#1: Pull A Credit Report.
Most people have a general sense of what they own, but many do not know what they owe. In determining the best course of action in your divorce, it is crucial to know which debts are in your name, which are in your spouse’s name, and which are joint. A credit report is a quick and easy way to confirm the status of most consumer debts. You can also use the report as a summary of your current debt totals.
Many clients come to their consultations with a full list of debts and assets, which is ideal. If at all possible, you should provide this list to your consulting attorney in advance so that he or she can review it before the meeting. The list should include an approximate value or balance of each asset and debt and an indication of which party holds title. Assets that are commonly missed include pensions, trusts, annuities, business ownership, stock options, RSU’s, timeshares, whole life insurance policies, and proceeds from unresolved legal claims (e.g. unresolved lawsuit against an employer). Debts that are commonly missed include current or past taxes, personal loans, liability for unresolved legal claims (e.g. pending liability from an auto accident) and outstanding medical bills.
#2: Collect Recent Tax Returns and/or Pay Stubs.
Assessing someone’s income for the purposes of child support or alimony is far trickier than most people think. Recent tax returns (last 2-3 years) and pay stubs (last 3-4) can provide clarity. Pay stubs in particular often include valuable information about an employee’s benefits and deductions. Your historical tax returns can reflect not only the marital income, but also many of your debts and assets. If you do not have copies of your historical tax returns, consider requesting a copy directly from your tax-preparer or requesting tax transcripts from the IRS.
#3: Think About Your Ideal Parenting Plan.
An experienced custody attorney can offer valuable advice about what sort of custody and parenting plan arrangement would be best for your situation, but every family is unique. No matter how good your attorney is, he or she will be relying on you for information about your specific situation. For this reason, it is often more efficient for the client to sketch out a possible parenting schedule, which the attorney can then explore and critique. If you have specific concerns about your spouse or a child (e.g. substance abuse, mental health issues, etc.), write them out and make a list.
#4: Make A List of Questions.
Write down all of your questions, however minor. Do not self-censor– there are no dumb questions in this arena (and your conversation is confidential, anyway). Common questions include the following:
- How long should I expect this process to take?
- Should I negotiate directly with my spouse?
- Do I have a case for custody?
- Who gets the tax benefits that are related to the children?
- Can I keep the house?
- What about the joint debts?
- How much will the divorce cost me?
- What is the best way to pay for my legal fees?
- Is mediation an option for me?
- Is collaborative divorce an option for me?
- Should I get a custody evaluation?
#5: Prioritize Your Concerns.
After completing your list of questions, take the extra time to put them in order based on their importance to you. Are you most anxious about your post-divorce cash flow? Unfiled tax returns? The well-being of your children? Your lawyer will most likely have to make decisions about where to spend his or her time and energy. It is therefore crucial for him or her to know what matters most to you.
Do Not Delay Your Initial Consultation.
At Gearing Rackner & McGrath, we see consultations as an opportunity to save you money by maximizing our value to you. Many of our clients can get all the advice that they need from a consultation alone.