When Is It “Time” To Meet With a Family Law Attorney?

Many people look forward to getting married, but few plan to get divorced.  The idea of separating from a long-term partner, and the impact it may have on one’s life, can be overwhelming.  Children, intertwined finances, real estate, monetary dependence, and other factors can further complicate an already daunting process.  While there is no “perfect” time, below are some examples of when it may be wise to consider meeting with a competent family law attorney.

You no longer want to be married to your spouse

Perhaps the most obvious sign that it may be time to meet with a family law attorney is when you decide you no longer want to be married to your spouse.  Marriage is a legal construct, and as such, can only be undone through the divorce or legal separation processes.  Even if you are not completely sure that you need, or want, a divorce or legal separation, meeting with a family law attorney is an important step to learn about your legal rights, potential obstacles or areas of exposure, protective or proactive measures to take, and what to expect from the process of dissolving a marriage.

You believe your significant other is hiding, transferring, or not being forthright about assets and finances

Under New Hampshire law, each spouse in a marriage has an equitable interest in all of the assets in either spouse’s name, irrespective of whether they were acquired before or after the marriage, originated from one side of the family or the other, received as a gift or an inheritance, etc.  Moreover, in the case of a long-term marriage, there is a presumption that an equal (50/50) division of the marital estate is fair.  If you suspect that your spouse is hiding assets, transferring property into a trust or the name(s) of one or more third parties, is keeping one or more “secret” bank accounts, etc., you should consider meeting with a family law attorney to learn about strategies for protecting and preserving the value of the marital estate, to ensure that you receive your fair share of it.

You suspect or discover that your spouse is having an extramarital affair.

While adultery is no longer a crime in New Hampshire, it is still a recognized “fault ground” for divorce.  A family law attorney can help an aggrieved spouse learn about his / her rights, and provide advice about how to proceed.  For instance, unfaithful spouses frequently expend marital resources in pursuit of their extramarital relationships.  Swift legal action may help to both limit the loss to the marital estate, and discover relevant evidence that can be used in your case.  A spouse’s adultery may also entitle the faithful spouse to a larger share of the marital estate, and/or impact his / her ultimate spousal support obligation (alimony).  If you are not certain of your spouse’s adultery, a family law attorney can also connect you with an experienced private investigator or other surveillance specialist to obtain the proof necessary to prevail in an adultery-based divorce action.

Substance-abuse and/or domestic violence behaviors

Substance abuse and domestic violence can both wreak havoc on a relationship and household, with the two sometimes being interrelated.  In the event you are confronted with potential substance abuse or domestic violence concerns, your safety and well-being––and the safety and well-being of your children and other household members––should be your number one priority.  A family law attorney can help educate you about the options and resources available to you and your loved ones, including, for example, meeting with a domestic violence advocate and/or filing for a domestic violence order of protection.

Your spouse presents you with a postnuptial agreement or asks you to consider signing one.

In New Hampshire, postnuptial agreements are enforceable.  Properly-drafted postnuptial agreements can be an effective way for informed, consenting parties to agree on their respective rights and obligations in the event of divorce, legal separation, or death.  However, postnuptial agreements can also be a means by which one spouse may seek to unfairly or inappropriately divest the other of property, support, or other rights to which he/she would normally be entitled.  If your spouse presents you with a postnuptial agreement, or you believe he/she may be considering asking you to sign one, consider meeting with a family law attorney.  The attorney can provide important advice about postnuptial agreements, and also represent you in the negotiation and drafting processes.

About the Author: Petar M. Leonard

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