Start Preparing Now!
Before anyone goes to court, even before you hire a lawyer, there are things you can do right now which will put and keep you in a stronger position throughout your divorce negotiations and litigation.
It's likely that at some point you and your spouse will separate; one of you will move out and you will begin living in separate places. Before that happens, you have access to items and information to which you may not have access after one of you moves out. You can take steps now which will preserve that information and make it available to your lawyer.
Personal possessions, objets d'art. When one of you moves out, things have a habit of disappearing, regardless of whether you're the "staying" spouse or the "leaving" spouse. Take a photo of every room in the house, -- one photo from each of two opposite corners in each room. Make sure that everything is included. If you need to take several photos in panorama, do it. Each piece of furniture should appear clearly. If you have any questions about whether or not something showed up in the photos, take another. Electronic photos are easiest to manage; so if you have a smart phone or electronic camera, use it.
Do you have art on the walls? Take a separate photo of each item. The same goes for anything collectible or which has monetary or special sentimental value, -- sculptures, family photos, collections, etc. For jewelry, while it is not necessary to take it out of a jewelry box, each item should be seen clearly. If you have to remove items from a jewelry box to photograph them, then do it.
Do you (or your spouse) have expensive clothes like furs or shoes? Photograph them, too. China, silver, crystal? Include it all. You don't have to photograph each piece of china, silver and crystal separately, just one photo of the detail of each with a photo of the entire set will suffice.
Ski or other sporting equipment? Photograph it. You want to make a photographic record of all of your tangible possessions which might have any real value. If you're in doubt about an item, include it.
Documents. Check books, bank books, insurance policies, business papers and the like are all relevant. If you don't have a copier at home, just use your smart phone or camera to record them. If you cannot copy or photograph the entire document, even just the first few pages of each document will be helpful.
Usually, it's best to take these photos when your spouse is not around so as to minimize the potential for friction between you; but rest assured that we have helped our clients in this regard many, many times and will be able to guide you through this potentially sensitive process. If your spouse already has a lawyer, we can work with his/her lawyer to facilitate the process and smooth the way. When we manage this inventorying process for our clients at Helman & Neustadt, we usually hire a professional photographer at a relatively small cost, which we pass along to you without markup.
This information will be important during negotiations (and litigation, if negotiations are unsuccessful) to establish what the two of you have, or own, as a couple. In the law, this is called the "marital estate."
At Helman & Neustadt, we want to compile as complete and comprehensive a picture of your marital estate as we can. While that will assist us in our work in several different ways, the most important and obvious is to minimize the possibility that your spouse will conceal assets from you during your divorce.