Divorce is a chaotic time. And there are so many different bases to cover. What about the house? What about the kids? One thing that we’ve noticed ourselves is that our clients don’t always realize just how many documents they need during the process. Collecting them is a tedious step, but a necessary one to validate the merits of their case.
We can break document collection into two parts. The first is knowing all the documents that are necessary for your case, and the second is actually finding them. You will usually have to present some documents to your attorney right away, so this article will prepare you by letting you know which documents are usually necessary. As divorce lawyers in Vancouver, Guardian Law knows exactly what documents you need to take your case to a court in B.C.
How To Get Ready For Divorce
While you prepare yourself for divorce, the first thing your first task is research. Reading articles like these from our blog about the required information is helpful. But keep in mind that your initial research should focus on one thing: finding a competent law firm to handle your case. Apart from that, it can also help to prepare you mentally.
Here are some steps you should take to get ready for your case.
Contact A Divorce Lawyer
If you don’t bring a lawyer with you to court, the opposing party will likely take advantage of you. Learning divorce law and applying it by yourself is too challenging and time-consuming for you to succeed at it. Your inexperience will certainly prolong the process, and it won’t win you any favour with the judge presiding over your case.
Instead, do your due diligence and find a divorce lawyer that’s right for you. You could look to family or friends for guidance, or look at reviews of lawyers in your area. Then, you can pick two or three and sit down with them for a discussion. Consider that if you have children, you might want family lawyers involved as well.
Consider A Collaborative Divorce
Divorce is not an adversarial process until someone escalates it. Child custody battles aren’t common to every separation, even if it’s everyone’s biggest fear. At the beginning, we often recommend that our clients go through mediation in an attempt to settle the divorce out of court. This is typically a much faster way to resolve divorce and family law cases. Only in special circumstances do we find that taking the divorce to court is preferable.
Your divorce lawyer needs to know your preferred outcome to know what to negotiate for during your case. You should let them know whether you have relocation plans for your children, how you would like to see your property divided, and much more. You can also dictate terms regarding privacy and confidentiality, which is of utmost importance in these cases.
Make sure that your preferences align with your plans for the future. While children are often your number-one priority, don’t leave yourself out of the plans either. The fact of the matter is, divorce isn’t the end of the world, you’ll still need to plan for retirement, you’ll still need to consider healthcare, and so on.
Finally, you will need to collect all the documents pertaining to your case, which is what we will devote the rest of this article to.
What Types Of Documents Will You Need For Divorce?
In general, we can classify 3 major types of documents that will be useful to you during your divorce. The first type is financial, the second is legal, and the third is family-related documents. Not every document we list will be required if it’s not relevant to you, for instance, if you don’t have children, you don’t need to detail their expenses. Let’s begin.
Finances can be among the most contentious parts of a divorce. Determining who receives child support, and how much support should be given, is predicated on the amount of funds each partner has circulating. As such, you need to keep careful records of everything you earn and own. Remember that any attempt to obfuscate your earnings or property could result in harsh consequences, and a less favourable settlement than you would ever have gotten previously.
Income information encompasses documents that demonstrate both spouses’ earnings. This includes pay stubs, tax returns, and documentation of any additional income such as bonuses or commissions. Accurate income information is essential for determining child and spousal support and plays a crucial role in dividing assets and debts.
- Your individual income tax returns for the previous three years
- Business income tax returns (if you own a business)
- Paystubs for you and your spouse or anything else indicating your spouse’s income
Bank and Investment Information
Bank and investment information provides a snapshot of the couple’s financial assets, including checking and savings accounts, stocks, bonds, and certificates of deposit. Understanding the full scope of these assets is vital for an equitable distribution of property and ensuring that all financial obligations are met during the divorce process.
- Bank account statements
- Savings account statements
- Any investments, like certificates of deposit (CD) or stocks
- Any other bank statements
Retirement accounts like RRSPs (Registered Retirement Savings Plans) or pensions can represent significant financial assets accumulated during the marriage. These may need to be valued and possibly divided between the spouses in a divorce.
