If you’re a vibrant woman facing a divorce after age 50, of course you want to avoid a lengthy court battle if at all possible.
“Divorce court battles are very expensive, and you’ll both be spending money that you could otherwise keep for yourselves,” says VN contributor and financial expert Jane Bryant Quinn. “But if your husband hires a type of lawyer known as a ‘bomber’—one who is just going to hit you with all kinds of legal court documents that you have to answer and go back and forth on—well, then you’re stuck. You’ll have to hire a bomber of your own and you’ll probably spend a fortune.”
Here are a few tips Vibrant Nation members have shared on finding the right lawyer or mediator to handle your divorce settlement:
1. Do consider mediation—but don’t assume it’s right for you. There are lawyers who specialize in trying to bring the two parties together without paying a fortune in order to do it,” says Jane Bryant Quinn. “This is one thing that I really encourage.”
“I highly recommend mediation,” says another Vibrant Nation member. “If your husband will agree to it, it is one lawyer for the two of you. He or she is on neither one’s side, and you negotiate the best settlement for both, as reasonable adults, no punishment, no acrimony. Very civilized, and much cheaper. There are divorce mediators in every city. They also know how to do all the paperwork.”
Erica Manfred, Vibrant Nation member and author of He’s History, You’re Not: Surviving Divorce After 40, has a different perspective. “Mediators are supposed to resolve issues without conflict and save legal fees, but savvy divorce lawyers are adamant that you should not go to mediation unless the playing field is totally level between you and your husband,” says Erica. “In order to get a settlement, mediators push the person most likely to agree—and that’s usually the woman. Mediators are supposed to be impartial and also inform both parties of their rights, but mediators are human and sometimes inadequately trained. If there are any contested financial issues, you may lose out big-time in mediation.”
2. Do consider collaborative law. It’s possible that you and your husband and your respective lawyers can agree to a negotiated settlement. “In this case, the lawyers have no incentive not to negotiate because they agree not to be part of the case if it goes on to court,” says Jane Bryant Quinn. “Collaborative law has turned out to be a very positive approach for couples who are willing to do it. You may hate each other, but you may still say, as a practical matter, ‘Let’s try to sit down and settle the financial obligations.’ For a list of collaborative lawyers, visit collaborativepractice.com.”
3. Do find a tough lawyer who specializes in divorce in your area. “You’ll need a great lawyer, even to only get your 50% of the marital assets—trust me,” says Laurette, a Vibrant Nation member.
“Don’t let desperation lead you to settle for the first lawyer you consult,” says Erica Manfred. “When choosing a lawyer, consider his or her experience. You want a lawyer who specializes in divorce in your jurisdiction. The best way to get a good divorce lawyer is through a recommendation from a satisfied customer, preferably another older woman. So many women end up hating their attorneys that a satisfied customer is your best source of recommendations.”
“When you meet with a forensic accountant to assess your husband’s business, ask who they recommend as a good divorce lawyer,” suggests Laurette. “That will send you in the right direction.”
4. If you can’t afford to pay a good lawyer up front, do find one who will accept payment on contingency. “If you can’t afford a lawyer, but your husband has substantial assets, you can ask the court to order that he pay your legal fees, which is not unusual in cases of extreme inequality of assets,” says Erica Manfred. “If there is a possibility that you may get a substantial settlement from a wealthy husband but can’t pay your lawyer a retainer up front, an attorney may agree to accept payment on contingency, as with a personal injury case.”
5. Do educate yourself on divorce law in your state. Don’t assume your lawyer will take care of everything. “For many women in our generation, getting taken care of was the norm,” says Erica Manfred. “So when divorce strikes, our first inclination is to put our fate in the hands of a white knight, another protector, our lawyer. Yes, you need a lawyer, but before you even walk into that lawyer’s office, you must educate yourself about divorce law in general and your state’s laws in particular. Get on the Internet or buy a book and start researching. If you’re not fully educated and proactive, you will wind up with a settlement you’ll regret for the rest of your life.”
Have you been through a late-in-life divorce? What advice do you have for choosing the right divorce lawyer?