- 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 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.
After you make the initial consultation appointment, inquire what you need to provide for the attorney to 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 childcare 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 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, a person makes 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 agent who understands the transitions that you will be taking in your life.
You can ask this Realtor to provide you with a Comparative Market Analysis ("CMA") for your current home. This will help you to determine the current value or best sales price for your home. This should be provided free of charge from your Real Estate Specialist. The CMA will also be used to provide guidance for the value of your home so you can begin to understand whether you will be able to afford to remain in the marital residence post-complaint. While it is not a formal appraisal, it is a great way to get an understanding of the value of your home. Your lawyer will most likely request that you obtain a CMA so get ahead of the process and obtain one from the start of the case.
- Expenses: Start gathering 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? Consider 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 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 your impending 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 navigate through the process amicably and get along with one another post-divorce. Although the marriage is ending, the relationship with one’s spouse, when children are involved, will continue in perpetuity.
- Finances: Often one spouse is responsible for the finances during the marriage. If you are the spouse that is unfamiliar 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.
- Financial Advisor: Start to research for a financial advisor, who you can retain to assist you in managing your finances after the divorce. You should consider bringing in this financial advisor from the start of your family case so they can run different financial positions for you and help you address your financial needs early on.
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.
 Sheryl J. Seiden, Esq. is the founding partner of Seiden Family Law, LLC, located in Cranford, New Jersey. She is the Vice-Chair of the Family Law Section of the New Jersey State Bar Association, and is slated to be Chair of the Section in May 2019. She is also a fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. She is a seasoned matrimonial lawyer with over twenty-years of experience. To learn more about Sheryl, visit her website at seidenfamilylaw.com.