Maryland Divorce Documents Checklist

Maryland Divorce Document Checklist

As soon as it occurs to you that you may want to separate from your spouse, it is time to educate yourself about the issues at hand and gather information to use in your divorce, if needed. Much of the needed information will come from your own documents, but also family documents. By working through this Maryland divorce documents checklist, you can not only save time and money, but also help your divorce attorney get your case prepared and potentially resolved faster.

What Documents Should You Bring to Your Initial Divorce Consultation?

A lot of people feel anxiety while preparing to meet with a divorce lawyer for the first time. Often, our clients arrive with binders full of documents, print-outs, and pictures because they aren’t sure what they will need to prove their case. But you don’t need to worry. An initial consultation is a two-way introductory meeting, not a job interview. While having some documents with you can make the process easier and faster, there will be plenty of time for you to work with your family law team to gather what you need as your case progresses.

If you and your spouse signed any prenuptial agreements, post-nuptial agreements, or settlement agreements, it is a good idea to bring that with you, even to the first meeting. Even if the copy you have isn’t signed, bringing it along can help your attorney understand the contracts that control your family’s relationship. Also, if you have been served with court paperwork (i.e. if your spouse filed first), you should be sure to bring those along to your consultation as well.

During or after the initial consultation, we will provide you with a few key divorce documents:

  • Retainer Agreement – This is the contract between you and your lawyer
  • Information or Intake forms – These forms give your lawyer certain basic information about you, your kids, and your case

In most cases you will need to complete and return each of these forms, and pay an initial retainer, before your lawyer will start work on your case. If you can’t answer every question, that’s okay. However, taking your time to provide a complete answer now will improve your lawyer’s ability to represent you as the case progresses.

Documents to Gather Before Moving Out

It is often easier to gather important paperwork while you and your spouse are living under the same roof. This is not a race or a scavenger hunt. In most cases, you won’t be doing yourself any favors by scooping up the family’s financial documents and hiding them from your spouse. However, when it is time for one spouse to move out, it is a good idea for each of you to have copies of:

  • Tax returns for the last 5 years
  • Deeds to the marital home or other real estate
  • Vehicle titles
  • Mortgage agreements and loan applications
  • Business ownership records
  • Insurance policies
  • Wills and estate plans
  • Prenuptial agreements and separation agreements
  • Lists of bank, credit, and other account numbers and institutions

If you and your spouse are on relatively good terms, you may be able to share more documents to make the divorce process run more smoothly. However, if you anticipate a high-conflict divorce, you may also want to make sure you have possession of sentimental or high-impact documents before you or your spouse move out:

  • Children’s artwork
  • Family photographs
  • Medical records
  • Calendars
  • Letter, photos, or other documents related to fault
  • Evidence of domestic violence or abuse, such as photos, police reports, or medical records

It is also a good idea to take a picture of each room (don’t forget the closets, attic, and basement). That way when it comes time to divide your personal belongings, you can use those photos to remind you about important items you might have missed.

Maryland Divorce Documents Checklist

When it comes time to file your case, your divorce attorney will work with you to prepare several introductory documents to be filed with the court. These may include:

If your spouse files first, your attorney will prepare an Answer and a Counter-Complaint for Absolute Divorce or Limited Divorce, instead of a Complaint. Depending on your circumstances, your attorney may also need to file certain motions to help you obtain temporary custody of your children, spousal support (alimony), access to your home, or protect your interests in family property or financial accounts.

At the end of the case – either when you negotiate a settlement, or after trial, there will be several more documents filed with the court:

  • Judgment of Absolute Divorce or Limited Divorce
  • Parenting Plan
  • Child Support Order
  • Qualified Domestic Relations Order(s)

In between, there may be motions, requests for discovery (more on that later), notices of hearing, and orders.

Because there are so many documents involved in a divorce, it’s a good idea to have a plan to stay organized. Our firm uses a secure cloud-based client portal with bank-grade security, where you can store and access all your documents. The portal can also send you calendar reminders for meetings and court hearings that you can add to your online calendar. That way you’ll never miss a deadline. If you and your spouse have not yet separated, keeping your attorney communications and court documents locked in a secure password-protected portal will make sure your spouse, and their attorney, don’t get access to things you meant to keep private.

Divorce Documentation Checklist

If your divorce goes to trial, you and your divorce attorney will need to present evidence regarding your household’s financial situation, child custody arrangements, and financial needs. A divorce trial often involves dozens of documents, admitted as exhibits, related to each aspect of your divorce. It is a good idea to start gathering these documents early – even before you file your complaint. They give your attorney a clearer picture of your life before the divorce started, and help you make good decisions about what will come next.

Child Custody

Much of the evidence around child custody comes from testimony: you, your spouse, and sometimes the children’s teachers, therapists, or childcare providers. However, documentation can be important too. Documents related to child custody generally center on the children’s health, education, or extracurricular activities. You may need:

  • Photos of your children
  • Photos of your children’s bedroom, playroom, or yard
  • Report cards and progress reports
  • Attendance logs
  • IEPs or 504 plans for children receiving special education
  • Disciplinary notes
  • Informational brochures or school evaluations (if proposing a change in schools)
  • Medical records
  • Therapy session notes
  • Information about children’s diagnoses
  • Doctors’ recommendations for future or refused treatment
  • Prescription information (including dosages)
  • Vaccination histories
  • Extracurricular activity schedules
  • Children’s journals or letters indicating their preference for parenting time
  • Photos of any bruising or injury caused by child abuse or neglect by the other parent

