What records do I need for my Virginia divorce?

I recently taught our Second Saturday seminar in Newport News, and I met a woman there who is providing the inspiration for this post. I think she hoped to learn everything there is to know about divorce in 1.5 hours, which is an admirable, but probably impossible, feat, though I was impressed with her diligence and her insightful questions.

She came with a copy of one of our free Virginia divorce books, which was covered in highlights and post it notes. It made me really pleased so see it like that; it was obviously a go-to resource, and one that she relied heavily on. But she still wanted to know more.

She had so many questions, and it occurred to me as I thought about her later, that there may be a number of helpful tidbits involved here. After all, even though I write and talk about this stuff day in and day out, sometimes these discussions take a different shape. I love that! When you add to it that the laws are constantly changing, it means that my articles here take on a different shape all the time. It’s what I love most about the law, I think! Never boring, that’s for sure!

Most of her questions had to do with record keeping. She wanted to know what records she needed to have to, basically, remove any possible problems that might arise from her litigation – before it even began.

What records do I need to prepare for my divorce?

There are definitely some records that will help, especially if you have them prior to beginning your divorce.

Some biggies: any prenuptial agreements, or already signed separation agreements. Anything related to your bigger financial picture, including, but not limited to, mortgage interest statements, tax returns, pay stubs, credit card statements, retirement account statements, etc. The more information you provide, the more detailed advice we’ll be able to provide.

What other documents do I need?

Sometimes, depending on the case, more detail is needed. For example, in a spousal support case where we’re arguing that the wife’s physical condition is keeping her from being able to work, we’d likely have to show medical records to support that diagnosis. We would likely also need a doctor or some other expert witness at trial to testify to this. But worrying about those kinds of things today is putting the cart before the horse.

You could drive yourself crazy tracking down documents, but you may or may not need them. It may be that you negotiate spousal support and never set foot inside a courtroom, and I would hate for you to feel like you wasted time, energy, and blood pressure points on something that ended up not being a problem anyway.

Wait. Wait until it’s an issue. If information is requested from the other side, you’ll have time to get it. If it’s in formal discovery, you’ll have 30 days to respond and, if you need more time than that to get the paperwork together, we can always respond and reserve the right to supplement. Sometimes, we even fight the inclusion of specific information, depending on how sensitive it is in nature, and that would give you some time, too.

Neither you nor I can be expected to foresee every possible problem, and it’s not necessary or practical to gather every document you might need now. Wait until your attorney tells you that it’s time, and then start working on it.

Don’t drive yourself crazy! This is a process, and part of the reason you hire an attorney is to guide you through that process. Let it unfold naturally, respond appropriately, and don’t drive yourself crazy about it now.

But I have to do something! What can I do to make my divorce run more smoothly?

I’m the same way. When I’m upset, I need to take some action to feel better. If you, too, need to take action, I suggest you read the divorce book, and attend our seminars on divorce and custody, if you have minor children.

Keep a running list of questions. Make necessary home repairs, especially if you still have access to joint banking accounts. Put new tires on your car, get any necessary medical treatments done, both for you and the kids. It only gets more expensive once money is divided into his and hers and you’re living in separate households. Take care of needs now!

Start therapy, if necessary. If you’re feeling anxious and overwhelmed now, before things even start, you should probably talk to someone. Get some healthy coping mechanisms in place now. If the kids are showing the strain, get them to talk to someone, too. Put things in place so that everyone is as prepared as possible to deal with the divorce – and you may find, once you get there, it’s not nearly as bad as you thought.

Look, it’s not easy. Divorce is hard. But you don’t have to make it harder on yourself by working so hard now that you make the process seem interminable! Wait until issues really are issues before you panic and start grabbing information. It may make things worse, anyway, because not only will you spend the time and energy (and, in some cases, money, because some places charge for records) gathering that information, but you’ll also pay your attorney to review them if you provide a humongous document dump.

Focus instead on providing the information that relates immediately to your financial picture – tax returns, mortgage statements, credit card statements, retirement account information, etc – and don’t worry about anything else until your attorney tells you that you need to gather it. Remember: there’ll be time.

For more information, or to schedule a one on one consultation with a licensed and experienced divorce and custody attorney, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.

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