My answer is going to surprise you – it’s not necessarily who you would think. Here are some possible answers:
- The person represented by the better lawyer? (whatever that means)
- The person who spends the most money on legal fees?
- The more sympathetic spouse?
- The person whose lawyer is best friends with the judge?
No, no, no….. and big NO.
The person who wins in these big, document heavy, complicated with lots of assets to figure out type of cases is the spouse who does a better job preparing.
What about the lawyer you ask? Aren’t they the ones that should be better prepared? Of course that is true. However, if I’m working my tail off to try and decipher a bunch of unorganized and incomplete documents from my client, while the other client is feeding their lawyer tabbed notebooks with color-coded excel spreadsheets that lay out their case in a coherent and easy to interpret fashion… who has the upper hand?
The unorganized client is handicapping their lawyer and sinking their case, all at the same time.
Complex equitable distribution cases are complex because they deal with interested and complicated legal issues, such as stock options/grants, varying amounts of separate and divisible property, commingling of assets, small business valuation, pensions, tax issues, etc. The lawyers job is to analyze and interpret all of this data with the background of the law to put forth the best possible case for their client.
If I have a client that is claiming that $50,000 in their joint bank account is their separate property, but I can’t trace the money back to an inheritance and the client can’t find the documents that would allow me to do that – guess what? That $50,000 just went into the marital pot to be divided with everything else.
So my advice to you, whether you are going through a divorce and separation now or are even thinking about it is this – get organized. Keep good records. Save files electronically so that they can be accessed and delivered to your lawyer quickly. Monitor the mail for any bank statements that belong to your spouse that you are not aware of. Basically, get your S#&t together!
The more organized you are, the easier it will be for your lawyer to win your case.