OMG, He/She met with a lawyer!

I will frequently answer a client call and hear a scream into the phone, “He / She MET WITH A LAWYER!” I even had a client’s spouse file for divorce the second he discovered that she had simply consulted with one. Why is everyone so afraid of lawyers? 

After the scream has subsided, my response is always, “That is GREAT news! I am so glad they took the time to become informed. Now they have caught up to you in learning more about how the divorce process works.”

It is everyone’s right and responsibility to become informed. Learning how family law applies to the facts in your case is an excellent place to start. If more spouses would slow down and take the time to learn more about the divorce process, maybe we could de-escalate tensions, just a bit. Information and education is a great antidote to fear. Clients often assume that by simply consulting with a lawyer, their spouse is being told how to take advantage of them.

Spouses seek legal advice for many reasons, and while we worry that the mere fact that they consulted with a lawyer indicates malicious intent, this is not often the case (I said not often). What is really important is that the spouse gains a more realistic understanding to better manage their expectations.

Good lawyers will begin a new consult by listening and providing feedback about how the law applies to the facts of the case. If a spouse has a distorted view of what they might be entitled to or what they think is fair to give, it is the lawyer’s responsibility to disabuse them of that way of thinking. The first meeting with a lawyer is important. In some cases, it discourages spouses from moving forward because the financial reality just doesn’t make sense. Or it informs a spouse that slowing down at work to dodge support obligations, or to engage in certain financial activity might not be wise. The spouse might learn that the judge in that county won’t look favorably on a particular set of facts. Who knows what they are saying, but it is a pretty good guarantee that the lawyer is not saying, “YES, you’ll walk away with everything and your spouse will be left with nothing; sign here on the dotted line and let’s get started!”

Often a spouse worries that a generous spouse will be told by a lawyer to be less generous. I was in a consult once when a spouse asked if he could give more to his wife than what the calculations suggested. Surprise, the lawyer did not discourage him. The lawyer simply explained the facts, the calculations and how to think creatively about the big picture.

Some spouses believe that an ignorant spouse is better than an informed spouse. They believe that if their spouse is uninformed they will either give more or accept less. This is incredibly short-sighted. Keeping your spouse from the information is not a solid long-term strategy. The facts are the facts, and it is incumbent on you to work with a professional to find ways to be creative and settle in a way that is successful for both of you, no matter how little you might like the person at this moment.

So, let’s acknowledge that and change the narrative. It is great news when a spouse meets with a divorce professional, that means they are getting smart. So why not get smart, too, and find ways, together, to keep the money in the family by identifying the facts and exploring creative solutions for moving forward.

Lastly, while it is essential to obtain solid legal advice as to how family law applies to the facts in your case, the keyword is "facts." A lawyer cannot give you actionable feedback on financial generalities and stories. It is dangerous to get attached to concepts they might suggest when the facts turn out to be different than the picture you painted. Before running to a lawyer, start by organizing your financials with as much clarity and back-up documents as you have available. If your financials are at all complex, do some preliminary work with a divorce financial expert so that when you spend an expensive hour with a lawyer, they are responding to an accurate picture. At we built the Case Profile and financial I &E Sync technology features for exactly this reason. This process will save time and money and more importantly, it will get you to the more precise answers far more efficiently.

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