How to Begin the Divorce Process
1. Consider working with a professional counselor to help you through the confusion and stress of the process.
2. Make a list of all assets and liabilities and try to get as many supporting documents for each entry as possible.
3. Make a budget for yourself and your family, based on current numbers. If you expect changes, try to make a future budget for your changed situation. Spousal or child support is almost always an issue, so go ahead and prepare a budget to review with your attorney.
4. Collect your pay records, and your spouse’s pay records, for the last three to six months, including pay stubs, if possible.
5. Gather records that might be used, such as:
- tax returns (last 3 years);
- profit and loss statements for any businesses owned by you and your spouse;
- credit card statements (last 12 months, at least);
- bank statements with canceled checks (last 1-3 years);
- mortgage payment records;
- statements on all financial accounts, including money market funds, IRAs and mutual funds, if any (last 1-3 years); and
- the most recent quarterly and annual statements for any pension, 401K account, SEP account, stock and stock options.
6. Research family law attorneys until you find one you like. (See “Finding the Right Attorney”.)
7. Find a Collaborative lawyer. If you want to have a Collaborative divorce (or other family law matter), you need to have a Collaborative Law-trained attorney. When you meet with an attorney for the first time, you should find out whether the attorney has completed at least a basic two-day Collaborative training. If the attorney has not, you should at least talk with another attorney who is trained, even if you like the first attorney you meet. This is a life-changing process, so you need to be sure you have carefully chosen your attorney.
8. Meet with a lawyer in person and decide whether or not to hire him or her, considering in part whether the chemistry between you and attorney feels good. The attorney should have good experience and be qualified in family law. Once the attorney has experience and qualifies as a family law attorney, chemistry is key.
9. Sign a fee agreement and pay the retainer. To complete the deal, make sure you get a written contract spelling out your obligations in plain English. You should expect to pay a substantial retainer on a major case.
BONUS: Timeline — It will really help your attorney if you will prepare a timeline of the major events of your marriage. Add a lot of details.