Here are some actions you can take, and some records you can gather, to help prepare for a divorce. Planning and acting ahead may allow you to preserve information and prepare for court or negotiations. Preparing before you file makes the process easier and potentially less stressful.
1. Counseling: Most parties could benefit from counseling. Consider working with a professional counselor to help you decide whether to work on saving the marriage or to just get a divorce. If you decide to divorce, a counselor can help you work through the confusion and stress of the divorce process.
2. List and Copy: Make a list of all assets and liabilities and try to get as many supporting documents for each entry as possible. Make copies and put them in a safe place. Or get them in the hands of your lawyer sooner rather than later. Anything relating to finances should be included.
3. Budgeting: Make a budget for yourself and your family, based on current numbers. Start thinking about a future budget for your new situation. Spousal or child support is almost always an issue, so go ahead and prepare a budget showing your income and expenses now, and projecting forward.
4. Income Records: Collect your pay records and your spouse’s pay records for the last three to six months, including pay stubs, if possible. That includes bonuses and any income other than pay checks, such as dividends. Make copies and/or scan these documents so they can be kept in a safe place, and so you can get them when you need them.
5. Collect Financial Records: Gather any of the following that you can find. These will be needed during the divorce:
- tax returns (last 3 years);
- profit and loss statements for any businesses owned by you and your spouse;
- credit card statements (last 12 months, at least);
- bank statements with canceled checks (last 1-3 years);
- mortgage payment records;
- statements on all financial accounts, including money market funds, IRAs and mutual funds, if any (last 1-3 years); and
- the most recent quarterly and annual statements for any pension, 401K account, SEP account, stock and stock options.
6. Family Law Attorney: Research family law attorneys until you find one you like.
7. Chemistry: Meet with a lawyer in person and decide whether or not to hire him or her, considering in part whether the chemistry between you and attorney feels good. The attorney should have good experience and be qualified in family law. Once the attorney has experience and qualifies as a family law attorney, chemistry is key.
8. Hiring a Lawyer: Sign a fee agreement and pay the retainer. To complete the deal, make sure you get a written contract spelling out your obligations in plain English. You should expect to pay a substantial retainer on a major case. The attorney should keep you informed about the balance on your retainer and attorney fees.
9. Good Start: Timeline — It will really help your attorney if you will prepare a timeline of the major events of your marriage. Add a lot of details. Include major life events, financial high points and low points and any issues that upset you, your spouse or other family members. It helps to add good events as well.
The timeline helps your attorney understand your case faster and better. It is also helpful in preparing for negotiations or court. It will save you money by you doing the work and helping your attorney be better prepared.