21 Things to Do Before Asking for a Divorce

couple arguing and potentially asking for a divorce

Assets

4. Realistically Assess What You Can Earn

Depending on your circumstances, you might have to go to work after the divorce. Have you been out of the job market for a while? Perhaps you need some time to get your skills up to speed before taking the plunge.

Or, better yet, get a plan to make yourself more marketable and ask your spouse to support you while you go to school or get that extra training.

Has business been off lately? Keep a record of that now so no one later accuses you of deliberately reducing your income to negotiate a more favorable settlement.

More: Managing Your Finances and Looking for Work After Divorce

5. Learn About Your Family's Financial Holdings

Remember, as you wind your way through the divorce maze, you'll only be able to share in assets you know about, so you must find out exactly what the two of you have.

For most, that's probably easy. There's a house (with a mortgage), a car (maybe leased or encumbered by a loan), a pension or retirement plan (not yet vested), and a little bit of savings.

But for some, property ownership is more complicated. For instance, businesses created during the marriage are assets to be valued, and a judge can distribute their value upon divorce. The same may go for an academic degree or even part of the value of a summer house — one you inherited during the marriage, depending upon the facts of your case.

More: Worksheets for Financial Settlement

6. Realistically Assess Your Family's Debt

Often, the allocation of debt is harder to prove or negotiate than the division of assets. What debts do you have? Credit card, personal loans, bank loans, car loans? How much does it cost to pay these debts each month?

As for tabulation of assets, a good source for this information is your family's tax return. Specifically, search under Schedule B for sources of interest income and jot down the information. If possible, locate the 1099 forms — the forms that banks use to report interest income each year. That form will have the name of the bank and the account number.

If you don't have the tax return and are afraid of raising suspicions by asking for it, contact the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS will provide you with a copy of the return (provided it was a joint return), but it takes several weeks to receive it. If you have a family accountant, you can also ask him or her to send you copies of returns and 1099 statements.

7. Make Copies of All Family Financial Records

21 Things to Do Before Divorce: Calculate Debt

Canceled checks, bank statements, tax returns, life insurance policies — if it's there, copy it. You might never need this information, but if you do, it's good to have it.

8. Take Stock of Your Family's Valuables

Inventory your safety deposit box or family safe, and take photographs of the contents. Do the same with jewelry or any furniture, paintings or other items of value. You don't need to list every worn-out piece of furniture, but anything with a value of more than $300 should be included.

Property-insurance policies can be helpful here because many companies ask you to list the valuables you want insured. Some people keep a list of belongings in a safe, also for insurance purposes. If you've done that, start with that list. There's no need to reinvent the wheel.

What stocks, checking accounts, and savings accounts do either of you have? Do you have a stockbroker? What about life insurance and health insurance? Get detailed information on every policy you own, jointly or individually. Get the name and phone number of your insurance broker now.

More: Worksheet: Recording Your Family's Assets