|1.||Keep Emotions in Check:|
Remember the following:
Select the Right Divorce Attorney & Learn Your Rights:
There are certain attributes that you should look for in a divorce attorney. Of course, this list may vary depending on your goals. However, primarily, you should look for an attorney who has one or more of the following qualifications or characteristics:
Protect the Children:
Beyond any other consideration, the children come first. They should not suffer needlessly due to your decision to divorce your spouse. Here are some of the more common admonitions with regard to children and divorce:
Prepare a Detailed Marital History:
Essentially, you should try to chronologically summarize all of the salient facts related to your relationship with your spouse. Although it may seem like a daunting task, you should chronologically address each of the following points:
Summarize Marital Lifestyle:
How did you live your life? Did you live a low, middle or upper-class lifestyle? One of the key issues in a matrimonial dispute is marital lifestyle. Begin to describe it for your attorney using the following categories.
Identify Your Issues & List Your Goals (Wish List & Bottom Line):
Once you’ve summarized your marital history, identified your issues (e.g., custody, time-sharing, alimony, child support, value of a business, hidden assets, personal injuries, etc. For example, “I want joint legal custody; to be the parent of primary residence with $X in alimony; $X in child support and half of the assets.”)
Gather Information & Documents:
You can avoid many months of litigation and thousands of dollars by gathering and copying key financial records prior to a divorce:
List Assets & Liabilities:
A major part of the case will be the “equitable distribution” of property. There are three main aspects to the property division aspects of a divorce case: (1) identify; (2) value; and (3) distribute the parties assets and liabilities. This process, therefore, starts with identifying all assets and liabilities. Consider using an Excel chart or similar program, to list your assets, how they are titled, their values and any exempt portions (i.e., amounts that are pre-marital, gifted to just you, or inherited by you):
Summarize Your Education/Earnings & Employment Histories:
There are many factors that are considered when setting alimony and child support. These include, but are not limited to the length of marriage, contributions to the marriage, age, health and myriad of other factors. Chief among these factors are the earning ability of each party. Therefore, for both you and your spouse, summarize the following:
Learn About the Tools of Discovery:
Very often, one spouse does not have a complete working knowledge of the other party’s assets, liabilities, income or activities. That is when “discovery” comes into play. Essentially, “discovery” is organized information gathering. It can encompass that which is permitted by the Rules of Court or other methods. Some of the more prevalent avenues of discovery are:
Put your emotions in check. Select the right lawyer and learn your rights. Protect your children from the divorce by insulating them as best you can. Gather as much information and documentation as you can. Identify your main issues and how you would like to resolve them. Most importantly, develop a strategy with your attorney to meet your goals and pursue that strategy diligently. However, periodically perform a “cost-benefit analysis” to determine if your strategy makes fiscal sense.
In the end, a well though out consensual settlement is almost always preferable to a result after trial. Keep in mind the words of President Lincoln:
Charles F. Vuotto, Jr. is a shareholder with the Woodbridge based law firm of Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer. He has been practicing since 1986 and has limited his practice to matrimonial law. Mr. Vuotto is certified by the Supreme Court of the State of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Attorney and serves on the Executive Committee of the Family Law Section of the New Jersey State Bar Association. He routinely writes and lectures on family law. This article was first posted here in 2006.