Guide for Choosing a Divorce Attorney for no-court process. Divorce Mediation or Collaborative Divorce Lawyer Search
This guide is written with the hope that you will use this resource to find the correct attorney, divorce mediator, or collaborative divorce attorney for an amicable, constructive, cost-effective dissolution or separation. Here are some things you should consider during this search.
A good attorney-mediator should be skilled at listening to you and your story. Listening is key to good communication. A good attorney-mediator is prepared to meet with you, is organized and will help you work through your conflicts in a constructive and systematic way. Divorce is a complex process and must be approached step by step. A skilled experience attorney-mediator helps you understand the entire process, from filing the legal documents, to financial inventory and all the steps necessary to reach a final agreement. The mediator will describe the process and all the steps needed, (and the order of such steps) in order to navigate the process successfully. There is a certain sequence that must be observed. Whether the parties litigate their divorce or mediate, financial inventory must be comprehensive and accurate. Both spouses must full understand the finances, the benefits and detriments in the division of specific assets. Bothe spouses must fully understand the ramifications of all their decisions. Here I would like to give a small example: let’s assume the wife wants to keep her pension. In exchange she is willing to forgo the equity in the house. I see this scenario repeated in my office over and over again. The pension dollars are taxed. The pension is future money which you can only take out when she meets her retirement age under the plan. The pension plan my go bankrupt. The wife may decide to change jobs or her job gets eliminated. Not only, the bargain is not equal (as $1 in the pension is less than $1 in the house). The trade perhaps is not fair. Cash today vs. maybe taxed cash when she reaches 55 or 65 or whatever age required by the pension benefit. The husband also may feel that he has no other retirement savings for later in life. Depending on the Pension Plans, or retirement plans, the risk for the spouse retaining mostly retirement funds can be great. I digressed, hence I will not deliberate the possibility that the market value of the house can collapse (or boom) due to unstable real-estate market conditions in the area where the real-estate is located.
Know Your Options:
If you choose not to mediate, an attorney should discuss with you all your divorce or separation options. There is more than one option for divorce. Pro se representation, divorce litigation, divorce arbitration, collaborative divorce, divorce mediation and divorce co-mediation (gender neutral team OR lawyer/non-lawyer team). You should be made aware that there is more than one way to end your marriage. Litigation, if this is your first option, may be more invasive than it needs to be. A skilled attorney will offer you all the options available to end your marriage. At CT Mediation Center and Divorce Attorneys we only practice divorce mediation, collaborative divorce and divorce arbitration.
Meet face-to-face with your attorney:
A good attorney-mediator offers consultations (either for a fee or free of charge, depending on their practice). They should respond to your calls or e-mails promptly. Keep in mind, if the attorney has a full schedule, his or her paralegal helps you schedule an appointment, and the paralegals are trained as legal assistants to assist you with some (not all) your questions. Only the attorney or mediators are knowledgeable about the subject matter of your case and the laws in the State of Connecticut. They have a background in family law with experience in handling mainly divorce cases. You should work with an attorney-mediator whose background fits the issue to be negotiated in your case. Issues you may need to discuss and negotiate include child support, real-estate related issues, spousal support, financial matters, property distribution, retirement and investment distribution, and various debts and taxes.
The divorce mediator should have the following experience: the mediator should be primarily experienced in divorce and family law issues. The reason for this is the fact that the CT statutes and family law cases change all the time. Divorce attorneys must undergo continuing legal training to maintain their license. Various guidelines change. The way real-estate is distributed in a divorce is complex. Pension or retirement distribution in the divorce process is a mine field that must be travelled carefully and correctly. The steps and overall process of commencing and finalizing a divorce in the CT courts changes constantly. In fact, the process for a divorce in Hartford County can be different that in Fairfield or New London counties. The divorce mediator must be skilled in all financial aspects of divorce. How is child support guideline calculated correctly. What are the tax implications of guideline. What if scenarios must be ran alternating the custodian parent in certain appropriate situations. How are deviations calculated. Are the deductions correctly assumed. In addition to the divorce mediator knowing the financial and legal requirements of divorce in the State of Connecticut, the divorce mediator must also know the expectations of the judges in each county in granting a dissolution of marriage.
Mediators who are non-attorneys:
If you choose a mediator who is not an attorney, plan to work closely with a consulting lawyer who can make sure you are covering all the legal and financial aspects as you go through the divorce negotiation stages. Keep in mind that the overall total cost for mediating a divorce with a non-divorce mediator may be higher than working with an attorney mediator, due to the fact that both you and your spouse will have to hire separate attorneys to draft your agreements and obtain legal and financial advice necessary to have a comprehensive agreement. A non-attorney mediator cannot discuss with you the law and provide you any legal information or discuss case law or judicial opinions. If they do so, they engage in the process of practicing law without a license. The way doctors cannot practice medicine without a license, therapist, psychologist, financial professionals or other professions are precluded from practicing law without license from the bar association in their respective state. You should preferably consult with a divorce attorney immediately after your first mediation session (if your mediator is a not a family or divorce attorney) and meet with them regularly through the entire process if you plan in to mediate your divorce with a non-attorney.
