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Before the divorce process begins, your attorney will need information about your marriage and the official documentation attached to it. These will include income tax returns and proof of other forms of income related to any marital debt, assets, property valuations, and so forth.
Attorneys want documents because dry ink doesn't lie. Your spouse can say to a mediator or in divorce court, "I paid for the mortgage out of separate monies, not marital funds," in an attempt to retain the total interest in the marital home, but documents can prove whether or not he is being truthful. So, you need to provide your attorney with any documents that tell the story of what has happened in your marriage financially and in any other way.
When you are readying your documents, you can provide paper copies or digital copies to your attorney; be sure to keep copies for yourself.
if you provide digital copies, keep them backed up or saved online to the cloud or to a service such as Google Drive so they are easily accessible to you and won't be lost if your computer crashes.
It’s important that you provide a complete and very organized file with all documents to your attorney which will help make the negotiation stage of the divorce run more smoothly. Plus if you go to court, the more organized and complete your document file is, the more supporting evidence you will have for your case.
A best practice is organizing the documents into seven specific categories.
Documents Related to Income
- Your paycheck stubs from all sources of employment over the last year. If you are self-employed, provide income tax returns and any tax forms or business forms related to self-reported income. This should include documentation from any business you or your spouse held an interest in over the past three years.
- Your spouse's paycheck stubs for the same period of time. Those check stubs will often show year-to-date earnings and deductions.
- Documentation regarding business expenses if either you or your spouse is self-employed. These may include check registers, bank statements, canceled checks, payment receipts, financial statements, and profit and loss statements.
- At a minimum, copies of your joint or individual tax returns, both state and federal, for the past three years.
- If you or your spouse work for cash, copies of check ledgers that will show any expenses paid during the marriage.
- A copy of any financial statements or statements of net worth prepared by you or your spouse for the purpose of securing bank loans or for any other purpose.
- Any other information that will establish your net worth, your spouse's net worth, your joint net worth, your income, and your spouse's income.
Documents Related to Real Estate
- Any documents showing the legal description of any real estate owned together or separately. These can be obtained from your mortgage company or bank.
- Your current mortgage statements on any mortgages you have on real estate property.
- All documents pertaining to the initial purchase of the real estate
- If the real estate has been refinanced, all documents pertaining to the refinance.
- Tax assessor’s statement(s) pertaining to any and all real estate.
Documents Related to Joint Financial Accounts
- Savings passbooks and savings certificates of individual or joint accounts held individually or jointly by you and your spouse.
- Any and all bank statements for the past two years from any account in your name or held jointly with your spouse.
- Statements from investment accounts you two hold jointly and separately.
Documents Related to Life Insurance
- Statements regarding life insurance policies on your life, your spouse’s life, or on your children, whether it is an individual policy or a policy through your employer. This includes any documents indicating a cash balance or loans against the policies.
Documents Related to Marital Debts
- An itemized list of any outstanding, unsecured debts including credit cards, medical bills, and any other loans, in your name or your spouse's name.
Documents Related to Pension Funds
- A copy of recent statements for pension funds, retirement funds, 401(k) plans, mutual funds, or IRAs.
Documents Related to Automobiles Owned
- Title or registration to all vehicles owned by you or your spouse individually or jointly, including but not limited to: automobiles, boats, ATVs, snowmobiles, farm equipment, or other vehicles.
- Any documents demonstrating the current outstanding secured debt on the vehicles, including payment coupons, amortization schedules, or monthly invoices.