Every divorce is a little bit different, and the assets (and, it must be said, the liabilities) are different, too. Usually, it’s some kind of version of the same; a divorce set of “usual suspects”, as it were, but in some cases, it’s more complicated.
My least favorite cases are the ones where my client tells me she has no idea what there is to divide. It’s not my least favorite in the sense that then I don’t know what to do, or I worry that my client won’t get what she deserves; it’s just kind of a pain all the extra steps we have to take to make sure that her interests are protected. I can do it, it’s fine—but it is more time consuming and more costly than it would be for a client who walked in with a spreadsheet of everything that existed during the marriage (which, incidentally, is my favorite).
When you DON’T know what you have to divide in your divorce
It’s unfortunate, but not impossible, and you’re not alone. If this is you, don’t feel badly. We deal with this every single day, and we can help protect you, too. If you don’t know what there is to divide, that’s okay. There are definitely some things you can do to help the situation, and to start to figure things out for yourself. (Ideally, whatever you can gather on your own, the better off you’ll be, because we won’t have to use the court system to figure it out.)
First thing’s first.
1. Gather whatever financial documents you can find.
Go through the house, and take what you can find. Bank statements, credit card statements, mortgage interest statements, retirement account statements—the more the better.While you still have access and before he’s got his guard up, gather information. Make your own spreadsheets. Just because you didn’t know before doesn’t mean that there isn’t time to learn.Find what you can find, and catalog it carefully. Scan it, if you can, and save it somewhere safe—that way, if something happens to the originals, you’ll still have it saved somewhere (preferably in the cloud) where he can’t access it.
2. Make sure you have pay stubs, LES’s, W2s, and tax returns.
We will definitely want to know what income there is coming in, so, to the extent that you can, gather evidence regarding his income (and yours, too). We can use these documents to show us all sorts of things, so they’re super helpful. Whatever you can find, grab ‘em.
These are some of the most important documents, and they’re a great place to start. We can figure out a lot from these things, and that can get us pretty far.
What if he has hidden all the financial records?
Even if he has hidden it, we can still get the documents we need to figure out what’s there to be divided. It may just be a little more difficult, and it may cost a little more. But we can get it. So, what do we have to do if we don’t have any information? We’ll probably have to file for divorce.
Wasn’t I going to file for divorce anyway?
Well, yes. Eventually, you’d have to file for divorce regardless. But there’s a difference in how and when you file if you’re planning a fault based divorce versus a no fault divorce. A case where we don’t have access to the financial records (and therefore can’t reach an agreement in order to move forward with an uncontested, no fault divorce) is one where we might file earlier on fault based grounds (assuming that we have them) in order to get into the court more quickly.
That way, we can conduct the formal discovery process (something we don’t do if we’re negotiating an agreement on a no fault basis). During discovery, we can ask questions to him and even ask for specific copies of the exact documents we need to figure out how to begin to divide the assets and liabilities in your marriage. If he doesn’t have them or won’t provide us with what we want, we can also use subpoena duces tecums to request documents from third parties (like banks, credit card companies, etc). It’s more expensive, and it’s not necessarily the easiest way to get our information, but it’ll certainly work in a pinch.
Besides, you can’t be so scared to use the tools of the court – that’s what they’re there for! You figure it might cost a little more to figure out the pieces of the puzzle, but it doesn’t cost anywhere near as much as signing an agreement blindly (and thereby giving up a significant portion of what you might be entitled to receive) would cost you. Divorce is hard, especially when you don’t know what there is to divide, but that doesn’t mean you have to take it lying down. Take the legal steps that are there for your protection and make sure that you end up with the best divorce possible. For more information, or to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorneys, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.