- Being pennywise and pound-foolish. Legal fees are expensive. Many clients try not to use their attorney very much to save attorney's fees. Being cost-effective is great, but not if it costs you significantly more in the end. An oversight of a major financial issue is far more costly than a few hours of legal work.