Your attorney will need information about the marriage before starting the divorce process. While personal information is important, the often-contentious negotiation of dividing assets is based on these critical documents. This information provides a facts-and-figures account of marital assets, marital debt, property valuations, and other vital financial information. A spouse may say things to a mediator or in court, but these documents may provide a more accurate account of the family’s marital assets.
The client can gather the papers and then put them in an organized file for the attorney to review. These will give a clear insight into the financial health of the marriage and help them create a strategy for negotiation and creative problem solving that is often necessary. Collecting these papers also helps clients better understand their financial situation and organize their priorities as they plan for the future.
Organizing them into groups
There is a wide range of documents, which can generally get divided into the following categories:
- Income: This involves pay stubs, tax returns, return on investments, expenses of running a business (if there is a business owner) and other documents specific to the spouses.
- Real estate: This includes mortgage information, documents that describe the property, tax assessor documents, refinancing information, titles and other official information.
- Joint accounts: This includes bank statements, investment account statements and records of other jointly held financial assets.
- Life insurance: This includes policies for the spouses or other family members.
- Pensions and retirement funds: These can be a sizable asset for older couples. They often include 401(k), IRA accounts, mutual funds, and other retirement account information.
- Vehicles: Cars and trucks can be major assets (or debts), so it is helpful to have the title, registration and loan information.
- Debts: Most families carry a certain amount of marital debt, including credit card balances, medical bills, large outstanding bills, or other loans in the names of either spouse.
Dividing it up
Once the attorneys have all the information and verify its accuracy, they can start negotiating a fair and equitable division of marital assets. While it depends on the couple, the split is not automatically 50-50. Moreover, formerly individual assets like a home or business may comingle, meaning the other spouse can claim a certain amount of ownership. Attorneys can explain the specifics as they relate to particular divorces.