Take a financial snapshot at the time of separation.
There is no way to be truly prepared for the shock of a divorce. Even if you have been discussing it for months, or even years, making that final decision to separate can still be a surprise, regardless of which spouse voices their intent first. Aside from the emotional upheaval of separation, there will be financial issues to deal with, which can get in the way of processing the grief and moving forward. You can prepare yourself for the “business” aspect of the dissolution by gathering information and documents early. Here are a few tasks to do as early as possible after the decision to split which will save time and money.
Gather statements from bank accounts and credit cards. The value of the community bank accounts and debts owed will be pinpointed to the date of separation. In order to save time and effort down the line, gather the most recent statements from all financial accounts that you can find. The amount in each account, or amount owed on each account, will be used to determine what constitutes an equal division of your assets and your debts. You don’t want to be responsible for a post-separation spending spree by the other party. Gather as many of the statements for each account as you can, and group them together in a folder or file. Keep these files handy, and be prepared to hand them over to your attorney when the dissolution process begins.
Don’t rely on the other party to turn over information. If you have access to the information, gather it. Your spouse may not be organized, or may not report all of the financial accounts in their name. Your spouse may try not to disclose the account she regularly uses in the name of her mother, or may try to list only one of three retirement accounts. Law states that they must disclose all financial information, but some people will still try to withhold accounts. Make copies of tax returns and retirement statements, even if they are in your spouse’s name. They may not be in any hurry to accurately disclose all of their accounts.
Home ownership documents are a necessity. Make copies of every document you find related to the purchase or refinance of property, including appraisals. When one spouse put a large down payment toward the purchase of the house, or used money from inheritance or gift to improve the house, we must examine the history to trace these funds. We also look at whether the money put into the house improved the value, or was used to pay down principle of the mortgage. The more documents you have on the home, the better.
Documentation is a powerful tool. Starting early on gathering documents will ensure that you are prepared, and may elicit cooperation from the other side.
- Shauna M. Albright,
Founding and Managing Attorney of Albright Family Law Group
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