People are always asking me how they can save money on their divorce case. The number one piece of advice that I give them is to do their homework. In a Divorce action, Supplement Probate Court Rule 410 requires that the parties AUTOMATICALLY provide the following documents to the opposing party (within 45 days from the date of service of the summons):
- Federal and state income tax returns and schedules for the past three (3) years and any non-public, limited partnership and privately held corporate returns for any entity in which either party has an interest together with all supporting documentation for tax returns, including but not limited to W-2's, 1099's 1098's, K-1, Schedule C and Schedule E.
- Your four (4) most recent pay stubs from each employer for whom you have worked.
- Documentation regarding the cost and nature of available health insurance coverage.
- Statements for the past three (3) years for all bank accounts held in the name of either party individually or jointly, or in the name of another person for the benefit of either party, or held by either party for the benefit of the parties' minor child(ren).
- Statements for the past three (3) years for any securities, stocks, bonds, notes or obligations, certificates of deposit owned or held by either party or held by either party for the benefit of the parties' minor child(ren), 401K statements, IRA statements, and pension plan statements for all accounts listed on the 401 financial statement.
- Copies of any loan or mortgage applications made, prepared or submitted: by either party within the last three (3) years prior to the filing of the complaint.
- Copies of any financial statement and/or statement of assets and liabilities prepared by either party within the last three (3) years prior to the filing of the complaint.
Gather these documents for your attorney before your first meeting if you can. Don't make your attorney have to spend his or her time (and your money!) following-up with you to get these documents. Every call, email and letter sent asking for this information will cost you in fees. Be proactive about gathering and providing this information. Don't drop off a big, unorganized box of financial records that have been sitting in your basement gathering dust. Sort through your records and only provide what was requested of you. This way you aren't paying to have your attorney sort through hundreds of pages of documents to find the handful of pages that are needed at a rate of $200+ an hour.
You also need to make sure that you fill out your financial statement accurately. The form for the financial statement can be found online at : http://www.mass.gov/courts/courtsandjudges/courts/probateandfamilycourt/forms.html#financial. Keep in mind that the form requests WEEKLY figures for your income and expenses. If you pay for an expense on a monthly basis, you need to divide the monthly amount that you pay by 4.2. Include all sources of income, not just your primary job. If you receive SSDI or veteran's benefits, or have a part-time job, you need to include these as sources of income.
Doing your homework - accurately completing the financial statement and gathering the above listed financial documents - will provide your attorney with the information that he or she needs to get started working for you and will save you money.