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When people see me in my office for a contentious divorce, I often tell them they need four people in their life: a therapist, a best friend, a financial advisor, and an attorney. Those people should all be different people.
Why do you need a therapist? You need a therapist to help you sort through the emotions of the divorce, and when you have children, to figure out how to deal with someone who you either dislike, hate, or still love, but are heartbroken over their actions. A good therapist will be able to give you tools to sort through emotions and to help prevent your making bad decisions about starting a relationship by repeating old patterns. A therapist is not a best friend in that they are there not just to listen - and not really to give advice - but to help you get to the emotional and psychological root of how you got to where you are and to help you not feel helpless moving forward. A therapist can give you tools to allow you to react and respond differently to your soon-to-be ex, which can also be beneficial in litigating your divorce.
Why do you need a best friend? Because you need someone on your side to listen to you and to commiserate with you, to hold your hand, and to be 100 percent on your side. They can act as your anger so you can get rid of that, act as your sadness so you can get up each day, act as your strength when you feel like you cannot hold yourself up, and often act as a help for carpool, grocery shopping, etc., when you have appointments to meet with the other three individuals we are discussing. Your best friend can also be the one to help you get the children to school on time, schedule and attend necessary appointments, and keep the house in a manner that will be above question - all necessities that also may assist in providing a more favorable outcome in your divorce.
Why do you need a financial advisor? Whether you will be paying or receiving monies after a divorce, you need someone to analyze how that will impact you today and in your future. A financial advisor can often help find answers to questions like: whether to stay in a house, what retirement assets to try to gain and which are better to be divided, whether you need to go back to work if you are not currently working, and what your monthly budget will look like when the dust has settled. As an attorney, I work with a lot of financial advisors on these questions, especially when trying to settle a case, to strategize and determine what the best options are for our client.
And finally, why do you need an attorney? If there are any contested issues (meaning if there are issues to be addressed in your divorce that you and your spouse do not agree on - like custody, child support, maintenance or division of property, and debt) you need someone to help you unravel the legal issues that can impact legal and physical custody, division of securities and retirement assets, and monthly support for maintenance and child support. An attorney should be able to give you a realistic picture of the possible outcomes in your situation, should be able to tell you where to fight and where to give in, and can guide you through the legal process from the start of the action through settlement or trial. Your attorney can provide insight into the process, give you tips on how to react (or not react) to issues or requests from your spouse, and provide you with objective advice, while also advocating for your interests.
These individuals you need on your “team” may work in concert. For example, your attorney may be able to provide your therapist with better ways to respond to your spouse, and the therapist can then take that information and help you create a process to help you put that into practice. If there are allegations of substance abuse or mental health conditions that need to be addressed, your attorney can tell you the ramifications of not addressing those concerns, and your therapist can help you get into a program or recommend a psychiatrist or medication that may be appropriate.
Your attorney may tell you to make sure you are involved in your children’s activities, to know your children’s medical providers, and address issues with ensuring your children are well-fed and cared for while with you. Your best friend can help implement those changes and follow up with you to make sure they have taken hold. Your financial advisor and attorney may need to discuss how best to protect your assets and allow you the best financial outcome possible, understanding your financial priorities.
Your financial advisor may suggest a preferred division of a portfolio to your attorney for settlement or to present at trial. It is important that each of these people are different, since overlapping responsibilities may cloud their judgment (and it may be unethical for someone to act in more than one role). Going through a divorce is never easy, but having the right people in place to help you along is a priceless benefit to allow you to start this new chapter in your life as well as you possibly can.
About the author:
Allison Schreiber Lee is a seasoned trial attorney who focuses her practice on family law and domesticrelations. Ms. Lee’s representation includes divorces; paternity matters; motions to modify child support, child custody, and maintenance; and in seeking and defending against Orders of Protection. Ms. Lee is Board Certified in Family Law by the National Board of Trial Advocacyin Family Law. She is also only the second woman in Missouri to be Board Certified by the National Board of Trial Attorneys. Ms. Lee is a Fellow in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Ms. Lee earned her J.D. from Washington University School of Law.