The paperwork that is required for pretrial hearings differs in each state, but there are some similarities. In general, the court wants basic information about the parties, children, and assets, including a financial statement similar to one you might fill out for a bank loan. Each state will have a form called a Statement of Net Worth, Financial Disclosure Affidavit, or another similar term. It can be another trip down the Wonderland rabbit hole to put financial statements of the divorcing parties side by side. Are these people from the same family? The same world?
When parties prepare court papers, they often develop an advocacy mindset. This means they massage data to work to their advantage. Sometimes massage turns into outright lies. A business owner puts its value at nothing; the owner's spouse says the business is worth big bucks. A spouse uses income figures from a prior job, or from before a recent raise, to minimize her income. You get the picture. While you or your spouse may even do this to some degree without realizing it, a close review of your finances and income will help. Don't forget that credibility is a huge factor in success at trial. Don't risk your credibility by taking a trip to numbers fantasyland. Chances are the evidence will prove you wrong every time, and your credibility will be destroyed.
In addition to the financial statement, you'll need to prepare a budget. Depending on the state, a budget is sometimes included in the forms. Again, budget and wish list are not the same thing. One party's budget often exceeds the total family income. It's important to prepare a real budget based on prior spending and including changes brought about by the divorce. For instance, the family home may have been sold, so each party could afford to own a home. The monthly mortgage payments for each party are now different. Dad had been staying home with the children but has gotten a job. He now has an income, but the family now has child-care expenses as well.
Sticking with Reality
Finally, each side prepares a settlement proposal. Again, this isn't time for a wish list or the time to get your spouse upset all over again. It's time to make a realistic settlement offer based on all the information you've obtained during discovery and based on all the information in your gut.
For instance, if the custody study recommends that Mom be the primary parent because she's always been there for the kids and you works long hours away from home, you know in your gut she's a good mom and will take good care of your children. You also know you love your job and can make a lot more money to support the kids than your spouse can. Use your head and accept the recommendation. Now is not the time to propose you be the primary parent.
Some resolutions may be hard to swallow, especially if they involve your children. But now is not the time to throw a fit and fling threats at your ex-spouse. Such a tantrum might very well validate some of the findings and cause even more problems. If it's something you feel very strongly about, discuss it with your lawyer.
On the other hand, if you have serious concerns about your spouse's ability to care for the children, now is the time to address them. Just make sure your concern is valid and not a result of your anger toward your spouse. If you allowed your spouse to care for the children for the last five years and that was fine, he probably didn't magically become unfit in the last six months since your separation.