How to Work with Your Divorce Attorney

Expectations and Relationship

Your relationship with your divorce attorney is very important because you have to trust this individual with helping you to make decisions that may affect you for many years to come. For this reason, you must feel comfortable and trust your attorney's ability to represent you.

Often times, a parent feels disappointed with his or her attorney because the parent has had unrealistic expectations about what the attorney can and should do. After all, for most parents, having an attorney is a new experience. They only know what they see on TV or in the media.

You may not know what to expect or how to relate to the professional who represents you in court and helps negotiate important decisions about your child/children. To avoid feeling disappointed with your attorney, it will be helpful if you are realistic about what to expect from him or her. Also, keep in mind that attorneys have different styles and personalities just like everyone else. Take time to listen and get to know your attorney, just like you would with anyone new you meet.

Maintain Realistic Expectations and Calm Decision-Making

  • You naturally feel passionate about your case. Do not feel offended if your attorney does not share your enthusiasm. After all, your case is one of many.
  • Don't be outraged if the attorney for the other side distorts in court what you consider the truth. There are two sides to every story.
  • Do not make any agreements in court that you cannot live with for a long time. Once an agreement is made and approved by the court, changing it will require legal representation (and legal fees) and possibly another court hearing.
  • Do not lie to your attorney. He or she can do a better job for you if the professional is armed with all the facts before going to court.
  • Discuss with your attorney any potential "pitfalls" or negative events or facts that the opposing attorney might raise against you.  Your attorney can decide the best way to describe you and your life events, even potentially negative facts.
  • Remember that you and not your attorney will gather most of the information for your case. Otherwise, you will pay dearly for your attorney's time!  Ask your attorney for a list of specific things he or she needs or wants from you before going to court.
  • Well in advance of your court case, arrange for a last office visit with your attorney.  Inform the attorney of any changes; give the attorney any new information.
  • Although you will probably hear things that might anger you in court, stay honest and self-controlled. This will help your attorney make a better case in your favor.

Providing Emotional Support Is Not Your Attorney's Job

Emotional support:

Clients often turn to their attorney for emotional support. Most attorneys do not see themselves in the role of a counselor and to not feel qualified or comfortable in a supportive role.  If you feel you need extra support, see a counselor, psychologist, or your pastor.  Friends can be great supports and can listen--although they may not know how to advise you (or reassure you) about your legal questions.

Phone Calls:

Parents frequently complain about their attorney not returning phone calls. Often an attorney perceives phone calls from their client as a nuisance unless they have new information to give them or they are waiting for their client to return their call.   When a client calls to get a status report, most of the time your attorney will have nothing new to say. Consequently, the attorney may avoid taking your call, or may have an assistant or secretary relay information.

I can empathize with how attorneys feel when they receive an unsolicited phone call from a parent. Parents frequently call with no new information. They may just want to talk and feel reassured that their case is not forgotten. These calls are very time consuming when a professional has a busy schedule. In my own work, I find it helpful to have the case in front of me so I can review my notes before talking to the parent. This allows me to be better prepared to answer questions. A spontaneous call from a client throws me off balance. To keep this from happening, I have my secretary screen my calls and take a message so I can return the call later. I explain this practice to my clients so they will understand and not feel offended.

Timing:

You are not unusual if you believe that your case is unique and the most important in the world; but remember, most cases are ordinary and not unique, and require no special attention. Your attorney has many cases and will usually ignore your case after your initial consultations until the hearing is scheduled and the date is approaching. This may offend you but good attorneys are busy and they have to prioritize their time.

Remind yourself that *if* your attorney has any new information to tell you, or suddenly requires additional information from you, the attorney will initiate a call to you.

Hurry Up...and Wait

Getting to court can take a long time, especially if you require a full hearing because of a contested divorce or custody case. Some courts' schedules can be backed up for up to a year. To find out how long you can expect to wait to get to court, ask your attorney during your initial consultation. You must be patient.

You may also find that your case goes through periods of intense activity-- then nothing for many months!  Do not become overwhelmed or stressed by this process, because every parent (to one degree or another) goes through the same thing.  Once you have gathered the information your attorney requested, and have given this to the attorney, set the problems aside.  Of course you will think about the issues, how the case might go, etc.  If you have additional thoughts to tell the attorney, write these in a notebook and put it with your court information.  Otherwise, many parents deal with their stress, concerns, and emotions by writing these in a private journal.  Remember! not all of your worries and feelings need to be heard by your attorney.

And Wait Some More

Many parents are surprised when they go to court for a hearing, arrive early or promptly "on time," and then, find themselves sitting for hours while the attorneys and judge are talking in the Judge's chambers (Judge's office).  (The longest I've heard of a parent waiting in the corridor: 5 and 3/4ths hours.  Most often though, it's only a couple of hours, if that.)

This time is stressful and boring. What is happening is the judge is trying to encourage the attorneys to come to some kind of an agreement without a full hearing. Sometimes (not often), one or both attorneys will come out of chambers to discuss a point with their clients to see if an agreement can be reached--then return to the Judge with each side's position (answers).

However, usually, these discussions go on only with the attorneys and judge present.  You must trust that based on the information you gave your attorney, the attorney is doing their best to represent your interests while in the Judge's chambers. If an agreement can be reached, this is usually to your advantage because you avoid the emotional stress of the hearing and it is less expensive for both sides.

Instead of fretting, checking the clock, or jumping every time a door opens along the corridor, bring something from home to occupy your time.  Read a book, work on a craft, finish paperwork you need to do for your job--anything that will hold your interest but that can be quickly set aside if you are called to go into court.

Before Court  - Control your feelings

It is not uncommon for a parent to make his or her case a personal crusade. This is most noticeable when I see a parent carry a large briefcase of files and documents. This parent may make frequent calls to his or her attorney with new or additional information about your case. Though the parent's voice is filled with excitement and the parent expects the attorney to share the enthusiasm, instead, the parent may find the attorney busy and not available.

Feeling disappointed, the parent may keep calling until he or she gets through. When the parent finally reaches the attorney and shares the information, you may be disappointed by the attorney's lack of excitement and failure to praise the parent's labor and attention to details. The parent's disappointment is understandable. However, parents must realize that their separate attorneys care about the case but won't necessarily share the parents' passion. Many crusading parents tend to overkill on the amount and relevance of the information they give their respective attorneys.

At the same time, a parent need to guard against making more difficulties in their relationship with the other parent.  There is no need to make life more difficult, especially because this will affect the child / children.  Be cordial and as cooperative as possible.

In Court...Control your reactions

When you go to court and hear what you think are lies or embarrassing comments, it is important for you to maintain control of your reactions.

Of course you will have feelings!  You may feel angry or even enraged, embarrassed, ashamed (which often registers instead as anger), frustrated...or even sad, discouraged, or depressed.  Each of these are very normal reactions.  It is important, however, to remember you are in Court and primarily, Courts deal with facts, not emotions.  It doesn't look good for you or your attorney if you have an emotional outburst.  Plus, you may say something that could hurt your case. Instead, pass a note to your attorney or wait for the break to talk. Before the hearing, you and your attorney can arrange how the two of you are going to communicate during the hearing. Passing notes usually works well--just keep the message short.

Key Point to Remember

Before your court case, you may need help getting through the process.  If you think you need more support that what your attorney can offer, consider getting counseling or joining a support group. Your attorney may be empathetic but cannot be your counselor.