By Matt Allen
The initial visit with your potential lawyer sets the tone for the divorce process. So the documents and mindset you bring into that meeting will dictate if you are going to have a successful divorce strategy.
Knowing what documents you should bring and what your expectations should be will help alleviate the anxiety and stress of your initial consultation.
What documents should I bring?
- Your most current W-2 form
- Tax documents (preferably the previous three years of filings)
- Statements of retirement accounts
- Evidence of marital misconduct (journals, e-mails, pictures, social network pages, etc.)
- List of separate property
- Copies of appraisals regarding any real property that you own, such as the marital home
- Legal documents (complaints, orders of protection, petition for dissolution of marriage)
Your W-2 indicates your earned gross income for the prior tax year. That’s important to bring because it will determine the income the court will look at to determine if you should be paying child support, and if so, how much. A W-2 will also help in determining your income-to-debt ratio.
Your previous three years of tax documents will help the attorney know your salary history and give a better idea of your average income. Tax filings are another way to prove your income history to both your attorney and the court.
You should bring at least a current statement of the balance in your retirement account(s). This will help the attorney determine the value of the account(s) at the beginning of the marriage and where it stands now. Remember, in some states your spouse is entitled to a 50% split of the marital interest of all retirement accounts with few exceptions.
Evidence of marital misconduct will help prove the breakdown of the marriage whether it’s one party having an affair or abusing the marital finances. While all states are no-fault and while not consider marital misconduct in the actual granting of the divorce, courts can look at one party’s misbehavior and use that to award a disproportionate distribution of property or it may affect issues, such as child custody and alimony.
Bringing in evidence of misconduct could help in settling your case, too. With proof of an affair, the other party may want to settle because the more contentious the litigation the more costly it will be. And infidelity usually gets very contentious once in a trial setting.
Obviously you’ll want to bring any pleadings or court documents you have been served with, such as a dissolution of marriage petition, order of protection, motion to modify, etc. This gives your attorney an idea of where the case is at that moment. This will help the attorney decide what course of action should be taken, what’s true, what’s false, etc. Also, some documents are time sensitive and a response has to be filed within X amount of time.
Remember, the more prepared you are with all the proper documents, the more you will get out of your initial consultation.
Now that you have all your documents in order, the most important thing to remember at your first meeting is to be completely truthful and forthright regardless of how embarrassing that information may be. An initial consultation is confidential and the attorney is prohibited from disclosing any information discussed even if you don’t hire that firm.
Without a full disclosure of your situation, you will be putting the attorney at a disadvantage when it comes to advocating on your behalf. Divorce strategy is based on the information available and if you are not providing your attorney with everything he/she needs then you are only hurting yourself.
Finally, know what you want to get out of the meeting. Come in with expectations of the outcome of your case and relay that to the attorney, “Here’s what I want, and here’s what I will settle for.”
If the attorney doesn’t know what you want then there is a communication breakdown that may keep the attorney from zealously advocating for the result that you want.
Cordell & Cordell has men’s divorce lawyers located across the nation fighting for father’s rights.