- Retirement account statements, like an RRSP (Registered Retirement Savings Plan), TFSA (Tax-Free Savings Account), or pension
- Retirement account statements from prior to your marriage
Property and Real Estate Information
Property and real estate information includes documents related to any land, homes, or other real property owned by either or both spouses. This could range from a marital home to investment properties. Properly valuing and dividing real estate can be complex and often requires appraisals and a clear understanding of property laws. As such, a family lawyer might elect to bring in real estate appraisers, and other specialists to make accurate demands during negotiation. Even things like family heirlooms and other valuable personal items must be accounted for.
- Your most recent mortgage statements and related documents
- Mortgage statements from property owned before your date of marriage
- Property tax statements
- Real property appraisal
- Registrations and titles, e.g. for a car or other vehicle
- List of personal property, such as furniture, jewelry, artwork, computers, or personal electronics
- List of real estate or property owned before the marriage
Debt information covers all outstanding liabilities such as mortgages, credit card debts, auto loans, and student loans. It’s essential to have a clear picture of all debts to ensure they are addressed in the divorce settlement. This can affect both the division of assets and the financial stability of each party after the divorce.
- Credit card statements from each card
- Utility bills: cell phones, gas, electric, or water
- Other bills, such as tuition, medical bills, or other debts
- Auto loans and statements
- Student loan information
Your current insurance policies may have cash value or may be necessary for ongoing financial planning. They may also need to be changed or updated to reflect the new living situations of the divorcing parties.
- Life insurance policies and costs
- Health insurance policies and costs
Other Financial Documents
Other financial documents, like recent credit reports, provide additional insights into an individual’s financial standing. Credit reports can reveal hidden debts or financial commitments and play a role in determining creditworthiness post-divorce. This is the type of information that helps all parties craft a fair divorce settlement.
- Monthly budget worksheet
- Completed financial statements
- Recent credit reports
- List of contents of safety deposit boxes
Your legal documents will often have a large bearing on the outcome of your divorce. For instance, the prenuptial agreement might override some default terms of divorces in BC or Canada, and as such, these terms must be taken into consideration before your divorce lawyer formulates your case.
In some cases, the terms outlined in these legal agreements may be contested, and having the original documents at hand can be vital in resolving such issues. Collecting and understanding these legal documents before the divorce ensures that the process aligns with any previously made agreements and that both parties are clear about their rights and obligations. It also helps attorneys to accurately represent their client’s interests, ultimately leading to a more fair and efficient resolution.
- Prenuptial agreement
- Postnuptial agreement
- Separation agreement
- Powers of attorney paperwork
- Healthcare directives or living wills
- Other estate planning documents
- Trusts, either for you or your children
- Rental agreement, if you don’t own a home
- Any other legal documents that may be helpful
Child & Family Documents
This can be the element of divorce that sticks most closely to people’s hearts.
Judges and sometimes lawyers need to make tough decisions based on this information. The choices made here have a massive impact on the lives of the people you care about most. It’s important to get these documents right.
Child-related documents pertain to all records and information regarding children involved in a divorce. This includes documents related to custody arrangements, child support, daycare costs, educational expenses, medical bills, and any other child-related expenses or agreements. Ensuring that these documents are accurately compiled is essential in establishing fair child support and custody arrangements that prioritize the best interests of the children.
- Child-related expenses: daycare, tuition, lessons, insurance, or medications
- Government benefits: Canada Pension Plan (CPP), Employment Insurance (EI), or provincial assistance such as BC Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities (PWD) or income assistance
Inheritance and Gifts
Inheritance and gifts encompass any assets that one or both spouses have received either as an inheritance or as a significant gift during or before the marriage. In many jurisdictions, including British Columbia, these may be treated differently from other marital assets. Accurate documentation of inheritance and significant gifts is crucial, as they may be considered separate property and excluded from division during divorce. Understanding the nature and value of these assets, and having proper documentation, ensures that they are treated appropriately in the legal process.
