A brand-new calendar year can be a time of hope and excitement—time to start fresh and make the changes that will bring new opportunities, and maybe a bit more happiness!
Maybe that’s why January is also known as the “divorce month”—couples who are ready to open a new chapter in their lives frequently initiate the divorce process this time of year.
However, there’s no denying that divorce can be challenging and talking about your marriage with a divorce attorney—while necessary—can be stressful. To help, we’ve put together this checklist to help you prepare for your initial divorce consultation, whether you’re the one seeking a divorce or not.
Why follow a divorce checklist?
Being prepared also helps you provide your attorney everything they need to review your situation, and, importantly, helps you approach the process feeling organized and focused.
Divorce has a lot of moving parts, and staying organized will help your stress levels. Whether you prefer paper or digital, create a system for keeping track of notes, reminders, appointments, questions, referrals, documents, and the hundreds of questions you’ll have along the way.
Does this sound like “preparing to prepare”? Maybe—but figuring out how to keep track of this now is much easier than trying to develop a system while you’re also trying to make big decisions.
One critical step in preparing for a consultation with a divorce lawyer is gathering as many financial documents as possible.
Your divorce attorney needs to have a full picture of your financial situation. New Jersey is an equitable distribution state, which means assets and debts will be divided fairly, though not necessarily equally, in a divorce.
The financial documents you should bring (if you can) include:
- Assets, including title and deed of all real property, vehicle titles, appraised value of collections and artwork, and more
- Debts, such as mortgages and student loans
- Income for both parties, including pay stubs, self-employment income, shareholder and/or business income, bonuses, and records of commissions
- Tax returns
- Bank, IRA, retirement, and brokerage accounts
- Life insurance policies
- Wills and trusts
- Bond certificates
- Any appraisals of property
- Credit card and utility bills
- Financial agreements between you and the other party, such as prenuptial agreements
- Record of any professional or academic degrees earned during the marriage
However, don’t worry if you only have some of the documents above; the information is most important in that initial meeting. You’ll have time, if you need it, to find and bring the documents to your divorce attorney. To start, focus on knowing what you have, what you owe, and whose name it is in.
Other relevant information
You’ll also need to bring any additional—and relevant—information to your divorce consultation. This can help your attorney understand what your married life looks like, including your standard of living (how you spent your money and on what), whether or not you have children, and more. Every case is unique, and you want your divorce attorney to understand your situation fully.
Your divorce attorney also will want to know:
- How long you’ve been married
- Information relevant to calculating child support, such as who maintains the health insurance coverage and whether you have childcare, and costs for both
- Material relevant to child custody, including calendars, schedules, and any relevant reports from doctors, schools, therapists, etc.
- In some cases, written communications between you and your spouse that pertain to why you’re getting divorced
Documents already filed
If either you or your spouse has already filed for divorce with the New Jersey courts (or have been divorced before), come prepared with all the related paperwork.
This is important because if the other party has already filed for divorce, you have a limited time (35 days) for responding. If you don’t respond within that time limit, the court can enter default against you, which makes having your claims heard more challenging.
If you’re already divorced, and you’re thinking about modifying your Agreement, a copy of that and any other Orders would be helpful to bring with you, so your divorce attorney knows how to analyze ways to broach modification or enforcement.
A few tips to keep in mind
As with everything in life, divorce comes with some stress, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. In fact, we have a few tips that can help you de-stress the divorce process.
Every divorce is different, so don’t compare yours to anyone else’s. As you go through the divorce process, you’ll hear from well-intentioned friends and family about other people’s divorces—and you may keep thinking about other divorced people you know, too.
However, those are different people, with different lives—and their divorce was a product of different ingredients.
Don’t use them as an indication of how your divorce should—or could—go.
Instead, take time to think about your own goals. Make sure you’re not considering what you think you should want or what somebody else says you should. What do you want from your life after divorce?
Be heard and listen
Like all forms of communication, be prepared for the process with your divorce attorney to balance listening and being heard. If your attorney says “yes” to everything you throw out there—well, they’re probably just saying yes to say yes OR they aren’t really listening to you or hearing you.
Look for a divorce attorney who will listen to you and respond honestly. It’s essential that they hear you and consider your specific situation, and it’s crucial that they help you understand if your goals are achievable or need to be tweaked.
For parents, it can be easy to adopt a mantra of, “If my kids are fine, I’m fine,” but if you stop and think about it, that’s probably not true.
Your kids being “fine” is important, but the quality of your own life is also important.
Be willing to prioritize your own needs sometimes. In the long run, this will serve your kids better—and depending on their ages, it can be a great way to model for them how to handle challenges in an emotionally healthy way.
Nobody’s perfect, but this can be especially hard to remember in divorce because it can feel like your whole life is being scrutinized. Know that you’ll lose it at least once, and quite possibly more than that—and that’s both normal and healthy.
After all, if one of your kids someday goes through a divorce, how would you want them to deal with it? We doubt you’d want them to completely ignore their own needs. Instead, you’d probably want them to find a balance.
Find a stress reliever
Find a stress reliever and make time for it regularly. Whether it’s yoga, golf, walking the dog, CrossFit classes, or binge-watching reality TV with a bowl of popcorn—find something that takes the tension down a notch and plan it into your day.
Contact our family law firm today
At Jacobs Berger, our divorce attorneys have extensive experience in both mediation and litigation. We draw on our experience and legal knowledge in finding solutions that make sense for our clients.
At the same time, however, we recognize that each case is unique. We’ll take the time to understand your individual situation to better advocate for you during the divorce process.
Figuring out where to start can be scary. Our skilled divorce attorneys can answer your questions and guide you through the process. Make an appointment to coordinate your strategy session with our team.