Navigating the Complexities
Custody & Support
New York Divorce
Let’s not mince words: divorce is one of the most traumatic and frightening events a person can experience, and its effects are both deep and long-lasting. Our lives, our families, and our fortunes are at stake, and one wrong step can ruin all we hold dear. It is critical in a divorce, particularly in a contested divorce, that your lawyer is not only highly experienced, but highly responsive to your needs. Not only in negotiating the divorce itself, but in understanding the emotional and personal entanglements that so often attend on ending a once-happy marriage.
In truth, in a divorce, the court cares only about these three things:
- Grounds for the Divorce.
- Custody and Support of the Children.
- Equitable Distribution of Marital Assets and Debts.
Yet, these three things answer to a host of complicated statutes, case laws, economic issues and personal concerns that even the most seasoned professionals often find daunting. Custody, spousal support, domestic violence, pensions and more all find their way into a divorce, and it is vital that your lawyer acts in your own best interests, not only for today, but for ten, twenty, and even thirty years to come.
For everyone in a divorce, I recommend these three rules:
Rule One: The more issues you and your spouse can agree on, the more control you have in fashioning a favorable outcome. Moreover, the less time, stress, and aggravation you’ll experience, and the less money you’ll spend in legal fees. When spouses can’t agree, the court decides instead. Typically, that results in longer, more expensive litigation, and an outcome that proves less than satisfactory. A good lawyer fosters agreement between the spouses, while a bad lawyer exploits their disagreements to prolong the proceedings. Keep this rule in mind when you hire an attorney.
Rule Two: The court places your children’s needs above those of you and your spouse, and in a divorce, you should too. Nothing is more damaging to children than parents who constantly fight and try to “punish the other spouse” by “aiming to win.” No one wins in a divorce. While divorce can be liberating for those in a bad marriage, it is absolutely necessary, when children are involved, to place the best interests of the children first. This means putting-aside any hostility you feel towards your spouse, and remembering that he or she is still your children’s parent. Children grow up to resent parents who refuse to work together, regardless of whoever “wins” custody. A good lawyer always reminds the client of the children’s best interests, while a bad lawyer exploits custody to gain a short-term advantage. In the long-run, this may destroy the family.
Rule Three: There are two types of divorce lawyers: “ravagers” and “redeemers.” Make sure you hire a Redeemer. A “ravager” is a lawyer who constantly:
- Finds excuses to reject reasonable offers of settlement.
- Urges you to file motions and oppositions.
- Encourages you to argue over every issue in the divorce.
This is all done to increase litigation and charge you more legal fees. You can recognize a “ravager” by their eagerness to:
- Not agree to settle anything until after it’s been fought over.
- Demonize your spouse.
- Treat your spouse’s lawyer as an enemy.
- Stoke your anger and grief.
- Paint a rosy picture of the outcome of your case.
Often, they take advantage of your lack of legal expertise by explaining the law only vaguely or concealing what’s really at stake.
A “redeemer” is an old-school professional who sees his client as a person with a serious legal problem, which needs to be resolved as effectively as possible. You can recognize a “redeemer” by their:
- Willingness to explain the details of the law.
- Promptness in returning phone calls.
- Honest explanations about the costs of the case and the risks involved in taking a particular position.
A “redeemer” is unafraid to disagree with you or to advise against a course of action, and will forego an extra payday in favor of what is best. If your lawyer tends to prefer that you settle rather than litigate, it’s a good chance that he or she is a redeemer.
You should not make the mistake of thinking that because a lawyer is honest rather than cunning, or deferential instead of aggressive, he or she is an inferior attorney. On the contrary, in my twenty-five years of experience I have invariably found that the sharpest lawyers are also the most courteous and truthful. I pride myself on being a Redeemer: my client comes first. And I take a secret pleasure in frustrating the Ravagers at their game.
Astute · Articulate · Client-Focused
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