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Hiring an Attorney -- Part III

Divorce can be complicated in so many ways. To make matters worse, only fifteen percent of divorcing women are awarded any form of court-ordered spousal support. Of those, only one third receive a penny of what is owed them. Often, having an expert who knows the laws can help you understand the details of the proceedings and protect your assets in a way that you couldn't on your own.

Do I have to have an attorney?
Not necessarily. Some people prefer to settle their divorce alone. This strategy is most appropriate for the simplest of cases. For example:

  • If neither person is contesting the divorce
  • If the couple was only married for a short time This usually requires filing papers at the courthouse and formally informing a judge as to why you are filing for divorce.

Where do I find a divorce attorney?
Finding the right lawyer to handle your divorce is very important. There is no time limit on the divorce process, so you should choose someone who you will feel comfortable working with for a long time. As when evaluating any professional, check his or her credentials, qualifications, and reputation thoroughly before making your selection. There are three places where people most commonly get attorney referrals.

  • Other professionals
  • Organizations
  • Friends and family

1. Other professionals
Working professionals, such as accountants, lawyers, psychologists, or members of clergy, meet and work with divorce lawyers as part of their own work and are often a good source of reliable referrals.

  • Lawyers know other lawyers even outside of their specialty, so if you have a lawyer you trust, it is usually wise to ask him or her for a referral.

2. Organizations
There are two organizations that offer good information on how to locate a qualified attorney.

  • The American Bar Association.
  • Your state or city bar may have a list of certified specialists.
  • The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (www.aaml.org) is an organization with an intensive screening process that admits only qualified divorce law specialists.

3. Friends and family
With the divorce rate as high as it is, chances are you have friends or relatives who have gone through a divorce themselves. Don't be afraid to ask them for information and/or a referral. They'll certainly have your best interest in mind.

Cost
No doubt about it - divorce attorneys can be pricey. But there are a few simple things you can do to minimize fees.

  • Gather financial data before you meet the attorney.
  • Try to negotiate a fixed fee with the attorney.
  • Be actively involved in your case and follow your lawyer's instructions. If you can settle a small issue without drawing blood, settle it.
  • Avoid long-winded stories unless your lawyer assures you that he or she requires additional information.
  • A Written Fee Agreement is a signed document explaining fees for services between you and your lawyer that is a legally binding and enforceable contract. Once your lawyer asks you to sign, read the fee agreement, make sure you understand all of it, and get answers to any questions you might have.

Documentation
Being well prepared to meet with your attorney can make the whole process go smoother and more quickly. You'll be expected to produce documents that trace your financial history with your spouse and help clear up who owns what. You'll most likely need:

  • Three years of income tax returns and supporting documents if you have them, bank and brokerage statements, and copies of checks for real estate taxes
  • You and your spouse's paycheck stubs. These show current income and withholdings for settlement purposes
  • You and your spouse's employee benefit statements
  • A prioritized list of assets you want to keep
  • Your children's records, including how much time you spend with them, the activities you do together, and the expenses associated with their upbringing

Continue to: Part IV: Understanding property settlement, alimony, and child support

To open a brokerage account, click here for Women's Financial Network at Siebert, where Smart Women Invest.


In this course, we will cover the following:

Determining your net worth
Hiring an attorney
Understanding property settlement alimony,and child support
Taxes and real estate
Insurance policies
Social Security
Opening your own accounts brokerage, bank, and more
Setting a budget
Joining the workforce
 

 

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