Cheat Sheet

Divorce For Dummies

From Divorce For Dummies, 3rd Edition by John Ventura, Mary Reed

If you’re going through a divorce, basic decisions need to be made with your spouse. Interview divorce attorneys before you decide to hire one to help with your divorce and keep a list of national and local resources available in case you need divorce advice and support.

Basic Divorce Decisions

Important and difficult decisions have to be made when you’re working out the terms of your divorce, especially if minor children are involved. Basic conditions of your divorce that need to be decided on are

  • Who will have physical custody of your children?

  • Who will have legal custody of your children?

  • If you will have sole or primary child custody of your children, what visitation rights will their other parent have?

  • Will you prepare a parenting plan? If so, what will it include?

  • Which parent will pay child support, how much will the payments be, and when will the payments end?

  • Who will pay for your health insurance and your children’s health coverage — you or your spouse?

  • How will you handle child-related expenses like private school tuition, tutoring, after-school activities, summer camp, and so on?

  • How will you and your spouse share the cost of your children’s college educations or enrollment in a trade or career school?

  • Which of you is going to claim your children as income tax exemptions?

  • Will you or your spouse pay the other spousal support (also known as alimony)?

  • How much will those support payments be?

  • How long will the spousal support payments continue?

  • What are your marital assets and marital debts?

  • What percentage of the value of your marital assets is each of you entitled to?

  • What portion of the property and debts will each of you take from your marriage?

Hiring a Divorce Attorney

Hiring a trustworthy divorce attorney is an important decision, whether you work with them from the beginning to end of your divorce or on a limited basis. Your attorney can affect the cost, course, and outcome of your divorce. To find the right attorney to help with your divorce, ask these questions when you meet:

  • How long have you been practicing divorce law and how many cases have you handled?

  • If I hire you, will you or someone else with your firm handle my case?

  • If my spouse and I can’t agree on an issue in our divorce, how would you to help us break our stalemate? Would you suggest we try mediation?

  • Do you practice collaborative divorce law?

  • Have you ever had a case like mine? How did you handle it?

  • What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of my divorce case?

  • Knowing what you know about my situation, how would you proceed if I were to hire you?

  • If I call you, how quickly can I expect to have my calls returned?

  • What is your hourly rate and can you give me an estimate of how much my divorce will cost?

  • Will I have to pay you a retainer? If so, how much will it be?

  • What sort of expenses should I expect to pay, and how much do you estimate they will be? Are there things I can do to minimize them?

  • Will you provide me with an estimate of my expenses and an explanation of what those expenses may include?

  • If my divorce goes to trial, will you continue to represent me or will you recommend another attorney?

Organizations and Resources to Help with Divorce

If you need financial or legal advice, or emotional support, when going through a divorce, keep this list of national, state, and local resources readily available for help:

  • American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (312-263-6477): Through this organization, you can find a family law attorney in your area to help you with your divorce. The academy’s Web site also offers useful handbooks and articles about various aspects of divorce.

  • The Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts (800-875-1760): This national organization certifies financial professionals as divorce planners and can refer you to a certified divorce planner (CDP) in your area. A CDP can create a specific plan for resolving the financial issues in your divorce and works hand in hand with your divorce attorney.

  • The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (800-843-5678), Child Find of America (800-I-Am-Lost), and the Polly Klaas Foundation, (or 800-587-4357): Any of these organizations can help you locate your children if your spouse disappears with them.

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-7233): Hotline staffers can help you develop a safety plan if you think that your spouse may become violent or if you’re in immediate danger of being attacked. They can also provide phone numbers for domestic violence resources in your area.

  • National Foundation for Credit Counseling (800-388-2227): Go to this Web site or call the foundation’s toll-free number to be directed to an NFCC-affiliated nonprofit agency near you. The agency can provide free or low-cost credit counseling, debt-management services, and financial information.

  • TherapistLocator.net : This Web site, a public service from the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (703-838-9808), helps you locate a marriage and family therapist in your area who can help you and your family deal with the emotional issues of divorce.

  • Accountant: A certified public accountant (CPA) can answer questions about your family’s finances and advise you about the financial implications of the property settlement agreement you may be considering. If you need help finding a CPA near you, try 1-800 Accountant (800-222-6868 or www.1800accountant.com).

  • Bar associations in your community and state: Local and state bar associations can refer you to family law attorneys in your area. They can also provide you with information about the code of ethics and standards that lawyers in your area must follow. You can find the phone numbers for your local and state bar associations in your area’s Yellow Page directory or by doing a Web search.

  • Chapter of Parents Without Partners nearest you (800-637-7974 or www.parentswithoutpartners.org): This organization can help ease the stress of being a single parent by putting you in touch with other parents in your situation.

  • Child Support Enforcement (CSE) office in your state (www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cse/): This state government office can assist you if you’re having trouble collecting your court-ordered child support. The Web site can take you to the CSE office for your particular state.

  • Domestic abuse shelter in your community: A shelter can be a life-saver if you’re fearful that your spouse may become violent or if your spouse has already harmed you or your children. You can find the phone number in your local Yellow Pages under listings for “crisis intervention services” or “domestic violence services.” Memorize the number and keep it in a safe place.

  • Religious advisor: Spiritual guidance and advice can help you make some of the difficult decisions you may face in your divorce and can help you stay calm and gain a perspective on your failed marriage.

  • State family court in your area: You’ll head here if your divorce involves any hearings for temporary orders, if you go to trial because you and your spouse can’t work out all of the terms of your divorce, or if you or your spouse wants to change some aspect of your final agreement or the judge’s divorce court order.

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