DEALING WITH YOUR DIVORCE ATTORNEY WHEN YOU LIVE ABROAD
Approximately 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. You have many friends and relatives that have gotten divorced. You have probably heard many horror stories about divorce, and many very good stories about divorce. The one thing that you have not heard much about is how to deal with an attorney when you are an expat who wants to get divorced. In this article I will try to give you some pointers and some directions dealing with an attorney as an expat.
You are most likely to deal with us in one of three situations. The first situation is you are married, have no immediate present plans to get a divorce, but are curious about the divorce process, property rights, child custody, visitation, child support, etc. You will almost always have questions that are geographical in nature, based on your present circumstances.
The second situation is where you have come to the conclusion that your marriage is no longer viable and you are ready to proceed with divorce. You do not quite know the details of how, when, or where you will proceed with divorce, but you have made a decision and you decided that you need to seek the services of an attorney before going any further. The degree of urgency may be high or it may be on the low side. Usually for expats the parties have discussed divorce and already have a general plan on how they want to proceed. One parties needs some guidance and to discuss the next step.
A word of caution. Even though you and your spouse may be in agreement, there is no way one attorney can represent both of you. Frequently I run into situations where the parties are in agreement, and I am contacted by one party; I will represent only that party. What I advise my client, particularly when they are an expat, the best way is to try to be fair. I then draft the documents as balanced as I can, get my client’s okay to send them to his/her spouse and then when I send them to the spouse I send them with a cover letter explaining I cannot give them legal advice, that they are free to seek the services of an attorney of their choice, and that if they are satisfied with the attached documents and want to sign them, then if they will return the signed documents to me, what my client and I will do next.
The third situation is where your spouse has filed a divorce against you, and either given you a copy of the divorce papers, or have been with some type of process from the Court. If this is the case, it is important that you start working with us as soon as possible. A word of caution: if you are served with papers read them carefully to make certain that you are aware of any impending court hearings or answer deadlines.
Here are some initial things you need to do. First, on one sheet of paper type up all of your biographical information – name, address, date of birth, driver’s license number, Social Security number, phone contact numbers, employer, employer’s address – do the same for your spouse, and provide the same basic background information also for your minor children. The second thing that you need to do is to prepare a narrative, 3 to 5 pages explaining your situation, your personality, your spouse’s personality, what you think the issues are going to be. The third thing you need to do is establish an internet connection with an attorney.
Write the attorney one or two paragraphs explaining your situation – keep it simple and ask the attorney if it possible to set up an initial telephone conference. Incidentally, almost all good attorneys will charge for an initial telephone conference. Once the attorney responds, their staff with usually set up the date and time, and will arrange for payment. At this point send to the attorney the biographical information and your narrative.
Write out some questions you have for the attorney before the initial telephone conference. And take notes during the initial telephone conference. In the initial telephone conference the attorney will discuss the particulars of your case, try to figure out the legal, factual, and logistical problems, develop some recommendations for you, explain how the attorney will proceed, and discuss fees. If you want to hire the attorney, then the attorney will send you an employment contract and upon payment of the retainer will proceed with your case.
Probably 50 percent of the communication between that attorney and client will be via email. While email is great, the simple fact is that it is very time consuming for attorneys to respond to emails and emails do not allow for give and take. Therefore, the other 50 percent of your communication with your attorney needs to be by telephone conference. I suggest to clients that if they have not heard from their attorney in two weeks, they contact the attorney’s office and schedule a telephone conference.