How well you are able to navigate through your divorce may rest in large part on your ability to produce documents and evidence that can support your claims for alimony, child support, a division of assets and other important issues.
Making sure you are treated fairly is vital to give you the best chance of moving forward in the best possible way after your divorce is finalized.
Whether your divorce issues are narrow and simple or complex and multifaceted, you will still need to acquire a fair amount of information to prepare for divorce.
Gathering this information in a logical and organized way can make the entire process less burdensome on you in both the short and the long run.
That’s why we put together the ultimate divorce checklist which lays out the information you need to prepare for divorce.
Here are some quick tips before we jump in.
- Open a checking and savings account in your name alone. CIT Bank is a solid option if you’re looking for a high-interest savings account with no monthly fees. You can open an account here.
- Open a credit card in your name alone.
- Order a free credit report. Better yet, sign up for a credit monitoring service like LifeLock. You’ll get notified if your spouse attempts to open credit cards and rack up debt in your name. The peace of mind is well worth the cost.
- Make a list of all the assets and liabilities that you’re aware of. Include any memberships, reward points, and other perks that may be considered as assets.
The Benefits of Being Organized
Depending on the complexity of your divorce, you may need a lot of documentation to give to your lawyer or Certified Divorce Financial Analyst. The more organized you are upfront will not only save you time and stress, but it will also save you money as well.
When you are able to gather documents in a thorough and comprehensive way, many of the questions and requests for additional information by your attorney or financial experts will be minimized.
When you do a good job of assembling all of your information, you will also be able to get a much clearer picture of your overall financial health. In turn, this will make it easier for you to prioritize what’s important to you, helping you to set goals for your post-divorce life.
Keep in mind that divorce is a give and take process, and until you have a full and complete picture of your entire life, you can’t possibly make the best decisions as you negotiate a fair and equitable settlement.
In addition, certain laws and statutes may come into play based on the type and nature of your assets, so helping your team understand your complete picture will also allow them to provide you with the most effective counsel as well.
When you are organized, you will also be able to break things down into more manageable tasks. For example, you will be dividing one household into two, and that will mean determining your living expenses going forward.
Before your divorce, you had one house payment, one set of utility bills, one health insurance policy and so forth. Now, you and your spouse will now have two of each of these (and many others) to deal with. This means you’ll need to have a thorough understanding of your current and future expenses.
Your credit may be affected, and you may lose discounts on things like auto insurance, cell phones and other related expenses. It’s also critical to document these things if you are expecting to collect alimony and child support in the future.
When you get a sense you are heading for divorce, set up an official system that will include documentation, official correspondence, court records, research, notes and more. Make copies for yourself, your attorney and any other members of your team who will benefit from having pertinent information. Any steps you take to avoid confusion or duplication is a winning strategy for you.
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. Most importantly, it allows the two of you to efficiently work together to secure your short and long-term interests.
Finally, understand that being organized has a lot of payoffs, but you need to be resolved to the fact that it will take time. Don’t be in a hurry. Don’t cut corners.
Don’t be in avoidance mode because you just want to get through things quickly so you can move on to the next chapter in your life. Doing so only hurts you and your children because you could make costly mistakes and add to the considerable stress you may already be experiencing.
What to do if Your Spouse Controls Many of the Records You Need
It’s quite common in a marriage for one spouse to be in charge of the records and paperwork for every part of a family’s life. The downside of this in a divorce is that if you are not the person keeping the records, you may encounter some problems in getting what you need.
Some spouses will attempt to hide asset information. Others will just be flat out difficult when it comes to turning over records. There may be instances where a spouse will also completely refuse to comply with a request.
This is why it’s best to gather as much information as possible before you make your spouse aware of your intentions. By law, you are entitled to see all of the pertinent documents during a divorce, but this doesn’t mean they’ll always be easy to obtain.
In an acrimonious divorce, you may need to rely on a formal discovery process, using subpoenas and interrogatories to fully uncover what you are entitled to see. In other instances, you may need to retain the services of a forensic accountant. A certified divorce financial planner will also know what to look at and what to ask for that will have relevance for your situation.
