At Patriot Law Group, we are big fans of having a plan. When we are helping clients deal with a separation, we create an individualized plan for each client and we have the client review and approve the plan before we accept a retainer.
This planning process ensures that the lawyer is on the same page as the client and that they are both directing their efforts towards meeting the client’s goals. The plan also acts as a road map for both the firm and the client; at all times, we know where we are and where we’re going. It can become a touchstone to re-orient oneself when things get a bit hairy. I once saw a sign in an administration office that read “When you’re up to your ___ in alligators, it’s hard to remember that your primary objective was to drain the swamp.” The plan makes sure we stay on task.
At first blush, making an individualized plan might seem unnecessary. How complicated is getting separated, really? Why bother with a plan? After all, there can only ever be four issues to resolve in a separation:
1. Who are the kids going to live with?
2. Who pays child support and how much will the payments be?
3. Is there a claim for spousal support?
4. How will the property be divided?
You would think that with just four simple issues, separations could be reduced to a flowchart: Married couple getting divorced –> the two kids will stay with Mom –> and Dad will pay child support to Mom –> and the spouses agree that no spousal support is needed –> and there will be an even 50/50 split of the property. Bingo, there’s your separation agreement.
Easy-peasy lemon squeezy, right?
The thing is, people’s lives are interesting and messy. They generally refuse to be shoe-horned into rigid categories. People have families without getting married. They have adopted children and step-children. They have obligations to the children they have from previous relationships. The plan has to address the realities of the client’s individual situation.
Outside of their individual family situations, people also have different needs and goals. Some people need financial support for their children immediately. Some people want to share equally in the parenting of their children. Some people don’t care if they are entitled to spousal support, they just want a clean break and a fresh start. We can’t guarantee outcomes, but we can craft a plan that maximizes a client’s chances of achieving a successful end result.
Of course, it takes two to tango. Every couple has its unique relationship dynamics, whether the couple is together or separating. During separations, some people cooperate, some people fight and some people hide. The client’s plan has to address how the other partner is likely to react.
Every separation ultimately boils down to a combination of the same four issues but the way the issues present themselves requires a considered and individualized approach.
What’s the alternative? Well, there is a good military saying: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.
Posted by Brian Jalonen