If I polled 10 people and asked them what divorce means to them, I probably would get 10 different responses.
Divorce is personal and the process typically is not without emotional ups/downs and some conflict.
No matter what divorce means to you, a divorce is factually one thing for everyone:
A document-intensive process.
If you want the divorce process to go as smoothly and quickly as possible, make sure you do your preparation prior to filing for your divorce. Once you file, you are on the court’s radar and schedule, ready or not. Putting in the work before you file means you can take your time and be thorough…getting your ducks in a row.
Here are the major documents you should try to obtain that you will need for your divorce. Understand this is not an exhaustive list and should serve as a starting point.
Financial Documents You Will Need:
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 100 times:
Divorce is a business transaction about money.
Money comes in many forms; cash, stocks, investments, and assets. It’s a matter of how to divide it all up in a fair and equitable manner and that’s where the conflict and negotiation comes into play during the divorce process. Each State divides up marital assets differently, so make sure you know your state's divorce laws.
Bank Account Statements. Make life easier and get statements for both individual and joint accounts. If you had money in pre-marital accounts, make sure you get your hands on the last statement before the wedding to show how much was in the account before you got married.
A good general rule of thumb is to go back 3-5 years to get a glimpse of the most recent marital lifestyle. I know it’s a lot of statements, but see if you can get them. This will have to be exchanged during the discovery phase of the divorce process, so just do it now. You can get some statements online, but you might have to make a specific request of the bank for the older statements.
Credit Card Statements. You will want at least the last year, but don’t be surprised if the opposing attorney asks for the last three years worth of statements during the discovery phase. These are used to prove the marital lifestyle (financially) as most people pay for the majority of their monthly expenses with a credit card. If there are any issues as to marital debt, credit card statements can be used to show what purchases were “marital” vs. “personal.”
Investments Certificates. Do you own any stocks or mutual funds? Get a hold of recent statements for all these accounts. This includes any 529 accounts for children or any other accounts used for the children’s future. If you can, get a statement at the time you got married to show how much existed that may be considered pre-marital and exempt from distribution as part of the divorce.
Retirement Accounts. This really is included in investments, but I separated it out to make it clear. If all your financial investment accounts are held under one roof (i.e. Vanguard or Fidelity) you might be able to print out copies of both you and your spouse’s retirement accounts. Don’t worry if you can’t get your spouse’s…he has to provide them as part of the process. Get copies of your accounts now.
Other Financial Documents. Get a copy of the mortgage statement, or proof of how much rent is. Get copies of the cable, utility and any other major monthly bills that exist.
Get copies of your last three years. You will need to provide proof of the marital income. If you have an accountant prepare your taxes every year and cannot find the copies at home, request them from the accountant.
If you are employed, get copies of your last three pay stubs. You might be able to do this online, but if not you can either request them from Human Resources, or since there is no time pressure from the court, just start collecting the next three stubs.
Let's Get Organized!
Organization is key in any divorce. The best client I ever had was a woman who came to an initial meeting (where we were going to analyze the marital finances) with a 3-ring binder, tabbed with sections for each account and asset that existed, with corresponding statements for each
I practically kissed her. She doesn’t realize how being so organized cut down on the time I had to spend organizing the documents myself and seeing what was there and what needed to be obtained. She saved mucho $$$ by giving me a binder ready to go from the beginning.
Even if you are representing yourself, spend the time and make a binder. The point is, get organized. Otherwise, things will get out of hand and you will feel overwhelmed when the discovery process begins.
Jason Levoy, a/k/a The Divorce Resource Guy, is an attorney who teaches people without a lawyer how to navigate the divorce process and represent themselves in court. He regularly provides free advice via his blog, VIP newsletter and Private Divorce Facebook Group.
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