Deciding on divorce will be one of the biggest hurdles you will jump during your life. The next hurdle will be compiling your financial information for analysis during the divorce process itself. And when you prepare financially for divorce, it can be a hurdle on its own.
Like many people about to get divorced, just the thought of figuring out what to look for and where to start looking is probably causing you to feel anxious, overwhelmed, and scared. Surely you have heard horror stories about how difficult some divorces can be, some taking way too long to complete, causing the parties involved lots of stress and leaving those in their wake financially devastated.
Is this your fate? I would suggest it does not have to be. Much of it depends on the actions you take early on in your divorce.
How to Prepare Financially for Divorce
How thoroughly you prepare for your divorce, even in the beginning stages before hiring a lawyer, can substantially impact the divorce process, starting with dramatically minimizing your stress level. By doing your “homework” now, you won’t find yourself scrambling to locate missing information or be as likely to find yourself on the receiving end of a surprise from your soon-to-be-ex, now adversary.
Think about your divorce as a mystery you want to solve. Be Scooby Dooby Doo (showing my age now). The more clues your lawyer has at the outset of your case, particularly about your finances, the better he or she will be able to represent you, securing the result you want. Preparation applies to results that aren’t necessarily money-related on their face either, like child custody. The truth is, most issues will affect your financial arrangement in some way, despite not being obvious to you now.
If you are intentional and organize your finances on the front end, your concern will lessen because your lawyer will be armed to protect you. By systematically collecting the information required of you, you will give your lawyer added direction about what documents and records the other side must still produce, leaving nothing to the imagination.
The good news for you is that financial information easily falls into broad categories, potentially making the discovery phase of your divorce much more manageable. Here are three areas to focus on as you begin your search.
- The marital home, including deed
- Other real estate interests and deeds
- Ownership interest in vehicles including cars, boats, planes, and farming equipment
- Marital property inventory, with receipts if available
- Non-marital property, with receipts if available
- Household inventory
- Debt records, including bankruptcy filings, liens, and foreclosure information
- Credit cards (joint and separate)
- Mortgage and home equity lines of credit (HELOC)
- Any loans
- Household bills
- Lease payments
- Financial statements (joint and separate)
- Bank account statements (joint and separate)
- At least three years of income tax returns with all schedules
- Other investment details
- Retirement/pensions/employee benefit plans
- Most recent paystubs
- Life insurance policies, including those from employers
Plus, anything else that may impact your financial picture. If you are unsure if you should include an item, offer it to your counsel anyway. A divorce lawyer’s expertise lies in their ability to think about how specific financial considerations apply to your situation, so you don’t have to.
Words of Encouragement
Divorce is as much a process of breaking up a financial union as it is a romantic one. That means you need to protect your finances, similar to how you would protect your heart. Like other formidable challenges you have faced in your lifetime, you — and your bottom line — can recover with time and hard work. Be sure to prepare financially for divorce, and you won’t regret it.