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Sometimes, deciding to do a thing is just as difficult as actually making that thing happen. Changing careers and moving to a new home are good examples. So is divorce.
The whole divorce process is usually stressful, starting from the time the decision is made that the marriage is over. Once the decision has been made, it’s time to get to work. Whether you’ve hired an attorney or you’re pro se and handling the case yourself, you can help save some valuable time and money by gathering copies of necessary documents and records before it may become too difficult to get them after the divorce process begins.
Why Gather Documents
You need information to start and finish the divorce, it’s that simple. In any divorce, the papers filed with the court require information on children, property, assets and many other items connected to the marriage. By gathering them now, not only are you able to get and stay organized, but you help make sure you get everything you need just in case your soon-to-be ex tries to make things difficult by taking or hiding the materials.
You need a lot of personal information to prove the existence of the marriage, citizenship and children of the marriage. You also need to prove that the court you’re filing for divorce in has the legal authority or jurisdiction to grant your divorce. Here’s a list of personal documents and records about you, your spouse and your children you should look for:
- Birth certificates
- Immigration and naturalization documents
- Social Security cards
- Death certificate of a prior, deceased spouse
- Court decrees and judgments in proceedings with a prior spouse
- Separation agreements, antenuptial (or “prenuptial’) and post-nuptial agreements and other agreements between you and your current spouse
Financial Documents and Property Records
Here’s a list of documents with vital information about your and your spouse’s income, savings, assets, debts and expenses that are important in deciding many issues in the divorce, such as child support, spousal support or alimony and the division of property between you and your spouse:
- Federal, state and local income tax returns for the last three to five years
- Payroll statements, pay stubs and overtime and bonus records
- Pension or retirement plan, annuities, individual retirement account (IRA) documents
- Insurance policies including life, health, automobile and homeowners insurance
- Real estate deeds, contracts or leases
- Mortgages, loans, credit card statements and other records showing debt
- Bank checking and savings accounts, cancelled checks, checkbook journals and deposit slips
- Household budgets or expense records
- Expense or billing statements for food, rent, utilities, clothing, household goods, repairs, gas, education, vacations, entertainment, subscriptions and other expenses
Business Documents and Records
Married couples sometimes own and run businesses, and if you do, here’s a list of documents and records that should be collected:
- Federal, state and local income tax returns for the business
- Business profit and loss statements
- Business balance sheets
- Business financial statements
- Corporate records and minute books including articles of incorporation and bylaws
- Partnership agreements
- Shareholder agreements
- Business credit card statements and records
- Business insurance policies
- Business contracts
- Deeds, mortgages, leases and other real estate interests held by the business
Other Documents and Records
Other documents and records that may be helpful in protecting your interests throughout the divorce process include:
- Photographs of you, your spouse and your children
- Letters, cards and notes written by or to you, your spouse and your children
- Movies, videotapes and tape recordings of you, your spouse and your children
Sometimes you can’t get your hands on documents you need, like when they’re in a safety deposit box. Make a detailed list of the documents with as much information as possible, like dates, document titles and what the documents are about.
You may be unpleasantly surprised to find that documents that were readily available to you before the divorce suddenly disappear after the divorce process begins. Gathering what you can as soon as possible will make the whole divorce process much less stressful for you down the road.
Questions for Your Attorney
- My spouse owns a business, but I no longer have access to business records. How can I get copies?
- My spouse has taken personal documents, like my birth certificate and the Social Security cards for our family members; does my spouse have to give them back?
- If I didn’t keep copies of the documents I’ll need during my divorce, how likely is it that my spouse will cooperate in sharing them, or will I have to seek help from attorneys and the courts?