It can be confusing and frustrating when you want to initiate a divorce or have to answer a divorce filing and have no idea about your financial situation. In divorce, as with many other issues, knowledge is power.
That said, it is possible to get some knowledge before your first meeting with a lawyer. Here are a few tips that can help you get a better grasp on your financial situation before divorcing.
List what each of you owns (and owes)
Businesses, houses, cars, art, life insurance and even season tickets are fair game in many divorce talks. List everything you can think of that you and your spouse own. Do the same for debts.
Note how each asset has been treated
In general, anything you owned before the marriage should be yours after the divorce. For example, the diamond necklaces from your father when you were a teenager could remain in your possession, and so could your engagement ring.
As for assets acquired during the marriage, it sometimes depends on what you did with them. If you got an inheritance and put the money in the joint account you share with your spouse, it is likely money that belongs to both of you. However, if you gifted a car or other asset to your spouse during the marriage, you could still have a claim to it.
So, just note how you and/or your spouse came by each asset and how it has been treated since then. An attorney may be able to give you an idea of how strong your rights are to it and what is marital property and separate property.
Look for documents
It helps if you can get financial documents such as trusts, wills, insurance policies, 401(k) statements, tax returns and bank account statements. Even if you are not sure what some of the information on the papers means, your lawyer should be able to glean meaningful information. You should at least have copies of essential documents, especially if you are moving out of the house where they are kept. Online/password access is not always good enough, as your spouse can change passwords.