The best advice I could provide you with on hiring an attorney for your divorce is that it is up to you to learn how to hire a lawyer. Let’s talk a bit about what I mean when I say that. Yes, there is a technique to hiring an attorney. Going into an initial meeting with a lawyer when unprepared will likely mean that you will not get anything done of consequence. The reason is that, while the attorney possesses knowledge of the law, he does not know anything about your case.
Divorces are incredibly fact-specific. Yes, there will be some laws relevant to your case, but in my opinion and experience, the law takes a back seat to facts and circumstances in a divorce. Family court judges are given a great deal of latitude when making decisions in a divorce. They can utilize the “best interests of the child” standard when making decisions about your children. They can consider “fairness” when dividing up the community estate that you and your spouse share. Be prepared to be at the mercy of a judge when it comes to your divorce.
Of course, your divorce is unlikely to make it to a trial. Much more likely would be an outcome where you and your spouse negotiate your case over a few months and then ultimately settle in mediation. The vast majority of divorces conclude this way. Much more unlikely would be a showdown in court with the judge playing tie-breaker. Television and movies make it seem like every divorce winds up in court, but the reality is far from that depiction of divorce you see on your television screen.
So, when you are setting out to speak to an attorney about your divorce case, it is crucial for you to be able to come prepared to these meetings. You need to be able to present the facts and circumstances of your case. The attorney will need to learn them to give you an assessment based on his experience. The only way to know anything about the strengths and weaknesses of your case is by hearing from an attorney. If you come unprepared, the attorney can give you general advice, but you can learn general advice on this blog without ever seeing a lawyer.
The bottom line is that your case belongs to you. Even after you hire an attorney, the subject belongs to you and not your lawyer. A lawyer who is not even representing you will not have any information about your case heading into that meeting. It would help if you supplied the attorney that you are meeting with some information before moving on. Coming to a meeting without some basic information means that you will likely walk out of your appointment with as much knowledge as you walked in with.
What information will your attorney need once you hire one?
After you have interviewed attorneys and have made a decision to hire one, you should begin to collect information that will be needed by that lawyer to represent you and your family properly. I’ve already impressed upon you (I hope) the importance of being prepared when it is time to meet an attorney for the first time. Now that you have hired an attorney, it is still essential to be ready. Here is what I would collect and have prepared for your first meeting with an attorney after hiring them.
Fundamental information with which your attorney will draft the Original Petition for Divorce
For the sake of clarity, I will write this blog post from the perspective of the spouse who will be filing for divorce. You should bring in information that will be necessary to file for your divorce. The essential information that I can think of is your full name, home address, and telephone number. Likewise, your spouse will need the same- including their new address and phone number in case they have moved out of the family home.
Have you ever been married before? What about your spouse? If so, please be sure to include your former spouse’s name, the date of your marriage, and the date of your divorce. If you have any children with your ex-spouse, the children’s age(s) and whether or not you are paying child support towards their support will be important as well.
What date did you and your current spouse separate? Sometimes this date is easy to ascertain, such as when you or your spouse move out of the family home. However, it will be much more challenging to determine an exact date of separation in other instances. It may be that you have been thinking about getting a divorce for some time. Or, the decision may have just come to you one day out of the blue. Whatever your situation is, you need to come ready to tell the judge what date you separated from your spouse. That information will be included in your original petition for divorce as well as the final decree of divorce.
Next, if you have children, that information will need to be provided to your attorney. Remember that an Original Petition for Divorce is the document that initiates your divorce and introduces your family to the judge. Your children will be huge parts of your case, and as such, you will need to provide your attorney with their names and ages early on in your case. You may find out that based on the ages of your children and their specific needs, your divorce will need to be negotiated differently than you had anticipated. There is no better time to get this information to your attorney than right at the beginning. That way, he can begin to consider your options and can plan out how to attack the issue of child custody, support, and visitation.
Information about work, income, and benefits
Next, you should come in with your job title, salary, and retirement benefits ready for your attorney. The attorney will need to know what you do for a living and what your spouse does for a living. This is important so that the attorney can learn your schedule to determine what sort of possession/visitation of your child. Your income is substantial because you may qualify and need to be awarded temporary spousal support or even spousal maintenance after your divorce concludes.
If you have been out of work for an extended period, the judge will need to know why. Perhaps you have been taking care of your children and your. When you have been at home minding those responsibilities, your spouse may have been in the workplace building their resume and accumulating skills. If you need time to get back into the workforce, spousal maintenance may be available to you to assist with this transition.
Finally, if you have a retirement account of some sort, then I would recommend that you bring in some statements for your attorney to review. Retirement accounts (at least the portion of a community property retirement account) are subject to division in a divorce. Your attorney will need to know the type of plan you have and how much is in the budget to begin negotiating for you.
What else do you own?
We have already covered the possibility that you have a child, a job, and a retirement account. What else is out there for you and your spouse? Do you own any real estate like a marital residence or rental property. You should go online, if so, and print out statements from each mortgage company showing how much money you have paid on each mortgage this year, as well as the value of that property, will help your attorney begin to start picturing how to handle issues related to real estate in your divorce.
Do you own mutual funds, Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA), stocks, bonds, or cash? Bring in certificates of deposit, mutual fund statements, and any other documents that will be evidence of your owning these things. Your spouse may be requesting them shortly in discovery, so it doesn’t hurt to have all of these documents ready for that time. If you delay and have to enlist your attorney’s support staff to help you look for the documentation, then you should expect to lose time and money in that transaction.
What else do you owe?
As opposed to issues dealing with children and property, problems dealing with debt are usually not on the front burner of your mind regarding divorce. Although most of us have obligations of some sort as a part of our daily lives, it is not something that we give much thought to, either. Your home loan, credit card bills, and student loans are part of a divorce and will need to be dealt with.
Debts function as a bargaining chip in a divorce. You will need to determine with your attorney how to approach negotiations from a person with debt. Maybe you are willing to take on debt in association with being able to be awarded more property. It could be that you wish to avoid debt and are eager to avoid being awarded property, either.
What financial records will your attorney need in a Texas divorce?
Your attorney will need you to provide him with bank statements showing how much money you have in various bank accounts if you are contending that one of these accounts is the separate property, you will likely need to be able to prove that to overcome the presumption that all property on hand at the time of divorce is particular property. This can be easier said than done may require the help of an accountant to trace the income from before it got into its current account.
Next, tax returns from the past three years will be needed for you and your spouse (if possible). This way, you can definitively show what your income is. Your payment is crucial for several reasons. First of all, if you have children, then the amount of child support you stand to pay is directly related to how much income you earn. A percentage of that income will be due each month in child support.
Next, your income will make a difference during your divorce because the judge or you/your spouse will need to decide who will pay what bills during the divorce. If you have no wiggle room in your budget and cannot find extra income, you will not be able to take on additional bills or pay temporary spousal support. Many times a spouse will allege that you earn more income than you do. When it’s your word against theirs, the best way to counteract that testimony is to present the actual documents to your attorney so that he can prepare them for use in a contested hearing on that subject.
Answering the essential questions in a meeting with your attorney-tomorrow’s blog post topic
At the beginning of a client’s case, I always do my best to sit down with a new client and map out their case. We will figure out the essential issues and then discuss their case’s goals and aspirations. In tomorrow’s blog post, we will talk about how to do the same thing with your attorney.
If you are interested in learning more about our office or want to get some answers to your questions, I recommend contacting the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week here in our office. These consultations are an excellent opportunity to ask and answer questions about your specific circumstances.