By Attorney Susan J. Hoffman
When your marriage ends, there is no right or wrong way to feel. Unfortunately, it may be one of the most stressful events you will experience. The emotional, physical and financial stressors can interfere with your ability to focus and can cloud your judgment. In order to take control of your role in the situation, the most important thing you can do is prepare before you file for divorce. Even if you are taken by surprise and find yourself on the receiving end of a divorce petition, preparation is still key to helping control this event.
In order to make sure you are gathering everything you or your attorney will need, a checklist is provided and separated into manageable categories.
In order to get an accurate picture of your marital finances, whether for the purpose of securing a successful settlement or presenting your case to a Judge, all relevant data must be provided to ensure you don’t miss out on significant marital assets, accounts or investments. The documents should cover your long-term history in addition to your most recent transactions. While you should follow the advice of your attorney, 2-5 years of records for the time frame preceding the divorce is a good rule of thumb. The most commonly required items are
- Income Tax Returns
- Employment records
- Financial institution records (such as bank accounts and loan information)
- Investment account statements
- Deferred compensation and stock grants
- Financial statements and loan applications
- Pension plan information
- Retirement savings accounts
- Children’s bank accounts
- Debit and credit card statements
- Wills and Trusts
- Social Security statements
- Deposit box and safe inventories
- Statements of net worth
For any joint accounts, you can obtain your own copies of records even if your spouse normally handles the finances. You should pull a copy of your credit report to see what is listed in your name. While the discovery process is designed to disclose all financial information, the more you can obtain before filing for divorce, the smoother the process will be.
One important aspect of a divorce is understanding what each person in the union brought into the marriage. To get an idea of the documents that will assist you and your attorney, consider the below checklist:
- Marital home information
- Information about other real estate
- Vehicle information
- Personal property information (including lists and appraisals of jewelry, artwork, collections, antiques etc.)
- Businesses, corporations or partnerships
Be sure you identify what assets you brought into the marriage and how they were handled after the date of marriage.
For many people, the preparation of a Parenting Plan and Timesharing Agreement can be one of the most challenging and emotional aspects of a divorce. Since caring for your children together will involve cooperation, it is essential to have a working plan going into the future.
You should start by creating a list of the parenting items that are most important to you. There will need to be decisions about timesharing, insurance and expenses. Consider your priorities for your children’s immediate and long-term future. How will present and extracurricular activities be paid? Will both parents contribute to savings accounts for college expenses? There is no right or wrong answer, so you will need to think about what works for your family.
Take into consideration your children’s interest and what factors will keep their life constant in the face of the change the divorce will have on them.
PERSONAL DOCUMENTATION AND INFORMATION
Personal data related to you, your spouse, your children and your marriage will also be required by your attorney. This information includes:
- Birth dates
- Social Security numbers
- Date of marriage and copy of marriage certificate
- Information related to wedding ceremony such as location, license obtained and religious or civil proceeding
- Premarital or Postmarital Agreements
- Information related to previous marriages including divorce decrees and settlement agreements
- Judgments or pleadings that involve either spouse, whether civil or criminal
- Insurance policies
OTHER RELEVANT ISSUES
If there are extenuating circumstances that led to your divorce, you will need to find corroborating documentation and proof. Since Florida is a “no-fault” state, ask your attorney if the circumstances are relevant to the Court. However, you should acquire as much documentation as you can in advance of filing, especially if extraordinary remedies will be considered.
Your attorney is bound by the attorney-client privilege and will keep anything you tell them confidential, so do not hold back in filling them in about anything you think could be relevant. Now is not the time to be embarrassed or ashamed. The more information your attorney has, the more they will be able to help you. Examples of what you should reveal include:
- Substance abuse
- Physical abuse
- Spending on extramarital affairs
- Mental illness or instability
- Pending or past criminal charges
CONSIDERATIONS PERSONAL TO YOU
As stated initially, the divorce process will be very stressful. It will be beneficial to you to focus on your mental and physical health during the process. Consider the following to assist in these areas:
- Support groups
- Taking classes for personal growth
- Meeting with your accountant or financial advisor to get an understanding of your financial picture and your lifestyle
To sum up, preparation and knowledge can be the key to helping you reduce the stress of the divorce process.