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From The Experts

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Your knowledge of the family assets can have a very positive effect on your future financial stability. Don’t put off knowing today what you’ll want to know tomorrow.

Many clients come into their lawyer’s office with no idea what assets and debts they have, what their pension plans offer, or even where their tax returns are located. Other clients had a good idea about the assets but a spouse stopped sharing financial information, or even removed records from the house.

For your case, you’ll need your financial information.  Ideally, spouses and their lawyers would freely share financial information; without cooperation, there are plenty of ways that a lawyer can obtain these documents from a spouse, a bank, or an employer, but that’s both time consuming and expensive.  In the case of a small account or a few bonds, it may not even be worth it to have your lawyer pursue the matter if you don’t have the records. With a little bit of planning, you can assemble these records yourself and save yourself both money and heartburn.

Here are three helpful tips for starting your collection:

1. If you’re able to locate your financial records, make copies of any documents you think you or your lawyer might need for the divorce. This includes:

  • your and your spouse’s pay stubs
  • tax returns
  • bank statements
  • credit card statements
  • brokerage account statements
  • stock and bond certificates
  • the closing statement and deed to your house
  • the 1098 mortgage statement that came with your last year’s tax material
  • the addresses, telephone numbers and account numbers of anyone to whom you owe money (credit cards, mortgage, personal loan, IRS). 

2. Organize your copies into folders clearly labeled with the contents. It will be easier for you to do this than it will be for your lawyer to do it. Organizing the records will take time, but it saves you money if you do it yourself.  If you aren’t sure what a particular record means, bring the copies to a lawyer or a financial consultant to figure out how they fit in your financial picture.

3. If you strongly believe that you cannot trust your spouse, put your copies in a safe place.  You definitely don’t want your spouse to find your stash of photocopied records, especially before you have had the chance to discuss your plans. Or, if your spouse suddenly removes the original records from the house, you can calmly give your lawyer the copies you have stowed.

Excerpted from Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce.

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