When you find yourself facing a contested family law action—whether it is a divorce, a separation action, or modification action—there are things that you should do right now to set the stage for the upcoming case.
Regina came to me two years ago for representation in a divorce case. She had been married over twenty years. She and her husband had two adult children and two teenaged children. Both Regina and her husband were successful in their own rights, as Regina was a school administrator and her husband was retired military with a successful career in the civilian sector. They had purchased several rental properties during the marriage, and they had significant retirement and investment accounts.
When I asked Regina details about their financial holdings, she had shockingly limited knowledge concerning the balances of accounts, in whose name the accounts were held, the value of property, and the income of her husband. She simply stated, “I let my husband handle all that.” When she left her husband, she did so without gathering any of the information needed to prosecute her case. We had to start from scratch, which prolonged the case and caused Regina a level of uncertainty. While that story had a happy ending—we obtained all the necessary information through discovery—Regina could have saved some time and money by simply taking a single day to scour the family file cabinet for information.
Here’s what you should try to get.
To follow is a checklist of things to acquire for your family law attorney:
- Last three years of tax returns
- Last three years of W-2s and 1099s
- At least one statement (but preferably the last 12 months) from every bank account you and/or your spouse has
- At least one statement (but preferably the last 12) from every credit card account that you and/or your spouse has
- At least one statement (but preferably the last 12) from every investment account and/or retirement account that you and your spouse has
- At least one statement (but preferably the last 12) from every loan, mortgage, car note, or other debt that you have
- A statement of account from the daycare
- A copy of any life insurance statement
- A copy of any health insurance cards
- A copy of the kids’ Social Security Cards
- A copy of any lease to which you and /or your spouse is a party
- A copy of your last three months of paycheck stubs from every source of income
- A statement and declarations page from your auto insurer
If you are able to obtain these items, then you will be light years ahead of the game. However, it is worth noting that it is better for you to go ahead and retain counsel to pursue the action than it is to delay because you are having difficulty obtaining these items. Bad things can result from delay, but with your help, your attorney can obtain the information that you unable to locate at the outset of your case. It just simply helps move the case along if you have the ability to lay your hands on these items at the beginning of your case. And as I tell my clients, even a smartphone pic of these items will work. Therefore, if you must, take cell phone pics of the documents in the family files if removal and copying is too difficult or costly.
A word about social media.
Another thing that is of utmost importance…clean up your social media! Make sure that you change passwords, remove unsavory friends and followers, delete negative posts, remove inappropriate posts. Just remember that anything on social media may end up in evidence before the court. Make sure that whatever you have on social media would make even Mother Teresa proud. A good rule of thumb is that it is difficult to use positive, uplifting, encouraging posts against a person in court. But the posts with a negative tone always seem to find their way into evidence…and it is rarely favorable evidence for the party making the negative post. Therefore, the biggest advice that I can give here is, “CLEAN IT UP!”
The converse is also true. If you are a friend or follower of your opponent’s social media, or if you know someone who is, then take screen shots and make copies of the opposing party’s social media before they clean theirs up or before they block your access. Then you can use that evidence in court at a later date. The more evidence the merrier.
You can learn a lot about a person through social media. I once found a father who had absconded with the child to Nebraska. He had been off the proverbial grid for three years, then he unexpectedly popped up on social media. Using a private investigator, we tracked him down and obtained custody of the child for my client. Thank God for his injudicious use of social media! But I encourage you to exercise caution regarding your social media when you are facing a family law situation.