It's fashionable, these days, to refer to ourselves, or others, as "happily divorced." Kudos to those who have moved forward with their lives and so can make that claim honestly.
While it is certainly possible to be happily divorced, it is not so easy to be happily divorcing.
Regardless of whether the choice to end a marriage is your idea or your spouse’s, or even if the choice is truly mutual, the opening phase of the divorce process is marked by a torrent of negative emotions.
This means that you may have to select a lawyer while still dealing with feelings of anger, dread, mistrust, confusion, guilt, and grief. Any one of those feelings has the potential to interfere with sound decision-making so it is no surprise that, in combination, they can make it difficult to focus.
Too often, well-meaning friends make matters worse. In an effort to be both supportive and protective, they lobby for the toughest lawyer possible. If only the lawyer is enough of a pit-bull, they think, justice will be served even if their friend isn’t up doing battle herself.
Nasty divorce lawyers are never hard to find. While they are clearly in the minority, word of their brawls spreads quickly throughout their communities, large or small. Also because nastiness is their primary stock in trade, they tend to boast about their aggressiveness quite openly.
In fairness, scrappy divorce lawyers always have some share of satisfied clients who have come out of their cases, if not unscathed, at least vindicated on some level. Scrappy lawyers also have more than their share of clients who regret ever having walked through the door.
After a contentious divorce marked by repeated, often duplicative, trips to court, and constant escalation of tensions, they find their fortunes diminished and their relationships with family and friends irreparably damaged.
Ironically, the bottom-line result of these bloody campaigns is typically about the same as a deal they were offered months earlier, but which they were advised to reject. Sometimes, the results are worse. Inevitably, the marital pot is smaller because it has been eaten up in the process.
One solution is to ignore the advice of those well-meaning friends and interview several lawyers. From among the most competent, choose the one you like best on a personal level. Lawyers are people, too, and even the most competent and ethical lawyers have different personalities. Because divorce must be a team effort between lawyer and client, you will do best working with someone who shares your values.
Above all, have your antenna tuned to fighting words and, when you hear them, walk the other way. A lawyer should be guiding you, not goading you. Divorce is difficult enough without adding chaos to the mix. Your goals should be to hold onto your integrity, come away with a fair settlement, and then, some day in the not-too-distant future, to find yourself happily divorced.