by George A. Lohmeier April, 2012
Usually the first question asked by the prospective divorce client is "What should I bring to the appointment?" Since there is a mandatory 60 day waiting period before a court in Indiana can sign a divorce decree, and since most couples cannot reach an agreement as to a division of the marital property and debts, child custody, the parenting time arrangement, child support, educational expenses, and numerous other child related issues within that 60 day waiting period, there is plenty of time to gather and organize your financial documents. However, it can be very important to obtain and organize copies of your important documents well before you decide to contact an attorney. Otherwise, by the time you get around to doing so your spouse may have beat you to them, leaving you with the only, and more expensive, option of seeking them through the divorce process called "discovery".
So what documents should you be gathering? Certainly, any prenuptial agreements entered into prior to your marriage, or any agreements entered into after your marriage, which pertain to your children or a distribution of assets or debts. However, most individuals will not have either of these agreements. So most will start with their joint federal and state income tax returns for the previous 3 to 5 years, with the most recent usually being the most important. If you filed taxes separately, each spouses' returns should be obtained.
Also be sure to save the wage statements for both you and your spouse for each pay period and bring your most recent 4-6 statements with you. Then start gathering your most recent statements for each mortgage, line of credit, personal or installment loans, credit cards, and any other outstanding financial obligations you and/or your spouse may have, such as back taxes, judgments against you or your spouse, student loans for yourself or a child, or loans from friends or relatives. The most important documents will be those that show how much you and your spouse owe on the date you actually file your Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. However, your statements for prior months will be useful to show your families' financial history and may also be important.
Documents that establish the property you own, individually or jointly with others, are also important. As to real estate, these will include the deed to your home and to any other real estate you may own. As to any cars, boats, or trailers, a copy of the title is important. As to other types of personal property such as horses or livestock, the bills of sale should be located. You and your spouse may also have pension plans, an I.R.A. or 401(k), or other such retirement accounts. Again, the statements covering the date of filing are the most important, but prior statements may show significant withdrawals from those accounts. If you have children in private school or college, the receipts, cancelled checks, bank or credit card statements that establish how much that has cost you, as well as any documentation that reflects the cost you will be incurring the following year should be organized.
Finally, you will want to start keeping track of your monthly expenses for you and your entire family. There are many software programs that enable you to track your expenses that may be helpful. Early on in the divorce process you will find it necessary to prepare a financial declaration that reflects your assets and liabilities, as well as your monthly budget. We will provide the form for the financial declaration during our first meeting.
Remember, if you cannot obtain or do not have all of the documents described above for the first appointment with your attorney, those documents can be obtained from your spouse or even from third parties after the divorce is filed. Thus, the final document you should prepare and bring to the first appointment is a list of documents you know exist but that you do not have, so the process of obtaining those other documents can be discussed with your attorney in the initial interview.
We have several attorneys who regularly practice in family law. If you have a family law matter you wish to discuss with an attorney in confidence, please contact our firm to discuss an appointment with one of our family law attorneys.