A divorce action that includes support, custody, and equitable distribution can be a complicated and stressful process. Before anything is filed with the Courts, it’s essential that you meet with an attorney who can identify your goals and your fears, take in the facts of your case, and define a path forward. Additionally, it’s important that you develop a trusting relationship and feel comfortable confiding in the attorney who you ultimately decide to retain. Oftentimes individuals who come in for a consultation bring with them what can feel like insurmountable levels of stress, anxiety, and even dread. By walking through the divorce process and educating themselves on how best to proceed, these same individuals walk out of their consultations with a sense of direction and control over what lies ahead.
For these reasons, your initial consultation with a family law attorney will be one of the most important steps taken throughout the entire divorce process. In order to make the best use of your consultation and answer as many questions as possible, here are six essential items that you should bring with you for your consultation.
1. Tax Returns
Tax returns will offer your attorney a broad glance into the financial nuts and bolts of your marriage. For many people your tax returns will also include a summary of each party’s income in a given year. In situations where one spouse owns a business, tax returns will be necessary in assessing the value of that business. Where possible, obtain tax filings going back as far as five years so as to provide as detailed a picture as possible. Like everything else on this list, your tax returns will be of great use both in your initial consultation as well as down the road.
2. Mortgage Statements
If you and your spouse purchased a home together during your marriage, the equity in that home will very likely be subject to equitable distribution. That is, each spouse will be entitled to their equitable share of the difference between the home’s value and the total amount of all liens or mortgages against it. If a marital home is worth $500,000 with a balance of $300,000 still owed to your mortgage lender, you and your spouse have $200,000 in marital equity. In cases where one spouse wishes to remain in the home, he or she will have to “buy out” the other spouse’s share of the marital equity using other marital assets. By providing your attorney a rough approximation of the home’s worth along with a current mortgage statement that shows the amount owed, you can begin to quantify how much marital equity is at stake.
3. Bank Account/Credit Card Statements
Any joint accounts that you and your spouse have contributed to during your marriage are typically going to be subject to equitable distribution. For this reason it’s essential that you provide your attorney with a complete inventory of all joint accounts as well as current balances. In some instances a spouse will begin to move money into new accounts or begin purchasing big-ticket items in an effort to hide assets leading up to a divorce. Also where one spouse tries to under-report his or her income, your attorney may be able to work backwards from the funds coming into and out of your account to determine whether income is being hidden. By providing your attorney with account statements you will give him or her a glimpse into the amount of liquid assets at stake as well as each spouse’s typical spending habits throughout the marriage.
Similarly, any debts that you and your spouse have incurred during your marriage are typically going to be subject to equitable distribution. Just as you do with liquid assets, provide your attorney with an inventory of lines of credit that you and your spouse have taken out during the marriage. Again, bring monthly statements going back as far as possible so that your attorney can get a feel for you and your spouse’s typical spending habits and spot any irregular account activity.
4. Earnings Statements/Pay stubs
When determining obligations in child and spousal support, the Courts will run statutory guidelines based on the parties’ respective incomes. By providing your attorney with paystubs for yourself as well as your spouse he or she will be able to calculate a rough approximation of what a support obligation would look like. Again, your attorney will benefit from you providing as many pay stubs as possible as he or she will be able to get a feel for each spouse’s month-to-month earnings.
Marriages dissolve for many different reasons, and rarely do parties reach the decision to divorce all at once. More often the decision to pursue a divorce is the result of years of unresolved issues related to the marriage. At LaMonaca Law we encourage clients to prepare a journal that outlines what they have been going through and why they are considering a divorce. The process of journaling itself will also help you begin to come to terms with this big transition and realize things about your marriage that you may not have been completely aware of before.
6. List of Questions
Finally, bring with you a list of questions that you would like to have answered so that you can go through them at the end of the consultation and make sure that you and your attorney have touched on everything. This list will also give your attorney an idea of your priorities, fears, and goals. By the end of your consultation you should have a check next to each of your questions and a feeling of control over the process ahead.
To schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys or for further information, call us at LaMonaca Law, at (610) 892-3877