How to Organize Financial Documents During Your Divorce
The divorce process can be overwhelming and complicated, especially when considering the sheer amount of paperwork necessary to be completed and submitted at the various stages of the process in most jurisdictions. Staying organized is a critical part of ensuring that you get your fair share of assets and enjoy the benefits of your parental rights at the end of the case. One of the most daunting tasks, in any case, is usually gathering and organizing the numerous financial documents required for proving your claims and assertions for property or support needs. Knowing which kind of financial records to have or keep on hand will help you during the initial and final negotiation processes. Here’s a quick look at what you need to know about collecting and keeping relevant financial documents as you work your way through the divorce process in South Carolina.
Get Copies of Your Tax Returns for the Marriage
It’s important that you have copies of all past tax returns for both you and your spouse. This includes not only federal tax returns but also any state or local taxes that were filed over the years of your marriage. Your lawyer will likely want to look at these files in order to get an accurate picture of your joint income and assets. You might also need them if there are any discrepancies between what was reported as income on a joint return versus individual returns. If you have pre-marital property, you wish to keep out of the equitable division arena; you may also need to produce your tax returns from prior to the marriage to prove that property or asset was, indeed, a premarital one that should not be divided by the family court.
In today’s digital world, most people scan important documents and shred or destroy the originals. Scanned copies, as long as they can be reasonably identified as the “complete and accurate document” will usually be okay for purposes of property and asset identification. However, if you must file taxes during the divorce case or receive any other types of property-related paperwork, it’s best to keep all originals in your possession until the case is over.
Further, many people don’t keep more than three to five years’ worth of tax return information handy in their personal files. If this describes your situation, but your marriage was longer than 3 to 5 years, it may be necessary to request transcripts of your prior tax filings directly from the IRS. The process for making this request can be found on the IRS website by clicking here.
Gather Bank Statements for All Deposit and Loan Accounts
Bank statements will obviously indicate the balances in various accounts, but they can also be helpful when trying to determine how much money has been spent over the course of your marriage and for determining the lifestyle each person and the children have grown accustomed to during the marriage. Your lawyer will want to review them to have a better understanding of your (and your spouse’s) spending habits and financial decisions made throughout the marriage to be able to properly advocate for you during the divorce process. It’s especially important to have bank statements from all accounts shared by both spouses, such as joint checking, savings, or money market accounts, that are used for payment of the day-to-day expenses of the parties and the children.
Another reason bank statements are important is for your attorney to be able to track any unexplained expenses, cash deposits and withdrawals, transfers to and from payment apps, and other transactions that may reveal discrepancies in the balances that are reported to the Court on official financial declarations, or when accounts are tallied for equitable division purposes during settlement negotiations. Unfortunately, some people attempt to transfer, hide, or conceal funds when they are facing a divorce, which is another reason that it is important to review these statements
In addition to gathering whatever bank statements you have access to, it’s also important to obtain documents from any mortgage, credit card, loan, or financing company at which either spouse holds an account. While it’s nice to think about the assets and property that will be subject to equitable division at the time of a divorce, the family court will also be tasked with equitably dividing all debts accumulating during the marriage. These documents will help determine how much each party owes as well as the purpose for these debts, which will ultimately guide your attorney’s arguments for which debts should be shouldered by which party during any settlement negotiations.
Collect Investment Records
If either spouse owns investments like stocks, bonds, mutual funds, or any other investment accounts, make sure you gather any documentation related to those investments to provide to your attorney. This includes account statements from any brokerage firms where investments were held during the course of the marriage, as well as records related to retirement assets such as IRAs, 401(k)s, or other accounts through either spouse’s employment. This information will not only help determine how much each spouse has saved for retirement but it can also be used in asset division agreements when one party cannot afford to liquidate assets to “buy out” the other spouse to keep a home or other property during the settlement negotiation process.
Just like with other assets, having these statements as far back as possible is the best practice. In high-asset cases or cases where each party had assets before the marriage, a full review of these statements, along with consultation with benefits administrators, will allow the attorneys and the Court to form accurate value assessments at the time of the marriage compared to the value at the time of the legal separation. These values are critical to determining the value to be divided between the parties versus the value that is deemed “pre-marital” or non-marital and thus belonging only to one spouse.
Organization is key when going through a divorce, especially when it comes to the paperwork necessary to document the details of marital property, assets, or debts. In order to make sure your divorce is handled in a cost-effective manner, it’s essential that you keep track of all relevant financial documents so that your attorney has everything they need for presenting your case to the Court and to properly advocate for your future needs during settlement negotiations with your ex-spouse or their lawyer. Having access to tax returns, bank statements, loan or other debt statements, and investment records can help ensure that you walk away with the best resolution possible after all is said and done.
If you and your spouse are considering divorce, don’t make any decisions about how to proceed before talking with a trusted attorney in your area. Your divorce and any settlement you create will be subject to your state’s divorce laws. Without discussing your situation with an attorney, your agreement may not be what you want or what is beneficial to your future. If you’re in South Carolina, it’s important to contact an experienced family court attorney like J. Benjamin Stevens today to discuss your specific situation. Even if you aren’t in South Carolina, Mr. Stevens is happy to offer referrals to a well-qualified attorney located in your state.
Ben Stevens has provided exceptional legal counsel and support to families throughout South Carolina for well over twenty-five years, handling all matters of family law, such as divorce, separation, alimony, and child custody. He is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and he is a Board-Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule an initial consultation.
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Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule an initial consultation.
ABOUT J. BENJAMIN STEVENS
Ben.Stevens@offitkurman.com | 864.598.9172
Aggressive, creative, and compassionate are words Ben Stevens' colleagues freely use to describe him as a divorce and family law attorney. Mr. Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and is a Board Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is one of only two attorneys in South Carolina with those simultaneous distinctions. He has held numerous leadership positions in the AAML, and he currently serves as one of its National Vice Presidents. Mr. Stevens has a statewide practice and regularly appears all across South Carolina. His practice is focused on complex divorce and child custody cases.
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