HOW SHOULD I BEGIN? DO I NEED A LAWYER?
Whether you believe it or not, once you inform your spouse that you no longer wish to continue with the marriage, the end-game is set in motion. The process of dealing with this life-altering decision involves a wide range of issues. Although one’s rights are determined by law, personalities, how one communicates, conduct, and practical circumstances are intricately interwoven issues that factor into the process of sorting and resolving each party’s needs and concerns. This article attempts to cover most of the key issues you should initially consider to enable you to proceed on the right track for you.
I’m Tired of Being Controlled! Whether you feel you are being controlled by a domineering spouse or whether you feel caught in the cross-currents of life, the decision to take control of your life is the first step to freedom.
What Are The First Steps? Before you begin the process of formally ending the marriage, you need to empower yourself to negotiate a fair and reasonable settlement of all issues. In a negotiation, a spouse who is not aware of his or her legal rights and options, and does not have equal access to all the family’s financial information, is at a severe disadvantage. So, your first step toward self-empowerment is to put yourself in a position to make an informed decision. This process begins by first understanding the basics of separation and divorce law and the process one has to go through. See “Documents to Bring to Your Consultation” below.
Does one really need a lawyer to get a separation or divorce? There is a well-known adage that “A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for client.” The reason is simple: A lawyer, no matter how intelligent and knowledgeable, is too emotionally involved in his own case, due to his relationships and financial interests, to be able to evaluate the facts and other information objectively. If this is true for a lawyer, is it not all the more true for someone who does not have this expertise and experience? What about all the well-meaning friends who have been through separations and divorces themselves who have all kinds of advice to offer? Do you really think this experience catches them up with lawyers who have spent years in law school and practice divorce law for a living? If you don’t respect yourself, no-one else will. You owe it to yourself to find out what your rights and options are so that you can make informed choices. The best way to do this is to consult with a caring lawyer experienced in separation and divorce law and in helping families find sensible solutions that facilitate the healing process for both spouses and especially the kids.
I Don’t Want Anything, – I Just Want to Move On! Most people feel exhausted after years of struggling with the emotional drag of an unhappy marriage. If one’s spouse is controlling or difficult, the temptation to walk away from everything and get it over with without a battle can be very powerful. Although the thought of imminent freedom is intoxicating, you really need to take a time out and make sure you are doing the right thing for yourself. Bear in mind that this is an emotionally over-whelming time and while you may think you are okay and in full control of your thought process, the conventional wisdom is that this is not so. You have everything to gain and little to lose by investing in a Rights and Options Consultation. You may be thankful, after the exhilaration of separating wanes and the financial realities of life after divorce emerge, that you received your fair share.
Documents to Bring to Your Consultation. Unless you are confident that you and your spouse can discuss separation and divorce amicably and work cooperatively to explore the process and get legal advice, the prudent thing to do is to discreetly make copies of the documents listed below. You don’t want your spouse to get angry and prevent you from having access to the documents.
[ ] all bank and investment account statements;
[ ] pay advices, as many as possible up to 12 months worth;
[ ] the last two or three year’s Federal income tax returns;
[ ] recent credit card statements, ideally at least a year’s worth;
[ ] recent bank account statements, ideally at least a year’s worth;
[ ] all deeds showing who has title to the home;
[ ] deeds to any investment properties, including timeshares and vacation homes;
[ ] mortgages (deeds of trust) and secured lines of credit for each property;
[ ] all settlement statements for real estate transactions in the past five years;
[ ] any Wills and powers-of-attorney in place;
[ ] titles to all vehicles, motor cycles, boats, jet skis, ATVs, campers, etc;
[ ] your current family budget;
[ ] your anticipated budget after separation; and
[ ] anything else you believe your lawyer might want to review.
Understanding Your Financial Needs; Preparing Your Budget. Frequently, spouses who do not control or share in managing the family finances, have little idea as to how much the other person earns, investments, the family budget and so forth. You need to know these things. Your first resolution should be never to put yourself in the position of being so dependent on others. Take control and learn the basics. You will be surprised how simple it is. Start by doing this: Make a list called “BUDGET.” Write down how much income your family has, namely list your income, your spouse’s income, the income of any parents or children or boarders who live with you, from all sources, including SSI and Disability. Total this list. Then list every expense category you can think of. Then make a column for entering the amount of each expense a month. This will be an estimate. In some cases you will need to take the annual estimate and average it monthly, for example clothing or auto maintenance and repair expense. You can google ‘family budget form” and many options will pop up that you can use as a guide. The more accurate your Budget the more helpful it will be for you and your lawyer. Consider what you will do and what you will need after separation and write this down, and any other concerns you may have, to review with your lawyer. The better prepared you are for your consultation the more you will get out of it.
What Happens After The Consultation? The next step is highly fact and circumstances dependant. The lawyer may: write a letter to your spouse; discuss negotiating tactics and help you feel comfortable in discussing certain issues with your spouse; file a legal proceeding; there may be a need for additional information gathering or things to think about or explore, – to review at a follow-up consultation. The most important thing is that you will feel like a weight has been lifted from your shoulders, you will have a sense of purpose and direction, and will have the Peace of Mind that you have someone you can lean on through this process and provide you with the guidance you need.
Contact us now to inquire about our marital and divorce related legal services.