Inventor Alexander Graham Bell said, “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” His words of wisdom also ring true for how to get the most value from your first meeting with your divorce attorney.
Proper preparation will also include gathering documents, brainstorming questions, and outlining goals, fears, and concerns.
Basic Information to Share with the Lawyer
In a California divorce, the length of the marriage and whether you share minor children are two critical pieces of information that the attorney will first need.
Your attorney will also need to know or obtain the following:
- Your name on a government ID
- Social security number
- Date of birth
- Contact phone numbers (mobile and work)
- Personal e-mail addresses
- Copy of the marriage certificate
- The number of children involved
- Employer information and length of employment
- Health insurance information
You will also need to provide the same information for your spouse.
Documents to Bring to Your Consultation
Before an attorney can provide a framework of possible terms of a divorce agreement, they must first have a basic understanding of your and your spouse’s financial standing.
The assets and obligations of you and your spouse are a foundation for many decisions:
As the divorce proceeds, your attorney may ask for additional information. Experts such as property appraisers and forensic accountants might be necessary. Additional professionals are sometimes necessary for high-net-worth divorces.
Examples of the documentation your attorney needs include the following:
- Tax Returns: Tax returns will be needed for the past several years. Show the dependency or recurrence of finances for at least three years and have five years of federal and state tax returns, including the W2s and 1099s. If you have a business interest, you need to bring a document the IRS refers to as a Schedule K-1 to report a business entity's income, losses, and dividends. In addition to the K-1, you need to have any Excise Tax paid by the business, which is often used to show consumer price increases.
- Paystubs: Tax returns give valuable but not complete information. A paystub will show how much net income is brought in each month. The document also shows if money is being deposited into one or more accounts and whether funds are diverted into 401Ks and other investment accounts.
- Loans: If you own your home, your attorney will need to know much equity has been built in the home versus how much is still owed. Mortgage and closing documents are helpful. Tell your attorney if the house has liens against it. Second mortgages, car loans, personal loans, student loans, and other similar obligation should be disclosed. Bring copies of these documents, including any current loan applications you or your spouse are completing.
- Other Income and Debt Obligations: From credit card debt to trust fund disbursements, a full disclosure of all your income sources and debt obligations is required.
Questions to Ask a Divorce Attorney
You need a lawyer who makes you feel supported and comfortable sharing private and personal information as you go through the difficulty of a divorce. Asking the person some basic questions can tell you whether you will successfully work together.
Some opening questions to ask include the following:
- How long have you been practicing family law, and divorce specifically?
- What percentage of your cases involve minor children still living at home?
- What approach do you use for new clients and confidentiality?
- Do you recommend reaching an agreement by negotiation?
- What experience do you have in litigating a divorce in court?
- What is the best communication method if I have questions during the divorce?
- What are my options for billing fees? Can I pay in installments? How can I reduce costs?
Write down the questions you want to ask and their responses.
Discuss Your Goals and Concerns
When a marriage breaks down, it is normal to have considerable concerns about what the future holds. Share your fear and worries with the attorney. Express why you believe the marriage no longer works and why you want a divorce. Or tell them if you were blindsided by divorce papers. Context is very important.
Your children may have special needs that you want to ensure are met. Perhaps you have strong feelings about the marital home. If you have been out of the workforce, you could need the time and funds for education or training. Tell your attorney about the worries keeping you up at night.
Divorce Consultation Is First Step Toward Your Future
If you want a divorce or your spouse does, you need an experienced attorney. This person can help you with filing, required discovery, negotiations, settlement agreements, and litigation when appropriate.
At Palmer Rodak & Associates, you will receive compassionate, strategic, and personalized legal guidance. Our attorneys, paralegals, assistants, and support staff work together on each case.
Schedule a consultation to see if we are the right fit for you. Discuss your divorce case with us by calling (760) 573-2223 or reaching out online.