Are you contemplating a divorce, or do you think your spouse is? Here at The Essex Law Firm, I tell my clients, even if you are in the happiest of marriages, all marriages, sadly, end, and they end in one of two ways: death or divorce. Most people realize they need to have Wills. Even if you do not see divorce or imminent death of your spouse in your immediate future, you should approach preparation for the end of your marriage in the same way. You will encounter much less stress and financial hardship if you PREPARE AHEAD OF TIME by assembling the documents below and keeping them in a safe place. You should also remember to update them at least once a year.
After practicing law for over 35 years, we know what needs to occur to minimize your stress and to get the most successful outcome for you. The following is a comprehensive list of what you will need to have on hand in either divorce or probate (and you can download a simplified checklist to help you keep track):
- Financial Statements
Provided when obtaining a mortgage, loan, or other credit. These will establish a client’s income, net worth, and profit/cash flow from one or more businesses.
- Tax Returns
Try to provide at least two years of returns if possible, including all schedules like W-2s, 1099s, K-1s, along with any corporate returns. Other years may be required later.
- Paycheck Stubs
Provide the last 6 months. These will show bonuses, retirement, and pension contributions along with year-to-date totals.
- Bank Account Information
Provide at least the last 2 years of statements. Bank statements are essential to establishing a financial picture of the client, and also should correspond to deposits reflected on paycheck stubs.
- Brokerage Statements
Provide at least the last 2 years of statements. You will need copies of all brokerage statements showing accounts held individually, jointly, in trust, or through a corporation. Statements for other years may be required later.
- Loan Applications
All mortgages, second mortgages, HELOCs, credit cards, etc., along with any pending loans must be disclosed. These should line up with the financial statements and it can also complete the cash flow picture of a client.
- Business Ownership Records
Ownership and operating agreements, trusts, and the like must be disclosed for the court to render an accurate judgment.
- Computer Records
Hacking your spouse’s computer (or installing spyware) is a crime, but if you have electronic evidence that may help your case, AND YOU DID NOT OBTAIN IT ILLEGALLY, please be sure to bring it. If you have a question about legality, please discuss it with us first before providing it.
- Stock Options
These can be extremely valuable but are often not exercisable until some point in the future, so bring everything you have and this information can be requested from opposing counsel early in the process.
- Pension, Profit Sharing, and Deferred Compensation Plans (401k)
Provide the last 2 years of statements. More may be required if you acquired the plan prior to your marriage.
- Credit Card Statements
Provide the last 2 years of statements. Purchases can be hidden in credit card history that might be for someone outside of the marriage.
- Other Debts
To divide assets accurately all debts need to be considered.
There are many different kinds of insurance, some with cash value (whole life insurance) and others (like homeowners) which can include appraisals of property or valuables.
- Real Estate
We will need all real estate deeds, tax bills, lease information, and any additional (passive or active) interests in property.
- Personal Property
A list of items (preferably listed by room) that you currently own and whether the item was acquired before or after the marriage. For autos and boats, provide a copy of your insurance card showing VIN numbers, etc.
- Wills and Other Legal Agreements
These includes powers of attorney, which can be problematic and must be disclosed.
Country club memberships (for example) are assets that need to be included.
- Lawsuits or Judgments
These include any bankruptcies or prior divorces.
- Charitable Contributions
It’s likely the tax returns will also contain this information.
- Medical Records
If either spouse has a disability, these are useful in justifying reduced income or lengthy unemployment.
- Phone Records
It’s often important to establish a timeline and these records can help.
- Safe Deposit Boxes or In-Home Safes
An inventory of the contents can prevent problems later.
- Tapes, Photos or Other Typed/Written Communication
If you have any questions on this topic please ask us prior to or during your first consultation.
These can also help jog memories and establish timelines.
- Intellectual Property
Not as common, but some people receive periodic royalties for intellectual property.
If you have documentation that helps determine fault in the divorce, this is obviously important to provide.
For Determining Child Custody
- Proof of Primary Caregiver
You will need to provide proof as to who is the primary caregiver.
- Proof of Stability and Continuity
Courts usually are receptive to the idea of continuity in a child’s life so anything establishing involvement in community activities is helpful.
- Parental Preference
Provide any evidence reflecting where the children want to live.
- Character of Other Adults
The character of any other adults in the children’s lives should be documented.
- Report Cards
These often include teacher’s notes which can be useful.
Children often express issues through their drawings and writings.
Any evidence of abuse between any family members should be provided.
It is also important to gather any documents showing who (often the primary caregiver) has been “staying at home” to care for the children.
To make this process as smooth as possible and reduce the inevitable stress and financial hardship, assembling these documents ahead of time is essential. If you have any questions or would like more information, please feel free to contact the Essex Firm for an in-person or virtual consultation.
We created for you a summarized checklist that you can download to print and use, to help you gather your documents together.