I'm no dummy. Of course I saw a lawyer! He was Richmond’s best divorce lawyer, as he had been voted by a local magazine for three years in a row. His demeanor was cold, and his mind was cool and cut to the chase. I watched him calculate how many assets Bob and I had, and then dismiss me.
However, in one short hour he gave me advice that would guide me for months. I took notes. I listened. I paid his exhorbitant fee. And I left his office feeling empty and bereft. He had told me there was no hope for saving my marriage.
This is what I learned after shelling out $400:
The worst time to find a lawyer is when you are going through a crisis. You are grieving and feeling raw, and all of a sudden you discover you’ve got to make a thousand life-changing decisions. In order to go through this horrific period, you’ll need to depend on the advice of family, friends, and acquaintances. At the risk of repeating myself: CHOOSE your support group wisely. Identify the sanest, smartest people you know and ask them who they would contact. Don’t depend on one opinion, but poll a number of friends. Then make an appointment with several lawyers.
- Do not diddle with another man.
- Get your spouse to commit to a settlement fast while he is still feeling guilty.
- Demand 50% of your shared assets, nothing less.
- Find a job, or get a degree, or both. You are on your own.
- Do not stir or roil the situation. Take the high road and keep your mouth shut.
Remember to shop around. I interviewed (yes, interviewed) three lawyers. I never found one I liked, so I opted for arbitration between me, Bob, and our two counselors. The end result? The lawyer who reviewed my final settlement said: "You did better than most."
I remember feeling insulted when he said that, and here was my reply: "I know my worth. After 26 years of shared goals and responsibilities, 50% is what I expect. Nothing more. Nothing less."
More on this topic later.