When I separate, should I take documents?

A divorce is often adversarial and involves a struggle by each for information—financial and otherwise—about the other. Such information may be useful in deciding whether and how to settle or, ultimately, for proving one’s case in court. Married households are invariably full of documented information concerning income, property, debt, and the family life of the couple and their children.

Such information commonly includes:

  • Bank account statements
  • Canceled checks
  • Check registers
  • Tax returns
  • W-2 and other tax forms
  • Mortgage statements
  • Car loan statements
  • Investment statements
  • 401k statements
  • Pension statements
  • Credit card bills
  • Utility bills
  • Apartment leases
  • Paystubs
  • Employment contracts
  • Diaries
  • Calendars
  • E-mails
  • Letters
  • Greeting cards
  • Family photos
  • Family videos
  • Children’s school records
  • Medical records
  • Medical bills
  • Medical insurance documentation
  • And other documents that shows part of either spouse’s financial picture or that gives any information about the family life of the spouses.

If you are contemplating separating from your spouse in anticipation of a divorce proceeding, you should attempt to secure all such documentation in your own possession in the course of separating, if you can accomplish it without violence or a heated confrontation. If you cannot secure such documentation, you will have to rely on other measures should you later want such information. In a divorce proceeding, the law provides both parties with various methods of compelling the other side to allow access to information, however, one can never be certain that their spouse isn’t withholding important documents. You are better off if you have control of the documents from the start.

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