I recently wrote an article discussing How to Prepare Yourself For Divorce that focused on preparing yourself mentally and physically for the divorce. This article discusses how to get organized for your divorce so that you have the best outcome possible.
The Importance of Getting Organized
Any lawyer will tell you that an organized client will get a better outcome in their divorce for a number of reasons.
Being organized helps identify the best starting point for your negotiations.
Being organized makes your case proceed more efficiently with less delay and less cost as well.
Being organized will make you better prepared if you have to testify at a deposition or in court.
Being organized will make you better prepared to work with your lawyer – remember this is your case. No one will ever know the facts as well as you do.
Protect Your Privacy First
Before you do anything else you should take steps to protect your privacy – even during the process of getting organized for your divorce.
You should address each of the following:
- Change Your Passwords. I mean every password. Your email password, your bank account password, credit card account passwords, social media account passwords, etc. Use a password that you have never used before and that has no connection to your life. In other words, don’t use some combination of your kid’s name and wedding date.
- Secure Your Devices. This means change the PIN’s and access codes for your phones, tablets, computers, and any other devices. Use a new code that you have never used before and that has no connection to your life. Make sure your devices are set to automatically lock themselves after a short period of time.
- Secure Your Communications. You should consider setting up a secure way to communicate and store information. For example, you might setup a new email account specifically to handle matters related to your divorce. You might lease a P.O. Box to receive mail away from your house. You also might consider a secure online document storage system (such as DropBox) to store copies of important electronic documents outside of your house.
- Create a Secure Location for Your Notes. The last thing you want is your spouse to find out you are preparing for a divorce as it will make your efforts much more difficult. You should consider keeping notes electronically in a secure online storage site or on a device you secured as discussed above.
Collect Information For Your Divorce
It can become difficult to secure basic information after filing for divorce so collect as much information as you can prior to filing.
What type of information should you try to collect when getting organized for your divorce?
At a minimum, you should try to get the following information:
- Copies of your recent pay stubs.
- Copies of your spouse’s recent pay stubs
- Copies of tax returns for the past 3 years.
- Copies of account statements for bank accounts, credit card accounts, and any other financial accounts. Go back at least 6 months and further if you have concerns about where money was spent.
- Copies of statements for retirement accounts or other benefits. You should get statements all the way back to the beginning of the account or the marriage, whichever is earlier. You should also get copies of the plan documents.
- Copies of business documents if you or your spouse own a business. This would include certificates of formation, company agreements, shareholder agreements, partnership agreements, profit and loss statements, balance sheets, cash flow statements, purchase agreements, and any other documents reflecting the organization or financial condition of the business.
- Copies of any trust agreements under which you or your spouse are settlors, trustees, or beneficiaries.
- Copies of real estate documents. This includes deeds, deeds of trusts, mortgage documents, and any other conveyance documents.
- Copies of car titles and car loan documents.
- Copies of any promissory notes under which you and your spouse owe or are owed money.
- Contact information for your financial adviser.
- Contact information for your CPA.
- Any other documents showing any liabilities of you or your spouse.
- Documents concerning any large or unusual expenses incurred during the marriage (such as a home remodel or refinance).
Don’t just write the information down. Get copies of documents. If you setup a secure electronic storage site, keep copies of those documents in PDF format on that site. Most account statements can be downloaded as PDF’s which makes that process easier.
***Bonus*** If time permits while getting organized for your divorce, go ahead and review all those account statements for any unusual expenses or charges. If not – do so as soon as possible after filing for divorce.
Identify Separate Property
This section could be part of “Collect Information” above but I believe it deserves a separate discussion.
In general, separate property is any property owned prior to marriage or acquired by gift or inheritance.
Separate property is not subject to division during divorce, however, the spouse claiming the property as separate property has the burden of establishing its character.
If you believe you own any separate property, then you should collect sufficient information to establish its character as separate property.
