Accurate recordkeeping is vital when you are going through a divorce, as minor details can sometimes make a big difference in the outcome of your case.
From keeping track of important financial and legal documents to securing proof of valuable possessions, the amount of legwork you put into organizing your case can end up saving you time and money as you progress through the divorce.
There are a number of ways thorough documentation and organization will help you and your attorney, and while all of the information you compile may not be necessary in the end, it is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to assembling evidence.
Obtain copies of critical documents early
The court is going to require numerous important documents throughout the process relating to yourself, your spouse and your children. It is also important to remember that divorce is a very fluid situation that can escalate quickly and unexpectedly.
For example, you may feel that the process is sailing along fairly amicably when out of nowhere you are slapped with a temporary restraining order requiring you to leave the home.
In your confusion and with limited time to gather a few essentials, it is unlikely that you will remember to grab a copy of your tax returns, real estate deeds or insurance policies as you scramble to get your clothes packed.
Now, you may lose access to the home for several weeks or longer, which can create problems if your attorney needs any documents in the meantime.
Additionally, your spouse has the ability to play hardball and simply ignore your attempts to obtain them, which may waste your time and money by forcing your attorney to submit formal discovery requests.
To avoid these potential headaches, you should make several copies of anything that seems like it may be relevant during the course of your case as early as possible — ideally before even filing.
While the list of what your attorney will end up requiring varies based on your circumstances, here are some examples of the types of paperwork you may need at some point during the divorce:
- Tax returns for the past several years;
- Recent pay stubs;
- Stock / investment portfolios;
- Bank statements;
- Credit card statements;
- Pension / retirement account information;
- Social security cards and birth certificates;
- Mortgage documents;
- Life, health, home and auto insurance policies;
- Loan statements; and
- Business financial statements.
Once you have made copies, it is important that you organize them so they are easily-accessible whenever your attorney requests something. Using binders or color-coded tabs depending on the type of paperwork is one idea, though you simply need to devise a system that works for you.
While many of these important documents have likely been readily available throughout your marriage, it might surprise you how often they “go missing” once the divorce begins.
If you are able to plan ahead and make copies to keep somewhere safe, it can prevent many additional hassles down the road. Additionally, it will likely end up saving you money on attorney fees since your lawyer will not have to spend their time obtaining them.
Create an inventory of your possessions
Similar to important paperwork disappearing, it is distinctly possible for both large and small household possessions to conveniently vanish after an amicable divorce turns sour.
For example, take your wife’s jewelry collection:
Over the years of your marriage, she may have accumulated thousands of dollars in gold, silver and diamond jewelry, the value of which should be divided along with the rest of the marital estate.
However, it is distinctly possible that she would not want to share during a contentious divorce.
Instead of reporting the entire collection, she lets a friend “borrow” the more valuable pieces and only claims a few hundred dollars in cheaper items on her financial disclosure.
It then becomes a “he-said, she-said” situation in front of the judge, but without any proof that specific pieces of jewelry exist, it will likely end up being tossed out. Now you are potentially out thousands in assets that should have been up for division.
To prevent this sort of thing from happening, you should make a detailed inventory of your household possessions through photographs or video to ensure that you have proof items existed when it comes time to divide property.
You would then have evidence of your wife attempting to lie to the court, which can lead to monetary penalties as well as damage to her credibility.
The value for whatever could not be recovered would then be credited to your share of the marital assets, and in some states, an even greater portion can be awarded as punishment for your spouse’s deception.
Aside from getting your fair share of the property value, there is another reason to create a thorough household inventory: To prevent the loss or destruction of more sentimental possessions.
While the monetary value of items such as your childhood comic books or family heirlooms may not be as high as a jewelry collection, it can be even more painful to lose something of sentimental significance.
If possible, remove these from the home entirely and keep them somewhere safe to prevent a vengeful soon-to-be ex from discarding prized possessions.
However, be certain to do so in a transparent manner, as you want to avoid accusations of attempting to hide assets yourself.
Accurate recordkeeping will help ensure the divorce will continue to run smoothly without needless disclosure requests that only serve to slow the process down.
Although you should strive to work toward a peaceful dissolution, preparing for the worst in your spouse is always a good idea since even the most rational of people can act completely irrationally during a divorce.
Taking the time to create backup copies of documents and an inventory of possessions will help prevent you from being caught off guard by documents and possessions magically disappearing into the ether the moment divorce papers are filed.
Mat Camp is a former Lexicon Services Online Editor, who focused on providing a comprehensive look into all aspects of the divorce experience. On MensDivorce.com, he concentrated on issues, such as parenting time, custodial rights, mediation, the division of assets, and so much more.
Mr. Camp used the wealth of experience of Cordell & Cordell attorneys to bring tangible answers to reader questions in Ask a Lawyer articles, as well as offer a step by step process through the divorce experience with Cordell & Cordell Co-Founder and Principal Partner Joseph E. Cordell in Divorce 101: A Guide for Men.
Mr. Camp used thorough research to highlight the challenging reality that those who go through divorce or child custody issues face. He helped foster the continued success of the Men’s Divorce Survival Guide, the Men’s Divorce Podcast, and the Men’s Divorce YouTube series “Attorney Bites.”