If you are contemplating divorce, it is only natural that you have a steady stream of questions that you cannot wait to ask an attorney. However, attorney fees can be pretty steep, and while some of your questions may be case-specific, I am certain some of them can be generalized. So, in order to save you a few paychecks, here are answers to some commonly asked preliminary questions pertaining to divorces in New Jersey.
Am I Ready for Divorce?
Divorce is a struggle. The process takes an emotional and financial toll, and it’s important to determine if divorce is your only option. If you’ve tried – or at least considered trying – rehabilitating your marriage, going to therapy, talking to friends and family, and – most importantly – talking with your spouse, then you may be ready to move ahead with the divorce process. Your first step should be to find an attorney who can answer your questions, help you plan for the future, and steer you through the legal straits ahead.
- If you have exhausted all other attempts and options to reconcile with your spouse, you may be ready to move on to divorce.
What are the First Steps Before Divorce?
After one partner files for a divorce – “serving” divorce papers to the other – the “discovery process” begins. This is the name for the process of gathering all the documents and data – especially financial information – that you’ll need to determine things like equitable distribution and alimony. You should start by gathering tax returns, bank and credit card statements, information on 401(k)s and other pension plans, and information on stocks and properties, etc. You can help your attorney by making photocopies and taking screenshots. You don’t need to have all these documents ready at your first consultation – the most important part about that first meeting is deciding if you can trust your attorney to guide you through the process ahead – but it never hurts to start preparing early.
There are a few ways to get all this information. You can ask your spouse directly in some cases. You can also send subpoenas to banks, investment houses, or retirement asset companies. The word comes from the Latin “sub” and “poena,” for “under penalty,” but in the context of present-day divorce proceedings, it essentially means “Give me the information,” and it’s a very useful tool to have at your disposal. You might also obtain depositions, sworn statements from individuals with relevant information. Some of the information you need might just be lying around the house or in your car. Don’t fret about forgetting something: an attorney can help you make a list of all the types of data you might need.
- Because distributing marital property is one of the most contentious parts of the divorce process, start by learning about the assets of your spouse to determine what marital assets (and debts) you both have accumulated.
How Long Does Divorce Take?
It’s best to have divorce proceedings concluded within a year, and child custody proceedings concluded within six months. Courts are never known for moving quickly, but remember that, whether you’re the plaintiff or the defendant, you have significant control over the process: it can last as long as you want it to last. In an uncontested divorce – in which both parties enter the process in complete agreement about the terms for splitting debts and assets – you might be able to obtain a divorce in one day. You can make sure your divorce proceeds quickly, minimizing your financial and emotional burdens, if you start by coming up with an action plan. With an experienced attorney, you can discuss offering and accepting settlements, and taking reasonable positions that protect your best interests.
- How long a divorce takes depends on each individual case, and how well you plan.
How Much Does Divorce Cost?
The first cost associated with a divorce could be a consultation fee: good attorneys’ time is valuable, so it’s important to do your research, ask friends and family for referrals, and compare attorneys online before asking for a consultation. The second cost will be the retainer – this is like a down payment applied to the total fee at the end of the process. If your divorce process drags on longer than expected, the total cost might exceed the retainer. In New Jersey, retainers can range from $2,500 to $100,000, depending on the specifics of the case and the net worth of the individuals involved.
The cost of a divorce always depends on the specifics: the more factors there are complicating a divorce case, the more expensive it will be to resolve them. Some complicating factors might be property and stock assets, inheritance or lottery winnings, or child custody and support. Because of this, you must have an action plan before you file: know what you and your spouse have to contest, what you think is worth contesting, and what you can afford to contest. You likely won’t get everything you’d like in a divorce, so be prepared to negotiate reasonably and adjust your expectations.
- How much a divorce will cost you depends on how complicated the separation is, and how quickly both parties can come to agreements about different issues.
What Kind of Attorney Do I Need?
You don’t always want to hire the most experienced attorney: the most experienced attorney is probably also the most expensive attorney. If you know that your case is relatively simple – you’ve been married a short time, have no children and few assets, or you’ve signed an airtight prenuptial agreement – you might be better off with a less expensive attorney. You might go with a younger attorney at a well-established firm: they can always seek help from their more experienced colleagues if complications arise. If, however, you’re ending a long-term marriage, or have children or significant assets, it’s probably worth hiring the most experienced attorney you can find.
- You should retain the services of an experienced divorce attorney in New Jersey who you feel comfortable working with.
How Do I Choose an Attorney?
Because many lawyers will charge fees for consultations, you can’t afford to waste money – and time – by going into a consultation “blind.” You owe it to yourself to research the attorneys in your area. The easiest way to choose an attorney is by first assessing his/her experience and suitability through online research. You’ll probably want an attorney who’s been practicing for many years, but experience doesn’t equal expertise. Look for blog posts and videos – an attorney’s way of familiarizing a client with the legal process before it begins. You should also like – or at least trust and respect – your attorney. Ask yourself: Is this someone I can work with? Does this attorney have integrity? Will this person put my interests first?
- You should conduct thorough research both online and by talking to your shortlisted attorneys’ previous clients.
Whether you are contemplating divorce, or are seeking legal counsel for a divorce that is underway, Christopher Leon Garibian Esq. has the experience to guide you through every stage of this arduous journey. We welcome you to give our office a call so we can talk about the details of your case.
Christopher Leon Garibian, Esq. is a partner in the matrimonial and family law department of Weiner Law Group LLP. He has over 19 years of experience handling a multitude of Divorce and Family Law Matters throughout New Jersey. He is passionate about family law and takes pride in his ability to effectuate real change in the lives of his clients. He is certified by the State Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Attorney. If you are in need of an experienced Divorce Attorney or Family Law Attorney in NJ, contact us today for compassionate, long lasting legal solutions.