Novels, movies, and literally centuries of music offer views of divorce or other breakups, co-parenting, and other family issues. From the movie The War of the Roses, we see lots of bad behavior between divorcing spouses. (Bad behavior also featured in the actual war of the same name, but the war bears less direct relationship to family law issues.) The movie Kramer vs. Kramer has been the source of lots of misinformation about how access to children is or can be addressed. In the song “Goodbye Earl,” the Dixie Chicks offer a look at domestic violence survivors, but not necessarily good advice. Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly features bigamy as well as cultural and religious conflicts between spouses. Again, it provides a story but no practical advice for people in similar situations.
The list goes on—I could devote the rest of my column to video clips, sound bites, or other looks at the real-life situations faced by people involved with family law issues. Instead, we have compiled a set of articles offering hot tips for clients dealing with real-life family law situations. You won’t hear the unmistakable voice of Tammy Wynette singing about her “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” or Paul Anka crooning about “Having My Baby,” but you will get easy-to-use, practical hints for what to do or not do in your own situation. This is not a substitute for actual legal advice. Rather it is a tool to help you work effectively with your lawyer.
Karen Platt writes about “How Do You Know You Are Ready for Divorce?” This article discusses issues to consider in determining if the time is right for you to file for divorce—assuming that you have the ability to make that decision for yourself. If you are in a position to choose when to divorce, the author provides insight relating to factors you will want to consider, including psychological readiness, support systems, financial readiness, and other matters.
Brian Vertz offers an article called “Five Classic Pop Songs that Contain Advice for Getting Separated.” He notes that some classic pop songs, while not substitutes for the advice of a good friend or your family lawyer, can offer some comfort, inspiration, and maybe little nuggets of wisdom as you plan for marital separation. He draws on Fleetwood Mac, the Steve Miller Band, Sheryl Crow, and the Beatles to provide tips on how to “Go Your Own Way,” “Take the Money and Run,” and deal with “The Tax Man,” among other things.
Communicating with your lawyer and others will be an important part of any proceeding. Kristina Hohne provides tips on “Communicating with Your Lawyer: What to Expect and How to Avoid the Pitfalls.” This article answers questions about what to share with your lawyer, what to keep to yourself, and how to avoid potential problems along the way. She also discusses the use and misuse of electronic communications and social media, as well as when to depend on your lawyer’s staff, who may be able to assist you and accomplish tasks at a cheaper rate. The article also offers tips for when and how to communicate with the opposing party, and why to avoid direct communication with your spouse’s lawyer.
A family law proceeding is not like surgery where you can be unconscious until the proceeding is over. Rather, you will need to be an active participant in your proceeding, and Stacy Phillips has provided tips for doing that. As she notes, divorce is all about control. In her article “On Being an Active Participant in Your Divorce: Tips from Thirty Years’ Experience as a Divorce Attorney,” she observes that a first step may be to become knowledgeable about both your and your spouse’s finances. The article identifies the kinds of materials and information to collect and provide to your lawyer. The author also offers tips for good ways to select a lawyer and to assemble a team of different experts if necessary. She also suggests ways to distinguish between what goes on with your legal team and what is shared with family, friends, or others in your support network.
No one enters a competition hoping to lose. Athletes generally adopt a training regimen and avoid those things that would undermine their odds of success. We don’t see Olympic runners in spike heels or cross-country skiers in bathing suits. Family law litigants can, unintentionally, commit similarly grievous errors. The hot tips from Brian Karpf and Maxwell Dauerman address “How Not to Sabotage Your Case.” The tips include ways to protect yourself both before and after filing for divorce. There are social media and other digital dos and don’ts. Finally, the authors warn you not to discuss your case with the press and advise you to read with a critical eye everything you read on the Internet!
Despite efforts and hopes for an agreed resolution, matters sometimes go to court. Thad Woody offers “A Client’s Guide to Courtroom Behavior.” While there are variations in local customs and preferences of individual judges, the author provides tips designed to help you understand the norms of respect and decorum that should be observed. He covers things like timing, how to dress, and what and who to bring, or not bring, to court. He also offers advice for managing your emotions in the courtroom and courthouse; communicating with your lawyer during the proceeding; and if, when, and how to interact with the judge, court staff, the opposing side’s lawyer, and your spouse.
When you are struggling with the financial, psychological, and legal issues associated with a divorce, your children need more attention than ever. Joan McWilliams offers tips for “Protecting Your Children Before, During, and After Divorce.” The good news is that children can successfully survive divorce and thrive afterwards if you follow some basic commonsense guidelines. The tips include beneficial ways to create a plan for how you will treat your children before, during, and after your divorce. There is also advice on how to talk to your children, as your discussion with them about the decision to divorce may be one of the most difficult you will ever have. There are also tips for ways a parent can help children become resilient.
Once your divorce is over, your obligations under the terms of your divorce may be just beginning. Madilyn Keating Ellsworth offers tips for “After Your Divorce Is Final: Tying Up Loose Ends.” Her tips include ways to make sure you understand the terms and follow-up steps required of both you and the other party. There are also tips for steps you will want to take and things to consider as a newly single person and if you are considering a new relationship.
If surrogacy is the type of family law proceeding you are contemplating, Lila Newberry Bradley and Dean Hutchison provide understanding of “How Will My ART Lawyer Help Me with My Surrogacy Journey?” They offer a multitude of tips covering such questions as how do I choose a lawyer?, what does my lawyer need from me?, who drafts the contract?, do we go to court?, what else do I need to think about?, and what if I am not U.S. citizen or permanent resident? fa