Before you alert your spouse about a potential divorce, it is a good idea to gather documents, take inventory of property and keep proper records. Collecting as much accessible information as possible in advance will give you an “insurance policy” so that you can be sure that your spouse completely discloses important financial and property information that is relevant to your divorce.
Step 1: Gather your documents. Locate any prenuptial or postnuptial agreements. Unless they are set aside, these agreements generally provide the operative law that will apply in your case and will most likely control certain aspects of your divorce. You should also gather tax returns, financial statements, bank and/or investment account statements, insurance plans, 401K and other retirement statements, stock certificates and corporate returns and other business documents for the past several years if they are available. These documents are particularly important if you do not know your spouse’s income, what assets he or she owns, or what they owe in debt. Keep in mind that you cannot access your spouse’s password-protected information or information stored in a locked drawer, safe, or facility to which you have no right to access. There are possible criminal penalties for inappropriately accessing information.
Step 2: Make copies of important paperwork. If you are able to retrieve the important documents listed above, make a copy of all the paperwork and keep it in a safe place. If your spouse is not aware that you are contemplating divorce, consider keeping the original copies away from the marital residence and returning the originals, since any evidence that you have collected this information may unnecessarily raise the emotion level of your spouse or alert a sneaky spouse to the need for a “divorce plan.”
Step 3: Make a record or inventory of property. It is important to know what you and your spouse own for the two of you to divide those items during the divorce. Make a list or take photos of the significant items of personal property in your home, including furniture, antiques, silver, collectables, jewelry, etc.—especially if you are concerned that your spouse might remove items to keep them from you. Include in your list items you believe are missing from the home. If you have a safety deposit box, include an inventory or photographic inventory of the contents. Also, gather copies of appraisals. There may be certain instances where documenting the property is not enough. Whether it is valuable personal property, cash, or other assets, your attorney may instruct you to remove certain property for safekeeping.
Step 4: Keep a journal or calendar. If you have children, it is important to keep a record of parenting issues and problems as well as evidence of the time the children spend with each parent, especially if the children will be a contested issue in your case. If your spouse is not involved or is only sporadically involved with the children, a calendar of his or her contact and involvement may be good evidence for your attorney to review to argue for a specific parenting plan. In addition, if you and your spouse are having issues co-parenting your children, a journal can be a helpful way to record the issues and any incidents. A properly completed journal or calendar may be evidence that you can introduce at a hearing or trial. Journals and/or calendars are useful for income documentation, contribution evidence (contribution to the marriage), employment attempts, etc. Speak with your attorney about what information you can track to help with your case.
Step 5: Retain emails, text messages, and other evidence of communications or activities that pertain to the issues. In addition to keeping a journal or calendar, it is a good idea to save significant communications such as emails and text messages between you and your spouse. Your attorney may want to review these communications to identify issues and possible arguments related to time sharing and/or parenting. Emails and texts may also prove to be valuable evidence if certain other factors are later disputed. Similarly, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media posts or communications often are a great source of evidence and information depending on the facts of your case. Keep in mind that your spouse’s attorney is probably monitoring the same information on you, so be careful of what you say in an email, text, on social media, or in any other scenario. Your spouse might introduce your statements as evidence at a hearing or trial against you. I often tell clients they should not say anything that they would not want printed on a billboard. It helps remind people that no matter how angry you are and how much you would like to hurt your spouse, it might come back to hurt you instead.
At Nicole L. Goetz, P.L. we have the knowledge and experience to guide you through the divorce process from start to finish, from an evaluation of your situation to the litigation and appeal of your case, if necessary. If you have questions, would like to receive more information, or need an attorney to assist you during this difficult and often complicated process, please call our office in Naples, Florida to schedule a confidential consultation with our attorneys.