Financial documents are at the heart of divorces. Regardless of how contentious or amicable a divorce is, the finances of the spouses will need to be separated, and financial documents are required to make the division. Whether the information sought is current or historical, unaltered documents tell the truth about the money. This truth needs to be examined in every divorce before assets, debts, and income can be divided.
While financial documents can often be easily obtained during divorce proceedings, it is much easier for the spouse with access to the documents to simply copy and/or retain the documents. This reduces the number of discovery requests and subpoenas, and eliminates the time spent waiting to receive documents.
If hard copies of documents are available in the home or office, the spouse should copy or secure the documents. If documentation is available online and the spouse has legitimate access to them, he or she should log into the online accounts and print all documents that are available. This process may be time consuming and tedious, but having immediate access to financial documents can provide a significant advantage in divorce litigation.
Which documents should the spouse try to acquire? The following list refers to both paper and digital (electronic) versions. Either is acceptable, as hard copies can be made electronic (scanning into PDF format, for example) and electronic can be printed if hard copies are preferred.
- Bank statements, deposit tickets, canceled checks, check registers (including checking accounts, money markets, and savings accounts)
- Brokerage statements (all accounts including those owned individually, jointly, as trustee, or as guardian)
- Credit card statements
- Personal income tax returns (including copies of W-2s, 1099s, K-1s, and other supporting documents and schedules)
- Pay statements or stubs (showing current and year-to-date wages, bonuses, commissions, overtime, retirement contributions, and other pay or benefits)
- Loan applications (for mortgages, home equity lines of credit, credit cards, auto loans, or other personal or business loans) Personal financial statements (often submitted to banks with loan applications)
- Documentation of debts (loan agreements and receipts related to any personal loans from financial institutions, individuals, or any company)
- Retirement plan documents and statements (records regarding pension, profit sharing, deferred compensation, or other retirement plans through an employer or business owned by the spouse)
- Business ownership records (stock certificates, charters, operating agreements, joint venture agreements, corporate minutes, or other related documents)
- Business income tax returns
- Business financial statements (including profit and loss statements, balance sheets, and statements of cash flow)
- Insurance documents (proof of coverage, declaration pages, policy documents, asset listings, appraisals, invoices or billing statements)
- Real estate documents (tax bills, closing statements, deeds, appraisals, mortgages, leases)
- Personal property documents (documentation for significant assets, including invoices, receipts, appraisals, titles, loan applications, registrations, photographs)
- Wills, living wills, powers of attorney, trust documents
- Inventory of safes and safe deposit boxes
In addition to the above items, there are many miscellaneous records that can provide value during the divorce. Some of these records may include medical records, telephone records, emails, photographs, calendars, and more. It is impossible to predict which of these will be valuable later on in the divorce proceedings, which is why it is important to secure these documents when they first become available and divorce is on the horizon.
Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, CFF is a forensic accountant and fraud investigator with Sequence Inc. She specializes in cases of embezzlement, financial statement fraud, white collar crime, securities fraud, and family law. She can be reached at 312.498.3661 or [email protected]