Critical Documents to Assemble Before Hiring a Divorce Lawyer

Once you've decided to file for divorce or your spouse has filed for divorce, you're likely in a hurry to obtain counsel to represent you in the case. When you first talk to an attorney you are considering hiring, they need information about your case and your situation to be able to offer any educated information. Because of this, they will ask you to provide them with a long list of documents. Some are needed to even file the case, but others are crucial in analyzing your position, opening negotiations, and creating a narrative for the case. 

A high net worth divorce is a document-heavy proceeding. Your attorney and the court need extensive documentation for all your marital assets and debts. The more information you can provide your attorney, the better able they will be to champion your interests. 

You will save everyone time, and get the answers you need much more quickly if you and your financial team locate the necessary documents in advance and have them ready for your attorney. 

Consider locating the following items:

  1. Marriage certificate. Your attorney will need your date and place of marriage. It's best to have the certificate ready so no errors are made.
  2. Divorce decrees from any previous marriages.
  3. Any court orders or restraining orders in existence against you or your spouse related to the marriage, issued by Family Court or a previous divorce court action.
  4. Child support orders stemming from previous relationships, whether you or your spouse are payors or payees, and any arrearages.
  5. A separation agreement for this marriage, if you ever signed one. 
  6. Social Security numbers for you, your spouse, and your children.
  7. Any prenuptial or postnuptial agreements you have signed related to this marriage. These limit your options in terms of outcomes, so your legal team must have this information from the start.
  8. A list of assets you and your spouse brought into the marriage, with values. Separate property is not divisible in divorce, so it is essential to be able to set aside these assets.
  9. A list of your children's names, dates of birth, and gender. 
  10. Income tax returns, including businesses.
  11. Cash held by you or your spouse.
  12. A list of real estate owned, including addresses and purchase prices for residential, vacation homes, rental property, and others.
  13. Outstanding mortgage or loan balances against all real property, as well as any liens in existence against the properties.
  14. Real estate appraisals and tax assessments.
  15. Property tax statements for real property.
  16. HOA statements for any applicable properties.
  17. Recent statement for any lines of credit. 
  18. Most recent statement from all existing bank accounts, including those for children, those in your separate names, and accounts you share with other people.
  19. Most recent statement from all existing investment accounts.
  20. Most recent statement from all existing retirement and pension accounts.
  21. Most recent statement from profit-sharing, annuities, deferred compensation, and IRAs. 
  22. Most recent credit card statements.
  23. Outstanding loan balances, including student loans.
  24. Listing of stock holdings as well as stock options or purchase plans, bonds, notes, or other holdings.
  25. Bankruptcy proceedings by you, your spouse, or any businesses you own, whether concluded or active.
  26. Any legal proceedings against you, your spouse, or any businesses owned by either of you.
  27. Business tax returns, profit and loss statements, year-end financial statements, and formation documents (partnership agreement or incorporation papers). 
  28. Business appraisals.
  29. Trust instruments for any trusts set up by you or your spouse, as well as any trusts for which either of you is a beneficiary.
  30. Intellectual property (copyrights, patents, or trademarks) owned by either of you.
  31. Employment contracts for yourself and your spouse, as well as severance and retirement package documents.
  32. Benefits statements.
  33. Pay stubs for yourself and your spouse.
  34. Utility bills for all homes.
  35. Health insurance information for all family members.
  36. Year, make, and model for all vehicles (including boats, motorcycles, aircraft, and so on).
  37. Life insurance policies for yourself and your spouse.
  38. Home, vehicle, umbrella, and other liability insurance policies.
  39. Details about art, jewelry, high-end electronics, antiques, and other collectibles (including appraisals and insurance information).
  40. Current tuition bills for you, your spouse, or your children, including preschool through post-graduate.
  41. Contracts with and payment records for nannies, housekeepers, gardeners, drivers, and assistants.
  42. List of safe deposit boxes with lists of contents. 
  43. A list and an estimated value of valuable items (such as gold bars) stored in home safes or other hiding places. 
  44. A rough monthly budget for your household.
  45. Powers of attorney documents.
  46. Health care powers of attorney, proxies, or advance directives.
  47. Wills and codicils written by you or your spouse. 
  48. A log of how parenting time has been divided in the past few months. 
  49. Information regarding children's special needs and necessary medical, therapeutic, and educational expenses.
  50. Memberships in country clubs, gyms, associations, and other pay to play organizations.
  51. Any incriminating photographs, videos, recordings (including voicemails), text messages, emails, or other documents or items that offer proof of illegality by your spouse. 

Assembling these documents is a time-consuming process, but the sooner you gather them, the better. If your spouse suspects you are going to file for divorce, they may change passwords or access abilities. Your attorney will be able to obtain the information you are locked out of as part of the discovery process, but gathering as much as you can upfront will be of great benefit to you. 


Dror Bikel

Dror Bikel co-founded Bikel Rosenthal & Schanfield, New York’s best known firm for high-conflict matrimonial disputes. A New York Superlawyer℠ and twice recognized (2020 and 2021) New York Divorce Trial Lawyer of the Year, Dror’s reputation as a fearsome advocate in difficult custody and divorce disputes has led him to deliver solid outcomes in some of New York’s most complex family law trials. Attorney Bikel is a frequent commentator on high profile divorces for national and international media outlets. His book The 1% Divorce - When Titans Clash was a 5-category Amazon bestseller.

To connect with Dror: 212.682.6222 | [hidden email] | Online

For media inquiries or speaking engagements: [hidden email]