A (Very) Brief Overview of the Divorce Process
It is commonly held that one of the most stressful events a person can experience in life is a divorce. Whether you are the one filing the divorce, or you are the one whose partner wants to move on, your world is suddenly being turned upside down. Emotions begin to run high and rational thought is hard to come to. Suddenly, your thoughts turn to the following questions: What are we going to tell the kids? How am I going to support myself and the children? How are we supposed to raise our children responsibly between two different homes? Can the children stay in their same school? Can I afford to still live in my own home? Am I ever going to be able to retire now? What am I going to do about health insurance?
These questions are common concerns that our clients raise, and each one can have a significant impact on their stress levels. Everything is changing. At these times, a good divorce attorney can help the client see the light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how far away it may seem. My goal as a divorce lawyer is to assist the client continue to move forward in the process, and try and come to a mutual agreement with the other side, thereby helping to keep costs down. Divorce agreements will typically include provisions for legal and physical custody of the children, parenting plans (often referred to as visitation schedules), child support, health insurance provisions, college education and extracurricular expenses, what to do with the personal property of the parties (bank accounts and the “knives and forks”), what is going to happen to the marital home, and how to divide retirement accounts.
When working out issues regarding the children, it is important to keep one question in mind…what is in the best interests of the children? That is the only question the judge will be asking. During this stressful time in your life, you would be kidding yourself to believe your divorce is not affecting your children. However, our goal should be for the children to be affected as little as absolutely possible during the divorce. Your lawyer can help guide you through these issues, and point out the strengths and weaknesses of your arguments and concerns.
In dealing with the property, everything that has been owned during the course of the marriage is considered “marital property” and “marital debt.” The law in Massachusetts is that these items need to be divided between the parties fairly and equitably. This is one of those terms that keep lawyers employed. What is the definition of “fair and equitable?” It could mean 50/50. It could mean 60/40. I have seen it be as much as 70/30. A lot will depend on the clients themselves, and their actions throughout the course of the marriage. Another key factor will be the length of the marriage. Was it a marriage of only 2 years or was it over 20? Again, your attorney can help guide you to understand what “fair and equitable” means in your particular case.
I am a firm believer that it is best for the clients to come to an agreement on their own. Why would you want some stranger in a black robe, who really knows nothing about you or your children, to make all of the decisions in your case? I prefer to let my clients be in the driver’s seat and make these decisions. However, in some cases, no matter how hard you try to come to an amicable resolution with the other side, a trial is unavoidable. Trials are expensive, and they are extremely stressful. The key to success at that point is preparation. But make no mistake about it, you are giving up any control you had on the case once you walk into a trial. Again, this is the time when a good divorce attorney can help provide the client with his/her best chances for a positive outcome.
Divorce is a stressful time. Having a good family law and divorce lawyer helping you through the process can be an asset. At the very least, it is always a good idea to consult with an attorney at the outset to help you understand the process and begin to protect your rights. After all, the only person who has rights is the person who knows what those rights are.