It may be difficult, but it’s best to keep an open line of communication with your spouse as you exchange information. Some couples find it impossible to talk to their spouses after an initial split, and that’s understandable.
However, just because you’ve separated, does not mean you are done in your relationship with that person. The better your communication and cooperation are, the quicker and easier your divorce will be.
Divorce Preparation Checklist
Depending on the nature and complexity of your divorce, you will need to gather much of the following information. Keep in mind that because every divorce is different, there may be additional documentation you will need to provide beyond what is noted here, or some items on this checklist will not be relevant to your situation.
- Your basic information: full name, date of birth, and social security number.
- Contact information such as an address, landline/cell phone number and email address.
- Proof of state residency.
- Information about your employer: name, address and phone number.
- Your length of employment and your monthly or annual salary. You should be prepared to show your attorney at least three years in income tax returns.
- Your spouse’s basic information: full name, date of birth and social security number.
- Contact information for your spouse such as an address, landline/cell phone number and an email address
- Your spouse’s employer information, such as address and phone number.
- Your spouse’s length of employment and salary.
- Where to serve your spouse with divorce papers if the attorney will be doing so. At your spouse’s work or place of residence?
- Current custody arrangements, including which parent the children live with and whether or not a custody dispute will be part of the divorce process.
- Information about previous marriages, including the divorce decree.
- Information about children from previous marriages on either side: the full names, dates of birth and social security numbers of any children from a previous marriage.
- Details about your child support, if applicable. Who pays and how much?
- Details about their child support, if applicable:
- Who provides health insurance for the children in this marriage?
- Wedding details: where and when you were married.
- The name of your spouse’s attorney if he/she has one.
- The name of a marital therapist you and your spouse visited with times and dates.
- A list of the marital problems that led to divorce if any involve alcohol or drug abuse, religious differences, infidelity, sexual incompatibility or, domestic abuse.
- Temporary Orders. If you are a bit further along in the process, include copies of all court documents that establish deadlines, procedures, restrictions, or instructions related to your divorce process. Examples of these are restraining orders on your spouse, temporary maintenance, child custody, and visitation.
- Birth certificates for all children
- Domestic Partnership Certificate: Provide a copy (if applicable).
- Social Security Statement: Provide most current copy of statement.
- Prenuptial or postnuptial agreements
- Separation agreement
- Expenses for various lifestyle costs (e.g., school tuition, unreimbursed medical bills, music or dance lessons for children, etc.)
- Monthly budget worksheet
- Money you are owed, including names of those who owe you money, how much they owe, and the expected payment date.
- Information on any lawsuits you may be involved in.
- A list of any livestock, such as cattle or horses that you may own.
- List of property owned by each spouse prior to marriage
- List of property acquired by each spouse individually by gift during the marriage
- Inheritance: If you’ve received an inheritance, provide details (who did you receive it from, when, how much did you receive, and where did it go?)
- List of contents in safety deposit boxes
Tax and Income Documents
- Get the last three (3) full months and the most recent year-end statements for you and your spouse. Provide a year-to-date earnings record if not shown on paystubs. If your payroll includes bonuses, ESPPs, stock options, equity incentives, or other extraordinary income, provide year-end paystubs for the last 5 years if available. Provide accrued vacation hours if not shown on paystub.
- Tax Returns. Both Federal and State tax returns for the past 5 years, including all schedules, attachments, and W-2 forms as well as any “K-1” forms from business entities. If you or a reliable tax preparer did not prepare the tax returns, you may want to order a copy from the IRS. Let us know and we can provide you with IRS Form 4506 so you can make this request.
- Corporate and Partnership Tax Returns. Get documentation in entities in which you have an interest for the last five years. (If an accountant has the records for your individual and/or business tax returns, you can obtain copies from the accountant.)
- Financial Statements. Provide any financial statements prepared for you individually or for you and your spouse together, or for a business entity in which you have an interest in the past five years (the more recent the better), such as for a loan application.
