You know the old saying about real estate “location, location,location?”  Well to make sense of your divorce you need “information, information, information.”  Your best bet is to gather it yourself, although your lawyer may have ways of getting it for you.

The most important information you need is financial.   Begin by gathering all income information.  This includes recent pay stubs and tax returns for the last five years, which will have W-2 or 1099 forms attached and will include all business related income schedules.  If either of you has a business then the business tax returns should be gathered too.

Next get all expense records you can such as bank statements showing checks written, credit/debit card statements, etc.  Get the bills for your recurring expenses such as mortgage, taxes, utilities, cable, internet, etc.  You also want to gather here any  evidence of debts owed, whether loans or lines of credit, or in other forms.

Next get information on any real estate you own and any debt owed on it.  You should find out some idea of your property’s value, and ultimately may want it appraised.  You can also use this time to list boats, RV’s etc and their values and any debt owed on them should you own any.

Next get statements for all investments, retirement, and other savings accounts, such as those for children etc.  Look for what you know exists but also dig deeper in case something is hidden.  Consider any place in your home or office where information might be stored.  If you have anything you have been hiding, you should gather it and account for it in your own listing because chances are it will be uncovered so prepare for the worst case scenario.

Gather any information about any “stuff” you own that might be of large value.  Typically we are talking about cars, art, jewelry and antiques, but depending on your income level and spending habits your TV, furniture, computers and such might be worth listing.  I generally counsel against counting the spoons and pot holders, but I’ve seen lists of them as well.  Make a note of things that are of special value to you personally and that you would want to keep no matter what.  Be sure to tell your lawyer about these things.

This is also a good time to mention, if you have a lawyer, tell him or her everything, hiding information from your lawyer is just plain stupid.   A lawyer with the wrong information is like a soldier without a weapon or defensive armor of any kind.  He or she simply cannot do the job you hired them for.

If you have completed this gathering process you will be able to see exactly where you are financially.   Knowing where you are is a big step forward to knowing where you are going.