Most people take a long time before they finally decide to make the call to a divorce lawyer. Contemplating taking that first step in what is reputed to be a long, expensive and painful process can be overwhelming. We get that. So, here’s a list of things you can do to prepare for divorce before you make that call. This same list will help you get the most out of your initial divorce consultation when you finally decide to move forward.
A divorce requires us to answer four types of legal questions:
- What are your reasons for getting divorced? People spend most of their time documenting this question. We understand that collecting the evidence that justifies your decision can be part of summoning the nerve to follow through. Wondering if your spouse is cheating on you is one thing – having the pictures and text messages that prove it can be more motivational. Surprisingly, Judges care relatively little about your reason for getting divorced. Go ahead and collect what evidence you’ve got, but don’t obsess on this point. You have other, more important work to do.
- How are your assets and debts going to be divided? Usually, courts divide the assets and debts of a marriage roughly equally, but that picture looks very different for different people, depending on the specifics. To prepare for divorce, make a list of all of your assets and debts. This will include things like your house, retirement accounts, cars, bank accounts, valuable personal possessions. Then make a list of all of your debts, including student loans, credit cards, IRS debts, mortgages, and car payments. Figure out how much each asset or debt is worth by doing things like calling your bank to get a copy of your last home appraisal, printing your last retirement statement, running a Kelley Blue Book estimate on the value of your car, and collecting credit card statements. Don’t worry if you don’t know – we’ll fill in the gaps. But the more you know, the less scared you’ll be and the cheaper your divorce should be.
- How is time and responsibility for your children going to be divided? Usually, courts divide time with the children equally and have parents share responsibility for the big decisions. Sometimes, that may not be what’s best for your children. To start to figure out what’s best, write out a typical day in the life or your children. Who gets them up in the morning? What time? Who fixes breakfast? Takes them to school or daycare? Who takes them to the doctor or picks them up if they are sick? Who coaches their team or takes them to dance lessons? Where do the children spend the holidays? This exercise will help you compare the relative involvement of both parents in the life of the child. While that is certainly not dispositive, it’s where to get started.
- How are the bills going to get paid after the divorce is over? Child support is automatic in all divorces involving children. It is a formula that takes into account the days the children spend with each parent, the parents’ incomes, health insurance and daycare costs, and whether either parent has other children to care for. The other kind of support is alimony. This is a matter, mostly, of how much money each spouse makes and how much each spouse needs after child support and employment income are factored in. To get a jump on the process, do your budget. Check it against the spending habits of your household for the last three months by looking at your bank statements. Most folks are surprised to learn where their money actually goes. When you are going through a divorce, knowing those facts will equip you to survive the process and thrive.
All of these activities are things you can do on your own to prepare for divorce. All of them will help your lawyer save time and save you money. Getting this information to your attorney sooner rather than later makes the entire process go more smoothly. Good luck, and remember: when you are ready to go, or if you need help getting ready, we are here for you!
Margaret Held is the founding attorney at Held Law Firm.