Divorce is difficult not only emotionally but also logistically. There are many important aspects to consider, from child custody to questions like who gets the house. Even the family pet can become a hot topic. With all these diverse factors to take into account, it’s no wonder that divorce is considered one of the most stressful life experiences — right after the death of a loved one, according to the Holmes-Rahe stress scale.
Before you formally file a petition for divorce and start this journey, you should prepare by talking to a divorce attorney. They will make sure that you don’t let any essential details slip through the cracks and provide advice on how to best proceed in line with your expectations. When meeting with your lawyer for the first time, prepare to discuss these five issues to get started.
Assets & Debts You Share With Your Spouse
When it comes to divorce, the big query is always “who gets what?” The first step to determining a fair divvying up of your and your spouse’s joint possessions is to get a comprehensive overview of them. Write down a list of all assets you have: This includes bank accounts, retirement savings, stocks and bonds, real estate, cars, and even valuables like artwork. Gather the relevant paperwork specifying ownership of each item.
You also need to take into consideration any money you and your future ex owe as a couple. Not only your assets but also your debts need to be fairly divided. If you have a family home with a mortgage on it, for instance, this is a consideration. Hand over a list to the attorney of both your debts and assets so they can get an overview of what’s at stake. With this information, they will advise on what might be a reasonable outcome and temper expectations.
Child Custody & Support Needs
This is generally one of the touchiest issues when it comes to negotiating divorce proceedings. Take the time to consider what your child custody wishes are. If your spouse is a loving, invested parent, simply splitting time may be the best option. If you for some reason want full custody along with child support, and anticipate your spouse fighting you on this point, prepare yourself for a more difficult battle. A divorce attorney can provide tips on how to prepare for potential child custody disputes.
The courts will take many factors into account. Can you provide financially for the children? Do you have a safe and secure home environment to offer them? Does your work schedule allow for you to be a present parent, helping with homework and other after-school activities? These are just a few of the aspects that will be weighed. If the dispute gets nasty, even seemingly unrelated details—like pictures of you partying on social media—can be used against you to dispute your authority as a parent.
It’s not unusual for one parent to stay home with young children while the other one works full-time. If you were a stay-at-home mom or dad, you may want to request spousal support from your future ex. Also known as alimony, this requires the higher earning party in a couple to pay the lower earning party for a specified period of time. Determining just how much money should be paid depends on diverse factors, from your current financial status to how long you’ve been out of the working world.
Don’t assume that alimony payments will carry you forever, however. As your divorce lawyer will tell you, it’s important to make a strong case for child custody by showing you are willing to actively provide for your kids. Brush off your old resume, update your LinkedIn profile, and prepare to start networking for work. Your attorney can advise on other steps you can take to support your request for alimony. Follow their advice to increase your chances of getting what you need.
The Family Home
This is also a major sticking point for many couples going through divorce. Some couples may choose to sell the property and simply split any remaining profits, with each one moving to a different house independently. If the property still has a mortgage on it, you may choose to write this over so it’s solely in the name of the person who will continue living in the home.
As your divorce attorney is sure to tell you, the topic of the family home can also impact child custody. The courts generally prefer to disrupt kids’ lives as little as possible so they may be partial to awarding custody to whoever keeps the home. If you are the one leaving, try to find a suitable living arrangement nearby: Ideally it will be in the same school district. Again, the point is to minimize disruption in kids’ lives. Changing schools and getting to know new teachers and pupils isn’t ideal.
As you consider the points above and prepare to discuss them with your attorney, consider which items are non-negotiable to you. Be aware that you will likely have to compromise on some points in the divorce process. Knowing what you are absolutely not willing to budge on will help your lawyer orchestrate a deal that respects your most important wishes.
When making your list of assets, for instance, note those items you absolutely must have—like the family home or a valuable antique. When it comes to child custody, maybe you absolutely want to have your kids on Halloween because you love to see them dressed up. Whatever it is, be clear with your attorney about these points.
Going through a divorce isn’t simple but with the right attorney by your side, it will get easier. Your lawyer not only negotiates on your behalf regarding the above points, they also serve as an emotional buffer. If things get testy between you and your soon-to-be-ex, you have a calm third party there to mediate. This can offer great peace of mind. Find an experienced legal professional that has experience in family law matters and trust them to safeguard your interests and secure you a positive outcome.
Elizabeth S. Coyle is the current Director of Client Services for JacksonWhite Attorneys at Law based in Mesa, Arizona. She serves as a paralegal for the Family Law Department of the firm.