Divorce can be overwhelming. Sometimes people overlook the importance of documents, in their effort to protect things of sentimental value.  Verifying the nature and extent of income, assets and debts, reimbursements and credits, and other details of divorce requires documents.  Getting copies of the documents now that you will need, will streamline the divorce process and may reduce the costs. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to track down documents after passage of substantial time. If you or your spouse move from the residence, documents may not be easily available. Once you have had the divorce conversation, documents may be more difficult to obtain from your partner.  For this reason, I always tell clients that “Documents are King!”   By this, I mean that documents are vitally important in a divorce case, and cannot be underestimated. Copies of important documents should be obtained early on, preferably before the decision has been announced to obtain a divorce.

What documents are needed?

  • Income tax returns (past 3-5 years), especially if income varies, or businesses or self-employment are involved.  Both personal and business tax returns are needed. Include all attachments, W-2s, and 1099s.
  • Paystubs for you and your spouse for at least the past three months, showing all deductions from pay.
  • Most recent statements for all financial accounts (checking and savings, certificates of deposit, money market and other investment accounts).
  • Most recent statements for all retirement plans for both of you, including pensions, 401(k) and similar retirement savings plans, stock savings plans, IRAs, and annuities. 
  • All life insurance policies.  
  • Most recent statements for all mortgages and equity lines.
  • Most recent statements for all credit cards and other outstanding debts, including auto loans.
  • Any documents stored in a safety deposit box.
  • Any documents relating to assets which you acquired prior to marriage or as a result of an inheritance or a gift of substantial value.  If you had financial accounts or retirement accounts when you married, copies of statements are essential.
  • Any premarital/prenuptial agreement and any other written agreement between you and your spouse.

Make Copies

Rather than taking the originals, make copies of the important documents, and leave the originals in place.  Nothing would be worse than your spouse opening the file cabinet only to find it empty!  Whether your divorce proceeds as a collaborative or mediated case, or as a full-blown litigation case, acting in good faith is always a good idea.

Don’t keep the copies in your car trunk or your closet.  If the documents disappear, all your efforts would be wasted.  Put your copies in a safe place until you obtain counsel.

Deborah Ewing, Esq. is an experienced family law mediator, collaborative attorney and litigation counsel in Southern California