You should locate the relevant documents, make copies, and keep them somewhere secure, like your office or with a friend. You will then have access when it is needed.
Here are the most important seven categories of documents you should focus on.
1. Income Documents
Your spouse’s income is relevant to a number of issues in a divorce case. At a minimum, get your spouse’s last paycheck statement and your most recent tax return. Ideally, you would have access to all tax returns filed during the marriage, along with all supporting documents and schedules.
2. Bank Records
The monthly bank statements are very important and can lead you to other documents (cancelled checks, deposit slips, registers, etc.) that you also may need to obtain. Get at least the most recent statement for each account that is either held in your name, your spouse’s name, or jointly. If possible, get copies of all statements going back to the date of marriage. In most cases this volume of records is not required, but in some cases these records can be very helpful and even necessary to analyze the case.
3. Retirement and Other Investment Records
Often the biggest asset a couple will own will be a 401k or pension account. So you will definitely want the most recent account statement and ideally all statements dating back to the time of marriage. Also, the last statement prior to marriage can be very significant (especially in community property states) to show the pre-marriage balance.
4. Credit Card statements
Again the most recent statements are a necessity, but a lot of important evidence can be garnered from the historical statements. In some cases, the credit card statements will show questionable transactions that can be of real evidentiary value. For example, they might show evidence of gifts or dinners purchased for paramours, questionable hotel rentals, or other dubious purchases.
5. Real estate documents
The most important real estate documents are the Deed of Trust and Warranty Deed for any property you currently own. If you have the entire file from (the giant stack of paper you got after the closing) for each real estate purchase or refinance transaction during the marriage it can be helpful. Additionally, documents evidencing real estate owned by either spouse prior to marriage can be significant, especially in community property states.
6. Mortgage statements & any Other Debts
You should get the most recent statements showing the current payoff balance for any other debts. For those debts that have only a coupon book with no regularly generated statements showing the current balance, you will probably need to contact the creditor by phone for the current payoff information.
7. Relevant emails or other correspondence
Correspondence or emails can be extremely helpful (or damaging, depending on your viewpoint) pieces of evidence in the case. Whether the communication is between spouses or between a spouse and some third-party, the communication is potentially relevant. Two common examples would be where your spouse makes a damaging admission about some issue in the case, or communications with paramours.
Determining which documents you need to obtain for your divorce case can be a very time-consuming and daunting task. Use this list as a starting point and discuss your situation with a quality divorce attorney. This person should be able to advise you specifically on the documents you need to obtain in order to protect your interests.