Divorce and Money

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By Valerie S. Johnson

Did you ever hear the expression, “the lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client”? Divorce is one of those events when you really should hire a lawyer rather than try to do-it-yourself. You can’t possibly be objective in what is probably the most emotional legal battle you will ever face. However, if you believe you can file a “no-fault” divorce and you meet your state residential requirements, you may want to consider some of the comparatively inexpensive documents that are available online.

Most divorce attorneys charge you based on the amount of time they spend on your case. Breaking up a marriage stirs up many feelings of anger and sadness, so it’s natural to want to talk to your lawyer about it. Just remember, you may be on the clock while you shout obscenities about your soon-to-be-ex spouse, or wonder out loud where it all went so wrong.

Always keep in mind that your divorce lawyer is your hired gun, not your friend or your therapist. As much as humanly possible, save your emotional talks for your pals (who generally listen for free, or maybe for a round or three of drinks) or a counselor, who probably charges a lot less than your divorce attorney does.

Divorce and custody proceedings can be very expensive. One apt description is to imagine that you and your spouse sell all your assets for cash, then race to the top of a tall building to see who can throw the most money out of the window fastest.

The key to keeping your legal costs down in a divorce and/or custody battle is doing your homework and being organized. Divorce laws vary widely in every state, so your lawyer will tell you specifically what information or documents she needs. Generally, you need to provide lists of your assets and liabilities. Be prepared with the following information, for you and your spouse:

1. Which bank accounts are in your name? Include checking and savings accounts, as well as money market accounts, and investment accounts

2. What is the current balance of each account?

3. Do you have 401(k) or other retirement accounts? What is the current balance?

4. What accounts are in both your names (joint accounts)?

5. Do you have liabilities such as credit card debt or car loans? How much?

5. Who owns the house and the car(s)?

6. Do you have stock options?

7. What assets did you own before you married?

8. Are you entitled to receive a pension?

9. What are your expected Social Security benefits?

10. Did you sign a prenuptial or antenuptial agreement?

11. Did you receive an inheritance, either before or after you got married?

12. Did you obtain a degree or professional license during your marriage? In some states, your spouse may be entitled to a portion of your future earnings.

13. Do you own a business? What is the value of the goodwill?

14. If you will be seeking alimony or child support, prepare a realistic budget of your expected expenses, rather than just a demand for an unsubstantiated dollar amount.

If you present your lawyer with organized information, it will cut down the amount of time (translation: money) he has to spend asking questions and wading through piles of paper. Your money is better spent getting his advice on how to get the best and quickest settlement possible under the law of your state, rather than adding up numbers or listening while you provide personal information that is not, strictly speaking, relevant to your case.