Everyone has heard horror stories about divorce gone wrong. From tales of good parents cut off from visitation with their children to lopsided asset division outcomes that seemingly penalize one spouse, there are many frightening stories in the media, online and available in your circle of friends and acquaintances.

All of the potential pitfalls of divorce can leave people feeling like they might prefer to stay married just to avoid the trouble. However, if your marriage has already reached a point where both you and your ex are unhappy and unable to work on the relationship, divorce may be inevitable. The good news is that those scary stories are often either wildly exaggerated or skewed by containing only one person’s perspective.

While it is difficult to predict the exact terms of a New Jersey divorce, the law lends itself toward a fair/equitable division of marital assets, as well as the protection of both parents’ relationships with the children. However, as a person seeking a divorce, there are steps you can take to ensure fairness and an appropriate outcome. One of the first steps you should take will be obtaining physical or digital copies of critical financial records.

What financial records could have an impact on your divorce?

While you don’t necessarily need copies of every receipt from during your marriage, information about your overall income and assets is indispensable. If you are unfamiliar with the total household income or don’t typically access or review financial documentation, obtaining records now is incredibly important.

Failing to do so could leave you vulnerable to inappropriate behavior on the part of your spouse, such as hiding assets to prevent their division. Obtaining records related to your individual income and tax records for the duration of your marriage is a wise choice. You also want records related to financial assets (like retirement accounts) and real estate that you own.

You may also want to look into more extensive records if you believe that your spouse has intentionally dissipated marital assets. You may want to review financial records going back several years for indications of dissipation or work with a professional who knows the warning signs.

You can’t ask for a fair split if you don’t understand the assets you own

You might assume that the courts will simply order a fair and reasonable split of your assets, regardless of how much income information or financial details you provide. The truth is that the courts are working from a relatively limited vantage point, and they must rely on the information provided by the individuals divorcing when it comes to their assets and income.

Ideally, you will already have pertinent financial records before you initiate discussions with an attorney. If not, your attorney will likely advise you to obtain copies of your financial records. Once you have done so, you can then begin the planning process for a strategy that will result in a fair divorce outcome, not another horror story.