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How to Prepare for Your Divorce Case

By Janice Page, CPA & Sherri Donovan, Esq.

There are steps you can take that will help empower you, save you money, and achieve better results as you are going through a divorce.

I. Obtain emotional support. Family crisis and the breakup of a marriage can be one of the most stressful and traumatic experiences a human being suffers in life. It is normal to experience anger, hurt, sadness, fear, low self-esteem and/or guilt. With all the emotions that are occurring, you will probably also have to make major financial and practical decisions that will affect you for a long time. It is important to be aware of and express your feelings. It is important to have a loving and caring emotional network. Find a good therapist and have a family member or friend you can talk to throughout the divorce process. Your lawyer should be sensitive and sympathetic, but do not use your lawyer as your therapist. She or he is not trained for that role and it is expensive. Sometimes one's emotions can affect the legal divorce process in a way that is harmful to that person's and the children's best interest. One may refuse to accept a reasonable amount of maintenance (alimony) and child support because she is feeling undeserving at that time. One may urge her lawyer to do frivolous and expensive motions because that person is experiencing intense anger towards one's spouse. Be aware of such behavior.

II. Keep good notes. Information is power. The more information you can provide your attorney, the better she or he can represent you. It is important for your attorney to understand your unique situation and needs. It will also save you legal fees. Instead of spending hours in conferences explaining your case at billable hours, you can hand your lawyer a package of information for her or him to review. Write about your marital history, contributions to the marriage, and the finances of the marriage. Marital history includes specific incidents and general patterns of physical, verbal and emotional abuse, adultery, leaving the marital residence, and refusing to have sex. If other problems exist, describe them as well. Be sure to provide dates, location, witnesses, and police complaint numbers.

Contributions to the marriage include everything you have done as homemaker (i.e. cooking, cleaning, laundry, repairs, driving, holiday preparation), parent (i.e. taking care of diapers and personal hygiene, helping with the homework and teaching various skills, and arranging social, school, medical and religious activities) and administrator (i.e. paying the bills, balancing the checkbook, watching the investments, communication with creditors). If you have helped your spouse obtain an educational degree, license, employment, business, or permanent resident alien card describe what assistance you have provided. Do not forget to write about your financial contributions to the marriage and the emotional support you have provided to your spouse. Emotional support includes helping your spouse through a difficult period, overcome addictions or bad habits and with family relations.

Concerning finances of the marriage, list all of the assets, debts, income and expenses. Assets consist of real estate, businesses, bank accounts, stocks and bonds, pensions, other deferred income such as IRA's, Keogh plans and annuities, personal property, automobiles, insurance policies, degrees and licenses, and other investments. Debts refer to credit card debt, mortgages, auto payments, promissory notes, taxes and other loans owed. Income includes salaries, business distributions, rental payments from real estate owned, and interest and capital gains on investments. Expenses include but are not limited to the cost of housing, taxes, utilities, household repairs and maintenance, food and household products, clothing, laundry, doctors, medicine and hospitalization, insurance policies, transportation, education, recreation, vacations and miscellaneous items such as loan payments, child care, and the beauty salon.

CAUTION: Keep your notes in a safe place where your spouse will not find them, preferably out of the marital residence. Label your notes "Attorney-Client Work Product". These notes are being kept for the purpose of preparation of your divorce case and should be labeled as such. Such information is considered privileged and can not be obtained by your spouse's attorney. Update your notes and describe incidents as they occur so that you and your attorney have accurate and current information.

III. Collect documents. Marriage is an economic partnership. You have a right to all records affecting the finances of you or your spouse. It does not matter whose name the papers or accounts are kept. It will be cheaper, easier and faster if you collect as much documentation as you can instead of your lawyer. The following is a list of documents you should try to obtain: bank statements, credit card statements, stocks, bonds, and mutual fund portfolios, brokerage account statements, business records and books, deeds, mortgages, mortgage applications, tax returns (personal and business), pay stubs, resumes, pensions and retirement plans, life, health, disability, auto and other insurance policies, wills, power-of-attorney documents, receipts and warranties for expensive items purchased, loan applications, business agreements, contracts, promissory notes, bills, court and legal documents, medical records, employee benefit records, safe deposit numbers and keys and any other financial documents that involve you, your spouse or your children.

These documents contain important information about the assets, debts, and income of the marriage. Pay stubs will not only disclose income but will also show if money is being taken out for pension, annuity, investment, health or other company or union benefits. Tax returns report rental income and interest income, which can reveal if real estate or investment accounts are owned by your spouse. The tax returns may also contain schedules, which list

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