10 Simple Steps When Preparing For A Divorce
Preparing to contest a divorce could be one of the most difficult and important decisions you make in your lifetime. Whether you saw it coming or you were blindsided with the fact that your spouse no longer wants to be married to you, it's time to get your affairs in order and have a solid plan to protect what is rightfully yours.
This guide will provide you with the top ten things you can do as a client to assist your Divorce Attorney and have them on top of the game from the inception of your case.
Know Your Assets
This sounds like a basic concept, but you would be shocked how many clients and potential clients literally have not one clue about what they own. If you believe or suspect a divorce may be coming, get a handle on what you own. If you don't handle the family finances, then find out where that information is kept and copy as far back as a year if you can. If you don't know where you or your spouse are depositing money, start scouring the house or home office for statements if your spouse is not forthcoming. If you pay a mortgage, make sure you know or find out what the balance on it is. The point is, start getting informed and copying anything you can get your hands on that will assist your attorney in locating your assets early on -the more you know about the more you can protect.
Know Your Debts
The first thing to do when trying to ascertain "what you owe" as a married person, is to run your personal credit report. You can do this for free annually through each of the big bureaus (i.e. experian, equifax, transunion). This may not be the full picture either, as some debts may exist solely in the name of your spouse, but it will let your attorney know early on what your exposure is in the divorce and what risks a bankruptcy by the other spouse may pose after your divorce. If the attorney knows what you have, they may be better able to protect you at the beginning and throughout the process.
Know Your Income
Prior to seeing your Divorce attorney for the first time, be armed with tax returns for the last three years and a recent pay stub for both yourself and your spouse, if applicable. If your spouse will not cooperate and you do not have ready access to this information, the IRS has a form for obtaining full copies of your tax transcripts, see http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f4506t.pdf - also, the Social Security Administration can give you access to your statement (showing all working years and a complete income history online) at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/mystatement/ Your attorney cannot give you good advice on support obligations, etc. without income information.
Understand what "No Fault" means
In Ohio, we are a "no fault" state. Unless custody of children is at issue, or your spouse has spent a considerable amount of money for a non-marital purpose (i.e., an affair, gambling habit that they concealed from you, etc.) do NOT waste valuable attorney time convincing your attorney that the Divorce is not "your fault". To some extent, a brief background of your marriage is useful. Going beyond that if there is no issue of parental suitability, or financial misconduct can often burn up valuable litigation dollars without helping your case at all.
Be Organized, and Respond Quickly to Your Lawyer's Questions
From the very beginning, put together a folder or binder for yourself to keep your case and the information organized. A good cover list would include a complete list of Assets, Debts and Income History as well as a brief synopsis of jobs held, etc. during the marriage and degrees earned and what years they were obtained. The clients who get organized early save thousands of dollars in litigation expense and are a significant component to obtaining a good outcome in their case.
If Your Lawyer Won't Return Your Calls, Get a New Lawyer - Fast
Divorce is one of the few areas of law that is extremely "fluid" - meaning sometimes daily contact with the client is necessary to understand what is going on in the case. Time sensitive issues occur frequently in a divorce case, and while as the client you need to have a realistic view of what constitutes an "emergency", your attorney should be able to timely respond to your concerns. With everything else going on, you shouldn't be concerned about whether a critical component to your case is being missed because your attorney will not return your call.
If Custody will be "contested", start a journal immediately
If you have minor children, the process you are about to go through is going to be emotional. I equate it to my clients as a "death", because in a very real sense it is the death of a life and family you thought you were going to be raising together. As with any person who is grieving, it is easy to forget details and events which may be significant in determining the outcome of custody or parenting time for your children. If you have safety concerns for your children while in the care of the other parent, an attorney needs to know (specifically) what events have occurred which have made you concerned for their safety. Start a journal and put dates in it with significant events as they have occurred with your child(ren). Keep that journal going throughout the process. You will be surprised how much of a help this can be to your attorney when preparing for a custody case.
Get a good therapist on board to help you deal with the emotional aspects of your Divorce
The most expensive thing to do is to use your divorce attorney as a therapist. Your attorney is there to navigate you through the legal waters and help you understand the process and probable outcomes given the facts of your case. It's not that your attorney is unsympathetic to your plight, but attorney's think about things in a very methodical "evidentiary" type of way, and that is what you pay an attorney to do. It will be easier (and cheaper) for you to resist the temptation of using your attorney as a therapist if you have a real one on board from the beginning to help you deal with the (understandably) very emotional aspect of what you are going through.
Make a list of very specific questions for your initial consultation with an AttorneyMost people are very nervous when they first sit down with an attorney they have never met before and have to start talking about the most intimate details of their life right away. Free consultations are usually of limited duration (find out in advance how much time you've got and watch the clock!) so come up with ten questions when you are interviewing lawyers and make sure you get your answers. Make sure one of them is about compensation, you want to have a written agreement so there are no surprises and make sure you can comply with the terms of that agreement.
Do not listen to legal advice from friends and familyIt seems like when someone is going through a divorce, very well intentioned friends and family want to tell you what happened in their case and you (as a result) start comparing and contrasting it to what is going on in your case. Do not do that. More than almost any other area of the law, domestic relations is "fact specific" - the ranges of incomes, circumstances, assets and debts vary widely from case to case and directly impact the result. You are comparing apples and oranges. Rely on your attorney for advice and please try not to listen to the "war stories" of loved ones - you have no idea what might have taken place in that divorce that would have led to that result.
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