On behalf of The Marks Law Firm, L.L.C. posted in Divorce on Wednesday, January 22, 2014
The first meeting a client has with his or her lawyer tends to be the most important, because it sets the stage for how the divorce will proceed. If the client and the lawyer are not on the same page about goals and expectations, the process will have too many changes of course or unforeseen outcomes.
Generally, at the first meeting, the attorney will want to have a strategy at the end of the meeting as to how to proceed. That plan usually revolves around the same three considerations – property, support and custody.
The best preparation in which you can engage after you have made the decision to pursue a divorce is to sit down and outline answers to some key questions.
First, do I want a legal separation or a divorce?
Many people have mixed emotions at the time of divorce. They know that the marriage has not been working for a variety of reasons, and they may have tried counseling or other means to fix it, but those measures did not work. But for another set of reasons, completely ending the marriage (divorce) seems too severe – they believe the marriage, giving each party space, can be salvaged and restored (legal separation). Before you meet with your lawyer the first time, you want to have a strong idea whether you believe your marriage can be saved.
Second, how do I want to handle the property distribution?
Some spouses know their separate and marital assets to the last cent; others have no idea how much their net worth may be or even where all their bank and retirement accounts are housed. So, before meeting with your lawyer, try your best to secure a good idea of your total financial picture – how much you earn, how much your spouse earns, what key assets you have (home, retirement accounts, savings and checking accounts) and what key debts you have (mortgages, outstanding loans, credit card balances) and whether one or both of you run small businesses through the marriage. Giving your attorney the most accurate financial picture possible at the first meeting will help enable both of you to construct a reasonable distribution of property. Remember that courts start from the premise that all marital property should be divided equally, all separate property set aside to each spouse, and an unequal division only follows with proof of some form of martial misconduct. So, if splitting the assets equally is the norm, you need to think about what assets you want the most – your retirement accounts? The marital home? Also, you need to determine what assets you believe are your separate property – property you obtained prior to the marriage – and whether your spouse made any marital contributions to that property.
Third, how much, if any, support do I need from my spouse?
Some spouses have not been in the workforce for some time, and some may be underemployed for a variety of reasons. If, after a divorce, you feel you lack the funds to adequately support yourself in the lifestyle to which you have been accustomed, you may require spousal support, or maintenance. If so, determining your actual baseline need for support is critical. How much could you earn in the workplace? Would you need retraining or further education? Who would pay those costs? Do you have health issues that limit your earning capacity? All of these questions your lawyer will want to address immediately, particularly if you will need this support soon after filing for divorce.
In our next post, we will cover the remaining questions to consider as your prepare for your first attorney meeting.
If you have questions about starting the process for a divorce, contact our St. Louis divorce attorneys – we can help.