If you’re thinking about filing for a dissolution of your marriage, you already know there are tough decisions ahead. Rather than get overwhelmed, take some time to contemplate what’s in store for you and your family. Though every case is different, here are a few things to consider before you file:
1. YOUR MONEY:
I often meet with clients who have only a general idea about their bank account balance. Though both parties in a divorce must provide financial disclosures and document their assets and debts, I think one of the smartest things a client can do is start to gather information about their finances before they initiate their case. Oftentimes, vital information is simply laying around the house and nowadays, most necessary documents can be tracked down online.
Things like recent tax returns, paystubs, and bank account statements can give you a general feel for your financial health. Trying to get a handle on what you and your spouse earn at work, how you invest your savings, and how you pay your monthly bills and expenses will help you think about how a divorce may realistically affect your finances. Consider taking a proactive approach with information-gathering: pay attention to the mail, keep account statements organized, hold on to pay stubs, and start to think about what you spend vs. what you earn.
Perhaps most importantly, having a better handle on your financial affairs will help your attorney offer you straight-forward and fact-based advice. Arrive for your consultation with as much recent and relevant information as you can. This will give your attorney the ability to offer you advice based on your actual circumstances, calculate potential child support and spousal support figures, and it will help you contemplate what further work lies ahead.
2. YOUR KIDS:
Every case may be different, but any case that involves a child has the same bottom-line: you want your child to be safe, to be loved, and to escape any hostility that may erupt in the divorce process. Thinking about a parenting plan for your child in contemplation of divorce can be excruciating. However, I believe it is crucial to think about what you may want a parenting plan to look like before you actually file. Make sure you understand the principles of legal and physical custody, and start making every effort to get involved in the day-to-day aspects of your child’s life. Get to know (or remain involved with) your child’s teachers and doctors, stay up-to-date with their extracurricular activities, help with their homework, and generally be a strong presence in their lives.
If you and your spouse have already physically separated, think about the temporary plan you’ve already informally put in place. Are you happy with the parenting schedule? Do you feel short-changed on time with your child, or do you think you’re shouldering the bulk of the parenting responsibility? These are important things to think about, because a temporary (and informal) parenting plan established pre-divorce can often establish what is called the “status quo” once a case is filed. If an informal plan has been put in place, and no compelling reason is presented as to why it should be changed, you may find yourself in a situation where that informal plan becomes court-ordered. Put some good thought into the temporary plan you establish. You’re never “stuck” with anything, but the longer a status quo plan remains in place, the harder it becomes to change.
3. YOUR COUNSEL:
Choosing the right attorney to represent you in divorce proceedings is one of the most important decisions you will make. I’m not going to offer my advice as to what a “good” or “bad” attorney does, but I will say this: be comfortable with the advocate you choose. Make sure you have a good rapport with your lawyer – you need to be comfortable with their style, their approach, and their advice. A divorce is a process, and choosing someone who is a good fit for your personality and goals can make the process a bit easier to navigate.
Contact Jennifer Owens for a free consultation to discuss your family law matter.