So, you’ve taken the first step in your family law matter, whether it be a divorce or paternity, or a post-divorce or post-paternity modification or contempt action, and you’ve decided to contact a lawyer and scheduled an appointment for an initial consultation. One of the first things that any law firm will ask you is your full name and the full name of your spouse/partner. A lawyer must quickly determine (hopefully prior to receiving any other information from you) whether he/she has a “conflict of interest” in representing or speaking with you about a matter. A conflict of interest exists if the lawyer or this law firm has been adverse to you in another prior legal action or if the lawyer has represented or spoken with your spouse/partner in a matter involving you.
An experienced family lawyer can be very helpful and informative in that first consult appointment IF you are prepared. Whether the consult appointment is billed at a flat fee or on an hourly basis, it is important that you enable the attorney to provide you with as much information as possible in that first appointment.
IMPORTANT! By the time you decide to contact a lawyer, your life may be very chaotic and an emotional roller coaster. Your home may even be a dangerous place, depending on the level of anger, violence and turmoil between you and your spouse/partner. If that is the case, your primary goal should be to either remove yourself (and your children) from the situation or to obtain a Protective Order removing your spouse or partner from the home. You may wish to file for a Protective Order either prior to or at the same time as filing your new family law matter, depending on the level of violence, threats, harassment or stalking behavior which is occurring in your home and life. In several counties in Indiana, a victim advocacy program or the county clerk’s office may help you in the preparation and filing of the Protective Order paperwork rather than your lawyer. Whether you are a man or woman, rich or poor, young or old-your life and safety are much more important than gathering up some documents or being prepared to meet with a lawyer. Keep your and your children’s lives and safety as your top priority! At your initial consultation appointment with your lawyer, you should make your lawyer aware of any violence, threats, or stalking which may be occurring so that your lawyer can work with you and other agencies or law enforcement to ensure that the filing of your action and obtaining service on your spouse/partner is accomplished as safely as possible. Domestic violence is real and can be deadly.
If you have access to documents which may be stored in the home or in a safety deposit box or other place of safe keeping, any of the following documents would be very helpful for you to gather or copy and bring with you to your initial consultation appointment with your lawyer:
- 3 years of Federal and State income tax returns, including W-2s and 1099s and all schedules and attachments. Be sure that social security numbers are included for you and your spouse as well as the child(ren).
- Last 3 paycheck stubs for all sources of your employment as well as your spouse’s.
- Deed, Mortgage or any other documents related to any real property or residence(s) owned either individually or jointly.
- Vehicle information (whether titled jointly or individually), including:
- The name(s) on the title of the vehicle
- Any special features
- Information (the same as listed above) on any other vehicles (whether titled jointly or individually), including any recreational vehicles, motorized bikes, go-carts, ATVs, trailers, or campers. It would also be helpful for you to provide a Kelley Blue Book value for each of your vehicles. This may be obtained on the Internet at kbb.com and get the “private party sale” value for each of your vehicles. If you do not have access to a computer, please provide the year, make, model, mileage, options, etc. for each vehicle.
- Information on all personal property, including household goods and furnishing, jewelry, antiques, collectibles, sports memorabilia, coin collections, or any other valued assets. You do not have to provide an exhaustive list. Just give your attorney a general idea of any special collections, antiques or other furnishings which may need to be specially valued.
- Copies of any recent appraisals of the personal property, vehicle or residences or land owned by you and/or your spouse or partner.
- Statements (showing the last several months of activity), for all accounts, including:
- Checking, Savings, Money Market, Certificates of Deposit accounts
- Investment accounts
- Retirement accounts (IRAs, 401(k)s, Annuities, etc)
- Credit card monthly statements
- Mortgage, home equity statements
- Car lien/lease statements
- Personal loan statements
- Life insurance policies, face sheets or documents showing loans, cash and face value.
- Business information, including:
- Certificate of Incorporation or biennial reports
- 5 years of tax returns
- general ledgers
- balance sheets
- list of assets
- Information on any liabilities or debts, including monthly charge account statements, invoices or bills, letters/notices from creditors, showing the recent balance owing, which the debt is in joint or individual name, the creditor’s name and address and the account number.
- Health and Hospitalization Insurance: documentation from your employer or the medical, dental and/or optical insurance provider for your family showing:
- the amount of insurance premiums you (or your spouse) would pay as an individual/unmarried employee with no dependents for medical, dental and/or optical coverage;
- the amount of premiums you (or your spouse) would pay for as an unmarried employee plus the number of child(ren) you and your spouse have in your family listed as a dependent for medical, dental and/or optical coverage; and
- whether the premiums you pay for health insurance is for “family” coverage where the amount of dependents claimed does not affect the amount of premiums you pay for the medical, dental and/or optical coverage.
- Information on work-related childcare expenses – includes daycare, before/after school care, holiday care and summer care. We need the name, address and telephone number of the childcare provider, and please provide documentation from the provider and/or receipts or cancelled checks showing what has been paid for the children’s childcare for the past several months.
This is not everything your attorney might need to eventually review or obtain, and many people would certainly not be able to produce or copy all of the above-described documents, particularly before the initial appointment. Just gather or copy what you are able to and bring what you can with you to your initial consultation appointment. It is important to remember that a document you believe to be very important to your case may not be considered “relevant” in a court of law, and a document you consider unimportant may be considered extremely vital to your legal case. So, make sure that you provide your lawyer with as much information and documents as possible.
Everything you and your attorney discuss in this initial consultation appointment is confidential. Therefore, you should ensure that the attorney is aware of all situations and issues from your past and anything that you fear the other party might use against you in court. Tell your attorney what your good and bad points are, in your opinion, and what your spouse’s/partner’s good and bad points are as well. As we often tell our clients, the worst thing you can do is cause your attorney to be surprised in court! Believe us when we say, we have probably heard everything you might tell us at least once. Even if you decide not to retain the law firm and hire the lawyer to represent you in a divorce, paternity, or other legal action, we will maintain your information in a confidential manner and we cannot ethically represent the other party in a similar type case against you.
If there are children of the marriage or if this is a paternity action, please consider what you believe would be in the children’s best interest relative to custody (legal and/or physical) and parenting time/visitation. What would you want for the children in the way of access to each parent. How close are the children to either/both parents? You may want to review the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines which can be found on-line at https://www.in.gov/courts/rules/parenting/index.html These Guidelines will show you what courts may order for parenting time, communication and other issues involving your children if you and your spouse/partner cannot reach an agreement. Your attorney will certainly be asking you about these issues and can explain the difference between sole or joint legal and physical custody of your children. Likewise, you may want to review the Indiana Child Support Guidelines which can be found on-line at https://www.in.gov/courts/rules/child_support/index.html and there is a child support calculator on-line at https://www.in.gov/courts/services/child-support-calculator/ Your attorney will be able to provide you with information about what affects child support and how child support calculations can differ in the same case depending on the facts involved.
In some counties in Indiana, it may be possible for us to select the judge/court where your divorce/paternity action should be filed and therefore, it would be important for you to be filing party. In other counties, there is ‘random’ filing where the clerk simply selects the next family law court and therefore, if you wish to wait to file your divorce, it may not affect where the case may eventually be filed or which judge might hear and determine your case.
So, lots for you to consider. Beginning this step does not mean that you intend to file for divorce or paternity immediately. You may simply wish to begin your preparation for the eventual filing of a legal action. You are welcome to contact our law office to schedule your initial consultation. We value our clients and we will endeavor to be THE LAW FIRM