As a Collaborative Divorce Attorney, I have witnessed the sheer agony experienced by those I have served in making the decision to divorce. I have learned just how important it is to finally and fully decide it is the right time to uncouple in the right way.
The first and most important decision is not a legal one at all.
Whether you are the spouse who is the one leaving or the one left behind, it is essential to attain complete acceptance that there is absolutely nothing left to do to save the marital relationship. Marriage is hard. Divorce is hard. If you seek spiritual and marital counseling and pray for reconciliation and the marriage cannot be saved, then you will not be down trodden with guilt and give away the farm or repeatedly file and then dismiss the divorce case and incur avoidable legal expense and stress. Further, if you have not accepted that the divorce filed by your spouse in Texas will happen regardless of your desire or hope for reconciliation, there may be complications. Without acceptance, you may unintentionally sabotage a successful outcome by doubting yourself or question the true motives of your spouse, your lawyer, and the professionals who are trying their best to serve your interests and goals. Often, self-doubt is projected on others.
The second most important choice you have to make is selecting an attorney who is a good fit for you.
Other factors besides the hourly rate the attorney will charge are important, too. Things which are essential to your attorney-client relationship are built on trust. Things like: Does the attorney really listen to you or talk more about herself or himself? Things like a belief in confidentiality. Does the attorney tell you war stories and share the names of his or her other clients? Does the attorney have the time to return phone calls and reply to emails and texts from you? There are moments in litigated and even Collaborative Divorces when you are in crises or need immediate advice. Every client deserves that kind of hand-holding by an attorney in the difficult passage of divorce. When my clients apologize for communicating outside of normal office hours, I often reply, “There is no need to apologize. I am an attorney who is available 24/7 like an OBGYN.”
The third most important decision to be made is selecting the best legal process to dissolve your marriage.
That choice is for you and hopefully your spouse to make in unison. It is a choice for you to make and not your lawyer. The resolution process choice will have ramifications which you, not your attorney, will have to live with after the divorce. One resolution process is litigated divorce. Sometimes litigation is required because of spousal abuse, addiction, child abuse or severe mental illness or personality disorder. However, I believe that the vast majority of divorcing couples do not want a court fight. You and your spouse are likely intelligent. You both can make good decisions in settling the divorce if you are provided the relevant information and competent legal, financial and parenting advice. Your spouse may have committed an affair, but your spouse may be a very good parent. You may want to avoid litigation as it often harms your co-parenting relationship, which may be already stressed by marital conflict, separation, and the impending divorce. You may want to preserve the co-parenting relationship and put your children first.
If you own little property to divide and have no children, you may be able to settle the divorce at the kitchen table. Then, lawyers each of you hire will prepare an Agreed Final Decree of Divorce.
If you and your spouse understand the nature and value of the marital property and respect each other’s ability as parents, another option is to seek out a qualified mediator to facilitate a settlement. After mediation, attorneys for each of you can be hired to prepare the Agreed Decree of Divorce. The downside of mediation is that the mediator cannot give you legal advice.
You may want to select the Collaborative Divorce Process which, unlike litigation, focuses on solutions and not blame. In Collaborative Divorce, you and your spouse do not give up your right for a jury, to do formal discovery, or take depositions and call witnesses. Rather, you both park the litigation bus on the side of the road to give a peaceful resolution between you and your spouse a chance to succeed. It is focused on providing you and your spouse the best chance to have the best resolution for the family. Your interests, goals, and concerns will be your compass; a GPS so to speak. You will determine the final destination of your divorce. The GPS, embodied in your individual and joint interests and goals, will show you how to get there. You and your spouse will need to hire Collaborative Divorce Attorneys who are trained and have substantial experience in this field. Be wary of attorneys who advertise that they handle Collaborative Divorce matters, but they have never been trained or handled a single Collaborative Divorce. They are not members of Collaborative Divorce Texas (CDT) or a local practice group, like Collaborative Divorce Houston. In Texas, you are fortunate to find lawyers who have been credentialed by CDT. Credentialing is hard to get and requires substantial training and experience. Last, in Collaborative Divorce, you and your spouse agree to use a team approach in which neutral allied professionals in communication, parenting, and finance provide invaluable support to make the divorce process work more smoothly. Those allied, neutral and joint professionals are akin to the broomers in the sport of Curling. The better the multi-disciplinary team, the more likely the process of divorce will end well for you, your spouse, and for your children. The Collaborative Divorce Process is voluntary. You and your spouse can withdraw from the process for any reason and employ litigators to seek relief from the Court.