You have made the difficult decision –- or it has been made for you –- that the marriage is over. It’s time to find a divorce attorney and start proceedings.

There are three reasons to meet with a divorce attorney:

  1. To gather general information about divorce
  2. To hire a divorce attorney to represent you
  3. To respond to your spouse filing for divorce against you

When meeting with a divorce attorney for the first time, it’s essential to be prepared. Without necessary documentation right from the opening meeting, your divorce will take longer -– and cost more.

Basic information and documents

About you: The attorney needs to know about you and your spouse. Consider it your “divorce resume” and include name, address, phone numbers, date of birth, driver’s license, social security numbers, employment name and location.

About your marriage: Be prepared to fully describe your marriage. Why do you want this divorce now? Are both you and your spouse in agreement or will there be roadblocks going forward? Include the date of marriage and a timeline. Do you have a prenuptial agreement? If you have children, include their names, sex, and dates of birth. And, of course, say if there any extreme issues, such as alcoholism, drugs, or physical abuse.

Your assets and liabilities: Provide detailed information on your basic assets: cash, checking and savings accounts, IRAs, 401(k)s, pension funds, stocks, real estate, automobiles, and anything else of significant value. Remember to include mortgage information, credit card debt -– any and all finances. Bring your last two years’ tax returns as well as pay stubs for you and your spouse. Provide a complete list of monthly expenses (from rent payments to child care).

Of course, gathering all this information can take time. You do not have to everything for the first meeting; however, be aware that all of this information will be needed -– and the sooner the better. Consider this: If your spouse is organized and providing all required information promptly, your attorney will be working at a disadvantage.

If you were served

The other side of a divorce is when a spouse is served with divorce papers. When meeting with your attorney, but sure to bring those papers. Note: Often when a divorce is served, there are specific deadlines. Don’t put off finding an attorney.

It’s okay to ask

Attorneys are accustomed to hearing: “How long will my divorce take?” and “How much will it cost?” It’s impossible for an attorney to answer either question exactly. However, you can rightly expect a general response that acknowledges the many variables.

Note: If you have limited resources, discuss that with your attorney. Budgeted payment arrangements may be possible.

Divorces are never easy. However, if you approach your attorney fully prepared, your divorce will move more efficiently -– and cost you less both financially and in emotional turmoil.