Although studies have shown that the divorce rate among physicians is lower than that of other professions, a large number of physicians are still involved in divorces each year. In addition to maintaining their practice and attending to the needs of patients, a doctor also has to deal with a roller-coaster of critical decisions and emotions in the break-up of a marriage. Many physicians make serious mistakes in their divorces, ranging from hiring inappropriate or inexperienced counsel to having unrealistic expectations about the outcome of the divorce and the length of time for the process to be finished. These mistakes can adversely affect the physician and his or her medical practice.
The decision to divorce is personal and often emotional. Some couples find the decision process long and arduous, while others come to the conclusion to divorce quickly. For many, the decision is made for them by the other spouse. However it is determined, the process, once it begins, is complicated, time-consuming and technical. Once thrust into the unfamiliar world of law, it is sometimes difficult to ground yourself and understand how the divorce process works. However, there are steps that couples can take to ensure the process goes as smoothly and expediently as possible, and is geared to a positive outcome for both parties.
There are three potential areas of resolution in every divorce case. The first is, obviously, the divorce itself. In divorce litigation, grounds for divorce are usually not very important; in fact, most states have no-fault grounds, meaning that if you want a divorce, you get it without having to prove fault — the conduct of one or both spouses is usually irrelevant. The conduct would have to shock the sensibilities of the community for the grounds for divorce to have an impact on the matter. In today’s society, nothing really shocks anybody, so something would have to be truly 21st-century outrageous to have an impact.
If children are involved, custody and parenting time can be hot button issues that, if contested, can increase costs, waste resources and create angst. Finally, economic issues of support and property distribution are often complicated and involve in-depth document exchange and sophisticated knowledge of applicable federal and state laws.
Once the decision to divorce has been made, the objective ought to be to resolve your matter as quickly and efficiently as possible. These are considerations to take into account to best accomplish that goal.
Make sure your lawyer is a good fit
When searching for a lawyer, don’t rush the process. Make sure to check credentials and ask for references. The truth is, finding a good lawyer is not the hard part. It’s finding a good lawyer who is a fit. Make no mistake: Divorce is complex litigation that requires a team undertaking. It is critical to be able to work with your lawyer, respect them and feel comfortable speaking with them.
At the onset, be prepared to explain your goals to your lawyer and listen carefully as he or she outlines the law and the probability your goals can be realized. Next, work with the lawyer to establish a realistic objective and develop a strategy to accomplish those goals early on. Having an objective and a plan of attack is critical to the successful, economical resolution of any divorce proceedings. If there is no plan or strategy, the entire approach will be compromised.
Let your lawyer take the lead
It is important to remember that anything promised by one spouse to the other will be viewed as a floor, and the opposing lawyer will push for more. Once the divorce litigation is initiated, the spouses should avoid communicating with each other about related matters such as property distribution or child custody, and allow the lawyers to handle the negotiations. The more matters are discussed with your spouse without your lawyer present, the harder it will be for your lawyer to resolve the case. Let the lawyer lead. Although you own the team, your lawyer is the quarterback. Let the lawyer call the huddle once you agree on goals, unless you devise a plan of discussion and disclosure that fits into the overall strategy.
During the litigation, you will be called upon to provide information about your medical practice and family finances. The knee-jerk reaction to these demands is often to stonewall the request. If the lawyer says the information is pertinent and a court would compel it, then just turn it over. Failure to provide the information will only prolong the matter, cost you fees to dispute the request and possibly damage your credibility.
Take advantage of dispute resolution
Once both sides are ready to discuss substance, mediation is an effective vehicle to resolve even the most-complicated matter. Mediation is a non-binding approach to resolution that allows both sides to discuss their goals and obtain objective recommendations. This is how most divorce cases are settled. Going to trial can take you out of your practice for weeks or even months. When your lawyer presents your case to a mediator, it provides an opportunity to see how the approach is received by an objective senior member of the legal community. Well-reasoned approaches tend to succeed in this forum; emotional and poorly formed demands fade.
The worse thing that can happen with mediation is both sides learn the strength and weakness of the other’s position. If you have a well-developed case, this should be of no concern; in fact, the other side seeing that you have a well-formulated and documented approach could make all the difference.
James P. Yudes is the founder of the Law Office of James P. Yudes, P.C. in Springfield, New Jersey. He is certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Attorney and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Mr. Yudes is one of the authors of the Yudes Family Law Citator, which is the foundation for an annual lecture series called New Jersey Family Law Update. Mr. Yudes and his team of attorneys have been and continue to be extremely influential in developing how many divorce cases are handled in the State of New Jersey. He can be reached at [email protected].