Preparing for a Divorce: How to Choose a Lawyer

With so many high profile divorces in the news – McKenzie Scott and Dan Jewett; Marjorie Taylor Greene and Perry Greene; and soon Tom Brady and Giselle Bundchen, you may be questioning the strength of your own marriage.  In fact, whether you’re a celebrity or not, everyone going through a divorce has the same first question – where do I start? 

Maybe you’ve thought about divorce for years, or perhaps your spouse just threw you a curveball and you don’t know where to turn, except to a box of tissues of course.  In any case, one of the most critical first steps in preparing for divorce is choosing your lawyer. 

With so many options, this can be an overwhelming prospect. There are large, big name firms with matrimonial departments, boutique law firms that specialize in divorce, lawyers who have gained stardom by representing the famous, sole practitioners, and lawyers who market themselves as experienced in domestic violence, fertility, custody, LGBTQ, or complicated financial issues. 

As a partner in the prominent New York and Hamptons matrimonial and family law firm Stutman Stutman Lichtenstein LLP,  I’m here to help with tips on choosing the right attorney:

  1. Keep critical thinking at the forefront of every decision: Often, and especially when divorce is foisted upon us, emotion kicks in and a gut response becomes the decision maker. We’ve all heard the saying “never make a decision when you’re mad” and that especially applies to your divorce process.

  2. Consider your needs:  You will no doubt receive lawyer recommendations from friends, family, and/or professionals. It’s important to understand why that person is recommending this specific attorney and also be aware that every divorce is different and every person going through divorce has different needs. Make sure your needs drive your decision. Think about these questions for example:

    1. Do you want the process to be amicable or do you want someone who is going to “fight” and stand up for you against your spouse? Is cost a driving factor?  Are you concerned about the effect on your children? Do you want it to proceed quickly or do you need time to digest this major choice in your life.
  3. Shop Around: Don’t be afraid to meet with different divorce attorneys for consultations. I suggest meeting at least three different attorneys to compare different personalities and focus. There may be a fee, but it is a worthwhile investment . Be prepared with questions and find someone who is the right fit for your needs and budget. 

Even before you’ve gone through these three steps and decide on a lawyer, it is important to amass your financial information in order to prepare for the divorce.  Gather all your and your soon-to-be ex-spouse’s  financial papers – tax returns, credit card statements, bank information, etc. for the past 3-5 years, but don’t move money around.  

In cases where custody is involved, it may be helpful to keep a log of the other person’s comings and goings, what they say and do.  Be sure you are also aware of your soon-to-be ex-spouse’s finances.  

And, very importantly, change all your computer passwords  

It may seem like a long and daunting process – but there is light at the end of the tunnel.