By Sheryl J. Seiden, Esq.
So you think you are ready to consider getting a divorce. You have lived years in an unhappy marriage or perhaps you and your spouse have just grown apart or maybe one spouse has not been faithful... it is time to explore the world of divorce. Now what?
- Initial Consultation: You should first obtain an initial consultation with a family law lawyer. Find a lawyer with an excellent reputation who regularly practices in your county. A lawyer who is trusted and respected by his/her peers, the judiciary and former clients. Do your research. Consider interviewing two or three family lawyers to make sure that the attorney that you plan to have guide you on your path of transition is the right fit for you. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. Most reputable matrimonial lawyers do charge a consult fee. Don’t look for the “free” consult. Rather, look for the lawyer that seems right to you and who has the expertise with family law matters. The initial consultation with a lawyer is confidential. You therefore should feel free to meet with a lawyer at the very early stages of the decision process. You should not embark upon your journey without the guidance of a reputable lawyer.
- Prepare For the Initial Consultation: After you make the initial consultation appointment, inquire what the attorney needs to be provide advice to you. You should prepare a list of your assets and debts and be prepared to provide the attorney with details regarding your income and your spouse’s income, including tax returns, paystubs, W-2s, 1099s, etc. Prepare a list of the child care responsibilities of each parent, and be real and honest in your presentation. Consider making a wish list and bringing it to your meeting to learn what is and what is not realistic.
- Real Estate: Where will you live post-divorce? Consider whether you will want to remain in your current residence and if so, will you be able to afford to do so? One of the hardest, and yet best decisions, spouses make is the decision to leave the marital residence after the divorce and start fresh. Consider looking at real estate in the area where you would want to live post-divorce so you can begin to understand the real estate market and your future financial obligations. It is important to work with a real estate lawyer who understands the transitions that you will be taking in your life.
- Expenses: Start to gather documents to detail the expenses for your housing, your transportation and your personal care and the care of your children. If you are on your spouse’s health insurance, start to understand what the health insurance costs will be for you in the future as this will need to be part of your future budget.
- Mortgage Qualification: Contact a mortgage broker to inquire whether you will qualify to refinance your mortgage and/or how much of a mortgage you can qualify for so you can begin to understand your housing options post-divorce. If you do not qualify for a refinance, explore how you can enhance your financial position in order to qualify for a refinance in the future.
- Employability: If you have been out of the work force, now is the time to consider your options. Do you have the ability to contribute to your support and/or the support of your children and if so, in what capacity. What type of employment would interest you post-divorce and explore with your attorney when is the appropriate time to reenter the work force. If your employment is in jeopardy, obtain the documents needed to prove this point to defuse the suspicion that will be surrounding your sudden decline in income at the time of the divorce. Consider hiring a company to prepare your resume or provide guidance on interviewing techniques.
- Child Care Options: If you are considering returning to work post-divorce and have young children, begin to explore the different types of child care options, e.g. hiring a nanny or an au pair or enrolling the children in daycare or after care. It will be important to understand the cost of these childcare options so that they can be included in the child support calculation in your divorce proceeding.
- Therapy: Divorce can be stressful. Consider researching for and engaging a therapist who can assist you during this difficult time. Also consider exploring the retention of a child psychologist who can provide guidance on when, how and in what format to advise the children of the divorce. Once you have selected a child psychologist, you and your spouse can each meet with him/her outside the presence of the children to obtain helpful guidance on this topic. Experts say that the children of divorce succeed when their parents can succeed through the process and get along with one another. Although the marriage is ending, the relationship with one’s spouse will continue in perpetuity.
- Finances: Often one spouse is responsible for the finances during the marriage. If you are the spouse that is not familiar with the expenses, begin to get an understanding of your assets and debts, start to review bank, brokerage, mortgage, loan and credit card statements in your name and/or joint names. You will need this information for details in the divorce so gather it early in the process to make sure you are prepared.
- Accountant: Start to research for your own accountant. An accountant can be useful during a divorce proceeding to run certain calculations for your attorney. An accountant will be needed post-divorce to prepare your taxes and you might not be comfortable relying on your spouse’s accountant post-divorce.
In the end, knowledge is power so begin the process early and start to understand your options. Rely upon the right professionals to guide you through this transition period in your life.