Leaving your spouse? Checklists you need for divorce

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In the process of divorcing, it is important to protect yourself, your children and your assets — while also forging a positive future through a fair, and low-conflict divorce whenever possible.

Here is the definitive divorce checklist:

What to do before filing for a divorce

First thing's first, understand what divorce is all about. Learn about the divorce terminology and process, though it will look different from state to state, including the average cost, timeline, property division, custody, child support and alimony.

Learn more about divorce in your state:

District of ColumbiaFlorida
NevadaNew Hampshire
New JerseyNew Mexico
New YorkNorth Carolina
North DakotaOhio
PennsylvaniaRhode Island
South CarolinaSouth Dakota
West VirginiaWisconsin

Collect the divorce documents

To best negotiate and prepare for a divorce or breakup, get all of these documents in order:

You will need all of these documents to be able to appropriately settle your divorce.

It's a lot, but the sooner you collect them all in one place, the easier this process:

Bank accounts.

These include checking, savings accounts, CDs, money market accounts.

List of all assets of any value

If there is any question, get them appraised. These can include:

  • Real estate
  • Jewelry
  • Art
  • Cars and other vehicles of significant value. Check the value at KellyBlueBook.com
  • Time share
  • Any personal items of significant resale value, such as clothes, handbags, sports equipment, furniture, furs, electronics

Names and birth date of minor children you have together

Retirement accounts

Retirement accounts that you need to consider include IRAs, Roth IRAs, 401(k)s, SEP IRAs, 403(b)s, 457's Thrift Savings Plans, TIAA-CREF,  pensions and Social Security benefits.

This will all need to be discussed and likely divided, in your split.

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Keep in mind that investments are likely to be lower in an economic downturn. Learn how to use a recession for your financial advantage.

Income information: Pay stubs, tax returns

Tax filings

  • Copies of state and federal tax returns for the previous three (3) years and all corresponding W-2 or 1099 statements.
  • Copies of corporate tax returns for the previous three (3) years if one or both spouses have a business.
  • Related post: What single moms and dads need to know about taxes

Life and disability policies

Every parent of a minor-aged child should consider life insurance, no matter how much money you earn, or whether you are dependent on child support, public benefits or others' generosity. Fortunately, there are affordable, and easy ways to find affordable life insurance for almost every budget.

I recommend getting a quote for life insurance from Bestow, which will help you understand what you need, and how much it will cost you. Bestow offers policies up to $1.5 million of coverage, and plans starting at $10/month. Bestow guarantees no medical exam or lab tests, ever.

You need disability insurance. Those who do not have disability insurance through a job, including the self-employed, can find individual coverage through reputable companies for an affordable price. Breeze disability insurance plans start at $9/month for people aged 18 to 60 years old, with monthly benefits ranging from $500 to $20,000. Breeze promises no medical exam.

What you need to know about insurance in divorce

Will and estate document

Even more important now than ever, as a single parent, if you do not have a will, you need a last will and testament (also known as a legal will), as well a living will.

LegalZoom.com can also help you with the process.

Related: Rocket Lawyer review

Set up a P.O. box

To receive correspondence from lawyers, and other important and private information, get your own personal address. This is especially important if your spouse does not know that you are considering a divorce and if you would prefer to keep it that way.

Also consider a separate email address, if you and your spouse share one.

Signs your husband or wife is ready for divorce

Speak with a therapist

If you don't already have a therapist, this is the time to do it — for yourself and your kids. Co-parents can also benefit from regular meetings with a therapist during and after a divorce.

Learn more about the best online therapy sites, as well as BetterHelp, which costs an average of $65 per session and has an A+ BBB review.

Find a lawyer

Before filing or mentioning to your spouse, speak with a lawyer to understand what the process will look like. They will guide you through the expected timeline, etc. and give you advice to kick things off. Even if you choose to file your divorce yourself, without an attorney, these conversations can be very helpful

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Get your finances straight

First, consider opening a separate savings/checking account in your own name. Set aside money in that account that can see you through a few months’ worth of expenses, and start thinking and planning for a life on a single income. Check your credit report and keep an eye on your credit score. How to build credit

Second, consider speaking with a financial planner who can help with this process.

If you and your spouse can agree on the terms of the divorce (including property division and child custody and support), it will not only be a much smoother process, but it will be much quicker and cheaper as well. 

For uncontested divorces, a number of services can help you generate all of the required paperwork and filing process. 3StepDivorce is our No. 1 recommended service, thanks to its A+ Better Business Bureau rating, money-back guarantee, and full pricing transparency. Read our 3StepDivorce review.

