When should you call an attorney to consult about your divorce?
From the very first minute that you think about a divorce.
You don’t need to have already decided to divorce. You don’t even need to be seriously contemplating it. You don’t even need to be in favor of getting a divorce, just concerned that your spouse may be contemplating it. That’s when you call. Not a minute later.
Why should you call at the first inkling of divorce? Because it is wise. Because it is safe. Because it is in your best interest.
A divorce in court is all about the narrative, the frame, the story of your life as provided to the judge. This is not to say that the story is made up, contrived to accomplish some sinister plan, rather it is about taking your actual situation and explaining it in a way that fits society’s perception of the way the world works under similar situations.
We all operate in frames, conclusory categories or expectations. Those frames simplify our understanding of life. Those frames can also be used to push a hostile narrative for the overwhelming benefit of one party and to the detriment of the other resulting sometimes in the somewhat wholesale abandonment of reality. Frames are important. Frames are critical. Frames can sometimes be fatal.
So, that first moment when you think about divorce, you want to talk to an attorney to explain what’s going on, what prompts your concerns, what, should you later find yourself in a divorce, you would like to see happen, your best case scenario should divorce be in your future. At that early stage, you don’t yet know that a divorce will happen so you don’t yet know whether or not your spouse and you will agree on everything. Maybe yes. Maybe no. At that early stage, all bets are off, all options are on the table. At that early stage, you need information. You need knowledge. You need power.
You need to talk to an attorney.
The divorce attorney will hear your story, interpret it through time-honored frames and come up with recommendations that both help clarify your position going forward and greatly increase achieving the outcome you most desire.
I talked with a woman who called me very late in her case. Perhaps too late. Her husband and she had fallen out bitterly. He was abusive but she never wanted to expose him because it might jeopardize his job and his standing in the community. One night, in a moment of candor, she told him that she wanted a quiet divorce. Things didn’t go well for her from there.
Before she had the presence of mind to call me, he had hired a vicious attorney, filed for divorce, claimed she was crazy, got temporary custody of the children and imposed upon her a duty to submit to a psychological exam by a doctor of her husband’s choosing. She did not set the frame. The frame was set for her. When she finally called me, she was feeling the full weight of that onerous frame.
Had she called me when she first thought of divorcing her abusive husband, I would have listened to all that she wanted to accomplish from the divorce, explained to her the way that divorces from abusive husbands often go (not nicely) and laid out a strategy that prepared her to prevent him from flanking her, from abusing her in court like he abused her at home.
Now, this far into her husband’s story playing out, she ha a difficult task of rehabilitating herself to the judge and creating and promoting a narrative that would overtake the harsh one pounded on by her husband. It can be done but it is the opposite of water rolling downhill. It is more like mud sludging uphill.
Don’t ever pass up an opportunity to find out what your rights are, what your options are, what your best next steps are. The moment divorce passes through your synaptic passes, call a divorce attorney.
Seriously, from the very first minute.