- Employment contract or employment offer letter. These documents should indicate compensation or other benefit information. Also, provide a summary of your Employee Benefits for you and your spouse.
- If you are self-employed, provide the following:
- Financial statements or profit and loss (P&L) statements for the past five (5) years.
- Business tax returns for the past five (5) years.
- Buy-sell agreement or other agreement concerning valuation of business.
- Any loan or credit application for the business prepared within the past five (5) years.
- Any existing appraisal of the business.
Real Estate Documents
- Copy of the current Grant Deed(s) with Exhibit “A” (legal description) on each property that shows how title is held (if the title has been changed, provide copies of all deeds from the time of acquisition). The Deed of Trust or Note is not needed.
- Appraisals or market value opinions for any real property if dated within the last two (2) years.
- Final Escrow Statement from Close of Escrow/Settlement Statement for purchase or sale (usually 2-3 pages) and for last refinance (if applicable). Shows price, down payment, closing fees, etc.
- Cost basis of home; purchase price plus improvements.
- Form 2119 – Sale or Exchange of Principal Residence. Provide copy from federal tax return for year you sold residence and deferred gains on sale into a new principal residence. Applicable if sale of residence was prior to May 6, 1997.
- Mortgages, Lines of Credit: Copy of the most recent mortgage or loan statement for each loan showing name, address, account number, monthly payment and balance. Also, provide terms of current loan: date opened, original loan amount, current interest rate, length of loan.
- Rental Property: Records of ownership of all rental property. Provide cost basis (including improvements, depreciation taken, etc.).
- Vacation Property: Records of ownership of all vacation property and timeshare interest. Provide cost basis (including improvements, etc.).
- Tax Assessor’s Statement
Personal Property Information
- Inventory list with estimated resale values for your entire household. It can be very burdensome to list all the household furniture and furnishings to comply with this item, and it often is not necessary. It is not uncommon, at least for the Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure, to simply say “various” items acquired over “various” dates and the values of these items are “unknown.” On the other hand, if there are specific items of furniture and furnishings that are particularly valuable, please note those items.
- Jewelry, Antiques, Art, Collectibles, Wine, etc.: Ownership records, purchase receipts or description of jewelry, antiques, oriental rugs, art works, stamp or coin collections, wine cellar, precious metals, gems, and other collectibles. If you have a schedule of collectible for insurance purposes, please provide. Also provide appraisals on any such items (if you already have them).
- Vehicles, Boats, Trailers: Copy of title and registration for all vehicles, boats, airplanes, trailers, and motor homes. Provide loan statements (both current and at separation) showing the terms of the loan. Also, provide a copy of the Kelly Blue Book private party valuation.
Other Financial Information: Bank Accounts, Insurance Policies, Investments, Retirement, etc.
- Current statements for all checking accounts, savings accounts, credit accounts, and other deposit accounts.
- Children’s bank account information and amounts.
- Cash: If you or your spouse hold significant cash, such as in a safety deposit box, please note.
- Tax Refunds: Please provide information for any tax refunds you are expecting. Also provide copies of checks or records of refunds if received individually by either party before or after separation. If you expect a refund but haven’t filed your returns yet, provide a copy of your extension.
- Life and Disability Insurance Policies: Provide Declaration pages showing face amount, date, type of policy, insured, owner, beneficiary(ies), cash value and/or loan value. If a policy is term without cash value, you should provide the documents showing the death benefit, beneficiary and premium and whether it is an individual policy or a policy through your employer.
- Homeowners and auto insurance policies
- Stocks, Bonds, Investments, Mutual Funds, Secured Notes, and other liquid and non-liquid investments: Copies of all documents showing how title is held and most recent statements, plus a copy of statements as close to the date of separation as possible. If security is held in certificate form, provide a copy of the certificate. Also, provide cost basis of each security/investment owned. (Cost basis is needed on all non-retirement account assets.)
