While you’re not legally required to have a lawyer to get divorced in New Jersey, it’s strongly recommend that you retain one if you’re considering divorce. Attorneys specializing in family law can navigate divorce proceedings efficiently advocating for your goals and objectives.

Here are four tips when going into your divorce consultation:

  1. Learn about the attorney
  2. Cover the big topics
  3. Get an overview of your case and discuss if your goals are realistic
  4. Prepare/protect yourself

At a divorce consultation, lawyers ask many questions to learn the whole story surrounding the marriage so they can work with you to protect your interests and to manage expectations. Your attorney will strategize with you to help achieve your goals. Family lawyers know that those seeking or contemplating a divorce are stressed out. However, the more prepared you are, and the attorneys are, the better the lawyer will be able to help you.

To obtain a divorce, you must file a Complaint for Divorce identifying all issues you wish to be addressed, including but not limited to custody, parenting time, support, and equitable distribution of property, among other relief. Often, a Complaint for Divorce is not filed until the parties have a signed agreement resolving all issues.

Based on the above, if you’re considering a divorce and scheduling a consultation with a divorce lawyer, a wise starting point is to inventory your financial records and documents.

Here is a list of 14 records you should gather:

1. Social Security Earnings Statement
This is a snapshot of both parties’ respective income.  The statement shows a clear picture of the earning history of each party.
2. Last five years of tax returns, and all W-2s, 1099s and K1s.
3. Current copies of all bank, brokerage, and stock account statements.
4. Employer’s Benefit Manual.
The manual provides a detailed list of every benefit provided by an employer to an employee.  Benefits include health insurance, disability insurance, life insurance, 401(K), ESOPP, ESPP, pension information, and the like.
5.If a pension is involved, documents from the plan administrator detailing the nature of the pension, the benefits of same, the specifications, and a form Qualified Domestic Relations Order. The plan administrator requires these to divide the pension.
6. Copies of any other defined benefit and defined contribution retirement account statements, (i.e., IRAs, 401K, 403(b)).
7. Copies of all the children’s savings accounts, 529 Plans, savings bonds, etc.
8. Documentation to prove the existence of any other asset.
9. Copies of credit card statements to show debt and charges. Year-end summaries are extremely helpful.
10. Inventory of any safe or safe deposit box.
Make videos and photograph all items. This will memorialize the existence of any item you cannot bear to have disappear.
11. Inventory artwork, wine collections, furniture, furnishings, jewelry, sentimental property or other valuable collections.
Again, make videos and photograph the items.
12. Your spouse’s health insurance policy.
Obtaining and maintaining your own health insurance must be explored as part of the divorce.
13. Current mortgage and credit line statements.
Confirm if your bank requires dual signatures before anyone can access your credit line. Close the line of credit if there is a concern that the other party will loot the line of credit and take the money.
14. Each party’s last three paystubs.

If you claim something is premarital or inherited, and is not subject to equitable distribution, you need to prove your case.  Therefore, you will need to compile all documents necessary so show its immune status.

Provide your attorney with a wish list and a statement as to where you want to be a year after your divorce to help them develop a strategy to achieve your goal. To achieve your goals, the documents your attorney needs may often change. It is important that you remain responsive to your attorney and work together as a team to obtain a successful result.

Divorce is difficult but being prepared is the best way to alleviate stress as well as become empowered to achieve a fair result.

More From Lawrence Law: 
Four Things to Think About if You’re Considering a Divorce

Jeralyn Lawrence, founder and Managing Partner of Lawrence Law, devotes her practice to matrimonial, divorce and family law.  She is Second Vice President of the New Jersey State Bar Association, slated to be President in 2022 and First Vice President of the New Jersey Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.  Lawrence Law has offices in Watchung and Red Bank, New Jersey. 

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