“Help me to help you by getting me as much information as you can. Get all of your financial records together as soon as possible. Most importantly, tell me everything – good or bad. I can’t protect you if I don’t have the facts.”
That is a quote I gave to Modern Luxury Magazine’s Insight from Dallas’ Legal Experts section in response to the question “What initial advice would you give the client in the early stages of a divorce?” Unfortunately, I was only allowed to answer the question in a few words. If you are preparing to divorce, this is my best advice to get yourself ready:
Gather financial documents.
These include bank statements and credit card statements, as well as statements from any IRAs, 401(k), and pensions. Most importantly, be sure and gather all statements from accounts you had prior to marriage, so you can preserve a separate property claim. For more information on preserving a separate property claim, click here.
Make a list of assets and liabilities.
In a Texas divorce, a Court will more than likely order you to create an inventory and appraisement, which is a detailed document containing all of the parties’ assets and liabilities. This can be a difficult and time-consuming (i.e. expensive) process for your divorce lawyer if you leave it for him/her to figure out. The sooner you accurately provide a list of your assets and liabilities (preferably with supporting documentation) to your divorce lawyer, the sooner your case can be resolved. On the other hand, if your and your spouse’s attorney spend months trying to figure out your assets, the divorce will be a long and expensive process.
Make a budget.
The divorce process is one of the most financially stressful times a person can go through. After all, your income will stay the same (or even decrease), but expenses will increase since you and your spouse will probably live in separate households. Add in attorney’s fees and other professional fees, and it will be hard to make ends meet. A good way to prepare for this is to make a budget so that you can know how much monthly income you need each month. This will also help in child support and spousal support negotiations.
Know what you need versus what you want.
Deciding who should get what asset or debt can be quite a challenge, even in the best of situations. If your divorce is contentious, then this determination can become very complicated and add even more stress to the situation. This is where preparation can be beneficial. You need to determine which assets will be best for your short- and long-term financial security, e.g. do you need more retirement funds or liquidity? These questions can be best answered by meeting with a trusted financial advisor early in the process.
Make a list of questions for your attorney.
It is more efficient to make a list of questions for your lawyer to answer at one time than to contact him or her repeatedly with one or two questions. It will also help you keep your legal bills down, too.
Set goals and keep them in mind throughout the process.
In the collaborative law process, the parties’ goals are discussed in the first meeting and are discussed throughout the process to make sure the goals are being achieved. However, this should not be limited to collaborative cases. Making goals (and, more importantly, sticking to them) can make for a more efficient litigation process as well, and can avoid unnecessary fights.