Copyright (c) 2010 Lucille Uttermohlen
Of course, you expect your lawyer to remember which of your documents prove what part of your case. She should also have at least a general idea of what questions to ask the witnesses. However, a good client also familiarizes himself with his own case. If you go to court knowing what documents are important and why, you will be in a better position to help your lawyer protect your interests.
The most important thing you can do is have the same file as your attorney. Keep the originals of all of your documents, and index them so you can find them. Follow along with the testimony, and be able to point things out that disprove your spouse’s side of contested issues.
Have the following documents available and make sure you have provided copies to your lawyer
1. Mortgage agreements, real estate sales contracts, deeds, amortization schedules, property tax receipts, insurance premiums, real estate appraisals, and repair estimates. The judge won’t be able to make a good decision about your real estate unless you can show what it is worth, how much is owed on it, and what repairs it will need before it can be sold. This is true whether or not you plan to keep it, sell it, or fight for it because your spouse wants it too.
2. Car titles, appraisals, repair estimates, proof of insurance and its cost. In general, you will want to keep the car you usually drive. However, if one of the vehicles is worth more than the other, or the debt attached to it makes it worth less, you will want to be able to prove to the judge why you think she should rule in a particular way.
3. Copies of both of your tax returns and W2s, documents showing the value of savings accounts, checking accounts, stocks, bonds, certificates of deposit, IRA accounts, pension plans, 401k plans or other retirement accounts, inheritances, or other money accounts could also be important. Again, the judge needs to know what these items are worth and where they came from to make a fair division of property. If you have documents that prove your testimony, you will be better able to convince the judge to make a fair division of your marital assets than you will if you just say what you think these things are worth.
4. Make a list of your furniture, furnishings, household goods and personal effects. Take pictures or video if at all possible. Get these things appraised if they are the least bit valuable. If not, just estimate what they are worth using garage sale or auction values as a guide.
Clearly show what items you want to keep, and what items you would propose to give to your spouse. Again, the judge’s ability to make a decision will hinge on what information is provided. If you have these clearly set out, you make it easier for the judge to justify ruling in your favor.
5. Have original statements for any bills of your marriage, no matter who you think should pay them. Include credit card statements, mortgage payments, car payments, installment purchases, doctor bills, monthly prescription expenses, money judgments, utility bills, and anything else that can help the judge figure out how much money you have to spend each month to survive. This information could be highly relevant to what bills you are ordered to pay, and what bills are assigned to your spouse. If issues like child support or alimony are to be considered, it could be very important to prove to the judge what you already have to pay.
You are right if you think your lawyer should be doing these things. After all, you hired her to present your case for you. However, your lawyer and the judge have only a limited time to get to know you and your case. No matter how hard they work for you, or try to protect your interests, there is only so much they can do just by asking questions and reading papers. When you make sure you know your own business, you are going to better be able to make sure they mind it well for you. The better you prepare to protect yourself, the more likely it is that you will get the results you want from your divorce.
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