This article will explain why it's important to get up to speed on your finances and what information you should gather before your divorce.
Why It's Important to Know Your Financial Details
In every divorce, one issue that must be resolved is the division of property and debt. But before you can make any decisions about who gets what, you must understand the "marital estate," meaning what you and your spouse own together. Without this vital information, you can't make an informed settlement offer to your spouse, and you and your attorney can't properly evaluate any offer you receive.
During the early stages of a divorce, one spouse may move out of the family home, either taking financial records, or leaving them behind. If you have no access to information, you'll be at a disadvantage in your divorce proceedings. Getting copies of your financial records can be a costly process: sending discovery requests and subpoenas, taking depositions, and otherwise fighting your spouse just to get basic financial information.
On the other hand, if you and your spouse both have complete lists and values of all of your assets and debts, you'll be in a much better position to settle your case quickly and inexpensively.
Assets You Should Know About
When obtaining documents for your divorce, financial account statements are a good place to start. Most banks and other financial institutions will let you print out the last 12 months of statements online, and you can get your current balances relatively easily. Download or print out the most recent statements for all retirement accounts, pensions, 401(k)s and IRAs.
You'll also want to get the following documents:
- all records relating to any property you own, including mortgages and second mortgages, loan documents, loan statements, insurance documents, HOA fee statements, and appraisals, if any.
- vehicle documents, including titles and loan statements, and
- account statements for any stock or investment accounts, CDs, and bonds.
Don't forget to gather documents relating to any valuable jewelry, art, and furniture, such as appraisals and receipts.
Don't Forget About Debts
Equally important as dividing assets is dividing your marital debts. Courts can apportion debt between spouses regardless of whose name is on the debt.
You'll definitely want to get as much information as possible about your current mortgage debt, car payments, and credit cards. Don't forget to include information about personal loans, promissory notes, loans against retirement accounts, store brand credit cards, and other debts you or your spouse may owe to third parties.
Income Information to Gather
Courts use income information in a variety of ways. Each spouse's income can affect child support, alimony, division of assets and debts, and which spouse gets to stay in the marital residence. Income can come from a wide variety of sources. Make sure you gather information about any and all of the following:
- salary and wages
- severance pay
- disability, unemployment, and workers' compensation
- social security and retirement income
- alimony and child support from previous relationships
- interest and dividends
- rental income, and
- fringe benefits, capital gains, and income from trusts
Judges often consider each spouse's expenses when determining how to divide the marital estate and how much to award in alimony or child support. For example, a court may award a parent with significant medical expenses a larger share of the marital estate to help pay for health care costs.
You'll want to compile a summary of all of your monthly expenses, with their average costs. Taking stock of all of your regularly occurring expenses will also help you plan a realistic budget for your post-divorce lifestyle. When tabulating expenses, include each of the following:
- children's expenses
- mortgage or rent, homeowner's or renter's insurance, HOA and condo fees
- utilities, cellphones, lawn or pool care, pest control
- auto and other vehicle expenses, including tag and license fees, gas and oil, and typical maintenance and repair costs.
- life insurance and medical insurance, including vision and dental
- entertainment and vacations
- club memberships and dues
- religious and charitable contributions, and
- minimum payments on debts, like student loans, car loans, and credit cards.
If it has to do with you or your spouse's finances, it's relevant to your divorce. Anything that has value or costs money is probably subject to division, and courts routinely divide even unusual assets, like frequent flyer miles or vested stock interests during a divorce.
If you have additional questions about gathering financial information before a divorce, contact a local divorce attorney.