Divorce can be a complex emotional, financial and business transaction for most spouses. It is one they often do not know much about other than what they have heard from friends or observed on television. This usually has little to do with reality in an Indiana divorce. Over time, we have observed that in initial consults, prospective clients could have obtained more from the process and been on a better path to move forward if they had gathered or composed four types of documents. These are the foundational documents for any divorce and are the subject of this blog post. This will help you begin a divorce in a way that moves you more efficiently through the process and hopefully saves time as well as obtaining more of your legal objective.
Tax returns and pay stubs. Under the rules found in most of Indiana’s counties, the parties are required to exchange the last three tax returns. While tax returns do not provide a complete snapshot of the size, scope, and value of the marital estate, they can identify business ownership, investment accounts, and sometimes even assist with marital waste, such as if a spouse has significant casino wins (or losses). These point the divorce counsel to ask more questions (normally through a process called discovery). The parties last several (normally 6) paystubs show the gross active income and perhaps show the attorney who carries the health insurance, which is a key point to address in divorce to ensure that no party remains without coverage. These documents show much more, but ordinarily give your prospective divorce counsel some ability to assess the case, and maybe even compute a rough child support worksheet based on gross weekly income. Thus, gather these before a divorce consult.
Marital balance sheet. In divorce cases, this term has a precise meaning for attorneys. This is because the divorce court presumes a 50/50 division of marital assets. To make such a division or deviate for a party and give him more or less, the divorce court has to know all of the marital assets, liabilities and if it should divide them unequally. This is ordinarily completed (in a formal way) later in the divorce case. However, many litigants can assemble a rough marital balance sheet to bring to an initial consult by listing all assets and liabilities of the marriage. This includes real (land) property and personal property, stocks and bonds, retirement account and debts. If for instance these total one (1) million dollars, but you have more than a million dollars in debt, this is going to give the divorce attorney a much different approach to handling your case and correspondingly advice to you than if there is a million-dollar marital estate and no debt. For this reason, it is very important to bring a list of all assets and liabilities to a divorce consultation when retaining divorce counsel.
History of the marriage. For a divorce counsel to provide proper advice to you to begin a legal matter, he or she must understand the who, what, when, why and how of your marriage through the divorce. For instance, if you are divorcing because a few years ago your spouse became addicted to opiates because of an accident and is continuing to spend marital assets on purchasing illegal prescription drugs and is unable to work, this gives a prospective divorce counsel several issues to advise you about as it relates to filing a divorce. These range from you receiving more of the marital estate because the addicted spouse is “wasting” marital assets to the need for you to potentially have custody because the addiction prevents safe parenting. Ultimately, a clear understanding of what has led to the divorce filing may have a significant impact on the legal advice you receive and how the case is litigated. For this reason, a firm understanding of how you reached the point of divorce is key to properly litigate your case.
List of the legal objectives. If it does not seem obvious from this blog, or because divorce is a distressing thought, the divorce will conclude at some point. Divorce is a legal path. A divorce is the normal end, except for post-decree property enforcement actions and modification of child-related issues. The question is where you want to wind up at the end. Do you want to obtain joint legal and physical custody or sole custody or to share custody? The law anticipates one parent will obtain sole physical custody and the other will get Indiana Parenting Time Guideline parenting time. The Court can order it if you have presented the right evidence. Do you want an unequal division of the property? The presumption in the Divorce Act is an equal division of property (assets minus liabilities). However, the divorce court can deviate and make an unequal division if it receives the appropriate evidence. To do so, your counsel must understand what you want and why early in the process. If this begins at the initial consult, the counsel can advise your courses to try to reach your objective.
This blog is written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who handle divorce cases of all types—custody disputes and high-asset estates—throughout the State. It is intended for educational purposes only and is not legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.