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Start collecting documentation when divorce is on the horizon

Preparation can be key to getting a divorce settlement that will provide you with the financial resources you need to begin a new chapter of your life. It will also help prevent an estranged spouse from hiding or taking resources that the two of you should have split.

Financial advisors and family law attorneys tell people who are planning to file for a divorce or believe that their spouse may be planning to end the marriage to gather or make copies of necessary documents that detail the value of shared assets or their spouse's assets that they may be entitled to share in.

If you're concerned about your spouse finding out what you're doing, give the documents to your attorney or a trusted family member. This includes online documents as well as paper ones.

If you are at this point in your relationship, you should be seeking legal advice. Your attorney can advise you of the types of documents to gather to provide a complete and accurate financial picture of your and your spouse's assets and liabilities:

Documents showing income: This includes salary as well as bonuses, stock options, investment income, Social Security benefits and any other source of income. It's a good idea to get at least several years of tax returns.-- Documents showing liabilities: This includes mortgage statements as well as credit card, loans and line of credit statements. It also includes documentation of any other debts that you and your spouse have.-- Documents reflecting the value of your assets: This can include an estimated value of jewelry, art and collectibles, real estate holdings and vehicles.-- Statements for retirement and other savings plans: These include your bank accounts, 401(k)s, individual retirement accounts, 529 plans for your children's college education and life insurance policies.-- If you and your spouse own a business, you'll want profit and loss statements.-- Finally, you'll want to have documentation showing your living expenses. This may be crucial to how much you seek and can get in the divorce settlements. Start keeping receipts and records of your checking account activity.

All of this requires thinking clearly and strategically at a time when you may be emotionally vulnerable. That's why it's wise to have trusted legal and financial advisors who are dedicated to looking out for your best interests.

Source: The Telegraph, "Your divorce: Key records," Wendy Spencer, AdviceIQ, May. 04, 2015

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