If it is your first meeting with your divorce attorney, you probably fall into one of three categories. The first category is when you are unhappy in your marriage, know very little about divorce, and want to gather some basic information so you can make educated decisions about preserving or ending your marriage. You do not really know whether or not you are going to get divorced. You just want to know what your options are. The second category is when you have made the decision to end your marriage and you are meeting with your divorce attorney for the first time because you want to file a divorce. You are over a lot of the emotional pain and you are now ready for action. The third category is when your spouse has filed a divorce against you and you need to protect your rights. You may have been served with a citation — an official document from the court advising you that you have been sued for divorce and giving you a specific time to respond to the court or ordering you to appear in court on a specific date. Alternatively, you may have received a letter from your spouse’s attorney asking you to get an attorney and warning you that if you don’t, you will be served with a citation. In any event, it is time for you to respond.
Before your first meeting remember the 4Ps. Preparation prevents poor performance. As a matter of fact, remind yourself of the 4Ps throughout the divorce process.
Before your first meeting, you need to prepare two documents if at all possible. One is simple biographical information — your full name, address, phone numbers, place of employment, address of employment, date of birth, your driver’s license number, your social security number, the same information on your spouse, your date of marriage, and your children’s full names, sex, and dates of birth. The other is a narrative of your marriage — describe yourself, your spouse, your history together, your past marital problems, your current marital problems, your children, your strengths and weaknesses, and your spouse’s strengths and weaknesses. In the narrative, let the attorney know what you think the issues are going to be in the divorce. The length of your narrative depends upon which of the three categories you fit into. If you are just seeking basic divorce information because you are assessing your marriage, a page or two will suffice. If you have decided to file a divorce, or your spouse has filed a divorce against you, your narrative needs to be more detailed — probably three to 10 pages.
The next group of items that you will need to bring to your first meeting with you attorney is financial information. Your attorney will need to know about your assets and liabilities. If you or you and your spouse have recently completed a financial statement for a bank or mortgage company, bring it to your first meeting. If not, sketch out for your attorney your basic assets — cash, checking accounts, savings accounts, IRAs, 401K, pension funds, houses and real estate, automobiles, and other assets of significant value. Also detail your debts, credit cards, mortgages, etc. Take your last two year’s tax returns to your first meeting with your attorney, along with year-to-date pay stubs for you and your spouse. Bring a list of your monthly living expenses.
This past December I had a client show up in my office with a notebook containing all of the above information, along with the backup. He listed all of his assets on an Excel spreadsheet and then beside each asset he listed a tab number. As I flipped through the tabs, I noticed that behind each tab he had all of the backup documents — for the savings shown on the Excel spreadsheet he had the first page of each savings statement — for each piece of real estate he had a copy of the deed, the current appraisal district valuation, and the most recent mortgage statement. Because of his preparation we were able to finalize his divorce in about one-third the average time and at probably one third of the average cost.
John K. Grubb practices family law in Houston. He has a BBA, MBA, and a JD Degree. John K. Grubb focuses a significant part of his family law practice on helping couples create premarital and prenuptial agreements in Texas.