Going through the process of divorce can be an emotional and stressful time in one’s life. As such, it’s often best to work with an attorney who can guide one through each step.
But with so many divorce lawyers in the Greater Cleveland area, how does a person determine who is right for him or her?
Jill Friedman Helfman, a partner in the Cleveland office of Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP, suggests first determining which type of process one is interested in pursuing.
“If you believe that the termination proceeding will be amicable, look for attorneys who are focused on assisting with an out-of-court resolution,” she said. “Such a resolution might include mediation, a collaborative divorce or a principled negotiation.
“If you know that litigation will be your only option, seek attorneys who are seasoned divorce litigators and familiar with the county court where the divorce will be filed.”
The personality of the lawyer also plays a key role.
“I explain it as a doctor with bedside manner,” said Robert E. Somogyi, a partner at Kuenzi/Somogyi in Cleveland. “There are really good doctors out there, and some have good bedside manner that you’re comfortable with and some others don’t. Even if both attorneys know the law the same, some are more personable and you’re more comfortable with them. That bedside manner is really important for people who are going through a divorce.”
Once a divorce attorney has been selected, the next step is to schedule an appointment for a consultation, according to Laurie A. Koerner, an associate at Dworken & Bernstein Co., LPA in Painesville. During the consultation, the attorney and client can discuss what type of paperwork and financial documents will be required as well as the pros and cons of pursing dissolution or divorce, she said.
One of the biggest differences between dissolution and divorce is the timing element, Somogyi said.
“If you reach an agreement in advance of filing anything, then you can petition the court to dissolve the marriage,” he said. “You can reach an agreement by using a mediator with parties directly or with counsel. If the parties want to keep things discreet and work things out peacefully, you can each have an attorney and sit down, go over the full disclosure of assets and liability, and talk and work out terms.”
Developing short- and long-term goals also is important, Friedman Helfman said, such as whether one wishes to remain in his or her current home or downsize to a smaller residence. Determining what’s important to each party can also help to prevent the process from turning into a long legal battle, she said.
“Once you’ve identified these goals, discuss the goals with your attorney to determine whether they are realistic. Then, as you work through the termination of marriage proceeding, listen carefully to the demands of your spouse to determine whether a compromise can be reached that will allow you to meet your goals. Be prepared to negotiate.”
The divorce process can become increasingly complicated if children are involved. One way to minimize the impact of the divorce on children, Somogyi said, is to reach an agreement.
“If they really want what’s best for their child, they’ll sit down and work it out to keep their kids out of it. … Show a unified front and then sit down together and address these issues,” he said.
Koerner noted that the court typically requires parents to attend a parenting seminar, which provides them with information about the effect of divorce on children and how to avoid involving them unnecessarily in the process.
“That seminar is important for parents to attend. We’ve gotten lots of positive feedback from clients about how useful that information is. Clients generally find it very helpful and it does give them some insight,” she said.
While emotions often run high during a divorce, Friedman Helfman encourages people to not let their feelings get the best of them.
“The process of terminating a marriage is often one of the most painful experiences an adult will experience,” she said. “But think clearly before you put your emotions ahead of your common sense. Try to stay focused on the financial and child-related goals you are trying to accomplish following the divorce, and stay away from focusing on how to ‘get back’ or punish your spouse for his/her behaviors during the marriage or that lead to the divorce.”