Depending on how you came to the decision to divorce, you may be wondering what the process is, or how you should go about preparing for the proceedings. Your lawyer may ask you to compile certain documents, and it’s best that you comply in advance. It’s not uncommon for a spouse to take paperwork without the other person’s knowledge, even taking it so far as to destroy it, and claim that they don’t know where it is or that the spouse has it and won’t release it. Sadly, divorce makes some people do unsavory things. While you may believe that your spouse will handle things above the board, there is always a need to protect yourself and your assets – prepare for divorce by having all of your paperwork before anything takes place.
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Organization Is Key
Whether you need to obtain an attorney to uphold your rights, or you and your spouse are able to gather the proper documentation in a civil manner, the key to keeping any divorce proceedings moving smoothly is organization. Some divorce specialists recommend using a binder to keep everything together, listing items chronologically or as part of a divorce paperwork checklist. Making sure you have a copy of everything listed, even if your spouse currently has possession of the said item, is imperative. Depending on your personal situation, there are four main parts to the majority of divorce proceedings, all of which require different documents or statements.
Spousal Support (Alimony)
Income tax returns are some of the most important documents in a divorce, mainly because they can provide evidence related to numerous issues. For example, spousal earnings are a major factor in a court’s decision about whether to award spousal support, otherwise known as alimony. Make copies of your tax returns and any documents related to the sources of income, including W-2 forms and work-related 1099s. Make sure to include statements referencing other types of less common income, like dividend payments and rental property income – you don’t want to forget even the smallest income, as your spouse could use it against you if it’s not acknowledged. Because alimony is more subjective than child support, be sure to gather any documentation that may determine your ability to work, such as proof of a disability. Paperwork showing extraordinary medical expenses is also relevant.
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Division Of Property
With the exception of gifts and inheritances that are and will remain in your name, virtually all property you’ve accumulated during your marriage should be divided between you and your spouse when divorcing. Some of the items you should gather as you prepare for divorce are:
- Real estate deeds
- Bank account statements
- Retirement account documents (like pensions and 401(k)’s)
- Proof of ownership of any valuable personal property
It’s also wise to make a detailed list of your personal property, such as furniture, electronics or gadgets, jewelry, etc. If your spouse owns a business, it’s necessary that you obtain as much information as possible about the company. You may have the least amount of access to this area, but it’s also where documentation is most likely to disappear or be altered. This is where having the help of an experienced divorce attorney can help you protect your rights during the division.
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Both parents have an obligation to support their children. Child support guidelines are determined by each state, so when you prepare for divorce, verify what your state requires beforehand. Although there are some variables, the courts primarily take the total income of both parents and then divide it proportionally to determine each parent’s child support obligation. The financial data needed for a spousal support decision will also be used by the court in deciding a child support figure.
Child Custody & Visitation
Barring either spouse posing a problem to a child, a judge will most likely award joint legal custody. This allows both parents to participate in making the major decisions regarding raising children (education, religious training, etc.). Physical custody—where the child physically resides—is something that will be decided during the proceedings. The parent who doesn’t have residential custody will be afforded time with the child, which should be determined by a visitation schedule. As with all matters involving children, the court will do whatever is in the best interest of the child(ren).
If you want specifics, here are the categories of documents to compile;
Real Estate Documents
Property is a critical asset in divorce proceedings. Any real estate bought during a marriage qualifies as marital property. Such real estate will be divided accordingly in a divorce. Individually bought property before a marriage may be safe. In unique cases, such property may be subject to division if it helps to pay upkeep, mortgage payments, etc.
However, you need documentation to prove the existence of property. Any document i.e., titles with a legal description of property ownership, is needed. Such documents can be acquired from banks and mortgage companies. Current mortgage statements, initial property purchase agreements, tax assessor statements, and documents on refinancing can all work as property documents usable in divorce proceedings.
Joint Account Documents
You should also prepare documents on joint financial accounts if there are any. Such documents should be compiled, as is the case with income statements. Courts need information on all separate and joint accounts. Divorce proceedings demand full disclosure of assets. What’s more, such accounts must be assessed.
Statements from joint accounts, savings certificates, savings passbooks are examples of joint account documents usable in divorce proceedings.
Some insurance covers i.e., life insurance, count as marital property. Such covers can be treated as spousal support. The cash value can be divided in a divorce proceeding. Courts can also order for beneficiaries to be changed and treat proceeds as a form of child support.
Insurance policies come with statements. Premium statements, cover notes, and other documents indicating cash balances and other important policy information are important in a divorce proceeding.
The Alabama divorce court handling your case will also want to know and settle debt-related matters. Like real estate, debt is also documented. Debt taken during a marriage needs to be disclosed.
The liability also needs to be determined. If your spouse applied for debt jointly and used it solely for their own debt, you need documentation to prove that. Courts usually decide what constitutes marital and individual debt based on evidence. You need documents like loan applications, credit cards, statements, and other documents that have your spouse’s name or your name.
Vehicle Ownership Documents
Vehicles are bitterly contested in divorces. A disgruntled EX can repossess a vehicle that was presented as a gift. Courts must establish vehicle ownership to decide on allocation. You need title or registration documents that show your name to stand a chance of getting the vehicle. Car loan information can also act as proof of ownership if you are the one servicing the loan.
If you can prove a vehicle was gifted to you, it is possible to keep such a vehicle. Monthly invoices, amortization schedules, and other documents showing ownership are needed in divorce settlement processes.
You should also present any other applicable documentation, such as business ownership. Children’s assets (like savings accounts), collectibles, jewelry, household furnishings, digital assets, loyalty points, memberships and anything else that may be contested.
My Spouse Has All/Some Important Documents that I Need. What Should I Do?
Divorces may leave disgruntled ex-spouses eager to revenge in any way possible. This can include hiding documents or refusing to hand over documents. Such instances can slow down a case. Most importantly, spouses who attempt to hide or refuse with documentation critical to deciding a divorce case can face serious legal problems.
The law allows you to demand information and documents pertinent to your divorce. In typical divorce cases, formal discovery is used to ask for important information. Subpoenas and interrogations can also be used to get what you require.
If that isn’t enough, you can have a seasoned divorce attorney recommend a good forensic accountant to uncover hidden or destroyed documents. Other experts like divorce financial planners can also uncover important information.
Generally, you aren’t obligated to be cordial to your ex-spouse in order to get the documents you need. If they become difficult, cut communication, destroy documents, or hide documents, it is possible to force them to comply with document requests or risk serious consequences. While co-operation is better for everyone, there are many ways to get the documents or information you want from an uncooperative spouse.
Find The Help You Need
Looking for and hiring the right divorce attorney can be overwhelming and exhausting, so let us help you make your decision. If you’re in the greater Huntsville, AL area, Alabama Family Law Group can help you with all of your divorce questions, including what types of paperwork are needed for your personal situation. Contact us today!