PREPARE! PREPARE! PREPARE! Helping a couple prepare for mediation

By Irving H. Zaroff, JD LMFT and Dana Schutz, MA LMFT

Entering the divorce process has its emotional mine fields. It discourages some from taking the time to properly prepare for negotiation of the post divorce settlement.

In a litigated divorce, much of the expense is incurred in the lawyer’s process of “discovery.” Each lawyer is doing their best to “discover” all the assets available to the community and the other spouse. They also want complete information about the other spouse’s earnings and current or potential other sources of income. They issue subpoenas, interrogatories, take depositions, hire forensic accountants, and even private investigators. It’s very expensive, often aggravates hostility between the separating spouses, but provides a comprehensive record of financial information related to the marriage.

Is it necessary? Perhaps in some cases where one spouse is secretive or hiding assets and income it is necessary. In most cases, however, the information can be provided by the spouses themselves without spending the very assets they are “discovering” to pay lawyers. It’s a matter of preparation.

In mediation, couples generally waive their rights to formal “discovery.” So, good preparation becomes even more important. Maybe you can identify with the tax accountant who has clients that come in April with giant shoe boxes. The accountant and client take up expensive time and energy sorting through the random papers finding what is needed. When you know what you need to assemble for divorce negotiations, you can save great amounts of time, better assess the information your spouse is presenting, and get to solutions quicker.

So, what do you need? A schedule of assets and liabilities with supporting documents attach ed will help with property. These would include bank accounts, brokerage accounts, automobiles and other vehicles, real property, retirement investments, business interests, patent or copyright holdings, home furnishings, etc. Supporting documents include bank statements, brokerage statements, property title documents for real estate and vehicles, business statements, etc. For income, personal federal and state tax returns for at least three years and tax returns for any business ownerships. W2s and pay stubs for employment earnings are needed.

Other preparation tasks involve children. When one household becomes two, it can hardly exist at the same standard of living – at least initially. Planning for future living arrangements is very useful. A little research will help – such as new housing costs (whether renting or buying). Finally, some careful advance thought about custody arrangements is needed. Parenting plans are an important key to a successful resolution of the divorcing couple’s differences.

BE PREPARED! It works for boy scouts. It works for attorneys. It will work for you.

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