Just when you thought it was safe you are suddenly faced with a request for a separation or, worse yet, a divorce. You experience a sudden rush of denial or perhaps anger. Surely this cannot be happening to you. You begin to recount all of the ways that you have been a good and dutiful spouse. How you accepted the short-comings of your ‘significant other’, and how you tried to make life bearable through the tough times. ‘Oh’, you say to yourself, ‘this is just a momentary thing.’ ‘Nothing to be truly concerned about.’ It is only after you are served with a summons and Petition for Dissolution of Marriage that anger and resentment set in.
So here you are, armed with your twin barrels of indignation and outrage. You call on the services of a divorce lawyer, that special mix of Delphi Oracle, magician, psychologist and legal warrior crammed into an expensive suit. Yes, you have the image already set in your head: Raymond Burr as Perry Mason sitting in a cool, mid-century modern exposed brick office with a clean, uncluttered desk with a mature and elegant assistant, ala Dela Street ready to take on your case and shuttle you to victory against the forces of evil that have been amassed against you.
Then you wake up.
The clean towel you are holding was handed to you after we splashed cold water in your face. It’s time to sober up and begin the mundane task of auditing your marriage and recounting certain, specific facts to a stranger. After you are granted time to ‘vent’ your side of the story to the lawyer, you will be asked a series of factual questions. Your name, age, date of birth, date of marriage, location of marriage, number of children (natural or adopted), their ages and general state of health, your employment history, assets, purchase price of home and current amount owed, debts, various obligations, your academic history, income history, current state of your health, retirement plans, and other long term financial instruments. Then guess what? You answer the same questions for your spouse.
The foregoing questions yield a context within which your particular case can be evaluated. Why a context? Because people fight. They fight to gain custody of children; they fight to gain control over business interests and assets. They fight over insurance policies and personal property, pool tables, automobiles, time-share interests, coins, stamp collections, visitation or refusal to grant visitation rights. They battle over who continues to live in he marital residence until it is sold, or the other party is ‘cashed out’ of his or her interest in the home. There are battles over the security deposit on the apartment, as well as who should pay for the cable box when the other party moves. There have been battles over who should pay the lawn-care company and the cable bill.
In essense, the key to surviving the initial phase of a divorce proceeding is to have an idea of the battleground flash-points and how to minimize your risk in each area.
Next: Developing your plan of attack or defense.