I wish I would’ve thought of this idea sooner. Keeping track of all the legal documents, financial information, contempt of court documentation, visitations, and future court hearings is a lot to keep organized. My lawyer had handed me a manilla file folder with papers to fill out at our first appointment. I tried to keep everything in that folder, without pockets, all throughout the divorce process.
Some documentation was saved on my computer, copies of text messages in my email inbox, and the parenting time schedule on a 12-month wall calendar in the kitchen. Such a hot mess… with no one to call for help!
I thought… there has to be a better way to keep everything organized, to be prepared, and confident when attending court hearings or the trial. The divorce binder is the answer to that problem!
We ended up not going to trial so I was never required to attend an in-court hearing. The divorce was finalized without me ever having to step foot in the courthouse, except for a visitation screening with my youngest child. That was until I objected to my ex-husband getting a credit on the child support for the very small amount of money he gave me during the entire divorce process.
Side note: He was telling me he couldn’t afford to pay my phone bill or any other needed expenses, like brakes, all while wining and dining his newest girlfriend with flowers and $60 dinners at fancy restaurants. I was taking my kids to the food bank and getting food stamps just to eat macaroni and cheese at home.
Going back to court wasn’t about the money for me, because it was only a couple hundred dollars. It was entirely about the principle behind it. I felt financially abused and I wasn’t going to stand by any longer and allow it to happen. My documentation, from my divorce binder, helped me to prove all of this to the court, so they could see it as well.
What I include in a divorce (or custody) binder:
Include anything you may need, proof of anything you’re trying to say or defend, and anything that will encourage and empower you to survive the day. You want to be able to find that one piece of paper that everyone will be asking for or you’ll be needing when he says, I never did that!, She didn’t pay that!, That’s not worth anything!, or She’s keeping me from my kids!
1. All financial paperwork
Print off and collect income sheets, household and personal expenses, retirement or pension funds, any investments, property, and vehicle values. Do you, your spouse, or your children have anything that is worth any monetary value? Life insurance, jewelry, electronics, other toys, or personal belongings? Make a long list and find the value of each item.
You want to make sure you’re illustrating your current standard of living, before the divorce was initiated, as well as all the debts your family owes. This will help you negotiated the best possible outcome after divorce.
As the divorce processes on, you’ll also have to make room in your expanding binder for all the divorce petitions, affidavits, discoveries, disclosures, motions, and other court pleadings. (Learn what all these legal terms mean in this FREE Divorce Preparation Guide.)
2. Communication Between You & the Spouse/Ex-Spouse
Many times there are conversations that lead up to someone filing for divorce. If at all possible, keep all communication to only text messages or email that way you can print out the conversations and present them as evidence, if needed, in court. If you do not have proof of a conversation then it becomes a he-said-she-said, leaving no one to know who is telling the truth in the matter.
Printed copies of text messages or emails most times are evidence in court to what was said or how it was said. Also, this could prove an arrangement that you two had which he is now saying he never agreed to or times when he didn’t show up to get the kids, yet he’s telling the court you’re keeping them from him.
3. All Documentation
If you feel there is evidence of abuse or financial infidelity then you’ll need to show documentation to any allegation that you make. Sadly, although you may have tons of evidence of his affairs or new girlfriend, most times this is not admissible in court – it happens so much anymore that judges just don’t care.
This doesn’t mean you still don’t collect documentation to whatever it is that is going on. Continue to document the missed visitations, his lack of paying for your phone bill, and the nasty names he calls you. You never know when things will compound or you’ll have to go back to court, so keep documenting the abuse and/or events that could be considered contempt of court.
I truly believe a man reaps what he sows, as stated in Galatians 6:7!
4. Important Dates & Contact Information
I don’t know about you but I didn’t want to have to save my lawyer’s information in my phone, memorize the number, or having to look up a number or email address every single time I had an issue. That’s why I created a list in my binder of all people I’d have to contact during or after my divorce. This included the family court, any caseworker, or mediator we were working with.
I also kept a list of court or mediation meeting dates as well as what I would need to do to prepare for that meeting. If I was needing to make copies of certain papers for my lawyer, I would have those ready and at the front of my binder (in that front pocket).
5. Bible Verses to Encourage
Each and every time I went to a divorce-related meeting or to court after my divorce, I took with me a one-page sheet or note cards filled with encouraging words or verses that I knew would keep me upright during this stressful ordeal.
I had asked certain friends to pray for me, the situation, and for best possible outcome. I just wanted the lies to be exposed and the truth to come out. Having that list of praying friends reminded me that I wasn’t going into this all alone… although it feels that way at times.
Have you set up a divorce or custody binder? How has it helped you to be prepared, organized, and confident while attending meetings or hearings?
May God bless your divorce journey,