Being divorced myself, I can certainly relate to the emotional stress and turmoil involved in ending a marriage. There are more questions than answers. It can feel completely overwhelming, it can feel like the walls are closing in, and the weight of the world is on your shoulders. It is important to understand that all of these emotions and worries are 100% normal. It is always important to speak to an attorney that specializes in divorce to help you understand what to expect through the divorce process.
Am I making the right decision? Are my kids going to hate me? What will my friends and family say about me? To some degree, every divorcing person has these concerns and countless others, no matter how brave a front they may display to the outside world. There are issues that may complicate your decision even more such as illness, unemployment, children, immigration issues, dividing assets/debts, and sometimes there are issues of addiction and domestic violence, among countless others.
Whatever the factual circumstances, obtaining a full, confidential consultation from an experienced family lawyer who can walk you compassionately through the divorce process can do wonders to alleviate the stress involved in making the very difficult decision to end a marriage.
Here are some of the most common questions I receive.
Can I move out of the house?
Generally speaking, it is not advisable to move out of the marital home unless and until most of the matrimonial issues are resolved by way of settlement or court decision. This is especially true when there are children involved. Moving out before settling matrimonial issues can and will prejudice a parent’s arguments as to custody and parenting time.
Prematurely moving out can have a significant impact on spousal support and/or child support. Also, moving out can impact the support a spouse might be entitled to during the pendency of the divorce proceeding and can have an impact upon any claims to distribution of the debts/equity in the marital home.
It must be noted however, that safety is always paramount and that divorcing parties should be advised of the New Jersey Domestic Violence Act. If there is a history of domestic violence, a term defined under New Jersey law, the general advice outlined above may change significantly. Every case is unique. It is crucial to seek the advice of a family lawyer prior to making any changes that impact the marital status quo — in particular, moving out of the marital home.
What if I don’t know anything about our finances?
The important thing to remember here is: Don’t panic! Your tax return is a good place to start. Also, there are things you can do before you file for divorce to help your family lawyer obtain the best results possible. The law is designed to protect you.
There are discovery mechanisms that exist in the law that allow your lawyer to obtain financial data relevant to your divorce. You can aid your lawyer by simply gathering together as much readily available data as you can find, such as your bank and/or credit card statements.
For example, divorcing parties are required to file a Case Information Statement. This Statement requires parties to set forth under penalty of perjury any and all financial assets and debts, as well as information about the marital lifestyle, income and bills. Paying attention and gathering information is invaluable and can significantly impact your lawyer’s ability to obtain the best results for you.
Knowledge is power! Your lawyer can issue subpoenas to banks and even to your spouse’s employer to obtain information relevant to your divorce. You can help your lawyer by simply paying attention to the credit cards your spouse is using, the banking institutions your spouse uses for regular checking, and/or other accounts such as investment accounts. An experienced matrimonial lawyer will be able to advise you on arguments that are available to you, to either minimize or maximize claims to equitable distribution and support. A full intake meeting with a lawyer and your preparation are invaluable tools prior to filing a divorce and effectively navigating the process.
How do lawyers get paid in a divorce/family matter proceeding?
Ethically, lawyers representing litigants in domestic relations matters are prohibited from taking a fee based on results, or what is commonly referred to as a contingency fee.
Matrimonial/family lawyers work based on a billable hourly rate structure. It is impossible to predict with precise certainty how much it will cost to get divorced or to engage in any other domestic relations proceeding. An experienced family lawyer may estimate the time necessary to begin working with a client based on the complexity of each individual case/matter.
An experienced family lawyer will then normally ask for an initial retainer amount to be billed against going forward. It is critical to openly communicate with your lawyer from the outset and to understand that legal services may become costly, especially if a matter becomes contentious. The right divorce lawyer should be able to resolve your matter in an efficient manner and guide you through what can be an exceptionally difficult process to manage and understand. Ask questions and be proactive; you are paying for your lawyer’s time and expertise.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a life changing event, don’t be paralyzed by fear and uncertainty. It is your right to seek and obtain a full and confidential consultation from a lawyer of your choice. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Many people move on to have healthy and happy relationships post divorce. In fact, many of my clients remarry and later seek advice regarding pre-nuptial agreements and/or cohabitation agreements. Whether you stay or go, you deserve to make an informed decision based on your rights. Don’t sign any papers unless and until you consult with a lawyer.
If you need help with your own divorce and are seeking counsel to guide you through the divorce process, contact me and let’s talk about your needs.
Yeugenia K. Samardin, Esq.