The best way to approach your divorce is to prepare for it. Be smart. I schedule pre-divorce appointments with some of my clients, which seem to be immensely helpful for them. These pre-divorce appointments give clients a chance to gather as much documentation as they can before filing the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. Further, these appointments help my clients get emotionally, physically and financially ready.
Set forth below is a list of documents you will need to provide your Family Law attorney – the sooner you can gather and produce these documents the better. However, do not get overwhelmed. Do what you can – I have seen people who are so distraught over their divorce that they forget their children’s date of birth or, even, their own. For some suggestions on time-frames, please see my blog post discussing the three steps of a divorce case. Plan on dedicating one day to securing all of these documents and – as my blog post discussing the three steps of a divorce points out – know that your effort will keep your divorce moving swiftly towards finality and will likely result in less money spent on attorney’s fees and costs.
- Marriage license (you must provide this during your first appointment)
- Case numbers and/or Judgments from past divorce cases (you must provide this during your first appointment)
- Premarital agreement, if you have one (you must provide this during your first appointment)
- Any other agreements between you and your spouse
- Copies of personal and state tax returns for you and your spouse for each year of marriage or, if unavailable, for at least the last 2 years (you must provide these during your first appointment)
- Copies of business federal and state tax returns for each business, including partnership or corporation, in which you and/or your spouse have any interest, for each year of marriage, or at least the last 2 years (you must provide these during your first appointment)
- Trust or Will, if you have one
- Deeds to all property owned by you and/or your spouse
- Escrow statements
- Any appraisals made of real or personal property
- Mortgage documents on property owned by you and/or your spouse, including the last monthly payment statements, if you have it
- Title documents for any vehicles, recreational vehicles, boats, trailers and the like. If you can, get the vehicle identification numbers
- Insurance policies for valuables such as jewelry, art work, silver, coin collections, stamp collections, and book collections
- The most recent bank statement for all accounts you have access to including: savings, checking, and credit union
- The face sheets and schedules of all insurance plans and records, including life, health, real property, personal property, umbrella, and disability
- A statement of medical coverage, especially the provision the policy has for conversion after divorce
- Stock brokerage records, stocks certificates, bonds, and all other securities owner by you and your spouse, individually or jointly
- Names of stockbrokers or brokers
- Financial statements prepared and submitted for the purpose of obtaining a line of credit, or otherwise, for the last 5 years – or, financial statements prepared but not submitted
- Employment contracts
- Sales contracts
- Copies of all employee benefit plans and statements relating to pension, profit sharing, investments, or stock options
- Records evidencing balance of debts on date of separation. *Make certain to discuss the date of separation with your attorney as there are many different definitions of “date of separation” floating around and the only one that matters, of course, is the legal one.
- A list of all outstanding bills owed by you or your spouse, individually or jointly, along with copies of the most recent billings on these accounts
- Any other documents that will help establish your net worth, your spouse’s net worth, your joint net worth, your income or your spouse’s income
- *An inventory by room and estimate of value of household goods and furniture. Please discuss this step with your Family Law attorney before preparing the inventory.
I have seen so many people rendered absolutely paralyzed by the emotional impact of their divorce. This is where pre-divorce planning helps tremendously because it gives people the ability to start collecting documents and secure mental health counseling for themselves and/or their children before commencing the process.
If you are not able to participate in pre-divorce planning, then work with your attorney on this list and do your best. Again, you may need to take a day or two off from work or secure the help of family members to look after children so that you can secure these documents; in either situation, nothing could be more worth your time. Additionally, nothing could be more true that these words: “failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” Do not be this person, especially in a divorce.