Information to Compile before Filing for Divorce

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 Why Do I Need to Gather Information Before Filing for Divorce?

As with any legal action, it is important that the parties to it understand what information to compile before filing for divorce. However, in a divorce situation, this becomes even more important as the parties must often work in a cooperative manner in order for the results to be fair and efficient. Each party will be required to exchange information and documents regarding such issues as property distribution, assets, and child custody and visitation rights.

On occasion, certain information may be considered “privileged” or confidential and cannot be accessed by the other party or their lawyer. By starting early, compiling information before the divorce can help a person stay organized and prepared for any issues that might arise during the court proceedings.

Many states now require a person who files a petition for dissolution of their marriage to file a financial disclosure form at the same time as they file their petition. The form might require disclosure of a couple’s assets and debts as well as income and expenses. The other party has to file a similar disclosure form when they file their answer to the petition.

California is one such state. It requires the person who files for divorce to include a preliminary disclosure with their divorce petition. The disclosure specifies the couple’s assets and debts, along with information about their income and expenses.

Then, later in the dissolution process, the same form is used to make a more detailed financial disclosure. On this later disclosure, the parties have to characterize their property as community or separate. Of course, California is a community property state. The spouses can agree to waive this final disclosure. However, if they do not, the disclosure must be made at least 45 days before the final judgment is entered or the trial begins.

Many other states also require financial disclosures as soon as a petition for dissolution is filed.

What Types of Documents and Information Do I Need to Compile?

A person needs to prepare a number of different types of documents and information in preparation for a divorce petition. Many of these can serve as evidence during the trial in case the opposing party contests any issues. In particular, the areas of property distribution, listing of assets, and child-related expenses are among the most heavily contested matters during a typical process of divorce.

Among the documents needed to file for divorce are the following:

Personal Information:

  • Birth certificate;
  • Social Security cards and any related documents;
  • Any documents involving immigration and/or naturalization, if applicable;
  • Any court judgments, certificates, or decrees from proceedings involving a previous spouse;
  • Any separation agreements between the spouses of the current marriage;
  • Any pre-or post-nuptial agreements; and
  • Proof of the court’s jurisdiction over the current divorce claim, i.e., proof of residence.

Property Documents and Financial Records:

  • Income tax returns (local, state, and federal) for the past 3 to 5 years;
  • Employment records, especially pay stubs, wage statements, and records of overtime and bonus pay;
  • Retirement and pension plans, individual retirement account (IRA) statements, and annuity statements;
  • Real estate contracts, leases, deeds, and other property certificates, especially if property has been subject to commingling;
  • Documents recording debt, such as loan statements, credit card debt, and mortgages;
  • Bank information such as savings and checking account amounts, checkbook records, and deposit slips;
  • Showing basic expenses for clothing, housing, utilities, rent, food, repairs, gas, and child-rearing costs; and
  • A person may also wish to check to see if their state follows community property rules or equitable distribution rules for division of marital property.

Information Regarding Children:

  • Birth and medical information of any children of the marriage;
  • Records of child-rearing expenses and duties;
  • Immigration and/or naturalization documents of any children, if applicable;
  • Photographs, video, and tape recordings of the parties and their children.

Business-Related Information (especially if owned or operated jointly by the spouses):

  • Tax information of the business;
  • Profits and losses statements for the business;
  • Balance sheets, financial statements, insurance policies, and other books kept by the business;
  • Securities information, such as stocks, shareholder agreements, and corporate minutes;
  • Documentation of property and assets held by the business.

As can be seen from the above list, it may take some time to compile all the information necessary for a divorce filing. Of course, each individual case is different, and some proceedings may require less documentation while others might require more. For example, not every couple owns a business. If a couple does not, that would eliminate the need to compile information about a business.

But in virtually every case, it is helpful to begin working with a lawyer well before the divorce petition is filed so a person has time to gather up all the information needed for court.

What Else Should I Know About Before Filing for Divorce?

It is helpful to know how a petition for dissolution of a marriage proceeds in court. It is important to keep in mind that a person is not divorced until a court issues a decree of dissolution of a person’s marriage.

A number of issues are addressed as part of a dissolution proceeding. The issue of property division of the marital property and marital debt is decided. How a couple’s property can be characterized is important. A person wants to know if they live in a community property state or an equitable division state.

Another issue is whether one spouse is ordered to pay spousal support or alimony to the other. The issue of which spouse is awarded custody of the children of the marriage or whether custody is to be shared by both spouses is also decided. If one spouse is awarded primary physical custody, then the other spouse would need a visitation schedule.

In many states, the courts encourage couples to negotiate and agree on such issues as child custody and visitation.

Certain aspects of divorce may vary by state, so a person wants to learn about the law in the state in which they live. However, it is also true that the process is similar in most states in many respects.

Finally, in most states, the court encourages the spouse to negotiate and agree on as many issues as possible. One way to expedite a divorce is for the couples to settle as many issues as possible, even all of them, if that can be done. Courts usually are happy to incorporate the spouses’ agreements on issues in the divorce into the final divorce decree.

In fact, today, most divorces are negotiated and resolved through agreements that the parties themselves make. And if the spouses find that they cannot reach a final settlement of one or more issues, there can be a trial limited to those issues only.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help in Filing a Divorce Claim?

It is usually necessary to work with a divorce lawyer when preparing for a divorce case. Your attorney can instruct you regarding the information you need to compile before filing for divorce so that you are prepared for the process to come.

Contacting a lawyer a few weeks before you begin the divorce proceeding might be necessary. can connect you to a divorce lawyer who can get you fully prepared to manage your divorce process.

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