How to NOT make your divorce attorney’s job harder (and drain your retainer)

Hiring an attorney is a necessary part of divorce, assuming you’d like to emerge with your life and finances in order and your future secure. Legal counsel is also expensive. Don’t get me wrong: a good divorce lawyer is worth every penny, but clients frequently burn through their legal retainers (the advance fee for their attorney’s services) faster than necessary by hampering or undoing the work being done on their behalf.

One question I ask every divorce attorney I meet, including those in my referral database, is: “How do your clients complicate the process and make your job harder?” Here are the top five responses.

  1. Not listening. You’ve paid for expert legal advice, so heed it. Ignoring your lawyer’s counsel and acting unilaterally is like throwing a monkey wrench into the machinery of your divorce case. Once you’ve agreed upon a strategy, don’t steer away.
  2. Not disclosing all the details. Every attorney’s worst nightmare is to be taken by surprise when the other side turns out to know something they don’t. Rest assured, at some point during the proceedings all your skeletons will be exposed, so do your attorney a favor and give him/her the chance to prepare.
  3. Having unrealistic expectations. “I’m going to take him to the cleaners.” “I want to keep everything.” “She had an affair, so I should get (fill in the blank).” “The kids will never see him again.” Divorce is a land of compromise. No one walks away with everything they want. Try to keep your demands reasonable, and at least consider the other side’s point of view.
  4. Sharing strategies with your spouse. During negotiation, timing is everything. How, when, and why information is shared can be critical. When in doubt, don’t telegraph your intentions. Listen to your attorney’s suggestions about when to bring up a topic or reveal important details.
  5. Slinging mud. Communication is one of the hardest parts of divorce. See my previous post, Emailing Your Ex- Spouse:  A How to Guide for some ideas for managing it. When you let your emotions take over and fire off that ugly email, you leave a trail of evidence about your irrational behavior. You undermine your credibility. If your spouse or ex- makes a comment that pushes your buttons, ignore it; don’t engage. Stick to the facts.

Trust me: taking the high road will benefit you in the end.

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