If you are contemplating a divorce, you may be wondering when you should get a lawyer involved. Should you speak with a divorce attorney now, or wait until you decide to actually file? Does it matter? In this article, you can find out more about the timing of contacting a lawyer for your divorce, and the potential disadvantages of waiting. Keep reading to discover:
- Whether you need to meet with an attorney before you decide to get divorced.
- Three examples of the risks you could be taking if you wait to speak with a divorce lawyer about your case.
- In what circumstances it may be fine to wait until the divorce is imminent to contact an attorney.
How Important Is It to Meet With An Attorney Before I Decide To Get Divorced?
The divorce process is stressful, and trying to understand the timing of when you should take certain steps is not always clear. Whether or not you should meet with an attorney before you decide to get divorced depends on the specifics of your situation.
For some couples, it is fine to meet with an attorney once they have decided to get divorced and they are ready to file. However, in some cases, damage has already been done before you meet with an attorney to file for your divorce.
Our firm has many real-world examples of the damage that can occur if you decide to wait to speak with an attorney…
Example #1: Losing Money
One of our clients consulted our firm on a divorce matter after he and his wife had just sold a co-op and received $250,000 in equity. We suggested that if they wanted to terminate the marriage, it would be best not to wait to file the divorce. Unfortunately, this client did not take our advice and waited for nearly two years before he decided to take action.
When you file for divorce in the state of New York, it places automatic orders on your accounts so neither party can close or transfer money out of accounts, except in the usual course of business (https://www.nycourts.gov/LegacyPDFS/divorce/forms_instructions/Notice.pdf). When this client finally hired our firm, he informed us that the equity he and his wife received had been in the joint account. However, his wife had taken the entire $250,000 and placed it in her own account, leaving him with nothing.
His case had already been damaged before it even started. When we spoke to the Divorce Judge, he agreed that it was a good argument for trial – but did not order our client’s wife to restore or split the funds she had taken.
Our client’s wife then had $250,000 to spend on divorce lawyers, while he had nothing to spend on an attorney. Her divorce attorney used that to their advantage. Eventually, our client had to agree to a settlement vastly lower than what he would have received if he had been able to continue to retain an attorney.
Example #2: Self-Sabotaging Behavior
Before working with us, another client made threats and accusations toward his soon-to-be ex-wife, including death threats, which she reported. He tried to explain during the divorce case that he didn’t mean it literally – it was just his morbid sense of humor. He also explained he was going through extreme depression and admitted it had been wrong to joke in that way.
However, his wife had evidence with audio transcriptions, and she requested an order of protection and supervised visits for their children. The Judge granted her request immediately, putting our client at a vast disadvantage in any custody or access litigation.
Example #3: Lack of Evidence
Divorce cases are often closely linked with child custody cases. One of our clients had decided to represent herself in her child custody case before eventually retaining our firm to represent her. During that time, she made allegations of child abuse and child neglect regarding the child’s other parent. She filed a petition to modify the child custody settlement that had been arranged a month before.
However, the court decided that these were false allegations. If she had been working with our firm and had consulted us before taking these actions, her case may have ended differently.
We would have suggested that she either drop the allegations or obtain evidence to back up her claims. For instance, she should have obtained a medical opinion on her child’s condition, such as a physician who saw marks on her child that are consistent with child abuse or child neglect. Without medical evidence, merely seeing marks or bruises on your child – without more – is not enough to provide proof of abuse to the court.
In all of these examples, working with an attorney from the start could have solved these issues or kept them from occurring in the first place. When you come to an attorney after-the-fact, you may have already done damage to your case.
If you see that your marriage is clearly heading for divorce – and working with a therapist or a religious leader cannot save it – it is best to consult with an attorney right away. You can discuss the potential custody and financial issues that could be involved and get legal guidance, even in an initial consultation. Even if you do not plan to file for divorce for another year or more, you should obtain legal counsel now to prepare you for the eventual filing.
When Is the Right Time To Consult A Divorce Attorney If I Am Considering Divorce Or Believe My Spouse Will File For Divorce?
The best time to speak with your divorce attorney depends on the issues that are involved. If you have a relatively simple case, without children or substantial assets or property, then it may be safe to wait until the divorce is imminent to consult a lawyer.
However, if you anticipate issues such as contested income for alimony or child support, or property or asset distribution disputes – or even if you’re unsure – you will want to meet with a divorce attorney right away.
As the examples above illustrate, even if you think you will not file for divorce for another several months or a year, it is better to have a consultation with a divorce attorney right away so you can improve your case for the eventual filing. This helps protect you from incriminating statements and offers a way to manage your income and your assets to put you in a better position for the divorce filing.