Getting a divorce can be an overwhelming process and can quickly get complicated when trying to access and untangle financial records. Many people don’t know where to start. While everyone’s situation is unique, family law attorney Jessica Leischner explains that having full knowledge of your financial records and situation is a critical step in a divorce. Leischner weighs in on what records you need and the avenues you can take to collect them.
Before hiring an attorney, you need to gain an understanding of not only your own financial records, but your spouse’s as well. “Information and knowledge is power,” says Leischner. “The more information you have and the more you are aware of what your situation is, the better for you and your family.”
What financial records should you try to gather before meeting with an attorney?
First, it’s important to be aware of what accounts and financial records you need to collect before meeting with an attorney. Leischner says the documentation of these statements are critical:
Tax Returns & Income Statements
A great first place to start is with your tax returns. Tax returns provide a wealth of information — from income, dividends, capital gains, and more.
Retirement assets are usually the largest assets people have so be sure to pull any retirement statements, for example, 401ks, TSPs, or IRAs.
Bank Account Information & Stock Accounts
Pull bank account numbers and statements, including records from your personal and joint checking and savings accounts. Additionally, gather stock account information and any stock investment documentation you can gain access to.
Mortgage Statements & Property Documents
If you own property, collect your mortgage statements. It’s also helpful to have access to the property sales documents, HUD-1, settlement statements, any down payment records, and any relevant check or wire receipts.
Any Other Large Assets
If you or your partner own any additional vehicles, vacation homes or other high-value assets, gather that documentation.
How should you go about gathering financial records before divorce?
“One way to start collecting records is to go directly to your financial institutions, explains Leischner. “Reach out to them by email, phone or in person and request access to any records you may need. Another option, depending on the relationship with your spouse, is to set aside time to go through the different accounts together. Acquiring financial information amicably saves time and money. Also, if you’re living in the same household, it’s perfectly fine to make copies of tax returns, bank statements and other documents that are stored on a family computer.”
If you are not able to gain access to financial records on your own, it is possible to go through the legal system to subpoena records, however, that method involves more time and expense. The more information you can gather yourself, the better.
Consider how much you are willing to spend in the divorce process.
Leischner also points out that because divorce is a costly process, it’s important to decide exactly how much you’re willing to spend to split certain assets. “You want to look at it from a cost-benefit perspective,” says Leischer. “You should keep in mind how much you really want to spend to protect yourself financially. For example, if you’re spending $75,000 to potentially recoup $50,000 from a marital estate, that may not be worth it.”
Consult an attorney and ask questions along the way.
Once you have collected your financial records, it’s key to meet with an experienced attorney to help you through the divorce process. “Be sure to ask your lawyer questions along the way. If you don’t understand something, ask. You want to walk away with some finality that this was a fair settlement, you received what you should have received and you understand why you received what you did so you can move forward in the next chapter of your life.