Divorce is never easy to go through, but when you know it will be contested, you should take particular actions to protect yourself and to help your divorce lawyer. If prepared in the following way, you will have made an important contribution to a favorable outcome.
1. Collect your financial documents
Even before your first divorce attorney consultation, collect three years’ worth of tax returns and a recent pay stub for you and your spouse. If you do not have these records on file, you can obtain copies of tax returns by filling out this IRS form: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f4506t.pdf. The Social Security Administration can show you your income history: https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/. This information will be considered when determining support obligations.
2. Learn about your assets
In a number of marriages, one partner takes the lead on financial matters, and this likely includes knowing about all the jointly-owned assets. If you are this partner, then you will have an easier time putting together the information your divorce attorney will need to protect your interests, such as:
- Bank accounts and current balances
- Mortgage payment amount and current balance
- Investments, retirement accounts, and life insurance policies
- Deeds and titles to any paid-off property
If you have not been handling these matters, it is time to educate yourself. Find out where this information is stored, then begin to copy statements going back 12 months if you can find them. You may have to play detective in the home office or wherever the records may be.
3. Collect information about all the debt
You may have to do some sleuthing to find the records that pertain to marital debt. Look for and copy:
- Loan amounts, including auto and personal debt, and current balances
- Credit card statements and current balances
Obtain your personal credit report and share it with your attorney. This does not reveal your spouse’s credit history or any debt that exists only in the spouse’s name, but it does give your attorney a snapshot of what may come to light in a contested divorce.
4. Stay organized
It’s best to keep copies for yourself of all the documents pertaining to income, assets, and debt. Also, make a list of jobs held and degrees attained during the marriage, and in what years they occurred. Place all of this in a binder or folder that you keep in a safe, private place. If your attorney has a question, you can find the answers quickly.
5. Create a custody journal
If the divorce is contested, it’s likely that custody of minor children will be dragged into it. These are very emotional discussions, so you need to have facts to share with your child custody attorney. Write down the parenting tasks and activities you are handling and those your spouse is handling. Record if your spouse is prompt when picking up or dropping off children. Make notes of any concerns you have about the safety of your children or situations they may be exposed to. Always place dates on your journal entries.