In a divorce, there are a million concerns that are swirling around in your head as you embark on this daunting and overwhelming process. One of the ways to ease your concerns is to be educated about the divorce process, and this requires you to ask the right questions before you begin this journey.
In a prior blog post, I discussed the benefits of consulting with an attorney to get you the answers you need for your divorce. So what kinds of questions should you present to an attorney before you get started?
1. What Costs Can I Anticipate? A divorce is a costly process. Even if you are a multi-millionaire with endless resources of cash, the costs associated with divorce should still be a concern. Your goal is to save your money and use it for you and your family going forward, and not necessarily on legal fees and unnecessary litigation. Every family law attorney and law firm will have its own attorney's fees and costs structure, so before you embark on a divorce, it is important to ask how that fee structure works so that you are aware of where your money is going and you can plan to put aside necessary funds for the divorce process. As a family law attorney, it is not always easy to provide a potential client with a hard number on what the attorney's fees and costs will look like, however, it is always a priority to be upfront with potential clients about billing, how monies are expended and what is expected from clients when the initial retainer fee is diminished.
2. What Exposure Do I Have Related to Spousal and Child Support? One of the main issues you will want to discuss in an initial consultation is your exposure to both child and spousal support. Whether you are the pay-er or payee spouse, you will want the attorney to explain how child and spousal support is determined in your state, and if possible, to give you a general idea of what your exposure is based on the information you provide to the attorney. If child and spousal support is a concern for you in your divorce, it will be important to bring as much financial documentation with you to your initial consultation so the attorney can review your family's overall financial picture. Financial documents that will be helpful include tax returns, pay stubs or W-2 forms, bank account and retirement account statements and credit card statements.
3. How Is Child Custody and Visitation Determined? If you are concerned about child sharing, ask the attorney what the court will consider when making a determination related to child custody and visitation in your state. Will you be required to meet with a mediator before a court makes a custody determination? In many California courts, if you and your spouse cannot agree to a child sharing plan between the two of you, the court will set a date for you and your spouse to meet with a court appointed mediator who will then make a recommendation to the court as to a child sharing plan.
4. What Information Is Needed From Me? When you are consulting with an attorney, you should be provided with helpful resources on how to get started, in addition to a list of information that you will need to gather to prepare for the process ahead. In California for example, once you file for divorce, you are required to exchange Preliminary Declaration of Disclosures with your spouse, which outlines your overall financial picture, in addition to your estimated monthly living expenses and costs. As a result, you are required to exchange financial documentation that includes bank statements, credit card statements, retirement account information and tax returns. This documentation will be helpful when determining child and spousal support, or if you and your spouse are in disagreement over the division of assets and debts and tracing of separate property is an issue. If you are involved in a heated custody battle, your attorney may ask you to journal the daily timeshare of the children between you and your spouse and to document any significant incidents that may be helpful to the issue of child custody and visitation.
What they say is true, "knowledge is power" and by asking the right questions, you will be educated and armed with information that is beneficial in helping you meet your goals and moving your case towards resolution.