Divorce can be a long and arduous process once it gets started. If you can buy some time before you file, doing your homework ahead of time may produce big dividends. Read books and learn all you can about the divorce laws in your state. Timing your divorce may also be financially wise.
Meeting with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst such as myself also can provide you with a deeper understanding of divorce finances and how to better approach your situation. Even meeting with an experienced divorce attorney for a consultation can be invaluable before you start the process. Ask lots of questions of these experts and start developing your divorce strategy and long term goals.
It is very important to gather and make copies of all your marital financial documents including bank statements, investment and retirement accounts, credit reports on yourself and your spouse, mortgage statements, receipts for large purchases, income tax returns for the last 3-5 years, etc. Other documents to copy include loan applications, wills, trusts, brokerage statements, credit card statements, deeds to real property, car registrations, insurance inventories, and insurance policies. Also, copy records of your separate property, such as an inheritance or gifts from your family. These assets will remain yours as long as you can document them. Copies of your spouse’s business records also can show where hidden assets may be hiding.
Photograph everything in safe deposit boxes and home safes, as well as expensive household items and collections. Get appraisals if appropriate. Remember you own half of everything purchased during the marriage — even if something is “in his name.” If you don’t ultimately want an asset, your attorney can use its value to secure possession of something you do want in the settlement.
You may also want to repair your car and get new tires, get medical procedures done for yourself or your children, purchase some new clothes, get training or take some college classes if you’ll be looking for a job.
One significant shift will likely occur once you file for divorce. The income you’ve been living on for one household must now support two. This will put a demand on resources immediately. Start early to save what cash you can to get you through the process. If you and your spouse have a jointly held savings account, consider withdrawing a percentage of the cash and putting it into a new separate account before you file. (You will still be accountable for it, but you are making sure it’s safe and available to you if you need it.) Legal fees are typically considered community debt, so putting them on a credit card may also help you retain cash reserves.