Adapted from Make Any Divorce Better
The time will probably come when you will want to something about the laws of your state and how they apply to the facts of your case. In particular, you especially want to know:
What the laws tell you about dividing community/marital property, assignment of debts, spousal support, chid custody and visitation, and child support, and how they will apply to the facts of your case.
How clearly it can be predicted what a judge would do if presented with the facts of your case.
In some states, like California, the laws are so detailed that the outcome—what any judge would do if given your facts—is highly predictable in most situations. This is a great help in negotiation, because the spouses can simply use the laws as a guide in settling differences.
However, in many other states the laws can be so vague, or the judges given so much discretion, that the only predictable thing is that no one can guess the outcome and you will have to spend a great deal on lawyers and legal proceedings to take your case to court and find out what some judge will order. In such states, it is even more important to settle your issues yourselves or in mediation, because you do not want to leave your life and your future to some stranger who doesn’t know anything about you and who is not likely to spend much time finding out.
In addition to the law, you also want to know practical things, like where papers are filed, how long it takes to get a judgment, and what the filing fee is for filing a divorce. To find out about these things, call the courthouse in your county and ask the clerk.
How to learn about the law in your state
Books. The cheapest way would be to read a self-help book on divorce laws of your state. Nolo Press Occidental publishes the famous How To Do Your Own Divorce In California. For other states, go to a book store or library and search the Books In Print subject matter catalog under “Divorce” where you will find a section of state-by-state listings. Many states have self-help divorce books, but the quality ranges from excellent to terrible and it may not be easy to tell the difference. Do not use a book that says it’s good in all 50 states as it is simply not true and probably is not good in your state. The worst thing would be an old book that has not kept up with changes, leaving you to read about laws that no longer exist and working with wrong information, so check the date of printing. Ask a reference librarian to make recommendations.
Public law libraries. Many counties have public law libraries, usually in the courthouse. Ask the court clerk and, if there is one, go there and ask the law librarian for a good book that describes divorce laws in your state.
Ask an attorney. This is surely the easiest, quickest and most reliable way, but not the cheapest. Still, good advice can be worth a lot. I strongly recommend asking a family law attorney who limits his/her practice to mediation. This way you are more likely to get balanced advice aimed at solving problems and working your case toward settlement. Read Who Can I Call? about choosing an attorney.
Before you go to an attorney, you should prepare by gathering documents and organizing the facts of your case with the help of my Worksheets. Before an attorney can give you advice, he/she will need to get the facts and details of you case. Most good attorneys use worksheets like mine, so why pay an attorney $150-350 an hour for something you can do yourself for free. Using my worksheets will save you hundreds or thousands in attorney time and will help focus your thinking and clarify exactly what you want to ask the attorney.
I strongly recommend that you get advice from a lawyer who primarily does divorce mediation, not just sometimes but for whom mediation is the major part of his/her practice. Mediation-minded attorneys are more likely to give you neutral and problem-solving advice, whereas traditional attorneys tend to be more oriented to conflict and their advice tends to be adversarial and too likely to lead you into unnecessary legal action.
Make sure the attorney you visit understands that you are there only for information and advice and that you are not, at this time, retaining him/her to handle your case. In fact, it will be best if you never retain an attorney at all.