By Sean P. Lenihan, Esq.
If you are contemplating filing for divorce, one of the most difficult tasks can be gathering together all of your financial documentation and account information. In most marriages, usually one person is in charge of the finances. This can leave the other party clueless about what the parties own and how much they owe. The only way for you, or your attorney, to be sure you are getting a equitable arrangement is to educate yourself as to the status of your financial situation. Here are a few things you can do to help you prepare for your divorce:
First, run a credit report on yourself. You can get a copy of your free credit report online using websites like CreditKarma.com. Your credit report will list all of your open joint bank accounts, savings accounts, any joint accounts with outstanding balances or debts. Then contact your accountant and financial adviser about getting copies of any records they have such as tax returns and investment statements.
Start gathering statements from any bank accounts you may have, including checking, savings and money market accounts. You may be asked to provide 3 years of back statements during the discovery phase of your divorce, although many attorneys don’t require it. Most of this can be obtained online through your bank’s website.
Also look for life insurance policies that you may have. Your final divorce agreement may require you to provide life insurance, so be aware of what you have. It’s also important to find out whether your life insurance policies have a cash value. If your life insurance is through your employer, you can normally get a copy from your human resource department.
If you own a house, try to obtain any records pertaining to your home. Mortgage statements, home equity loan statements, and tax records can all be helpful in determining how much equity is in your home. While a property evaluation by a real estate agent is free and can be helpful, it is not generally accepted in Court. However, don’t pay to have an appraisal done just yet. That will need to be done by a person agreed to by both parties or as ordered by the Court, with the cost being split equally by both parties.
Gather retirement account statements and, if any of your retirement account was accumulated pre-marriage, locate a statement of that account as of the date of your marriage. Often, pre-marriage contributions can be excluded from the asset division. Know what the value of your retirement plan is now and what it was on the day you were married. If you have a pension that started before the marriage, that can be valued professionally to make sure you’re getting a fair deal.
The better informed you are about your financial situation going into a divorce, the more your lawyer can help you in arriving at an equitable settlement.