First things first: Should you hire an attorney?
There's no legal requirement that you hire an attorney when divorcing. In fact, going it alone may be a sensible option if you're young and have been married only a short time, are childless, and have few assets.
However, most divorcing couples hire attorneys to better protect their interests, even though doing so can be expensive. Divorce attorneys typically charge hourly rates and require you to submit retainers (lump sums) up front.
It's not unusual, for example, for an attorney to charge as much as $150 to $200 per hour and require an initial retainer of up to $2,500 to $5,000. The fee depends on the complexity of the case, the reputation and experience of the divorce attorney, and your geographic location.
You should know that if you're a homemaker or earn less income than your spouse, it's still possible to obtain legal representation. You can submit a motion to the court, asking a judge to order your spouse to pay for your attorney's fees.
If you and your spouse can agree on most issues, you may save time and money by filing an uncontested divorce. If you can't agree on significant issues, you may want to meet with a divorce mediator, who can help you resolve issues that the two of you can't resolve alone.
To find a mediator, contact your local domestic relations court, ask friends for a referral, or look in the telephone book. Certain attorneys, members of the clergy, psychologists, social workers, marriage counselors, and financial planners may offer their services as mediators.
Save time and money by doing your homework before meeting with a divorce professional.
To save time and money, compile as much of the following information as you can before meeting with an attorney or other divorce professional:
- Each spouse's date of birth
- Names and birthdates of children, if you have any
- Date and place of marriage and length of time in present state
- Existence of prenuptial agreement
- Information about parties' prior marriages, children, etc.
- Date of separation and grounds for divorce
- Current occupation and name and address of employer for each spouse
- Social Security number for each spouse
- Income of each spouse
- Education, degrees, and training of each spouse
- Extent of employee benefits for each spouse
- Details of retirement plans for each spouse
- Joint assets of the parties
- Liabilities and debts of each spouse
- Life (and other) insurance of each spouse
- Separate or personal assets of each spouse, including trust funds and inheritances
- Financial records
- Family business records
- Collections, artwork, and antiques
If you're uncertain about some of these areas, you can obtain the necessary information through your spouse's financial affidavit and/or the discovery process, both of which are mandated by the court.
© 2003 Forefield, Inc.