You've probably heard the old saying, "You don't know what you don't know," before, but when you've made the decision to divorce, that saying becomes much more relevant in your day-to-day life as you work your way through the divorce process. Divorce is more than just "we aren't going to be married anymore", but involves making decisions that will affect the rest of your life, your spouse's life, and your children's lives for many years to come and therefore, should never be taken lightly. While it's certainly important to have the best attorney you can afford on your side, there are other professionals I always recommend a client have on their side during a divorce - especially any divorce which involves a long-term marriage.
1. Legal Professional - Your Attorney
It goes without saying that the #1 professional you need on your side is an attorney, but not just any attorney. You need an attorney who practices in Family Court the majority of the time. There are attorneys out there who practice in other areas of the law, but just like you'd never go to a brain surgeon to fix a foot problem, why would you want to go to a criminal or personal injury attorney to handle your divorce and/or child custody case? You should hire the best family law attorney your budget will allow. Remember, your parenting future and your financial future will depend on the decisions this attorney will help you make. If your case involves contested hearings or a contested final trial, your future will be decided by a judge listening to the arguments made by the attorney you hire. Experience matters.
2. Emotional Support Professional - Your Therapist
The divorce process is stressful and full of emotional ups and downs like nothing you've experienced before. You need to be healthy physically and emotionally throughout the process in order to withstand it all. We often refer our clients, most of whom have never experienced a need for therapy before, to a professional therapist. No, we don't believe our clients are "crazy" or "mentally ill", but we've been through divorce ourselves. We've experienced the turmoil of contested child custody cases. We watch every day as our clients learn to adjust to their new realities as "soon-to-be ex-spouses" or the "part-time" parent or the "sole-custody single-parent". These transitions, even when part of the original goals of the clients, are still major life shifts and having help during the adjustment process is not a sign of failure, but rather a sign of great strength and wisdom.
3. Financial Professional - Your Advisor or Accountant
While some attorneys, like me, have a financial or business degree background, there are many cases where relying on financial advice from only your attorney would a tragic misstep. In marriages which have lasted many, many years, or which have accumulated a number of high-value assets, it's important to add a financial professional to your legal team to get expert opinions on both value at the time of separation (which the Family Court will require to be able to equitably divide the assets) and also calculations for any special equity you may be due for property not considered wholly marital, in nature. If you or your spouse are self-employed or either of you owns an interest in a business, a financial expert will be necessary to determine the true annual income which will be used for purposes of alimony and child support calculations. Yes, this is an added cost to your litigation expenses, but I've seen more than one case where my client saved or, in some cases, gained hundreds of thousands of dollars in the equitable division calculations just by having an experienced forensic accountant on our side at the time of settlement negotiations or trial.
4. Real Estate Professional - Your Appraiser and/or Agent
Most divorcing couples own at least one piece of real estate - the marital home - and while it may be easy in some cases to agree on the value of the home, in cases where the parties disagree about the value of their real estate, an appraiser will be a critical addition to your legal team. When a marriage involves multiple pieces of real estate, having a real estate expert will be the only way to properly illustrate for the Family Court the true values of the properties for purposes of equitable division. And, if any properties are to be sold as part of the divorce process, you will want to have a highly experienced real estate professional onboard to list and market the properties to get the expected dollar value out of each property sold. Depending on the tax consequences of any sales or transfers, you will also want a real estate professional who is experienced in working with divorcing couples and their tax professionals.
5. Co-Parenting Professional - Co-Parenting Coach or Therapist
If you have children and are expecting a contested child custody case to be part of your divorce process, you will want to talk to your attorney about who specializes in co-parenting therapy in your area. Even if the court doesn't order you and your spouse to go through co-parenting therapy, having a few sessions with a co-parenting coach or therapist is never a bad idea. Parenting after divorce is much different than parenting as married parents living under the same roof. A co-parenting therapist can help you learn the best communication skills for successful parenting post-separation. While you may no longer be in love with the other parent, unless the other parent has done something truly egregious (think: true child abuse, documented drug addict, in prison, etc.) in the court's eyes, they will retain the same parenting rights you have and the two of you will be expected by the Family Court to cooperate with each other in the realm of parenting. Having this professional on your legal team will be a godsend when the emotional aspects of the case get heated and it becomes difficult to discuss normal day-to-day parenting decisions with the person you're now fighting against in court hearings.
There are, of course, many other sources of support and guidance during the divorce process such as your family members, close friends, and spiritual advisors, but the above professionals will be well-versed in dealing with divorce and are going to be objective in matters which may be too emotional for you or your personal support network to see with normal levels of objectivity. When choosing these professionals to work with you, you should only hire those who make you feel at ease with their professional practices and who are straight-forward when rendering their opinions. You don't need team members who won't be honest about the weaknesses in your case or who won't point out your bad behavior when it's harmful to your goals in the case.
If you or someone you know is considering starting the divorce process, The Stevens Firm, P.A. - Family Law Center has provided exceptional legal counsel and support to families throughout South Carolina for over twenty-five years, handling all matters of family law, such as child custody, child support, and divorce. We are well-equipped to handle all divorce and family law matters, no matter your circumstances. Contact us today to schedule an initial consultation.