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Lessen Negative Attorney Client Relations
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Minimizing Negative Consequences of Divorce Through Lawyer/Client Relations

by Lynne Z. Gold-Bikin, Esq.

Excerpted From Margorie Engelís "Divorce Help Sourcebook" Available By Credit Card Purchase on This Website for $17.95(Click on Our Store above)


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The couple relationship during divorce is typically an exaggerated version of the couple relationship that evolved during the marriage: each partner knows the emotional buttons to push. This means that divorce law, unlike other areas of law, has emotional overtones that often leave clients angry and dissatisfied when the legal divorce is over.

Saving Time and Money

Often divorce lawyers are convinced that many of their clients' marriages could have been saved if the couples had received appropriate help when the troubles first began. But it is usually too late for a satisfactory reconciliation by the time clients reach a divorce lawyer's office. At that point, the lawyer's obligation is to get the marital dissolution case over as quickly as the system will allow and fairness will warrant. During the divorce process, both husband and wife are usually experiencing a reduced standard of living, and the longer the process lasts, the more financial harm is done to the family.

The legal process is often a "hurry up and wait" proposition. You rush to get your case into the system and then you wait for it to go through the necessary channels.

Many couples blame their lawyers for the time and expense of the divorce. In reality, the process is stretched out when one spouse withholds information and forces the use of expensive and time consuming motions and subpoenas. Most responsible lawyers will not accept clients who plan to be vindictive toward their spouse, because they know that the client will become poorernot only financially but also by the emotional outcome of such tactics. These lawyers advise clients to obtain counseling to manage anger and fear. Divorce counseling, while not designed to bring the parties back together, can aid in a separation without lengthy litigation.

Dividing the "Marital Pot"

Lawyers and clients can work together to minimize the negative legal consequences of a divorce. This requires a cooperative lawyer for each spouse and clients who agree to provide, on a timely basis, all of the information necessary to settle the case. Lawyers facilitate cooperation by telling clients at the outset that they must share financial records, tax returns, appraisals, and all other documents that may be helpful in determining the true income and complete assets of the parties. After reviewing this information and evaluating current and future needs, the parties and their counsel sit down to fairly divide the "marital pot."

Division of assets is usually a three-step process:

1. Identify the assets

2. Value the assets

3. Divide the assets according to the state's dissolution code

When both parties and their lawyers are willing to be reasonable, this process can occur fairly rapidly and litigation can be avoided. Couples who choose not to be cooperative with each other steer their divorce into the court system where the parties and their lawyers have limited control over the timing or the outcome of the divorce process. Lengthy delays occur as a result of burdened court schedules at a time when patience is at a minimum.

Is Your Attorney Meeting Your Legal Needs?

Are you treated as a valued client?

Are you kept regularly informed?

Are you comfortable with the working relationship between the opposing attorneys?

Is your attorney making decisions or taking steps that you have not discussed or approved?

Do you feel time is being wasted? Do you know the reason for delays?

Do you feel pressured into accepting a settlement instead of working out a proper deal?

Before you change attorneys, discuss your grievances with the attorney you originally hired. You had a lot of information to work with when you hired your attorney and presumably you did it for some very sound reasons. If you restate those reasons and present the difficulties you are having, your attorney may see what needs to be done to get the attorney-client relationship back on track.

For the most satisfactory divorce, it is critically important that clients participate in all phases of the dissolution process. They should insist that lawyers provide copies of all correspondence and all pleadings. Lawyers should keep clients up to date on the progress of their case and answer questions promptly. A lack of feedback leads to a frequently heard complaint about divorce attorneys, "My lawyer doesn't return my phone calls."

Most lawyers who handle domestic relations cases are extremely busy. Clients who understand the pressures of a divorce practice recognize that when their lawyer cannot call back, he or she is taking care of someone else's case at that time. When first agreeing to work together, it is a good idea for lawyer and client to discuss how information will be provided to the client on a regular basis and who in the lawyer's office can respond to urgent messages or questions if the lawyer is not immediately available.

A satisfactory divorce requires cooperationcooperation between spouses, cooperation between attorneys, and cooperation between spouses and their legal counsel.

About the Author

Lynne Z. Gold-Bikin, Esq., President of Gold-Bikin, Welsh & Associates in Norristown, Pennsylvania, is Chair-Elect of the American Bar Association/Family Law Section and a fellow of both the International and the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Adjunct Professor at the University of Houston Law School for the Trial Advocacy Institute, Lynne also serves on the editorial board of "The Advocate" for the American Bar Association, and "Practical Lawyer,"published by the American Law Institute.

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