It is never easy to end a marriage. Most clients disclose that they were committed to staying in the marriage before finally realizing that their spouse lacked the same commitment. Others realized that their spouse’s substance abuse, addiction, mental health and/or domestic violence could not be solved by staying in the marriage. Interpersonal problems are complicated and have significant consequences within the family unit, especially when children are involved.
Be prepared to be honest about the interpersonal dynamics in your family. Donelle cannot help you or offer specific recommendations if she does not know about these difficult issues. Recognize that Donelle’s relationship with you must be based upon mutual trust if she is to successfully understand and represent your goals to the judge.
Be prepared to talk about the types of assets and debts that you and your spouse brought into the marriage, and the assets and debts that you acquired during the marriage. Think about your long-term financial goals, for yourself and for your children.
Acknowledge the positive aspects about your spouse and yourself. Consider options for parenting plans – your children need support and time with both of you. Parenting time is generally limited only when the judge has concerns about the children’s physical and emotional safety.
Before you meet with Donelle, you should review your assets and debts, making a list for yourself and for the Firm. Copy the last three years’ tax returns, and personal and business, banking, retirement and financial statements, to bring with you to your first meeting.
The first hearing in a divorce is usually the Temporary Order hearing. The law gives the judge assigned to your case the authority to issue interim (temporary) orders to keep one spouse from ruining the marital property and removing children from the state. The judge issues orders for custody and access to your children. The judge issues orders to protect and preserve assets, ensure bills are paid and avoid economic waste. Most couples can reach agreement on some, if not all of the temporary issues. If they cannot, the judge will decide it based upon the information presented at that hearing.
Some temporary orders are automatically activated when the first spouse files, and the petition for divorce is served on the other spouse, through the ATI (Automatic Temporary Injunction Orders). Every case is unique: other temporary orders are either set out in a written agreement, a Consent or Agreed Temporary Order, or the judge issues the orders after hearing from both sides. The formal Journal Entry of the Temporary Order is the controlling document in your case, until you and your spouse reach a final agreement, or the judge rules on your case at the final hearing or “merits trial”.
Accurate information is critical for Donelle to successfully present your goals at trial. It is also critical for the judge to have complete information in order to fairly divide the marital estate. The process of acquiring information from your spouse and other sources, including third parties, is called “discovery”.
The discovery period in your case can span from two or three months to well over a year, depending on the complexity of your marital estate (international aspects – offshore accounts), and the difficulty in acquiring the information and documents from your spouse or other sources. The sooner you gather and provide the necessary information to Donelle and her staff that is available to you, the sooner Donelle can learn the details of your case.
Donelle’s goal is to identify these assets as quickly as possible, to ensure that she or the expert witness has enough information and the time to correctly value it, to maximize your share of the marital estate to which you are entitled under the law. She carefully selects the experts, based upon their reputation for honesty and credibility, who are best suited to assist you in reaching your goals.
Some assets, like a savings account, are easily quantified. Look at the statement, and divide the amount in half. Other assets, such as a federal retirement account or a business, require valuation methods that only an expert can calculate.
A realtor is not the same as a licensed, certified real property appraiser. Real property appraisers are critical to ensuring that a consistent valuation methodology is used for real property, whether a home, a vacation condominium, or a farm.
A licensed, certified personal property appraiser swiftly resolves the common, frequent disputes between spouses as to an item’s value. Without the appraisal, it is very likely that your spouse will emphatically state that the items in your possession are “Neiman Marcus” value, while the items in your spouse’s possession are “Dollar Store” value. It almost always costs more for Donelle to present your personal property requests at trial than for a reputable personal property appraiser to appraise all of the items in both spouse’s possession.
Businesses and their value are fact-dependent. Some businesses have “goodwill”, but only “institutional goodwill” can be quantified for the purpose of dividing it as part of the marital estate. Business valuators, like licensed, certified appraisers, follow a specific valuation procedure that ensures consistency and fairness.