- Retirement accounts and Pensions (401k, defined benefit and defined contribution plans). Provide a copy of the latest summary plan documents (with terms and conditions of the plan) and most recent benefit statements plus the statement as near as possible to the date of separation. Include any outstanding benefits from prior employers. For pensions, include the pension calculation showing your est. monthly income at earliest retirement age.
- Profit-Sharing, IRAs, Deferred Compensation, Annuities: Provide the most current statement for all accounts.
- Accounts Receivable and Unsecured Notes: Records for any money owed to you including lottery winnings.
- Partnerships and Other Business Interests: The Schedule of Assets and Debts requires the most recent K-1 form and Schedule C. All business interests should be listed, including general partnerships, limited partnerships, limited liability partnerships (LLPs), C Corporations and limited liability corporations (LLCs), as well as sole proprietorships.
- Other Assets: Records for any other asset or property not otherwise listed above. Assets may include, but are not limited to:
- Stock Purchase Plans–ESOP, ESPP and stock purchase plans.
- Stock Options – Stock option grant agreement (grant letter) and most current grant statement covering each grant received, from date of grant to present, for present employers (and prior if not fully exercised or expired). Description or plan statements for all employer stock option plans under which you have received options.
- Cafeteria Plans/Other Benefits – Provide most current statement or description of cafeteria benefit plan, incentive or bonus plan and any other employment benefit in which either spouse participates.
- Severance/Early Retirement – All notices/statements regarding severance or early retirement benefits offered by or already received from the employer of either spouse.
- Intellectual Property–Records reflecting any patent, trademark, copyright, licensing agreement, royalty, or other intellectual property rights.
Credit and Debt Information
- Student or other education-related loans: Provide the most recent statement. Include all information such as balances owed, interest rate, payment schedule and the school, and what period of time you or your spouse received the loan.
- Taxes: If you believe taxes are owed, please state. Also, if estimated taxes have been paid for the current or preceding tax year but the return is not done, please provide information as to how much has been paid and from what source. Provide letter/notice of any federal or state tax deficiency issued before or after separation and not yet paid.
- Support Arrearages: Refers to support owed to previous spouses or for children from previous relationships or for support you or your spouse has been ordered to pay in this dissolution proceeding prior to the preparation of this document. Provide copies of orders and statements.
- Loans—Unsecured: Provide the most current statement for all unsecured loans along with the name of institution (bank name), loan number, current rate, etc.
- Credit Cards: List the name of the cardholder as well as card number and balance owed. Please provide a copy of the most recent statements and the statements for the two or three months from the date of separation and immediately thereafter. If card has reward points/frequent flyer miles, provide total owned.
- Other Debts: Information including most recent statement on any debts not listed above.
- Credit report
Provide the following for any business you or your spouse have an interest:
- Corporate or partnership tax returns for the past five (5) years for both Federal and State.
- Year-end financial statements for past five (5) years if not contained in tax returns. If there are computer generated financial statements, those should be provided in electronic form along with a paper copy.
- Most current financial statements as to income and expenses and balance sheet, as well as for the period as close to the date of separation as possible. If there are computer generated financial statements, those should be provided in electronic form along with a paper copy.
- Copies of partnership agreements, and in case of corporations, the formation documents and copies showing how title to shares of stock or membership interests are held and in what amounts.
Estate Planning Documents
- Wills or Living Will Documents
- Certification of Trust: Provide a copy if you have a Trust. Provide Certification of Trust only and not entire Trust document.
- Powers of Attorney
- Durable Powers of Attorney
- Advance Healthcare Directives
Issues and Questions
In addition to the above information, you should also keep a list of issues and questions that concern you. Keep a running tally of these things that surface during the divorce that will require some follow-up action.
These may include statements made by your spouse, his/her attorney, or one of the third-party experts in your case.
To save time and money, you may want to group these questions and ask them several at a time, instead of a constant exchange of one-off questions and answers with your attorney, certified divorce financial analyst, accountant, financial planner or other members of your team.
If you’re struggling emotionally, be sure to get the support you need. Taking care of your mental health is more important than ever.
Talk to a trusted therapist. If you don’t have one, consider online therapy.
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