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What Documents Should You Collect Before Divorce

by | Sep 14, 2022

If you’ve decided to end your marriage, you and your spouse may be understandably consumed by emotion. This is a major life event and one that can be difficult and draining for all parties involved. 

While paperwork might be the last thing on your mind, it’s important to prepare now for what lies ahead. In any divorce case, documentation is key. If you have assembled all of the information you need beforehand, it can help the process move as quickly as possible. 

However, with so many forms to gather and complete, it can be difficult to ensure that you have everything in place. Today, we’re taking a look at all of the necessary documents that you need to collect before you file for divorce.

We’ll also share how our team of qualified divorce attorneys can help you find and file all of these documents to make sure you don’t miss a step. 

Important Family Documents

Before you begin looking at divorce-specific documentation, take the time to assemble all of the important family documents that you share with your spouse. If you wait to collect these documents later, they might be difficult or even impossible to obtain. 

Family documents to copy and collect now include:

  • Tax returns from the last five years
  • Pay stubs
  • W-2 forms
  • Bank statements (including retirement and investment accounts)
  • Benefits statements
  • Employment contracts 
  • Estate planning documents and wills
  • Monthly budgets
  • Mortgage contracts 
  • Loan applications
  • Utility bills
  • All property deeds
  • Vehicle registrations

It can take some time to locate all of these files, but the process is worth it. Both you and your spouse should have copies of each document. You may need to discuss any or all of these details during your divorce proceedings, and it will help tremendously to have them right in front of you. 

As you sort through the information, you can also get a clearer picture of what your shared life together looked like, as well as what your future may entail. This can help you make better-informed decisions during any meetings or mediations you may have with your spouse. 

If you choose to work with a divorce lawyer, your attorney may also reference these documents. They can use the information to understand the assets that you shared with your spouse to help guide your next steps and facilitate any mediations that may occur. 

How to Store and Organize Divorce Documents

Once you have located all of the above documents, you may wonder where you should store them. The best route is to ensure that all copies (both yours and your spouse’s) are stored in a secure, tamper-proof space. 

The location you select should also be free of any type of moisture, and away from adverse weather. In terms of organization, there is no one-size-fits-all approach that you are required to take. If you already have a filing or document management system that you use at home, you are free to continue using it though you don’t have to do so. 

Ultimately, the way you choose to organize your divorce-related documents only needs to make sense to you. It should be set up in a way that allows you to easily locate the information you need, as soon as you need it. 

Preparing and Filing Paperwork During a Divorce

In addition to family-related documents, there are also different divorce-specific documents that you may require in your case. Your lawyer can help ensure that you are working on the right forms, and can support you as you complete each one. 

The types of documents you need will hinge on a few different factors, including: 

  • If you’re filing jointly or alone
  • If you have children with your spouse
  • If you need a temporary hearing to resolve disputes

There are many different forms to complete depending on how these factors affect you. For instance, some counties in Wisconsin require spouses with children to file a Parenting Plan along with their divorce petition. If this specific document is not in place, it could affect the custody side of the case. 

To make sure that all of your required paperwork is complete and error-free, it’s helpful to hire an experienced family lawyer who is familiar with how these cases work. Our lawyers can help you navigate all of the fields and forms so you don’t miss any critical components. 

This is an important step because divorce documents can be inherently complicated. For instance, some Wisconsin counties may require forms that others do not. Then, there are certain forms that you may need to omit or complete depending on whether you are filing the motion or responding to it. 

Not only can a lawyer help you ensure legal compliance, but they also free up your time so you can use it more effectively. With a trusted legal team by your side, you don’t have to worry about drafting or filing all of the paperwork on your own. You also don’t have to know all of the applicable laws or statutes to ensure you’re making the next right move. Your lawyer can inform you about everything that will happen, and make sure you’re well-prepared for everything that comes next. 

Filing Jointly vs. Separately

If you are filing jointly, then both you and your spouse will be responsible for gathering and completing all divorce documents together. If you are filing separately, then you will assemble the necessary paperwork and serve it to your spouse. 

Those documents will include copies of the:

  • Summons
  • Petition
  • Confidential petition addendum
  • Proposed parenting plan (if required)

The serving process will need to take place no more than 90 days after you initially file for divorce. The securest way to serve your spouse divorce papers is to use a process server or an officer employed with the local sheriff’s department. 

To eliminate the need for a process server, you can also request that your divorce attorney send the documents to your spouse via mail, along with an Admission of Service document and a stamped, self-addressed envelope. If your spouse signs and returns the Admission of Service by the stated deadline, then this indicates that they accept the service. They can also visit your attorney in person to pick up the divorce papers and sign the document in their office. 

Documents for Temporary Hearing 

Your first appearance in court will usually be in a temporary hearing. This hearing occurs when there is some type of disagreement that must be settled before the official hearing, such as one regarding:

  • Child custody or placement 
  • Property or asset division
  • Another urgent matter

As there is a 120-day waiting period before your hearing, this initial meeting is meant to act as a temporary solution until those matters can be more officially resolved. To prepare, it’s important to bring these documents along: 

  • Income tax returns
  • Wage statements
  • Completed financial disclosure statement

Documents for Pre-Trial Conference

Once the 120-day waiting period is over, you and your spouse will attend a pre-trial conference. This allows the judge to get a clear picture of your case before the hearing. 

You may be able to finalize your divorce at this conference if there are no outstanding disputes. To do so, you will need to have the following documents ready:

  • An agreed-upon and signed marital settlement agreement
  • Signed, completed financial disclosure statements
  • Documents verifying that you completed any necessary parenting classes

Documents for Final Hearing

At the final hearing, both spouses should have the following forms completed and ready:

  • Marital Settlement Agreement (if there are no disputes)
  • Proposed Marital Settlement Order (if there are disputes)
  • Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Judgment of Divorce 
  • Vital Statistics Form (available via Clerk of Circuit Court)
  • Financial disclosure statements

As long as there are no outstanding issues, the judge will issue the final orders that set the terms for the divorce. When everything is complete, you’ll need to complete all other relevant documentation, including:

  • Transfer of car titles
  • Transfer of real estate deeds
  • Division of pension plans
  • Changes to life insurance beneficiaries
  • Revisions to each party’s will

Your Trusted Family Law Resource

As one of eastern Wisconsin’s leading family law attorneys, we know that each family’s needs are unique. We also know that issues like divorce and child custody can be difficult to maneuver, and we’re here to help you approach these next steps with ease.

We will work diligently to resolve your case in the least disruptive way possible. This may mean negotiation, mediation, cooperative divorce, or collaborative divorce. However, when these options aren’t viable, we are also prepared to legally represent you in court if litigation is required. 

Our lawyers are known throughout the state for their careful and thorough work. We can help you gather all of the documents, files, and forms you need as you prepare to file for divorce. Then, we’ll be there every step of the way, guiding and representing you throughout the entire process.You don’t have to face divorce alone. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation and learn how we can help.

Written by Vanden Heuvel & Dineen, S.C.

Divorce | Family Law

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