Even when someone can see divorce as inevitable, the reality of taking the first step and speaking with a lawyer usually fills the person with emotion. But when you meet with an attorney, the best way to get good advice and a solid idea of the plan moving forward is to be prepared. To do that, you need to answer five questions.
How do I want to divide the marital property? Property fights happen because they have not only sentimental value but very practical survival value. A 401(k) may not seem sentimental, but it definitely goes to the survival of the spouse come retirement. To help your attorney advise you on likely property paths, you need to have a solid idea of the property you hold together with your spouse and that you hold separately, and what division you would like in a divorce settlement. Remember that in Missouri, courts typically divide marital property equally, but how to get to an even balance can happen in many ways, so brainstorming before you meet with your attorney can only help matters.
Do I need or will I pay spousal support? After distributing the marital property, courts need to determine if one spouse cannot support himself or herself based on income and the property distribution. In this situation, one spouse will want and the other will have to pay spousal support, or what we call maintenance in Missouri. In determining the need for and amount of maintenance, courts consider the relative incomes of the parties, whether a party stayed home to care for the children, the length of the marriage, and the education and training of the party needing maintenance. So, be prepared to have these items ready for your attorney.
How do I want to structure child custody? If you have children, you will want to have an idea of the custody arrangement you desire. The court will have to determine legal custody (who has decision making authority over issues relating to the welfare of the children) and physical custody (who has the children and when). Legal and physical custody may be joint or sole. You will be required to complete a proposed parenting plan with a schedule of custody, so the more you think about that in advance, the better advice you will receive from your attorney.
Who pays child support? In Missouri, both parents have a legal obligation to provide for the support of the children. Missouri uses a standard worksheet, called a Form 14, to determine a presumptive amount of support, based on the incomes of the parties and health care and childcare costs, as well as any extraordinary costs and a visitation credit. The court can determine that the residential parent requires child support and order that presumptive amount paid, or it can find that amount unjust and inappropriate and order another sum. Having the relative incomes of the parties and the other key costs available will help your attorney arrive at a rough estimate of child support.
What documents do I need to collect? Your attorney will need a variety of documents, from bank statements to tax returns to retirement account statements to insurance records. The more of these you collect in advance the faster the process will go.
If you can prepare yourself by answering these five questions, you will be very ready when you meet your attorney for the first time.
If you have questions about divorce, contact us – we can help.