Last month I wrote a post about why you may want to consider hiring a divorce attorney for your family law case. In that post, I went into great detail about the pitfalls of trying to negotiate your own legal separation or divorce settlement – without consulting a divorce lawyer. But there is another problem that I come across far more often than people who don’t hire a lawyer at all. And that’s clients who hire me but then don’t listen to my advice. So today I want to help you understand the 5 critical moments when you must listen to your divorce lawyer and take their advice.
If you are going to spend thousands of dollars to hire a lawyer to negotiate on your behalf, then doesn’t it make sense that you should actually follow the advice they give you?
It’s ok not to like my advice – I realize I’m not perfect and I’m not always right. But at the same time, I have negotiated literally thousands of cases over the past 15 years since I first started practicing law. And by negotiating all of those cases, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to do it the right way and the wrong way.
You, on the other hand, have only been through this process once (hopefully). In addition, you are emotionally involved in the process. And you might be prone to make short-sighted decisions that, while they will eliminate your pain right now, are decisions that you will have to live with for years to come.
But Lawyers are Just Motivated by Fees…
I wish I could say that was true. But most family law attorneys (myself included) have a pretty full caseload and whether we are working on your case or someone else’s case doesn’t much matter.
In my practice I have two goals for my clients:
- Get the best deal possible.
- Resolve the case as quickly as possible.
Those two goals are not always aligned. In fact, they usually are not.
In order to get the best deal possible, sometimes it takes a lot of time and patience. You have to “strike when the iron is hot” so to say. If the deal isn’t right – then there is no sense in finalizing the separation agreement.
There is no deadline or statute of limitations in family law cases. You don’t have to get your case resolved by a certain point in time. And frequently, time is on your side. If you are more patient than your spouse, then you can use that to your advantage.
Unfortunately, some of my clients feel a need to rush the process. And while this isn’t always a bad decision, sometimes it is.
So how do you know when you should put the brakes on the process?
5 Signs You Need to Slow Down the Negotiations and Listen to Your Divorce Lawyer
There are many reasons to slow things down. Here are 5 signals that indicate you need to slow things down and listen to your divorce lawyer:
- Your spouse is threatening you.
- You start to feel like any deal is better than continuing to live with your spouse.
- You have a boyfriend/girlfriend who is pressuring you to finalize your agreement.
- You are running out of money to pay your lawyer.
- You have lost the willpower to continue negotiating.
Let’s take these one at a time.
Your Spouse is Threatening You
If your spouse is threatening you, (and I don’t mean threatening you with physical violence – I mean “You need to sign this agreement or I will sue you for all you’ve got” type of threats), then you may need to slow things down. A threat is an unsophisticated way to try to coerce someone into playing by your (often unfair) set of rules. When your spouse is threatening you (frequently with taking you to court or that his/her lawyer will “destroy” you) then they realize they are negotiating from a weak position.
People who threaten legal action to try to get you to agree to their terms should never be listened to. Your best move when this happens is to listen to your lawyer’s advice. And in these cases, I have very specific strategies that I counsel clients to use to disarm that spouse. If done correctly, they won’t even realize what you have done.
You feel like getting any deal done is better than continuing to live with your spouse
Living with someone who you hate and can’t stand to live with anymore is a really difficult place to be. I’ve counseled lots of clients who find themselves in this position. You may find yourself living with someone who does not want to separate, and you feel like you need to give up a substantial amount to get your spouse to leave or otherwise engage in the process.
Nothing slows a divorce down faster than a spouse that doesn’t want to get divorced. They will do all sorts of crazy things and make completely unreasonable demands in an effort to slow things down. You must recognize this for what it is – a delay tactic.
If you find yourself in this type of situation, there are things you can do to move the process along without losing your shirt. Your spouse can delay, but they can’t prevent the divorce forever.
You have a boyfriend/girlfriend who is pressuring you to finalize your agreement
Let me just say that having an affair while trying to negotiate your divorce settlement in North Carolina is a toxic combination. Don’t do it. Tell the boyfriend or girlfriend that they will just have to wait until your settlement is finished to resume your relationship. It will be hard, but it is better than your spouse finding out and suing them.
Trust me. You are doing them and yourself a favor.
You are running out of money to pay your lawyer
It’s not so much the running out of money that is a problem. Rather it’s not knowing when the process will end or how much it will cost. In our practice, we won’t take on a client unless we feel that they can afford to hire a lawyer. Clients who fit that mold either have a significant income (such that they can afford the ongoing expense of hiring a divorce lawyer) or they have assets that can be used to pay for that lawyer.
If a client doesn’t have any assets to divide and doesn’t have any income, then they may not require a divorce lawyer at all.
The big exception to this is a spouse who was a stay at home parent, is not working outside the home, and has no access to the financial accounts. In those cases, we will counsel people on how to gain access to funds so that they can hire a lawyer in the short-term and seek reimbursement from their spouse in court.
You have lost the willpower to continue negotiating
This is a common concern from many clients. And the solution is surprisingly easy.
Take a break.
Unless you have a court deadline or a threatening spouse (see above), there is no urgency to getting an agreement drafted immediately. It’s ok to step back and take a break from the negotiation. Sometimes taking a few days (or even a few weeks) away from thinking about your separation agreement will allow you to come back with a fresh perspective and energized to finish things up.
Final Thoughts About Listening to Your Divorce Lawyer and Following Their Advice
At the end of the negotiation, YOU are the person who will have to live with the agreement you make. YOU will be the one paying or receiving alimony. YOU are the one that will have to divide up your retirement account or receive a distribution from your spouse, and YOU will be the one that has to live in or give up the house you built as a married couple or else sell/refinance it to buy out the other spouse (or get bought out).
Decisions on these matters are not easy and they don’t get easier by ignoring the advice of your divorce attorney. Your attorney wants to get you the best deal possible. The best case scenario is for you to look back at your agreement in 6 months or a year and feel like you did the best you could and are happy with the agreement that was negotiated.
If you ignore your lawyer’s advice and give up everything to your spouse, will you still feel that way?