Before the divorce process begins there are documents your divorce attorney will need. Documents related to any marital debt, assets and property valuations and so forth. When starting the divorce process, it’s the prepping that counts – legally, financially, and emotionally. Dividing up property a couple has acquired throughout their marriage can be one of the most difficult aspects of divorce. Before assets and debts can be divided, they first must be identified, classified, and valued. Attorneys want documents because documents don’t lie. Therefore, you need to provide your attorney with any documents that tell the story of what has happened in your marriage financially and in any other way that has affected your divorce no matter how small. Your attorney will determine when something is and isn’t needed. If you have decided to retain a divorce attorney, you can help save your attorney time by gathering all the legal and financial documents together beforehand. Doing this ahead of time gives your attorney an immediate and useful overview of the property and assets likely to be at issue in your case. Fortunately, divorce attorneys can help reduce some of your legal and financial stresses by advocating for a division of property that works for you.
Trying to hide documents or records from your own attorney, as well as from the other side, can destroy your credibility. Experienced family law attorneys will tell you to assume that the other spouse will find out everything and that you need to share everything damaging to the case. Only careful planning with your attorney can safeguard your credibility with the judge and minimize any potential embarrassment and/or financial costs of the divorce.
When you are preparing your documents, you can provide paper copies or digital copies to your attorney and be sure to keep copies for yourself. Make sure, if you provide digital copies, that you keep them backed up so they are easily accessible to you and won’t be lost to you if your computer crashes. It’s important that you provide a complete file with all documents to your attorney. This will keep down confusion for the attorney and help make the negotiation stage of the divorce run more smoothly. Additionally, if you go to court, the more organized and complete your document file is the more supporting evidence you will have for your case.
- Individual income tax returns for past two years
- Business income tax returns for past two years
- Proof of your current income; spouse’s current income
- Prenuptial agreement; Separation agreement (if applicable)
- Bank statements; Certificates of deposit
- Pension statements
- Retirement account statements
- Stock portfolios, Stock options
- Mortgages, Property tax statements, Homeowner’s insurance policies, Real property appraisals
- Credit card statements
- Loan documents
- Utility bills
- Other bills (e.g., school tuition, unreimbursed medical bills, music lessons for children, etc.)
- Monthly budget worksheet
- Completed financial statements
- Employment contracts
- Benefits statements
- Life insurance policies, Health insurance policies, Advance Health Care Directives
- Automobile insurance policies
- Personal property appraisals
- List of personal property, including home furnishings, jewelry, artwork, computers, home office equipment, clothing and furs, etc.
- List of separate property owned by each spouse prior to marriage
- List of property acquired by each spouse individually by gift or inheritance during the marriage
- List of contents of safety deposit boxes
- Wills, Living Wills
- Powers of Attorney, Durable Powers of Attorney
If you have a business and are unsure whether the business is community property, separate property of one spouse or a combination you will need to supply information regarding your business to your attorney. Documents needed will vary depending on the nature of the business. At a minimum, your attorney will need the name of the business, the general nature of its operation, type of business and its owners/operators and general information about its revenue.
As you can see, the above list extensive but it should all be readily available if your organized with your records. Each and every divorce is different since every couple enters and leaves a marriage under different circumstances. Therefore, it is always a good idea to have an open and frank conversation with your attorney regarding all of the property and assets relevant to your case.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Brandy Austin Law Firm, PLLC for their insight into divorce and family law.