Client survival guide: Tips from Mike Schiffman for navigating court proceedings

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As a family lawyer, I’ve dealt with many, many divorce cases, from the amicable to the downright nasty. We talk often about what makes a good divorce lawyer. That’s important, as you want someone representing you who will have your best interests in mind and ultimately get you the results you want and need in a divorce. But what makes a good divorce client? There are a few things I’ve noticed over the years that my most successful clients–those who get what they want in divorce but also maintain the best control over their mental and physical health throughout the process–have in common. It is my goal to have my clients emerge from the process in a healthy state.

1. Understand your emotions

Divorce is inherently emotional. It’s also not always fair, unfortunately. You won’t always be able to control outcomes, and in some cases, those outcomes might not be what you want. The clients who are able to understand that divorce, like life, isn’t fair, but move forward anyway and work with my team to make the process as balanced as it is possible to be, are usually better off. It can feel like your ex is getting everything they want, or like things are taking longer than they should. Taking a step back to look at the reality of the situation is often helpful (and often your ex probably feels the same way). Taking out your frustration on others going through the process with you — like your family, friends, and lawyer — is generally not helpful. Don’t be surprised if the process takes longer or seems to hit a pause, as cooling off or not responding to the opposition’s sense of urgency can work in your favor.  Trust your attorney’s ability to “read” the opposition’s timeline to the final resolution.

2. Understand court orders

Court orders are just that–orders. However, some clients think of them as suggestions. This only causes more headache later on. If you disobey a court order, you will have a hard time receiving something you want in the divorce down the line. You could also be punished. It’s my responsibility as an attorney to make sure the order is as clear as possible and my client understands me fully, so there are no slip-ups. As a client, it is your responsibility to listen to me and follow the order. At the same time, if something is not written in a court order, it doesn’t count. I see clients get intimidated by spouses or realtors or others and think they need to pay fees, or give into agreements, or any number of things. Until it’s ordered by a judge, you don’t have to do it. This is why I encourage my clients to come to me before making any payments or concessions to other parties.

3. Don’t be vindictive

I get it if you hate your soon to be ex-spouse, but that doesn’t mean you should make decisions based on how much you can hurt him or her. Deliberately hurting the other party can also hurt your kids, if you have them, and even yourself. Decisions made with a vindictive mindset aren’t always the actual best decisions for the divorce. As hard as it can be, make your decisions based on your personal welfare and the welfare of your children.

4. Keep good records

Record keeping is extremely important in divorce. If your financial and other records are organized, the entire process will run much more smoothly. Once I have the records I will also keep them organized as your attorney, but if you’re part of the process you will feel more in control and will often be happier with the outcomes.

5. Take care of yourself

Divorce can be emotional, stressful, and draining. Take care of yourself. Going to the gym, eating healthily, being social, being responsible with your finances–these are all things that can be done in the short term to help you be happier in the long-term, even throughout a stressful divorce process. I’ve noticed my clients who prioritize personal health and self-care are also able to handle the divorce better.

If you’re thinking about getting divorced and just want to talk it through, you can set up a free one-hour consultation with me anytime. I will spend our time answering your questions, explaining your options and reviewing your situation so that you may make the most informed decision about this life altering process.  At Schiffman Family Law we believe an informed decision is always your best option.