“I have an appointment this afternoon with a family law attorney.”
“Oh no. I’m so sorry. So, you are going through a divorce?”
“What? No, no. I just want to ask some questions. Do you think the attorney is going to make me leave my spouse? Should I cancel?”
So often conversations like the one above take place and people worry about what it really means to meet with an attorney. All kinds of thoughts and emotions fill the client’s head and heart. They worry that their spouse will find out. They worry what other people will think. They worry that if they meet with an attorney, their fate has been sealed and they are doomed to divorce.
That is simply not the case. Yes, sometimes when people meet with a family law attorney, it is because they have decided to separate and want to move forward with the process. But, unbeknownst to many, there are other reasons to meet with a family law attorney.
Someone may be experiencing a tough time in their relationship and he or she may simply want to know what is behind “door number two.” In other words, in addition to all of the other considerations, is it legally/financially better to separate or remain together? We often have clients come in, listen to the options, and decide to work on the marriage and stay together. We would never advise someone to stay in an abusive or high-conflict relationship simply to avoid the impact of a divorce, but once people hear the financial and more importantly, emotional, toll divorces can take, they start to consider other options like marriage counseling or individual therapy.
Other times, people come in and want to know how to address a legal or financial concern while continuing to remain married. In these situations a post-nuptial agreement may be the right fit. For example, one spouse may be concerned about some debt the other spouse has accrued. While they still love their spouse and want things to work out, they also want the peace of mind of knowing how that debt will be treated in the event the parties separate.
Lastly, some clients come to family law attorneys for resources. While they are trying to figure out whether to stay or go, they want be educated and have access to professionals who can help them navigate the process to make an informed decision. We may be able to provide a good financial adviser referral who can give economic guidance for separating or for staying together. We can share counselors that have had success in other cases- for couples or individual therapy. And we can point people in the right direction if they want a forensic accountant or a private investigator if they have a suspicion about something and want to know one way or the other where things stand.
If you have never been through the process before, meeting with an attorney can be a very scary thing, but it doesn’t have to be. We try very hard to put people at ease and worry less about being hired and more about educating our clients. You won’t regret spending some time learning about your options. What actually ends up being scarier is going through a difficult time on your own without the proper knowledge and support.
Penelope L. Hefner is Principal and practicing attorney in the Family Law practice area of Sodoma Law Union in Monroe, NC, where she serves as a strong, compassionate advocate for her clients. Learn more about Penelope and Sodoma Law at www.sodomalaw.com/union/.