You’ve decided to get a divorce, so now what? Before filing any paperwork, it pays to take some time to get yourself organized and acquainted with the legal process you are about to embark on. As those who rushed into the divorce process may be able to tell you, there can be unintended consequences for not getting your “ducks in a row” before filing for a divorce.
As for which particular “ducks” you need to pay attention to, here are 5 important steps you won’t want to skip before filing for divorce:
Organize Financial Paperwork
Do you have access to financial information such as your tax returns, bank statements, mortgage and credit card statements, monthly utility bills, and recent income statements and pay stubs? As soon as you can, start gathering together these documents. What happens during the divorce process in New Jersey, in terms of everything from asset division (who keeps what) to alimony and child support (if applicable) boils down to the financial information concerning marital assets, debts and income you both provide. To get started, please see our Divorce Financial Checklist.
Meet with an Attorney
At the outset of a divorce, it is completely expected that you will have many questions about the process or feel confused about what to expect and how to proceed. Speaking to a attorneys as soon as you can after deciding to divorce can help you understand your legal rights and the legal options that pertain to your situation. At your first meeting, your attorney will be able to address many of your concerns and provide information about what to expect throughout the proceedings.
Which divorce attorney will be the right match for you? A simple yardstick is to find someone you feel has the right experience and approach, and who listens to what you really want. This person is going to be helping you with very private and emotional issues. Make sure you feel comfortable with the lawyer/firm you select. You need to trust them to guide you selflessly and advocate for the best interests of you and your family.
Another rule of thumb? Look for a law firm/attorney that offers this initial consultation for free. This will give you a chance to gather information while at the same time getting the best gauge possible on whether this attorney particular attorney is the one for you.
Outline Preliminary Goals
All that financial paperwork you gathered in step one? You will want to bring that with you to your first appointment. What else should you bring? A list outlining your questions, concerns and initial goals you have related to your divorce. Writing them down will help ensure that you communicate these issues clearly to your attorney and use your appointment time efficiently. To get you started, a few items to think about before your visit include:
Child custody: Which parent will the child[ren] live with? Will custody be shared?
Child visitation plan: Bring a blank calendar with initial ideas about scheduling.
Spousal support (alimony): Is spousal support relevant? If so, what does that mean for you in terms of paying or receiving alimony?
Asset and debt division: Can you envision a reasonable division?
Marital home: Will you live in the home, sell it, or have the other party buy-out your interest?
Make a Budget
If you are moving out, do you have enough saved up for rent and security deposit on a new place? Will you need to buy new furniture, or items like a TV and appliances? If you are staying in your current home, do you have enough coming in each month to cover utilities and other bills? The best way to understand exactly how much money you need to cover your expenses is to make a budget. Depending on your situation, you may be able to file for temporary alimony to help with expenses spent to maintain the standard of living you enjoyed during your marriage. Temporary alimony covers the time you and your spouse are separated. A final alimony order can be included in the divorce settlement, if applicable.
Secure Divorce Funding
One budget item many people overlook are the costs associated with getting a divorce. What kind of financial resources do you have to cover court costs and/or attorney’s fees? Can your friends or relatives provide some form of support? For example, even your mom offering to babysit for free when you need to meet with your attorney can help lower your total costs.
Another way to look at your divorce budget is to keep in mind that time = money. When you contact your attorney, when possible, group questions to ask all at one time and come to appointments prepared and ready to get down to business.
Another divorce money saver? Many divorcing couples are able to keep divorce costs to a minimum by choosing the uncontested divorce process. Essentially, when a divorce is uncontested it means that both parties have agreed to work out their differences and reach a divorce settlement out of court. Doing so can save substantial amounts of money compared to contested divorce. How best to get the ball rolling? When you speak to an attorney, let them know you are trying to minimize expenses in your divorce and are interested in pursuing an uncontested divorce. He or she can fill you in on what this would look like in your particular case.