Bree Kennedy of the Law of Office of Kennedy & Blackshire, LLC has been practicing family law since 2000, and though there is a lot of sadness and heartache in the family law practice, she says it is largely rewarding to work with families and parents who are doing their best in difficult situations. “It is a privilege to help clients navigate through tough domestic times,” she said.
Kennedy, who has presided over countless divorces, also said, “The divorce process is very individualized. No two cases are the same.” She then continued by outlining a to-do list for people seeking a divorce that hopefully provides a basic framework for the process. The list is similar for both someone who is seeking a divorce and someone whose spouse is seeking a divorce.
Divorce To-Do List
• Set goals. It is necessary to set both temporary and permanent goals, regardless of whether or not you are the one who wanted to separate. Start small. What are the goals for your family situation for the next 30 days? The next 90 days? The next year? Thereafter?
• Discuss the children’s schedule. Think about what schedule for the children best fits the family and how it will change over time. Will the children’s school stay the same? What about extracurriculars? Vacations? What is the best way to maintain stability for the children? What can be done to help the parents co-parent? What is important to your family? Maybe it’s a holiday tradition. Maybe it’s the children’s annual summer stay with grandparents.
• Address finances. It is important to figure out what financial decisions need to be made on a temporary and permanent basis. These issues may seem overwhelming, which is why you and your lawyer will break them down, one issue at a time. Start small and enlist financial experts when needed.
• Seek counseling. We are lucky to have many wonderful counselors in Beaufort County. Counseling is not only important prior to making a life-changing decision such as a separation, but also throughout the entire process. Find a counselor with whom you have great rapport and take comfort in knowing that you have someone to help you navigate the emotional ups and downs. There will be many.
• Choose a lawyer. Choosing a lawyer is much like choosing your counselor. Find someone with whom you feel comfortable. Family lawyers often have to deliver not-so-great news. It is better to hear it from someone you like.
• Get a second opinion. At the Law of Office of Kennedy & Blackshire, LLC, the firm often encourages clients to seek second opinions, because family lawyers may differ in opinions. By getting an opinion from another experienced family lawyer, you have the ability to identify the person and legal course that best fits your needs and wants.
• Ask questions. Do not hesitate to ask your lawyer questions. The process of filing for divorce or separate support and maintenance and navigating a case is complex. Throw in the emotion of it all, and it can seem more complicated. There is no one right way to get from A to Z. Therefore, ask and ask again.
• Be responsive to your needs. Do not apologize when you change your mind. This is your life. Sometimes your goals change, and that is okay. Do not be afraid to express your thoughts. Maybe a career path has shifted? Maybe you have re-thought selling your home? Speak up.
• Determine the grounds for divorce. There are five grounds for divorce in South Carolina: adultery, habitual drunkenness, physical cruelty, abandonment and no fault, which is based on the parties living separate and apart for at least one year.
• Begin the legal process. Like other types of litigation, the legal process of divorce or separate support and maintenance begins with a Summons and Complaint. After the Complaint is filed with the Clerk’s office, the other party is served with the documents. Service can be by acceptance—meaning, a spouse can sign to accept the documents rather than waiting on a third party to serve them. Sometimes, a temporary hearing is requested to decide temporary issues, and sometimes a temporary hearing is unnecessary initially.
Next, comes the time-consuming process of discovery if warranted. To simplify, this is the process by which a litigant can request documents and ask questions. Then, mediation is set. Mediation is mandatory in family law cases that have not resolved by agreement and is a wonderful tool.
Note: Typically, the lawyers on both sides will agree on a mediator, taking the litigants personalities into consideration. Mediators cannot make decisions but rather help the parties arrive at a conclusion together. Though most cases settle at mediation, if mediation does not work (meaning an agreement is not reached), sometimes a second mediation is conducted, or either party can request a trial date, which may take months, in which case the emotional and financial burden can be significant on the litigants.
• Practice self-care. Establish a regular exercise routine; explore a meditation practice; commit to a healthy lifestyle such as drinking alcohol in moderation, eating whole foods and a set sleep schedule; form a supportive group of friends and family members around you; envision your new life; practice gratitude; find a new hobby, sport or craft.
Regardless of everything, Kennedy wants you to know, “There is light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes the light cannot be immediately seen or even imagined and sometimes it takes months or even years, but there is light.”
Becca Edwards is a wellness professional, freelance writer, and owner of Female IQ (femaleIQ.com).