In your initial consult with your divorce attorney, he or she will likely spend most of the initial meeting getting an idea of the broad generalities of your case. Your attorney, during that first consult, will be able to tell you what to commonly expect regarding child custody and child support if there are children of the marriage.
The attorney will also identify whether maintenance (alimony) may be at issue in your case. An overview of the division of marital property and finances will be discussed. Oftentimes there are more questions than answers after that first meeting. Will she get a share of my pension? Who will pay our credit card debt? Should I close the marital bank accounts and open ones in my own name? If you wish to learn more information about what a division of marital property will look like in your case, you will need to gather the following information for your attorney in order to get your financial questions answered.
1. If there is a marital residence, you will need to gather for your attorney your most recent mortgage statement. Gather any statements for home equity lines of credit as well. You’ll want to be prepared to tell your attorney how much of a down payment was put on the home, and where you got the cash for the down payment. If there’s been an appraisal on the home within the past three years, you’ll want to get that to your attorney as well. All of this information will help to determine the potential amount of equity in the home, which is marital property to be divided pursuant to a dissolution proceeding.
2. You’ll want to bring to your attorney your last three months worth of bank statements. Gather all joint and, if you have them, separate accounts. This will allow your attorney to get an idea of your monthly expenses. It will also allow them to instruct you on how to insure the other party does not begin to dissipate cash from your bank accounts.
3. If you are paying into a 401(k) and/or a pension, gather your four most recent statements. Be prepared to tell your attorney how long you’ve been paying into these accounts, as this will assist your attorney in determining the marital component of your retirement. If you have any pension plan or 401(k) documents lying around the house that were given to you by your employer, bring those to your attorney as well. Those documents will help them understand the intricacies of your specific retirement plan.
4. Provide your attorney with your last three years of federal and state income tax returns. This will provide your attorney with a history of income for both you and your spouse, which will come into play in any child support and maintenance calculations. If you run your own business, be prepared to gather tax information regarding those entities.
5. Gather up the last four account statements for any and all investment accounts you have. This will allow your attorney to gain some insight as to your investment income. Again, be prepared to tell your attorney how long you’ve been paying into said accounts, as it will assist in determining the marital component of said investments.
6. Pull your credit report. The federal government now allows you one free credit report per year, and now is a good time to use that free annual service. This will allow your attorney to get an idea of your debt, and the client can see whether or not the other spouse may have been accumulating debt in their name, without their knowledge.
7. Gather the last four months of any and all credit cards you have, whether they are joint cards or cards only in one spouse’s name. This will help your attorney to know where to subpoena credit card statements, if necessary, to prove up financial misconduct of a spouse. This will also provide your attorney with an idea of your family’s spending habits.
8. If there are any loans on any automobiles, please gather for your attorney the loan payment book. If the payment book doesn’t show amount left on the loan, call your lender and get that payoff number. Your attorney will want to know the extent of your debt, and car loans are often overlooked.
9. If you are involved in any litigation, or stand to gain from a workman’s compensation award, be prepared to discuss your litigation in depth with your attorney. Your attorney will have to determine if there is a marital component to any possible award as a result of the litigation. If you are represented in pending litigation, bring your attorney’s name and telephone number to your divorce attorney as it is likely they will have to speak about your case.
10. Draft a preliminary list of household property. You don’t need a list of each and every utensil in the kitchen, or a catalog of all your children’s pictures. Be sure to bring to your attorney’s attention the boat that you worked so hard to buy, or the baseball card collection you’ve had since you were a child. Let your attorney know your priorities in regards to the household property. Your attorney will get into much more detail in terms of what financial information he or she will need during the pendency of your case. However, if you provide this initial information to your attorney at the outset of your case, it will assist them in answering some of your financial questions as your litigation progresses forward.
Kristin K. Zurek is an Associate in the St. Louis office of Cordell & Cordell, P.C.