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Divorce 101

Your therapist is there for you to sort through the tangled web of emotional issues of a divorce. Your attorney is there to help you sort through the business issues involved in a marriage. It can be an exhausting process, and, at times, overwhelming , but by collecting and organizing your finances and important papers in one, coherent system, you will significantly reduce much of the anxiety associated with a divorce and begin to plan for your future.

Visualize the operation of your home as you would that of a business. There are routine monthly expenses: the mortgage, vehicle payments, health care and life insurance premiums, utility and cell phone bills, cable subscriptions, household maintenance expenses, and, hopefully, emergency funds set aside for unexpected expenses.

There are documents you must review regularly and others which must be safely stored or easily accessible.

You likely have both short term and long terms goals: a college fund for the children, family vacations, Christmas presents, and, perhaps, vehicle purchases.

Pick a quiet time. Make sure your printer has plenty of ink and paper. Make a list of each of your bank accounts, regardless of whether they are joint accounts or in your name, alone. Download PDF versions of as many monthly statements as the bank will allow, usually eighteen months. Do this for all your investment accounts as well. You probably have retirement savings. Perhaps an Individual Retirement Accounts. Download three to five years of these records. You and your working spouse likely participate in an employer sponsored retirement program, such as a pension, or, a 401(k) Plan. Many employers have supplemental retirement programs known as a deferred compensation plan. If you are a federal employee, this may be referred to as a "TSP" or Thrift Savings Plan account. Your employer is required to provide you with an annual statement for each of these accounts. Find that statement. Otherwise, go to your human resources department and ask for a copy. Remember to find active retirement accounts that are maintained by former employers.

Your spouse will be entitled to see your pay statements. Most employers enable their employees to download copies. Print out at least eighteen months of these statements - three years if you can.

Assemble at least three to five years of tax returns. Include your Form 1099s and W-2s from each employer. If you cannot find these returns, call your tax preparer, or, contact the IRS and request copies.

The social security administration provide estimates of monthly retirement stipends when you reach ages 63, 65, 67 and 70. If you have not received one yet, request one from the Social Security Administration.

Do you have life insurance? Most employers provide some life insurance coverage, typically for 1 ½ times your annual salary. Get a copy of your employees benefit booklet from your Human Resources department. It usually can be downloaded from the employee portal of your employer's website.

If you own your home, find the deed and mortgage documentation. If you cannot find the deed, get a copy from the land records office of your county government. Your deed may even be online, depending on the jurisdiction. If you cannot find a copy of your mortgage, call and request a copy from the mortgage company identified on your monthly statement. Remember that it may not be the same company you contracted with for a mortgage when you first bought your home. Provide documentation of any Home Equity Line of Credit, known as "HELOCs ." You will need to be able to determine at the time of your divorce the amount of equity in your home. These documents are critical, particularly if you need to have a certified appraisal.

Most people have vehicles, find the titles. You and your spouse may need to transfer an interest in a vehicles between one another, and you cannot do so without its title.

Many people have short and long term disability insurance policies and term or whole life insurance policies. You have vehicle insurance. Assemble copies of each policy. Do the same for any will or health care directive for both you and your spouse.

Download eighteen months of statements for each credit card and your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies.

Do you post messages on social media? This is evidence you cannot destroy or delete. Download your posts on each social media account and then stop posting anything until your divorce is final. Remember, anything you posted on social media can be introduced as evidence and read by a judge. Watch what you write!

How do you like to organize your files? Everyone has their own system. I use D-ring binders. Others prefer folders. Whatever your pleasure, organize these documents in a coherent system. All bank accounts or credit union accounts should be collected together, with each account in its own folder or behind its own binder tab. Then use the same process for all retirement statements, social security estimates, pay statements, insurance policies, vehicle titles, real property documents, credit card statements, and credit reports. Do not forget to include your marriage certificate, children's birth certificates, any will and health care directive or Power of Attorney. Download social media posts from you and your spouse, as you will likely need to provide these documents to your spouse through the process known as "discovery" once divorce papers are filed. Do not underestimate how much time and energy it take to collect this information. But you will need these documents to develop a good understanding of your family's cash flow, net worth and to distribute all the property between you and your spouse. You will also find this collection of important documents essential to mapping out your financial future.

These recommended tasks will help start you in the right direction but divorce is a long, often complicated process. The Family Law attorneys at SBW Law can help you. Call us.

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