“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”(Benjamin Franklin)
Selecting the right attorney for you is only the first step. But, never forget that no one understands your situation better than you, so you’re your own greatest advocate. It’s up to you to provide all the information your lawyer needs to negotiate the best possible settlement. Give your attorney a complete picture of your financial situation, as well as your short-term and long-term goals. Though this may mean more legwork for you early in the process, it will pay off with fewer billable hours and a thorough agreement that will protect you now and in the future.
When I started looking for a divorce lawyer, I asked everyone I knew for a referral. Because I live in a relatively small city, the same few names kept popping up. I went to one referred by my financial advisor and was instantly sure I’d picked the right one: she was smart, organized, and really knew what issues women needed to keep in mind during the divorce process. And because she knew my financial advisor, I authorized them to work together so they could both get the fullest picture of my situation. The fact that they coordinated with each other made my our meetings much more helpful and efficient — and ultimately saved me some money. [Gloria]
As you prepare to meet with your divorce lawyer, consider the following three areas: marital property, child support and custody, and spousal support. Be prepared to discuss your desired outcomes in each of these areas and bring with you any documents that substantiate the information you provide.
Marital Property. This refers to assets you both acquired during the marriage—a house, cars, furnishings, jewelry, etc. Prepare a list of all marital property, when it was acquired, and, whose name appears on the title, if applicable. The division of property isn’t always straightforward. Who owns the property will vary by state. In a “common law property” state, the spouse who purchased the property in their name retains ownership. Property in both names is split 50-50. In “community property” states, marital property is divided between spouses regardless of whose name it was purchased in.
Child Support & Custody. Child support and custody is often one of the most contested issues in a divorce.
Both parents are responsible for child support, and how much each contributes will be established by a court order or by a written agreement between you and your spouse. Some states have specific guidelines for calculating child support which take into account fixed, variable, and controlled expenses. Fixed expenses are housing related, variable costs include expenses like transportation and food, and controlled costs include miscellaneous expenses like clothing and personal care. Use these classifications to compile a list of childcare expenses to help your lawyer evaluate your child’s current and future needs.
Familiarize yourself with the types of custody to determine at the beginning of your divorce which type you will seek. Legal custody gives you the authority to make decisions about your child’s welfare, education, and health. Physical custody refers to where the children live. Custody can be sole or joint. The court will consider what is best for the child, but make sure you and your lawyer discuss what type of custody you want and why.
Spousal Support. Courts will award alimony based on a number of factors, such as the length of the marriage, each spouse’s education and employability, and the division of child-rearing obligations. Alimony may be permanent or limited in duration, or for rehabilitative or reimbursement purposes. When you talk to your lawyer, you will want to discuss your career goals and associated financial needs. If you are the spouse who will be paying alimony, it’s important to discuss how this will impact your finances.
Lawyers are expensive. Make the most of your time with your lawyer by preparing a list of questions and/or concerns ahead of time. You may want to just keep an ongoing list so you can jot down things as you think of them. Try to to limit the number of emails you send by combining thoughts and questions into as few emails as possible. The more emails the lawyer has to wade through and answer, the more expensive your bill.
Communication with your attorney is key. Listen well and make sure you fully understand what they’re saying. If you don’t, get clarification. Take notes if that helps. Don’t be afraid to challenge them and ask questions. When sharing information about your situation, stick to facts and be open and honest.
If you’re having any problems with your lawyer, make sure to discuss them.
Download the checklist of things to prepare and review before your first meeting with your attorney.