Whether you are contemplating a divorce or simply experiencing doubts about your marriage, there are certain tasks that you can do to put yourself in a better position should you or your spouse decide to file. Documentation is the key to any litigation. During the weeks or months leading up to a divorce action and long before you retain an attorney, you should prepare a folder with the following:
- State and Federal Tax Returns for the previous three years
- Earning statements for both you and your spouse for the past 90 days
- Retirement account statements for the last four quarters
- Debt Statements (current): Mortgage(s); Vehicle liens, Credit Card Statements, line of credit, 401(k) loans, judgments, IRS debt, medical bills
- Bank account statements for past 6 months: (personal, joint, business, estate)
- Prepare and update a detailed monthly household budget to account for all expenditures
- Copy relevant grade cards for the children
- Copy of any discipline issues
- Keep a calendar reflecting spouses involvement or lack thereof
- Copy of school records which indicate your involvement with IEP programs or volunteer work
- Documentation of spouses substance abuse: criminal records, OVI arrest, relevant medical issues
- Develop a potential character witness list to testify regarding parenting skills or relationships with the children
- Child Care records
Whether you are the breadwinner in the family or the primary caregiver for the children, preparing these lists is equally important for both parties. The more work you do on the front end of a divorce to assist your attorney, the greater likelihood you will be satisfied with the outcome of the court process. I often hear, “My husband pays all of the bills or he controls all of the accounts.” There are still ways to obtain the information. You can contact your utility companies and ask for statements. Even if you are not on the account, often they will provide you with an average month usage for the past year. You should ask for a written statement. You can request tax statements from the IRS for past tax years. Most importantly, you can remain diligent with the household mail and check for statements that arrive.
The best time to collect this data is before your spouse suspects that you are thinking of or contemplating terminating your marriage. Lastly, don’t’ forget to keep your important documents in a safe place outside of your residence. Look to a close friend or family member who may also be your confidant during the divorce.