As much as divorce is not a competition, it's easy to end up on the losing side. More often than not, couples go to court unprepared, and they end up bearing the brunt of this oversight. You can end up getting less alimony than you should, reduced visitation rights, losing the custody battle, etc. That's why your lawyer and support team will always encourage you to prepare for what's ahead.

Even if you and your spouse seem to be on the same page, tables can turn once you get to court. Your spouse can make claims about you or the marriage which you know are not valid. However, if they have proof and you don't have anything to back you up, you can lose.

For example, if your spouse claims that they pay the mortgage and you don't, how can you prove them wrong?

You would need to show proof of payment!

Now, picture this happening during the court proceedings, and you haven't had time to compile your documents. Who would the judge believe?

It's one instance, but it's enough to show you how bad things can turn out for the unprepared spouse. You do not want to be that spouse looking like a deer caught in headlights during the trial. Thus, whether you are having a simple or complex divorce, it's time you prepared for the trial. To help you get started, we have come up with the ultimate divorce checklist.

Quick Tips

As you read through the list, you'll see that there's a lot underway for you to prepare for the divorce adequately. Here are some simple tips to help you get on the right path:

  • Balance your assets and liabilities. Do you know how to make a balance sheet? It's time you did. In it, include all the assets and liabilities you have amassed during and before the marriage. Anything that makes you money or can be sold to make you money is an asset – include it.
  • Open a credit card. Most couples share credit cards. At the time of divorce, your partner can decide to sabotage you financially. It can be by mindless shopping, account closures, or debt amassing, etc. You never know how your spouse will react during a divorce. Thus, close the joint credit card account and open a new one in your name.
  • Get a credit report. This point relates to the one above. Your spouse may decide to rack up debt to make it harder for you to move on after the divorce. It's important to get a credit report on how much debt you have so far. It also helps you keep an eye on what your spouse is up to and if they're trying to sabotage you financially.
  • Open a savings account. Do you have a joint account with your spouse? It's time you stopped channeling money into it. At this time, what you need is an account in your name. It allows you to control your spending and put some money aside for a rainy day.

We understand that it may be difficult to understand how much you own at the time of the divorce. It might even be more challenging if your spouse decides to withhold information. Luckily, you both have to disclose your finances during divorce, which will work to your advantage. For now, include what you are aware of and allow the wheels of justice to take care of the rest.

The Benefits of Being Organized

Digging up financial records and crunching numbers may not be your idea of a fun Saturday evening.

It's easy to disregard this part and allow your legal team to deal with whatever comes of it.

However, that puts you at a disadvantage.

Let's cover some of the motivations behind being organized:

  • It saves you time. If you already have the documents in one place, you can avoid a lengthy back and forth between you and the attorney. Your financial analyst will also work faster instead of having to request one document after the other.
  • It protects you. Divorce affects your dependents as well, and you have to consider them when making this life decision. For example, will your children still attend the same schools? Will both parents have rights to the children, and if so, how will this work? How much money does the household need to provide for the children? Figure this out by running through the records and deciding what's the best outcome in the trial.
  • It enables you to assess your financial status. After completing your balance sheet, you'll see if you have a surplus or deficit. This information will guide you as you move through the divorce. You may have to cut back on expenses or could realize you have enough to start investing.
  • It gives your counsel an upper hand. Your attorney will review your assets and see what you can get out of the divorce. Without understanding what's at stake, your lawyer cannot help you much.
  • It helps you determine child support and alimony payments. Once the divorce is final, you will no longer be privy to shared credit cards, homes, and accounts. As such, your credit may take a hit. You must prove that you need support from your spouse if you do. Additionally, you must show how much money you need to bridge the gap. If you're the more financially stable spouse, you need to see what your spouse brings to the table. It can help you argue that they are trying to get more than they need to run a household.

Once you have gathered all your documents, ensure that you make enough copies for your attorney and any other parties helping in the divorce. It will allow you and the attorney to review your documents in time and forge a strategy to help you get what you need.

Pro-Tip

Did you know that you don't have to go to court to settle your divorce?

Litigation often comes burdened with fights and negative emotions. Couples can also walk away with a bad taste in their mouth, souring their relationships for good.

But what if there was another way out? Have you heard of amicable divorces?

