Starting the divorce process can be scary.  Picking the right attorney will make the process less intimidating.  Interview multiple attorneys. Not all attorneys are the same.  They will have different levels of experience, different styles and different philosophies.  You need to pick the one that is right for you.

Here are six things to do before you meet with a divorce attorney.  Doing these simple things will allow you to really get to know the attorney when you meet with them the first time.

1. Become familiar with financial accounts

I have found that it is common for one spouse to have more knowledge and control over a family’s financial matters.   If you are the spouse that does not have the knowledge, then you need to learn about your financial situation.  The best way to do this is review financial statements and tax returns.  Go to the bank if you need to and ask for a list of all accounts.  Pull your credit report and review it.  When you consult with an attorney, you should know where the money is coming from and where the money is going.

Texas is a community property state.  What this means is that there is a presumption that all income and possessions acquired during the marriage are part of the community estate, no matter whose name is on the paycheck, bank account or title. At the end of the divorce, the community estate will be divided in a “just and right” manner.  You will need to know as much about the community estate as possible when you meet with an attorney.

There are exceptions to the community property presumption that you will need to discuss when you consult with your attorney.  There are times when property is considered the separate property of one party and it will not be divided as part of the community estate

The more knowledge you have about your family’s financial situation, the easier it will be for you and your attorney to identify community property and separate property issues.

2. Make copies of important documents

When you review your financial situation makes copies of all documents you reveiw.  It will help your attorney if you have copies of everything.  Make sure you have copies of tax returns, mortgage documents, loans, credit card expenses, bank statements, and the children’s school and medical records.  Have these documents available when you meet with your attorney.

3. Review your parenting role

In child custody cases, the court looks at who is the primary caregiver of the children when it makes decisions regarding where the child lives and what visitation looks like.

Assess your parenting role.  Ask yourself the following questions: (a) Who takes your children to the doctor?  (b) Who helps them with homework? (c)  Who feeds them?  (d) Who puts them to bed?  (e) Who attends school conferences and communicates with teachers? (f) Who do they go to when they are tired or feel sick?  Be truthful with yourself and let your attorney know the answers to these questions.

Today it is common for both parents split these duties.  So, start collecting your evidence showing your involvement.  Save emails, medical records, text messages, etc.   Have these available when you meet with your attorney.

Also remember that it is never too late to take on different parenting duties and start doing more.

4. Have a safety net

Hopefully, you have access to all financial accounts and have access to credit cards.  However, even if you do, once you start talking divorce with your spouse, things can go south quickly.  Your spouse could empty the bank accounts, stop paying your bills or take you off credit cards.  If that happens you need a safety net.  Put some money into an account that only you can access.  Open a credit card in your own name, talk with family and friends.

If you do this, you will have money to hire an attorney and pay your expenses until you can get into court for temporary orders.

5. Protect your privacy 

Change your passwords on all accounts.    Back up all of your personal data, including the pictures, videos, and music on your phone.  Do not save personal information to a joint cloud account.  Instead, set up a separate account in your name only.  Do not write your passwords down or leave them in a place that your spouse can access.  Even if this is going to be an amicable divorce, keep your personal data private

If necessary, open a new email account so that you can communicate with your attorney.  Communications with your attorney are confidential.  There is no reason for your spouse to have access to those communications.

6. Have questions ready 

Consider the issues that are important to you and have questions ready to ask an attorney when you meet.  Ask if they specialize in divorce or if they are board certified in family law.  Ask about their strategy during divorce cases.  Ask how they communicate with their clients.  Ask them who in the firm will be working on your case.  Ask how you will be charged.

There are many things you may want to ask a potential attorney, so remember to come prepared.

Author Rachel M. Reuter is family law attorney in San Antonio Texas.  She is a Partner at Bandoske, Butler and Reuter, PLLC and is Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization

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