Child Support and Spousal Support

Most of the case for proving child support and spousal support comes down to numbers. You still may need to testify about the children’s childcare arrangements, or various factors that demonstrate why spousal support is or is not appropriate. However, once the judge decides to award spousal support, setting the numbers for support payments will likely come down to the documents:

  • Pay stubs (at least the last 3)
  • W-2s or 1099s for the last tax year
  • Tax returns (at least the last 3 years)
  • Veterans’ Benefits award letters
  • Social Security payment notices
  • Proof of government aid
  • Trust distribution confirmations
  • Bank account statements showing self-employment deposits
  • Invoices for private school tuition
  • Payment history for child care
  • Child-related expenses including extracurricular activity fees
  • Health insurance payment information, including a Rate Sheet that breaks down premiums
  • Resumes (if either party is out of work or earning less than they could)

Child support is based on a formula calculated based on the parties’ income and overnights spent with each parent. However, spousal support is more flexible and has no set guidelines. If you are asking the court to award you ongoing spousal support, you must be prepared to provide reasonable estimates of the cost of maintaining your lifestyle. Your divorce attorney can help you prepare a budget for life after divorce. To do this, you may need documents related to:

  • Rent or mortgage payments
  • Utility costs (heat, gas, electric, water, sewer, trash)
  • Property taxes
  • Insurance costs (homeowners, renter, car, health, dental, and vision)
  • Household expenses (groceries, clothing, personal care, cleaning supplies)
  • Television and phone services (including streaming services, cable, and cell phones)
  • Internet service costs
  • Transportation costs (car payments, gas, car maintenance, commuter costs)
  • Medical co-pays, prescription costs, and co-insurance
  • Charitable donations and religious contributions
  • Credit card and loan payments
  • Recreation and entertainment
  • Pet costs

Property Division

Documents are important in almost every part of your divorce, but they are especially valuable in proving what you have, and how you want the court to divide it. In Maryland, family courts generally can’t change how an asset or debt is titled (with some exceptions). So it is important to prove not only that an asset exists, and how much it is worth, but whose name it was purchased under. To do this, you may need documentation related to:

  • Marital home and real property appraisals
  • Personal property lists (or photos)
  • Vehicle fair market values
  • Bank statements
  • Investment and stock portfolios accounts
  • Stock options available through either party’s employment
  • Cryptocurrency or digital wallet accounts (i.e. Bitcoin, Venmo, or PayPal)
  • Pension statements
  • 401(k), IRA, and Roth IRA retirement account statements
  • Trust documentation

This is true for debts as well. The court only has the authority to divide joint debts, but it can account for debts in either party’s name by awarding other property to create an equitable distribution of the marital estate as a whole. You should be prepared to provide documentation of:

  • Credit card statements
  • Mortgage and home equity loan balances
  • Car loan balances
  • Medical debt
  • Personal loans
  • Back-owed utility bills

Getting Divorce Documents You Don’t Have Access To Through Discovery

As you can see, there are a lot of documents involved in a divorce. Sometimes, you simply will not have everything. You may not be able to access accounts in your spouse’s name, or you might have lost your copy of your tax return from three years ago. Maybe you never knew about a separate retirement account your spouse has been depositing money into. In some highly contested situations, attorneys can spend hours carefully reviewing a family’s bank statements to track where the money went. To do that, you will need to obtain documents you can’t just download online summaries or activity logs.

That’s where discovery comes in. Discovery is a process of exchanging information that is a part of every court action including criminal cases, lawsuits, and your divorce. It is designed to make sure both sides are working from the same set of facts and information. You and your spouse have the right to ask one another questions (called interrogatories) and demand the production of documents related to your case. Your attorney can also send subpoena requests to third parties like banks, social media companies, and in some cases, even doctors. If discovery requests go unanswered, your attorney can file motions in court to force the other side to turn over the missing information. If a request reaches too far, becoming unduly burdensome or invasive, your attorney can request a protective order to limit the discovery or the use of the documents presented.

Discovery is a powerful tool to gather the documentation you will need to prove your case, but it is also time consuming and expensive. If your priority is a low-conflict, cost effective, easy divorce, you and your spouse should do everything you can to make formal discovery unnecessary. This means freely sharing information and documents when requested. Your attorney fees are usually much better spent advocating for a fair resolution than trying to keep your spouse from getting access to certain documents.

Social Media, Emails, Text Messages, and Electronic Documents

When attorneys talk about documents, they aren’t always talking about paper. In addition to everything already discussed, your divorce documentation could include electronic records of your communication, or your spouse’s adulterous or improper activities online. There are good and bad ways to present this information in court (hint: screenshots of your chat messages aren’t the best option). Talk to your divorce attorney about the tools they have available to capture, document, and produce electronic documents related to your case.

This works both ways, though. Your spouse could require you to produce documents you would rather not have made public, such as text messages to a new romantic partner, social media posts complaining about your children, or electronic receipts for money lost gambling or on excessive purchases. Much as you may want to, it is important not to “sanitize” your online presence. If you are found deleting emails, clearing chat logs, or dumping social media accounts, you could face court sanctions for “spoliation of evidence.”

Rather than destroying harmful evidence, let your attorney know about it early on. Together you can build a strategy to limit the damage that will come from it, and respond to the claims that you were at fault or should not have custody because of what you have done.

There is a lot of paperwork in a divorce. At the Law Office of Shelly M. Ingram, our divorce attorneys can help you gather what you need before and during the divorce litigation process. We know how to make strategic use of discovery demands and protective orders, and will use the documents you provide to develop your strongest case. Contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation with one of our Maryland attorneys.

Categories: Divorce

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