Did your spouse just serve you with divorce paperwork? Are you thinking about filing for divorce? Do you have a rocky marriage and just need guidance or advice about your options? If the answer to any of the above questions is “yes”, you probably have many questions of your own. Meeting with a qualified family law attorney is your first step to getting those answers.
But what should you do before you visit a divorce attorney? The list below will not only help you to get your questions answered, but will ensure you are prepared for your initial meeting with your lawyer.
1) Organize your story.
Don’t make things up, but also be sure not to leave things out! Florida is a ‘no fault’ divorce state, which means either party can get a divorce “without the necessity of either party alleging or proving fault on the part of the other.” Lefler v. Lefler, 264 So. 2d 112 (Fla. 4th DCA 1972). You don’t need to prove your spouse is having an affair to get divorced, but the presence of an affair could affect any financial award, your divorce lawyer should hear about all of your imperfections from you and not from your spouse’s lawyer!
During your initial meeting, you will likely only have a short period of time to meet with your lawyer, so make it count. Most lawyers charge a flat fee for an initial consultation. Some consultations last an hour and some are even shorter!
Be prepared to talk a lot! This is your time to tell your lawyer what led you to the decision of divorce. Is there a point of contention between you and your spouse? Is this divorce happening because of fights about money? Fights about the kids? Fights about an affair? Or is this divorce happening because you and your spouse don’t fight or talk at all?
2) Write down a list of questions.
Are you curious about who will pay the credit card debt that you and your spouse have incurred during the marriage? Have you been out of work for years and worried that your spouse won’t financially support you? Do you want to keep the marital home?
No question is silly, so be sure to write all of your questions down in preparation for your initial meeting. You don’t want to leave your lawyer’s office and remember that you forgot to ask him or her about the sale of that piece of property you own in North Carolina.
3) Have some answers of your own.
Your lawyer is going to ask you questions too. Be ready to answer the following general questions.
- How long have you been married? The length of your marriage affects the length of time you may pay or be paid alimony. A short-term marriage is a one having a duration of less than 7 years, a moderate-term marriage is a marriage having a duration of greater than 7 years but less than 17 years, and a long-term marriage is a marriage having a duration of 17 years or greater. Fla. Stat. §61.08(4)
- Have you and your spouse been physically separated for over five years? The length of your separation may be a reason a court could unequally divide marital assets upon dissolution. Heslop v. Moore, 716 So.2d 276 (Fla. 3rd DCA 1998).
- Do you and your spouse have children?
- Do you own the home you are living in with your spouse? Is there a mortgage on the home? Is the house titled in joint names? What about the loan?
- Do you and your spouse have any debt such as credit card debt, student loan debt, mortgages, or medical bills? Was any of this debt incurred before your marriage?
- What other assets do you own with your spouse or on your own? Examples to consider are retirement accounts, savings accounts, stocks or bonds.
- Do you have life insurance? What type? Who is the beneficiary and what type of policy is it?
- Do you or your spouse own a business or corporation? Did you or your spouse start a businesses or corporation during the marriage?
4) Know your budget.
What can you afford? The attorney’s fees for one spouse may be paid by the other, more financially sound spouse. Fla. Stat. §61.16(1). However, keep in mind that whatever money is paid to the lawyer is money that cannot be distributed between you and your spouse upon divorce.
5) Think about what you want.
Is there a piece of property in another state that you really care about? Do you want the marital home to be sold or do you want to take on the responsibility for the home? How often do you want to see your children?
Now that you are better equipped for your first meeting with your divorce attorney, you will be prepared and can have most of your questions answered. It is at this point that you should know what your next step in the process will be. You should feel comfortable with your decision and with your attorney. A divorce is a stressful, complex and life-changing experience. Hiring an experienced attorney who will help you through the process is essential.