Role of Review Attorney:
If you decide to mediate, a skilled attorney-mediator will refer you to a reviewing counsel (a separate lawyer who will review your mediated agreement in detail with you), either at the beginning or at the end of the mediation process. Let me clarify what a review attorney does: It is not necessary to hire a review attorney; however, this review process offers you yet another level of assurance, protection, peace of mind that the separation agreement is comprehensive and addresses all nuances required in your agreement. The mediator must remain neutral at all times, and as the mediator writes an agreement for both spouses. During your meeting with your own separate review attorney, he/she will offer legal and financial advice only addressing your best interests, irrespective of the consequences to the other spouse. Again this is a review attorney who understands and appreciates that your intention is to have a constructive divorce. After all you are not selecting a litigation lawyer who may unscramble all your decision reached with your spouse. His/her role is to review your agreement to ensure you have addressed all the aspects of your divorce correctly and you are protected in the agreement. The role of the review attorney is to fully explain to you, in detail the ramifications of your decision. During the meeting with your review attorney the purpose of this step is to help you fully and accurately understand the contract, to ensure that all aspects of your divorce are addressed, that the agreement is fair and equitable to you only and that there are no long term negative consequences to you by signing this agreement.
Questions about Education and Experience
- How many years of experience do you have as an attorney-mediator?
- How many cases have you handled?
- What percentage of your practice is devoted to divorce mediation, litigation or collaborative divorce? (as reminder, it is nearly impossible for a professional to engage in the practice of litigation and mediation at the same time) The practice of litigation is difficult, taxing and demanding. Litigators are fighters. The practice of mediation requires a different skill all together. The skills, training, personality and approach of the divorce mediators are completely different that that of the litigation attorneys. Bottom line, do not hire a mediator if you need litigation. Do not hire a litigator if you want a amicable, constructive divorce.
- How many divorce cases have you mediated in the past year?
- How many years have you practiced divorce mediation?
- How many hours of professional training do you have in mediation, litigation or collaborative divorce?
- How do you solve power imbalance issues, domestic violence issues, and substance abuse and recovery issues?
Questions about Fees
- What is the basic mediation fee or hourly rate?
- What is the fee for the first session only?
- If I want co-mediation is there a different fee?
- What are the total costs of the divorce process? This is the hidden cost of divorce which often are not discussed with clients. A detail list of all the costs of the divorce process is necessary to fully understand to overall cost of divorce.
- How does the cost compare with a litigated divorce or collaborative divorce?
- What is the total overall cost?
Questions about Process
- How long is the first session?
- What do I need to bring to the first session?
- How do I prepare for the first session?
- Is there a step by step plan?
- What is my homework and what can I do to save money in this process?
- What happens at the second session and subsequent sessions?
- Is there a process that the mediator follows? Is mediation or your representation confidential?
- How long are the mediation sessions and how many sessions do I need?
- Who prepares the agreement?
- Who prepares the Court paperwork?
- Do I have to go to Court?
Write down your first impressions and take notes. Choose an attorney-mediator who you feel listens to you, is qualified to handle your case, is neutral, has vast experience in divorce and family law, and does not have any preexisting relationship with either you or your spouse that would create a conflict of interest. A highly qualified attorney-mediator may work very well with another couple but be the wrong match for you.
Always remember that you should make decisions that feel right and make sense to you.
All mediators at CT Mediation Center are glad to answer all your questions and concerns about mediation, divorce co-mediation, arbitration and collaborative divorce and most importantly your specific questions about your issues. Call our offices today at (860) 986-1141 to set your informational appointment. All divorce mediation consultations are free of charge. The only requirement for the mediation consultation is that both spouses must attend.
To learn more about how divorce mediation can help your case, contact any of our Divorce Attorney Mediators or Certified Divorce Financial Analysts at CT Divorce Mediation Centers. Divorce and Family Mediation and Collaborative Law are all we do. We have offices in Madison, New Haven, Cheshire, West Hartford, Glastonbury, West Hartford, and Windsor, CT. To find out more information or to schedule a consultation with our divorce experts, call us at (860) 986-1141.
DISCLAIMER:This publication is not meant to constitute legal, accounting, financial, investment advisory, or other professional advice. If legal, financial, investment advisory or other professional assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person such as CT Divorce Mediation center, should be sought.