Most divorce lawyers wish their clients had a better handle on what a fair and equitable settlement would be at the time of divorce. Very often, emotions take over and the client has a very difficult time separating emotions from financial reality.
If you are facing divorce, there are several things you can do to help your lawyer better represent your best interests. These steps require time and effort, but you can save a substantial amount of money in discovery fees by proactively gathering the financial ammunition that will be used to negotiate your settlement.
First of all, you need to put together an accurate, detailed budget that covers the amount of money you will need to make ends meet during and after divorce. While this sounds simple, many clients have a tendency to underestimate or forget about expenses. Omitting or downplaying expenses can cause stress later in the divorce process as you may have a hard time paying your bills. The smartest way to go about developing your budget is working with a financial professional who understands the ins-and-outs of long term financial planning. Going this route will help ensure your lawyer has a clear and accurate picture of your financial needs.
The second thing you can do to help is gathering your financial records. It takes a lot of time (thus billing hours) for attorneys to recreate your financial life over the course of your marriage. You can save significant money by doing this yourself and, if possible, it’s best to obtain all financial records prior to beginning divorce proceedings. The list of financial records you’ll need includes copies of all tax returns, loan applications, wills, trusts, financial statements, and deeds to real property. Other items to gather would be credit card statements, insurance policies, and car registrations records. Also, provide records that document any gifts or inheritance you may have received that would not be considered communal property.
Finally, do not overlook assets. Track down savings accounts, brokerage accounts, safety deposit boxes, payroll stubs, retirement plans (including all 401k’s and IRA’s), real estate partnership agreements, and fine art and antiques.
Collecting the information outlined above will empower you to start establishing your priorities. You need to sit down and think about the things you want from your marriage. Think about your future and how you will be able to carry on. This includes keeping or selling the marital home. How will you be able to retire later down the road? All of these priorities have dollar signs attached.
By being better prepared and establishing your priorities, you can provide your lawyer the facts he needs to help you achieve a fair and equitable settlement.
Cathy DeWitt Dunn
Syndicated Radio Personality and Financial Services Professional
Certified Divorce Financial Analyst
About the Author
Cathy DeWitt Dunn is a financial services professional specializing in helping people take control of their money to attain long-term financial security. Over the years, she has helped thousands of individuals and families by educating them on financial solutions that are not available in traditional brokerage houses.
Cathy is also a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) dedicated to helping her clients understand the financial aspects of divorce so that they can make educated decisions throughout the proceedings. As a trained advocate, Cathy thoroughly analyzes all financial-related manners including tax consequences, retirement plan division, continuing health care coverage, and more to help build strong cases that support her clients’ best interests. When appropriate, she works with her clients’ attorneys to enact Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (QDROs), which legally divide the retirement benefits of private pension and/or 401K plans earned during the years of marriage.
For the past 10 years, Cathy has hosted Safe Money Talk Radio, a nationally syndicated talk radio show. Each week she gives insight and direction on personal financial management, providing steady guidance on dealing with the uncertainties of the difficult economic times in which we live. Cathy has helped countless listeners start their personal journeys towards a stronger retirement. In September 2013, Cathy launched the Women Money & Power radio show, a weekly platform dedicated to discussing a broad array of financial challenges faced by women today.
Cathy is the driving force behind Annuity Watch USA and Women Money & Power––education and resources websites designed to help consumers take control of their financial future.