Divorce is often an extremely difficult and tumultuous time in an individual’s life. Many, if not all, aspects of their life will be changing. The first step to a strong divorce case is hiring an experienced family law attorney.
An attorney will be able to help an individual obtain what they seek in their divorce case. Often, important items such as homes and vehicles have to be divided between parties to a divorce. Additionally, there may be children involved, adding a child custody and visitation aspect to the case.
The foundation of a strong divorce case is the knowledge of the rules and requirements for filing for divorce in the state in which a party resides. An attorney will know this information and be able to advise the party if they meet the requirements for a divorce in their state.
What Type of Documentation and Questions Should I Compile Before I Meet with My Divorce Lawyer?
It is important to compile documentation a lawyer may need prior to a consultation. It is also important to notate any questions an individual may have for their attorney.
In divorce cases, parties must often cooperate in order for the results to be efficient and equitable. Each party will be required to provide documents and information regarding issues such as:
- Property distribution;
- Child custody; and/or
- Visitation rights.
It may seem as though a party is required to provide documentation regarding every aspect of their lives. This is not done to invade anyone’s privacy or cause embarrassment, it is simply necessary in order to equitably divide property and assets.
Many documents may become evidence in a divorce trial if the parties are unable to agree on the terms of the divorce and/or child custody issues. Usually, property distribution, the listing of assets, and child-related expenses are the most heavily contested issues during a divorce.
There will be a lot of information and documentation required, so it is best to start gathering it as soon as possible. Information from the following categories may be necessary:
- Personal Information:
- A birth certificate;
- Social Security cards and/or documents;
- Documents pertaining to immigration and/or naturalization, if applicable;
- Any court judgments, certificates, and/or decrees from proceedings involving a previous spouse;
- Any separation agreements between an individual and their;
- Any pre-or post-nuptial agreements;
- Proof of the court’s jurisdiction over the current divorce claim;
- Property Documents and Financial Records:
- Income tax returns, including local, state, and federal returns for the past 3-5 years;
- Employment records, including pay stubs, wage statements, overtime, and/or bonus pay;
- Retirement and/or pension plans, individual retirement account, or IRA files, and/or annuities;
- Real estate contracts, leases, deeds and/or other property certificates, especially in cases where property has been subject to commingling;
- Documents regarding debts, including loan statements, credit card debt, and/or mortgages;
- Bank information, including savings and/or checking account amounts, checkbook records, and/or deposit slips;
- Receipts showing basic expenses
- Information Regarding Children, if applicable:
- Birth and medical information of any children involved;
- Records of child-rearing expenses and/or duties;
- Immigration and/or naturalization documents of any children, if applicable;
- Photographs, video, and tape recordings of the individual and their children;
- Business-Related Information, especially if the business is owned and/or operated jointly by the spouses:
- Tax information from the business;
- Profits and/or losses statements for the business;
- Balance sheets, financial statements, insurance policies, and/or any other books kept by the business;
- Securities information, such as stocks, shareholder agreements, and/or corporate minutes;
- Documentation of property and/or assets held by the business.
Each divorce case is different and may require more or less documentation than those listed above. It is very helpful to consult with an attorney well before a divorce is filed so that all needed information and/or documentation can be obtained.
It is important to note that marital property division varies from state to state. The majority of states divide property based on the legal theory of equitable distribution. However, some states have laws that apply community property rules for division of property. States that apply community property rules include:
- New Mexico;
- Washington; and
In these aforementioned states, the majority of marital property will be divided evenly between the spouses. A lawyer can help an individual determine what property and assets will be involved in the divorce proceedings and what assets and/or debts will be considered separate property.
What Makes a Strong Divorce Case? What Makes it Weak?
The step that makes any divorce case the strongest is hiring an attorney. An attorney will be familiar with the local rules and requirements, as well as the requirements for obtaining a divorce in their state. They will also know how to best present an argument to the court in order to protect an individual’s rights and property during a divorce.
Depending on whether an individual lives in a no-fault or fault divorce state, they may be required to provide a reason for divorce. In a no-fault state, a party must simply acknowledge they can no longer stay in the marriage, usually called irreconcilable differences.
In a fault divorce state, a party must show the spouse caused the marriage to end. An attorney will be able to determine what actions constitute fault in these states. This is important because, in these states, the fault reason provided may affect a party’s rights. For example, an abusive spouse will likely have difficulty obtaining sole and/or primary custody of a child.
It is important to understand that divorce is a process and cannot be granted overnight. In many jurisdictions, there is a 30 day waiting period between filing a divorce agreement and the granting of a divorce.
A divorce case may be weakened in a courtroom by the behavior of the parties, including outbursts and combative behaviors. In most cases, both parties are anxious to finish the proceedings and move forward but the process may take longer than expected and it is important to maintain a cordial and respectful behavior to all parties involved.
What are Some Dos and Don’ts in Divorce Cases?
Some “do’s” for divorce cases include:
- Do: If possible, come to an agreement regarding divorce issues. This makes the process quicker and smoother for all parties. It is alright, of course, if every issue is not resolved by agreement.
- Do: Be honest. Be honest with the attorney and with the court. An attorney needs certain information in order to fight for an individual’s rights during a divorce proceeding. Attempting to hide money and/or assets will cause legal issues during the process, and even criminal penalties, including jail time.
- Do: If children are involved, keep them and their needs in mind at all times. Children often have the hardest times during their parents’ divorce.
Some “don’ts” for divorce cases include:
- Don’t: Be petty. Do not punish the other party with outlandish requests and needlessly drag out the divorce process.
- Don’t: Don’t provide dishonest information to an attorney and/or the court in an attempt to get more out of the divorce. This may cause legal issues for the dishonest individual.
- Don’t: If children are involved, don’t speak poorly of the other parent or use the child as a pawn. The other parent is also the parent of the child and it hurts the children the most when their parents fight just for the sake of fighting.
When Do I Absolutely Need a Lawyer for Divorce?
You absolutely need a lawyer for divorce in any divorce situation. Selecting and hiring a divorce lawyer is a very important decision. For most individuals, a divorce is simply too complex and emotionally challenging to handle on their own. A divorce lawyer can advise you on the laws of your state and your rights under those laws. A lawyer can also assist in drafting and filing an agreement, if the parties are able to come to one.
A divorce attorney will draft and file any necessary paperwork and represent you during any court proceedings, if necessary. Having representation during a divorce case can mean the difference between keeping and losing your hard earned assets.