The Best Way to Prepare for Divorce
Once the decision is made to end a marriage, most people run to a lawyer to get the process started instead of looking into the best way to prepare for divorce. You may think that choosing a family lawyer is your only job, but there’s a lot you can—and should—do to save your lawyer time, reduce legal fees, and protect your rights.
The family law legal team at Keffer Hirschauer LLP has developed a divorce preparation checklist to help you prepare for divorce even before your first appointment with the attorney. By following such a checklist, you can help your attorney get up to speed on your particular situation and get a head start on your case.
Why Doing Your Homework Is the Best Way to Prepare for Divorce
Watching scenes of divorces in television or movie courtrooms does not prepare you to navigate the legal system in your own divorce. You need legal knowledge from an experienced divorce attorney who gets to know you and explains how the law applies in the facts of your case. Providing a complete picture of your circumstances and desired outcomes—through documentation, if possible—is the best way to help your divorce lawyer identify and plan for issues early in the process and guide you as seamlessly as possible throughout your case.
At Keffer Hirschauer LLP, we help divorce clients understand the Indiana divorce process, including how they can help their case and shorten the time required to resolve legal matters. Whether you have a complete understanding of your assets and liabilities or just a general notion, the best way to prepare for divorce is to research and convey all relevant information to your attorney and anticipate child-related issues as early in the process as possible.
Understanding the Indiana Divorce Process
The best way to prepare for divorce involves understanding the divorce process. A marriage confers multiple rights and obligations on both spouses, such as joint property rights, the right to inherit your spouse’s property, rights to inherit your spouse’s retirement account under ERISA, and parental rights when there are children of the marriage. Additionally, you may be responsible for paying your spouse’s debt for medical treatment under the doctrine of necessities. A court order is required to terminate the marriage and to distribute these rights and any debt between the parties. Divorce is a civil process for legally terminating a marriage and determining each party’s rights and obligations going forward.
In general, the Indiana divorce process begins when one spouse files a petition for dissolution of marriage. The filing spouse also serves (delivers) a copy of the petition to the other spouse. The petition requests that the court terminate the marriage and enter an order determining the following:
- The allocation of assets between the spouses
- The allocation of debts between the spouses
- Child custody, child support, and parenting time
Under Indiana Code §§ 31-15-2-10 and 31-15-2-13, the court may enter a decree of dissolution terminating the marriage no earlier than 60 days after the filing of the petition for dissolution. During this period, and sometimes beyond it, the parties exchange and file with the court their financial information. They may also attempt to negotiate a mutually agreeable division of assets, allocation of debts, and orders on child-related matters.
If the parties reach an agreement on some or all issues, they can submit that agreement to the court for approval. For any issues on which they cannot agree, the court will set a date for a final hearing (a trial). Each spouse may offer evidence at the final hearing. After the conclusion of the hearing, the court will consider all of the evidence and issue a decree of dissolution and judgment that does the following:
- Terminates the marriage
- Divides the property between the spouses
- Allocates responsibility between the spouses for the payment of their debts
- Awards child custody, child support, and parenting time
The Divorce Preparation Checklist
The best way to prepare for divorce is to have a complete picture of all matters the court will need to decide and to gather in advance all documentation necessary for the court to make judgments regarding matters related to assets, liabilities, and children. Under Indiana Code § 31-15-7-4, both individually owned and jointly owned assets are considered marital property subject to division, and both individual and joint debt is subject to allocation between the parties. If possible, you should gather the following before your first appointment with your divorce attorney:
- Recent statements for all bank, investment, and other financial accounts
- Recent statements for all retirement and pension accounts
- Records, if any, or a written list of digital assets
- Documentation supporting all debts of either party
- A list of all real estate holdings
- A list of all substantial personal property such as vehicles, boats, and recreational vehicles
This information helps create a balance sheet of marital assets and liabilities—a picture of what you own and owe for the court to divide between you and your spouse in the divorce.
