If you are considering a divorce in New Jersey, it is important to prepare the documents that you need to share with your family law attorney. While the decision to end a marriage may be deeply personal and emotional at its core, divorce is a legal and financial process that involves a significant amount of factual information. Whether you are going to an initial consultation with a divorce lawyer or planning for negotiations or litigation, there are some key documents that are important to have on hand.
When you visit a family law attorney for an initial consultation about your divorce, the lawyer may ask you for some basic information in order to provide a meaningful assessment or initial advice about your case. If you are prepared in advance with useful information, this can help you plan more quickly and effectively and receive more detailed assessments.
The specific documents you need may vary from case to case. For example, a divorce involving a closely held business may require a number of business financial documents and assessments that may not be necessary when both parties are employed by others or retired. However, there are some basic items that will almost always be required when preparing for a divorce.
The end of a marriage is almost always a stressful time, even when the two parties are relatively amicable and open about their financial and emotional circumstances. However, when the two spouses are in an angry or a highly contentious relationship, the level of tension may ratchet up considerably. It may be more difficult to obtain these documents from the other party during such a contentious situation. Therefore, you may want to start collecting these documents when you first start thinking about divorce. In general, these are not secret or hidden materials but basic financial and practical information generally important for both parties, even outside the context of a divorce.
Some of the most important documents to have on hand are basic financial ones. Divorce is a deeply emotional issue, but it is also a legal and financial matter. Aside from issues like child custody, property division can be one of the most difficult aspects of reaching a marital settlement agreement. This is especially true when the spouses own significant assets as there is a larger pie for both parties to be concerned about.
Even couples with fewer assets will still need some important financial documents for the divorce process. These include income tax returns for the past three to five years. These records should include regular income as well as bonuses and other forms of executive compensation. If you have an employment contract, this can also be an important form of documentation.
Proof of income, like W-2 or 1099 tax forms, bank statements and pay stubs, can establish both parties’ baseline and expected income during and after the divorce. It is important to document executive compensation packages, such as stock options, even if they are not yet vested.
These documents may be more complex but also particularly important if either or both spouses own a business. Gathering business tax returns is only the first step when it comes to documenting business income and expenses and reaching a valuation. Your family law attorney may ask you to provide a range of documents about the business specifically in order to prepare for the divorce.
If you or your spouse has investment portfolios or extensive savings, these are also very important documents to prepare for your divorce attorney. Some key documents to have on hand include:
Investment portfolios are often major assets to be handled during divorce negotiations. Bank statements, like your checking, savings and mutual fund accounts, are an important first step. If you invest in stocks or cryptocurrency, make sure to provide statements that show your assets in these areas.
Retirement accounts are also generally considered assets for the divorce, particularly the portion of those accounts accumulated during the marriage. As New Jersey is an equitable distribution state, these accounts will not necessarily be divided in half, but the information is essential to develop a complete financial picture and assess the overall marital assets at stake in the divorce.
Another major asset in most divorce cases is the marital home. For spouses with multiple properties or an ongoing business in real estate investments, your divorce lawyer may be particularly concerned about your real estate. The marital home, more than other types of property, may have strong emotional value to both spouses, especially if there are children involved. However, understanding the financial value of the house is important to negotiating a settlement and determining the future of the home.
Some of the documents that you may need for your divorce lawyer include:
Of course, establishing your assets is not the only part for developing a full picture of your finances. Your family lawyer must also understand your debts and liabilities, outstanding loans and ongoing expenses to maintain your lifestyle. In general, the family courts aim to see both parties able to continue in their current lifestyle, taking into account the downsizing that accompanies divorce.
This means that you should have credit card bills, personal loan statements and other liabilities documented for your divorce lawyer. It is also important to show how much you and your spouse spend on an ongoing basis to maintain your lifestyle. Some of the documents that you may need include the following:
The list above focuses primarily on financial documents, but other information can also be important, especially any documents pointing to expenses related specifically to the children when apportioning child support. Your divorce attorney will likely also want to review your key estate plan documents, many of which will need to be changed after the divorce, including wills and trusts, life and health insurance policies, powers of attorney and living wills and inheritance documentation.
If you or your spouse owns a business, your lawyer will request specific information needed to develop a valuation for it, which may be a central part of divorce negotiations.
While it is helpful to have a baseline picture of your marital finances, you can also begin the process without all of this information. Your lawyer can work with you to develop a roadmap for the information you need. Contact the experienced divorce attorneys at Lawrence Law by calling (908) 645-1000 or using our convenient, secure online form for an initial consultation at our Red Bank, New Jersey, and Watchung, New Jersey, offices.