In every divorce, there are financial issues. These issues may involve equitable distribution of assets, alimony, and/or child support. Many times it is difficult for an attorney to obtain the financial information needed from a client. If the client is no longer living in a marital home and does not have access to the records, or if the client was not the financial person in the family, it may be very difficult for them to give a complete picture of the assets and debts.
If you are contemplating divorce and if you are still living in the marital home, you should photocopy as much information as possible. It is important for you to make an all inclusive list of every asset, whether it be in your name individually, your spouse’s name individually, or in joint names. Some assets are easy to determine and some are not. It is best if you can do the foot work by trying to find out (1) the name and account number of every bank account, (2) name and number of shares of every stock or bond, (3) face amount, owner, beneficiary, and insured of life insurance contracts, (4) year end balance of pension plans and retirement accounts, (5) the name of any business that you or your spouse are involved in, (6) the name and account number of every credit card used by either you or your spouse, (7) a copy of your most recent mortgage statement, and (8) the names, account numbers and current balances of any home equity or personal loans.
Even if you do not have complete information for everything, approximate values or estimates of what is owned is helpful. Your attorney can more easily obtain the remaining information through the legal process of discovery if he or she knows in which direction to proceed.
Almost every party going through a divorce is owns real estate. The only information you need to provide to your attorney is the address, a recent mortgage statement for each property and the deed, if available. For equitable distribution purposes, real estate generally must be appraised by a reputable appraiser in the area. If the real estate is to be sold, there is no need to get an appraisal. You and your spouse will just have to decide with whom to list the property and at what price.
It is easy to determine the value of bank accounts by looking at monthly statements. Since the date for valuation is the date of the divorce complaint, it is necessary to obtain copies of bank statements for the month that the divorce complaint was filed.
For stock that is traded publicly, you only need to know the number of shares that existed on the date of the complaint and the name of the stock. The price per share of stock can be obtained from daily newspapers.
Clients generally disregard pensions as an asset when they are inventorying assets. However, they have a value and often have a great value. In order to obtain the value, the pension information must be sent to an actuary to determine what the it is worth on the date of equitable distribution, i.e. the date of the divorce complaint. Since pensions are subject to equitable distribution, this value is absolutely necessary to obtain and you should retain the services of an expert to prepare this valuation.
Some pensions may be in the form of IRA accounts or 401(K) plans. If this is the case, an actuary is not necessary and a statement of the account on the date of the divorce complaint will be sufficient.
Closely held corporations, partnerships, and/or professional practices are very difficult to value. Many times, the party involved in a business has tight control over the books and records and does not always report their entire income. Whenever there is a closely held business involved in a divorce case, it is imperative to obtain the services of an accountant or business evaluator to determine the value of that business.
It is advisable to make an inventory of all furnishings and other personal property accumulated by either or both parties during the marriage. Generally it is not worth the money to obtain an appraisal of personal property. The suggested way of dealing with the division of personal property is by discussing it with your spouse or by having your attorney send a list to your spouse’s attorney of the property you wish to retain.
Occasionally, there are more marital debts than assets. If this is the case, it is advisable for you to make an inventory of all of the outstanding marital debts, and either close the accounts or stop incurring additional debt. If the marital estate is compromised of a lot of debt, it is wise to reach a compromise with your spouse than it is to spend what marital money there is for attorney involvement.