Divorce is like entering unknown territory blindfolded. There are a tremendous number of things that you will need to learn and lots of decisions that you will need to make. The most important, perhaps, is deciding which professionals you will have on your ‘Divorce Team’ and which divorce process will work best for you.
- Read The Wise Divorce
- Find and interview qualified, experienced professionals.
- You will need to have basic understanding of the divorce process options and the laws in your state. Your attorney will be able to explain this to you, but you might find you need to hear it more than once.
- If you have not yet told your spouse that you are considering a divorce, you will need to open a P.O. Box. Make sure that all team members know that correspondence is not to be sent to your residence.
After you have completed the first four steps, you should have a better idea of whether you want to move forward with divorce. Now comes the real work. You are going to have to pull together all of your financial, tax and legal information. You can either do this yourself or with the help of your financial planner.
- First, make sure you have access to all information. If you are not the spouse that handled the bills, taxes and paperwork, you will have to do a thorough search of your residence, any rented storage space and any safe deposit boxes.
- Make a list of all professionals that you and/or your spouse have worked with in the past five years, along with their contact information.
- Make a list of all known accounts and make copies of the recent statement and copies of the last five year-end statements for each account
- Make a list of all known insurance contracts along with account numbers, agents, a complete copy of each contract and a copy of the last five annual statements.
- Make copies of federal and state tax returns for the last five years along with ALL supporting documentation.
- Make a list (an inventory) of all assets such as art, antiques, fine jewelry, other tangible (real) items including cash, vehicles, real estate and furniture. Note whether each was brought into the marriage, purchased during marriage or given to one or both of you as a gift or inheritance. Note the approximate value of each asset and get appraisals, if necessary.
- Make a list of all debts including mortgages, home equity loans, student loans, loans for which either of you are a co-signer, credit cards, store cards and the like. Note which loans or accounts pre-date the marriage. Include the amount owed and the approximate interest rate being charged.
- Create a personal information sheet:
- Each spouse’s name, date of birth, and Social Security number
- Names and birth dates of children
- Date and place of marriage and length of time in present state
- Other states you have lived in during your marriage
- Information about prior marriages and children
- Date of separation (or projected date of separation)
- Current occupation of spouses and name/address of employers
- Education and degrees of each spouse
- Is there a family business or businesses?
- Make a copy of recent pay-stubs for each of you.
- Make a copy of all legal documents, titles and licenses. Make sure to include any prenuptial or post-nuptial (Marital Property) agreements.
- Make a list of all known employer-provided benefits including health insurance, disability insurance, life insurance, health savings accounts, child care savings accounts, retirement benefits and make copies of any statements and documents.
- Request a copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting bureaus.
- Print an up-to-date copy of your Social Security Benefit Estimate and one for your spouse if you are able.
- If you own commercial real estate, gather all of the information you can find including mortgages, titles, insurance, lease agreements, real estate tax bills, legal papers and the like.
- If you own a business, your attorney will help you gather the necessary information.
Once you have your team in place and your information gathered and organized, it is time to make some bold moves. You should rely only on the advice of your attorney and team members from this point forward. They will likely ask you to do the following:
- Open a checking and savings account in your name only if you do not already have one.
- Put money in your new checking account – enough to handle living expenses and emergencies for a few months.
- Recreate your pre-divorce household budget, then create a monthly and annual expense budget for you after divorce.
- Apply for a credit card in your own name only if you do not already have one.
- Pay the balance of as many bills as possible. Understand debt and divorce.
- Consider revoking any power of attorney documents that name your spouse as your agent.
- Call each of your banks, investment companies and brokerage firms where you and ask what actions, if any, you can take to protect your interests during divorce.
- Call each of your ‘joint’ creditors and ask what actions, if any, you can take to protect your interests during divorce. Understand debt and divorce.
- Contact your insurer to review auto and homeowners or renters policies and ask what actions, if any, you can take to protect your interests during divorce.
- If you are eligible for military benefits, contact your installation’s legal assistance office to get information about how those benefits may be divided.
Finally, you will work with your attorney and your team to understand and negotiate a division of assets, a co-parenting plan for your children, and a plan for child support and maintenance (if any). The following are examples of some of the documents that may eventually be completed by your attorney and filed with the court. You should rely only on the advice of your attorney in regards to which documents you will use and how they will be completed:
- Income and Expense Statement
- Financial Disclosure Statement
- Proposed Parenting Plan
- Marital Settlement Agreement with Minor Child(ren)
- Marital Settlement Agreement Without Minor Child(ren)
For a PDF of this Divorce Planning Checklist please click here
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