Should you Retain an Attorney?
Dissolving a marriage can become a complicated process involving areas from finances to custody, with vast differences in legal requirements from state to state. It is always in your best interest to retain, or at least, consult an attorney and find out what the law is in your state. Some individuals are capable of completing the necessary paperwork and just using forms that are available free of charge at some court Internet sites. However, it’s very important to have an attorney review the documents, and make sure all the important matters are adequately addressed, and above all, reflect your best interests.

No matter the cost, it’s important to consult an attorney at least once.
When you go to the attorney’s office:
• Bring a list of important matters you want to discuss
• Bring any papers he or she might need to see
• Do not be afraid to ask questions.
• Remember time is money – don’t talk about the weather – you will be billed for every minute you’re in the office.
• Your attorney is not your psychologist. Don’t pour out your troubles in the office. Find a psychologist.

Most Important: Do not use your husband’s attorney! Or the family attorney. Even if your husband explains how it can save you money. His attorney will always work in his best interest, not yours! In the end, it would cost you money!

I believe it is in your very best interest to retain a lawyer to represent you. And make sure that lawyer is acting in your best interest. If you’re thinking of filing for divorce, find a lawyer beforehand. I interviewed three lawyers before I decided on the one I wanted to retain. He was tough, looked out for my best interests, and was a strong negotiator.

What is the Law in Your State?
• Find out if yours is a no-fault state where grounds for divorce are not required.
• Find out if only one party in the divorce needs to state that the marriage is irreversibly broken.
• Find out how long you must be a resident of the state before filing for divorce, and how long you need to live separately before filing…is there a waiting period and if so, how long?

Who Gets the Property?
Do you live in a community property state? If so, marital assets and debts are allocated evenly between the two of you. However, sometimes assets are not marital property, for example if it is given as an individual gift during the relationship or purchased prior to the marriage. Then it remains individual property. Find out about your state.

What About Child Custody and Support?
• Find out if, in your state, child support is taxable to the recipient and whether spousal support is taxable.
• You need to establish which spouse will claim the children as dependents
• When filing taxes, determine who is paying for child support, and who will be responsible for non-covered expenses, such as piano lessons.

With medical costs rising rapidly, healthcare expenses often become major controversies in the dissolution of a marriage. You need to address the issue of providing health insurance and for how long, as well as who is responsible for paying non-covered expenses.

After the Divorce is Final
The divorce is final after the last paper is signed on the dotted line, or after the judge signs the decree, but ask your attorney if in your state you can return to court and request a modification, if you later become dissatisfied with a requirement in the divorce order.

After the ink has dried on the divorce papers, take a deep breath, and then start the next chapter your life!

Marilyn Frazer, M.A.
Author of The Relationship Trap