1. Why is it important to be fully knowledgeable of your family’s financial picture before you file for divorce?
Do you know how much your mortgage payment is each month? Do you know what bank holds your mortgage? Is your husband’s life insurance policy current and up to date? Who are the beneficiaries named on your husband’s life insurance policies? What does your family’s stock portfolio consist of? How much credit card debt is your family now in for? If you are considering filing for divorce, then you better be fully knowledgeable of your family’s financial picture. In these very hard economic times, when all of America’s jobs have been shipped to China, it is critically important not to start a divorce with your “head in the sand!” In short, you can’t file your divorce if you are an airhead about your family’s fiances!
Many of my clients who want to get divorce have spent the last few years of their lives miserable and depressed. Quite often people who are miserable don’t pay attention to their financial affairs. There are many people especially women who can’t answer the above basic financial questions. In the real world, there are many abusive relationships and the husbands dominate the family’s finances. The value of marital assets that is subject to equitable distribution is typically determined as of the date when the divorce complaint is filed. However, there are some limited exceptions to this bright line rule. If you want to ensure that you will obtain your fair share of the marital assets, then you should gather as much financial information about your family’s assets before you file. Don’t expect that your husband is simply going to give you one half of the marital assets on a silver platter. Most divorces simply don’t work out this way!
2. What type of specific information about my marital assets should I obtain before I file for divorce?
A. Home Information
The most important asset that most divorcing couples own is a home. Additionally, many couples also own a vacation home, a rental home, or an investment property. For any type of real property that you own you should have a copy of the deed, recent appraisals, HUD-1 settlement statements, a current mortgage statement, and the homeowner’ts an insurance declaration page. Additionally, if you have a rental property you should also have a copy of the most recent lease, any rental ledgers, and any other records.
B. Bank Accounts
You should also obtain your last three to five years of bank statements and cancelled checks for any bank accounts that were opened up by either you or your spouse. It is not as easy as you would think to obtain bank records. Therefore, given the condensed nature of divorce cases in this hurry up and wait New Jersey court culture, you should order copies of your bank records as soon as possible.
C. Vehicle Information
For all vehicles that you or your spouse may own you should obtain copies of any obtain the titles, registrations, loan statements and insurance cards.
D. Tax returns
It is critical that you obtain your tax returns in any divorce case. Your tax return(s) can provide your legal counsel with critical info about your spouse’s income, bank accounts, investments, business entities and additional sources of income. In the typical case three years of tax returns are needed. You should also make sure that the tax returns are complete, and also contain any and all accompanying schedules, W-2 statements, and 1099 statements.
E. Pay Stubs
Another important source of information is the parties’ pay stubs. In the average divorce case, the court and the lawyers will need three months of pay stubs for each spouse.
F. Social Security Statements
You should obtain a copy of both you and your spouse’s Social Security Statement. Your Social Security Statement can be requested from the Social Security Administration from their website located at www.ssa.gov. This statement can be a very important tool to help determine each spouse’s income history and capacity to earn. This information is critical and it will enable the lawyers and the family courts to determine any child support and alimony.
G. Credit Card(s) Information
In addition to houses, mutual funds, and marital savings being subject to equitable distribution, marital debt also must be divided as well. Credit card debt is also a hotly contested issue in almost every divorce case. Therefore, copies of the most recent statements for all credit cards with any outstanding balances must be disclosed. These credit card statements will also provide a snapshot of your marital lifestyle. In most cases credit card debt was used to finance the marital lifestyle. The credit card statements will also provide what trips were paid for by the credit card, what restaurants the parties’ dined at, where the family shopped for clothing, etc.
H. Retirement Accounts
Retirement accounts are also subject to equitable distribution. You should obtain current statements for all 401K’s, pensions, IRA’s, money market accounts, CD’s, 529’s or any other type of retirement or college savings account for either yourself, your spouse and your children.