I am a Minnesota divorce lawyer.  I practice divorce law in Hennepin County, Minnesota.  Divorce varies significantly from state to state, because it is pretty much a creation of state (not federal) law.  However, one thing that I think is common in all divorces, regardless of where they take place, is “fear.”

One of the things that really sucks about divorce is fear.  Yep.  The garden variety, common, every day fear.  People who are getting divorced are venturing into the unknown.  Emotionally, financially, in just about every way, their life is going to change.  This causes many people to experience fear.  They might not call it “fear,” and their inner experience may resemble anxiety, depression, concern, etc., but in its most primal form, in my opinion the bigger problem is just fear.

Assuming that one is not a robot, I think that much of the emotional trauma that is attendant to divorce is unavoidable.  But, one way to alleviate some of the fear is to make sure that you have complete and accurate financial information about your spouse’s (and your) assets, income and debts.  Even if you and your spouse are going to reach an amicable settlement where you each sign a written agreement (a “Marital Termination Agreement” in Minnesota) and walk away, you need to know about your spouse’s assets, income and debts.

For some of you this is easy.  Your house is underwater, your spouse has been unemployed for years, and you have few retirement assets.

For some of you this is more difficult.  You each have retirement assets, some of which was accrued before, and some after, the date of marriage.  You have a house, cars, lots of bills, but also adequate income to pay most of the bills on time.

Before the divorce starts, you should make copies of important financial documents.  This includes income tax returns for the past several years, W-2 forms, 1099 forms, retirement account statements, documentation of the purchase of your home, recent paycheck stubs, credit card statements, bank account statements, check book registers.  I am not telling you to break into your spouse’s private records, but if copies of these documents can be made easily, you should do it.  Then, you should but them in a box and take them to your friend’s house for safe keeping, until you need them.

If you cannot find copies of these documents, there is a process your attorney can follow during the course of the divorce proceedings called “discovery.”  Essentially, your attorney can compel your spouse to turn over copies of all important documents.  Your attorney can compel your spouse to answer questions about his or her finances, and anything else.  Your attorney can also subpoena other people and require them to provide information about your spouse under oath.  This could include your spouse’s employer, his or her banker, or anyone else who might have information.

Here’s the thing: discovery is expensive.  If you can obtain financial information informally, that’s best because it doesn’t cost as much money.

If you have any questions about this, call Minnetonka divorce attorney Dan Fiskum at (952) 270-7700.