So, divorce is imminent. You know you need a lawyer, but what should you bring, if anything, to that first meeting?
“I generally don’t ask clients to bring much to the very first consultation,” said Attorney Gus Dahlberg, “because most of what we’re going to talk about I’m going to get through question and answer.”
At Columbus divorce lawyers Babbitt & Dahlberg, that means, in part, you’ll fill out a client information sheet before that first meeting, which provides some very basic information about you, your family, and your situation. Beyond that, if you have something you think your lawyers might need, bring it.
After that first meeting, if you’re interested in moving forward, this is what your divorce lawyer will likely ask for.
This includes things like several years of tax returns or income documents, such as W2s, 1099s, etc. It also includes documents relating to assets you own, starting with real estate, and anything that shows the source of a down payment.
Your lawyer can likely track down mortgages and titles from the county recorder’s office of most counties, but he or she likely won’t have closing paperwork from when you or your spouse purchased a piece of property.
“A lot of times you’ll have a house that was bought by a couple during the marriage, but one of the spouses used proceeds from a house they owned before the marriage as a down payment,” Gus said. “In order to get credit for that, the court may need to see where the down payment came from. So sometimes that means closing documents on a pre-marital home, or bank statements that help trace a down payment into a new house.”
You’ll also want to collect your bank, retirement and/or credit card statements for a year, if you have them, along with any other financial statements you might have, like stocks, trusts, or insurance policies.
“Specifically if they are cash-value policies or whole life policies,” Gus said. “For example, we’ll want to see what the term for the insurance is, who the beneficiary is, what’s the cash value, that sort of thing.”
If there are kids involved, your lawyer will need some information to help determine child support. That will include health insurance coverage and costs, other benefits available through employment, and child care costs and details.
Assets that have a title (such as boats or motor vehicles) will likely need to be addressed in a final divorce decree. Sometimes lawyers will also ask for registrations to such vehicles, but a good rule of thumb is that your attorney will want to see any document you’d need to change the asset’sownership.
“I will sometimes ask for a photo of the car’s odometer, because I can then check with Kelley Blue Book to help determine a value for the vehicle,” Gus said.
If there are emails or other correspondence, such as letters, cards, pictures, or anything tangible that you think might be important, err on the side of caution and include them. These could be copies of text messages from your husband and his girlfriend, photographs of cars or jewelry, handwritten balance sheets or net worth statements – the list of documents that might potentially be important can be endless. In many cases, it’s initially going to be up to you to decide whether it’s important for your lawyer to see it or not.
If you’re the defendant who’s been served with divorce paperwork, the ask is different. In addition to the financial records, your attorney will want to see the divorce pleadings themselves.
“I’ll need to see what you were served with, because in almost every single case in Ohio there is likely to be a restraining order we’ll need to understand, and deadlines we’ll need to meet based on when the pleadings were filed,” Gus said. “Without having copies of those documents, I’m going to be stabbing in the dark as to what they mean for you and what we’ll be able todo for your case.”
“That’s probably the hardest part for clients,” Gus said. “Bring it to us as organized as you can. It doesn’t have to be color-coded with tabs or an index, but the less time I have to spend sorting and organizing your records and the more time I have to spend analyzingthem, the better.”
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