A common, but sad comment which we often hear from clients who are facing a divorce is their
feeling that they have no choices.

No choice because their spouse wants a divorce or no choice because their spouse’s behavior compels them to file for a divorce.

Feeling that one is out of control of something as important as the continuation of their marriage, is sad to hear, and, I am sure, frustrating to the individual.

However, it is seldom true. You do have a number of choices beginning with how or whether you can accept your spouse’s behavior or decision to a number of very important choices from the inception of your divorce to its conclusion.

Consider, for example, the following.

Your spouse’s behavior—-or expressed decision to seek a divorce–

You may find that your spouse is engaged in an extramarital affair, your spouse may be abusing alcohol or your spouse may be inattentive and unaffectionate. 

Your spouse may announce to you that he/she has decided to file for a divorce.

Although each of these are profound problems, they do not, necessarily, result in the inescapable conclusion that you have no choice other than divorce.

Your spouse’s announced intention to seek a divorce may be a cry for attention. It may be a misguided solution to pressures unrelated to the marriage.

Your spouse’s failure to communicate, show affection or engage in marital relations may be a defense mechanism to avoid what she/he thinks will be your rejection, it may be the result of a very legitimate physical condition or emotional depression.

Even an extramarital affair may be a misguided attempt to solve what she/he perceives to be a lack of affection from you, a loss of intensity in your marital relationship or simply a misdirected  attempt to validate him/herself.

If your marriage is important to you, do not simply accept your spouse’s decisions or actions as being the only alternative. Instead, consider–

*seeking counseling for yourself to explore whether there is something which you could be doing better or, at least, differently, to help change the situation
*express to your spouse in clear, unequivocal, but nonconfrontational, terms how much you value your marriage and want to work to save it .

*educate yourself with regard to the offending conduct. Al Anon, for example, can provide you with valuable insights into functioning as the spouse of an alcoholic. There are other support groups for virtually every form of human behavior; research and seek them out.

When all else fails, and if you still committed to maintaining your marriage in the face of what appears to insurmountable odds, simply stay the course.  Remain consistent and calm, exercise an attitude of forgiveness and reconciliation as opposed to blame and recrimination and reaffirm to your spouse your love and the importance of your marriage.

There is no guarantee that the results will be what you wish them to be, but the effort of trying can leave you with a much more positive attitude if the marriage does not survive than simply feeling forced to accept your spouse’s behavior or decision.

Make a reasoned choice in the selection of your attorney—

If, despite your efforts, the marriage fails, the selection of an attorney is one of the most important decisions you will make.

Ask for and consider the recommendations of other professionals, of persons who have been through a divorce and any others who may have insight into the competent divorce attorneys in your area.  However, do not accept such recommendations without doing your own due diligence and personally meeting with the recommended attorney(s).

In the internet age, simply Googling the names of suggested attorneys will provide considerable information.

Check the divorce specific websites. Some, for example, are the Supreme Court’s listing of Certified Matrimonial Attorneys (there are only about 100 statewide), The American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys (there are about 1500 nationwide) and The American College of Family Trial Lawyers (there are only 100 nationwide).  Best Lawyers or Super Lawyers and Martindale Hubble are peer review ratings of attorneys and are useful particularly if used in conjunction with other sources.

After doing your due diligence, meet with the attorneys whom you are considering.   Ask direct questions: how long have you been practicing, how much of your work is divorce related, how often do you appear in the county of your residence and any such questions specifically relevant to your case.  Listen to both the answers and the tone of the answer.  Any competent or qualified

Attorney can provide you with answers to such questions, is very accustomed to have clients interview them and should not express any impatience to the nature of the questions. 

You will feel much more in control of the process if you diligently and intelligently attempt to make the choice.

Inquire as to alternative fee arrangements with the attorney–

Do not be afraid to openly and honestly discuss fees with the attorneys you are interviewing.

Current practice and Supreme Court Rules of practice virtually mandate that your attorney charge you by an hourly rate.  They also require that the fee agreement be in writing with very specific and detailed provisions mandated by the Court itself through its rule making process.

Therefore, you will almost certainly be told that “my hourly rate is X “, and may often be told that the attorney cannot yet project a reasonable fee estimate.

You should not accept that answer without further inquiry.

You should ask the attorney about the experience of  his/her staff and their hourly rates, you should ask how the attorney will delegate to staff in order to keep your blended hourly rate as low as competently possible and, if the attorney cannot or will not give you a budget estimate, ask when they expect that they will be able to do so and what can be done if their budget estimate exceeds your ability to pay.

Give– don’t simply receive– the strategic directives for your case–  

Not all cases, and not all clients are alike.

Your goals for your divorce may or may not be the same as the attorney’s expectations for your case or the goals of other similarly situated clients.

You should delegate the legal decisions and strategies to your attorney, but you should never surrender your ability to decide all non-legal strategies and goals that are often more important than the legal issues.

For example, whether or not you should attempt to retain your home is not a legal decision. Where your children attend school, what religious training they are to receive or even whether to take certain assets instead of others are non-legal decisions. These are decisions which you and you alone should make. You should solicit the advice of your attorney or others (your family, your accountant , a competent child psychologist, etc), but you must retain the right to make those decisions yourself and exercise that right.

The choices which you make will affect you and your children’s lives for years into the future and should be made by each client using their own sense of values and judgment.

Make your own choice as to whether you wish to pursue your remedies solely through the legal system or with the assistance of alternative dispute resolution——

Every divorce attorney is ethically required to advise every client as to the nature and availability of the various alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.

They may include mediation or arbitration, they may include the Court ordered and provided Early Settlement Panel or they may include using a mental professional to serve as a mediator of parenting issues or even to serve as parenting coordinator.

There are some cases in which various of these alternatives are contra indicated—for example, if there a Domestic Violence Restraining Order in place, mediation may not be an alternative.
If there is a power, knowledge or ability to communicate imbalance, any alternative resolution may be ill advised. Or, conversely where there are tax evasion problems or other personal, embarrassing or damaging issues which should not discussed in open court, alternative resolution may be highly recommended.

In the final analysis, knowledge is power and the power to consider and make alternative choices may or may not result in saving your marriage, but, if not, they will give you a much more satisfactory feeling about the conclusion to your divorce.