If you are contemplating divorce, there are things you should do to protect yourself before you tell your spouse. Gathering as much information as possible – and talking to an attorney first – will put you in a much stronger position when it’s time to file. Once you tell your spouse you want a divorce, they may start to get a lot more secretive about things, so it is in your best interest to prepare beforehand.
Many, if not most, of the documents listed below will be available online, so if you can’t get physical copies, don’t worry about it. If you have online access to the accounts, that might be the easiest – and fastest – way to grab the evidence you need.
Screen Shots and Photographs
If you can’t get your hands on all the documents you need but can at least take screenshots of account numbers, that alone is helpful. Your attorney will need to know where to look to ensure your spouse is disclosing everything during discovery. Have you had text conversations about parenting? Take a screenshot. If you have valuable personal belongings, whether that is cash in a safe, jewelry, or expensive artwork, take pictures. If those items “disappear” after you file for divorce, you will evidence of their existence if you’ve taken photos.
The Documents you Need
It may look like a long list, but the more you can gather in advance, the more prepared you’ll be.
- HUD 1-A Settlement Statement – this is the document prepared for every real estate purchase that shows the purchase price, closing costs, down payment, etc.;
- Mortgage statement – your most recent one is enough;
- Appraisal – any that have been done on the marital residence or other jointly-owned properties;
- Deeds – get a copy of the deed for every property you own;
- Pre-marriage property – document any real estate you owned (or any gift that was given only to you) prior to the marriage.
- Paystubs – have your 6 most recent paystubs from work;
- Additional income documentation – if there is income not shown in tax returns or paystubs;
- Retirement benefits – your last 3 statements or award letters for any retirement benefits for which you are eligible, including 401(k), deferred comp, pension, military pension, IRA, etc.;
- Employment – Prepare a list of all employers during the marriage. Include job titles, dates of employment, reason for leaving, and ending rate of pay.
Income and Debt
- Tax returns – you will need the last 3 years of returns, complete with all schedules, worksheets, W2, and 1099 forms;
- Bank statements – the last 6 months of statements for all deposit accounts;
- Revolving debt statements – the last 6 statements for any debts you owe, including credit cards, car loans, student loans, mortgage loans, homes equity loans, 401(k) loans, installment loans, personal lines of credit, etc.;
- Separate debt documentation – you should document any debt that you are claiming is your or your spouse’s separate debt;
- Investment accounts – get copies of your last 3 statements.
- Motor vehicle titles – get copies of all vehicle titles;
- Life insurance policies – copies of all life insurance policies and current beneficiaries;
- Inheritance – if this applies to you, provide documentation to show who it went to;
- Trusts – get a copy of any trust in which you have any interest.
And if You Have Children….
- Health Insurance – documentation of any health insurance paid by either party; and
- Recurring child-related expenses – whether this is day care, school fees, tuition, sports fees, etc., you will need to provide documentation of how much is being spent on them.
Other Do’s and Don’ts
If you want to put yourself in the best position for a divorce, there are some other helpful tips you should know.
- Limit social media – Be very careful about anything you post or “like”. Social media is discoverable and can (and most likely will) be used against you. This is not the place to vent.
- Do NOT make any admissions – don’t say things like “I have a temper” or “I know I drink a lot”.
- Get it in writing – Communication with your spouse should be in writing and remember, your statements can be used as evidence, so be the reasonable one!
- Take screen shots – this is a great way to save text conversations with your spouse.
- Record interactions with your spouse – this is legal in Ohio. As long as one party (you) is aware the conversation is being recorded, the other party’s consent is not necessary.
- Do NOT move out of the house – always talk to your attorney first.
- NEVER threaten your spouse – don’t put them in a position where they may fear for their safety.
Talk to a divorce attorney
While this list will get you started, there is much to do if you want to be prepared for your divorce. Even if you think your spouse is reasonable and would never hide property, accounts, or assets from you, experience has taught us otherwise. Contact the family law firm of Kirkland & Sommers and schedule a free consultation with a divorce lawyer before you talk to your spouse. Protect yourself and your financial future…. schedule your free consultation today!