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If you’re considering getting divorced, working with a Long Island family law attorney or divorce lawyer is critical. Your attorney can be a great asset to you if you select the right one. Here’s what to understand about choosing a divorce attorney:

Long Island Divorce Options

Before selecting an attorney to represent you in your divorce, it’s important to understand what options are available to you and to have realistic expectations of the entire process. If you choose a family law lawyer who is skilled in divorce mediation because you want to resolve your divorce amicably, but your ex-spouse contests nearly every aspect of the divorce, you could be stuck litigating a settlement with an attorney who doesn’t have the expertise to represent you in the courtroom.

Here’s what you need to know about aligning your options for divorce with your goals and your current situation to choose a Long Island divorce lawyer that best fits your needs:

Divorce Attorney Consultation

Legal Separation

If you’re not quite ready to get a divorce, a legal separation may be a viable option for your family. There are a number of benefits to legal separation in New York, and if you’re considering separating before you get a divorce, ask a lawyer what your next steps should be. Make sure the attorney you work with adequately explains the differences between divorce and legal separation, and how a legal separation agreement can be modified or enforced. Avoid entertaining law firms who attempt to convince you that divorce is your better option; remember that your lawyer serves to advise you but the final decision is always yours.

Uncontested Divorce

An uncontested divorce occurs when you and your ex-spouse are able to dissolve your marriage without major conflict. Other conditions must be met, such as filing legal documentation with the help of your attorney, but if you think you and your ex-spouse may be eligible for an uncontested divorce, doing so could save you significant time and money on your divorce. Seek out a divorce lawyer who has experience helping clients protect their rights in an uncontested divorce and can help you determine if an uncontested divorce is the right option for your family.

Contested Divorce

A contested divorce occurs when you and your ex-spouse cannot come to an agreement about what each of you are entitled to in your divorce. With the help of an experienced divorce lawyer and/or family law attorney, however, even a contested divorce needn’t become contentious.

If you were served with divorce papers or if you filed for divorce, there are a few things you need to do to keep your divorce as amicable as possible. Read this article about tips to ensure your divorce remains uncontentious and ask potential law firms during your consultation how they recommend you keep the divorce from getting out of control. Consider hiring attorneys who express a willingness to do everything possible to keep a divorce case from becoming contested, but who aren’t afraid to get aggressive in the courtroom.

Divorce Mediation

If you and your ex-spouse are in agreement about most, if not all, issues relating to your divorce, and are able to discuss your differences amicably, you may meet the conditions needed to be eligible for divorce mediation.

Divorce mediation works like this: you and your ex-spouse meet with a neutral third party to come to an agreement about different aspects of your divorce, such as child custody or property division. Your divorce mediator can help you reach a compromise and once all decisions have been made, your Long Island family law attorney can submit the divorce agreement to the court. Mediation is also available to unmarried couples who are resolving similar legal issues.

Before choosing divorce mediation, it’s important that you discuss the benefits of mediation for your family, the role your attorney will play in the mediation process, and to make sure your lawyer answers all of your questions about what happens during mediation and what to expect during the process.

Collaborative Divorce

A collaborative divorce is another alternative to divorce litigation, similar to mediation in that it’s designed to keep you out of the courtroom, however, they’re not quite the same. Where mediation involves the use of a neutral third party, in collaborative divorce you’ll still work with individual attorneys. The key difference in collaborative divorce is that an agreement is signed prior to the start of the divorce process that no litigation can take place while a settlement agreement is still in negotiation. A collaborative divorce can help ease stress much in the same way as mediation, but may be a better option than mediation for some couples who don’t agree on certain issues, but for whom mediation does not fit but still want to avoid litigation.

Divorce Litigation

If you and your ex-spouse cannot reach an agreement about one or more issues related to your divorce and cannot work them out amicably, you may have no choice but to pursue litigation. This becomes a contested divorce and while it gets a bad rap, not all contested divorces turn out to be nasty. Since litigation is the most involved of all options for dissolving a marriage, it’s important that you thoroughly vet any lawyer you’re considering hiring.

If you suspect that your divorce may end in a courtroom, interview several attorneys before making a decision to hire one. Ask questions about divorce litigation and what you can anticipate, as well as how you can best prepare your family for the process of litigating your divorce. Work with a confident family law attorney who can assure you they’re up to the task of zealously representing you in front of a judge.

Divorcing with Children

If you and your ex-spouse share children, your divorce is likely to be much more complex than if you did not. New issues arise that specifically relate to the children, such as custody and visitation. Be sure to discuss the following with your lawyer during your initial consultation:

Child Custody

Arguably the most important issue in a divorce where children are involved is child custody. Like most states in the U.S., New York has recognized that it’s best for the child to maintain a relationship with both parents whenever possible. Ideally, a percentage of custody is awarded to both parents. While primary custody can be awarded to non-parents in some situations, it’s typically awarded to the parent who can provide the most stable living conditions for the child, among other things. Child custody agreements can be modified like spousal support or divorce agreements, and if one parent isn’t abiding by the court order, it can be legally enforced.

