Three steps to help you get organized before divorce

Divorce can be a hectic and stressful time, even in the best circumstances. During divorce, you may not just be ending your marriage, you may also be changing your routines, your living situation and your financial situation. Additionally, the legal process for divorce can be time consuming, depending on your situation.

Although the time surrounding your divorce can be stressful, there are actions you can take to help the divorce process go smoothly. If you know you and your spouse are going to be divorced, getting organized early can help minimize your stress later on, while also reducing the chance of problems and increasing the chance of favorable results.

Make a checklist of documents to find

To get started with the organization process, make a list of your family’s assets, liabilities, financial accounts and related documents. Keep in mind that financial documents are not the only type of document you should gather.

Every family’s situation is different, but some documents on your list may include:

  • Bank statements
  • Real estate deeds
  • Loan documents
  • Estate planning documents
  • Insurance policies
  • Tax returns from the past several years
  • Proof of each of your family’s sources of income
  • Retirement account statements

Group similar documents together

Once you have completed your list, find the listed documents and group similar documents together. This could mean all of the documents related to your house are filed together, all of your estate planning documents are filed together and all account statements are grouped together. However, you should group your documents in a way that makes sense to you and to your situation. The main goal is to make those documents easy to find when you need them.

Classify each asset and liability

Illinois is an equitable distribution state. This means that in divorce marital property will be divided according to what is fair to both you and your spouse. This is not necessarily an even split of the assets. However, before anything can be divided, it must first be determined what assets count as marital property and what assets count as non-marital property.

Once you have located and organized all your documents, it can be helpful to use your best judgement to classify each of your family’s assets and liabilities as either marital or non-marital property. Marital property includes all property and all debts that were acquired during your marriage. Some exceptions include gifts, property acquired through the sale of a non-marital asset or income acquired from non-marital property. In general, any property obtained before or after the marriage is non-marital property, except retirement plans.

There are numerous benefits to getting organized before your divorce. For example, having a system in place that allows you to find documents quickly can help you prevent the stress of finding lost or missing documents during an already stressful time. Also, being prepared to give your divorce team all the necessary documents early in the divorce process can help the team efficiently prepare the best strategy for your situation.