You and your spouse have decided to divorce. This is an extremely difficult time and can be fraught with emotions such as loss, despair and fear. To begin the process, you have made an appointment to meet with an attorney, a mediator or other divorce professional.
A divorce involves deciding how you and your spouse will share parenting time with your children and how you will support them and each other. Divorce also involves the equitable division of your marital assets. There are concrete things you can do to prepare for a meeting, including:
- Prepare a summary of your goals for the process– what is most important to you?
- Write down your story: the date and place you were married, the birthdates of you and your spouse, the names and birthdates of your children. Describe your current living situation and if applicable, how you and your spouse are sharing parenting time with your children. Describe your background and that of your spouse. Include such things as education and employment history, health history, list of any large gifts or inheritances brought into the marriage, whether either of you has any interest in a trust, any family property, or business. If you or your spouse is a business owner, you should include a brief history of the business, how it was financed, and any outstanding loans. Include and bring a copy of any prenuptial agreement. Make sure to include anything you think is important because it probably is!
- If possible, take a first pass at drafting your financial statement. Here is a link to the short form (if you make under $75,000 per year) and long form (if you make over $75,000 per year) financial statements. You should gather your most recent pay stubs and your last W2 as well as your last year-end pay stub in order to complete the income and deductions sections. Be prepared to discuss bonus income and other compensation such as RSUs, stock options or other equity compensation. Bring statements related to such compensation.
- Expenses. This is a very time consuming process and doesn’t necessarily have to be completed prior to the first meeting. Each party will need to complete this section for their own living expenses. Here is a link to a worksheet to help you. Note that expenses and income are reported on a weekly basis. If you have a recurring monthly bill (for example, a car payment), you would divide that amount by 4.3. If your monthly bill fluctuates (for example, electricity) you should add the bills for the prior 12 months and divide that by 52. If you are self-employed you will need to complete Schedule A to the Financial Statement. You should use the schedule C to your most recent tax return as a starting point to complete this.
- Review Rule 410 to determine what documents you may need. If you are litigating the case, you will automatically be entitled to receive all of these documents as well as the financial statement. Parties in mediation or other alternative dispute resolution process such as collaborative law can determine their own exchange, especially if accounts are jointly held. Note that you should gather all of your most recent bank statements, brokerage and retirement statements, mortgage statements, credit card statements or balances and other loan balances (student loans, automobiles, personal loans, IRS debt). If you have a pension, you will need your most recent statement to start.
- Review your health insurance coverage. If you receive coverage through employment, inquire with your employer whether you can cover an ex-spouse. If so, obtain cost information.
- Life Insurance. Obtain face sheets for any life insurance policies, including the term (if applicable), the death benefit, the cash value (if applicable) and the premium costs.
- Debt. Bring any mortgage or other loan statements and credit card statements (if you carry a balance), IRS debt statements, home equity loans or lines of credit, loans against your retirement accounts, personal loans.
The more you engage in the process, the more effective it will be. You will be in a better position to understand the issues, effectively advocate for yourself and come to a resolution of the issues.