Child Support

New York state considers it the responsibility of both parents to provide financially for a child, even if only one parent has physical custody. Child support is designed to be paid by the non-custodial parent to the primary custodian to help offset the costs of caring for the child most of the time. While you can be ordered to pay child support or receive child support payments without the involvement of a divorce lawyer or family law attorney, it’s generally in your best interest to discuss your case with an experienced attorney to ensure your best interests are being protected.

Your lawyer can help you understand how courts calculate child support, how your child support payments can be reduced in the event of a job loss or other changes in circumstances, and how to collect overdue child support if the payer hasn’t met their financial obligations.

When you meet with your Long Island family law attorney for the first time, ask a few questions about the topic of child support to get an idea of how the lawyer usually handles those types of cases. If you owe or are owed a lot of child support, make sure you’re working with someone who is highly experienced in this area of family law.

Visitation

If you’re not the primary custodian of your child, you’ll likely have visitation rights. Usually, visitation rights are only denied in clear cases of abuse or other serious situations where the child would be in harm’s way if visitation was granted. Negotiating a visitation schedule can be challenging, especially if you’re navigating around work, school, and extracurricular schedules for multiple people, so it’s a good idea to run any questions about child visitation you have by your lawyer prior to signing any sort of agreement. Discuss with your lawyer weekly visitation schedules, summer visitation, and holidays, as well as how to enforce visitation orders in the event that your ex-spouse doesn’t abide by the agreement.

Father’s Rights & Paternity

Child Custody doesn’t only apply to married couples. Unmarried parents that split up have to deal with the same child custody, visitation and child support issues as married parents. While the unmarried mother’s rights are clear to most Long Islanders, unmarried fathers have rights as well as responsibilities with regard to their offspring. New York state law recognizes that children benefit from spending time with both their parents and this includes unmarried fathers. 

Unfortunately, while fathers have legal rights with regard to their children, it’s not always easy to access those rights. Mothers are naturally protective of their children and a bad break up can leave lasting resentment that results in obstacles for fathers. All too many fathers give up fighting what appears to be an uphill battle. Fathers who recognize the benefits to their children of having them in their lives have the choice to assert their rights and fight for their fathers rights.

The key to gaining rights as a father when you are unmarried lies in establishing paternity early on. If the father is present at the birth, paternity can be established at the hospital when the child is born with the parents signing a simple Acknowledgement of Paternity form that acknowledges the signatory as the father of the child. If this does not occur, the father may have to file a petition for paternity in Family Court. Filing for paternity in court can be complicated and will likely require a medical paternity test. While home paternity tests are becoming more affordable, they are not likely to be accepted in a court of law in New York.

Dividing Property & Assets

Another important aspect of divorce is the division of property, debt, and other assets. In New York, this is known as Equitable Distribution. It’s important to understand that equitable distribution is not equal distribution. This can often be a complex process, especially in high-net-worth divorces. It’s not uncommon for one spouse to attempt to keep or hide assets away from the other, either out of a desire to keep the assets for themselves or simply out of spite. Ask your Long Island divorce lawyer about how you should approach asset division to ensure you get what you’re entitled to after your marriage is dissolved.

Alimony or Spousal Support

Alimony, also called spousal support or spousal maintenance, is awarded in some divorce cases where one spouse is at a significant financial disadvantage as a result of the divorce. A judge may choose to award spousal support or maintenance to temporarily bridge the gap until the lesser earning spouse is able to obtain additional training or other prerequisites to gainful employment. Alimony is often a delicate subject in a divorce; couples may have concerns or questions about spousal support such as how much will be paid, how long it will be paid, and how it will be taxed. Your lawyer can help you learn more about New York spousal maintenance laws.

Property Division

Dividing property in a divorce is often challenging and without the help of an experienced family lawyer, you may not get your fair share of the divorce settlement. If you share assets with your ex-spouse, ask your attorney about equitable distribution during your initial consultation. Discuss what assets you have, as well as any debt you and your ex share. The lawyer you choose should be eager to answer your questions about dividing marital debt, providing full financial disclosure, and equitable distribution laws in New York.

Not Married Yet? Discuss Prenuptial Agreements with a Long Island Family & Divorce Lawyer

If you’re not yet married but are planning to wed in the near future, a family law attorney or divorce lawyer can help you plan for marriage ahead of time by drafting a prenuptial agreement. A prenup, as it’s often called, is a document designed to clarify who gets what in the event of a divorce. While a prenuptial agreement can’t decide things like child custody or alimony, it can protect your interests in many other ways.

Primarily, a prenup will specify what assets were brought into the marriage and belong to each individual. It may also outline how much alimony will be paid and for how long, and any other details about how assets are to be divided should the couple decide to get a divorce in the future. Discuss with your lawyer what can and cannot be included in your prenup and what may render a prenuptial agreement unenforceable. If you were married without a prenup in place, ask your family attorney about drafting a postnuptial agreement; it’s essentially the same type of document created for the same purpose, only after a marriage instead of prior to it.

Contact Us Before Selecting Your Divorce Lawyer or Family Law Attorney

Contact our experienced Long Island divorce and family law firm today for assistance. We have the skills and experience needed to guide you to resolve your case as quickly and painlessly as possible. Call 631-923-1910 now for a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.

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