RocketLawyer has a free divorce settlement agreement template that can help facilitate this process between you and your spouse.

What do you need to get a divorce

As emotional of a process this is for your whole family, in the eyes of the courts, it is just a legal transaction. Here are the documents you need to divorce, no matter whether you hire a nasty attorney, or sort out the dissolution of your marriage at the kitchen table.

1. Legal documents

  • Your marriage certificate or domestic partnership certificate
  • Pre- or post-nuptial agreements
  • Any divorce-related documents, such as a restraining order, child custody order, visitation order, or separation agreement
  • Drivers licenses, passports, or other official IDs
  • Social Security Numbers and most recent statement (you and your spouse)
  • Date of birth/ birth certificate
  • Estate planning documents, such as wills, living wills, powers of attorney, durable powers of attorney, advance health care directives, trust, etc

2. Child information

If you and your spouse share children, you’ll need to collect the following:

  • Birth certificates
  • Social Security Numbers
  • Dates of Birth
  • Medical records (including for eye doctor and dentist)
  • Allergy information
  • List of prescriptions and any special care instructions 
  • School records (including their current class schedule and extracurricular schedule)
  • Current childcare arrangements (daycare, preschool, etc)
  • Current custody arrangements and child support arrangements (if applicable)
  • Child-specific expenses, such as tuition, medical bills, and the cost of extra-curricular activities

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3. Pet information

If you have pets, make sure you have a copy of:

  • The bill of sale
  • Adoption records
  • Registration
  • Medical/veterinary records
  • List of medication and/or care instructions

4. Financial Information

Collect the account numbers and current balances of each of the accounts below for the past year. Ensure that you have the correct login information for joint accounts.

  • Savings and checking accounts.
  • List of the contents in any safety deposit boxes
  • Inheritance details (what was inherited, from who, when)
  • Credit cards Find a 0% card transfer
  • Health Savings Accounts (HSA)/Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA)
  • Retirement accounts (401ks, IRAs, 403bs, pension,etc.)
  • Any other investments, such as brokerage accounts, bonds, etc.
  • Life/disability insurance policies
  • A copy of your and your spouse’s credit report

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5. Income history

Ideally, you should have copies of each of the documents listed below, going back at least three years. This helps with calculations for child support, alimony and property division.

  • Federal income tax returns
  • State income tax returns
  • Your and your spouse’s W-2s or 1099s
  • Paystubs for you and your spouse (past six months is fine)
  • A list of any employer-provided benefits such as employer-provided health insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, stock-options, etc. 

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6. Payment history

Make a list of all of the monthly bills paid by you or your spouse and copy a year’s worth of statements. Be sure to write down the account numbers and current balance.

  • Mortgage / home equity line of credit
  • Any non-mortgage debt (car loans, student loans, personal loans)
  • Utilities (electric, water, phone, cable, etc)

7. Marital home information

Your marital house is likely the most valuable asset and its value will be a big part of how you divide assets in your divorce.

  • Take photos of each room in your home, being sure to detail any damage, current conditions, etc.
  • Obtain an appraisal of the home
  • Copy of the deed
  • Final escrow statement from close of escrow/settlement statement
  • Renters or homeowners insurance policy
  • Leasing agreements
  • Real estate/property tax bill for the past year

More about how to sell your home quickly

8. Vehicles

You will need a copy of the title, registration, and loan statements (if necessary) for any vehicles owned by you and your spouse, including:

  • Automobiles
  • Boats
  • Trailers
  • Motor Homes
  • Machinery such as tractors, excavators, bulldozers, and the like

9. Personal property

If you have any valuable property not already discussed, be sure to document them in a list alongside the purchase price, estimated resale value, ownership records, appraisal value, receipts of purchase (if possible). It can also be beneficial to photograph the items. This should include:

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Divorce FAQs

Common divorce questions answered.

What is the first thing to do when getting a divorce?

First, call an attorney. However, educate yourself about the value of mediation, collaborative and uncontested divorce, which cost far less, are way less stressful, quicker and set you up for a happier co-parenting relationship long-term, with far less drama now.

Learn more about the benefits of equal, 50/50 parenting schedules and explore how that can work for your family.

5 tips for a quick divorce

Is there an advantage to filing for divorce first?

The main advantage to filing first is that you are not surprised. Being prepared is the most important part of this stage of divorce. For more, read about things to ask for in divorce.

Wealthysinglemommy.com founder Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist, author and expert. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, Elle, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker," her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. As an expert on divorce and gender, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality and multiple state legislature hearings. More about Emma's credentials.

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