Ask Attorney Jennifer B.: How to Help Clients Through a Divorce
Due to an increase in divorce filings, we often refer to January as “divorce month.” This can be attributed to new year resolutions; it’s an apt time for many to assess their lives and work on changing or improving — and that absolutely means considering the status of a relationship. Another reason for divorces rising in specifically January is that some couples hold off filing during the holidays for the sake of their children and extended families, or the holiday stress exacerbated existing marital problems, causing the relationship to reach its breaking point.
Choosing to pursue divorce or being on the receiving end of divorce papers is never easy for clients. The following tips, however, show how you can approach these clients with empathy and guide them through the process.
Ask if they’ve pursued all options to save the marriage
No one wants to regret pursuing a divorce if the marriage could have been saved. While a divorce can be withdrawn after it is filed, the damage that is done can’t be reversed and your client might be out quite a bit of money. Lawyers recommend a cooling off period or trial separation so that each party can regroup and consider what life may be like without the other person. Individual counseling is also an important step — a counselor may help your client see the relationship in a different light. If the relationship cannot be salvaged, a therapist can help deal with the emotional turmoil that follows a divorce.
Your client should be armed with information
Preparation is the key to most events in life and it is no different in a divorce. Before filing for divorce, clients need to suss out key information about the process and what their future could look like without a spouse. There is so much information online, potential clients are seeking your advice to explain the proceedings and liabilities that can vary state to state.
Make sure they pay attention to critical information
While most people think about the emotional aspects of divorce, much of the legal process is focused on dividing assets and figuring out income for support/alimony purposes. As such, your client must have a handle on their finances, i.e. where accounts are held and their values, knowing the household income, and understanding expenses. This can save time and money in the divorce. Although all the information may not be immediately ascertainable and likely obtained as the divorce proceeds, your client’s awareness of their finances can make the process a bit simpler and also ease the transition into living a separate financial life from one’s spouse.
Be a solid, supportive figure during this time
As they say it takes a village to raise a child, it also helps to have a village to get through a divorce. As the legal counsel, your client has confidence and trust in you. Recommend they have family and friends who listen and offer guidance without judgment. Have your own network of therapists and counselors who work with patients going through relationship and marriage issues.
Have patience (both you and your client)
Once there is a decision to divorce, most clients understandably want it over as soon as possible. However, divorce is a process and it may take considerable time to resolve all of the issues attendant to the divorce. As an attorney, you’re responsible of discussing all the possible items and issues that can be a barrier to a smooth divorce, and be transparent about the length of time needed to get to a conclusion.
Divorce is never easy or something that should be taken lightly but by following the above tips, you can make the process a little easier and less overwhelming for your client.
With more than 25 years of experience in the industry, Jennifer Brandt’s practice includes all aspects of family law including divorce, custody, support, alimony, adoption, and guardianship matters in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. In addition to family law litigation, she also negotiates prenuptial, post-nuptial and cohabitation agreements on behalf of clients. In addition to her busy practice, she’s a well-known legal commentator on national news networks including CNN, CNN Headline News, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, ABC News, Court TV and local and regional television and radio.
If you have a family law issue or would like me to speak about legal issues, you can connect with Ms. Brandt at www.cozen.com.