- List of any inheritance or significant gifts received during the marriage
5 Cases Where You Might Need More Documents
Every marriage is different, and so is every divorce. So while all the documents we mentioned may prove necessary, your lawyer might require further documents from you, depending on the scenario.
Scenario 1: Divorce Involving a Family Business
If either spouse is involved in a family business, the valuation and division of business assets may become complex. An accurate assessment of business-related finances is essential for a fair settlement. Not to mention, given that it’s a family business, there can be other parties involved who are otherwise irrelevant to the divorce.
- Business valuation reports
- Business partnership agreements
- Buy-sell agreements within the business
Scenario 2: Divorce with Children with Special Needs
When children with special needs are involved, their unique care requirements must be considered in the divorce settlement, especially in terms of custody, support, and ongoing medical or educational expenses. Perhaps one parent has been looking after the child while the other has been working. This needs to be accounted for.
- Medical records detailing the child’s condition
- Special education plans or individualized education programs (IEPs)
- Receipts for specialized care, equipment, or therapy
Scenario 3: Divorce Involving International Assets or Citizenship
A divorce involving international assets or dual citizenship can complicate property division and spousal support. This may require specific legal consideration in both jurisdictions. In fact, you should consult with a lawyer in both jurisdictions if you happen to spend a lot of time there. Other local legal professionals can help with the matter of property division in these areas too.
- Foreign property ownership documents
- International bank account statements
- Documentation of citizenship or legal residency in other countries
Scenario 4: Divorce After a Long-Term Marriage
In long-term marriages, where spouses have been together for a few decades, the entanglement of assets and potential spousal support can be more intricate, especially regarding retirement planning. Many couples have been together so long that their retirement plans completely depend on one another. This must be resolved for both parties to move forward.
- A comprehensive inventory of joint assets acquired over the marriage
- Records of any separate property maintained during the marriage
- Detailed records of retirement planning, including any agreements or waivers
Scenario 5: Divorce Involving Allegations of Abuse or Restraining Orders
In cases where there are allegations of abuse, restraining orders, or other serious legal matters, additional legal documentation may be required to ensure the protection of involved parties. These details can be extremely sensitive and traumatizing, but you must get them in your lawyer’s hands so that they can build an argument in your favour and obtain the settlement you deserve.
- Copies of restraining orders or protection orders
- Police reports or court records related to abuse allegations
- Documentation of counseling or therapy related to the abuse
After The Documents: Your Next Steps
Collecting and organizing the necessary documents is just the first phase of the divorce process. It lays the groundwork for the legal proceedings to come and sets the stage for a smoother experience. Once you’ve gathered all the required documents, it’s time to focus on the next steps, including filing the necessary paperwork and mentally preparing yourself for the emotional journey ahead.
File The Necessary Paperwork
Your lawyer will handle this process. It won’t take long for them to extract the information they need to file the paperwork properly. However, they might pose a few questions or ask for a few more documents so that they can ensure the completeness of the documents.
Mentally Prepare Yourself
While you get ready for divorce, you should find some people to talk with, such as friends and family. Getting help from a psychiatrist or another professional is also an excellent idea.
In the beginning, make sure to ask your lawyer about what outcome you can realistically expect from the case and prepare yourself accordingly. It’s easy to have high hopes, but keeping them realistic can help you better manage your feelings post-divorce.
Now that you understand exactly how to prepare for divorce, and what documents you’ll need, you should reach out to a lawyer with special experience in family law disputes. Namely, the lawyers at Guardian Law.
We have decades of combined experience helping clients in Vancouver and the rest of BC navigate their family law case and obtain the best outcome for the future of their families. Contact us and book a meeting to discuss your specific situation.