Why is the relationship with your divorce lawyer so important?

Before you hire a family lawyer to represent you in your divorce, you need to understand that you and your lawyer will become partners, for better or for worse, during and perhaps for years after the divorce process. How well your partnership works can have an enormous effect on your divorce and how much you'll have to spend in legal fees. So make every effort to hire the right lawyer. Examine your goals before going to one. Do you want to be generous or nail your ex to the wall? Look to your future and determine what you want for yourself, your kids, and your ex.

After your initial conversation with a divorce lawyer, you should be able to answer these questions:

  • Does this lawyer listen to me when I talk?
  • Is the lawyer interested in what my goals are, or only in his or her own?

Your choice will be partially dictated by your spouse's: if the divorce is relatively friendly, you can probably agree on what kind of representation you need. If the divorce is bitter, or if there are assets or children at stake, consider hiring a well-respected firm. As in any profession, there are good and bad lawyers. It's up to you to determine which group yours falls into. Once you've chosen a lawyer, you'll need to provide information. When your lawyer requests information, respond as quickly, completely, and concisely as you can; don't write a 24-page document when all that was required was a "yes" or "no". The following checklist will give you an idea of what you may need to disclose:

  • Why are you seeking a divorce?
  • What caused your breakup? If you're secretly hoping for reconciliation, then you and your lawyer are working towards different goals.
  • Personal data about you, your spouse, and your children (if any). Write down your names; your home and work addresses and telephone numbers; your ages and places of birth; your Social Security or Social Insurance Numbers; your states of health, both mental and physical; your Green Card(s) and immigration papers (if applicable).
  • Facts about your marriage. When and where did you get married? Did you sign a prenuptial agreement? If so, bring a copy. Have either of you been married before? Will there will be issues involving your children, such as custody or access?
  • Financial information. What assets and debts did each of you bring into the marriage? What are your incomes and what are your expenses, jointly and individually? What are the names and addresses of your employers? How much money do both of you have invested: in the bank, the stock market, etc.? Has either of you invested in insurance or a pension plan? What property do you own? Was the property purchased before or after the marriage? Do you have a mortgage? Prior to seeing your lawyer, create a budget detailing how much you spend every month on items such as housing, food, clothing, personal grooming, gifts, vacations, etc. If you have children, make sure you include their expenses.
  • Legal documents. Bring copies of prior or pending lawsuits, bankruptcy suits, judgments, and garnishments.
  • Your divorce goals. Be very specific about your goals in terms of realizing your future; make sure your short-term goals for property, other assets, custody, visitation, and support are consistent with that future.

This is a legal advertisement, not legal advice.

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