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Let's Talk: The First Step of Legal Separation

Missouri and Kansas attorneys say communication is key

For couples considering divorce, sometimes the simplest advice from an attorney can shift the entire divorce process. “I tell them to sit down and talk to each other,” says Karen DeLuccie, a family law attorney at DeLuccie & O’Hara in Independence, Missouri. “I always tell clients to do that, and it always surprises them; but, if you don’t talk, you’re going to have World War III.”

If the battle in your divorce case has already been drawn, however, Tamara Hatheway, a divorce attorney at Bernstein, Rodarte & Hatheway in Kansas City, Missouri, offers another way to deal with divorce’s “emotional roller coaster”: therapy.
“Divorce is never easy. It is always hard,” she says. “But, I have found one thing to be very useful, and I suggest it to everybody who comes in to see me—that they seriously consider getting into some counseling to help them through the process.”
Hatheway says that most of her clients take advantage of counseling, and that most find it’s helpful; in turn, their meetings with her are often more productive. “It helps them get through their daily lives,” she says. “And lawyers, some of us are better than others about dealing with the emotional stuff, but it’s much more cost effective to have the real expert deal with those kinds of issues.”
Anne E. Burke, a divorce lawyer at Burke McClasky Stevens in Overland Park, Kansas, agrees. “It’s hard to be objective when you’re going through a divorce,” she says. “If a client is in therapy to work out the common issues involved in a divorce, then the process is easier for both me and the client.”
All three attorneys recommend keeping an open mind to collaborative divorce or alternative dispute resolutions—like mediation, arbitration and settlement negotiation—which keep costs down. “The goal is to not have a judge decide your case,” says Burke. “Litigation is so expensive, and you roll the dice when you turn your life over to a third party.”
Being honest is key as well. “Before you can have negotiations,” says Hatheway, “I tell clients, ‘You have to get all the marbles on the table first. Then you can talk about how to divvy them up.’” And if what you thought was going to be an uncontested divorce does end up in litigation, Burke states it’s especially bad if you’ve intentionally hidden anything—bank accounts, credit cards, marital property, etc. “You’ll lose complete credibility with the judge,” she says. “And the results will not be in your favor. … If I know up front where the dead bodies are, it’s going to be a lot easier to deal with them.”
The simplest advice is probably the most critical: communicate. “Clients have this idea from 50 years ago, from TV, that everything has to be secret; ’I can’t tell that spouse what I’m doing,’” DeLuccie says. “And that’s probably the worst thing to do.”
For more information on this area’s legal issues, see our overviews of family law, divorce, and mediation and collaborative law.

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