You are at a crossroads and need a friend, only your best friend is the source of conflict and angst. He or she is why your life is in emotional turmoil.
For whatever reasons, either dramatic or accumulative, after weeks and months of soul searching – perhaps years – you find yourself staring at a phone number and wondering whether you should complete the call.
Do you remember what it was like in high school when you tried to phone your crush? You’d punch in all the numbers but the last one, then hang up.
Only this time, you hit the last number. You let it ring and a divorce attorney is on the other end.
Your life has changed forever; you are seeking more than legal help.
"People are afraid when getting in this process,’’ said 26-year-veteran attorney Eva DeFranco, who grew up in Ridgefield and now works for the firm of Collins, Hannafin, Garamella, Jaber & Tuozzolo, P.C., which has offices in Ridgefield and Danbury.
"They want to be protected and they need to protected.’’
The scope of that protection is financial, emotional and perhaps in extreme cases, physical.
"Lawyers wear different hats throughout the divorce process,’’ said DeFranco, a 1986 graduate of the University of Connecticut School of Law. "You’re part advocate, protector and counselor. You are a voice. You guide them through the process. Sometimes, you are an umpire.’’
The counselor part can be dicey, she said, saying she defers when the client starts asking too pointed questions having an emotional or a psychological edge.
"You have to be careful of your boundaries. We’re not trained in the mental health field,’’ DeFranco said. "I’ll give referrals. It would be presumptuous of me to give out mental health advice given my training as a lawyer.’’
Most people find a divorce attorney by referral or word-of-mouth. There’s also the phone book, advertising and the Internet. Whatever the source, DeFranco said clients can save considerable grief if they do their homework, which begins by examining the attorney’s credentials, background, reviews and complaints, all of which can be found on-line.
She said you must also know what you want out of the process, noting some want a peaceful resolution, while others prefer the scorched earth approach. There are attorneys for all desires.
"One size does not fit all,’’ when it comes to attorneys and divorces, DeFranco said. "You must know what you want and what you’re comfortable with.’’
It’s essential to have an understanding about what your lawyer is all about and their style. Tell your attorney what you want and what you expect, and this includes billing. Interview your attorney about his/hers background and how they would handle certain issues. If you don’t like what you hear, don’t settle and live to regret.
The process can entail interviewing more than one lawyer, but remember not all offer free consultations. With some, the meter begins immediately, and that can run up to $200 an hour or more.
"It is very important to get a sense whether there is a cohesiveness with the lawyer and your goals and objectives,’’ DeFranco said. "Different attorneys have different styles. I believe it is always in the client’s best interest to try to resolve things short of litigation.’’
DeFranco said she informs potential clients of other options, such as mediation and collaborative divorce, which is when the couple and their attorneys try to negotiate a settlement and agree not to litigate.
Once there’s litigation, and especially if custody is involved, the legal tab can reach well over $20,000, and that doesn’t include a settlement of alimony and child support.
"Mediation is more cost effective,’’ DeFranco said. "Litigation can get to be an expensive proposition. On the other hand you’re dealing with all your assets and all your debts with long ranging consequences.’’
DeFranco didn’t set out to be a divorce attorney, but as she handled more and more cases, she developed an affinity for them and her reputation grew. When it comes to word-of-mouth, people mention her.
There are a lot of reasons why, but perhaps one is most important, and that is compassion. When asked if she felt for her clients, she answered without hesitation.
"Yes,’’ she said. "How can you not?’’