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What to bring when you meet with a divorce attorney

You know that you're ready to file for divorce, but are you really ready to meet with a divorce attorney? For those with little experience with divorce, simply knowing where to begin is often overwhelming.

If you feel this way, it's OK — you're not the only one. Getting divorced is often much more difficult and complicated than getting married, even in the best circumstances. In order to properly understand the scope of your marriage and your goals in the divorce, an attorney needs to see a number of different documents, and the more prepared you are when you meet with an attorney, the better he or she can meet your needs and help you plan for a successful divorce.

Each marriage is different, and each divorce benefits from professional guidance to make sure that your divorce is both fair and legally sound. Depending on the details of your marriage and your goals for divorce, you may need more or less of some particular kind of documentation — but the basics are usually fairly similar in most cases.

Create a complete financial picture

One of the reasons that divorce is often so much more complicated than marriage is because divorce is essentially the dissolution of a business relationship. Most of what you and your spouse accumulated throughout the course of your marriage may require attention in a property division agreement, and until you have a clear picture of exactly what your assets and liabilities are, it is very difficult to determine what is fair.

To start, gather relevant financial documents that demonstrate your and your spouse's income, holdings, and liabilities. This usually includes

- Tax returns- Bank statements- Credit card statements- Investment and retirement account documentation- Mortgage statements- Insurance policies- Other debt or debt discharge documentation

You should also bring any documentation of businesses or income-generating property that you own. When in doubt, ask yourself, "Does this documentation clarify something about our family's financial life?" If it does, then consider bringing the documentation with you.

You also should bring any documentation relevant to property that you own, such as deeds, mortgage agreements or leases on property.

Acknowledge existing agreements

If you and your spouse created a prenuptial or post-nuptial agreement, then it is very wise to bring it with you to your consultation. It may lay out very clear guidelines around how your divorce might play out, but it also may be a faulty document that is unlikely to hold up in court.

An attorney must evaluate the contents and validity of such an agreement before you build a divorce strategy.

Be prepared to discuss unpleasant topics

An attorney's job is not to judge you and your relationship, only to help you properly terminate it in a professional manner. However, some aspects of your relationship or behavior by yourself or your spouse may affect how the divorce plays out.

This is especially true when children enter the equation. While marital behavior may not heavily affect property division in a divorce, it can greatly influence the outcome of a custody dispute. If either you or your spouse engaged in abusive or dangerous behavior in the course of the marriage, especially toward the children, it is important to be honest about this at the beginning of the process.

The greater your preparation for your first meeting with an attorney, the more efficient he or she can be in creating an effective path forward to the divorce you need to begin a new chapter of life.

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