A Guide to Preparing for the Divorce from a Divorce Attorney in Lake County
STOP, LOOK, AND LISTEN
This paper is one of several that I am writing and the first in the series of “What does this all mean?”
Stop Look and Listen: The lessons that you should have learned before the divorce.
Most of you have learned basic lessons in life before you grew up and perhaps the most important was “stop, look, and listen.” These seem to be the three operative words of advice that I can give you before you take the journey that begins with a marriage and ends with a divorce.
When it has become painfully obvious that the marriage is over, the first bit of advice that I can give you is “STOP”.
STOP talking and start listening.
STOP making stupid financial mistakes
STOP the abuse... that’s not something that anyone should tolerate.
STOP assuming that all you need to do is hire the “right” lawyer and your problems are over.
During the proceedings of a divorce, “LOOK”.
LOOK: When was the last time that you really looked at a tax return? It’s not the first page that is interesting, it’s the items that make up income and more important the deductions. You will probably see your tax return for the last time on the day before you announce (or the summons announces for you) that the marriage is over. Having tax returns, house papers, bank statements, and brokerage accounts already copied will save you money in the future.
LOOK: If you signed a prenuptial agreement, where is it and just what does it say? Does it exclude temporary alimony and legal fees or simply advance them against the settlement and make them your responsibility? Many agreements have “sun down provisions.” These provide that the limitations on divisions of property or alimony will expire in “so many years”, so figuring out when that time period is becomes crucial. This document will be read by your spouse’s attorney, so yours should have one as well.
LOOK: If you don’t want to waste time with subpoenas for documents and legal fees that eventually diminish the marital estate, get copies of all documents BEFORE you announce the divorce. Any divorce lawyer in Lake County with a word processor or secretary will tell you that they can get that document with a subpoena. Ask about the time charges for preparation and enforcement of a subpoena to get a tax return that you can copy. You can always give the lawyer a copy of a document and keep the original until the time it’s really needed.
LISTEN: It’s hard to get client’s to really listen without interrupting when the adverse spouse or his/her attorney is explaining their position. You may have “all the answers”.
If you are the spouse with lesser financial earning ability, keep track of mail and who is sending statements or accountings each month. I can’t tell you the number of times we have discovered assets in places other than the bank statement that you receive by simply looking at the other mail coming in.
The statements may be going to the office (or in very clever cases, to a post office box) but the advertising comes to the home. It’s not hard to figure out that something is going on at the First National Bank, when it sends a statement every month and your Spouse is writing the household checks from 3rd 5th Bank. Brokerage statements come monthly (although sometimes strictly on the net) but those account executives still cannot resist some mail advertising. LOOK and make notes.
If you are the income earning spouse and there are children, you need to understand the economics of Cook County child support enforcement. You will have your spouse’s attorney looking at your pay check to determine net income. Here’s an example of how your earnings would factor out: you have two kids getting 28% of your net. If you earn $1,300 a pay period after taxes and a $400 contribution to a 401K, the resulting child support payment would be $368. You have paid your share and the rest is yours.
What about that $400 you’ve put in your 401k? It’s now marital property and you will be giving your spouse at least $200 of it (50%). Now you have paid $364 in child support and lost $200 of your 401K. That’s $564 from your $1,300 take home pay (which leaves you $736) and we have not yet begun to cover spousal support (alimony).
The good news is that in the not so distance past, your courts and the legislature have established that fees are supposed to be some relation to the time spent and difficulty of the case. That said, it is important to remember that a lawyer’s time is not only spent in the office with you in conference or in court. It is also spent drafting documents, research, reading your emails, letters, faxes, the correspondence from the other side, reviewing the documents and preparing for hearings, meetings, and much more. In order to save time and money, keep a list of questions you have so you can get answers in a quick and organized fashion instead of calling with every minor issue (which will end up costing you). If you are simply wondering when the next court date is or where the court is located, ask his receptionist to get the info and call you back (generally there is no charge, and that is what they are paid to do).
For retainers, we have a way of leveling the playing field with the Illinois version of the “Attorney Relief Act”. The theory is that the working spouse can afford to hire the most expensive attorney, leaving the lesser working spouse to go to Legal Aid. In order to keep things level, your attorney is entitled to a retainer as great as your spouse’s (or your spouse’s attorney can simply give one half of their retainer to your lawyer).
These are relative simple ideas and now you see that you should have some idea what you want at the very beginning. Your Lake county attorney will tell you your rights and obligations, but don’t fall for the “cop out” that you don’t have any idea of what you want. Give yourself a break and think about what you want (and convey this information to the attorney at the first meeting). You need to be prepared before you decide to hire your divorce lawyer in Lake County. Gather the documents, look for the information, understand what has been going on, and get a good idea of how you want the litigation to end. Then you can hire the Lake County attorney who can best serve you because you have done your homework and understand your own case.