WHAT WILL MY DIVORCE LAWYER NEED AND ASK ME?

Learn what information and documents your divorce lawyer may need or ask?

What Will My Divorce Lawyer Need and Ask Me? Answers About Information and Documents.

What will my divorce lawyer need
You know you need to hire a lawyer. You have started the interview process. But now you’re wondering…what will my divorce lawyer need? What questions will my divorce lawyer ask?

What will my divorce lawyer need? What will my divorce lawyer ask me?

When searching for a divorce lawyer, it’s normal to wonder. You have never been through a divorce before and it’s a little scary walking into an attorney’s office. It’s especially scary when you don’t know what to expect.

Lucky you, that’s why we wrote this article. Because we don’t want you to be left wondering or guessing. Everything we write here relates to California divorce and family law. When referring to information and documents, this is just the starting point of what your divorce lawyer may need and certainly not everything. Since every case is going to be different, what your divorce lawyer needs in your case may be less or more than what we list here.

Nothing in this article is legal advice. If you want legal advice, contact our family law firm for a case strategy session. Our firm handles divorce cases throughout each of the seven Southern California counties. 

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What will my divorce lawyer need to know about assets?

What information does my divorce lawyer need about real estate?

Real estate in a typical divorce cases includes residential real property (family residence, rental property or land) or commercial property. Your divorce lawyer will need:

  1. The address of each real property
  2. The date the real property was acquired
  3. With what money was it acquired
  4. Information about any refinancing or title changes that have taken place and why
  5. Whether either you or your spouse claim a separate property interest in the real property

What documents will my divorce lawyer need about real estate?

  1. The deed to each property
  2. Escrow documents from the first purchase
  3. Any refinancing paperwork, typically from the mortgage provider
  4. Bank statements or checks that show the source of funds from which the property was acquired
  5. Statements that show the mortgage payments including principal and interest payments

This isn’t all of the information but it’s a great start. You may feel overwhelmed. No need. You may not have all of it and, whatever you don’t have, your lawyer will help get through the “discovery” process.

What information does my divorce lawyer need about vehicles?

Vehicles are usually not a big deal in divorce case. But there are times where vehicles are worth a lot of money. This can happen with expensive vehicles driven or collectibles. The latter is usually classic cars. Information about vehicles is pretty simple.

  1. Information on when the vehicle was acquired and through what source
  2. The date the vehicle was acquired and price
  3. Whether either you or your spouse claim a separate property interest in the vehicle

What documents will my divorce lawyer need about vehicles?

  1. Vehicle title and registration
  2. Purchase documents
  3. Bank statements or checks that show the source of funds from which the vehicle was acquired

What information does my divorce lawyer need about accounts with financial institutions or stocks?

Accounts with financial institutions (checking, savings, investment) or stock brokerage accounts are all about statements. Therefore, it’s more about documents than anything else.

First, make a list for your lawyer of all accounts of which you are aware. Include the financial institution’s name, account number if you have it and the names of the account holders. It would also help your attorney to let him know when the account was opened and if there has been any significant account activity (deposits, withdrawals and transfers).

What documents will my divorce lawyer need about accounts with financial institutions or stocks?

It’s all about statements here. Getting statements for the necessary time period (depending on the issues in the case) and back up documents (such as cancelled checks) helps your lawyer conduct any necessary review of account activity that is relevant to your divorce case.

Don’t think this has to be done in every case. Some divorce matters need a thorough review because there are “tracing” of separate or community property issues or breach of fiduciary duty (absconding with money as one example or failing to disclose assets as another). Such cases typically need a forensic accountant’s help.

What information does my divorce lawyer need about retirement accounts?

Information about retirement accounts is similar to information about other financial institutions. The main difference is these accounts are not always updated monthly but sometimes quarterly or even less often. If the retirement account such as a 401(k), Savings Plan, Pension or IRA was started before the marriage, make sure your lawyer knows that. Your divorce lawyer will likely also want to know if the contributions have been voluntary or mandatory because that could make a difference in support and when calculating your income.

What documents will my divorce lawyer need about retirement accounts?

Your divorce lawyer will need the account statements and, if there have been any loans or distributions from the retirement, it would be good to have those documents. Retirement accounts like pensions and 401(k) accounts typically go through a qualified domestic relations order.

What information does my divorce lawyer need about life insurance proceeds?

Life insurance proceeds are either “term” policies, “whole” policies or sometimes a combination. Your divorce lawyer will need to know the type of policies that exist and how they are funded.

What documents will my divorce lawyer need about life insurance proceeds?

Life insurance policies come with a insurance declaration page. This declaration page spells out the nature and extent of the coverage. It would be helpful for your divorce lawyer to have this document. While your divorce lawyer is not an insurance expert, seeing the type of coverage(s) that exist will help him discuss these issues with you and come to a consensus on the best course of action.

What information does my divorce lawyer need about businesses?

Information your divorce lawyer will need about businesses acquired or operated during the marriage will vary depending on the nature of the business and whether the business is community property, separate property of one spouse or a combination. At a minimum, your divorce lawyer will need the name of the business, the general nature of its operation, its structure (corporation, LLC, partnership, etc.) its main owners and operators and general information about its revenue.

