Poll: Divorce Information Hard to Find
Polls Shows Custody, Finding an Attorney Toughest Part of Breaking Up
The toughest part of divorce usually comes at the beginning: understanding how to negotiate the legal and financial aspects of the process. About 60 percent of people who have been divorced said they had the most difficulty finding information that could help, according to a poll conducted by according to poll results from GFK Roper, an independent research agency.
The poll, which was commissioned by Wevorce.com, showed that 19 percent of the male respondents said custody was the most difficult part of the process for them. However, 18 percent of the women who responded said that finding an attorney was the greatest challenge. Both men and women agreed that finding easy-to-understand legal advice was the next toughest part of their divorces. Ten percent of the respondents felt that way. They also reported that getting advice on financial issues and finding people who had gone through similar experiences were difficult as well.
Getting information doesn’t have to be so confusing, according to some experts.The key is to taking the process step-by-step and do your research along the way.
Finding an attorney should be the first step because he or she can provide a road map for the process, said Lynne Strober, a fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. She has served as chair of the Matrimonial Certification Committee for nine years.
“Usually if you hire someone who knows they are doing, they can do a lot of the legwork for you,” said Strober, who has been practicing family law for 30 years. Strober is currently with Mandelbaum Salsburg Gold Lazris and Discenza P.C. in New Jersey.
FINDING THE RIGHT ATTORNEY
Strober said the first place to look would be with the list of fellows at the AAML because each attorney on the list has been certified. Each state’s bar association should also have a list of family law attorneys. “With the list in hand, potential clients can then research the attorneys on the Internet or by word of mouth”, Strober said.
Finding the right attorney can become a shelter in the storm of divorce. She said that many of her clients arrive at her office feeling insecure because of the upset f facing the end of a marriage. That emotional upheaval makes it harder to focus on researching and understanding the legal process.
“I think when the process first starts, they don’t really know what is happening. It is a very scary time,” Strober said. “You are going into a never-never land. Your world is turning upside down. It’s a state of confusion. But once you get a very qualified attorney, the attorney can help.”
“The attorney should, upon first meeting the client, clarify the journey that is ahead”, Strober said. The attorney should how the divorce process works as it moves through the court system and detail the other specialists necessary to make the process successful. For example, the attorney might recommend a forensic accountant to dig up information about the other spouse’s financial dealings”, Strober said.
Michael Gora, a certified matrimonial attorney with Shapiro, Blasi, Wasserman & Gora, P.A. in Boca Raton, Fla., said he usually takes the first hour with a client to go through the legal process. He explains filing and discovery, the types of results and what is and is not relevant under state divorce law.
He said that many clients are shell-shocked by the emotional events, and he tries to steer them onto the right track. “People who are contemplating divorce, especially those who have not done that before, it’s an emotional, confusing step,” Gora said. “I think the lawyers have to have the sophistication to understand that, and they have to treat the clients accordingly with compassion.”
He recommended anyone searching for an attorney start by contacting the state bar association and researching those certified exclusively in matrimonial law. “Probably the worst place to look is the Yellow Pages because the attorneys who advertise in the Yellow Pages need to,” Gora said.
Once they have found the list of board certified attorneys, Gora said, clients should choose an attorney who is located nearby — for convenience and because they will have a more intimate knowledge of the area’s judges. “They are best suited to know the quirks, as it were, about the judges in that area, or have the respect of the judges in that area,” Gora said.
Once he has a client acclimated to the process, Gora occasionally helps them develop a divorce team. He keeps a list of financial planners and therapists available for those who need them.
ASSEMBLING THE TEAMThe more complicated the divorce, whether it involves serious financial issues or negotiating custody, the larger the divorce team usually becomes. Barbara Shapiro, who is a certified divorce financial analyst for the HMS Financial Group, said she is usually the second stop for most of her clients during the divorce process. A certified divorce financial analyst is a financial planner who has had additional training in handling divorce.
She sees building a divorce team like building a medical team. She recommends clients use the Internet for research, ask friends’ opinions and speak to other experts before hiring anyone. She said the process of developing the team is not a difficult one, it just feels that way. “I think that really, people are devastated, even if it is their idea, it is so emotionally wrenching, they just aren’t thinking,” Shapiro said.
She said the team should consist of people who are experts in their fields, matrimonial attorneys, financial analysts who work specifically in the area of divorce, Mortgage brokers, therapists, forensic accountants, or support groups who understand the needs of those going through divorce.
”Divorce is complicated, it’s tricky, every state is different. You need someone who does it often enough who can understand all of the little intricacies of your area,” Shapiro said.
The team should work together well, and work well with the client. Shapiro said clients must feel comfortable asking questions of their attorneys, accountants or anyone else on the team. Clients must feel supported and respected by the team. She said they must feel as it those they are hiring to help them through the divorce listen to them and answer their questions completely.
“This is not stuff that someone would intuitively know,” Shapiro said. “You need to make rational decisions in an irrational time in your life.”
About the author: Michele Bush Kimball has a Ph.D. in mass communication with a specialization in media law. She has spent almost 15 years in the field of journalism, and she teaches at American University in Washington, D.C. She recently won a national research award for her work.