1. The most important step in filing for divorce, annulment or legal separation is to select an experienced divorce attorney who focuses on the area of family law. Your divorce is important. You do not want to choose a “jack of all trades” lawyer who is unfamiliar with the trends and laws in the State of Wisconsin.
2. Before meeting with a divorce lawyer, think of the questions that are important to you and should be answered in your first consultation. The most important question I ask potential clients is relative to their goals in seeking the divorce. Is custody and placement the biggest issue? Maintenance? Keeping the family home? It is important that you and your divorce attorney are on the same page.
3. If you have already been served with divorce, legal separation or annulment pleadings, provide them to your attorney at the initial consultation. Bring your prior divorce judgment, if applicable, as well as any temporary restraining orders or permanent injunctions. You should also provide any prenuptial or premarital agreements between you and your spouse. Paternity and adoption orders are also of significance to your attorney. The attorney will also ask you for the dates of birth and social security numbers of all members of your family.
4. One of the most important financial tools in any divorce action is your income tax return. The income tax return not only provides information regarding income from all sources, but also information regarding pensions, investments, business right offs, business expenses, etc. Try to provide at least the last three years of any personal and business income tax returns.
5. Even your latest income tax return does not necessarily provide sufficient insight relative to current income. You should provide payroll stubs for you and your spouse for the last 12 weeks.
6. If you have access to bank statements or cancelled checks, this information can provide a treasure trove of information regarding income as well as expenses. Is the mortgage being paid? Is money being spent on vacations? Is there a significant other in the picture? While this information does not have to be provided at your initial consultation, if you do file for divorce, annulment or legal separation, your bank statements and cancelled checks may be a significant part of any discovery process.
7. Pension plan, 401k and IRA documents and statements also provide invaluable information. Because the tax rules only allow a certain percentage of income to be allocated toward retirement, it is sometimes possible to calculate income based on the percentage placed in retirement accounts. These assets are also generally marital accounts, subject to division.
8. It will ultimately be necessary to provide a list of your assets to your attorney. Real estate information should include copies of deeds, mortgage statements, escrow accounts information, tax bills, etc.
9. Be able to provide copies of any debts or liabilities. It is important to know in whose name the debts and liabilities are listed, as well as the underlying reason for the obligation. Credit card statements also provide insight into the spending habits of both parties, as well as the ability to pay for that standard of living.
10. It may be possible to argue that the Court should deviate from a 50/50 property division because of your or your spouse’s premarital assets. Provide your attorney with a list of any premarital assets, including gifts or inheritances that were made from any family or friends.
The above list is by no means comprehensive, but provides you with basic knowledge relative to the types of documents and information which will aid you in the divorce process.