Failure to do preliminary litigation and financial planning is a common mistake made by people prior to filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. By following a few simple steps before initiating a family law dissolution can frequently save hundreds of thousands of dollars, and eliminate much stress and aggravation.
First, review and start collecting your family’s financial records for the last 1-3 years. Make copies of all income and earnings records (employment pay stubs, cash receipts, earnings statements, etc.). Make copies of all bank, savings, and investment account statements. Make copies of all documentation showing the purchase, financing, and title to your residence and any investment real estate. Make copies of all credit card statements. Copy all tax returns for the last 3 years, including attached schedules and back-up documentation. Store these copies at a safe location away from your residence or office. Leave them with a close friend or trusted family member if possible.
Having these records readily available will save you hundreds or thousands of dollars if you need to have papers filed to obtain temporary support or other interim orders from the court. Also, having them ahead of time will save you many hundreds or thousands of dollars during discovery if your estranged spouse is not cooperative in answering interrogatories or complying with requests for production of documents.
Second, put together financial strategy and treasury for the first 3-4 months of your case. If you are not the high earner of the marriage, you may find yourself without funds or access to them if you wait until you file your Petition or are served by the other spouse. Make a budget of your family’s average living expenses, including all normal (and even some of the occasional needs) day-to-day expenses for food, housing, clothing, transportation, utilities, phone, computers & internet service, medical needs, etc. Do not be extravagant, but also do not be parsimonious with yourself; make it a budget of the usual and customary daily needs of you and your child(ren). Take the resulting number and add 10% to it, then multiply it by 3-4 months.
Budget the retainer for experienced family law counsel at $5,000-$10,000, depending on the size of the marital estate, and the complexity and number of issues (child custody, child & spousal support, characterization and division of property, etc.) you expect will be seriously contested. If you have access to accounts in which sufficient money is available to cover the needs of your family and the legal retainer, go to it (or them) and remove that amount. Again, keep them someplace safe and secure away from the family residence, unless your spouse has moved out and you have changed the locks. Open a new account in your name at a financial institution not previously used by you or your mate during the marriage to hold these funds.
Following these simple steps may seem obvious and intuitive, however, it is surprising how many intelligent and experienced people neglect to protect their interests in this fashion because of the impact of the emotional and mental strain caused by a difficult or ended marriage can cause. Doing these acts of self-protection usually results in large savings and avoidance of much stress and aggravation.