If you serve in the military or are married to a military service member, and you are contemplating a divorce, you are likely asking some difficult questions like whether or not you should hire a military divorce lawyer or when you need one. Our latest article series focuses on helping military families who are going through divorce. In this series, we help answer the question, “When should I hire a military divorce lawyer?”
It’s Best to Start Talking to a Lawyer Early
It’s better to start too early than waiting until it’s too late, because a mistake can be extremely costly. When you start talking to your spouse about ending your marriage, dividing assets and debts, making arrangements to move out of the house and who will have custody of the children, or how much support you will pay (or receive), it’s a good idea to know the law. Discussing these issues first with an experienced attorney (not your brother-in-law who went to law school, but someone who actually practices family law in your state) is imperative. If you enter into a tentative agreement or even mention to your spouse that you might be willing to do something (or not do something), it’s often very difficult to take it back. And if you sign something, it may be impossible to change it.
Understand the Law Before Talking to Your Spouse
A better approach to discussing a separation or divorce with your spouse is to be informed by a lawyer before your start making arrangements. Before you start discussions with your spouse about a separation or divorce, find out from an experienced family law attorney (1) what you are entitled to and (2) what you are responsible for according to the laws in your state. Figure out what you will likely get (or have to pay) if you were to go to a family law court in your state. When you know the value of your claims then you can negotiate with this information in your mind. Much like researching the bluebook value of a used car before you offer to buy it, knowing the law in your state sheds a great deal of light on these discussions. Only an experienced divorce attorney can help you navigate the specifics of your states’ laws.
Don’t Look for Divorce Information in The Wrong Place
Researching your issues on the internet is fraught with peril. Information on the internet is frequently inaccurate. Often a person’s online legal research will conclude with the answer he or she was looking for but that information can be faulty. Moreover, each state has its own divorce laws and each county has its own judges and magistrates who may interpret the law differently. An experienced family law attorney who practices in the local courts should summarize your rights as well as your responsibilities as well as any potential downside risks. If you are not aware of the risks in your case, you cannot research those answers on the internet. Internet research on the law should be the start of your inquiry and not the end of it.
Consult an Attorney with Military Law Experience
If you or your spouse is – or was – a military service member, there may be important benefits impacted by your divorce or separation. If you are married to a service member there are dependent support guidelines, health insurance, pension and other benefits available. If you are a military service member, your housing allowance, security clearance and even you career may be impacted by your divorce or separation. Having a family law attorney with military law experience on your side provides you with information other lawyers may not have that could be worth a great deal in your case.
An Attorney Can Remove Emotions from the Negotiations
It’s a good idea to have an attorney do the negotiating for you. Couples who are separating usually have more going on between them psychologically than the issues they are negotiating over. A child custody or support discussion often involves issues of guilt or abandonment, insecurity or even bullying. None of these issues is relevant, but they are often very much a part of the negotiation between the two parties. Hiring a lawyer to negotiate on your behalf takes the personal baggage off the negotiating table. An attorney is not experiencing any of those feelings and is not likely to be pushed into a bad compromise by feelings of insecurity or guilt. The presence of a lawyer removes potential personal manipulation (including bullying) from the negotiation.
Timing Is Everything
A good attorney provides a shield for the client. When you’ve decided to divorce or separate from your spouse, talk to an experienced family law attorney before things spin out of control. Rather than arguing endlessly with your spouse about how much he or she is willing to do (or unwilling to do), once you have hired an attorney you can tell your spouse that you don’t want to fight and that he or she should contact your lawyer.
If your spouse is demanding to negotiate with you and pestering you, if you have a lawyer in your corner you can respond: “Let’s keep the arguing between the lawyers.” That’s why you hire a lawyer. Contacting an attorney before promises are made (or implied) is better than trying to get out of those promises after you have made them. Knowing what you are giving away (or promising) before you say anything at all is prudent as well. Finally, letting an attorney take over the negotiations takes much of the personal manipulation out of the process and shields you from an ongoing argument.
If you are going through a divorce or marital separation in Maryland or Washington, D.C.; particularly if you are in the military (or married to a military service member), I can help guide you through the divorce or separation process. I am a former Navy JAG Corps officer with over 25 years’ experience representing clients in military and civilian divorce cases. Contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 301-251-1180 with this or any other military or civilian legal issues.