These divorces take less time, cost less money, and cause less friction. It's a win-win for everybody! Talk to your spouse about it and see if this might be a path you would want to consider.

What to do if Your Spouse Controls Many of the Records You Need 

In marriages, it's easy to become comfortable and delegate specific roles to each other. For example, your spouse may be in charge of finances while you deal with another aspect. It often works great until you split and things take a turn for the worse. In such an instance, your spouse can be willing to share information with you and show you the records. Unfortunately, this is hardly ever the case. Instead, the controlling spouse often resorts to hiding or hoarding records. They can also fail to comply with your requests.

What can you do to deal with a spouse who won't work with you?

The first trick is to start early. Once you have a clue that your marriage is heading towards a dead-end, start collecting information. By the time your spouse becomes aware of your actions, you'll have made headway.

What if the separation is imminent and they have hidden information?

In this case, you can try and open the communication lines. It's hard to communicate with your spouse when the wound is still fresh. However, now is the time to put your best foot forward if you want to salvage your relationship. Be respectful and request that you get a copy of the records. While it may be hard to put your pride aside, this can work for your good.

What if your spouse still will not let up and gives you a hard time?

You'll have to take legal action with the help of your attorney. Possible recovery methods include formal discoveries, using forensic accountants, and even certified divorce financial planners. They will know what to look for and can get you the information you need.

Before the Divorce

Once you are sure you're getting a divorce and are not turning back, here are some things you should get sorted:

Marriage Counsellor

Counselors not only help couples stay together but also provide invaluable advice during separation. Divorces are not easy, and nobody expects you to breeze through yours. Thus, finding a safe space to talk about your feelings is important. You can detail how you feel about your spouse, your life now, and your future. Talking it out will help you deal with the emotions positively rather than dealing with them in a harmful manner.

Contact an Attorney

Yes, attorneys are expensive, and nobody will try to convince you otherwise. However, they serve an integral role in the divorce process, and you cannot disregard their services. First, they understand the intricacies of the law and can argue on your behalf, ensuring you have a good chance. Secondly, they are not emotionally tied to the outcome of the case. Thus, they can argue with a level head and avoid personal attacks. As much as you may be knowledgeable on court processes, your emotions can serve as your Achilles heel. Seek professional help instead.

P.O. Box to Receive any Personal Mail

There are two main reasons to get a personal mailbox. One is if your spouse does not know that you are thinking about a divorce. This privacy enables you to plan and get your ducks in a row. Plus, if you change your mind and decide to stay in the marriage, you can keep your earlier divorce plans a secret. Two is so that your spouse cannot intercept your mail. Once your spouse knows that you want to leave, they may try to sabotage your correspondence. Get a personal mailbox now and enjoy some peace of mind.

Divorce Preparation Checklist 

We understand that all divorces are different, and what applies to one person may not apply to another. As such, we have compiled an extensive list of personal info you should have at hand. See what applies to you and talk to your attorney about any additional info you may need:

Personal Information

  • Your details- this includes your name in full, SSN, and date of birth
  • Your contact details- where you live, email address, your phone number
  • Proof that you reside in the state- most states dictate a minimum period of residency before you can file for divorce. E.g., in Texas, you must have been a resident for at least 180 days.
  • Employment information- show your employer's name, address, and phone number.
  • How long you have been employed and how much you make
  • At least three years in income tax returns
  • Your spouse's details- name, SSN, and date of birth
  • Your spouse's contact info- where they live, email address, and phone number
  • Your spouse's employment information: the employer's name, address, and phone number
  • If your spouse should be served with divorce papers at work or home
  • The name and contact information of your spouse's attorney
  • If you sought marital therapy and how many times you went. Include the dates as proof.
  • If you have children and copies of their birth certificates
  • Where the children will live, who has custody and visitation rights, and if you want to fight for custody or visitation
  • Where and when you got married
  • Whether you were married before and details about past marriages
  • Whether you have children from a past marriage- their names, SSNs, and dates of birth
  • Whether you have child support or want child support. Include who pays and how much they pay
  • How much it takes to run the household, e.g., tuition for the children
  • How much you project to spend per month
  • Whether you have a health insurance plan for the children and who pays for it
  • Why you are getting a divorce – fault or no-fault
  • Any temporary orders by the court. You will get these as you move further along with the divorce. They include deadlines, instructions, procedures, and restrictions.
  • Domestic partnership certificates where applicable
  • A recent social security statement
  • A separation agreement
  • What you owned before the marriage- It includes properties, animals, machinery, safety deposit boxes, etc.
  • What you own now- properties, animals, etc.
  • Who owes you money, and when they will pay you back
  • Any amounts or properties inherited by each of you during the marriage
  • Any lawsuits against or lodged by you

Consider these bits of information and decide if you would like to add more to your documents.

