Personal legal counseling is critical in order to correctly assess your legal situation, select an appropriate court system, set realistic goals with regard to property division and child custody, and work out reasonable settlement agreements with your spouse. Even if you have read books and pamphlets about divorce, there may still be issues that you haven’t considered, either from lack of knowledge or as a result of your deep emotional involvement. Having a legal professional listen to you, objectively analyze your situation, and outline your different options, generally proves exceedingly valuable and well worth the cost.
If you submit a joint petition for divorce, you will probably no longer require legal counseling once the divorce agreement has been drafted. In other cases, you will need a legal expert to accompany you throughout the legal proceedings in a rabbinical court or family court. You will need to provide your legal counselor with all pertinent truthful information regarding your relationship with your spouse and children, your property, your employment and expenses, and prior legal decisions or professional opinions, if any. To this end, you will need to grant access to many documents and be prepared to tell the whole truth, no matter how difficult (your legal counselor is legally bound to confidentiality and is forbidden to disclose anything you tell him). Legal counseling can be provided by a lawyer or rabbinical advocate (to’en rabbani).
Tips in choosing a legal advisor
* Before choosing a legal advisor, it is wise to set up some introductory meetings and preliminary counseling sessions (which are sometimes free of charge) with several different experts. This way, you can compare their methods, tactics, fees, and payments plans, and choose the one who overall best suits you. Different lawyers and rabbinical advocates may employ vastly different approaches, which impact the tone and atmosphere of your meetings with them, your connection with your spouse, and legal proceedings in court or bet din. Thus, for example, the question of whether the dissolution of your marriage will take place in an amicable, cooperative manner or in a combative one depends not only on your own inclination and circumstances, but also on your legal advisor’s approach and nature.
* If a different lawyer, from the one you met at your preliminary meeting, will be representing you in court or in bet din (as is sometimes the case), it is a good idea to also meet him.
* If you are opting for a lawyer, you must verify that he is an expert in family law, and that he is proficient in the area in which you need legal advice. Moreover, not every lawyer, accustomed to working with family courts, is also knowledgeable and competent at working with a rabbinical court. It is important that you ascertain whether the lawyer you chose can effectively represent you in both courts.
* If, alternatively, you are opting for a rabbinical advocate, you must keep in mind that his/her specialty is in Jewish law, and that he/she is only qualified, therefore, to represent you in bet din. If certain divorce proceedings do take place in family court, you will also need to hire a lawyer since your rabbinical advocate will not be able to represent you there.
* The government provides free legal assistance, including representation in family court and in bet din in all divorce related matters, for anyone who is financially eligible (and whose claims are reasonable). Eligibility for this aid depends on one’s income in relation one’s number of children.
* Various organizations also provide assistance in divorce related legal services and representation. Particularly prevalent are non-profit organizations, which offer free or low cost legal assistance to women in the process of divorce and to aggunot and mesoravot get.