Close friends and family groups are often called upon to help negotiate and conduct divorces, and those relationships are often complicated by assumptions that come along with such a change of emotional status. Divorce can dramatically affect a household, whether a father is absent, the kids are going to college, or they both have jobs. But to complicate matters, relationships between spouses can change too. A dependent spouse can become independent and not seek to remain in the marriage. Some of us just don’t like parting with our children or are unable to separate our mental anguish from the physical demands of raising children. In other cases, divorce is still the best decision, and sometimes the issue isn’t the marriage itself, but the financial disparity between spouses.
Unmarried couples are often left to decipher the meaning of the legal agreement we are often sent by the court. For example, it is clear that either spouse has an equal right to half the marital assets, with the exception of a home, shared custody, or any child support. Though this may be written in language that both parties agree to, disputes arise about what exactly is “equity.” Now imagine that the spouse who was in charge of such negotiations is someone completely new to the family. Often, divorcing families find themselves seeking answers to complex questions through no means convenient to begin with.
Who is responsible for helping the children throughout the divorce proceedings? What are the formal implications of shared custody and shared parenting arrangements? Who gets the children after the legal issues are settled? Is that person designated as their custodial parent? Having children with different major dating partners has affected relationships and offers special challenges to managed separations. Luckily, my personal experience, like most recent marriages, is that the concept of shared parenting can often be reconciled despite legal disagreements. But, co-parenting is often not as easy or as fun as simply living together with the kids and being literally next door.
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Once the legal discussions are concluded, the talking often ends and we find ourselves making decisions about one another and the children without the support of a legal counsel. An attorney can help us navigate the complexities and do so with certainty and forward movement, but that doesn’t help us address the emotional consequences of divorce. Even without a legal adviser to guide us through the answers, my general advice is to negotiate a prenuptial agreement that includes your current and future incomes, your responsibilities for the assets in the household, and certain liabilities. By hiring a lawyer to walk you through the details, you’ll save yourself time and money in the future, and feel much more prepared for the negotiations and settlements that are going to happen after the attorney leaves your house.
Choosing an attorney is a personal decision. An attorney is the only person who knows your particular situation and that’s important when choosing an attorney. A lawyer can consult with you and follow up with the children to make sure your childcare plans work. A lawyer can help provide ongoing guidance for your family through conversations about the children’s finances or other legal matters. Some attorneys also help with the personal and even emotional fallout of divorce and estate planning. Who knows what legal issues might pop up in your household and what needs to be done to get them resolved. A professional can anticipate these needs and guide you toward helping your family through change.
When you hire a family lawyer, you have complete control over your consultation. An attorney shouldn’t be a stranger, and she shouldn’t ask to be paid by a third party. Instead, an attorney can use her relationship with you and your children to guide you through complex issues and secure the level of help you need to get through an amicable divorce and manage the effects. And when your lawyer goes home with you at the end of the day, you’re no longer surprised by a roadblock. If you ever feel as though the attorney is just filling in the paperwork, you’re doing them a disservice. A family attorney doesn’t just administer the divorce process; they teach you to negotiate fair, efficient, and hopefully an amicable settlement.
Above all, choose a family lawyer with true caring for your family and the children, and who will consider your best interests before any legal questions are asked. A lawyer who truly cares can help you avoid the difficult, time-consuming and financial decision that is divorce.
This story originally appeared on The Washington Post.