One of the most terrifying things you can experience in a divorce is coming into court, expecting the hearing to be between you and your spouse, and finding out that your spouse has hired an attorney. It can be scary. Lawyers vary, too, in how they deal with unrepresented litigants. I am always polite but firm. I know one attorney who is outright nasty, from calling the other party names to threatening them to yelling at them. You can’t always expect that an attorney is going to be civil…or even professional, unfortunately.
So, what do you do? First, if you find yourself in the situation, and you want to or think you can hire an attorney, ask the judge at your hearing to continue (postpone) the hearing so you don’ t have to go forward and get steamrolled by the attorney. Then get thee some legal advice and/or a lawyer, ASAP! Generally judges will allow unrepresented parties a break if blindsided by an attorney at a hearing.
Second, if you get an attorney or other help or not, make sure you learn as much as you can about your case and the law. The more you know, the better decisions you’ll make and quite possibly, the less you’ll pay for your attorney. Nolo Press has some great books. Third, remember that the attorney is getting paid to do a job, and is also a person as well as an attorney. If the attorney is rude or says things you don’t like, it’s not because they have it out for you. They’re doing their job. They also may be a fantastic attorney, or they may not be so knowledgeable or experienced. They may be having a bad day. They may hate their client. You just don’t know what’s going on in their head, but if you treat them like you would treat your ex (react emotionally, take offense to everything, or reject everything they say simply because they’re saying it), it’s not going to be productive.
Fourth, remember to keep your eye on the ball (and the bill!). Don’t spend $1,000 on attorney fees over a $500 stereo. If the other attorney has a reasonable proposal, don’t refuse to agree to it out of mistrust. I’ve had many clients insist that I draft settlement documents because they didn’t trust the other side. In certain cases, this is appropriate since the other side might be sneaky. But in many cases, this just isn’t true and by having your own attorney prepare documents, you’re just upping the bill for yourself.
Finally, try to keep it together. If you tend to be overly emotional, see a therapist. Lawyers won’t help with this at all. As soon as you can and as much as you can, try to view the divorce as a business relationship breaking apart. This is the way the court sees it, so the sooner you get on board, the better. This may see impossible, but it can and should be done as it will be better for everyone.