Family Law

What Will My Divorce Lawyer Do (and What do I Need to Do?)

By Kristina Otterstrom, Attorney

Divorces can be a tremendous amount of work for everyone involved. Even if your lawyer is a miracle worker, you still have a very important role to play in your divorce process. So what will your lawyer need from you?

There are some tasks that your lawyer will take care of, including drafting paperwork, filing documents, and keeping track of deadlines. You aren’t expected to know the divorce laws of your state or handle the logistics of your case—that’s why you hired a lawyer. An experienced attorney will take charge of your divorce, but will need your help with some things. Your duties will include signing documents, providing facts and information about your case, and gathering important documents such as pay stubs and tax returns.

Starting Your Divorce Case

Your first divorce consultation will be at your lawyer’s office. At the initial meeting, your attorney will ask lots of questions, listen to the details of your case, and walk you through the divorce process. Most attorneys will provide their clients with divorce forms to fill out during (or after) the first meeting — be ready for a few divorce-related homework assignments.

A good lawyer will explain the strategy or “game plan” for your case. Some people want an attorney to take an aggressive lead, while other people want to play a bigger role in the divorce process and work alongside the lawyer. It’s important not only to find a lawyer who’s qualified to handle your divorce; you also need an attorney who will work the case on your terms.

For example, if you and your spouse are still friends, work well together, and can compromise, you’ll probably want an attorney who will work collaboratively with the other side; not one who will fan the flames. Mediation or collaborative divorce may be appropriate for your case, especially if there’s a good chance you and your spouse can agree on major issues, like alimony, who gets the marital home, and child custody schedules (if you have children). On the other hand, if you know your spouse is going to battle you every step of the way or if there's a history of domestic violence in the marriage, an aggressive divorce complaint or a restraining order may be appropriate. Ultimately, your attorney’s strategy for your divorce will depend on the unique circumstances of your case. Your attorney will need to know what type of strategy you desire.

What Do I Have to Do in a Divorce?

Don’t think that once you hire a divorce attorney that you can book a month's long vacation. You and your lawyer will need to keep in touch frequently as your divorce progresses. Your lawyer may look to you to provide factual background for the paperwork or “pleadings” filed in your case.

Additionally, your spouse’s attorney may schedule a court hearing or a "deposition" (formal questioning under oath and outside of court) that you’ll be required to attend. Although your attorney will keep track of deadlines, you must go to these scheduled hearings or depositions with your attorney. It may be uncomfortable and inconvenient, but it’s a necessary part of the divorce process.

How Do I Know That My Attorney’s Doing Enough?

Divorce is often a slow and sometimes frustrating process, but don't be too quick to blame your lawyer for delays. Many things are out of your attorney's control, such as the court's calendar, how long your divorce trial might take, or your spouse’s inability or even refusal to cooperate. Remember to be patient through the process, but keep an eye on what you attorney is doing.

Your attorney should, at a minimum, provide good quality work, communicate with you regularly, and meet deadlines. If you have concerns about your lawyer's work or progress, sit down with your attorney and see if you can sort out a new game plan for your case. If you aren't seeing an improvement, you might want to get a second opinion from another lawyer.

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