CHOOSE YOUR FAMILY LAWYER WISELY (AND AVOID THE MARRIAGE STORY PATH)!
Choosing the right family lawyer to work with you on your separation is so important.... you need to consider more than just how many wins he or she has recently had in court! It is really important to choose a lawyer that understands you and what is most important to you now and in the future. It is also important that your lawyer understands what is important to your spouse too, because you will not reach an agreement until some of the needs of each of you are met. If you have seen Marriage Story, after the mediator’s involvement ended, neither of the lawyers dug into what was really important to each of Nicole and Charlie. Sadly for them and their son Henry, they ended up going down a traditional legal path with their lawyers that neither of them wanted to go down.
When you are initially meeting with a family lawyer, beware of the lawyer who marches immediately into discussions about your legal entitlements and what you should or will get at the end of the day. After all, he or she has heard only one perspective (yours) at that stage. In that first meeting, my objective is to get to know my client and what is really important to him or her so I can assist that client to reach a meaningful settlement.
I ask questions like:
- What is most important to you now and at the end of your divorce?
- What are you most concerned about or fearful of?
- What do you need to reach a resolution?
- What does your spouse need to reach a resolution?
- If there are children, what do you want them to remember of this period in your family life?
The answers to these questions speak volumes to me about how to help my client get to a good agreement with their spouse. If only Nicole and Charlie’s lawyers in Marriage Story had asked those questions of them at the outset!
Don’t misunderstand me… the legal framework and legal entitlements are important, for sure, as they form the foundation of family law. You must be properly advised of this foundation as your move through the process. But your lawyer should not make assumptions at the outset about your values and interests and simply default to what the law and the courts say. The risk in doing so is that the ultimate resolution may not be a good fit for you.
The Collaborative Divorce process is an interest-based process where the professionals explore the values and interests of each of the clients and help them to craft an agreement that meets these values and interests while always considering the legal foundation. You and your spouse retain control over the process and the ultimate agreement.
Choose your lawyer and your process wisely!
Marriage Story. Directed by Noah Baumbach, performances by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriage_Story