As you head towards a divorce it’s important to be prepared. This involves both emotional preparation for the long road ahead and finding a talented family lawyer that suits your personality.
Another important thing to gather and prepare are all the relevant documents you will need. Having an incomplete list may leave your legal advisor in the dark when it comes to important matters such as property settlement or child support. Here is what I call a “starter list” of the minimum documents you should collect before talking to an attorney or filing yourself.
Prenuptial agreements: These are legal contracts you may have signed before the marriage. They can governs everything from property division, spousal support after the marriage or child custody matters.
Pension statements: You should collect these retirement documents for both yourself AND your spouse. Generally, spouses can claim a portion of their partners retirement income if funds were used during the marriage to contribute to these types of plans.
Proof of current income: This includes all W2s, 1099s, and other documents listed below such as bank statements and tax returns. Basically, if you list is on your taxes as “income” then collect the documents that support those numbers, including home businesses.
Proof of spouse’s current income: This includes W2s, 1099s, income from side businesses, repayments of debts (including interests), gifts, etc. Examine the last few years of tax returns to give you an idea of what types of income are reported and then find the documents that support those claims.
Certificates of deposit: A certificate of deposit is an instrument typically sold by a bank which represents a deposit of cash that cannot be withdrawn (without penalty) until a certain date. For this promise the bank pays a higher interest rate.
Stock portfolios and stock options: Documentation about stock portfolios usually take the form of monthly brokerage statement that come in the mail but be wary! Many brokerages send their statements via email exclusively so you will need to check there. Stock options are typically evidenced by a document “granting” the individual the options, but may also be contained on pay stubs, tax returns, or any documents you may have used to qualify for a mortgage or other loan. These are usually considered assets and will be listed anywhere you may have needed to prove your financial status or net worth.
Credit card statements: These may also be arriving via email so be sure to check all possible locations for the statements. If you think you may not be aware of some credit cards check email for correspondence or junk mail from the credit card provider.
Property tax statements: These come in the mail and will document the tax assessed (and often the market) value of the real estate you own. Be careful to watch out for property you may not be aware of. Also note any unpaid taxes or tax liens showing on the documents.
Bank statements: These m ay also be coming via email. Pay special attention to deposits and withdrawals because large deposits or withdrawals may indicate hidden bank accounts your spouse may not have told you about.
Loan documents: Loan documents always show proof of income and can also lead you to the exact documents you may need to verify proof of income.
Utility bills: Utility bills will help you identify monthly expenses and will prove useful when it comes to estimating spousal support and child support.
Separation agreement: If you have a separation agreement it will often contain provisions about how you and your spouse will conduct your affairs before the divorce is finalized. It will typically control items such as spending, child rearing, debt, etc. This will be important for your lawyer to make sure your spouse is abiding by the agreement and can also be used to shore up arguments about property division, spousal support and child support.
Trusts: Trust are legal instruments that set out how certain property is owned and what happens to that property on the death of a spouse. Every trust has a “trustee” that performs the actions required by the trust and it’s common that each spouse is listed as the trustee in the event of the others death. This is a good document to have to get a list of assets and will want to make sure that your lawyer has this document so it can be changed as part of the divorce.
Mortgages: Make sure to collect a copy of all mortgages. Each spouse is jointly liable on a mortgage so even after divorce, if the mortgage is not modified you may find yourself still liable for a mortgage payment on a house where you no longer live.
Monthly budget worksheet: This will document your income and expenses and is extremely important to account for all of your expenses for calculations for spousal support and child support.
Real property appraisals: An appraisal is an estimate, but it is done by a licensed professional and holds weight with the judge. Therefore, if any property you have has been recently appraised, take the appraisal to your lawyer.
Auto insurance policies: All states require automobile insurance and its important to make sure these policies remain in place and it is clear in the divorce agreement who is to pay for and maintain them.
Homeowner policies: For most people your most important asset is your home. The equity in your house often represents the bulk of an individual’s net worth and so it must be protected. If you are contemplating selling your house and dividing the proceeds it’s critical to document and keep up any homeowners insurance. Also, if you’re not going to sell the property in question, insurance should still be in place if you have any remaining economic interest.
As I mentioned, this is not an exhaustive list, but rather a place to start. Collect as much information as possible and you enter into the divorce well prepared and ready.