What information & documents should I give my family law attorney?

Attorney John Carella

A family law case is like any other legal case.  It is won or lost on the evidence.  Evidence can be  provided in the form of testimony (verbal statements of parties and witnesses) or documentary (writings and statements of all kinds).  

Usually, the testimony offered by a client, and his or her relatives and friends,  is offset by testimony of the other party, and his or her relatives and friends.  This means that independent witnesses are very important - because they are presumed to have no biases or prejudices which negatively affect the credibility of their testimony.  Judges are much more inclined to accept neutral testimony from a third party than that of the parties (or their relatives and friends).   These independent witnesses will vary from case to case, but may include statements or testimony of teachers, therapists, neighbors, doctors, coaches, accountants, or others who have first-hand knowledge of relevant facts in your case. 

Documentary evidence is also very important and influential in family law - beginning from the very first appointment.  When you first consult with an attorney, you should bring with you all documents which you believe may affect your case.  These documents will be different depending on whether the case primarily concerns custody, or financial matters, or whether the case is part of a divorce proceeding.  In a divorce or legal separation proceeding for example, the attorney benefits from having access to the following documents: bank statements, credit card statements, promissory notes, mortgage statements, grant deeds, paycheck statements for both parties, three most recently filed tax returns,retirement (pension, 401(K), IRA, PERS, STRS, FERS, military retirement, etc...).  

What specific statements does your attorney need? As a general rule, all assets and debts are evaluated as of the date of trial or as close to it as possible.  There are exceptions, however, for certain assets and debts such as bank accounts, credit cards and other personal debts which is valued as of the date of separation.  For this reason, you should provide your attorney with the most recent monthly statements, and other supporting documentation, for all assets and debts that are reasonably available to you.  On the other hand, statements relating to bank accounts and credit card accounts should be obtained as close to the date of separation as possible.

If you believe that the other party has wrongfully removed or transferred funds, you may want to dig deeper, and obtain statements from the months prior to separation.  

If you are contemplating leaving your home following your separation from your spouse - attempt to track down and make copies of all of these documents before you go.  This will streamline the process and help to avoid costly efforts to gain the opposing spouse's cooperation.  

The are many laws that regulate the introduction of evidence.  Your lawyer can explain these laws to you, as well as the value of each item of evidence, and will submit this evidence to the court on your behalf if you are required to appear at hearings or a trial.

Although you can represent yourself in a family law case, the fact that many people attempt to do so is no indication of the simplicity of this area of law, and your chances of success vastly improve when you engage an experienced family lawyer.

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