Three Tips for Conversations to Have with Your Client Before Commencing a Divorce

Two people having a conversation
By: Lauren Schnobrich

The divorce process can be an emotional and anxiety producing process for many clients. This article discusses three strategies that attorneys can implement prior to commencing a divorce.  Having initial conversations with your clients about these topics can help set client expectations and save them time and money in attorneys fees. 

1. Gather financial documentation

Once your client (or their spouse) has decided to move forward with a divorce, you should have them begin assembling as much financial documentation as possible. This includes, but is not limited to, obtaining paystubs, tax returns, bank statements, credit card statements, and retirement/investment account statements. Having this information before initiating the proceedings is not only helpful for drafting the initial pleadings, but also saves clients time and money in attorney’s fees. 

The respondent’s adverse reaction to being served with divorce papers is a major source of delays and additional attorney’s fees.    In some instances, the responding party will seek to remove the other party from a financial account, which will limit your client’s ability to quickly and easily access these documents. Because motion practice is costly and is generally prohibited until after the Initial Case Management Conference (ICMC), several months may pass before financial issues get in front of the court. Some of these problems can be mitigated if you collect much of the needed financial information up front. 

Having a focused discovery process can also cut down on costs. Although financial information can first be requested through the informal discovery process, there is no guarantee that a party will comply, thus making formal discovery necessary. This can be a lengthy and expensive process for the parties. Having access to the parties’ financial information on the front end can help you better home in on what is needed from the opposing party (and your client). Having more narrowly focused requests can speed up the process by increasing the opposition’s responsiveness and decreasing the likelihood of numerous objections. 

Having more narrowly focused requests can speed up the process by increasing the opposition’s responsiveness and decreasing the likelihood of numerous objections. 

Additionally, having a clear understanding of what is included in the marital estate helps an attorney understand its complexity and identify potential issues early on. This in turn leads to conversations with the client regarding the potential use of financial experts and what a reasonable settlement proposal may look like. These conversations may not only assist with finalizing the dissolution sooner but also help set reasonable client expectations early on.

Having financial documentation at the outset of your case will help the process go more smoothly for you and your client in a variety of ways—both in the ways noted here as well as others.  If your client is resistant, explain these benefits!   

2. Communicate in writing

To help avoid divorce proceedings from turning into a game of “he said she said,” clients should generally communicate with the opposing party in writing. This is especially helpful in cases with minor children. This doesn’t necessarily mean all communications with the opposing party need to be in writing, but certainly when the parties reach agreements (or disagreements) it is helpful to have a record. 

For example, if the parties agree that Parent A may take the children on a vacation, Parent A should have Parent B confirm their agreement in an e-mail or text message. If Parent B later tries to revoke permission after being served with the divorce papers, the earlier communications can help show that Parent B’s actions may be retaliatory and are not in the children’s best interest. 

Written communications between the parties can also provide evidence of any informal agreed-upon parenting time schedules and the nature of the parties’ co-parenting relationship.  This is especially useful if there are later allegations regarding a party’s lack of involvement or negative treatment of a party/the children. If it seems likely that the parties will disagree about their involvement with the children, your client can also create monthly calendars showing their parenting time and other involvement with the children.  

It is often difficult to go back in time and remember when conversations happened or the exact dates and times that parenting time occurred. Having a record of communications and documentation will help support and lend credibility to your client’s claims. 

3. Alternative source of funds

Although Minn. Stat. §518.091, subd. 1, provides that the divorce summons must contain temporary restraining provisions, which in part, prohibits the parties from disposing of assets, an opposing party may not fully understand these prohibitions. For example, the temporary restraining order requires both parties to maintain and continue all insurance without a change in coverage or beneficiary designations. However, a responding party may become upset after being served and seek to remove your client’s access to insurance coverage, financial accounts, or stop contributing to household expenses. Thus, it is important to understand how your client’s finances work and what would happen if an opposing party behaved in this manner. 

When speaking with your client about their situation, your goal should include understanding what they would do if they temporarily lost access to marital funds.

When speaking with your client about their situation, your goal should include understanding what they would do if they temporarily lost access to marital funds. Do they have sole access to an individual checking or savings account? Could a family member lend them money? Is there a credit card that could be temporarily used for paying expenses? Depending on your client’s situation, this can be a helpful conversation to have so your client has a plan in place should they be temporarily cut off from marital resources.   

These three tips emphasize the importance of attorneys having direct and comprehensive conversations with clients in the beginning of representation to ensure that both the attorney and the client have an accurate understanding of the issues at play and how to best approach those issues.   

Woman in professional clothesBy: Lauren Schnobrich

Lauren M. Schnobrich is an attorney at Schnobrich Law. Lauren represents individuals in simple to complex family law matters and is a compassionate advocate for her clients and their children. 

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