Divorce Planning: What Documents Should You Have Ready?

A divorce is almost always document intensive. Most issues are determined by the documents a party has at his or her disposal. It’s important to start your divorce planning by gathering and organizing the documents which will be needed to prove the issues of the case. Just as it is easier to put up a tent in the daytime, with the sun shining instead of on a rainy night, it is far less stressful and much more effective if you gather and organize these documents before you initiate the divorce.

Most of the documents you will need are common sense. These include the following:

  • Deeds and deeds of trust on real property
  • Escrow closing statements for real property
  • Vehicle registrations
  • Contracts to purchase or lease agreements for vehicles
  • Monthly statements for financial accounts (banks, credit unions) for at least the last two (2) years
  • Quarterly/annual statements for deferred compensation plans
  • Documents which prove any separate property claims (such as inheritances, sales of pre-date of marriage assets)
  • Credit card statements for the past two (2) years

If you own a business, it would be wise to begin organizing all of your financial documents—the ones that are normally used by you and your tax expert to prepare your annual tax returns.

What are the next steps in divorce planning after you collect your documents?

After you have gathered and organized these documents, it is very important to keep these documents in a safe place which is not accessible to your spouse. Suggestions for a safe place include the house of a biological family member or a very close friend. Do not keep these documents in your vehicle, as it is highly likely that your spouse has access to your vehicle and would then be able to remove and keep the result of all of your hard work.

Finally, in regard to personal belongings and furniture, it is wise to remove those items which are irreplaceable such as family heirlooms and your jewelry. These should be stored at the same safe place at which you deposit the documents you gathered and organized.

Do not remove the furniture and art work in your house. Instead, walk through every room with the video of your cell phone and record every item of furniture in the house. It is also a good idea to take photographs of every large item of furniture in the house. By doing so, you will maintain a good record of the contents of the house before the divorce begins, and it will decrease the chance that your spouse will remove these items or, if they are removed, it will be much easier to prove what was taken.