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What to Bring to Your First Attorney Meeting
Your divorce attorney may only be a successful advocate in your case if he or she is provided with all of the information about your case. In our discussion entitled “Choosing an Attorney,” we highlighted the importance of being comfortable with your divorce attorney. If you are comfortable with your attorney and respect his or her advice, there should be no reservations about being totally candid with your attorney. This is important because the more information you share with your attorney, the better your outcome may be.
The more information you share with your attorney, the better your outcome may be.
The best time to provide your attorney with information and documents relevant to your case is in the initial set of meetings. Once you have identified the attorney you would like to handle your case, the next step is to provide that attorney with all of the information needed to successfully handle your case. Below is a checklist of documents and information that you should be prepared to share with your attorney early in the divorce process. Bringing these documents, or disclosing the below mentioned information to your attorney as soon as possible, will give your attorney the tools necessary to position your case for success.
Your goals for the divorce
Be very specific about your goals for the divorce regarding the division of property and assets, custody and visitation issues, and child support and alimony payments. You must do more than tell you attorney that you want your “fair share.” Be specific. Your attorney will not know your specific desires or goals unless you share them with him or her.
What you are looking to learn
Its not uncommon for someone going through a divorce to have a lot of questions about the process, its likely outcome, and a wide variety of major and minor concerns along the way. We find it helpful if a client consistently writes down these random thoughts and questions and brings them to the first meeting (and each meeting thereafter). By grouping these thoughts and keeping them in one place, they can easily be answered and addressed, instead of overlooked and forgotten until its too late.
Why you are seeking a divorce?
First, it is important that you express your concerns and desires regarding your divorce to the attorney. Otherwise you and your attorney may be working toward different goals. Second, share with your attorney what caused your relationship to deteriorate. Was there adultery, abuse, or abandonment? It is important to share the cause of the breakup with your attorney, because it can influence an attorney’s review of several key aspects of your case from child custody to equitable division.
Details about your marriage
In addition to providing your attorney with personal information, it is also essential to provide him or her with details concerning your marriage. When and where did you get married? Did you sign a prenuptial agreement? Have either of you been married before? When did you and your spouse separate? Are you still living in the same household? Provide your attorney with all of this information, including any supporting documentation.
Gather as much personal data about you, your spouse, and your children as you can, and share all of this information with your attorney. Write down your names; your home and work addresses and telephone numbers; your ages and places of birth; your Social Security Numbers; and your incomes.
Was there any abuse or adultery in the marriage?
Your lawyer will need to know if you were ever a victim or a perpetrator of abuse. Additionally, your attorney will need to know if you or your spouse ever committed adultery during your marriage. Despite the fear you may have revealing this kind of information, your silence will prevent your lawyer from doing his or her job in representing you. Specifically, knowing about any abuse will allow your attorney to acquire orders of protection for you and your children. Informing your attorney of any adultery, especially if committed by your spouse, will allow your attorney to begin collecting evidence that may be used at trial. If you have photos, audio or audio-visual recordings, or any type of correspondence that substantiates the adultery or abuse, make sure to bring this evidence to your attorney.
Are there custody, visitation or child support issues?
Do you have children, and are there issues that will involve them such as custody, visitation or child support? If you and your spouse had children during the marriage, it is important to discuss with your attorney your ideal plan concerning the custody of your children and any child support that you anticipate if you plan to be the children’s custodian.
Separate Property / Non-Marital Property
Do you believe that you have property that should be considered separate property (such as property you owned prior to the marriage, was gifted to you during the course of the marriage, or you inherited) and should not be divided as part of the divorce? If so, it is important to identify this type of property as soon as possible to your attorney. It may take a while to gather the relevant documents to prove your claim and the earlier you start, the less likely you will have to scramble at the end of your case.
Financial information and legal documents
Create a budget detailing how much you spend every month on items such as housing, utilities, food, clothing, personal grooming, gifts, vacations, and other expenses. If you have children, make sure you factor their expenses into your budget as well. Also bring documentation regarding the assets and debts held by you and your spouse; your income and expenses; your employment; your investments; and, any property that you own. Additionally, bring copies of documents regarding any pending lawsuits, bankruptcy, judgments, and/or garnishments. It is especially important to provide your attorney with the complaint that you were served with if you are the defendant in the divorce action. Below is a non-exhaustive list of the financial documentation that you should try to gather (and provide copies to your attorney) as soon as possible:
- Last three years' tax returns, W2's, 1099's, and evidence of income of you and your spouse.
- Real estate warranty deeds or quitclaim deeds to the property you own.
- For all current real property that you own, copies of security deeds, promissory notes, and settlement statements.
- Notes for car loan(s).
- Any stock certificates, bonds.
- Recent statements for IRA, 401-K or other retirement or pension plans.
- List of any equipment you want that is worth more than $1,000.00 in value.
- Notes you have signed to any banks, individuals, savings and loans, credit companies, or other lending institutions.
- Any and all credit card statements for the past 12 months.
- Any other personal debts or notes signed to anyone, including family members.
- Any financial statements prepared by you and/or your spouse in the past 3 years (including various applications for loans that you may have filled out)
- A current budget of your living expenses
- A list of your specific assets and debts.
- A copy of recent bank statements, showing the current balance in every checking and savings account.