Divorce Checklist: What to Discuss with a Lawyer

Unfortunately, divorce is a complicated process. Even when it’s for the best, it can still take quite a bit of emotional energy and effort to complete. For some, the fear of the process and the financial disentanglement is what holds them back from filing a much-needed divorce. The good news is that with the right education and preparation, the process is less mindboggling, less daunting and easier to confront.

Child custody, child support and spousal support obligations, property division, auto loans, health insurance, pensions, 401(k)s, and even determining “who” gets the dogs – it can all be a bit overwhelming, but much like preparing for a test or a final exam, the more you know and understand, the more confident you’ll be throughout your divorce.

Luckily, an experienced and compassionate divorce attorney can help alleviate your legal stresses, and if you’re fearful of being bullied by your spouse during the settlement process, your lawyer can advocate on your behalf, always looking out for your best interests.

Working With Your Divorce Attorney

Your divorce lawyer wants to help you, he or she does not want to be a burden. However, in order for the processes and procedures to go smoothly, you’ll need to help your attorney. “How do I help my divorce lawyer?” The best divorce clients do the following:

  • They prepare before their first consultation.
  • They are diligent record keepers.
  • They become educated on their rights and responsibilities.
  • They produce necessary paperwork in a timely manner.
  • They are responsive to their attorney.
  • They are honest with their lawyer.
  • They keep their appointments and scheduled calls with their attorney.
  • They show up on time to all scheduled court appearances.
  • When in doubt, they ask their attorney.
  • They seek their attorney’s advice before acting.
  • They treat their spouse with respect.

Just before hiring a divorce lawyer, you can save yourself time and money by making copies of all the important financial documents before your initial consultation. When you do this before the initial meeting, you’re giving your attorney a clear and immediate picture of what your marital assets are and what could be an issue in your case.

Suppose you’ve been married for eleven years and you and your spouse have a home worth $800,000, with $100,000 of equity. Your spouse has a retirement account worth $100,000 and you have none. Your spouse earns $150,000 a year and you earn $50,000 a year. Other than that, you have no other assets or debts, save for two auto loans. This information paints a good picture and would certainly help an attorney prepare you for your divorce and what to expect financially.

In contrast, suppose your house was upside-down $100,000, you and your spouse accumulated $30,000 in credit card debt, your spouse is unemployed and you’re finding it difficult to make ends meet on $65,000 a year, plus you have about $10,000 in a 401(k). As you can see, this situation is very different than the first one described above. The lesson here is that every situation is different. The more your attorney knows at the beginning about your financial situation, the better position he or she will be in to project the course that your divorce is likely to take.

What Issues Do I Need to Discuss?

As with anything new, “people don’t know what they don’t know” and divorce is no exception. If you’re divorcing for the first time, there are going to be things that you don’t know. Since spouses are motivated to streamline their divorces, reduce legal fees and stress, it helps to be prepared.

By preparing yourself before you retain a lawyer, you can hand over the information to your attorney for immediate use. More importantly, you’re helping your attorney do his or job effectively and efficiently. That being said, here is a checklist so you can have a better picture of what topics you need to discuss with your attorney and which documents you need to gather.

If you have children:

  • Tax issues
  • Child custody
  • Child support
  • Parenting Plan
  • Health insurance
  • Life insurance
  • College education
  • Dental insurance
  • Estate planning
  • Grandparents (visitation)
  • Uncovered health insurance costs
  • The children’s religious upbringing

Property division:

  • Automobiles
  • Furniture
  • Fine art
  • Collectibles
  • Boats or watercraft
  • The marital residence (Is there equity?)
  • Other real estate
  • Any businesses
  • Bank accounts
  • Investments
  • Retirement accounts
  • Military pensions
  • Professional practices
  • Possible hidden assets
  • Stocks, bonds, annuities
  • Debts acquired during the marriage

Other issues to consider:

  • Domestic violence
  • Mental illness
  • Restoration of maiden name
  • Spousal support
  • Restraining orders
  • Substance abuse
  • Alcoholism
  • Life insurance
  • Wills and trusts
  • Advanced healthcare directives
  • Parental alienation
  • Parental kidnapping
  • Dating before, during and after divorce
  • Social media and divorce
  • Contributions as a homemaker

As you can see, these are fairly long lists and they are not exhaustive. What they do is give you a picture as to the types of issues that are addressed in a divorce. Of course, each individual situation is different. What will your divorce address? Much of it depends on whether you have children, the length of your marriage, and your assets and debts, but there are other factors that will determine the outcome as well.

For example, if you have children together is there an issue of substance abuse, child abuse, neglect, or abandonment? All of these issues can impact child custody. If one of you had an affair, that may not affect property division unless the cheating spouse spent marital assets on their paramour. If a cheating husband for example, was paying for his girlfriend’s apartment or if he bought her a breast augmentation – these types of facts could impact the divorce settlement.

If you’re headed towards a divorce, we invite you to contact our office and schedule a free case evaluation with one of our Los Angeles divorce attorneys.