Helping Clients Navigate the Early Stages of Divorce
By: Taly Thiessen

For clients, getting to the point of actually going through with a divorce is often a long and bumpy road. However, once the client has scheduled an appointment, driven to your office, sat in your waiting room, and met with you, they likely have already given some thought to the future of their relationship. Some clients inquire about separation, or the first steps for preparing for divorce. Here are some tips for advising clients as they begin the early stages of the divorce process.

1.         Research

Start the client off with an assignment. Document gathering early on in the divorce process is a great asset to the attorney later on in the process. Start by having your client find and copy a wide variety of documents in order to determine issues such as spousal maintenance, property distribution, and even child custody. Identify and make copies of real estate documents, credit card statements, bank statements, several years’ worth of income tax returns, pay stubs, investment account statements, retirement account statements, and loan documents.

Additionally, have the client start inventorying their possessions and doing an overall examination about what is most important to them. Divorce is a huge exercise in give and take. Have them create different lists for separate property and community property. Next, have them look at the community property and rank the items from most important to least important. This will help you understand your client’s state of mind, and will allow you to advocate better for them. 

2.         Protection

Encourage the client to start protecting himself or herself from fraud or an eavesdropping ex. Have the client change their passwords for accounts to which their spouse may have unwanted access. Encourage your client to open his or her own bank account and set up a place to have mail delivered away from the marital residence. This includes recognizing the possibility that all of their written communications will be admitted in court. Advise your client to avoid discussing anything in text or email that they wouldn’t want read in front of an entire courtroom. If they plan on writing anything to a spouse regarding the potential divorce, request to proofread it in advance.

3.         Reasonableness  

Don’t hype a potential client on unreasonable or unattainable expectations. This will only come back to haunt you when the client is unhappy at the end of a case. For example: (1) having a one-night stand during the marriage will most likely not result in sole managing conservatorship for the injured party;  or (2) a family breadwinner of 25 years is most likely not going to walk away with all of the assets, leaving the stay-at-home spouse penniless. Explain to clients the standards for best interest of the children and just and right division.

4.         Preparation

Prepare your client for the time and energy that the divorce process will take. Ending a marriage is not as easy as entering into one. They are facing at least 60 days, and up to years, of dealing with you, and their soon-to-be ex. Not only will they be gathering documents, attending court hearings, and reviewing drafts, they will also need to continue to work to support themselves and their children. Depending on their circumstance, they may also be in the position of having to find a job, or having to find a new residence. Under these circumstances, it is easy for a person to get overwhelmed. Preparing your client ahead of time will help adjust and manage their expectations. It may also be appropriate to encourage them to find a therapist.

These tips will not only help your client minimize the stress of the divorce process, but will also help you to be a more patient and knowledgeable advocate.

Taly Thiessen is an attorney at the Thiessen Law Firm in Houston, where her practice focuses primarily on family law and criminal defense. To learn more about her capabilities, review her attorney profileShe can be reached by email or (713) 864-9000.

Views and opinions expressed in eNews are those of their authors and not necessarily those of the Texas Young Lawyers Association or the State Bar of Texas.

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