The legal process of dissolving your marriage can get complicated. Individuals may struggle with the decision for months or years. The only certainty is that lives will change. In addition to dealing with considerable bad feelings, there are the practicalities of how to divide up marital property. It’s a very emotional time for both partners. That is why most people consult a divorce lawyer as soon as possible to get guidance.
The attorney needs the full picture of your finances, as well as your goals for the future. Having that information at his or her fingertips during your initial consultation (which is usually free) can save time and money in the future.
When you are ready to meet a divorce attorney, you should focus on five areas:
1. Property. Legally property can be divided into two categories. There is property acquired since the onset of your marriage, which can include the home, car, clothes, jewelry, artwork, etc. How the property will get split will be determined by whether or not you live in a community property state or a common law property state. Florida is not a community property state.
In common law property states, if a party made a purchase during the marriage, said partner will probably keep that property. If both names are on the deed, each party owns half of the property, and the court will determine the split.
In a community property state, anything purchased during the marriage will likely get split evenly. Community property can include money and property acquired during the marriage, as well as property the ownership of which can no longer be determined. Frustratingly enough, it can also include debts incurred by either party.
Ownership can get a bit complex, and you want the attorney to untangle any complications. For example, if a spouse has used non-marital property (a personal inheritance) to improve the marital home, said spouse may present a claim for the increased value of the home.
Prior to consulting with your divorce attorney, prepare a list of all property, date of acquisition, and the name on the deed.
2. Child support. If children are involved, parents are legally obligated to provide support until the children reach their majority. To be clear, while child support is paid to the primary custodial parent, the funds must be used for the benefit of the child. A parent is not entitled to make a purchase for him or herself.
Both parents must contribute to the children’s support. Either the parents agree on an amount, or the amount each parent owes for child support will be determined by the court.
As a rule, parents are obligated to pay for fixed, controlled, and variable expenses. A fixed expense can include the non-custodial parent’s obligation to contribute to the child’s household expenses, such as rent, mortgage, food, and utilities.
Variable costs, as the name implies, can vary and involve tuition and expenses above the basic support of the child.
Controlled costs include the child’s personal expenses for clothes, entertainment, and other personal purchases.
Your lawyer needs to know what types of expenses will be incurred in raising your child.
3. Spousal Support or Alimony. Courts differ by state on the concept of alimony. They may consider how long you’ve been married, your age, your physical and emotional wellbeing, education, earning capacity, and what the division of responsibility for child-raising is.
Alimony can be permanent, of limited duration, or rehabilitative. The latter is the payment of alimony for a specified amount of time until the receiver becomes financially independent, i.e., receives his or her diploma and is now employable. It is meant to provide an opportunity for the financially disadvantaged ex to be self-supporting.
Your lawyer needs to know what your financial needs and obligation are.
4. Child Custody. Child custody can be the most volatile part of a divorce. Both parents usually want to enjoy the child’s physical presents as much as possible, but the court tends to base its decision on the “best interest of the child,” which can be somewhat vague. Custody can be split 50-50, whereby both parents are equally involved in the decisions affecting the child. Custody can also be physical, meaning one parent= is the primary caretaker. When it comes to child custody, your attorney will also want to discuss regular visitations, exceptions to visitations (such as a birthday), and the visitations allowed or expected for the non-custodial parent’s extended family.
When it comes to the “best interest of the child,” the court will consider the child’s relationship with both parents, and the stability of the home. The school district, the amount of time each parent spends at work, and sometimes, the child’s own preference, can factor into what the court determines to be in the child’s best interest.
5. Documents. A divorce can be about heartbreak. But overall, it is about paperwork. Your lawyer will want to see all deeds, prenuptial and post-nuptial agreements, powers of attorney, wills, trusts, bank and financial statements, including those for investment accounts, loan agreements, tax filing, all household bills, and insurance forms. If you are in doubt about a document, include it.
Your attorney will use these documents as a basis and as ammunition to get you the best divorce agreement.
Even if you and your ex feel reasonably amicable toward each other, issues such as division of property and child custody can become contentious. The more your attorney knows at the start of your divorce, the better he or she can serve you.
The legal process can get difficult, which is why we always recommend that you seek the assistance of counsel; or at least have a consultation. Schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today to review the issues of your case, the legal options you may have, and certain rights that pertain to your unique situation.
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