ASSEMBLING YOUR RECORDS AND DOCUMENTS BEFORE THE DIVORCE
WHAT RECORDS AND DOCUMENTS DO YOU NEED
TO HAVE BEFORE YOU START THE DIVORCE PROCESS?
YOU SHOULD COLLECT AS MANY HOUSEHOLD, BANK, PENSION, INCOME RECORDS AND OTHER MATERIAL AS YOU ARE ABLE TO FIND BEFORE STARTING THE DIVORCE PROCEEDING TO BE SURE THAT THE MATERIAL REMAINS AVAILABLE TO YOU AND TO SAVE TIME AND MONEY IN OBTAINING THEM FROM THE OTHER SIDE.
When you go for your first consultation with an attorney, you will probably be asked about family finances because property division and support are based on the circumstances of both husband and wife during the marriage. To that end, if you are able to obtain records to show to the attorney, you are already saving yourself counsel fees and time needed to obtain them from the other side during the divorce proceeding.
Equitable distribution – the division of property acquired by either party or both of you during the marriage – is only undertaken once everyone is satisfied that they are aware of what assets and liabilities existed prior to the divorce complaint. Assets such as bank accounts, money market funds, pensions, retirement accounts, securities, art, antiques, real estate, tax returns, income information and any other property need to be determined and valued before division can be made.
Therefore, if you are able to collect the records showing, at the very least, the assets even if you are not able to provide the current values, it will be easier and less expensive for your attorney to be able to narrow what is needed by way of discovery (document production) either from the other side or by way of subpoenas to the banks, other institutions and even accountants for the material.
Equally important is to be able to obtain information that reflects both parties’ incomes for the past three to five years or more, if possible, to be able to make a determination as to the amount or need for alimony as well as for child support purposes. To that end, you should collect as many tax returns as possible and make sure that the schedules, W2s and 1099s are included. If you don’t have the documents at home, contact your accountant and ask for copies. The accountant should have copies from the past few years.
If either of you owns a business, try to find copies of profit and loss statements, bank account information, and any corporate tax returns that exist. If the business is not a corporation, it is all the more important to obtain copies of personal income tax returns (either jointly filed or separately filed) that contain schedules of business income and expenses.
If you are going to be claiming the need to share any debt with your spouse, you will need to provide copies of credit card statements and/or any Notes that exist from third parties for loans as well as proof of any payments made on loans in order to prove that the debt is joint and should be shared. While it is generally assumed that debt incurred in joint names or in either party’s name during the marriage is going to be joint, if you believe that your spouse used credit for his or her own purposes or if personal debt or even home equity loans were not used for marital purposes, you have the burden of demonstrating that fact.
Your attorney will tell you in more detail what is going to be needed for income, liability and asset purposes. However, in order to be able to be prepared for the process, some of the material that you should look for and collect are listed below. Keep in mind that whatever you obtain cannot be destroyed and will need to be shared with the other side at some point; however, it is easier and far less expensive to be the one who has to produce the material than the one who has to chase someone to be able to see it.
A short list of documents that is far from all-inclusive but gives you an idea of what to be collecting is as follows:
1. BANK ACCOUNT INFORMATION including checking, savings, money market, CD account statements, cancelled checks for both parties for the previous 3 years at a minimum, all savings accounts and college accounts for the children;
2. RETIREMENT INFORMATION including IRAs, 401(K) Plans, 403(B) Plans, traditional retirement plans, TIAA-CREF, TPAF, Railroad worker, Police/Firemen plans, Federal Government plans, Union plans, etc.;
3. EMPLOYMENT BENEFITS including pension information, medical insurance, W2s, 1099s, stock options, employee stock plans, life insurance, employment contracts, commission and bonus plans;
4. REAL ESTATE RECORDS including mortgage statements, note, closing documents on purchase and/or sale of marital property, mortgage or other loan applications, deeds, home equity line documents, amortization schedule, payment records;
5. CAR INFORMATION including loan or lease balance, loan/lease application, insurance, title, registration, lien holder, any pending law suits relating to car use;
6. INCOME INFORMATION for both parties including annual salaries, paystubs, bonus, commission checks, feel splitting arrangements, rental income cash payments, business income;
7. TAX INFORMATION including at least last three years of State and Federal returns and all schedules; accountant/tax preparer’s name and address, W2s, 1099s; corporate tax returns;
8. DEBT records including credit card statements for past few years, personal loan documents, secured and unsecured notes (business and personal);
9. MEDICAL AND DENTAL INSURANCE RECORDS;
10. LIFE INSURANCE POLICIES including current declaration page;
11. ALL LOAN APPLICATIONS for past three or more years of either party that reflects such information as income and other debt;
12. STOCKS/SECURITIES information including brokerage account statements, broker’s name and address, penny stocks, day trading information, bonds (including U.S. Savings Bonds);
13. SAFE DEPOSIT BOX information;
14. BUSINESS INFORMATION including financial statements, tax returns, partnerships agreements, articles of incorporation, stock certificates, books, records, apartment books, clinet lists, cash receipt ledgers;
15. TELEPHONE BILLS for land lines and cell phones of family and business;
16. UTILITY BILLS for the house and business for past three years;
17. OTHER MATERIAL including homeowner’s insurance records showing riders for jewelry, art, furs, antiques, etc.; inventory of valuables; photos showing family lifestyle such as vacations; dated photos of personal property in the house;
18. If any material is on a computer, include the access information and download to thumb drive or other portable disc as long as you have legal access to the computer and programs.
These are merely some of the documents and some material that will make it easier for both you and your attorney to be able to determine what there is to divide and what there is for purposes of calculating support.