How Can You Find the Best Divorce Attorney in Indiana?
Choosing the right divorce lawyer for your case is another part of the best way to prepare for divorce. While any licensed attorney may represent you in your divorce, the best divorce attorney in Indiana, or elsewhere, is one with experience as a family law practitioner and a compassionate understanding of the stakes in divorce cases. This means your attorney should have experience in handling the type of issues anticipated to be raised in your case, such as:
- Uncontested divorce
- Divorce involving business property
- Elder divorce
- Collaborative divorce
- High asset divorce
- Divorce involving prenuptial agreements
- Requests for spousal maintenance
- Child custody
- Child support
- Child visitation (parenting time)
- Interstate custody matters
An experienced family law attorney has a track record of capably anticipating issues that may arise in a divorce and can offer creative, successful strategies for handling them. In addition to being knowledgeable about Indiana divorce law, your attorney should be up-to-date on matters that can involve other legal practice areas, such as property law and basic tax law. Finally, your divorce attorney should be a skilled and experienced litigator, able to preemptively protect your rights when possible through motions practice and to protect your rights in court through persuasive argument and deep knowledge of family law.
Is It Best to File for Divorce First?
The spouse who files the petition for dissolution does not necessarily gain a legal advantage by being “first to the courthouse.” However, in some cases, other factors may make being the spouse to file for divorce beneficial. For example, a spouse who has been the victim of domestic violence may want to seek a protective order simultaneously with filing the petition for dissolution. This requires coordination with the divorce attorney and strategic timing of filing such requests.
Another benefit of being the spouse who files the petition for dissolution is having the opportunity to request provisional orders at the same time. These are often orders that would prohibit both parties from creating disadvantages for the other party, such as canceling insurance, diverting assets, spending on things beyond normal necessities and expenses, and changing beneficiaries or insurance coverage.
The Indianapolis divorce lawyers at Keffer Hirschauer LLP have significant experience identifying and implementing strategies that best suit the facts of each client’s case. Through one or more pre-filing consultations, we identify issues that require immediate action and coordinate filing the petition for dissolution with other legal requests to protect our clients’ rights and safety in the near term and beyond. By learning the facts of your situation, we can advise whether the best way to prepare for divorce requires filing first.
How to Prepare for Child-Related Matters in a Divorce
If there are children of the marriage, your divorce will also need to determine which parent will have legal custody, what child support order is appropriate, and what the parenting time schedule will be. In most cases, there is no documentary evidence to support a spouse’s position on these matters, but a spouse could keep a record of each spouse’s involvement with the children, time with the children, and participation in their activities. Having a calendar of notations made at the time of the event could be more persuasive than one based on recollections.
Your divorce attorney should also explain the legal consequences of divorce on your parenting rights and responsibilities. At Keffer Hirschauer, we help clients understand the difference between legal custody and parenting time, how joint custody differs from sole custody, and how child support is computed. All parents are also required to take a class on how to help children cope with divorce, which teaches how to identify and focus on the needs of the children during and after the divorce.
The Best Way to Prepare for Divorce? Equip Yourself and Your Attorney
Whether your marriage lasted decades or only a short time, divorce affects almost every aspect of your property rights and children’s lives. Doing some groundwork—even before hiring an attorney—can lessen the load and give your lawyer a fuller picture of the issues earlier in the case. Your family law attorney needs all the pieces of the puzzle to make effective strategies for protecting your rights and your children in the divorce. The best way to prepare for divorce is by educating yourself about the process and documenting the assets and liabilities in your marriage. By doing so, you give your attorney a running start to helping you.
The Indianapolis divorce lawyers at Keffer Hirschauer LLP have the depth of experience and skills to effectively guide you through your divorce and into the next phase of your life with your rights intact. For a free consultation to learn how we can help you in your divorce, please call (317) 857-0160 or complete our online contact form.