Getting divorced? How to prepare for a meeting with a family lawyer

By Steven Benmor

The decision to get a divorce is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. A divorce impacts nearly every part of your life: your marriage, your children, your income, your savings, your house and all of your assets. Therefore, when you are ready to seek legal representation, it is important to educate yourself on the process, be informed, be ready for your first meeting with a family lawyer.

Here are 10 ways to prepare for an initial meeting with a family lawyer:

1. Make a list of your wishes and objectives

The family lawyer needs to know what your endgame is. That way, he can then reverse engineer a pathway to help you achieve your goals. For that to happen, you need to be very clear as to what you wish to accomplish.

2. Make a list of your fears and concerns

Divorce is an extremely difficult moment in a person’s life. In a short window of time, many parts of your life will change. Your family lawyer is there to protect you and ensure that you achieve positive outcomes, while also avoiding negative outcomes. Your divorce lawyer needs to know what you are worried about so that he can prevent that outcome from happening.

3. Make a list of what you think your spouse wants and what your response is

It will be very helpful if your family lawyer is aware of what your spouse is pursuing and why. This is critical information that can be used in the negotiation process.

4. Make a list of the topics that you are willing to compromise on and what you are not willing to compromise on

Everybody has objectives that are either negotiable or nonnegotiable. Your family lawyer needs to know what you are willing to compromise on and what is non-negotiable and why.

5. Make a list of all of the assets and debts that existed on both the date of marriage and the date of separation

In every divorce case, there are financial issues that need to be resolved. For that reason, each spouse must complete a financial statement setting out all of the assets and debts. It is helpful if you bring a list of this to the first meeting with your family lawyer to discuss how and if they may be shared.

6. Collect the tax returns for every year of marriage for you and your spouse

In almost all cases, the subject of support needs to be addressed. Support is mainly based on current and historical income. For that reason, your family lawyer will benefit from a complete digest of your income and your spouse’s income during marriage. That way, your family lawyer can give you a legal opinion on child support and spousal support.

7. Make a list of every expense that you incur for the kids such as private school tuition, summer camp and sporting programs

According to Ontario law, these expenses will be proportionately shared in accordance with each parent’s income. In order for your family lawyer to be able to give you advice on this subject, he must know what those additional expenses are and explain to you how they will be shared.

8. Create a budget of your annual expenses

In some cases, such as with self-employed spouses, income and support cannot be decided based on stated income. In these cases, it is common to ascertain the spouses’ true income from sources other than tax returns. We often look at the family’s history of expenditures to ascertain income for the determination of support. This information is extremely helpful in negotiations, mediation and litigation.

9. Collect all bank accounts and investment statements for the date of marriage, date of separation and for 12 months before and after the date of separation

We need to verify each and every figure for each spouse’s assets and debts on the date of marriage and separation before settling a divorce case. The smartest way to expedite a divorce settlement is to release all the required financial disclosure up front so that it does not cause a settlement to be delayed.

10. Ask your trusted family and friends to list any questions that they suggest you ask your family lawyer

Often times, close family members and friends are familiar with your financial situation, needs and fears. It is for that reason that I often invite fellow family members and close friends to participate in meetings with me and my client.

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