Although the decision to divorce is an emotional one, apart from custody issues, the process is like a business transaction that requires solid preparation to be efficient and cost-effective. “We settle 99 percent of cases before trial, but clients need to come in prepared, be flexible and have an open mind,” says Rosanne DeTorres, managing partner of DeTorres & DeGeorge Family Law, which specializes in family law and divorce and has offices throughout the state including one in Somerville. Rosanne, one of only 150 lawyers in New Jersey who holds a certification in matrimonial law, explains how to navigate the initiation of divorce.
Should You Consider Divorce?
The decision to end your marriage can be agonizing. I recommend consulting with a counselor first to see if divorce is something you really want. Ask yourself hard questions. Do you live separate lives? When you make decisions for the future, do you consider what your spouse wants? Are you disrespecting each other? Are there long periods of silence, and have you even given up on arguing? Do you feel emotionally drained and dread going home? If you answered “yes” to these and similar questions, you need to consult an attorney and start preparing.
Choosing the Right Attorney
You should choose an attorney with a focused practice in family law, with a solid knowledge in the divorce laws of the state and who is familiar with the county court where your divorce will be filed. If you have anything significant at stake in your marriage — children, major assets or debts or an alimony issue — you should consider hiring a certified matrimonial law attorney. Come to the consultation with questions, including budgetary concerns and your thoughts on how you would like your divorce handled.
You need to understand how divorce will affect you financially, how custody and child support will be handled, if you will receive or have to pay alimony, and what your future holds. As soon as you decide to divorce, it’s essential to gather documents, do budgets and understand your current financial situation. Your attorney will need detailed financial documentation on assets, debts and monthly expenses. You will also need to provide historical information so the attorney can understand your lifestyle and earning potential if you are not working. This will allow the attorney to give an educated opinion on what your financial future looks like. This information will also help you decide, for example, if you should return to school to increase your earning ability.
Be Resourceful in Gathering Information
It’s more difficult — but not impossible — for spouses who do not handle the money to get the financial background the attorney needs. Most of this information is on tax returns. If you have joint accounts, you can ask the bank for paper statements. If you truly have no access to financial records but have your spouse’s social security number, you can hire a private investigator to do an asset search.
If you have children, they are the priority. Determine if parents will live close by or if one will move out of the area. Does your child have special needs that should be considered? What expenses — extracurricular activities, cars, college — should be addressed?
Build a Support Network
Your attorney is not your best friend, your spiritual advisor or your therapist. Identify friends and family or make appointments with a professional who can help you work through the emotions of divorcing. Now is also a good time to focus on self-care: exercise, meditate, join a club or start volunteering.