By: Sarah McCain
I recently read an article listing current divorce statistics and providing eight divorce horror stories from both the client and the lawyer’s perspective. The stories ranged from issues with excessive fees, fraud, disappearing spouses, and those with a second life. While these stories are obviously extreme examples, what connected these parties was the initial thought in those cases that the other side would be reasonable. That is a common statement and one that we hear in our office on quite a frequent basis. Unfortunately, it does not always work that way. However, there are steps that you can take to ensure that both you and your lawyer are prepared for your case, no matter what form it takes. Below are a couple of suggestions which may assist you along the process.
First, when you are meeting with your counsel, whether it is the first time or the twentieth time, it is very important to ensure that your counsel has the full story. It is important that your counsel can represent you fully and, to do so, your counsel will need to know all of the details. Don’t be afraid to be an open book. The more your counsel knows, the better prepared they will be for anything that may come up during the course of any mediation and/or litigation. There’s nothing worse than having the trajectory of the case, based on the client’s representations, torpedoed when some sort of factual surprise the client left out is unveiled.
Second, one of the first things that you do in the course of a domestic relations case is to prepare a sworn financial statement. Often, I feel that individuals wait until the last moment to provide their documents, which then causes their counsel to be in a rush to complete this document and get it filed in a timely manner. When you are provided with your financial homework to do, it’s important to start preparing things right away and to take your time in ensuring that they are done correctly. Don’t simply throw in figures because you want to get things done. It is possible to simply write “unknown” for a figure and then to come back and fill it in at a later date. For example, if you don’t know the value of your home, instead of looking at the internet for a figure, you can write in “unknown” and then commence with an appraisal. Within this same vein, throughout your case, if there is a change, it is important to note that you are required to update your financial disclosures when changes occur. Now clearly, this does not mean that you are required to update your statements because your checking changed from month to month. However, if your retirement account, or part thereof, vests during the divorce, it’s best to update your disclosures to ensure that all of the parties are on the same page with the assets of each other.
Third, in the beginning of the case, a temporary injunction goes into place concerning those assets that you have meticulously listed in your sworn financial statement. This temporary injunction provides that you cannot go about spending or dipping into your assets. This does not mean that you cannot touch any of the assets. You should speak to your divorce attorney about how best to make sure that you can meet your personal needs and those additional needs which arise during the course of the divorce process, including the potential of using some of those assets in compliance with the injunction. Any plans need to be communicated before any steps are taken to use the assets.
Fourth, many couples choose to continue to reside together during this process. This is fairly standard in some situations, as adjusting to that change in financial circumstances can be a bigger adjustment than most would expect. If there are children involved and you are contemplating leaving a residence, it’s important to ensure that you have a parenting plan in place. It does not need to be the permanent agreement. It can be temporary or interim in nature, but having a plan in place will certainly reduce the disagreements which can take place or a situation in which one parent withholds a child simply because they are emotional.
In essence, communication and transparency are two very important qualities in the divorce process. This goes for working with your counsel, the court, and the other party. People do get into trouble with their communication skills and I would encourage you to read our other blogs and posts on how best to communicate during this extremely different time.