Your divorce lawyer will likely also need to know when the business was started, the source of the funds and get information from you about whether the business is clearly community property or if there is a separate property part to it. Don’t freak out if you don’t have all of this information. Your divorce lawyer should be able to get it.

For some important reading, check out our article on divorce strategies for the self employed spouse.

What documents will my divorce lawyer need about businesses?

This also depends on the nature of the business. If you are the spouse that operates the business, you should be able to get your hands on the following for your divorce lawyer:

  1. The business tax returns for at least the past 3-5 years
  2. The business’ profit and loss statements and balance sheet for the same duration of time
  3. The business’ general and related ledgers and bank statements, especially if the business will need to be valued and/or an income analysis for support purposes needs to be done by a forensic accountant.

We have written a great article for business owners about the question of whether their spouse will get half of the business.

What information and documents will my divorce lawyer need about other assets?

The above list is not every asset we see in divorce cases. There is jewelry, furniture and furnishings, annuities, intellectual property (patents, trademarks, etc) and so much more. With most assets, your divorce lawyer will need, as a starting point, information about the asset’s acquisition, source of funds used to acquire it, its value at the time of acquisition (especially if there is going to be a separate property part to it), contributions made toward it before and during marriage and its present value. This is usually a very good start.

What will my divorce lawyer need to know about separate property claims?

Separate property is defined by California Family Code 770 as:

  1. All property owned by the person before marriage.
  2. All property acquired by the person after marriage by gift, bequest, devise, or descent.
  3. The rents, issues, and profits of the property described in this section.
  4. A married person may, without the consent of the person’s spouse, convey the person’s separate property.

Learn more about this subject in our California community and separate property page. What will your divorce lawyer need?

What information does my divorce lawyer need about my separate property claims?

First, who is making the separate property claim? You or your spouse? And what is the claim against? An asset? Debt? Your divorce lawyer will want to know these things. Your divorce lawyer will also want to know the basis for the separate property claim. Was it acquired or incurred before marriage? During the marriage from a separate property source? After separation? These are good starting points for separate property claims.

What documents will my divorce lawyer need about my separate property claims?

In short, your divorce lawyer will need all the documents you have that support your separate property claim. If it is your spouse who is making a separate property claim, documents you have which you expect your spouse may use (identifying them even if you don’t have them in your possession) as well as documents you believe can be used to counter your spouse’s claims will be helpful.

There really isn’t a “list” we can create here because the nature and extent of separate property claims can vary. Instead, we will use one example. Let’s say a house was purchased before the marriage and you are claiming a separate property interest in the house. Let’s also assume the down-payment came from money you had before the marriage (called a Family Code 2640 claim) but, during the marriage, mortgage payments were made and that included a principle reduction. Let’s also assume title remained in your name.

What you have here is a potential Moore Marsden calculation. What your lawyer will need is:

  1. Documents that show the property’s purchase before the marriage. This includes the escrow documents, down-payment documents and the deed.
  2. Your spouse may claim the community paid down the mortgage through the principal reduction, mortgage payments. Your divorce lawyer can verify this through the itemizations that show this for the Moore Marsden calculation.

These documents are a good start.

What will my divorce lawyer need to know about income?

Your income and that of your spouse is usually at the heart of a divorce case. Income impacts child support, spousal support, payment of attorney's fees and costs and so much more. What will your divorce lawyer need to know?

What information does my divorce lawyer need about my income and that of my spouse?

Where do you and your spouse work? How long have you and your spouse worked there? What do you each earn? Are each of your jobs stable?

If you or your spouse are self-employed, it gets more complicated. Cash flow and income for support purposes is often a source of dispute. It’s the same questions except your divorce lawyer will also need to know about the business’ operation because income from self employment can be manipulated and sometimes is in divorce cases.

If there is income separate from employment, your divorce lawyer will need all the information on that including its source. A good example is rental income or income from investments.

What documents will my divorce lawyer need about my income and that of my spouse?

As far as documents, its starts with tax returns and from there goes to pay stubs (especially for the current year that is not complete so there is no tax return yet) and any form of 1099s that show other passive or interest income. For the self-employed, the business tax returns are important as are the documents listed earlier when we discussed businesses.

What will my divorce lawyer need to know about marital lifestyle and our standard of living?

The marital standard of living is at the heart of every California spousal support case. We won’t go through the Family Code 4320 factors in detail here but you should check out our spousal support page for that. Those factors lay out much of what your divorce lawyer will need which include, as some examples:

  1. Income and spending information
  2. Lifestyle information including whether the family lives a frugal, middle class / income or more lavish lifestyle. This includes information on assets and debts.
  3. You and your spouse’s marketable skills and earning capacity
  4. Contribution by each of you to the other’s education, training, career, etc.
  5. Both need and ability to pay spousal support
  6. Each of your age and health
  7. Information about documented domestic violence and child abuse; and more.

What do you need to know about hiring the right divorce lawyer?

We hope you found this information helpful. What questions your divorce lawyer will ask you, what information and documents he or she will need are all important to know. If you want some more reading, check out our article on what questions you should ask a divorce lawyer and how to find a good divorce lawyer in California.

If you need help with a divorce matter in California, give us a call. We offer an affordable strategy session.

About the Author

B. Robert Farzad

B. Robert Farzad is the president of Farzad Family Law, APC. Mr. Farzad is actively involved in the firm's divorce and parentage ca...
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