Beginning your divorce can be a little like a scavenger hunt. Although it’s not required that you supply your attorney with documents you haven’t looked at or even considered in years, it will usually save you some money if you do. Alternatively, your attorney would have to gather the paperwork through legal channels, such as by issuing subpoenas. Because divorce attorneys usually charge by the hour, it will help keep your divorce costs down if you can do this work yourself.
Early on in every divorce, the courts in most states require you to file a financial affidavit or statement. These statements detail marital income, assets, debts and budgetary needs. Your lawyer will need a good understanding of these things to complete the financial affidavit for you. She'll require substantiation of your incomes, so begin saving all your paystubs. Gather and copy as many of your spouse’s as you can find. You’ll also need copies of your tax returns. Some lawyers ask for more returns than others, but you can start by going back two or three years.
Assets cover a wide range of items, including your home, your retirement accounts, automobiles, collectibles and artwork. You don’t have to worry about detailing every little thing you own, but your lawyer will probably want you to gather documentation for significant items. This includes recent statements for all investment and retirement accounts, and for checking and savings accounts. Try to find the deeds for any real estate you own. If you refinanced your home recently and if you have a copy of the associated appraisal, this is usually helpful in establishing your home's value. Gather purchase documents for any recent acquisitions, showing what you paid for them.
Debts are divided in divorce just as assets are, and they’re included in most required financial statements. Gathering these documents is usually easiest if you’re the spouse who routinely pays the bills each month, because you’ll have an idea of which of your accounts are outstanding. Debt documentation includes credit card statements -- the more recent the better – and your monthly mortgage bill. It includes monthly statements for your auto loans. Any loan you’re repaying over time qualifies as a debt, including student loans for you or your children.
It costs you and your spouse money to live each month, over and above your mortgage payment and other debt servicing. This is a separate category of documents. If you’re like most people, you’re probably paying for cable or TV hookup, electric service, gas service, telephone service, cell phone accounts, and water and sewer service. You may pay several insurance bills each month, for health, auto and life policies. Save copies of these most recent bills for your attorney, then make a separate list of things you regularly spend money on that don’t produce a monthly bill, such as gasoline, groceries, sundries, dry cleaning, babysitters, and clothing.
You probably won’t want to take all this paperwork with you to your first meeting with your attorney. If you haven’t retained her yet, she’s probably not going to want to store cartons of documents for you in her office until you do. However, she probably is going to want an accurate picture of your financial situation as she tries to get a handle on what your particular divorce is going to involve. It’s usually a good idea to bring at least your pay stubs and tax returns with you to your first meeting. You can also ask her staff what documents the lawyer generally likes to see at a first meeting. After you retain her, you can deliver your additional documentation to her office.