The Initial Gathering Phase

Here’s an overview of your role in this preparation.

The first step is to get all financial information. This includes documents identifying assets, liabilities and information about the family’s monthly cash flow. You’ll need all account records, earnings records, income statements, pension plan descriptions and statements of account, deferred compensation plan statements, property descriptions and identification of all interests in all other assets of any type. On the liabilities side, assemble all loan documents and active charge account records.

You and your attorney will designate the assets to be appraised, the information to be verified and the items requiring further investigation. Review your progress periodically to make sure you’ll have everything when needed.

Start now in gathering the information your attorney will need. Keep it organized as you go. Dropping a shoebox full of documents and notes on your attorney’s desk may seem funny, but it’s not going to do much to speed up case preparation or save money if your attorney and his or her staff have to figure out every slip of paper.

Your attorney will probably ask you to complete a client questionnaire requesting certain information and listing documents required. Here’s a basic list to get you started before you are given a questionnaire, list or request:

1. Home and work addresses and telephone numbers, dates of birth and social security numbers for you and your spouse;

2. Date and place of marriage, details of any prior marriages and children of either of you;

3. Full names, Social Security Numbers, dates of birth and schools being attended by all children of this marriage;

4. Salary, job description, expense account and fringe benefit details for each of you, including current pay stub showing deductions and year-to-date totals;

5. Real property information, including a copy of the deed, street address, purchase price and date, the source of the down payment and the balance owing;

6. Certificates or last statements for all stocks and bonds, investment accounts, bank accounts, partnership interests and retirement benefits;

7. Copies of the ownership certificates for the cars, plus a statement of the balance owing;

8. Copies of coverage statements for all medical, life, liability, property and disability insurance policies;

9. Copies of the last statements for all short-term and long-term liabilities such as credit card accounts, home loans, promissory notes, bank overdraft or otherwise;

10. Summary descriptions, brochures and the latest benefit statements from all retirement and pension plans;

11. The latest statement from all profit-sharing, annuity, Keogh, SEP-IRA, IRA, Roth IRA, 401(k) and other deferred compensation plans;

12. Copies of the last two federal tax returns.

Bring original documents, if available, for review and copying. If you don’t have the information or documents, list what you do know, including your belief where the documents are. You’ll save time and money if your attorney doesn’t have to go over points with you one by one. Your case will get preferred handling if it’s always ready to go.

Several schedules will be needed. Start on them as soon as you have delivered the documents to your attorney; they will take time to create.

First, what are the present expenses for your household? Go through each category, item by item. Use a detailed expenditure list if your attorney has one, or go through your checkbook, to make sure you get them all. Court forms for listing expenses usually contain far too few categories, causing you to miss many actual expenses. When you have accounted for where every dollar is going, add to your schedule items you or your children need but cannot presently afford—identify these clearly as necessary but not presently incurred expenses. If you have remained in the former family home, note at the bottom of the schedule how the expenses have changed by reason of your spouse leaving.

Second, prepare a schedule of installment or unpaid credit card debt requiring monthly payments on account if you have three or more debts. List the creditor, state the reason for the debt, give the monthly payment required, show the actual payment, if different, and the balance owing.

Third, list all assets that you believe to be your separate property. Give the reasons why, describe the documents and name the witnesses who might support your claim.

Fourth, and last, prepare an outline of your initial child custody and visitation plan. This may be an obvious scheme you and your spouse began immediately after separation. It may be your dream of what you hope will be some day. It may be a statement of your desire to relocate with the children, which would require sensible, usually employment-driven reasons because removing the children from the area where your spouse continues to live would might make visitation nearly impossible. To quickly create different custody schedules and evaluate their practicality, use the Kidmate® program that also calculates the amount of time each child is with each parent, a factor used for child support calculations in many states.

Meet with your attorney after you have provided the first round of information. He or she will know what additional information is needed, and the two of you can decide how you’re going to get it. For example, if your spouse works overtime or is paid on commission, you’d like to know what your spouse’s earnings would be over the next year.

Your attorney will send discovery requests to your spouse and third parties asking for specific information needed to complete the gathering of information and preparation for settlement or trial. These requests can be written questions, known as interrogatories, a Demand for Production of Documents or subpoena to non-parties. The attorneys initiate these requests and require court involvement only if a problem arises. Consider making informal discovery request of your spouse and offer to do the same. Simply ask for the material, and then review what you get to see if you’ll accept it as is or require the sworn statement of formal discovery.

Is your medical insurance provided through your spouse’s employer? If it is, you can call the employer to get the information needed for an extension of that same insurance after divorce. Although you could send this with the notice to maintain insurance being sent to this health insurer, described under Notices in Chapter Eight, they normally go to different people and it’s best to keep this type of contact to one topic.

If your spouse’s employer doesn’t fall within the COBRA legislation, you should still be eligible for a conversion policy. These policies usually offer less coverage at a higher premium and are useful only to people who would be otherwise uninsurable. You’ll probably want to join whatever group plan is offered when one is directly available to you.