First step in proceeding with divorce: Get a good lawyer
Question: I have been married to my husband for over 25 years. He is a physician, an orthopedic surgeon. Our three children are adults with their own families.
I have been in charge of the family’s finances to the extent that I pay the bills, take the papers to the accountant and look at the brokerage statements when they arrive. During the last three years, our portfolio has taken a hit on paper, but is coming back, but the value of our home on the Intracoastal has gone down about 40 percent.
From time to time during our married lives, I thought that he was seeing other women, but I never had real evidence. I did not want to rock the boat while our kids were growing up, and never had any real proof, until last week, when I received a long letter from a woman who had worked for him for many years, but had recently been fired.
She described their relationship in great detail. She told me about money he had given her off the books, jewelry he had bought for her, and their regular schedule of extra curricular sex. I confronted him, and he did not deny the relationship. Under the circumstances, there is nothing that I could do, so I asked him to leave, and he did.
I don’t know anything about divorce law. Can you tell me what to expect? What happens in a divorce case? How do I pick a lawyer, what can I do to get the best result? How much will the divorce cost?
Answer: You have asked the right questions, which generally come up during an initial conference with a new client.
Your choice of an attorney is very important. Choose an experienced specialist, whose practice has been limited to matrimonial matters for some time. A qualification to look for is board certification by The Florida Bar, but there are many attorneys who a very good, but not board certified.
Make certain that your attorney is experienced in actually trying cases, although most settle. Choose an attorney who often practices in the court in which your case will be filed, and has a good relationship with the judges of the court.
If you know an attorney or have had a friend recently divorced, ask their opinions about attorneys they have known, who they used, or who their husbands or wives had used. Often times we get referrals from people against whom we have litigated. Some attorneys have reputations of being “sharks”. Some times “sharks” bite those closest to them, their own clients, when it comes to fees and advice.
Try to set aside your emotions; never easy under the circumstances you describe. Angry people make bad decisions for the wrong reasons. Try to reach a resolution that is based upon sound economic principles, and complete knowledge of the facts. Do not base your future on speculation.
To the lawyer, the process is somewhat like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with the pieces turned over. He or she has met you, and heard your story. However, to advise you completely, discovery of your marital history and of your family’s assets and liabilities has to be undertaken. This happens at the beginning of the case in the discovery process.
Once the pieces of the puzzle are turned over, perhaps with the help of a forensic accountant, you and your professionals can develop a plan to reach the result that you want to achieve. At this point, mediation is arranged. Most, but not all cases, settle at mediation. Those cases that do not settle go to trial.
Throughout the process the most important contributions you can make to your case, in addition to being fully cooperative with your attorney during the discovery process, is to have realistic expectations of the ultimate results based upon your attorney’s opinions and the facts that you and the attorney uncover.
None of us can predict precisely what any case will cost. Since all divorce attorneys charge an hourly rate for services, unreasonable expectations on your part or on your husband’s part cannot help but raise your litigation costs.