Divorce can be a nerve-racking, emotional experience in which life’s circumstances–both personal and economic–seem to shift quickly and unexpectedly. This can leave you feeling overwhelmed and wishing that there was an end-all-be-all divorce guide, however as nice as that would be it is highly improbable. Finding an experienced and trustworthy attorney, advisor, and guide is the first step towards a favorable outcome.
In your initial meetings, your attorney will explain the nature of the divorce process, which includes the division of the parties’ marital property, determination of child custody and support, and alimony (if applicable). In dealing with the financial pieces of your case, your lawyer will need a thorough understanding of your assets, debts, income, and budget.
You can facilitate this process while avoiding costly legal fees by gathering and organizing your crucial documents early in your case. Ideally, you should organize your documents into categories in paper or digital folders by document type. Easy access to the information you need to support your claims will help your attorney and their team and increase your chances of a successful outcome; not to mention, it will likely make the entire process less of a massive headache for all involved.
Not sure where the heck to start? Don’t worry: your attorney will tell you exactly what you need. But to grease the slide a bit, here are a few initial pointers on what you will need assuming your separation is recent. (If you’ve been separated for a while, expect the timeframe of the documents needed to be much larger.) So here’s your very own divorce guide:
#1: The Parties’ Income Documents
Gather as many documents as possible showing the income of both parties so your attorney may assess the respective financial positions in determining asset division, child support, and/or alimony. It may feel personal, but so is divorce: and certainly, so is the litigation process.
Here is a general rule of thumb on what you will need:
- If you and/or your spouse are hourly-paid employees, you should bring all of the paycheck stubs from all sources of employment for the last 6 months and both of your latest W-2 statements.
- If either you or your spouse is self-employed, provide any business or tax forms related to the business income over the past three years to determine the average profits, as well as the last three years of Profit and Loss Statements, Balance Sheets. You should also compile the last twelve months of bank statements, payment receipts, canceled checks, credit card statements, loan statements, and documentation regarding any property held by the business.
- Present at least three years’ worth of personal tax returns and any other statements that indicate your and your spouse’s finances or net worth, such as a loan application.
#2: Real Estate Documents
If you and your spouse own property together, prepare to dig up all of your real estate records. This will include items like your mortgage statements, including any second mortgage or line of credit, the promissory note for the mortgage(s), and a copy of the deed. The latest property tax statement will show if there are any tax penalties on the property and what your town, city, or county believes the value of your home to be. However, an appraisal better helps in determining the property value. And don’t overlook your insurance policy on real estate.
#3: Financial Accounts Documents
This should go without saying, but when it comes to your financial documents, you will need to include the whole farm: Compile any and all bank and investment account statements, spanning the past year, including those jointly or individually held.
#4: Retirement Accounts Documents
In this same vein, consider each of your contributions to retirement accounts, pension funds, 401(k)s, and IRAs made during the marriage are considered marital property and are subject to division. Obtain the last year’s worth of statements for your spouse and yourself.
#5: Documents Regarding Vehicles
You will need to present copies of titles and registrations of vehicles owned by the parties, jointly or separately. You may be surprised by what this includes: automobiles, motorcycles, boats, ATVs and any other recreational vehicles, and farming and landscaping equipment. Don’t forget to also supply at least the most current monthly invoices if you owe anything on the vehicles. Also, be sure to supply copies of the insurance declaration pages.
#6: Life Insurance Policy Documentation
Furnish the latest life insurance statements of policies on your or your spouse’s lives. The statement should include a surrender or cash value, as well as any loans against the policies.
#7: Documents Relating to Debts of the Parties
Make a list and compile the last six month’s worth of statements of all of the independently or jointly held outstanding, unsecured debts of the parties, such as credit cards, medical bills, and personal or student loans.
#8: Prenuptial Agreements and Other Documents Relating to the Marriage
If you signed a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement detailing property division or alimony in the event of divorce, provide it so that your attorney can evaluate the specifics of your agreement.
Also, not to dig up dirt, but proof of alleged marital misconduct is vital at this stage. If you are alleging any marital misconduct, such as infidelity or abuse, gather any photos, social media posts, text or voice messages, or any other evidence.
Divorces can be difficult to navigate. Providing the proper documentation and transparency with your new attorney will help your attorney have a better understanding of your case from the get-go, which helps you have a better experience and outcome. Being organized will streamline your first meetings, mitigate legal fees, and generally reduce the anxiety of an otherwise extremely stressful process.
If you need help figuring out how to get organized before jumping into a divorce, reach out to a local divorce attorney for a consultation.