You have decided you must terminate your marriage, and you know you cannot put off any longer a conference with a divorce lawyer. Or, your spouse has filed for a divorce, and you have been served with papers. You need a lawyer with experience in divorce issues.
Q: What can I do to make the most of my time with a divorce attorney?
A: By working with your attorney and assisting him or her by providing necessary information, you can:
1) Save money on attorney's fees;
2) Educate yourself about the true financial picture of your marital estate;
3) Increase your understanding of the divorce process, which may, in turn, increase your chances for a better settlement;
4) Better understand the complexity of your own divorce case and the advice your lawyer will provide.
Q: What should I do to prepare for my first meeting with my attorney?
A: Since the law looks at a marriage like a business partnership, the court will be dividing your assets and liabilities at the termination of that partnership. In order to do that, the court will need an inventory of all property and the value of each asset, as well as a list of creditors and the amount of each debt. If the court needs this information, it follows that your divorce lawyer needs it first.
Try to locate the following, bringing everything to your first interview:
1) Your tax returns for the last five years with all attachments, and your spouse's, if you did not file jointly;
2) Net worth statements, if available;
3) Descriptions of retirement plans (Summary Plan Descriptions or SPDs);
4) Statements of individual retirement accounts (IRAs);
5) Deeds to all real estate owned by either you or your spouse;
6) Real estate tax bills;
7) Declaration pages of all life insurance policies;
8) Information about all group life insurance policies which you and your spouse have through your employment;
9) Medical insurance information for yourself, spouse, and children;
10) All bank accounts, numbers, and balances, and the exact names on each account;
11) Records of stocks, bonds, and brokerage accounts;
12) The exact names of all businesses, companies, partnerships, and corporations in which you or your spouse have an ownership interest;
13) All trust agreements and trust accounts in which you or your spouse is a trustee or beneficiary;
14) Records of all safety deposit boxes owned by you or your spouse;
15) All written appraisals of any property owned by you, your spouse, or both;
16) Records of all credit cards (VISA, MasterCard, department store or gas cards, etc.), including the exact name(s) on each account, the account number, account balance, and charges and cash advances for the last year;
17) Records of all loans, whether from a bank or relatives, the dates the loans were made, amount borrowed, balance due, monthly payment, and the purpose of the loan;
18) Records of all mortgages on real estate, the date the mortgages were made, amount, balance owed, and monthly payment. If the monthly payment includes real estate taxes and insurance, identify the amount for real estate taxes as well as the amount for insurance. Also identify the amount that goes to principal and the amount towards interest. If the monthly payment is for the mortgage only, identify the amount for real estate taxes and the amount for insurance.
Q: Should I postpone my appointment if I cannot locate all of this information?
A: Absolutely not. It is important for your divorce lawyer to be able to identify the information you cannot locate. Your divorce lawyer will discuss with you what legal steps may need to be taken in order to obtain the information.
Q: Is there any other information my divorce lawyer needs?
A: Be prepared to tell your divorce lawyer why you or your spouse wishes to terminate your marriage. You should be able to identify specific reasons, apart from emotional reasons, such as, "I don't love my spouse anymore." Think about underlying reasons and focus on how and why your marriage has changed. Do not be concerned that your first account is the only one your divorce lawyer will hear.
A: Should I ask questions in the initial interview?
Q: Yes. Bring with you a written list of questions you have. It is better, however, not to ask your questions at the beginning of the interview, but to wait until your attorney asks for questions. You will find that, during the initial interview, many of your questions will be answered. You will also find that you have thought of new questions as a result of your divorce lawyer's explanation of the divorce process. Remember, there is no such thing as a dumb question.
A: How can preparing information for my divorce lawyer help me?
Q: The more work you are willing to put into your own divorce, the more money you will save and the better the result you will obtain for yourself and your family.
This "Law You Can Use" consumer legal information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by attorney C. Terrence Kapp of Kapp Law Offices in Cleveland, and past national chair of the American Bar Association's Divorce Laws and Procedures Committee.