Prior to the first hearing you will need a completed financial statement, copies of your wage statements for the previous eight weeks and federal and state tax returns for the previous two years. The draft financial statement form should be forwarded to your attorney as soon as possible after the filing of the action, but no later than one week before the first hearing to allow time for verification, corrections, and typing. Whether or not there is a first hearing in your case, the financial disclosure statement must be prepared within 90 days of the start of the action.
If you have children and there is no agreement between you and your spouse as to their custody and placement, then you will be referred by the court to family court counseling services for mediation of the contested issues. If mediation does not result in an agreement, it will also be necessary to obtain a custody study (not available in all counties) and petition the court for the appointment of a Guardian ad Litem (GAL), an attorney appointed to represent the interests of your children. Most courts require that each party immediately forward a deposit to the GAL and that subsequent fees be split by the parties. The GAL will conduct an investigation and make recommendations as to what would be best for the children. The GAL participates as any other attorney at all hearings. The GAL or either parent may also request psychological evaluations.
It is necessary to gather and verify information concerning the nature and extent of all the marital assets and debts. To that end, your attorney will prepare several releases for your signature which will allow your attorney to obtain financial information with regard to your savings and checking accounts, stocks, bonds, insurance policies, as well as, the value of any pension, profit sharing or other retirement funds or any other assets or debts. Your attorney will also request this same information from your spouse. When a complete marital asset list is compiled, your attorney will meet with you to discuss proposals for the division of the marital estate.
Although the exchange of marital asset information is generally cooperative, if your spouse does not voluntarily disclose this information, this information may need to be obtained through a formal discovery process. This would include the possibility of a deposition of your spouse or other witnesses (sworn testimony before a court reporter), interrogatories (questions submitted in writing to be answered in writing, under oath), or a request for production of documents such as bank statements, cancelled checks, etc. Formal discovery is more time-consuming and costly than voluntary cooperation.