By Erin Levine
On more than one occasion, a new client has contacted my office to book a meeting because they are livid, shocked or upset, having learned that their ex has met with a lawyer. Their minds go immediately to worst-case-scenario situations: they’ve hired a pitbull, they’re going to try to take everything.
If you’ve felt the same way at any point in the divorce process so far, listen up: seeking legal help is not a reason to panic.
If your ex has legal questions, they should seek counsel. So should you, even if you just want a 30-minute gut check with a (California) lawyer. Divorce is the separation of the most complicated financial and emotional contract either of you has likely ever entered into. Having (correct) information and feeling informed and empowered is not just smart, but also a helpful way to de-escalate conflict and focus on what actually matters instead of getting caught up in the small stuff. In my 13 years of experience, I’ve found that each party understanding their exposure and their leverage translates into less anger, less bitterness, and more humility.
Do you have an exit strategy for your divorce? Your ex should, too. Have you thought about what you want when it comes to personal property you shared? Your ex should, too. Do you have a plan for what happens next, post-divorce? Your ex should, too. (See where I’m going here?)
What I can’t stand about the divorce system (and a huge reason behind why I started Hello Divorce) is that it is set up to pit spouse against spouse. We’re required to file a lawsuit to separate, and in so many cases it quickly becomes X versus Y. The process is set up to create conflict.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Not if we don’t let it. The system won’t change overnight, but we can change how we approach this broken system: with honesty, respect and transparency.
So, here are three things you can do right now to move forward if you’ve just learned that your ex is talking to a lawyer.
Reach out to your ex. I know, this can be a hard one. But if you’re at the beginning of your divorce and you’ve just learned that your ex has spoken with a lawyer, this is the perfect opportunity to suggest that you take a side step and try mediation first. Let them know you understand they have questions about this process, and that you do, too. A mediator is a far more affordable option than both of you hiring attorneys, and the mediator will be able to answer both of your legal questions as they help you through the paperwork.
Start booking your own interview calls with lawyers. Having more information is always a good thing. And just because you had a preliminary call or meeting with a lawyer doesn’t mean you need to hire them. But having two or three pre-calls will help you get a sense of how it might be to work with a lawyer on your divorce, it’ll give you a sense of the fees involved and can help you understand what you want (and what you don’t) in a lawyer if you and your ex do decide to work through attorneys to complete your divorce.
Read up on the divorce process. While you wait to learn whether your ex is going to hire an attorney (or while you’re deciding whether to hire one yourself), dive in to get a good understanding of how the process works. If you’re in California, Hello Divorce’s free Divorce Navigator offers an excellent, digestible breakdown of the California divorce process. (And, ahem, it’s free.) The more you know about the system, the more comfortable you’ll be as your divorce works through it.
Look – this process is broken. But, you don’t have to let it break you. Or your ex.
About the Author
Erin Levine is a Certified Family Law Specialist and the owner and managing attorney of Levine Family Law Group, based in Oakland, CA. She is the founder and CEO of Hello Divorce, a platform that helps users divorce on their terms, offering curated articles and resources, DIY videos, instructional form templates, flat-fee legal services and mediation. Learn more or register for a free Hello Divorce starter membership at www.HelloDivorce.com. For advice, inspiration and tips to help you navigate your divorce, follow Erin on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.