This includes documents showing when the property was acquired as well as documents showing how it was paid for.
If you acquired property by gift, try to locate documents showing that the property was in fact a gift.
If you acquired property through an inheritance, get copies of the probate records showing how the property was granted to you.
Prepare Your Financial Information
The first financial statements you should prepare are two income/expense statements.
This first income/expense statement should show all money you and your spouse earn as well as all expenses you incur in your married life.
Reviewing those account statements you collected is an easy and effective way to make sure that you do not miss any expenses.
The second income/expense statement is just for you. This income/expense statement should show the realistic income you expect to receive during and after divorce. It should also show the realistic expenses you will need to pay for during and after divorce.
This is a reality check. Divorce is expensive not just because of the attorneys but also because you may have many of the same expenses with significantly less income.
You will use the second income/expense statement to help determine what property you might need from the divorce as well as the amounts of an child support or spousal maintenance after the divorce.
After you prepare these statements, you should review them and update them regularly.
The third financial statement you should prepare is an asset/liability statement. This document should be a complete list of all assets owned by you and/or your spouse.
I use the conjunction “or” because this list should include your community property as well as both your and your spouse’s separate property.
This asset and liability statement should also include a description of each liability owed by either spouse as well as the balance of the debt.
Identify, Inventory, and Locate Significant Personal Property
Sometimes items go missing once a divorce petition is filed. This is an unfortunate fact with no easy solution once it happens.
That is why it is important to identify, inventory, and locate significant personal property as part of your getting organized for your divorce.
Significant personal property means things like particular pieces of jewelry, family heirlooms, gun collections, or other items with significant value whether monetarily or sentimentally.
Once you identify these items, create a written inventory with a description of the item, its potential value, and where it is located.
If you have control of the item, you might even take steps to place it in a secure location such as a safe or safety deposit box. It is not a bad idea to take pictures of the items as well.
Have a Plan For Your Children
This means prepare for the issues of child custody and child support, especially if you think there is any chance this will be an area of contention in your divorce.
If you are seeking primary custody of your children, then prepare a detailed parenting plan. This would include specific details about where the children will live, go to school, church, and how you will provide for their welfare.
Your parenting plan should include details such as how you will get your children to and from school and any extracurricular activities. It should also include details on who will care for the children when you are at work or unavailable to do so.
You should also list your expectation for what rights and access your spouse will have to the children.
You should prepare a detailed schedule of your children’s activities, especially if they require special care or are heavily involved in extracurricular activities. This might include practice and game schedules.
You should also identify how your children will be provided for under medical and dental insurance plans. This may be through your employer, your spouses employer, private insurance, or another plan.
Last but perhaps most importantly, if you expect your spouse to fight for primary custody of your children then you should prepare a list of reasons why you should be awarded primary custody and also a list of reasons why your spouse should not be awarded custody.
Custody decisions are made based on the “best interests of the child” standard.
This means that the list of reasons against your spouse should not be made of personal attacks but focused on specific reasons why it is not in your children’s best interests for your spouse to have primary custody.
Getting organized for your divorce will help make sure that you get the best result possible.
When getting organized for your divorce you should make sure that you address each of the following issues:
- Protect Your Privacy
- Collect Information
- Prepare Financial Information
- Identify Separate Property
- Identify, Inventory, and Locate Significant Personal Property
- Create A Plan For Your Children
While you are getting organized for your divorce, you can learn more about the general rules governing various aspects of divorce by reading the articles below:
- General Rules for Property Division in a Texas Divorce
- General Rules for Child Custody in a Texas Divorce
- General Rules for Child Support in a Texas Divorce
- General Rules for Spousal Support in a Texas Divorce
- COVID-19 FAQ For Your Family Law Concerns - March 27, 2020
- TX Supreme Court Issues Additional COVID-19 Guidance for Child Custody - March 25, 2020
- Modifying Child Support Obligations - March 20, 2020