What sorts of documents will your lawyer need?
Documents are to a lawyer as water is to a fish – we attorneys love to swim in them because they are so very important, and for several reasons. First of all, they provide information necessary in preparing a decree – we’ll need a legal description for a house, VIN’s for cars, and account numbers for retirement and bank accounts.
Secondly, documents can tell us what you are worth (hopefully it’s a positive number!). We must know the value of your net estate before we can even think of how best to divide it between you and your spouse.
Finally, documents alert us to problems – large credit card bills or unpaid taxes, for example.
So, that being said, what sorts of documents will your lawyer need, anyway?
Let me give you a bulleted list (most of these can be – should be – copies, not originals)
- Deeds, deeds of trust and promissory notes for real estate
- Car titles for motor vehicles
- Bank account statements (we usually ask for the last full month’s statement only, for starters)
- Retirement statements (again, we usually want to see the most recent statement)
- Investment account statements (for stocks, bonds, mutual funds)
- Most recent credit card statements
- Most recent statements for unsecured debts (things like student loans and lines of credit)
- Statements showing past-due taxes, of any kind
- Tax returns (ordinarily for the last three years)
- Tax returns for any business you own
- Any financial statements you gave a bank or financial institution within the last three years
- Premarital agreements
- Marital property agreements
- Documents which identify mineral (oil and gas) interests
- Documents which identify time shares
- Documents which identify storage units and safety deposit boxes
- Statements of account for frequent flier, travel or hotel accounts
- Documents which identify past-due loans or other past-due debts
- A copy of your credit report
- Copies of any judgments taken against you or your spouse within the last ten years
- Copies of bankruptcies you or your spouse have taken within the last ten years
- Records of any sizable inheritance you received during the marriage
- Life insurance policies
- Most recent 529 account statements
- Documents identifying any accounts set up for minor children
And there may be more you are asked to provide to your lawyer, depending on the issues in your case. If custody is at issue, for example, your e-mails or texts with your spouse may be vital. If fault is alleged as a basis for the divorce, then communications between your spouse and a girlfriend or boyfriend may be needed. And if physical violence occurred, pictures of the injuries and police reports will be important.
The sooner you can get these documents to your lawyer the better off you will be. Our advice is to ask your lawyer what he/she will need, and when, and then set about to get him/her the necessary information.
Spending more of your time will save you some of your lawyer’s time – and therefore, money – in the long run and will help you get a better result.
So, make like a Boy Scout and be prepared!