Do Your Research - What is the Best Vehicle for you?
The three main vehicles for divorce are litigation, mediation and collaborative law. Each comes with its unique set of advantages and drawbacks and no method works for every couple. Litigation is the traditional method, where each side typically retains an attorney and the parties' work through the divorce process through their respective counsel. Mediation typically involves the parties jointly agreeing on a third party neutral who helps them work together towards a resolution through group meetings. Collaborative law couples each hire a collaborative law attorney. The parties and their respective collaborative attorneys commit to resolving the case by working together as part of an ongoing process towards an agreement and resolution of all issues.
Which method works bests generally depends on the parties themselves. Cooperation plays a major role in this decision. Changing methods halfway through is very expensive. So do your research first!
More Research - Pick a Good Co-Pilot.
You will want an attorney or mediator who is a good fit. The divorce process is inherently stressful; there is no way of getting around that. Make sure you pick an attorney or mediator with whom you feel comfortable. So ask around! Ask friends, ask family and research online. Sites like AVVO are great for identification of attorneys and mediators and then check out their respective websites for more information. Read their bios, read their blogs and you are then satisfied, schedule a consultation.
At the consultation, ask a lot of questions. Find out if they are experienced, accessible and take time to evaluate whether or not they can meet your goals. Attorneys who are also mediators and are trained in the collaborative process are great for evaluating the best vehicle for you and to identify early pitfalls to avoid.
Gather your Legal Belongings.
If you are not terribly organized, it's time to clean up. The divorce profess is often riddled by potholes in the form of missing information. For example, to file a Complaint for Divorce, the court will need a copy of the parties' Marriage Certificate. If you are unable to locate this document, ordering another copy may add several weeks and sometimes months to the process.
It will save you money along the way if you gather essential documents (in Massachusetts, tax returns, recent pay stubs, bank account statements, loan or mortgage applications, documentation evidencing assets and liabilities, among others) as close to the beginning of the process as possible. This will keep the process moving ahead smoothly and will cut down on unnecessary legal expenses.
Don't be Afraid to Ask for Help if You Get Lost Along the Way.
Divorce is inherently difficult. In addition to an financial toll, it often takes an emotional toll. There are divorce coaches and therapists who are specially trained to help you and/or your children deal with your new reality. When you feel stressed, do not be afraid to ask for help. Bring your particularly stressful issues to your attorney or mediator to seek their guidance on the best cause of action for you. Family law attorneys and mediators are often a great resource for referrals to professionals who can also help both you and your children. Watch for behavioral cues in children to trigger when help from a professional is particularly necessary.