The idea of meeting with an attorney to discuss your marriage can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming or a barrier to getting started. The good news is that your divorce attorney understands your situation, and is ready to help you navigate the storm. Being up front with your attorney will make your meeting efficient and productive. Don’t be overwhelmed. If you can’t gather documents before your meeting, spend some time thinking about these tips so you are ready. Don’t delay your first meeting because you are missing a document.
Every meeting with an attorney costs money, so efficiency is crucial. Maximize every opportunity with your own preparation. The first meeting can set the plan of action for your case. Share your goals, share your concerns, and make sure the attorney knows what you think. To maximize your first meeting with your divorce attorney, follow these ten tips.
Bring Relevant Documentation
Unless you have a Covenant Marriage, A.R.S. 25-903, laying blame for why the divorce is happening doesn’t interest the court. You can share the reasons with your attorney, but your therapist may be better equipped to get to “why.” However,
“what” happened does matter. Tell your attorney about seriously bad behavior—drugs, violence, coercive control, abuse, intimidation, waste or siphoning money—it may be difficult, but it is important. Bring your bank records, retirement statements, mortgage statement and tax returns.
Be Ready To Discuss Your Expected Outcome
Let your divorce attorney know up front what your goals are for the divorce. It isn’t the attorney’s role to decide what is right for you. It is the attorney’s role to give you guidance on what the law says, and the consequences of your legal positions. How your attorney discusses your goals will help you decide if you are in the right legal relationship. You are hiring a legal advisor. It is okay to expect legal advice and a goal based plan of action.
It is okay to talk money with your lawyer. Ask about fees, costs, and who will be billing on your file. Discuss your expectations. Ask if they think mediation is right for your case, and if there are cost-saving actions that might be used in your case. While there are always unforeseen circumstances, the more you are prepared, the better.
Talk about Contracts Between You and Your Spouse
You should bring documentation of contracts that exist between you and your spouse. Was there a prenuptial agreement (A.R.S. 25-202)? Do you own a business together? Do you have specific contracts regarding an inheritance, retirement accounts or other assets? Bring these contracts to the first meeting.
Discuss Assets and Liabilities Obtained Before Marriage
While divorce does not always restore your life to the way it was before marriage, the assets and liabilities that each party brought into the marriage are very important. According to Arizona Law A.R.S. § 25-213, you are likely entitled to keep separate property, which is property that each of you owned before you were married though the community may have an interest in it. You will need to prove it, so bring your documents.
Detail Community Property and Liabilities
Assets and liabilities acquired during the marriage are usually equitably divided between the parties, though not everything can be equally distributed. It is important to provide as much documentation as possible, especially if you think your spouse might claim more assets or fewer liabilities than they are entitled to. Bring Deeds, Operating Agreements, and Credit Card Statements.
Plan For Children and Pets
If you have children, it is crucial to be up front with your attorney about your goals. Do you anticipate that both you and your spouse will spend equal time with the child? Does one party’s employment make a true 50-50 schedule impossible? Is there a reason one of you isn’t capable of making good decisions? Now is the time to be honest about what you want, what you need and what is right for the children.
Do not forget about pets. Sometimes a divorce includes a custody plan for the furry loved ones. If this divorce is going to require special attention to the pets, it is best to get that on the table early.
Be Honest About Violence and Orders of Protection
Restraining orders you have/had against your spouse and vice versa are important. Tell your divorce attorney even if you are embarrassed or emotionally affected by it. If you have the order and petition, bring it along. The more your attorney knows about the situation, the better prepared they will be. Get all police and sheriff reports involving you or your spouse. Ask your attorney if they are representing you in the Order of Protection proceedings. It is different and the scope of your legal representation needs to be discussed. Domestic violence is serious and your attorney should be ready to discuss what needs to be done to minimize risk of injuries and accusations. That includes a safety plan for the day the petition is served! Check out thehotline.org for more information.
List your Retirement Funds, Pensions and Trusts
Retirement funds, trusts or other long-term assets are a big part of many divorces. Your divorce attorney will need to know what assets exist, and what your expected outcome for those assets is. The consequences for not dealing with an asset in the divorce are dire. Talk to your attorney about everything that you have, or have rights to in the future. Bring any trust documents and retirement statements to the meeting.
Discuss Jointly-Owned Businesses
If you went into business with your spouse, you must discuss how you would like the business to be handled—especially if both work at the company. Valuing a business asset is complex and any information you have on the operation is crucial.
Discuss any Verbal or Written Agreements Already in Place
Make sure your attorney knows about any agreements already in place between you and your spouse about what will happen with your children, your business or your home. Are there any written agreements between you that have not been discussed? Knowing about the verbal agreements and tone of the proceedings can greatly impact the plan of action.
Going through a divorce is difficult, but a good divorce attorney is committed to getting you the best outcome with as efficient a process as possible. By following these ten tips, you will have an effective first meeting and jump-start the strategy for your case. The quicker you get a plan of action—the more efficiently your case can proceed.
About the Author
Tonya is admitted to practice law in Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada, and in the U.S. District Courts for the Districts of Arizona and New Mexico. She is a litigation attorney; prepared to resolve matters through mediation or take the case to trial. Her practice focusses on Family Law, with a strong Commercial Litigation background.