Financial Documents

We are finally at the part that requires your utmost attention. You need to look through each of the following financial documents. Ensure you have enough copies of each item (where applicable) and provide these to your legal team. Let's get to what will help you stay afloat during this divorce:

Tax and Income Documents

  • The last three months' income statements and end-of-year statements for you and your spouse: Ensure that you include things that do not show up on the paystub. These include stock options, bonuses, vacation hours, extra income and ESPPs, etc.
  • Individual tax returns for the past five years on both state and federal levels: Ensure that the returns are accurate and, if not, order a copy from the IRS. Your copies should include W2 forms, K1 forms, schedules, and attachments. Please note that this applies to you and your spouse.
  • Business tax returns for the last five years: If you and your spouse have engaged in business in the last five years, you will have filed returns. Get hold of these and add them to your file.
  • Individual financial statements for the last five years: Include how you and your spouse have spent money during this period. For example, if your spouse recently bought a car, this will show in the statement.
  • Business financial statements for the last five years: Any headway made in business will show in these records, e.g., loan applications.
  • Employment Contracts or Offer Letters. These documents will show how much both you and your spouse make, including benefits. If any benefits are not included in the letters, ensure you add these.
  • Self-Employed Details such as your/ your spouse's
  • Business appraisal
  • Business valuation
  • Profit and loss statements in the last five years
  • Tax returns in the last five years

As you can see, you have quite a lot of digging to do before you can strike gold. Aim for information that extends to the last five years, and you should be good.

Real Estate Documents

What about your real estate property? What copies should you provide?

  • The current Grant Deed(s) with a legal description on who holds the title- Please provide any changes to the deed since acquisition. At this time, you will not require to provide the Deed of Trust.
  • Any appraisals over the last two years: If your property has been subject to any valuation or market value opinions in the last two years, please include this. It aids the court in assessing how much your home is worth and your cut.
  • The final escrow statement for purchase or sale: This two to three-page document will guide the court on price, installments, closing fees, and other pertinent details to the agreement. If you have one that relates to a recent refinance, please include this.
  • The value of your property on a cost approach: If you have made any improvements to the home, e.g., kitchen remodeling, please show this. It will drive up the cost of the home and enable you to get a fair share from the divorce.
  • A sale or exchange of principal of residence copy with form 2119: Please note that you will require a federal tax return if you deferred gains to the new principal residence. It should date the year you sold the residence provided this took place before 6th May 1997.
  • Any lines of credits or mortgages complete with recent statements showing who's liable for the loans: Ensure you include the amount of the loan, what's been paid off, the current balance, and interest rate.
  • All records of rental properties and a value assessment based on cost improvements: Include ownership details.
  • All records of vacation and timeshare properties complete with ownership details:
  • A statement from a recent tax assessment

Personal Property Information

Your work is not done yet. You also need to include:

  • An inventory of what you have in your home. Go by everything one by one and estimate each item's value, including furniture, bedding, appliances, and cutlery. You can as well disclose that the values are unknown and the purchases took place over various dates. However, for valuable items, please arm yourself with receipts.
  • A list of collections. Whether it's wine, jewelry, art, or collectibles, you need to provide ownership records and receipts. Additionally, include a description of the items and their appraisals. For example, if you own art worth $20,000, you would not want to leave this open to interpretation. Have your paperwork ready, including insurance records.
  • Vehicles, machinery, watercraft and aircraft, etc.: Whatever you or your spouse own in this category should have up-to-date ownership records. Provide copies of these, the valuation assessments, and loan statements (where applicable).

Other Financial Information: Bank Accounts, Insurance Policies, Investments, Retirement, etc.

