Important Topics to Discuss with your Divorce Lawyer
Getting divorced is one of the most consequential decisions you will ever make. The process is stressful and emotionally taxing, and when it is all over, there is a lot of uncertainty about the future as you begin your new life. Along the way, there are many important issues that you and your spouse need to resolve.
The first step in the divorce process is finding a lawyer who has experience and is someone you can trust and feel comfortable working with. You will be looking to your attorney for skilled legal guidance and moral support as you go through this, and you will also be sharing details about your life with them that even your closest friends are probably not aware of. Be sure you choose your legal counsel carefully, because you will be working very closely with this person during this very difficult season of your life.
In your first meeting with your divorce lawyer, there are several topics you will want to cover. These include:
Division of Property
Many divorcing couples spend a lot of time and energy dividing up all of their property and debts. In South Carolina, the division of marital property is done based on the legal theory known as “equitable distribution.” This means property is to be divided fairly and equitably, but not necessarily 50/50.
A 50/50 split also doesn’t necessarily mean that every asset is split down the middle. For example, if the couple’s two largest assets are the marital home and a six-figure retirement account that belongs to the spouse who will not be living in the home, it may very well make more sense to let one spouse keep the home and the other keep the retirement account, to accomplish an equitable division of the overall value of the marital assets, rather than an equitable division of each asset itself. Debt assignment can also affect the overall division. For example, if one party is assigned the majority of marital assets but there also exists substantial marital debt, it may make sense to assign that debt to the same party so as to balance the value that each party will net from the marital estate.
Before you meet with your attorney, it will give you a significant head start to prepare a detailed list of all of your marital assets and property, when it was acquired, how much it is worth, and whose names are on the accounts and titles. Have a list of all the debts as well. There could be some question about what property will be included in the marital estate. Generally, this is anything that was earned, acquired, or realized while you were married. There are some exceptions to these rules, and your lawyer will go over this with you in further detail. That’s why it’s also important to note if any assets you have were inherited, gifted to you by someone other than your spouse, or acquired before your marriage.
Another topic that can sometimes become highly contentious is who will have custody of any children you have together. Or maybe you agree on which parent the child(ren) will primarily live with, but you and your spouse are pretty far off on what the visitation schedule should look like for the noncustodial parent. There is also a distinction between physical custody and legal custody that would need to be addressed and worked through.
Physical custody deals with where the children will live, and this is largely dictated by the parties’ visitation schedule. Legal custody is the authority to make important decisions in the child(ren)’s life, and this could also be sole or joint. Ultimately, a parenting plan will need to be developed. Ideally that plan would be a result of an agreement reached between both parents, but if that’s not possible, you and your attorney can work together to prepare for the court to make that decision.
In South Carolina, both parents are obligated to financially support their children. The amount that each parent is required to contribute is calculated based on the parents’ combined gross incomes, the number of children that need to be supported, health insurance and daycare costs for the children, and in certain circumstances the number of overnights per year a noncustodial parent has with the children. The Court also has the ability to vary from the standard support calculation based on a number of factors, like extraordinary medical or educational expenses for the child(ren). It is assumed that the share of support the custodial parent is responsible for is being used to pay for the child’s living expenses, so the noncustodial parent will almost always be the one paying support.
In longer-term marriages in which there is a large disparity in income between two spouses, the court may award alimony. This is not a guarantee, however, and alimony is not awarded in all cases. There are a number of factors the court uses to determine whether support payments are appropriate, such as the incomes of each spouse, the duration of the marriage, the established standard of living during the marriage, and the age and health conditions of each spouse. There are also certain things, like adultery, which bar alimony even if the offending spouse would otherwise be entitled to it. Your lawyer can discuss how each of these factors apply to your case and whether or not you can expect alimony to be paid or owed.
In a divorce, a “successful outcome” is a very subjective term. Every situation is different, and every individual has their own idea of how they want the divorce to be resolved. Your lawyer can best serve you by understanding your goals and what is most important to you, so they can focus on ensuring that your interests are fully protected.
For your divorce to end amicably, you will need to be flexible and willing to make some compromises. But there will also be areas where you need to stand your ground. Give this a lot of thought ahead of time, so you can go into your meeting with your attorney knowing which issues are “dealbreakers”, and which ones you are willing to be flexible with.
Contact the Cate Law Firm for Assistance with South Carolina Divorces
If you are facing a divorce in South Carolina, Cate & Brough Law Firm is here to help. Our firm is focused exclusively on family law, and we have several decades of experience helping clients from start to finish through the divorce process and other areas of family law. To schedule a consultation with a member of our legal team, message us online or call our office today at (864) 585-4226. We look forward to serving you!