As with any legal claim, it is important that the parties understand which 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.

Often times, some information is 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 you stay organized and prepared for any issues that might arise during the court proceedings.

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

You will need to prepare many different types of documents and information in preparation for a divorce claim or lawsuit.  Many of these can serve as evidence during the trial in case the matters are contested by the opposing party.  In particular, the areas of property distribution, listing of assets, and child-related expenses are among the most heavily contested matters during the typical process of divorce.  

You should prepare to organize and gather information in the following categories:

Personal Information:

  • Birth certificate
  • Social Security cards and documents
  • Your documents involving immigration and/or naturalization, if applicable
  • Any court judgments, certificates, or decrees from proceedings involving a previous spouse
  • Any separation agreements between you and the current spouse
  • Any pre-or post-nuptial agreements
  • Proof of the court’s jurisdiction over your current divorce claim

Property Documents and Financial Records:

  • Income tax returns (local, state, and federal) for the past 3-5 years
  • Employment records, especially pay stubs, wage statements, overtime, and bonus pay
  • Retirement and pension plans, individual retirement account (IRA)files, and annuities
  • 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 of basic expenses for clothing, housing, utilities, rent, food, repairs, gas, and child-rearing costs
  • You may also wish to check to see if your state follows community property rules

Information Regarding Children:

  • Birth and medical information of any children involved in the process
  • Records of child-rearing expenses and duties
  • Immigration and/or naturalization documents of any children, if applicable
  • Photographs, video, and tape recordings of you and your 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 you can see, it can take some time to compile all the information necessary for a divorce filing.  Each individual case is different, and some proceedings may require less documentation while others might require more.  Thus it is helpful to begin working with a lawyer well before the claim is filed so that you have time to obtain all the information needed for court.

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 claim.  Your attorney can instruct you regarding which information to compile before filing for divorce.  It might actually be necessary to contact a lawyer several weeks or months before the divorce proceedings actually begin.  Each state has different laws and filing deadlines for divorce and other related claims.