January is “divorce month.” While it’s certainly not something to celebrate, it is, nevertheless, the time of year when divorce attorneys sometimes see a 20-30% spike in the number of initial consultations.

It makes sense. Many couples try to stay together through the holidays for a variety of reasons–especially if they have children. There are family and social gatherings, kids’ recitals and plays, company Christmas parties…for many couples, it just seems easier to get through all the events and festivities together, avoid the uncomfortable explanations about a separation, and make sure the kids have a peaceful and enjoyable school break and celebrations. 

If you are one of many couples who is making the difficult decision to separate and divorce now that the calendar page has turned, the first thing you should do is meet with an experienced and compassionate divorce attorney to understand the overview of the process.

Our office can provide a consultation for you so that you know where to start and what your rights are in California.  We will discuss the option of having my representation as part of a collaborative “out of court” option, which facilitates productive communication between you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse, with a signed agreement to keep the matter out of court.  If the two of you are on the same page and just need help navigating the divorce paperwork, then using a “mediation” process might be your best option.  Click to learn more about mediation or collaborative divorce.

What to Bring with You to Meet with a California Divorce Attorney

Sometimes when a new client first arrives at my office, they are nervous about meeting with me.  Please don’t worry if you don’t have every single document needed, as we can make a list together of what is most important for your situation.  For our first meeting, it is important to think about your personal goals, both for our meeting, and for your future. You might want to make a list of questions that relate to your goals, for instance:

HOUSE: Will I be able to keep the house, or should I consider allowing my spouse to keep it?  The best way for us to discuss the options on the house would be to review the following documents:

  • Mortgage statement
  • Property insurance statement
  • Paystubs or tax documents that show income for you and your spouse
  • Current deed (can be obtained from the county where property is located)
  • Any signed prenuptial or post-marital agreement, if any
  • Any separation or divorce documents that have been filed with the court
  • A list of assets (and identify if either of you owned before marriage or inherited)

SUPPORT: How much would child support and spousal support be?  For this question, it would be helpful to have three recent pay stubs for each of you, tax return information, and the following:

  • Information on health insurance coverage costs for you both, and children, and what it would be if the other parent had to get new insurance coverage after the divorce
  • Information on if either of you pay union dues and how much
  • Information regarding how much you each contribute to a 401k, 403b, or deferred compensation plan per month
  • Information for the amount you pay into any “mandatory” state or county pension such as CalSTRS or CalPERs 

Documents You’ll Need to Gather for Your California Divorce Process

Getting divorced involves a lot of paperwork! Starting out–as I call STEP ONE–is probably the easiest step, as it’s only two or three forms to file: Petition, Summons, and (if children) the form showing where the children have resided for the last five years. After that, STEP TWO is a bit more complicated. This is called the Disclosure Process, where you each have to provide the other with copies of many documents and complete two main disclosure forms that we can assist you with.  If you want to get a jump start on “disclosures” then it’s best to start pulling together the following:


  • Bank statements – checking, savings, and any other accounts, both joint and separate
  • Investment account statements – stocks, bonds, mutual funds, cryptocurrency
  • Retirement account statements – pension, 401(k), IRAs, and any loans thereon
  • Real estate documents – deeds, mortgage docs, home equity credit loan docs
  • Vehicles – titles and loan docs
  • Credit card statements and docs for other loans and outstanding debt
  • Tax documents from the past 2 years
  • Detailed list of physical property and assets – artwork, furniture, tools, electronics, etc.
  • Detailed list of digital assets – software, gift cards, domain names, downloaded games and music and videos, NFTs, etc.


You could prepare a spreadsheet of these, or if you are not a “spreadsheet” kind of person, you can download the FL-150 Income and Expense declaration form to start working on. It’s four pages, and it’s a great way to keep focused on what you need. We won’t need copies of your utility bills or other listed expenses, unless requested by your spouse after this form is provided to him/her.  


It would be helpful to have a separate list of extra expenses for your children, and perhaps a proposal as to how to share them between you both as parents–for example equally or by assigning certain extra-curricular expenses to your spouse and others to you.  Unless there is a serious custody dispute heading for a court battle, you won’t need your children’s medical records. Both parents should have electronic access to them through the medical provider. If one of you is asking for reimbursement of 50% of a medical expense for a child, then a receipt should be sent to the other parent with a request for reimbursement, giving the other parent at least 30 days to reimburse. (By the way, always do your best to keep each other informed of any medical needs or appointments for your children.)


If you and/or your spouse own one or more businesses, and you cannot agree regarding division, you might need a business valuation, which involves hiring an expert and can be very expensive. The person who has access to the business records would be asked to provide the information to the expert, with copies going to the other party. 

It’s Challenging, But It’s Doable

You might feel pretty overwhelmed about all the paperwork, but it can be approached in stages. If paper copies are not accessible, remember that most financial documents can be obtained online and then downloaded into a file that you can print from, or you can even provide a thumb drive to counsel so that paperwork can be reduced.  Your CPA and financial planner would assist you in accessing many of the documents you need. Almost everything you need for your divorce can most likely be obtained by calling a few professionals and going online. If your spouse is not being cooperative or helpful in gathering all the documentation needed for your attorneys to help you move through the divorce process, do your best to stay calm as we can look for cooperative solutions short of issuing subpoenas. This is a difficult and stressful time, and emotions will be running high, so give yourself grace in this process. You could try emailing your spouse saying something like, let’s work together on all this documentation so we don’t have to pay attorneys to do it for us. If that doesn’t work, a phone call or email to the other attorney can help encourage cooperation. 

The Bottom Line

If you and your spouse will be separating or getting divorced this year, it’s best if you can work together to collect all the documentation your attorneys and the court will need. Hopefully, the above information will make this overwhelming task easier to accomplish. Just move down the list, gathering paperwork and documentation a little at a time. Chip away at it and don’t let it stress you out. For now, pull the short list of documentation and meet with a knowledgeable California divorce attorney–preferably one who can help you explore your no-court divorce options like mediation and collaborative divorce.

Explore your no-court divorce options and the prenuptial process in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County and schedule a confidential consultation with divorce lawyer Jeanne Browne. With more than 30 years of experience helping couples divorce without court through mediation and collaborative practice, she will give you compassionate legal advice on your issues related to family law, divorce, and prenuptial/postnuptial agreements. Click here to schedule a meeting.

Please Note: Articles posted on this website are for general information purposes only and are not to be considered legal advice. Every situation is unique and we recommend you reach out for a private conversation about your specific circumstances and concerns by booking a consultation.