Critical Documents to Copy Before Divorce

The key to planning your post-divorce life starts before you file.  Critical to the plan is accurately determining what you need to maintain your lifestyle.  Consider three important areas:

  • Household assets – Prepare a detailed balance sheet for your household, listing assets (houses, vehicles, collectibles, furnishings) and liabilities (such as loans and credit cards).
  • Determine your cash flow needs – Take a hard look at checks, debits and credit card transactions for the past three months. Make a list of each item and note if it is a recurring expense (monthly, quarterly, or annual).  Include expenses such as entertainment, children’s expenses (school trips, lunches, summer camps), medical/dental, utility, pets, insurance, club dues and membership fees, and professional association fees.  Don’t forget to include amounts you pay or receive for child or spousal support.
  • Long-term financial needs – Review your post-divorce long-term financial needs. Start by making a list of repairs you will need to the house and car.  Think about education (college) funds for children.  Review your savings and investing plans.  Realistically evaluate your remaining work-span and earnings potential.  Will you require further education or training (or re-training)?
  • Dig, dig and then dig some more – The more documentation you can provide your attorney, the better they will be able to locate possible hidden income or assets and support your case. The devil really is in the details! Be sure to look for the following:
    • Salary and bonus – Provide prior pay stubs; review bonus payment patterns to see if bonuses have been deferred or placed in a separate bank account.
    • Retirement accounts – IRA’s, SEP’s and other retirement accounts are many times the most valuable assets in the marriage. Make certain you provide account numbers and statements.
    • Stock options – A frequent form of employee compensation is the option to purchase company stock at discounted prices. Even if you have been told that “these options have no value” or “have not been exercised” they carry a market value.  Determine the number of options purchased and when.  Provide any and all documentation.
    • Bank statements­ – This is a category where more really is Request at least three years worth of statements for every joint account.  Copy every statement you can for accounts your spouse may hold individually, and yes, this includes business accounts.
    • Federal and state income tax returns – The last three years of individual returns, and, if your spouse owns/runs a business, those as well. As business owner’s frequently expense everything to reduce their taxable income, back-up to these expenses will often prove critical to proving your spouse’s effective income is higher.
    • Employment benefits­ – Does your spouse drive a company car? Does your spouse’s company reimburse country club/health club initiation and monthly dues?  Find the bill, the reimbursement or the employee’s pay stub.
    • Investment account statements­ – As with the bank statements, more is better. Provide individual as well as accounts for children and businesses.
    • Credit card statements­ – Provide at least one monthly statement for each account held individually or jointly.
    • Trusts and Inheritance – Are you or your spouse beneficiaries of any type of trust?  Do either of you stand to inherit anything of value at a time in the future.  Provide a copy of the trust document, will or devise.

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