It's easy to focus on the big-ticket items as we have under personal property. However, insurance policies, bank accounts, and other investment vehicles also influence your financial health. Include your:

  • Current statements on all accounts. From checking to savings to credit to deposit accounts, ensure you have recent statements. Please do this for your account and your spouse's.
  • Cash balances in the home and safety deposit boxes. If you have wads of cash lying around in the home, figure out how much they amount to and add this.
  • Tax refunds you have received or are yet to receive. The documents should relate to any amounts before and after your separation from your spouse.
  • Children's bank account details. If you have opened any accounts in your children's names, show how much is in them.
  • Any personal insurance policies. Indicate the type of policy issued, who pays for it, who is the beneficiary, how much the policy is worth, and any loans against it. If the policies do not have cash values, please indicate the benefits at maturity or death. Might we add that this is an excellent time to strike your spouse's name from the beneficiary list?
  • Any property insurance policies. Include how much you pay to insure your home, business, vehicles, and other assets.
  • Investments in the stock, bond, and money markets: Do a deep dive into how much you and your spouse hold in these markets and compile the statements. You'll need to value these holdings using a cost basis.
  • Any retirement and pension accounts. Make sure you include any recent and outstanding benefits from existing and prior employers. Also, show how much would accrue from the accounts monthly at the time of retirement.
  • Any unsecured notes and account receivables: Please indicate this and show the amounts if you're expecting money. A good example would be a lottery winning.
  • Any annuities and deferred compensations: Please show statements for such accounts.
  • All business interests. You and your spouse should prepare an asset and debts schedule regarding your business. It applies to all forms of entities.
  • Any other assets not shown in this list. You may have other assets such as:
  • Stock options and purchase plans
  • Cafeteria benefit plans
  • Employment benefits
  • Early retirement benefits
  • Intellectual property

Please note that you should provide the most recent accounts in all cases. Otherwise, your copies may be deemed out of date, thus putting you at a disadvantage.

Credit and Debt Information

Focusing on assets is often fun. However, you must also consider the debt aspect when compiling your financial records. Be sure to give copies of:

  • Any education loans. Provide copies of the most recent statement showing the loan amount, period, interest rate, and balance.
  • Owed and unpaid taxes. If you or your spouse have a tax deficit or are owed tax, please indicate this. Also, show the amount to be paid and the source of the money.
  • Any support arrears. If you pay child support for children in a previous or existing marriage, please show this. Suppose you are behind on payments, you should indicate this. The same goes for if your spouse has not kept up with child support payments.
  • Any unsecured loans. Show the name of the loan provider, the amount, the agreement, the balance, and the interest rate.
  • Any credit cards (both individual and joint): Please provide the name on the card, the unpaid balance, and the most recent statement.
  • Credit reports on both you and your spouse
  • Any other debts not shown in the list above.

Business Records

Where you or your spouse engage in business, you must show:

  • Business tax returns over the last five years paid at the state and federal government levels
  • Financial statements over the last five years
  • Recent balance sheets
  • Copies of entity ownership and how much stake you own, e.g., partnership agreements

Estate Planning Documents

You probably already have a plan in place for what happens if you die or cannot make decisions for yourself. You must provide copies of your:

  • Most people remove their spouses as beneficiaries, and you may want to consider this.
  • Certifications of Trust where applicable. Please note that all you need is a copy and not the whole Trust Document.
  • Powers of attorney. If your spouse currently serves this role, you may want to remove them before the divorce.
  • Any healthcare directives: e.g., what happens to you if you're on life support.

Issues and Questions 

Have we adequately covered your bases?

You may find that you need more insights on what to include and what to exclude. If so, compile a list of concerns as you go by. Group them by experts and once you have finished your compilation, consult each expert individually. For example, you can hold a meeting with your accountant regarding fiscal issues. By meeting with them once or twice, you will figure out the possible solutions. Plus, you can avoid an unending back and forth that consumes time and eats into your budget.

Final Thoughts 

As you prepare for your divorce, you'll face some hard times, and you'll need some support to help you through. Thus, as much as financial prepping is important, take some time and assemble a support team. Whether it's a therapist or a friend, or a family member, you'll need the extra pair of hands at some point.

All the best!