Where do you start?
Nothing is worse than feeling like you are not making any forward momentum, especially in a divorce. For this reason, it is critical that you set some short- and long-term goals for not only your case, but your life as well. Obviously, your divorce attorney can help you with the case goals and even some of the life goals as well (see our rules on post-divorce life above). Many of your case goals will be very specific, for example financial support, child custody, I want to stay in our house, etc. Others will be more elusive like improving your relationship with your kids, ex-spouse, or both. Whatever your goals may be, they will have a focusing power in preparing your case. You wouldn’t want a scorched earth policy with your ex if your goal is to improve how you relate to one another. Overall, clear goals will help your attorney effectively organize and prepare for the twists and turns that inevitably come in any divorce case.
You may not know where to start. It may be overwhelming to think about, especially if the divorce was not your idea. Below are a few areas to consider to get things started. Take notes and share them with your attorney to jump start your meeting with them. Your attorney will be able to take your thoughts and compile them into a cohesive strategy for your case.
Custody, Parent time, and More
If you have kids, how parent time and parent responsibilities should be divided is as good a place to start as any. It is probably the thing you think about the most when you consider the changes that will come with divorce. First and foremost, consider what is best for your kids. Sometimes this means splitting parent time 50/50 between you and your ex. Sometimes it means no parent time or supervised parent time for your ex. Your situation is unique and your attorney should address it uniquely. Write down what you want, what your concerns are, and what you think is best for your children and share it with your attorney.
If you are not your kids’ primary caregiver and you want or believe you should have custody of your children, you may want to check your reasons. There are many good and valid reasons for wanting this, but, if your motive is to gain leverage or for other economic reasons, such as lowering your child support payments, it may be time to reevaluate your reasons. A custody battle doesn’t have any winners and leaves a number of casualties in its wake. At the end of the day, do you want to sit down with your ex and try to negotiate or do you want a judge who doesn’t know you or your children to decide? One option gives some control on the outcome, the other gives you none.
Finances, Child, and Spousal Support
Part of the divorce process requires both sides to disclose their financial assets, their needs and obligations. These disclosures help the court determine not only who should pay child support and how much, but spousal support or alimony as well. You should start examining and writing down all of your monthly obligations. Your income and expenses will become critical in this analysis. You should collect your pay stubs, bank statements, mortgage statements, and tax returns.
If you are the primary earner for the family, you will almost certainly pay child support and perhaps some alimony (also called spousal support) as well. If you have been a stay-at-home parent or have not been working, you will need to identify how you will reenter the work force. Come up with a six-month, twelve month and five-year plan and identify how you will get there. Alimony may be a means of helping you get on your feet and on the road to self-sufficiency. Sharing these goals with your attorney will help him or her develop a strategy.
Houses and Rental Properties
If you and your spouse own real estate, you will need to figure out whether you want to stay in the home and if you can afford to do so. Write down your reasons for staying in the home, for example, to keep continuity for the children and to ensure your children can continue attending a certain school are all good reasons to want the house. However, you need to be realistic about whether it will be economically possible. Often it is not. You need to determine whether you can afford to keep the home and also buy your spouse out of the equity. This may not be what is in your best interests and you need to decide whether it is really something you would like to do.
Oftentimes, the marital home becomes such a hot button issue that it can create unrealistic expectations and objectives. Most of the time the house is a huge burden and it should simply be sold and the proceeds divided. If you are serious about keeping the house and buying out your ex, you need to determine if it is economically feasible as soon as you can. This will at lease smooth the way for getting you what you want. Talk it over with your attorney. Depending on how long you plan to stay in the home, it may be the more economic decision to sell the house and have your ex share in the costs of sale.
When it comes to everything else, you should make lists of the things you would like to keep. You should rank the items on your list in order of importance. Having this list will make sure that you focus on the most important and valuable items during negotiations. You should also estimate how much each item is worth. Please realize that the value is not the replacement value, but rather on the reasonable resale value, which what a person would reasonably pay for it at a garage sale for instance. Most people don’t own things that can’t be replaced, and most divorcing couples believe their property is worth more than it really is. Getting organized early on will help you stay focused on what is truly important and valuable. Identifying your goals early on will help you and your attorney pick the correct strategy for getting you what you want. However, it can be overwhelming to think about. Jotting down a few ideas in the above categories will help focus your meetings with your attorney as you both develop a winning strategy.